One of the things I like most about playtesting is the detritus that accumulates around it: the piles of index cards with SLEEPY PANDA or HAND GRENADE written on them, the pirate-coin hoards bought for a pound from party shops, the silly hats, the stickers, multi-coloured pens, the tiny model dinosaurs, the always-bewildering-in-retrospect score charts.
With just a week to go before the Hinterland opens up at Forest Fringe in Edinburgh, I wanted to look back briefly on the genesis of the project.
In 1913, H.G. Wells wrote a book called Little Wars. It’s a set of rules for a toy-soldier game, and it sounds like it’s probably pretty good fun; but the main appeal of the book lies in two areas:
1. There are lots of pictures of moustache-wearing Edwardian men looking puzzled by little paper houses.
2. And Chapter 2, “The Beginnings of Modern Little Warfare”, is an incredibly detailed 4000-word essay on how the game was designed: the rules Wells started off with, what worked, what didn’t, how it changed, basically the entirety of his design process. Anyone who’s designed a game may find some of it eerily familiar.
There’s the inspiration, with a throwaway observation:
The beginning of the game of Little War, as we know it, became possible with the invention of the spring breechloader gun. This priceless gift to boyhood appeared somewhen towards the end of the last century, a gun capable of hitting a toy soldier nine times out of ten at a distance of nine yards.
Technological impetus to innovation, there. Then some airy declarations about how there’s “definitely a game in that”, and a vague attempt at trying it out with whatever they had to hand:
In 2007, at the very first Hide&Seek Weekender, I designed and ran something called the London Poetry Game. It was my first go at designing something on a grand scale… Basically, I wanted players to go out into London and find translators of a poem. A poem where each line had been translated into a different language… Translations were phoned in to a hotline, and then cut together to make the poem.