4 min read

Colpo di Stato - Translating history

How we translated and adapted the historical board game "Colpo di Stato" for English audiences
Colpo di Stato - Translating history

Doing it wrong (for the right reason)

"You never, 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 translate in your target language"

That was the very first guidance I ever had as a translator, and that was before I even translated a single word, at uni. That is the way of infamy.

But when we were tasked with translating We Are Müesli's "Colpo di Stato", we faced an impossible challenge: finding a native Italian to English translator A) able to juggle some 𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺 deep Italian culture (we'll get to that) B) with enough gaming knowledge to juggle some very delicate mechanics (ditto) C) on an indie budget

So we reversed priorities. Yes we would brave anathema and translate it ourselves, with our very Italian team. But most of the time and resources would actually be in the review, so that we can have a veteran like @HProtagonista and give her all the means to cleanse our sin

Local flavor

"Colpo di Stato" is a game about Italy in the Seventies, which doesn't sound like much until you consider that A) Italy is NATO's aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean B) Italy had the largest Communist party outside the USSR. Cold war crazy there

How crazy? Take far-right terrorists, the CIA, masonic lodges, old Nazis and neo-Fascists, industry and media moguls, the Mafia and the Ministry of the Interior. And now imagine that they were all involved in the same coup attempt: The Borghese Coup

On one hand this is a dark page of history. On the other this is a time when secret services had two clandestine units unaware of each other. Like Spy VS Spy, but they're both black. It's all so grotesque that THEY MADE SATIRICAL MOVIES ABOUT IT

For Italian players, the game is a tile in this mosaic of references. The details may be surprising, but the people involved, their goals and the tragicomic ways it panned out are part of the cultural background. But our English audience knew NOTHING about this.So while the content side of the project was obvious (convey this slice of Italian history in a faithful and meticulous way) the formal side was a challenge: how do we ease the audience in without smothering the gameplay underneath?

Some elements could be conveyed through equivalence. For example, the game features real texts by fascists and free-masons, both of which write 𝘩𝘰𝘳𝘳𝘪𝘣𝘭𝘺. So we mirrored their clunky wording and syntax to maintain that feeling. But other concepts just had no equivalent.

So we unpacked some, using the generous space on the cards to turn a cryptic repubblichino into follower of Mussolini to the bitter end of the (Nazi-led) Republic of Salò. We left some as flavor like the pizzino notes of the Mafia. And we cut others like Rome Palaces names.

Needless to say, striking a balance was far from easy. But even as our Googledocs filled up with notes, edits and counter-edits, we knew that we could count on a final judge to make the last call: testing.

The proof is in the pudding

If you have access to the creator of your game NOTHING compares to have them play it for you. We first did that for Super Rude Bear Resurrection simply because @AlexRoseGames was already on Twitch. Perfect reference/familiarization in just a few hours

For Colpo di Stato, testing was vital because analog games are fragile: they rely entirely on players grasping the rules and applying them correctly. Miss something and there will be no computer to guide you: the game will just break apart.

And this was a riddle game too, so we had to walk a fine line between explaining well enough to let players follow along but not explaining too much and give the solution away.

Luckily, We Are Müesli and our Fabio Bortolotti could meet in Milan and playtest the first draft together. It was a grueling three days process but we're proud of how it helped not only the localization but the original itself (translation is a brutal stress-test for any text!)

After a few more editing rounds by Jessica Chavez, it was time for the simplest and most nerve-wracking test of all. Handing over the game to the lovely Maisy Hatchard and friends and just letting them 𝘱𝘭𝘢𝘺. Shut your mouth, cross your fingers and hope they'll get to the end...

And to the end they got, almost perfectly. And gave us the perfect feedback

"It's like a Tarantino movie: you are never sure about what's going on but you are WAY too intrigued to stop"

And yes, Italy's past indeed makes for a brilliant dark comedy. It turns out some things are really found in translation :)