History of Great Fire: London 1666
Late at night in a bar at Essen in 2007 several of the October Wargames Association fell into a discussion common no doubt to the many gamers who attend - ideas for board games. Most of the ideas lead nowhere, but I had a beginings of an concept for a game involving some disaster and trying to survive it. The intial idea was far from a game about the great fire of London - it was actually about British soldiers trying to escape the collapse of the army at Ilsuanduana on the eve of the battle of Rorke's Drift in 1879. That game never seemed to work but whilst I was working on it the Great Fire of London popped into my mind.
Even with the evolution of games today, with nearly everything online or downloadable onto computers or hi-tech mobile phones, board games still have a large fan base. Although many people enjoy Wii, Nintendo, and the like, there is something special about gathering a few friends around a board for a session. There are also more and more cosy cafés that offer board games for people to enjoy with their drinks and snacks. All around the world there is still a thriving board game culture to be catered to.
In October 2008 I ordered this map from Amazon:
It was actually drawn in 1667 (the year after the fire) and showed the extent of the damage. Using this I sketched a very crude board on two pieces of card. Here is part:
I also produced hand drawn fire move cards. Using wooden counters picked up at Essen, the first Great Fire Game was created in time for Ferry Spiel 2008. This term was coined by Pete Heatherington after we both agreed to take early protypes of our games on the cross channel ferry. As we sat down to play through the 90 minute crossing a Welsh Male choir on board (and mostly at or near the bar) started to sing 'Men of Harlech'. The first play test of Great Fire took place against this backdrop. (Incidentally Ferrycon III will take place during our crossing in just a few weeks as I write this, so if you see a group of men huddled round cardboard boards and wooden pieces come and ask to play.)
The play test was naturally bumpy (especially due to the ferry) but showed potential and so on the drive through Belgium we continued the discussion and analysed the combinations of numbers of houses, districts and players.
On my return I was ready to make a proper prototype.
Below: The First attempt at the game board using Campaign Cartographer. Note that I made an error and the date of the original map I copied (1667) was brought across!
I also produced some Fire Card - crude versions like this:
At this stage players got 2 pts for each house that survived and that was about it. It was still fun but it was obvious that we needed something to strive for in the game beyound just burning other players houses. Suddenly inspiration hit me in the middle of an after game debrief - we needed objective cards.
MIdcon is a 200 person or so attendance board game convention that occurs in November in Birmingham. Although lacking in much trade element, its size makes for a nice freindly weekend. It was a chance to twist a couple of arms and get an opinion on the game from the gamer. I actually ran 3 play test sessions that weekend. We used these two maps:
You can see that the date is still wrong on the former but that we are starting to get nearer the apperance of the final version. The district around pudding lane is now delineated. I am playing about with having houses in all districts or just some. I also now have objectives - the lighter shaded areas. However at this stage we have more than the 12 we ended up with.
Here are some early objective cards:
At this stage I also had a number of other objectives:
We played around with many such ideas but found there was a high elemnt of luck in what cards you got. In the end settled on the 12 objectives in the final verision of the game. At this stage the game was still very random and massive elemnt of luck coudl apply to where your houses ended up. It was clear that a LOT of work needed doing to knock this game into shape.
Early 2009 Version
By now David Norman of JKLM was heavily involved having played the game at Midcon. Some many dozens of emails later and the game started to tighten up. Over the winter of 2008 to 2009 David brought his analytical mind to the mechanics - but never dominating and always encouraging me to come up with ideas and concepts. It was quite a fun period as his group and mine were playing it a lot and ideas were flying all over the place.
Now we have a score track appearing, we have a map grid, we have 4 zones to the board to make for more even spread of houses and the 12 objective had been settled upon. We also devloped 3 sets of objective cards to ensure everyone got one near to the fire, 1 middling and one further out.
UK Games Expo 2009
The game was now ready for exposure to the public again after 6 months devlopment from Midcon. The result was pretty good support and enthusiasm.
The play tests at Expo though thew up a couple of minor issues and niggles. These were about the balance of objective cards and the use of demolition charges (or the tendency not to bother to use them). More play testing ensued but by September 2009 those niggles had been solved and the final play test sessions worked well. So it was that the game is ready for Markus of JKLM to take on to production. Hopefully at Expo 2010 we will see it on release.