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Yorgame - a bloodthirsty new historical board game set in York
Dick Turpin, bubonic plague, riots, brawling apprentices – and heads on spikes. STEPHEN LEWIS reports on how you could help test-play a bloodthirsty new historical board game set in York.
Picture it. You’re walking down Lendal minding your own business when a complete stranger in a long black cloak and three-cornered hat jumps out, thrusts a pistol in your face, and demands ‘your money or your life’.
It’s already been an odd sort of day. You’re convinced you saw a gory, blood-dripping head impaled above the ramparts of Micklegate Bar this morning. Then, as you were watching a Mystery Plays waggon trundle along Stonegate towards Petergate, a gang of youths leaped out and set it on fire.
There was some kind of a riot going on at Bootham Bar, and you saw more than one person staggering through York’s streets as though they were drunk – though from the boils on their faces and the lumps on their necks, you suspect they may actually have been infected by some horrible disease instead.
On top of all this, you’ve noticed the streets are so full of potholes that passing carts keep getting stuck; and you’d swear the dandyishly-dressed man you spotted earlier riding up Duncombe Place on a prancing white horse was King Charles I. Come to that, didn’t you just see Richard III heading towards Lendal?
No, you’re not going mad. And this isn’t some weird time-travel video game, either.
Welcome to the world of Yorgame, the brand-new board game set in York.
It is the brainchild of sometime academic, archivist, antiquarian book dealer and tarot card reader Dr Julie Speedie. And it’s a delightful cross between Monopoly, Horrible Histories and a ghost tour of York – with the Mystery Plays, bubonic plague and Dick Turpin thrown in for good measure.
Sadly, you won’t see Yorgame in the shops yet (and yes, Julie accepts the name probably does need some work).
Julie is still putting the final touches to her creation before pitching it to board game manufacturers and distributors.
But you might still get a chance to have a game. She’s looking for local people willing to ‘test-play’ her invention, so she can gauge reactions, take on board feedback, and iron out any inconsistencies. “I’ve had a couple of test-playing sessions and people seem to have enjoyed it. But I really do need more feedback!” she says.
Julie has already brought her game into The Press offices so we could have a go; and great fun it is too.
The board is essentially a large map of York, with the main streets divided up into squares.
Players choose one of six characters to move about the board – they include Guy Fawkes, Richard III, Charles I and Eric Bloodaxe.
Each character has a particular destination to reach. But they also have a task: to earn enough money to build a Bar.
The currency is ‘stones’ (the local currency used in building the Bar walls, jokes Julie), and you can earn these as you move around the board by doing good deeds, trading – or simply stealing or extorting them from other players.
You throw a die to move, and choose which streets you want to walk down. But beware: Dick Turpin is liable to jump out at any moment to rob you. And if you land on a square marked with the coat of arms of York, you have to draw a card.
When that happens, something pretty unpleasant might ensue. You could get caught up in a street brawl, be accused of theft – or pick up a nasty case of the bubonic plague and find yourself banished to the Burton Stone, the most remote square on the board.
With certain cards, you’ll also pick up a black mark – and if you get enough of these, your character will have his head chopped off and placed on Micklegate Bar.
As well as moving your character through York, you also have to manage the procession of a Mystery Plays waggon about the city centre. It is subject to attacks by apprentices working for a rival wagon, or to getting a wheel stuck in a pothole.
And if the city fathers judge your pageant to be ‘unseemly and lewd’, you could find yourself facing a hefty fine… The great thing about the game, says Julie, is that everything which happens to characters is based on real-life incidents from York’s history.
“People say I must know an awful lot about the history of York,” she says. “But it’s been through creating the game that I’ve learned so much!”
She had the idea for the game in a dream a decade or so ago. It was 2002, just a couple of years after she’d come to York.
Born and bred in London, Julie lived in the capital for much of her life.
She went to the Baston School for Girls (“otherwise known as St Trinians!”); did an English degree at Nottingham; trained as a librarian; then found herself working as a cataloguer for an antiquarian bookseller.
She set up her own antiquarian bookselling business, and while she was running it, studied for a PhD part-time at London University’s Birkbeck College. She turned her PhD thesis about Ada Leverson, a friend of Oscar Wilde, into a book.
By the 1990s, however, she was getting tired of London life. It was too dingy, grey and overcrowded – and too anonymous, she says. “There are a lot of people living there, but you don’t know anybody.”
She tried teaching English on a Greek island for a while. “And I discovered I’m not cut out to be a teacher!”
So she began looking around for somewhere else to live in the UK. She thought of Brighton, but it was too expensive, and too close to London. She considered Oxford. And then she came to York for a weekend – and was hooked.
“It was like flying over the rainbow to the Emerald City,” she says.
She’s been here ever since, doing temporary jobs in the archives at the University of York and York St John, singing in last year’s Mystery Plays, giving tarot readings – and even delivering talks to local pagans about the medieval representation of animals.
“I’m an Anglo-Catholic, but I find paganism fits in perfectly!” she says.
In 2002, when she’d been here a couple of years, she had that dream. “I saw this map of York, and the characters going around it.” She sketched out the idea for a game, then put it away in a cupboard.
But now she has revived it, and produced a board, pieces and a series of Monopoly-style cards – which apart from being great fun are packed with information about York’s colourful past.
Once she’s test-played it with a few willing volunteers, she’ll be ready to start seriously looking for a manufacturer or distributor.
And she’ll be prepared to be quite brass-necked about it, she says.
Her book on Ada Leverson was slated by the critics. “And once you’ve written a book and got terrible reviews, nothing ever frightens you!
“I’ll even be willing to go on Dragons’ Den!”
• If you would like to help Julie test-play Yorgame, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Trouble on the cards
There are different types of card you can draw if you land on the wrong square in Yorgame. Here are a few:
• “Your apprentices get out of hand and set fire to a rival’s waggon… Take 1 Black Mark for failing to keep (them) under control.”
• “You’ve got a splitting headache – do you have the plague? Cure yourself with a plague remedy, or be banished to the Burton Stone.”
• “You donate a stained-glass window. Remove all Black Marks from your record.”
• “You’re caught conspiring with Dick Turpin – take one Black Mark and go to the Dungeon.”
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