How I used one fire to make a game and two books
by Richard Denning
Thank you, Helen, for allowing me to visit your Guest Blog as a port of call during my blog tour.
This guest post is one of a series celebrating the release of my historical fantasy novel, The Last Seal. which is set during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and concerns the battle between secret societies over a demon imprisoned beneath London.
In 2010 I published another novel, Tomorrow's Guardian which is a time travel adventure in which as well as going to other time periods, the heroes visit the Great Fire. October 2010 also saw me bringing out a board game - The Great Fire of London 1666. So, as it transpires, this one event has had a rather dramatic influence upon me. This article is going to look a little at that influence and how it led to two books and one game.
I should start with a little explanation for readers who are not that familiar with the fire. Children here in Britain learn a lot about the Great Fire at school. Readers, however, may need a reminder - especially those from overseas.
London in the 17th century was built, in the most part, of wooden buildings leaning very close together. Many warehouses in the city stored vast quantities of items which would burn easily. The city was vulnerable to fire. All it took was a spark . That spark came in the early hours of September 2nd 1666 when a careless baker in Pudding Lane forgot to put out his oven fire, creating an inferno which would destroy much of London. It is estimated that the destruction included 13,200 houses, 87 churches, 44 Guild Halls, St Pauls Cathedral, Baynard’s Castle, the Royal Exchange, Newgate prison and many other important sites. Maybe 1 person in 3 or 4 of Greater London was made homeless. Something like £14 Billion of damages in today's terms was caused.
Now the time period concerned is a fascinating one. The English Civil war had torn the country apart and had only ended 14 years before. Charles I had been executed and the country was governed as a Republic from 1649 to 1660. There had been Royalist uprisings during that period and republican ones since Charles II returned to rule in 1660. There were serious religious tensions between the established Church of England, the Roman Catholics and the Puritans and other nonconformists. Plus, the great fear of a papist plot to force England to become Catholic again. England was at war with France and Holland and many people regarded foreigners with great suspicion. Trials for witchcraft still happened and people believed in omens such as eclipses and comets (both of which had occurred in the previous few months before the fire started).
London was still recovering from the horrors of the Great Plague. Finally this was 1666. The 666 in that date, mentioned in the book of revelations, had been seen by many as implying the end of the world would come.
All that added up makes for a great mix of elements that have bubbled away in my mind for a few years. When I decided to write a time travel novel a few years ago, and have my hero, Tom, rescue individuals from moments of great peril in history, the Great Fire seemed such an obvious one to visit.
I am a boardgame player and designer as well as an author. I had been messing about with some ideas for a board game linked to a great disaster and trying to escape it when I fell upon the idea of both controlling the fire and trying to protect London from it. In my board game the players are men of wealth and standing who own property around London. They can use pawns representing the London trained bands of militia to fight the fire, use demolitions to destroy blocks of housing to prevent the fire flowing or turn a blind eye and allow the fire to spread and damage a rival’s property. Victory can belong to the player with the most property left but putting out fires can give you a boost. In addition, each player will have several hidden objectives which might include helping protecting parts of the city.
The process of publishing a board game is a little like writing and publishing a book. Indeed some companies call game designers the Game Author. You first produce a early version and begin play testing it. This will be cardboard and sellotape and made on your home PC. You need to see if the game MIGHT work. This means getting players (often friends and family) to play the game over and over again till they and you are sick of it.
The game will go through various versions, akin to drafts of a book, and just as an author needs an editor to see what does not work in a book, a designer needs play testers to pick up on the flaws in a game concept.
After many plays the game design will take shape.
It is a good idea to bring the game to a convention such as UK Games Expo which I run as you can get feedback from players. Taking it to a games club is a good idea as well. You now need to get a publisher. Here you have the choice of doing it yourself if you can find printers and component manufacturers or using an existing company. Just like an author landing a publishing deal you will need to convince a company that you have a game people will buy.Finally if all goes well the game gets released. It is good to link this to a large convention. In the UK the UK Games Expo is the one to choose but the largest in the world is the immense Essen Spiel with 150,000 attendees over 4 days. Getting a stand there is a good way to reach a large audience of board game enthusiasts. We sold almost 400 games in 4 days there.
Now do not get the idea that you can retire on the proceeds. Just like publishing books most games will not sell much. You can also forget about being the next Scrabble, Monopoly or Cluedo. Just as it is hard for new authors to break into the mainstream so is it very hard to get anywhere near a high street store. But as with books, there is pride in producing a game and saying - look what I did.
When I was researching the start of the fire, I started thinking that given the superstitions of that time period in which many people did believe in supernatural explanations for much of what they saw around them, it was only a small jump to a plot focused around a fantastical basis for the fire.
This, then, was the spark of an idea that became The Last Seal. So we have the real world of 1666 with its cramped London of tenements and warehouses, celebrities and historical buildings, its markets and its thieves. Blended amongst it we have the spies working for the King, secret societies, sorcery and a demon.
The Last Seal is, I hope, fast moving, exciting and at times frightening, but I have strived to make it a good recreation of the period.
HH. Thank you for that Richard - its been fascinating learning about how board games are made.
Which ten people would you invite to a dinner party and why?
You can have anyone, alive, dead or fictional.
Richard: All four of my favourite authors – Tolkien, Pratchett, Frazer and Cornwell. I would love to be able to chat about their books and their writing. Bilbo Baggins because he knows how to have a good time and likes his food and drink. Hercule Poirot for when someone gets murdered (come on its inevitable - it is a dinner party). The Duke of Wellington and Alexander the Great so we can discuss the great battles of history. Sir Ian Botham (I am a cricket fan so he and I can talk about the game). Oh and why not Steven Moffat the Dr Who director and writer. Love to talk about his stories and find out what is going to happen in the next series.
You can read parts of all Richard's books and find out more about the game on his website.
The Great Fire of London Board Game here