Last week I posted some thoughts about the recent archaeogaming unconference. Probably the main thought there was that we can create games that convey a scholarly argument, but we have to figure out what our argument is before we start creating the game. Different arguments will require different game mechanics and mediums to portray them in the best possible way.
So last week I started brainstorming about my own research: beads from early medieval Scotland. I recently presented my master’s research at the SAAs in April, and wondered if I could turn that paper into a game of sorts.
My primary arguments in that paper was primarily that Scotland’s bead culture in the early medieval period is distinct from those of their neighbors, and that within Scotland, there are hints of regional differences in bead culture as well.
But how do you turn that into a game?
Enter Stringing the Past, a board game currently set in early medieval Scotland.
Your starting place is determined by drawing one of 8 region cards, and you start at the largest site in that region. You would then draw 3 goal cards aiming to collect certain types of beads.
There are 3 phases to your turn: Travel, Market, and Trade.
In the Travel phase, you can move up to 1 space over mountains, 2 over hills or marshland, and 3 over flatland, forest, river, or coastal tiles. You can also stay put.
In the Market phase, if you are at a town/city, you may visit the market. This market holds all of the beads found at that site. You may obtain these beads through one of 2 ways. You may choose a bead to acquire and roll a die to see if you succeeded in purchasing it from the market. The rarer the bead, the higher the roll required to obtain it. You may also trade some of your own beads for the bead you wish to obtain. The rarer the bead, the more beads will be required to trade.
In the Trade phase, if you are sharing a tile with another player, you may attempt to trade beads with them. The terms of the trade are up to you, and there is no minimum of maximum trade.
At the end of your turn, if you are not happy with your goal cards, you may discard all of them and draw 3 more. If you choose to discard, you must discard all 3 and begin with all new goals.
Each time you complete one of your goal cards, you must display it face up and draw another goal card. Each goal card is worth 1, 2, or 3 points depending on the difficulty of finding the matching beads. Play ends when one person has completed 10 goals. Each player then totals the points of their completed goals, and the person with the highest score wins.
In that sense, my argument would be inherent in the game. The beads available in any given location would be taken from the archaeological evidence, so you would come to realize certain beads are only available in certain regions. You would also likely realize that if you start in the Hebrides and have to get beads from southeastern Scotland, that’s going to be quite the trek, and you may decide to ignore or discard that goal. In essence, you would be recreating the mechanics of trade and travel that we think we’re seeing in the archaeological record.
What’s great about this is that you can make all sorts of expansions for it that include other regions of the world. You can also have an expansion that adds bead manufacturers to the picture and provides mechanics for collecting glass and making beads. You can have an expansion for long-distance travel, by land, sea, or both. You can incorporate merchants traveling from a distance who have a much wider variety of beads, and you can use different chronologies to complicate the picture.
And now that I’ve written all this down, I really want this to be an actual game.