There are many conventions out there and several important ones. PAX, Gamescom, and San Diego Comic-Con, to name a few, mobilize the entire population of gaming, comics, and pop culture enthusiasts in general. There are some conventions, though, that, even if not as famous or important as the aforementioned ones, offer something unique to the public. Many of these conventions happen on the other side of the Atlantic, so most U.S. fans don’t even know they exist. Lucca Comics and Games is one of these conventions.
Lucca Comics and Games is the most important event in Italy regarding what has been lately addressed as “nerd culture.” It’s the largest event in Italy in both attendees and area covered, and definitely among the largest in Europe. In the five days of the convention, Lucca Comics and Games counted 270,000 attendees. That’s only counting the tickets sold, so you can imagine the enormous workforce needed to keep an event like this going. The unique thing about this convention is that it doesn’t take place in a convention center, but in the entirety of the historical center of the city fortress of Lucca, in Tuscany.
I was able to attend the fair only for one day, and one of the busiest days. Despite the overcrowded streets, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I want to share it with you by telling you about some of the things I’ve seen.
The City Itself
Before getting into specific exhibitions, I want to highlight what makes this event so special compared to any other con out there: the setting.
Lucca is a relatively small medieval fortress city, and the Lucca Comics and Games takes place in the entire area of the town that’s enclosed by the ancient walls. This means that the streets are crowded with fans, cosplayers, and visitors. You need a ticket only to access the exhibitions, and this opens the city to hundreds of people who just want to visit the fair by roaming the streets and snapping pictures of the cosplays.
The combination of an extremely ancient city and an extremely modern event creates an interesting atmosphere. You can walk in front of the Ducal Palace and find yourself facing a parade of Saint Seiya characters with music and everything.
Having the city become part of the event is a brilliant move, and the inhabitants are definitely on board with the whole thing. I saw shops that had nothing to do with gaming or comics expose posters or having themed sales. One deli’s owner was outside its shop dressed as Popeye and was having a themed sale to celebrate the character’s 90th anniversary. The entire town was having fun and, despite all the mess, everything was relatively well organized.
Playing D&D in an Actual Dungeon
Just as it happened in past years, some of the biggest events of the fair revolved around Dungeons & Dragons, with the direct patronage of Wizards of the Coast.
The D&D events in this year’s Lucca Comics and Games were particularly noteworthy because they were organized in an actual dungeon: the one under the San Colombano Bulwark.
In these depths, many D&D events took place. The most noteworthy one definitely is the biggest “D&D Epic” to ever happen on the old continent, where 180 players joined 30 dungeon masters in the largest simultaneous D&D game to ever take place in Europe.
While I didn’t play the game myself, the setting definitely gave the whole situation a mystic aura, with all the tables dimly lit by a candle or phone torches (since, of course, there’s no electricity in medieval dungeons).
Aside from the D&D Epic, many people were involved in a citywide treasure hunt themed around the adventure Descent into the Avernus, with tens of people running around deciphering clues and solving quests to get to the next session of the story and reach the final “boss battle.”
Benvenuti a Night City
A Cyberpunk 2077-themed prefabricated structure stood out in the middle of the medieval roads. There was quite a long line of people waiting to enter and watch the latest 25-minute gameplay video for the extremely anticipated game from CD Projekt Red. I was able to see the gameplay myself and boy, was it something.
This was the first showing of the game with Italian dub and localization. While most of our readers will probably not interested in this aspect, let me just mention that the dubbing impressed me, and this comes from someone that usually opts to have any game in original language with subtitles.
The content of the gameplay itself you probably read elsewhere, but I’ll give a quick rundown of the video for those who didn’t. Our main character, V, strikes a deal with the Voodoo Boys gang and will have to infiltrate a building garrisoned by the Animals, a rival gang, in one of the six sectors of Night City called Pacifica. The mission itself will require V to sneak into the building and retrieve information. What’s interesting is the different ways available to achieve this objective.
Cyberpunk 2077 does not have a class system but a fluid character progression where players can invest in the characteristics they are most interested in. To demonstrate this, the player showed two different approaches to the mission by two differently built main characters.
The first one is a corporate netrunner that makes use of their hacking skills to bypass blocks and infiltrate the building. Hacking skills are also useful in combat since our hero is shown hacking the enemies’ cybernetic enhanced prostheses from a distance to force them to shoot themselves or remove the pin from a grenade.
The other V that was shown had a more “direct” approach to the issues. Why hack a terminal to open a door when I can use my cybernetically enhanced arms to force it open? While the corporate netrunner would fiddle around the hacking minigame to control a turret, our street thug V simply rips the turret off the ground and uses it to shoot the entire gang.
There’s much to look forward to about this game. I found interesting the introduction of a little system that allows the player to interject into conversations they overhear using a button prompt. It might be a cool way to spread lore information in a way that feels organic.
One of the most suggested locations of the festival definitely is the Esports Cathedral, a huge stage that hosted a plethora of gaming tournaments and guest panels built inside the San Romano Auditorium, a former medieval church.
Having holy and profane in the same location created quite the show during the matches. In the five days of the event, there were quite a few important encounters on the stage, like the Quake Pro League Stage final, the League of Legends Eurocup, and quite a few ESL tournaments matches as well. Have to say, for being a (former) sacred location, there was quite the swearing coming from the stage.
Aside from Esport challenges, a number of host panels and other shows took place in San Romano, including a live showing of the Blizzcon opening ceremony on Nov. 1.
In the single day, I attended the Lucca Comics and Games, I wasn’t able to experience the full extent of what was on display if anything for the sheer size of the convention. Just imagine that there was a whole section of the city dedicated to all things Japanese with panels featuring artists of the caliber of Hirohiko Araki, author of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures.
What I described so far is a minuscule percent of what’s to see, and there were so many events I didn't have time to attend (like the meet and greet with Sir Patrick Stewart). Nevertheless, walking the streets of the part of the town “inside the walls” surrounded by stuff to see, amazing cosplays, and exhibitions right in the middle of the streets is an experience I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone visiting Tuscany during the next Lucca Comics and Games.