Games in Translation

I used to be very much opposed to playing translated games for a language I speak fluently. My reasoning was that mistakes are always made and that it will be so much more difficult to play a game with badly translated rules. Same reason I’ll not read a book in German that was originally written in English. But these days I hardly find any issue with the translation itself and while I read books on my own, I play (used to at least) games with friends who aren’t all quite so comfortable with English.

And yet there are other reasons to stick with the English specifically. Because the internet. For games like Spirit Island where I want to look up the living rules I am glad I switched over to English…

Then it takes some time for translated versions to arrive. Someone has to license the game usually and then it has to be translated. Like Pax Pamir 2 took an extra year. Brass Birmingham more than that. Expansions sometimes don’t get released (looking at you Race for the Galaxy German Edition) or take a lot longer and when faced with something like the Marauder Expansion for Root I have to grind my teeth and accept the fact that languages don’t mix and very few games are worth buying twice just to get an expansion a bit quicker.

But sometimes it’s quite handy that I live in a place for which games get translated. Because some games sell out quickly, don’t get reprinted or were Kickstarters in the first place without retail plans. And while I am impatient, waiting for the translation gives me time to see the reviews to come in and accumulate since over-enthusiastic previews don’t really tell you much about the staying power of a game.

Often, the translation allows me to get my hands on games that appear to be hard to get. I don’t think Awkward Guests got a retail release or did it? Is Calico available outside the Pledgemanagers?

There is yet another caveat. Calico gets released by Ravensburger. I hear that the original has really nice materials but Ravensburger is usually really on the cheap side with the materials–even Alea which releases their “better” games gets a lot of complaints “re: component quality”–and I am a little apprehensive what the game will be like.

Many translations come from the same printing as the English versions (Root, Pax Pamir and Spirit Island appear to be absolutely identical to their non-translated siblings). But some don’t…

But as games get translated locally or at least imported en grosse, I can get them without all the KS hassle from local shops…

Anybody else here play games in translation? What’s your experience with translated games?
How do the native English-speakers fare with translated games from all over the world? How many games do you even have to wait for or is everything immediately translated to English these days?


I have one game in Spanish bought from a local store and also have the DnD 5E Players Handbook in Spanish (as well as having an English copy). I find them quite good at helping me improve my Spanish language, especially the vocabulary although the game - Carcassone - hardly has much to learn or read. Games with lots of small cards with text on might be an issue for some, so while there is a great range in that shop I’m hesitant to buy much from them there until I feel ready to fully understand and enjoy them, especially considering what my non-gaming friends would play.

However, then I speak to bilingual acquaintances who game here with Spanish friends, and they say that they play most of their games using the English version anyway!


Not quite answering the question…

I can barely buy bread in any language except English, but we still call Catan ‘Die Siedler’, because our copy is German - original-language imports used to be quite common in the early days of ‘German games’ I think. I’m still more confident of the words ‘Ritter’ and ‘Entwicklung’ than their English counterparts, and mangled pronunciation of German words is part of the tradition of the game. We also call Cockroach Poker ‘Krackerlacken Poker’ based on an easier-to-say mispronunciation of the name on the box - though in this case the rules inside are in English as well as German. I still somehow feel that all Euro games deserve to be originally published in German and only later translated to English.


It’s been some time since Euro-games were exclusively made in Germany–if ever. And we really don’t want all that beige these days.

I still remember when I first learned of boardgame stores that had international games. There is just so much more variety and luckily these days even the local publishers are making so many more different games than they used to.

Those are harsh. My partner and a lot of my friends dislike many such games no matter which language there are in because those games usually remind them of M:tG and those who haven’t addictively played TCGs are at a disadvantage with all the text.

Luckily, there are lots and lot of games that do not include much language on the components. BGG forums often have threads on how language dependent a game is.

I have several games (Concordia & Deception come to mind) that are published in dual language English & German. And I know of one publisher–Ludonova–who usually publishes Spanish & English dual language. And I think IELLO sometimes combines French and English. Flourish contains rules for German, English and French and so does Ghost Stories.


