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07 Jun 2012

Playing catch-up

It's been a while, hasn't it? Our silences are usually a good thing as it tends to mean we're hard at work on something exciting. That's mostly true in this case and we have some exciting news to share. However, we've also just been rubbish, sorry about that. So what's been happening at The Bunker? Well mostly out of The Bunker ...

Play Modena, Italy

Back in March, we were invited to attend Play Modena as a speaker on a couple of panels. The first session was a fairly open affair called "Games with the Designers", focusing on the practical issues facing independent designers, both large and small. The second was a Q&A with a workshop component on how to communicate through games. It was an honour to be on a panel with the illustrious Martin Wallace and Mac Gerdts. Their combined experience gave rise to some great insights and I think everyone at the workshop came away a bit wiser. The workshop session comprised each of us setting a theme and then the participants working these themes up in groups and then pitching them back to us. I'm proud to say that my "99%" theme produced some really lovely ideas, including an excellent idea that built upon the old game, Kingmaker. I might just have to steal that one ...

In terms of pure focus on play, Modena beats Essen hands-down for me (check out the photos for an idea of the scale of the event and size of the play area). It was a great show with a great atmosphere. The only thing I'd like to see is some of the (excellent) sessions taken out of the main hall. Way too noisy for productive or serious conversation.

Gamecamp, London

running round a classroom, screaming and pushing each other Gamecamp is a wonderful unconference run by James Wallace & co. It sees a few hundred (?) participants from a whole range of disciplines come together for spontaneous discussion and dialogue. Fundamentally, if you have something you want to talk about, you stick it on the board and book a room. Each session is just 30 minutes long and then a gong rings and you head off to the next room. It's not perfect - getting any meaningful discussion going in that space of time with a group of strangers is really difficult - but it does allow for a very broad experience. For example, the best session of the day was undoubtedly "Playground Games". Not an earnest dissection of how children adopt and spread games (which is what I'd imagined) but literally running round a classroom, screaming and pushing each other. This year's Gamecamp solidified it as an annual "must attend" for me.

As always, the best ideas happen down the pub and after the conference finished, I met up with four like-minded but diverse individuals and we started brainstorming a game for the Occupy movement (you'll notice a thread of obsession here, continuing on from my theme at the Modena Workshop). Tonnes of good ideas were had and that conversation is still going on. I'd love to produce a genuinely collaborative game that invoked spontaneous collaboration in the face of monopoly. Let's see what happens ...

Play @Digital Shoreditch

Finally, Play Day, part of the Digital Shoreditch festival was a most engaging affair. The usual industry analysis was peppered with really fun "tabletop" discussions (in the spirit of, but not quite the model of, an unconference) about anything from "the moral gamer" to "increasing player engagement". "Transmedia" was the word of the day, with a surprising number of discussions involving talk of televisions. The day was then rounded off with a kick-ass party in a big top tent, with physical games such as J.S. Joust and the 100 player co-operative shoot-em-up, Renga.

Other Stuff

We've been meeting almost-weekly with a couple of Cambridge-based board game designers - namely Brett Gilbert of 55 Cards and Matt Dunstan - for regular play-testing sessions. It's been hugely useful and inspiring (and slightly depressing since both Matt and Brett are prolific in their idea-generation). With their help, we've been working on a new board game about petty nation state squabbles, provisionally called "You Started It". It's still very early days, but it feels really good - the mix of theme, mechanics and the play that emerges from it are all tightly interwoven and feel really meaningful. Only problem? It's just not that fun to play! But it does feel like a game that's worth perservering with.

I've also been teaching myself some programming with the help of Coronoa SDK and have been thoroughtly enjoying it. Corona makes it pretty easy to make quick progress, even for a beginner like myself. While I'm still just messing around, I have managed to get a proof of concept going for an "anti-Tamagotchi" app. That's all I can divulge right now. More details and screenshots will follow shortly.

Finally, finally we have a very new and exciting development to announce, but that's best saved for it's own blog post ...

Posted by Andy S on 7 June 2012 - 0 comments

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13 Feb 2012

Over the border

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Over the years, we've heard some pretty funny stories about War on Terror getting on the wrong side of the authorites. Today, after receiving what is certainly the best story to date, we bring you our favourite, top three "border moments".

