New Board Game Pits Archaeologists against Treasure Hunters in Archaeological Sites All across Bulgaria

New Board Game Pits Archaeologists against Treasure Hunters in Archaeological Sites All across Bulgaria

The “Archaeologists vs. Treasure Hunters” board game developed by the Archaeologia Bulgarica NGO raises awareness about the daily battle against destructive treasure hunting in tens of thousands of archaeological, historical, and cultural sites all across Bulgaria. Photo: Archaeologia Bulgarica

A new board entitled “Archaeologists vs. Treasure Hunters”, which pits the two groups against one another on a map featuring some of Bulgaria’s most remarkable archaeological sites, has been developed and released by a group of archaeologists.

Treasure hunting targetting archaeological sites is a rampant crime in Bulgaria and takes its horrendous toll on the country’s enormous cultural and historical heritage on a daily basis.

The combined amount of smuggled archaeological artifacts “mined” in Bulgaria is often estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of euros / dollars per year.

Bulgarian archaeologists are often pitted against treasure hunters in real life, trying to save whatever can be saved before or after the latter’s destructive raids against Bulgaria’s tens of thousands of archaeological, historical, and cultural sites.

Unfortunately, the public tolerance for the treasure hunting crimes in Bulgaria remains rather high, law enforcement fails to crack down on them sufficiently and is often suspected of collaborating with the respective organized crime groups, and many people in the countryside see treasure hunting as a form of decent full or part time employment.

The “Archaeologists vs. Treasure Hunters” board game has been developed and released by Archaeologia Bulgarica, an NGO promoting Bulgaria’s archaeology and cultural heritage chaired by Assoc. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, who in early December 2018 completed his second and last five-year term as Director of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

The state goals the NGO is hoping to achieve with the release of their “Archaeologists vs. Treasure Hunters” board game are to promote archaeology, generate greater public interest in archaeological discoveries and their benefits, to aid the development of cultural tourism, and, last but not least, to spur public intolerance for treasure hunting.

The board of the “Archaeologists vs. Treasure Hunters” game is a map of Bulgaria with the playing field starting and ending in the capital Sofia.

It features a total of 14 real and rather major archaeological sites from the Prehistory, Antiquity, and Middle Ages, from all across the country, which keep yielding amazing discoveries every year, namely,

The Ancient Celtic, Thracian, and Roman city of Serdica (today’s Sofia)

The Kozarnika Cave in Northwest Bulgaria

3 Ancient Roman Danube cities: Ulpia Oescus near Gigen, Pleven District, Novae (today’s Svishtov), Durostorum (today’s Silistra)

4 Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman cities on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast: Odessos (today’s Varna), Mesembria (Mesambria) (today’s Nessebar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Apollonia Pontica (today’s Sozopol), and Deultum, a Roman colony dubbed the first Roman city in Bulgaria

The Late Antiquity and medieval Lyutitsa Fortress near Ivaylovgrad in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains

The Ancient Greek trading outpost in Ancient Thrace emporion Pistiros near Septemvri, Pazardzhik District

The Roman city of Nicopols ad Nestum near Gotse Delchev in the Western Rhodope Mountains

The Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Heraclea Sintica near Petrich in Southwest Bulgaria

The Hisarlaka (Pautalia, Velbazhd) Fortress in the western city of Kyustendil

The board of the Archaeologists vs. Treasure Hunters board game is a map of Bulgaria featuring 14 major archaeological sites from the Prehistory to the Middle Ages. Photo: Archaeologia Bulgarica

Archaeologist Lyudmil Vagalinski who chairs the Archaeologia Bulgarica NGO has been the lead researcher in recent years for Deultum and Heraclea Sintica.

In addition, the board game map of “Archaeologists vs. Treasure Hunters” features 24 Ancient Thracian burial mounds, 4 laboratories, 4 police posts, 4 treasure hunters’ pits, a museum, and a prison.

The goal of the archaeologists in the board game is to discover and study archaeological artifacts before the treasure hunters who steal them while destroying the respective sites and the information they contain about the past.

The goal of the treasure hunters is to snatch the artifacts before the archaeologists in order to sell them on the black market.

Each artifact is divided into a puzzle of four parts so the players discover them in parts, as often happens in real life – for both the archaeologists and the treasure hunters. The players get an artifact puzzle piece every time they reach one of the archaeological sites.

A fully assembled artifact carries the largest number of points but if it is not assembled correctly – just as in real life treasure hunters often try to use pieces from different artifacts to create a whole one, or just forge artifacts – it is deemed a fake, and brings the respective player no points.

Along their way, the up to six board game players – three archaeologists and three treasure hunters – can draw cards from two decks with 24 cards each. The players get the right to draw a card if they step on an Ancient Thracian burial mound.

If the teams clash on the same spot, the archaeologists may play a “security” card, while the treasure hunters may use a “weapon” card – if they had drawn those beforehand.

If they are lucky, the players may come across cards with shovels, picks, metal detectors, or georadars (GDR) that enable them to reach a lot more artifact fragments.

Along their way, the players might fall in pits dug up by the treasure hunters, or answer to the police patrols, leave or pick up artifacts from the labs, get stuck in the prison or in the museum – where the treasure hunters would try to rob it, while the archaeologists would want to set up an exhibition.

The inventors of the Archaeologists vs. Treasure Hunters board game point out that the potential conflict situations in the game are based on real life experiences, and it is never certain if the good or the bad guys might prevail.

“Unlike Indiana Jones, the board game figures of the archaeologists carry no whip but a backpack, an inventory book, or a pickax… The treasure hunters wear sweatshirts… One of them is muscular and wears a large neck chain, the second one has binoculars so as to watch and report what the archaeologists have discovered, and the third one looks like a boss giving or conveying orders,” the inventors of the board game explain.

The artifact for the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica featured in the board game is the statue head of a blond Roman woman which was discovered underneath a Late Antiquity building there only in the late fall of 2018.

“This is probably a world record in terms of speedy re-creation of a real life archaeological discovery into a board game,” the inventors say.

This statue head of a blond Roman woman was discovered in the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica in Southwest Bulgaria only the late fall of 2018, and has been featured immediately in the newly invented “Archaeologists vs. Treasure Hunters” board game. Photo: Archaeologia Bulgarica

In addition to detailed instructions for playing the board game, its booklet also contains in-depth information about the 14 featured archaeological sites and the featured artifacts such as the Roman woman’s statue head.

The newly created “Archaeologists vs. Treasure Hunters” board game, which is for persons over 7 years of age, is sold in Bulgaria for BGN 54.00 (appr. EUR 27.50, USD 32.00).

For the time being only a Bulgarian-language version is available but based on the reviews it is going to get, the NGO is considering creating an English-language version for the international market as well as expanding the board game with new archaeological sites.


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