Game of Roses 2022

I’m decompressing from Game of Roses 2022 right now. Thinking started back in 2016, and the first run was in a field in 2018. Since then, it’s run twice in St Martin’s in Norwich, thanks to Norwich Historic Churches Trust. Seems it’s possible not only to get lightning back in a bottle, but back out again. It’s entirely inspiring to watch teenagers getting so into the ambitions of their historical characters, turn some simple game mechanics into motivation and – I think – learn so much about the time.

A game of factions

“what is that huddle over there?”

Margaret Beaufort, of the Tudor faction, of a pack of Gloucesters talking to the ambassadors of France and Scotland

It’s a two day event, with four historical workshops wrapped round three runs of the Game, an educational larp for ‘A’ History level students.

The design is built around groups of players – factions of the time. Factions have goals to achieve. Our experience before this event suggested the factions were loosely paired in terms of the difficulty of getting their goals. Tudors and Buckingham are real tough; Gloucesters and Londoners easiest, with Hastings and Woodville in the middle. Every group of students gets one of each difficult, so in the end we hope everyone gets a good chance of doing really well, and once real challenge. We’ll need to keep an eye on this as we tweak the game. This run’s Woodville’s used their superfluity of marriageable children to get some useful continental alliances which helped considerably in the final analysis.

A game of characters

“You again, Hastings? You’re doing my nut in.”

Richard of Gloucester, run 2, I believe.

Each faction is made up of a dozen or so characters, each with an ambition and a lever. An ambition might be “Become a bishop”, or “Get a book published”. A lever might be the position of Member of Parliament, or a force of soldiers. The design expects individuals to use levers indirectly to achieve ambitions. The fact you’re an MP won’t directly help you become a bishop. Having a vote in parliament might help you help someone who can help you become a bishop. The Hastings in that quote was probably lobbying Richard of Gloucester on behalf of their faction members. (And the young woman playing Richard was amazing.)

Each character has a tabard in their faction colour with their faction symbol on the back, and their name on the front. Everyone can spot the faction members at work without having to remember who is a member of which. Everyone knows who they are talking to. Given the game depended on characters talking to each other – easy identification really helped.

The practical consequence of this during the game is that everyone is on a level. There’s no costume to worry about, no additional cost.

The impact on play is that everyone can see the ebb and flow of the action. When a posse of Woodvilles head off to convocation, everyone can see them go. When the London MPs move to parliament, you can watch them do it. The ebb and flow of the game is very clear. Never more so than when folk head to Westminster Abbey, Sanctuary and safety, when their faction loses the ascendant.

Every character’s ambition and leaver is on a card they wear on a lanyard. There’s a bit of history about them on the front. No shuffling briefing sheets, no struggling to remember what you’re meant to do. It doesn’t help you look like an actual noble of the period, but neither do the tabards. We’re not here for authenticity of look, and our immersion is mental not physical. You might also have a card with a title, one if you’re a bishop, one for membership of parliament or the royal council, and one for each marriageable child you have under your control.

Many of those lanyards also have a number on them which indicate a force, a number of troops. At the end of the run, the future of the realm all boils down to these numbers. Duncan and I add them up, and brief a pair of reenactors. One of them represents each side of the fighting in 1483. One of them will lose, and those numbers decide which one.

It’s got a look to it, as the most important characters have the most lanyards. Those lanyards are different colours, so a player can get a general idea of the status of who they’re looking at.

Those lanyards sometimes grant you access and rights in one of the houses of power: parliament in the Palace of westminster, the royal council held in the Tower of london, or the convocation of bishops in Westminster abbey. In game, those locations are marked by simple banners. (With beautiful line art by Steph Pardoe.)

A game of decisions

“I’ve cut a sick deal with Brittany”

Margaret Beaufort, Run 2, I think.

We chose our title carefully. “Game of Roses” tells everyone this is a competitive experience – this appealed to some students who might otherwise nowe have engages. Back in 2016, “Game of Thrones” was in full swing, so there was a connection there too.

We run the game three times each event. That gives students time to think, to see different strategies each time and to see the event through different eyes. The result is different pretty much every time. We’ve had Richard III crowned, Henry VII crowned, Edward V crowned, and even a Richard III born Richard of Shrewsbury. We’ve had rebellions crushed and rebellions succeed.

We are consistent. The experience has rules. Different strategies gave consistently different results. Results were not our opinion, didn’t depend on what might make the best story, but on the numbers.

We didn’t use costume. Our instinct was that costume would get in the way, and we knew it would be pricey. Our learning objectives didn’t depend on physical immersion.

We gave the students crew to back them up. Those crew members were not there to tell the students what do; but to explain how to do it. The trick was to inspire the players; to get them involved by responding enthusiastically to their ideas and getting them started.

The team included a teacher well-known to the students. I’m pretty sure we benefited hugely by having someone well-known to the students as a core part of the team. They knew the experience was his project, not simply something bought in. Their respect for him inspired them to active participation, which in turn ensured the success of the experience.

We’re privileged to have Dr Barratt, an Education EDI Project Manager from Leicester University, on board to evaluate the experience. I’ll leave the last words for now to an education professional who has helped with workshops and roles in the last two runs.

So, home now after a very intensive two day event in Norwich. I have had the absolute pleasure to be part of the bonkers yet utterly brilliant machinations of Harry Harrold and Duncan Rowe and their immersive history experience Game of Roses. The sixth formers and Year 11s from Wymondham College were outstanding. I may have started the Reformation 50 years early this afternoon. I learned loads about the complexity of the political situation and maneuvering in 1483. And I got to commentate three very different Battle of Bosworths. Just extraordinary.

Tim Eagling, Time Capsule Education, on Facebook in 2018

“Let’s get this war started.”

One student to another, Game of Roses 2022.

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