What video games can teach us about history in the Mediterranean

by Allison Hansen,

When we think of video games, it is highly likely that we do not think of a potential educational experience. And while most games take many liberties when it comes to historical accuracy, there is one series that can make segments of history come to life. I credit this game series for my love of history, and often the source of random tidbits of historical knowledge that always seem to come in handy when a test comes around. That game series is Assassins Creed. Yes, for those people who have played the games and are screaming “but the game has mythology and non-historically accurate motifs, etc”, I say this: what other mass medium has meticulously recreated cities and regions to match a period of time? I would argue none that sells millions of copies to teenagers and adults around the world. These games grant us the ability to transport ourselves back in time and to gain some glimpse of what life was like hundreds or even thousands of years ago. And with the series containing six games set in the Mediterranean, I would argue it is one of the best widely accessible ways to improve our understanding of the region throughout history. I will discuss in brief the six games that helped expand my understanding of the Mediterranean, and how games like these can be helpful tools to get younger generations interested in history and the world.


The first Assassins Creed game came out in 2009 as allowed players to step into a member of the Assassins, a fictional order based off the Oder of Assassins, an Islamic military order that operated from the 11th to 13th centuries in modern day Persia and Iran. The game loosely followed the events of the Third Crusade, including characters such as Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, and recreated historical cities such as Jerusalem and castle like Masyaf. While still for entertainment, having studied this crusade extensively there are a lot of historical tidbits scattered throughout the game and you learn a surprising amount about this period of time and its figures without necessarily noticing it.

The next three installations of the game take place throughout Italy and Istanbul (or Constantinople under the Byzantines.) These games brought the cities of Florence, Rome, Constantinople, among others to life, letting players walk around these famous cities as if they were there during the height of the 15th century. Again these games are for entertainment and the main story line may be more fantastical than the truth, but the cities and crowds speak the language of the time and it brings to life history more than any textbook ever could.

The last two games I wanted to touch on are the most two recent releases in the series, taking place in ancient Egypt and during the Peloponnesian War. These games grew significantly in size, covering large swathes or Egypt and Greece, thanks to the help of Historians and professors. The games continued the legacy of folding in historical figures (though this has become a joke amongst longtime fans of the series) depicting the Ptolemies and other historical figures such as Socrates or Pericles. And they magnificently recreated historical sites, long ruined by the passage of thousands of years.

So, whether you’re debating Socrates about the value of life, or exploring the venetian skyline, these games prove something interesting about how technology has bridged the gap between itself and entertainment. If millions of people enjoy these games, and enjoy the history buried within them, can entertainment be educational? Can these games be more than just simple games, but can be a way to get a whole generation interested in history or science? Video games can be more than just mindless entertainment, they can teach us patience and coordination and in the case of Assassins Creed, even history.

Works Cited and Image Locations:

Mare Nostrum

By Tony Maggio

Ep. 1


Hello! Welcome to the first episode of Mare Nostrum, a blog all about board games and our favorite region of the world! In this blog, I hope to expand your personal horizons about gaming culture as well as Mediterranean culture. What’s that you say? You’ve only heard of Scrabble and Monopoly and didn’t know that board games were a booming industry? Fear not, my friend. I will (hopefully) introduce you to a whole new world. Yes, board games have been a part of pop culture for a long time, i.e. Monopoly, Scrabble, Yahtzee, etc. Basically, anything that you played as a child was a classic board game and pre-boom. Ever since about the 90s, developers have been pushing out increasingly different and fun board games. You’ve probably heard of “The Settlers of Catan” or “Ticket to Ride.” These are popular ‘gateway’ games into the vast library of modern gaming. In these posts, I will be choosing different games that you have probably never heard of and giving you the 411. One of the cooler factors in this blog is that I will only be choosing games that are based in or on something in the Mediterranean region.

But Tony, what in the heck is up with a name like Mare Nostrum?

I’m glad you asked, reader. Quite literally, Mare Nostrum translates as a name the Romans gave to the Mediterranean Sea. In additions to that, Mare Nostrum is the name of a board game created in 2003. For now, that’s all I am going to say on that topic, as I plan to cover that game in a future installment.

So what can you expect in an episode? As I said, I’ll be choosing a different game each time. Then, I will give a description on what the game is about and how it is played. I will also talk about any historical or cultural significance the game has to the Mediterranean region. Usually, I will try to fit in a play through as well and talk about my experiences whilst playing. (If you want to be featured in a future episode of Mare Nostrum, ask me for an upcoming game date and you too could get in on a play through.) Now, let’s get on to the first game!


