Coming soon to, once more, London: Now Play This

"Now Play This" logoAll the exciting things seem to be happening in London – or, at least, I’m rather less aware of the exciting things happening outside London.

Now Play This describes itself as “a festival of experimental game design, showcasing some of the most interesting games and playful work being made around the UK and the world“. This was briefly touched on in a previous post, and a post back in 2015 discussed the first installment of the three to date.

So why cover it again? First, I loved the 2015 event; second, details have been announced of the games in the exhibition and the three days of special events. Lots of exciting possibilities and you’ll surely pick your own favourites, but I was drawn to “Of Plagues, Deceptions and Other Things”, being run on Sunday.

An international enemy plans to release a specimen of the Bubonic Plague in London and destroy the only antidote. While it is too late to retrieve the specimen, there is a unique opportunity to steal the antidote and save the thousands of lives currently at risk. You and your closest friends have been chosen to complete this dangerous, but heroic, quest. Success won’t be easy. There’s information to uncover, codes to find, places to be and people to trick. To make matters worse, the evil enemy have slyly sent four moles into the mix. Can you successfully retrieve the antidote, avoid detection and reveal the enemies hidden among you?

This game is put on by Block Stop, who have a variety of exciting-looking public and private games, but this seems to be one of their puzzliest. Tickets for Now Play This are now on sale; daily tickets are £8, or £6½ for concessions, and a three-day ticket carries a slight discount. Sadly I’ll be away busy on shift work and missing the event, as in 2016, but it’s likely to be packed to the brim with exciting ideas!

Coming up this spring

a series of metal springs making up the word "love"In springs, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love“, as Lord Tennyson absolutely definitely meant to write. Over here, I’ll be attempting to convince myself that winter might be about to be coming to a conclusion, perhaps, by listing some events and insisting that they’re happening this spring.

This weekend, it’s the second round of the WPF’s free-to-enter online Puzzle Grand Prix competition, this time hosted by Slovakia. Once again, there will be three separate one-hour papers available, and the instruction booklets are already available. The Class C booklet is set to be an absolute old-school beauty, with puzzles in seven different styles and three examples of each, with varying levels of difficulty. The Class B and A booklets contain puzzles in five different styles; the class B booklet has two examples of each, one longer than the other, and the class A booklet has a single very difficult example of each. Do whichever paper or papers take your fancy. Last time I did about half of Class C in one hour and tackled a few of Class A in another, leaving Class B completely alone, which felt rebellious. Start your hour(s) whenever you like from half-past Friday, finishing by the end of Monday.

As kindly pointed out in a comment last time but also seen elsewhere, the first Galactic Puzzle Hunt is being organised by the wow-I-hope-this-copies-and-pastes ✈✈✈ Galactic Trendsetters ✈✈✈ MIT Mystery Hunt team. This is an online puzzle hunt in what previously would have been called the Australian style but now should perhaps be considered the Australian/Cantabrigian style. Teams of up to ten will be given five online puzzles each day for six days from (reasonably late UK time on) Tuesday 14th March to Sunday 19th March, and have until Thursday 23rd March to submit the answers. The hint system is different to the standardised hints of the Australian hunts, with teams being able to ask limited numbers of yes/no questions of their choice for the help they need, but “Roughly one week into the hunt, we will start giving out additional hints, and we may be more generous with clarifications; we want teams to be able to solve most or all of the puzzles by the end!” This sounds very public-spirited and gets me very excited about taking part.

So that’s something to look forward to in March. For April there will be the third Now Play This games festival. The site is succinct: “Now Play This is a festival of experimental game design, showcasing some of the most interesting games and playful work being made around the UK and the world. It will run for the third time at Somerset House in London from 7-9 April, 2017, as part of the London Games Festival. There’ll be an exhibition of games running throughout, plus special events including a board games afternoon, a strange controllers showcase, and, on Friday, a day for discussion between practitioners. Tickets will be available from February 2017.” Admittedly I’m not aware of anything puzzle- or escape- specific on this year’s agenda quite yet, but the programme is yet to be announced and surely should be up before long; the people behind it are the very best of eggs and the weekend is a very safe bet to be an excellent one whether there is or not.

