Guest Author - Jay Shaffstall
A convention wide game is one that plays not in a given room, but across the entire convention. People not playing the game are part of the backdrop. A well known type of this game is Assassin. In that game you try to identify and eliminate your target, in amongst the people who are not playing.
Dr. Sinister was an attempt to create that sort of game for AnCon, but evoking the feeling of pulp spy movies, where you made contact with people by means of silly coded phrases and countersigns.
I first pitched the idea to Dave in a random email talking about something else. Unfortunately, he thought it was a great idea, so I was on the spot to actually create the game. As a side note, if you teach don't do this for a convention that will be running around the time that your final grades are due!
Dave and I went back and forth on the mechanics for the game, and finally settled on a sign/countersign mechanic. Each player would be given their own sign and countersign, along with the sign and countersign for two other players.
To successfully make contact with another spy, a player (say Alice) needs to use the signs she knows in casual conversation. If she hits the spy whose sign that is, they'll respond with their countersign. The spy who was tagged then has to share their piece of the puzzle with Alice.
In Dr. Sinister, the puzzle pieces were parts of a message sent to Dr. Sinister's contact at the convention. The entire message detailed where they were to meet, and what sign and countersign the contact could use to make themselves known to Sinister.
The object of the game was to collect enough pieces of the message to be able to make contact with Dr. Sinister first, to obtain his Doomsday Plans, before any other players.
Involving The Vendors
We also involved a vendor in the game, by requiring players to pick up their mission briefings by going to the vendor and using asking if they stocked pink flamingos. We'd given players a fake $1,000 bill to pay for the mission briefing.
Preparing For The Game
Preparing for the game involved printing out the mission briefings given to the players, along with their individual clues, and their signs/countersigns. The signs and countersigns took the most work. Between myself, Dave, and a couple of friends, I ended up with 30 sign/countersign pairs. Each player needed a sheet with their own sign/countersign pair at the top, and two other players' sign/countersign pairs in the middle of the page.
This involved a lot of copying and pasting. To do with any larger number of players, some sort of automation would have been needed.
Dave did a great job promoting the event in the program booklet and through word of mouth. The pre-convention buzz about the game was good, and the Friday night before the game (it was to run all day Saturday, culminating at the con party Saturday night) I heard a number of people talking about the game.
What Didn't Work
Only three people actually signed up for the game. I'm still a bit puzzled about this, given that it seemed like it was going to be a popular game. The sign up for the game was at the registration desk, so was easily visible.
A game like this had a certain minimum number of players needed to get enough clues in play, and so ultimately the game failed because of that.
What Could Be Done Differently
Pushing the game more actually at the con at the registration desk could have helped. At varying times during the con the registration form was covered by something else. Asking each person who registered if they wanted to play might have scared up some more players.
In the game design, making the game not reliant on a minimum number of players would have helped, too. The game as it stood needed a minimum number of clues in play. Providing alternate ways of finding those clues would have helped, to allow those people who did register a chance at winning.
Con-wide games can be very cool, and add another dimension of gaming for the players. Pay careful attention to the design, though, so that even a relatively few number of players can enjoy the game. And remember to push it to everyone you see!