No. 3 The first ever convention we actually got invited to instead of banned from was in Las Vegas. How could we not accept? Our border moment came as we attempted to pass a duffle bag full of 50 balaclavas, an assortment of "mine" and "unexploded bomb" signs and a copy of War on Terror, the boardgame through U.S. customs. Oh, and several hundred plastic cockroaches. On reflection, the cockroaches got us off the hook; the customs officer asked, "Is this some kind of theatre piece?" We agreed and were waived through, palms sweating.

They were worried the cheese was explosives. They didn't like the board game, either. No. 2 Our number two moment sounds like something from Monty Python. Last year, we were alerted to the tale of a young woman who had purchased War on Terror here in the UK and wanted to take it back with her to Israel. You may think you know where this is going, but you don't. She also, during her stay, purchased some cheddar cheese and for reasons that aren't fully explained, she thought the best place for the cheese was in the War on Terror box. At the airport, her baggage was overweight, so she pulled out the board game and tried to march it on as cabin luggage. Not surprisingly, a box with "War on Terror" on the front, containing an un-xrayable block of cheese set off just about every alarm in the terminal. In her own words, "They were worried the cheese was explosives. They didn't like the board game, either." She wasn't allowed to take the board game on for fear of "upsetting the other passangers" but amazingly they didn't confiscate it and instead put it in the hold for free. Read the full story here.

No. 1 It's hard to beat explosive cheese in board games, but this week, a story from 2010 surfaced that has no peer. It is a mind-boggling tale of absurd waste of resources and hilarious, po-faced government agents. The customer in question - we'll call him Tim - tells it better than we could, so without further ado, enjoy ...

"I purchased War on Terror a few years back in 2006 whilst living in Dubai, no problems there whatsoever, in fact we used to have a nice little play every Christmas with some friends. In May 2010 I decided to move back to Australia, I packed up all my possessions into various cardboard boxes, amongst them War on Terror the board game, and had a shipper send everything back to Australia on a slow boat. In the meantime, I had bit of work in various bits of the world, and wasn't planning to be back in Australia until a couple of months after my shipment would arrive. I thought no problems there, I'll have it delivered to my parents' place and they can keep the various boxes in their garage until I returned.

So, anyway whilst working in the UK I get a call from the shippers in Australia that there's been some kind of delay with the shipment. Then I get the email below:

One of the items that they have pulled up is a terrorist board game and the other items are related to terrorist nature. A hold has been put on this shipment from customs until Canberra has had a look in to it.
I will be in contact, once we have more information.
Thank you
xxxxxx
On behalf of xxxxx xxxxxxxx | Imports Controller

I then get some weird phone calls from various government types in Australia asking about the board game. My parents even got a visit from some dark-suit-and-sunglasses types, regarding them being the consigned address on the shipment."

Tim learnt later that the investigation involved a senior customs investigator and three other officials who had to fly from Canberra to Brisbane to look at the shipment. All at the expesne of the tax payer naturally. We kind of feel bad. But we also feel hilarious.

Have you got a War on Terror border-crossing story? If you do, please share it with us.

Posted by TerrorBull Games on 13 February 2012 - 0 comments

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04 Feb 2012

War on Terror voted 3rd best board game app of 2011!

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This week we found out the fantastic news that War on Terror, the application placed 3rd in the Best Board Game Apps of 2011! This is no small achievement considering the site logged over 1 million votes and especially when you look at the high calibre of competition we had to fend off in order to place - Scrabble, Catan, Ticket to Ride, Puerto Rico.

We wouldn't be there of course if it weren't for your support and votes - we are so thankful. It means a huge amount to us to be able to call our first ever app an "award-winning app". Yay!

As you can imagine, this is very encouraging and we're hard at work on the next two updates - the first is to make the app universal for ipad too (we've shelved for now the idea of a separate app just for ipads) and the second will be multiplayer. Unfortunately "proper work" (the sort that actually brings in money) has got in the way lately and slowed things down for all of us, but we'll have more concrete news very soon.

For those of you who haven't tried the app yet, you can download it here.

Also, we'd really like to hear your ideas of what you'd like us to tackle next. Crunch is an obvious choice, but is the demand there? We get the feeling people would prefer to see something new, but that's only a vague impression. So if you have any subject/game ideas, throw them our way.


Let's finish on some random links. Here are two wonderful accounts of two different people experiencing War on Terror, the boardgame for the first time: One; Two. We're so familiar with the game these days, that it's hard to imagine what it's like for someone first interacting with it. But both Low Wen Zhen Yi and "Minstrel and Winnipeg" had the kind of first games that we hope everyone gets to have.