As for May, the ninth instalment of the DASH puzzle hunt is set to happen on Saturday 6th May. Now there hasn’t been anything absolutely explicit saying “yes, DASH is happening in London” this year, but there are two very strong clues: first, one of this month’s London Puzzled Pint teams was called “Play DASH on 6th May”; second, an exciting and authoritative Facebook comment suggests that much as both London and Manchester in the UK enjoy Puzzled Pint, both London and Manchester may get to enjoy DASH this year. Definitely one for your diary – and, perhaps, you won’t have so far to travel!

Dates for your diary

weekly calendarThis site has got somewhat slack with updating its events calendar to the point where even linking to it in this article would feel wrong. Nevertheless, there are a few things worth looking ahead to already.

  • The first leg of this year’s WPF Puzzle Grand Prix is in progress already, starting about half a day ago. You have until Monday evening, UK time, to identify a clear block of 90 minutes and earn as many points as possible by solving pencil-and-paper puzzles set by a team from India in the first leg of a metaphorical race around the puzzling world. Some of you may know that the puzzles are always very fine and the contest is reliably great fun; this year’s competition has an added twist to make it more accessible and help more people find their level of fun. More about that very soon, hopefully while the first leg is still in progress.
     
  • The Coney troupe of interactive theatre makers are holding a Scratch and Salon session at the Camden People’s Theatre from midday on Sunday. The “Scratch and Salon is an open event making play on the line between public space and corporate space, and exploring the ideas around the commons“. At midday, “A map will be unfurled of scratch adventures and other playful experiences to be discovered in the neighbourhood of CPT. You’ll need a mobile phone with credit to send text messages in order to play. From 3pm – We’ll reconvene in the Theatre and host a salon – first curated with provocations from speakers segueing into an open space discussion – on what it means to make play in this space, and the politics of public space and the commons“. Not immediately puzzly, but very likely to be relevant somehow; their shows always inspire interesting thoughts.
     
  • February 27th and 28th see the UK Open Puzzle and Sudoku Tournaments taking place at the Selsdon Park Hotel in Croydon; since the World Championships were held here a couple of years ago, this has surely become the spiritual home of competition puzzles in this country. The company is always excellent and it’s as close to the World Championship experience as you’re going to get.
     
  • Closer to the usual core of this site, Can You Escape? of Edinburgh are hosting a Disabled Access Day on Saturday 12th March. “Join us on Disabled Access Day between 10.30 and 12.00 to take a look around Operation Odyssey our space themed mission, giving you a chance to check if the room is suitable and have a go at some puzzles (not the ones in the room – that would be cheating!) ((…)) People taking part in Disabled Access Day can also get 30% off bookings on the day or bookings made on the day.” Clearly Can You Escape? takes accessibility seriously; see the entry in the FAQ, but also the site’s inclusion in Euan’s Guide for disabled access reviews. While it’s far from the only site to do so, Exit Games UK is not aware of anything quite like this Disabled Access Day before and this would appear to be an instant example of best practice, well worth consideration by sites up and down the country. If you want to see whether the site is right for you, e-mail Can You Escape? first because only a limited number of spaces are available.
     
  • April is set to be busy, busy, busy, though in a very good way. From 1st to 3rd April, Now Play This returns to the New Wing of Somerset House in London. It’s not clear what will be on the line-up this year as the open call is in progress; “This year we’re particularly keen on things with interesting controllers, games which deal with utopias, play in a city context, and work which encourages player creativity – but games outside these themes are also welcome.” The event is part of the larger London Games Festival, “running from 1 to 10 April 2016, the festival includes 15 official events across 10 different locations” – perhaps something exit game-related might be appropriate for the Festival Fringe?
     