Located west of the Spanish city of Granada lies a beautiful palace and fortress called the Alhambra. It was built in 889 AD as an Islamic palace. Situated on a strategic and beautiful mountaintop, the Alhambra has been described as “a pearl set in emeralds.” As time went on, the castle was fortified and became a military fortress. More and more parts were added, increasing the beauty and complexity of the palace. For a short period, it fell into disarray and deterioration due to wars, royal greed, and a lack of caring to upkeep it. However, in the 19th century, the Alhambra was recognized for its importance and the process of restoration was begun.

The game Alhambra was created in 2003 by Dirk Henn. In this game, players assume control over their own Alhambras and attempt to make theirs the best in the country. Each player starts with the historic Lion Fountain as the center of their complex. On your turn, you can do one of three actions: take money, buy a building to add to your Alhambra, or redesign the layout of your current Alhambra. Three times during the game, scoring will take place. During those times, the player(s) who have the most of each building type will score points. More components makes your Alhambra more beautiful, after all. Additional points are rewarded for the longest continuous wall around your Alhambra. This signifies the fortifications given to the wall. After the tiles run out, the game ends and whoever has the most points wins.

Let’s look at the game.

Depicted above is the marketplace. Here, you can take some money from the four cards at the top, or pay for one of the building tiles on the mat. You have to keep in mind the type of currency used, meaning that only blue money can buy the building on the blue spot. The amount required is listed on the tile itself. If you are frugal with your money and spend exactly what it costs, you get an extra turn! When taking money, you can only take one card at a time (unless they add up to at least 5, meaning you could take a 2 and a 3, but not a 6 and a 9).

Here is what your own Alhambra may look like.

When you buy a building, you have to follow rules for placement, mostly corresponding to the walls. Walls must touch walls and clear land must touch clear land. If you don’t want to or don’t have room to immediately place your newly acquired tile, you can put it on reserve, like I did with my pavilion. At two mid-game points, the game is scored, as well as at the end.

Players with the majority of a building type get points. For example, in the above picture, I have three Arcades, my opponent has one, and the special non-player (a new rule for 2-player games) has two. I win the majority and receive a designated amount of points. This is done for each building type. Then, the longest continual wall is counted and scored for length. My longest one is on the bottom left, scoring me six points.

And that’s the game in a nutshell; you try and collect same building types and strategically place them in order to make your own beautiful Alhambra!

Historically, the currency is pretty interesting. Each color represents a different civilization and type of currency they used. This does contain some speculation, but to me, they seem pretty accurate.

The green card represents the Dirham. Originating in the drachma, the dirham was minted mostly for the Byzantine Empire and Moorish Spain, where the Alhambra is located. Next, the blue currency is the Dinar, coming from the Roman denarius. Although, it was later minted in the Arabic lands, which the artwork suggests. Orange represents the Dukat. The dukat is notable for being a specific currency for Italian artisans. It was distributed all around Middle-Age Europe. Finally, the yellow one is the Florin or Guilder. Because of hints on the card’s artwork, the currency quite possibly is from the Dijon region of France, originally Roman. So what’s the significance? Well, all these different denominations of money could represent the fact that artisans and craftsman came from these four regions to build the Alhambra, making it a cross-cultural, or global project.

There are six different building types (in addition to the starting Lion Fountain tile): pavilions, arcades, seraglio, chambers, gardens, and towers. Most of these are self-explanatory, but I’ll talk about the Seraglios and Arcades. The arcades can simply be translated into mezzanines, so that one is easy. The seraglio is a different story. A Seraglio is either woman’s harem or a Sultan’s palace. Since there is no Sultan, this means that the seraglios depicted here are harems. Some people also like to translate the tiles as manors, if they wish to keep bad stuff away.

I had the wonderful opportunity to play Alhambra on Tuesday. Normally, it is a 3 to 4-player game, but it can be played with two by using a special non-player stand-in. There were only two of us, so we decided to do this and continue to play. In our first attempt, we ignored a special rule to remove some of the money. In essence, this would have kept the game’s economy in check due to the decreased number of players taking money. When we played, we soon discovered that we would run out of tiles before we even reached the second scoring point of three. So, we decided to start over, this time using the missed rule. What followed was a quite enjoyable game! I had a great time strategizing which tiles to buy and when to buy them. A fantastic rule that I loved to abuse was the take another turn rule if you paid the exact amount. Several times, I took three turns in a row, allowing me to take the tiles in needed. In the end, the score came down to 130 – 113 with myself cinching the victory.

If you want a simple to learn, fun to play game with more complexity than a roll-and-move game like Monopoly, I highly recommend picking up Alhambra. If that does convince you, maybe the fact that it won the “Spiel des Jahres” or “Game of the Year” in 2003. I guess you could say it’s a Pulitzer of board games.

Thank you so much for sticking with me for this first installment of Mare Nostrum. I had a ton of fun writing it and hope to produce many, many more articles.

Have a question? Have a game you want me to consider? Email me at!