Back in May I saw a call asking for games designers to get involved with an exhibit at the Wellcome Collection entitled 'Play'. I thought it a great idea - to get grown-ups (or failing that, adults!) interested in playing - so I read the rubric. The basic theme was to introduce games that involved change. I looked through my notes of past games I'd invented to see what was suitable. Nothing was. So I sat down (technically speaking, I was already sat down!) and started designing.
The theme of 'change' is an interesting one, since all games change. They begin in a state, a set of rules are applied to change it into a new state, and this repeats until the change has triggers a win (or lose) condition. But this had to be different, the game itself needed to change.
There are several games already on the market involving change - Fluxx being one of the more popular - but, as always in my work, I wanted to do more. Thinking that most people would pick something obvious - like changing the board, or the rules, or the the pieces - I decided to change the players. But if you are changing players, what are you changing to and from? This thought led to the idea of teams; first with a player changing teams part way through a game, and secondly with the lead player of each team changing. I liked both ideas equally. And, like born offspring, it's not fair to have favourites!
As I thought through the idea of 'what happens when you change teams', I realized there was a lot of depth in this approach. Most obviously, would you play as competently knowing you'll soon be on the opposing team playing against the move you just made? This produced a small stumbling block; how to prevent the player cheating the system and purposefully playing bad moves so they could win as soon as they changed teams? I solved this with a randomized timer. You could play bad moves, but if you don't know when the change over happens, you could be stuck with your decision and lose the game. It adds an element of chance, or even gambling.
The idea of changing the lead on each team was appealing, too, but it had a flaw - the team would likely still win, regardless of it's leader. So I introduced the queueing system. That is, the person at the front of the queue would make the decisions (with the team helping, if desired) but if that move won the game, then only the leader would get the glory! As with the 'player changes team' version, a randomized timer would indicate when the leader was to retire to the back of queue.
With a structure to ensure the game changed, all I then needed was a core game on which to base it. Knowing that I'd have limited time, the game has to be easy to learn, last for 10 minutes (to ensure everyone could gain and lose the leadership position), and have an element of pure skill. (There was enough chance in the timer for me to want to introduce any more random elements.) Reversi was perfect, and an obvious, choice. It even led to an amusing punny title, which was the proverbial cherry on the cake.I giggled at the scope it had for emergent gameplay, and submitted my proposal.
So, for the next month, Holly (@hollygramazio) and I discussed plans on presenting it as a large 2mx2m board with large screen displays and so on. I spent hours spray-painting 64 cake boards black to make the pieces, and bought some rope to make a board on the green astro-turf she'd planned for the evening. By July 3rd it was ready, so I packed two bags and a magic wand (for pointing) and headed into Euston.
After the briefing (and discovering I'd lost some rope!) we set-up the board and awaited the first attendees. And boy was there a lot! We had 6 players, 3 per team, and 40 or so spectators. (More than I expected for an interactive game.) I explained the rules and off we went.
It was a minor stroke of luck that everything worked as intended. Well, nearly everything. The software I'd found to display the board didn't have an undo feature, which made it difficult when mis-clicking a piece. (I didn't have time to write this myself, so grabbed the first one I found on the Internet.) Also, the energy needed to keep the crowd amused with commentary, gestures, flying magic wands, and general-purpose showmanship meant I missed a couple of game elements (like 'best move you could make here is...'), but there was help on hand from the audience and my assistant.
One minor issue was that each game took slightly longer to play than planned, so we didn't get to try out all variations. But that was compensated by what happened next...
Reversed Reversi has two confrontational elements to it - the Reversi game itself, and the fact that you might play the winning strategy but not win the game if it was completed when you're not the leader. This in itself makes it quite anti-social, despite my forcing it into such a structure by using words like 'team'. One of the rules I gave is that "when you make the move, you can always bribe other teams members into helping you." This allows the players to create their own meta-game, of betting/deals/strategy. I thought some would have the desire to win so badly they'd offer to buy a beer if they could swap places with another team member, or ask them to make a specific move that would benefit them.
In fact, the opposite happened...
...they decided to co-operate! The desire to win as a team, overtook their personal desire for supremecy. Please remember, this isn't some overly chummy corporate team-building exercise. These are 6 random people who don't know each other. On the street outside, they'd be adversies for the same seat on the tube. Or the last copy of the Beano. But give them a game, that's doubly-confrontational, and they decided to play it as a co-operation game!
The changing game had been changed!
So, that's the story of the first game I designed for the Wellcome Collection. It might have been the only game designed specifically for the event, I'm not sure. In any case, I consider it a success. I hope they did, too. And let's hope there can be more of this sort of thing in the future!