  • The Canadian Caper will be running on April 9th at the Arts & Letters Club in Toronto. “A one-day only escape experience for up to 15 teams of six ((though it’s not immediately clear whether it’s 15 teams per show or 15 teams total over the three shows.)) This is very much an escape game. There will be puzzles to solve. Solving puzzles will allow you to progress through the space into new rooms where you will find new challenges and new puzzles. Ultimately your goal is to physically escape the space. Unlike a traditional escape game though there will also be actors that teams will need to interact with to gain information.” The first episode in the series was put on by a number of bloggers and their very talented friends; us UK types can just dream and be jealous, for it sounds hugely cool and it is delightful that the first episode is not just a one-off.
     
  • We don’t have it so bad in the UK, though; Saturday 16th April sees the Springtime Hunt in Shrewsbury organised by the Armchair Treasure Hunt Club. “Everyone is welcome to come along and compete, whether you are a member of the club or whether you just enjoy competing in treasure hunts. Gather for the hunt at 10am for an 11am start, and it’ll probably be about tea time when the treasure is unearthed. The £25 entry fee includes lunch as well as the hunt and its prizes. Go to the club’s website for more details of how to book your place.
     
  • Never enough, never enough; Up The Game happens two days later. “On the 18th of April Amsterdam will host the first international Escape Room & Real Life Gaming Conference.” Their speaker list is extremely exciting with speakers from several countries. While the early bird tickets have sold out, you can still buy Advance tickets at €100 each, plus a small booking fee, plus the Dutch version of VAT, which by the way has the charming acronym of BTW.
     
  • Last year, this site proposed an industry meeting at the forthcoming live The Crystal Maze attraction; while all 32 tickets have been sold (and there are already names at the top of the waiting list) it’s going to take place on Tuesday 26th April. Maybe something else interesting might be happening around that time too, you never know
     
  • And that’s not even referring to DASH 8, set to take place in cities around the world on Saturday 30th April!

What other events is this site missing?

This weekend

Red "Coming Soon!" ink stampThree very interesting and rather varied events coming up this weekend. It’s an exciting time!

1) The Intervirals blog reminds the world that Friday 4th September sees the first known Escape Games Convention taking place in Stuttgart, Germany. After a welcome dinner tomorrow night, the day features workshops, speeches and networking. Tickets are still available, and if you want to learn a load of best practice in the course of a single day then there’s no better way to do so; the rest of the world can follow the action remotely via the Twitter hashtag #EGC15 ((UPDATED, 04/09/15)) and Intervirals has already done much of the hard work for the rest of us. Looking forward to following the action!

2) In London, there’s a very exciting-looking event called Now Play This happening on Friday 4th, Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th September, at Somerset House’s New Wing.

Over the weekend we’ll be home to dozens of games and playful activities of all descriptions – from a wooden pinball machine to a soundscape in a tent; from unreleased video games to a papercraft workshop. ((…)) On Friday we have a special focus on game design – come along for a first glimpse at some upcoming games, and join us for lightning talks from designers and players throughout the afternoon. On Saturday it’s all about playing, with a packed schedule of games set alongside the exhibition. And Sunday is a day of experimentation, with a showcase of strange interfaces in the morning and workshops all afternoon long.

Tickets are available from the Somerset House website, at £5 for a morning or afternoon ticket for a particular day, or £12 to return as often as you like across the weekend. Families are welcome, though not all games are suitable for children.” One of the attractions will be Pint-Sized Puzzles to pick up and play at your leisure – to be fair, it’s not the biggest or most original attraction in the world, but something to tickle if you were going to be there already – and I shall be available to give hints at lunchtime on Saturday. Do say “Hi!”

3) If you prefer your puzzles a little more competitive, then this weekend sees the annual online US Puzzle Championship, which runs (with no charge for participation) from 6pm to 8:30pm, UK time, on Saturday 5th September. You’ll have two and a half hours to score as many points as you can by solving an assortment of logical, word and picture puzzles, probably with slightly more to choose from than even the best puzzler in the world could solve within the time limit. On Friday, you’ll be able to download the preview instructions and find out what sorts of puzzles will be available for you to face this year, so that you might form your plan of attack. The puzzles vary in difficulty but the test is intended to select some of the US team for the World Puzzle Championship, so they are very much in line with the levels of difficulty you get at the Big Dance. Always a hard test, but always a great test!