Summary for the easily-bored: we have a Sandpit on Monday the 18th which is all drop-in games – no booking at all, no stickers and tickets. (It’s mostly indoors, don’t panic about the weather). Weird, huh?
The long version: In a week, it’s time for our second Sandpit of the year: a night of games themed around performance and performers. It’s running from 6:30 to 10pm at the Southbank Centre, on Monday 18 June. It should be quite good.
I have to explain the Sandpit quite often. “It’s a night for game designers and artists to try out new ideas, and everyone else to come along and play,” I say. “There’s a core of scheduled games, where you can book places book, and then there are games you can drop in on, and pick-up-and-play games you can run on your own if you like, a bit like parlour games.”
This is how it’s always been, right from Sandpit 2 back in 2008, when we added parlour games and Trap Street to the core of scheduled games. People turn up from 6:30; they book places; games begin at 7; the scheduled games are the heart of it, and other stuff happens around them. Forty Sandpits later, that’s still how it works.
Except there’s a problem with this system, which is: not everyone can turn up at 6:30. Not everyone knows which games they want to play, based on a 20-word description in a programme. Some people come at 8 and the games they’re interested in are all booked out; some people don’t even know what’s going on, they just wander past and have a look and want to get involved.
So we’re experimenting with different ways of doing things, and as part of that, next Monday 18 June we’re running a Sandpit with no scheduled games at all. No booking. No cross-referencing different times on the schedule and saying “okay if the 8pm game of People Chase Me is booked can I have a 7pm slot, and then give back my 7pm slot for People Talk Around A Table?” No players turning up at 8:00 and taking the leftovers from the people who turned up at 6:30.
Just drop-in games from 6:30 onwards, all around the Ballroom. Some of them short games with a new round starting every 5 to 10 minutes. Some of them games new players can join the group at any time. Some where you can participate immediately as an audience member, and then join the players for the next round.
And then, at 9pm, some of those drop-in games will wind down, and some will keep running in the background, while everyone who wants to can get involved in or watch a bigger game to finish off the night.
If you can get to the Southbank at 6:30 then that’s still worth doing – Sandpits generally get busier as the night goes on, so you’ll probably get to play more stuff more often during the earlier part of the evening. But if you can’t, then when you do turn up you’ll be on an equal footing with the people who’ve been there all night.
It’s worth noting that scheduled games are not going to go away long-term! There are amazing, amazing games that we think just can’t work without bookings and scheduling: there needs to be a way to get ten or thirty or a hundred people together at once, explain the rules to them, and set them playing. There needs to be a way for players to decide what they want to do and plan their night. Scheduled games, we think, are always going to be core to the Sandpit’s overall aims. But for this one night, we’re going to do without them. We’ll see what we can learn about making things more approachable for latecomers and newcomers. We’ll see what happens without the booking system. We’ll see what a Sandpit feels like when drop-in games are at its heart, and when we can all play something together at the end.
It’s not how we usually do things. We’re a bit nervous. But we’ll see how it goes. Do come along.
(And if you can’t make it on Monday, we’re playtesting some of the games in the office this Thursday…)
Photo from the drop-in games section, The New Year Games