Igfest 2010

27 September 2010 | 1 comment

Bristol’s Igfest – the Interesting Games Festival – has always done really well at looking good, at that cluster things starting with “spect”: spectacle, the spectacular, spectators. This year’s event, with a Village Fete theme during the day and an enormous zombie chase at night, was firmly in the best Igfest tradition: a lot of games to play, of course, but also a lot of really strong images, and tiny theatrical touches that made sure the games delighted passers-by as well as players.

The big game of the weekend was 2.8 Hours Later, the zombie chase. It ran twice, with a total of 400 players, and it was just vast. Certainly too vast to be squashed into a blog post with other games, so I’m going to leave it to the side for a moment and write about it in more detail later in the week.

Which leaves the afternoon of fete-themed games, with drums, balloons, water, glowing RFID devices, and hundreds of cardboard boxes…

The Running of the Bull

We got to Igfest just in time for the Running of the Bull, a dodging and grabbing game with one bull and a dozen runners. The bull – a man in magnificent stylised bull costume – wielded two horns in his hands. We – the bull-runners – had our gizzards (well, water balloons) strung about our neck, open to the bull’s vicious attacks. Our task was to pull red and green streamers from around the bull’s neck; the bull’s task was to gore our gizzards. The winner was the runner who collected the most streamers and survived, ungored, to the end.

The simplicity of the ruleset and the speed of the game worked really well with the magnificence (and surprising manouevrability) of the bull’s costume; but the thing was really surprising to me was the use of sound. It’s tricky to do sound with low-tech pervasive games, but the Running of the Bull had – as well as its organic swirls-of-the-bull and shrieks-of-the-suddenly-gored-runners – a drummer squirreled away in a corner. It was startling how much difference she made, and how well her presence helped to modulate the rhythm of the game.


Hajduks (from Bogdan Španjevic and Mirko Stojkovic, who ran Serb.I.Am at the Hide&Seek Weekender) was a longer game for two teams of five players. One team were traders; the other, thieves. The setup was simple: traders had twenty minutes to wander the streets, and thieves had twenty minutes to rob them. Every trader carried an RFID-reading device, so they were easy to rob: just tap them on the shoulder, and then scan a card to their device.

There was one tricky bit for the thieves: one of the devices was rigged, and whoever was carrying it was actually Musa Kesedžija, who could take a thief out of commission for three minutes. And since the traders could swap devices as much as they liked, the identity of the hajduk changed over the course of the game.

It’s a lovely straightforward design – at the end of the round the traders and thieves swap roles; the team that commits the most robberies wins – and it made for a really satisfying use of technology. It would be possible to run the same basic game without any tech more complicated than a bundle of playing cards, but the tech makes it possible to enforce a couple of extra rules: if you’re a trader, you can only be robbed once every thirty seconds; and if you’re a thief, then if you try to rob Musa Kesedžija, you really do need to wait for three minutes before you scan someone else. Keeping these rules in place with a card-based game would be enormously faffy, but the RFID devices do it effortlessly, and keep score into the bargain. (The devices also, in principle, sent optional bluetooth pictures to thieves who had just robbed a trader. In practice, few players took part – the pictures would just have slowed them down and put them at a slight but real disadvantage in the game.)

Interestingly, the most fun way to play the game was not the most effective way to play. A fiercely victory-focused thief would be best advised to choose a trader and stick with them throughout, robbing them every thirty seconds; and a really competitive trader would be best off just finding a really good hiding place (a stall in some pub loos?) and lurking there. Both these behaviours would be within the rules, but no fun at all. In the game we played, everyone went for fun, and it sounds like the same thing happened in the other two runs of the game at Igfest. And the question there, I suppose, is: if there’s a theoretical problem with the rules, but in practice it just doesn’t come up, is that actually a problem at all?


And then there was Igfest’s spectacle: a maypole; jousting by knights who were mounted on tiny bicycles and wielding giant paintbrushes; distant views of Simon Katan’s Yokels as they walked the streets in shiny hats; and to wrap up the day the magnificent Uncivil War, in which players built cardboard-box forts, decorated them with chalk, and then had a massive water-balloon fight.

(Picture by Kevan: Uncivil War)

1 comment on this post.

  • On 28 Sep 2010, Kevan said:

    Actually, I’m not sure that sticking with a trader was a workable tactic, in Hajduks. The “no running” rule meant that every player had the same top speed, so if you stuck with the same trader, you’d just be walking behind them without ever gaining on them. The only way to catch a trader was to surround them, sneak up on them, or accept their “oh, I don’t mind if you catch me, because I am the one with the rigged RFID unit” bluff.

    But I think theoretical problems need fixing if they’re inside the game rules. We can trust players not to remove their Journey armbands, because they have to step outside the game (and consciously cheat) to do that, but you can’t rely on every player to politely decline a valid, legal tactic on the grounds that it would be too easy. A single player prizing victory above fun would spoil the game for everyone else.

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