I haven’t been blogging much recently, as apart from our usual busy Summer of work at historic sites, we have also been very busy creating a new game for Bodiam castle in East Sussex. We had shown the events organiser one of our figures for a WW2 trail we had created which they liked, and so we were commissioned to make a game. Several meetings took place to discuss various ideas. Finally, after a couple of months of making, we went down to Bodiam on Friday to set the game up.
The basic premise is that on arrival at Visitor Reception, you spin the wheel of fortune to find out what you will be in life, lowly peasant, craftsman or noble. You obtain your character sheet from VR and follow the game around the site making various choices. Will you take the left or right path and what will happen to you if you go that way? Your final fate awaits you within the castle itself, based on your choices throughout the game. Will you marry Sir Edwards Daughter? Will you become a nun? If you’re a peasant will Sir Edward take you on as a servant or throw you back out in the gutter? Your choices and a bit of luck will decide for you.
We set off for Bodiam about 8.30am in the morning so we could travel the other side of rush hour and arrived on site about 10.45. After the obligatory cup of tea, we set off around the site to set up the game. It was a lovely hot morning when we started and the first thing we set up was the wooden information boards that Wel had constructed. These were created to hold the information boards the castle had created.
Next we made our way down to Visitor Reception to set up the start board. This was our masterpiece and took us the longest time to complete. Originally it was just supposed to be a plain spinner but we both felt that the game needed something eye catching to draw the visitors to it. Wel had the idea of a castle but an idea popped into my head of the various books of hours that existed. Books of Hours were hand written illuminated books, usually created for a wealthy client. They contain info such as the order of prayers and readings from the scriptures. They also have some wonderful hand painted illuminations of different medieval scenes. My two influences for the starter board were the Tres Riches heures du Duc du Berry and the Bedford Hours. Both books date to the early 15th Century. The painting alone on this board took me 6 days of working 9AM-6PM each day. It was drawn completely freehand. It also gave me a chance to practice some lettering. I do calligraphy as a hobby but hadn’t yet had a go at Gothic script, so this is my first attempt at gothic and at painting the letters rather than using a pen. I enjoyed it a lot and am thinking of doing a sign writing course in the future to better my skills.
Wel also put in many days of work in creating the figures, scaling them up, cutting them out on the saw. Every figure has had the edges PVA glued to help with waterproofing. Each has 3 layers of acrylic paint and 3 layers of varnish to make really sure they’ll last. The edges of each figure are painted with a continuation of the same colours used in the main image so that they blend in. The blocks they stand in are made of solid oak and each one was pegged to the ground to make doubly sure that they shouldn’t fall over.
As soon as we placed the board by VR, the public were queuing up to have a go! We had a crowd thronging around us as we fixed it in place. The spinner itself was hand made by our local engineering firm so should put up with some heavy duty spinning!
Next was the robbers. For this, Wel had made a half pillory to act as sign board holder for the crime info. We also made a cut out of a band of brigands, brandishing various weapons. I shan’t explain what the dial decides on this blog, as I’d like you to go along and have a go. It was actually very hard to find an illustration of medieval robbers. This was the only one I found that was suitable. Every image we used is based on an original medieval image.
Next was the wise woman, it was decided that it would be best to place her within the herb garden. The castle has a herb garden created by one of their lovely volunteers, Jan, in conjunction with children from the local school. We’ve seen it grow over the years to a truly wonderful thing. There is a wide variety of herbs for everything including dyeing, medicine, strewing and cooking. Jan herself often gives talks throughout the year about the herbs. She’s a very humble lady, who claims to know little, but compared to the rest of us has now acquired a vast knowledge about herbs. There are some very unusual herbs in this garden such as ‘Saw-Wort’ , along with the more common ones, so if you’re a plant lover, it’s well worth a visit.
We stopped for a short 20 minute lunch then on with the setting up. The priest was next in line to be set up. This was placed on the path near where the castles own chapel used to be. Wel particularly loves the nun with her eyes shut, seemingly in a bout of happy fervour. In reality the original drawing was very roughly drawn and so I had to make the faces up out of my head.
We had some unexpected work in cutting out and creating some ply boards to back some of the Foamex signs the castle had ordered, which worked well on the flat boards but not on things like the pillories. We spent a happy hour or so cutting these out. By this point however, the heavens had decided to open and it turned into a truly wet afternoon. Waterproofs were needed!
The Grim Reaper was the next to be set up. He was placed on the bridge across the moat, where the barbican used to stand. The original idea being that as about a third of those alive in Europe died of the plague, the spinner is split into 2/3 live and 1/3 die. The castle has embellished this part of the game slightly with their own added rule.
We finished the day by fitting in the fingerpost which was placed at a crossroads in the path, it’s up to the public to choose which way to go. Wel had made this all himself. The letters are hand carved. He had been on a wood carving course previously and was keen to use his new learnt knowledge. Time now was nearly 6.00PM and we were some of the last people on site. To avoid the dreaded Friday rush hour on the M25 and as a reward for working outside in the rain for half the afternoon, we decided to make our way to the village pub, also called ‘The Castle’. It has a wonderful painting on it’s ceiling of Bodiam Castle. It’s enormous and having spent the Summer painting I can appreciate how long it must have taken someone to paint, and on the ceiling too! Eventually we made our way home by about 9.00PM.
Launch day for the game is Monday 5 September and it costs a £1.00 to play. Pop along and have a play, let us know what you think, as we’re keen to get feedback for future productions. The game will be out till November and if successful, may well appear another year.
It was very hard leaving my creations out in the open air, when you spend so long making something they definitely take on something of yourself. Most of them had been in my living room before delivery! We were pleased however with the excitement and enthusiasm with which it was received, apart from the golden deposit that I saw a Highland Terrier leave on our new board! Ah well, at least it was raining!