These days, how can you tell? I’ve seen it for sale by places other than the publisher, but whether that means there’s an actual retail release or they just bought a bunch of copies on the KS/pm…

Holy Grail Games who publish Rallyman GT are mostly a French company, and JC Bouvier the designer writes the rules in French. There have been some significant omissions in their rules translations into English – in particular a fiddly point about which car is “ahead”, i.e. moves first, when two cars are side by side and at the same speed in a corner. (In French, the one to inside of the current corner goes first; in first edition English, it’s the next corner.)

For the current reprint, they’re removing the reference cards in favour of a big back-of-the-rulebook reference, which makes the rules the only language-dependent component.

I speak, or more to the point read, low-competent French and minimal German. If I’d been a boardgamer in the early 2000s I’d have learned a lot more German - the people I knew who were playing then were importing games from Germany and then either translating the rules themselves or getting translations off the internet (and improving them, because IMO a translator really needs to be native in the language they’re going to more than the language they’re coming from).


I found an odd translation error the other day when checking through my new copy of Red Cathedral. It’s language independent and comes with rulebooks in Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, and English.

I was checking the components against the listing on the back of the box and found the banner pieces not listed in the English entry. I could see them included in all other languages (clever deduction based on my limited French/Italian abilities and the fact that the quantities all matched up in order), but nothing in English.


Japanese translations are usually pretty bad. I’ve bought Japanese versions of language intensive games before, to play with people who aren’t fluent in English, but they tend to be very hard for me to play, and sometimes for Japanese people too!

For example, Pictomania. They tried to use equivalent words to the English ones, but sometimes there just isn’t one, and the chosen word is so obscure no-one gets it without a Google search.

So, I import and play with English speakers, or play language-independent games.


It’s been a bit of a mind-trip thinking through this question this morning.

For the most part, English releases coincide with the critical reception of all of my preferred media outlets (because all of my media outlets are English-speaking). So it’s extremely rare that I hear/see coverage for a game prior to it being available in English. And, because of that, I hardly ever (never?) find myself having to wait for the game to be translated… it’s not on my radar until an English release is, at least, coming soon.

Aside from that, there is a long and storied history of games developed in other languages (primarily German due to the natural epicenter of the board game revival of the 90s) that get translated to English poorly and require errata. People that have been in the hobby for a while, seemingly, have no qualms about taking a Sharpie to a rulebook where necessary.

I’m of a different mind; if the game is even remotely playable sans-errata, I usually will just make mental note of it, accept the fact that I’m going to forget when playing next, and then remember about midway and make a note of it to the other players but continue with the rules-as-written.

If the rules-as-written are unplayable, I’ll find a replacement printable and then hide away the erroneous rulebook under all other components (the same place I keep the non-English rulebooks in multilingual releases). I think this has occurred… maybe twice? And I honestly can’t remember which games.

The primary counterpoint to everything I’ve written above is 18xx games. A fair number of 18xx games are developed in German and a few titles developed in Italian, and then a handful in Japanese. The German 18xx games tend to have near-perfect translations but occasionally slight differences due to mistranslation (much like the case mentioned above by Roger regarding Rallyman GT). The one Italian 18xx game that I own is so riddled with production mistakes, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn it had numerous translation mistakes, but it has a living rulebook on the publisher’s website that is only versioned to 1.1.

The Japanese 18xx games are, mostly, only ever fan-translated.

And, as a closing thought about translated 18xx games: even though the 18xx sub-genre is quite small compared to the “mainstream” boardgaming hobby, its composition of players is biased towards the exacting, sweat-the-details sort of people – and they are quite passionate as well, so the community-driven translations are often quite good.

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Yes indeed. About the only recent exception to this for me was Die Crew, which I could have bought at Essen 2019 in German but ended up passing on.


I guess Anno 1800 was another one where this was the case. SUSD covered it in advance of the North American release.

And, on that subject, I often find myself waiting on the difference between European and North American releases, way more often than, necessarily, an English translation.

