Roughly speaking, at the European convention scene, there are two types of games:
- Demo games: a gaming group demonstrates a specific game setup, a period, a ruleset, ... The intention is not participation by convention visitors, but the game is rather a starting point for explaining visitors what the game, rules, etc. are all about.
- Participation games: the game is set up with the purpose of visitors participating, and might vary in length between let's say 15 minutes of fast fun and a few hours.
So, the article proposes a hybrid: the visual spectacle of a demo game, but with the intention of letting visitors taking control of the game for a few turns.
This reminded me very much of the type of games we have run with our gaming group Schild & Vriend during various conventions - mostly CRISIS in Antwerp - over the past 10 years. We have designed our games around the idea of micro-participation - i.e. allow visitors to take part in the game for only a few minutes. The game would run all day, and the flow of the game is the result of a sequence of turns taken by many players over the course of an entire day.
Arnhem 2005The first game of this type we ran was our Arnhem game in 2005. The design was based on Free Kriegsspiel. A gamesmaster would run the game all day long, and when a visitor passed by, he would be offered a decision to make: "These platoons have been hiding in these woods. Do you think they should shoot at the enemy, or move forwards?" Once the player hade made a choice, a few dice were rolled (e.g. determining movement distance, or outcome of the fight, ...). The player could stick around for a few more moves, or could move on.
Attack on Fort Stanley 2008In 2008, we tried a different approach. Set in Darkest Africa, a fort was under siege. The besiegers were controlled by the umpire, but the besieged were under control of whatever visitor was present at the table. The system was run using cards. A5-size cards - displayed prominently - outlined the actions a player could take, including requested dice rolls and chances for success. The only thing a player had to do was pick a card, move the figures, throw a dice. When the action was complete, a new card was drawn. Again, this allowed for a few minutes of quick fun.
Red vs Blue 2013Our largest experiment in this style was Red vs Blue, in 2013. We had printed over 1500 custom playing cards, which we dealt out in the entire convention hall: at stands, at the entrance, at the bar, ... At the gaming table, there was a real-time clock, indicating what side (red or blue) was "on". When you came to the table with one of the cards, you could participate immediately, following the actions on the card. The cards came in many different variations: movement actions, artillery bombardments, reinforcements, etc. At then end of the day, we logged over 250 participants.
So, yes, it is possible to design games around the idea of micro-participation. It takes some thinking and some preparation. But, it also is very exhausting, especially of you want to run the game all day long. Red vs Blue ran for 6 hours, in real time, non-stop.
Will we repeat such mass-participation wargames again? Perhaps, although I do not have plans for the immediate future. I feel that with Red vs Blue we reached the limit of what this genre could do - unless a lot more people get involved in the running and participation. After all, we usually did this with 2 or 3 people on the organizing team ;-)