logo The Mooncurser's Handbook

The occasion for this Game was the release of the 42nd edition of the Mooncurser's Handbook. You'd be surprised at how long it took us to get to this point. One of the first tasks in planning this event was picking a theme, and there were a lot of suggestions. Ultimately, this was the one that seemed to meet our criteria the best: engaging players, providing some overall structure to guide us, and allowing for a certain amount of silliness. Any similarity between the Mooncurser's Handbook and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is purely coincidental. Anyway, the Handbook is decidedly geared not toward the casual traveller, but a more entrepreneurial sort of character, colloquially known as a Mooncurser.

This event had many things in common with previous full-sized games, but with several important departures. Traditionally, a team experiences a game more or less on their own. There are other teams following the same route, but there's no guarantee that you'll see them very often, if at all. Game control (aka GC) is also generally mostly invisible to the teams.

This game broke that tradition in a few ways. First, the game was divided into four legs. In between the legs were pit stops at which the teams gathered to eat, relax, and compete in some extra activities. The next leg did not start until all of the teams had arrived at the pit stop. As the pit stop drew near, trailing teams would be skipped over clue locations to arrive on time. This ensured that the difference between the fastest team and the slowest team never exceeded about an hour. Having twenty-two teams moving through the route within an hour of each other meant that no team would become isolated, at least for very long. If a team did end up far ahead or far behind, they would converge with everyone else at the pit stop. At the end of the pit stop, everyone had a fresh start for the next leg.

Another new feature of this game both exploited and encouraged this grouping of teams. In parallel with the traditional location-puzzle-location game, this event included a commerce game. At every location, teams would check in with GC and receive one or more goods, which took the form of trading cards. In each leg, a team would acquire around 12-15 goods. Through the handbook, they also discovered rules governing the value of these goods. At the end of every leg, each team would cash in a set of goods for cedricks: essentially points that counted toward their final standing in the game. Teams had some control over the goods they received at each location, but not enough to put together very high-scoring hands. To really compete, teams were encouraged to trade with each other. Trading and negotiating with other teams became an integral part of the experience.

One other aspect of the game worth mentioning is the device (aka the gadget). Historically, Seattle games have only had about ten teams and any help that teams got was provided by phone. This was feasible both because of the small number of teams and because of the lack of a definite schedule. If a team got blocked on a clue, they could potentially spend several hours on it, depending on how willing game control was to help them (which might depend on how far ahead or behind they were). While this did allow game control to give teams a more personalized experience, it can raise some issues of fairness and it requires a lot of resources from GC.

For an event with twenty-two teams and a strict schedule, informal phone support was not a very reasonable option. Instead, we borrowed a scheme from recent Bay Area games and provided each team with a Palm handheld device. This device was programmed to provide pre-timed HINT alerts to make sure teams were staying on track. Whenever a team arrived at a location, they received an arrival code to enter into the device and start the hint timer. Entering the solution revealed the next location. The intention was that for a team making reasonable progress on a clue, the hints would serve only as confirmation, but for a team that was struggling, the hints would unstick them before the puzzle became too frustrating.

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