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Glad, to have been of service diverting you from the endless boredom of telcos.

Ha. I need to announce more exciting German boardgame news here :stuck_out_tongue: But as I don’t follow a lot of German boardgame sites… I am kind of in the same boat? I could swear though a lot of recent releases have been at the same time (for German games, not the other way around). Kosmos seems to be the exception (both Die Crew and Anno are Kosmos)

Translation is not the only reason for long lists of errata though :slight_smile:
Some games just naturally come with so many issues to clarify or correct: the more text there is the worse it gets. The Spirit Island FAQ is endless. But it is harder to find stuff when you have the non-English version.

I had no idea but now that you said it: I am not surprised.


My wishlist on BGG is stuffed with games that will probably never make their way over here. Mostly stuff that looked interesting from when the SU&SD news would post about a Japanese convention or similar.

I did manage to grab Wonderland XIII from a French site back when shipping to here wasn’t ridiculous :disappointed: But that’s been it so far.

I also have a completely German version of Azul as it was available on UK Amazon for only £20 and I know all the rules anyway.


It took me forever to get my hands on Detective Club after hearing them gush about it on the podcast. Half a year later the German version arrived. But I very nearly ordered a Hungarian version from Budapest.

There’s always a few Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese and Korean publishers at SPIEL. But when they are there I find the games just feel so weird. I am not good enough to pick out those that are fun–for those I really need reviewers to go through it all and tell me “this one is good”. And also I’ve tried to get someone to explain Hanamikoji to me at SPIEL once and their English was nearly non-existent which makes me wonder what they are doing at the fair? I mean I did buy Jixia Academy (the boys variant :smiley: ) but mostly because I had heard about the game elsewhere.

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Happy to help translate Spanish any time, if needed.

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Maybe it’s just that I’m almost exclusively buying and playing Kickstarter games these days, but I’m finding that even companies based in non-English-speaking countries are doing English-primary releases (e.g. Awaken Realms is Polish but their games debut in English. And are often remarkably text heavy). I’m really just about never aware of games before they’re available in English.

I do notice some occasional typos and other mildly awkward translation decisions in some of these games, but honestly, I get the same sorts of goofs in games released by native English speakers so it doesn’t really register for the most part. Honestly, what most bothers me is games that deliberately avoid as much text on game components as possible for easier release in other languages, simply because this forces a lot of reliance on iconography and such that I often find much, much more difficult to parse than slightly awkward English translations. (And this is despite me finding Race for the Galaxy immediately intuitive, which apparently most people don’t.)


Any game involving text has to be in French for me. While I can sleak, understand, write and read English fluently (professional translator in Canada, comes with the job), my wife and her mom (which, at the time, is my entire playgroup) do not. So French it must be. And I gotta say that the quality is usually very good!

I’m the one reading the manual and teaching the game, so if there’s no text (Calico, Patchwork), it doesn’t matter if the game’s translated or not, but if there’s text, well, I already translate enough during the day, LOL.

Our copy of Space Base is in English, so I madd a crib sheet with the ships that have text, we’ll see if that’d be an avenue for some games going forward, because French versions are usually a good 50% more expensive… The big exception is French Quacks of Quedlinburg, which is HALF the prics of the English version.


Fellow translator ahoy!

Huzzah, a colleague!

I’m actually constantly surprised that there are not more “North American” editions of games that come in English, French, and Spanish. Bonus: it hits a lot of the right notes for western European distribution as well.


Matagot usually has multi language editions. often German, French and English. So does Repos. This is easier when games have no in game language on cards and work with iconography instead. Ghost Stories is a good example. Ludonova from Spain does Spanish, English editions. And I’ve got a German/Hungarian edition of Spyfall from Piatnik who I think are based in Austria. It very much depends on who is geographically close enough to warrant inclusion is my guess at least for European publishers as originally not all games were printed in China :roll_eyes: (still aren’t but it is awfully hard to find out which those are which is funny to me because I think these days a whiff of sustainability might sell more games)