This weekend sees the thirty-third annual Manorcon board games convention at the John Foster Hall in the University of Leicester, near Oadby. (The event gets its name from its original home, the Northfield Manor House at the University of Birmingham.) From 2pm on Friday 17th to 2pm on Monday 20th, probably a couple of hundred attendees or so will be there. The majority of games played will be from the last 20 years or so, but there will be plenty of classics as well – most notably, the late-’50s negotiation classic Diplomacy, though no one game comes close to dominating the event.
It’s a little strange that the event has stayed about the same size over time while the the board games played there have moved further and further into what might be considered orthodox geek culture, if that’s not a horrible contradiction in terms. Likely more people have played Carcassonne in the last year in the UK than Canasta, and maybe more have played Settlers of Catan than Cribbage – but twenty years or so ago you had to come to a convention to play games like these, whereas now you can find at least one board game club in virtually any large UK town and board game cafés are practically mainstream. That said, this year’s event is expected to be a little larger than usual, as it also hosts this year’s European Diplomacy Championship.
It’s reliably a great event; registration will still be available at the door. (Thirty single rooms should still be available too if you want to stay on-site.) However, Manorcon is of most interest to this site because it now has a proud fourteen-year annual history of hosting a puzzle-based Treasure Hunt on the Sunday afternoon, which is what puzzle hunts were once called before the concise term came into use. This year’s event will run from 2pm to 5pm, and this year’s theme is inspired by the recent discovery of Richard III’s skeleton in a Leicester car park. To wit:
“530 years ago, England’s last true and rightful ruler was betrayed and brutally slain by Welsh invaders and their treacherous lickspittles. His followers slaughtered, his reputation besmirched, his life of valour and achievement obliterated, only a few true souls preserve the memory of the divine majesty of Richard of Gloucester, ultimate son of York. A tiny cadre of the faithful remain – direct descendants through countless generations of Richard’s most honourable followers – committed from birth to guard the royal legacy through time. Meeting each year on the site of his last great feast, now more than ever their mission is endangered by the discovery of Richard’s bones, so cunningly hidden, in a Leicester car park. These last, loyal few guard an artefact of awesome power behind sigils and riddles, waiting, ever waiting until the One True King, the New Plantagenet comes again to claim from their tender care the embodiment of English power – the Great Crown, long thought lost – and thus ascend the throne to annihilate the usurpers and restore England to righteous might!
So, at least, are the beliefs of the Ricardians, a sect who disguise their secret meetings by attaching themselves to other, low profile gatherings where unusual characters are unlikely to be noticed. Your object is to locate, and steal the Crown. There is a source in the Ricardians who will slip you most of the info you need, a source who is also prepared to steal the Crown, but is frustrated by not knowing who the top Ricardians are and is unable to break the Ricardian riddles. Also, this source has tipped off some of your Treasure Hunting rivals, hoping to play you off against one another. Good luck, folks. Only you can make King Richard rise again. And then nick his stuff. Note that teams will need at least some sort of functioning smartphone.”
Another delightful theme; this year’s setters are a mix of DASH veterans and Manorcon Treasure Hunt veterans, and apparently they have pledged that the Treasure Hunt has “become too easy in recent years”, so expect a stiff challenge. If you’re not far from Leicester, you might well enjoy turning up between 2pm and 5pm on the Sunday for the Treasure Hunt – and, if you like board games, it’s very likely you’ll enjoy the whole weekend. (One other particularly interesting event is the Pop Quiz at 10pm on Saturday in the bar, run by site co-writer Phil. His last two events have been delightfully off-beat, imaginative and yet very accessible; it’ll be interesting to learn what he has this year…)