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Plinius Adversus Vesuvium: are you cunning enough to survive the eruption of Mount Vesuvius?

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

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When Marc Figueras and Snafustore contacted me about the release of Plinius Adversus Vesuvium, I was on fire: a historical simulation game about the eruption of Vesuvius, that you can play pretty much anywhere, even if you are alone? And for free? Of course, I wanted to be part of this awesome project with a Latin translation!

This is one of my favourite set texts from the Cambridge Latin Anthology, and I am sure the game, which you can play below, will be a hit to bring the eruption of Vesuvius to life, even amongst the most reluctant GCSE students.

So, how did we manage to create a working Latin translation of the game, and why should you play it? Before you download the free version of the game below or pick up your free copy from Snafustore, it is well worth finding out a bit more about the background of this boardgame:

Game fact-file

Title: Plinius Adversus Vesuvium

Authors: Marc Figueras and Snafu Design

Graphic Design: Nils Johansson

Translation: Ana Martin

an image of the Pliny boardgame based on his letters
Boardgame front: Plinius Adversus Vesuvium

The boardgame

Plinius Adversus Vesuvium is a historical simulation game where a solo player needs to rescue as many people as possible from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and take them back to safety. The protagonist is Pliny the Elder, who is motivated by an interest in making naturalistic observations and also wants to save the life of his friend Pomponianus.

The game has been designed using as the primary source two well-known letters by Pliny the Younger to the historian Tacitus : Plin. Ep. 6.16 and Plin. Ep. 6.20 - those in the UK may have encountered some of the text in their OCR Latin GCSE examinations! The board reflects well the position of people and towns such as Misenum or Stabiae, and includes Pliny’s liburna and two quadriremes, that will have to find a strategy to survive the changing winds, debris and pyroclastic flow of Mount Vesuvius.

For a thorough explanation of how the game works, see Marc Figueras’ playthrough thread of Boardgamegeek.

The Latin translation

You probably wonder about the background of the translation. When translating a modern game into Latin, there are many elements to consider, and different decisions would have led to very different versions of the text.

I opted for creating a simple Latin text that the largest number of readers could understand.

Here are some of the questions that I asked myself while working on the current translation:

- Accessibility: should we aim for historical accuracy when choosing the vocabulary, or is the priority to ensure that less confident Latin speakers find the text understandable?

- Authenticity: where a modern word does not have a classic equivalent, should we use existing classical vocabulary to make up for it? Are we looking at Neolatin examples? Or should we create a neologism in Latin?

A note on the choice of words: I consulted mostly the Pliny original and worked with various dictionaries, particularly the Neo-Latin Lexicon and Vicipaedia. I also took inspiration from Joan Lluís Vives, Ioannes Lodovicus Vives noster. I read with interest his ‘Ludus Chartarum seu Foliorum’ in Linguae Latinae Exercitatio, but I am not going to claim any of his eloquence actually stuck to me, pro dolor!

- Cultural bias: where there is no Latin equivalent and there is a notable difference in vocabulary choice in the other versions of the game - mostly between English and Catalan, but also considering German and French, what is the best compromise to make sure speakers of different modern languages can understand the text?

A balanced approach worked best in most cases, but I aimed to make the text accessible for as many users as possible, even if it often meant the outcome would be less “authentic” – a concept which is anyway a source of difficulties and with which I am not particularly happy.

I hope that intermediate and advanced speakers of Latin, regardless of their first language, will find the text readily accessible. Please do contact me if you have comments about my choices, as I would love to hear other points of view!

I had the support of a rather large number of people (gratias multas, sodales!) who kindly gave some very useful tips about grammar and vocabulary. I am hoping not to forget anyone, but I will take the opportunity to thank John Hazel, Ana Henderson, Rosalind Aczel and Jacob Duncan, who gave the game a look during our ARLT Summer School, and also to the members of various Facebook groups I asked for help, especially Thomas Howell and other contributors at the Officina Scriptoria: The Latin Writers' Workshop. Of course, all the errors that are still in the text are mine alone.

A hand playing with hand cut pieces of paper on a printed board
Testing the game while preparing the translation

Using the boardgame in the secondary classroom, in Latin or English

The game is a PNP game (“print and play”), meaning you can download and print it for free. All you need to play it is a deck of French cards. Eager students with plenty of time, especially those in school clubs, will be able to play and enjoy the full version. Solitaire gaming may not strike as the most social game for a group of students, but you can either do a quick-fire succession of games for students to compete between them or opt for a group experience where decisions have to be agreed upon between the crew members.

For teachers who are considering using it in bigger groups, I would recommend working from an adapted version. The beauty of this format is that you can create a new set of rules – or get the students to create one, and have a fun time that fits your schedule and students’ interests.

The full Latin instructions of the game will be too advanced for most secondary school Latin learners. However, a great way to enjoy the game is to first use only the Latin board with the English or Catalan instructions. In this way, you get to use some of the Latin, such as “incolae”, “liburna Pinii”, “eruptio Vesuvii” but the instructions are easy to follow.

I am very keen to hear how others are using this board in their class, so please let us know if you or your students come up with an adapted set of instructions that you would like to share.

For a more independent online version of the game, you can also play it here:

Recommended additional resources

Every Latin course tends to have a good section on Pompeii and the eruption, but if you are looking for something beyond your own curriculum, here are some of my favourite resources to go with the game:

At this point, I guess you are quite ready to have a go. Here is the Latin version of the game for you to download - I have also included the English one below in case you need help with the instructions: just scroll a bit further down.

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