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The Goodly Mist
A Workingblog for Rob Sherman
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Mappa Mundi

September 4, 2012

mappa mundi large

This is the first in a series, where I painfully and hatefully analyse concepts and portions of the boardgame that I am currently developing, and will no doubt be developing in fits and starts for some time. Expect my prose to become hairier and more rage-filled every time I write an entry.

I’m part of a thick wedge of society who love boardgames. As a Western person of means, they have always been a large part of familial and general social life, part of an infinitesimal ritual conducted on holy days in lieu of actual worship. I am sure that many of you know the stations of this journey:

  • All of the food has been eaten. This is the most spiritually dangerous time of the day.
  • Awkward yet homely bigotry commences amongst the ancient of the clan.
  • Sensing a descent into violence due to hunger and disagreement between the more idealistic of the youth and the “venerables”, the beatific sound of the creaking cupboard door is heard, and, with solemn procession, the play is enacted.

Many of my special memories revolve around screaming at my grandma that she can’t have any more wheat (both in her diet and fictious feudal economy), or my mother taking on the role of Victorian mill-owner, shrugging benignly as her entire workforce develop shadowy lungs in the name of progress. I remember once, whilst playing Monopoly, that she constructed a deviously complex loans system to aid struggling opponents, opponents such as her young son who were still coming to grips with economic responsibility. We were around five turns in, and she had already won, but delighted in turning the rack for as long as she could.

I believe that it was from her that I received my “get-up-and-go” attitude. As well as my flinch.

It is now one of my jobs to write games. The emphasis is still on “writing”, but I am learning to structure that writing in many different ways. One of the most important things I have learnt is that some people, deep down, don’t really like reading. This may not strike you as a revelation, but I do find it difficult to accomodate. They do like the content, and the delivery, and the style, and all those myriad parts of writing, but the act of sifting through it in a linear fashion; well, it’s not for everyone. It’s certainly not the only way I like to see a story told.

I have always wanted to write a board game, and I am surprised that it took me this long to realise that there is no license that I require to do so. I can just, well, do it. So that is what I am doing. And while I will be levering in mechanics like an elderly farmer trying to reset his cow’s gently steaming innards after a winter birth, I am really here, inside this head, to tell a story.

hieroglyphica-cynocephali

 

I had been kneading a little idea for a while on the “Age of Discovery”, that incredibly febrile and astoundingly violent period when Spain and Portugal (limped after by England and some other naval underachievers) beheaded captains and set fire to pilgrim ships across much of the world’s oceans. Men like Colombus, Giovanni Caboto and Amerigo Vespucci had their names printed upon much of the world’s globes (novelty, light-up, regular and inflatable) as well as on some distinctive features of the moon. I have always been fascinated with exploration, with the idea that these men, coming from a time when the next village may as well have been populated with Mohammedan blemmyes or worse, had the maniacal ambition and arrogance to take ships not much bigger than a medium-city McDonald’s into open ocean. I struggle to see them as heroes. As I read more about them, the hideous mistakes they made, the murders they committed, the ludicrous titles which were bestowed upon them, and the innumerable new avenues for suffering that their travels opened up (avenues which, granted, ushered in the Renaissance), they strike me as very unpleasant and very interesting characters. Precisely the sort of character that many people like to pretend to be, in their private moments with friends and family. Like my mother, Bob Diamond with leathery wings, whipping the Monopoly Man into a lead mine to carve out shingles for her new Park Lane Mammonopolis.

So, Mappa Mundi is now in development. I won’t reveal too much about the mechanics yet, but I will lay out what I wish to evoke. Really, I can’t tell a single story with this project; a game where the outcome is fixed is not a game, but rather a long and pointless cleverness that I am too prone to. What is vital, before I fix any rules in place, is to work out what sort of stories I want to be told within the mechanics. I made a short list below:

  • The fact that, as an explorer, one’s livelihood, continued existence and future glory rested upon men and women more hopelessly inbred and insane than you were. Kings, queens, merchants and patrons had to have their (very idiosyncratic) egos tickled before there was even a breath of bagayo.
  • The fact that these men had very little qualification, at times, to be leading such voyages, and that maritime knowledge at the time consisted of the pictoral equivalent of a shrug and a witch-drowning.
  • The ludicrous percentage of national wealth that these expeditions required, and the mentals that I mentioned above that freely gave such wealth.
  • The tendencies of mentals to decide that you aren’t so useful after all, and to ask you back to Portugal to be dipped in pitch like a doubletted sundae.
  • The constant and terrifying boredom and danger of the open ocean without an on-board wave machine and karaoke buffet.
  • The aforementioned wankerosity of these men.
  • Pirates.

Anyway, I will keep you updated on my progress, and will provide early versions of the game for playtesting. Fair winds!