So, for my first blog post on games I thought I'd pick something practical and uncontroversial, namely game construction rather than design. Hopefully it will be helpful to some, particularly when you're running more than one game with upwards of 30 participants. Whilst you want your game to look good, there's always a trade-off between your time and ability to produce attractive components, their actual cost and what you actually need to play the game. There's nothing better for killing creativity and enthusiasm for your game than late night counter-making because you under-estimated the time it can take. Once you start making things it can be very easy to become focused on that rather than making sure the game works as intended, as I have found on occasion, so it helps to think ahead.
Whilst trying to de-clutter the house I began to think again about how much use can be made of resources on multiple occasions - either re-running the same game (often in a school environment) or re-purposing pieces in a different design. This should save time, money and may encourage your creativity too.
Recently I ran a game in Birmingham as part of the Urban Nightmare 'Wide Area Megagame' designed and organised by Jim Wallman, which involved over 600 participants in 10 simultaneous games across Europe and North America. The theme was a zombie outbreak in modern-day America, with each game representing one of the states dealing with the crisis and a team in London playing Federal decision-makers. Communication between these games was mainly by emails, although I did spot a number of people on their phones throughout the day. Despite a bit of an onslaught at times they coped with both the zombies and the panic they engendered and by the day's end the fightback was in progress. Suffice it to say that the day went very well, with lots of new players involved and keen to try future games.
When the component requirements for the game became apparent I decided to sit down with a brew and look at what I already had in the cupboard, June was already a very hectic month so I knew I had to work smarter, not harder. Whilst there was one element that didn't turn out quite as intended, I was pleased with the rest and thought that whilst unpacking, I should separate the components into a few categories and see how well I'd done. Trying to everything from half a dozen games can take up lots of space, so you need to be selective.
In the first category I had a fairly extensive assortment of components, some in hand, some I bought with a view to finding other uses for in the future. All of these will go into other games.
Coloured lanyards - originally bought for use in schools (they go down very well) I took these rather than sticky labels or clip on badges as it was very easy to colour-code city and other teams. This helped with identification mid-game but also helped build a bit of team identity.
Poker chips - I had hundreds of these already, picked up in bulk at a big discount. The red ones served as 'votes' to measure support for politicians and were lost as panic rose. The black ones were political endorsements from players and encouraged politicians to canvas for support.
Gold coins - obviously in the zombie apocalypse no-one would rely on paper bills, so these did sterling duty - they've already served time as Renaissance florins.
Dice and counters - the red dice were cheap on Ebay and were used to track the build up of fires. The green cubes (zombie levels) and pink (casualties for medics to retrieve) came in a big tub, whilst the big yellow wooden cubes highlighted where the largest zombie hordes were.
Not-LEGO Minifigs - there were a number of VIPs in the game. Counters had been provided, but I saw these for 25p each in Poundland. The decision didn't take long.
One of the 2 tubs of cubes I picked up from EBay for around £20 each. Make sure you don't get sent the inter-locking ones...
Often a game can be run again, or an adapted version produced, Having considered what I would want to focus on in future and their usefulness in playtesting, I decided that the unit and zombie counters, plus some of the action cards and player role badge inserts needed storing. Note the VHS boxes making themselves useful. I also have various laminated maps and hospital boards on A3. I haven't yet decided what I'm doing with them,
I often use vinyl banner printing for maps and boards that will get used several times but I got the city maps for this game on heavyweight paper from a company called Ezeeprint. I had several A0 acetate sheets to use as write-on overlays if necessary, but used the occasional post-it instead. The design was trimmed so that the map would fit on a 2.5 foot-wide table and other information was displayed on adjacent tables. They all roll up in one tube so storage isn't much of an issue and can be recycled if and when the time comes.
Whilst we're on the subject of counters, I decided to try something different for me and use vinyl floor tiles, as recommended by my friend Pete. This was one of the earlier ones, before I discovered my guillotine can cope with the tiles, for a tidier cut. I only printed on paper, which sticks to the tiles, then pressed the sheet onto Fablon sticky-backed plastic for those counters which might need writing on with a marker. This technique is not only much cheaper than the MDF I like to use for my historical games where it's more thematic but also much thinner than foamboard counters (easier to store) and heavyweight, so they stay where they're supposed to.
Post-game Storage - for most of us, storage will be at a premium so a while ago I decided that even if I'm sure I'll run a game again, other than maps and charts, all the game-specific components should fit into a shoe box. Mission accomplished.
Ready for Another Home
Many thanks are due to Pete for his efforts in slicing up so many, but I don't need all these, so any takers should let me know for when I next see you.
Not too bad a pile of paper and card. Must do better next time though.
Whilst I did manage to avoid having to make certain components from scratch by thinking about what I already had in the cupboard this was still a big task and I didn't get everything done as I'd have liked. Having adapted the building template from Jim to make labels to stick on painted wooden blocks I realised too late that they'd printed awry and useless. Remedial action will be taken with a fly-swatter and spray can one sunny day, so they can go in the renewables box.
Also, I still didn't spend enough time actually doing the maths and thinking about how the game would be run in my venue, bearing in mind some space constraints. Had I done so I could have cut down on my cards considerably, saving a bunch of time and ink. My cat is *fascinated* by the laminating process though. Apologies to anyone who noticed her hair in their map.
The renewable/re-run/recycling ratio isn't too bad this time, but could have been improved. What I really need to find time to do over the summer is to sort and label all the resources I have. I have a feeling it could save time and money in the future, as well as perhaps do a little bit more for the environment.
p.s. apologies for any subliminal advertising for this year's Pennine Megagames' calendar in this post's photos...