Posted by TerrorBull Games on 4 February 2012 - 1 comment

Comments so far:

  1. I have to apologize for not visiting your website more often. I fear my access to such informations is limited indeed. I just wish to say that this 'paying work more important' is a poor excuse not to focus solely on making your 'War on Terror' app universal multi-player. There is only so many times I can buy games from you for my friends before men with dark glasses come to ask more difficult questions of me. Keep up the good work and the actual working business model, eh?John from Calgary - 5 December 2012

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25 Jan 2012

New computer game: Pandora's Box

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Last month, I took part in a global game jam competition called Ludum Dare. The challenge is to produce a complete game from scratch within a strict time frame, based on a secret theme announced at the start of the jam. This year, the theme was "Alone".

So those of you who know me personally will know that "strict time frame" has very little resonance and it won't surprise you at all to learn that I didn't finish my game until several weeks later. And here it is: Pandora's Box.

It's a choose-your-own text adventure, along the same kind of lines as the Ewe of the Falklands game I made last year (which was also a belated entry into another 'strict time frame' competition).

However, while Ewe of Falklands was absurd, mildly amusing and utterly flippant, Pandora's Box is dark, doom-laden and generally f'ed up to a level that even took me by surprise.

I put this down to the odd development process I followed. After drafting the game idea and basic narrative flow on paper, the first thing I actually did was compose the music and sound. I'm still not sure why, since sound is my weak point (OK, one of my many weak points), but it just felt like the sound would drive the game. And that's exactly what happened. In fact, as a special treat, if you're interested in ambient nightmarish soundscapes, I've uploaded the full 23 minute version here for you to download and enjoy. (It starts to gets really good at 12:43)

One of these days I'll actually finish a game in the allotted time. Anyway, you can read more and download the game free here.

Vote for War on Terror as Best Board Game App of 2011!

"Always end on an urgent appeal", they told me at blog school. Quite astonishingly, our War on Terror iPhone app has been shortlisted for the Best App Ever Awards 2011 ("ever" being used in its alternative meaning of "past 12 months"). The game receiving the most votes in this shortlist will win the category and possibly the overall best app category too. I think we really have a chance to bag the "Best Board Game" category as it's pretty quiet. Voting only takes a second and you don't need to submit any details, just click a button and this little action will make us disproportionately gleeful and appreciative.

Oh yes - VOTING ENDS TODAY!. Be quick! Vote here. Thank you!

P.S. If that weren't enough excitement, we've taken this opportunity to rejig our Games section and add Facebook comments to each individual game page. Go crazy.

Posted by Andy S on 25 January 2012 - 0 comments

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14 Dec 2011

The top 15 'War on Terror' product placement coups

Gallery snapshot. View gallery of The top 15 'War on Terror' product placement coups

Designing board games is not very glamorous. No one wears the latest board game on the red carpet, no one cites board games as influences in cool music and/or art circles, there is pretty much zero celebrity in board games and certainly no one turns up to board game launch parties (in fact, I believe we're the only people who are foolish enough to try and attempt them). All of this is actually quite refreshing and helps keep board games an unpretentious, if still socially awkward, pursuit.

The front pages of newspapers, the front lines of wars, encased in gallery cabinets and caught up in police weapon hauls Yet, despite this, our very first effort at designing a board game has got itself into places that board games definitely should not get into - the front pages of newspapers, the front lines of wars, encased in gallery cabinets and caught up in police weapon hauls to name just a few examples.

Since this has been part of our reality from the very first days, it's never appeared that odd to us. However, there's no doubting that War on Terror has, mostly accidentally, secured the kind of product placement that many companies spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on. And seeing as it's almost five years to the day that we launched the game, it seemed a fitting tribute to gather together some of the best examples from what has been an unusually glamorous, star-studded, absurd, funny and joyous ride:

Front Page News

Cambridge Evening News brands 'Terrorism Boardgame' sick sick sick

"Terrorism Boardgame Branded Sick" screamed the Cambridge Evening News in a previously undiscovered font size, appropriating our misspelling of "boardgame" to boot. The following FOUR PAGES were filled with invective and carefully commissioned outrage about a board game with cartoon graphics. And no, this wasn't the weirdest thing that's happened to us - not by a long shot.

Related link: Local Outrage at 'Terrorism Boardgame'

On the I.T. Crowd

Moss and Roy play War on Terror the boardgame on the I.T. Crowd

As well as being a comedy legend, Graham Linehan is a bit of a game geek and got in touch about War on Terror very early on. Thanks to this early interest, War on Terror has been a set fixture of the delightfully cave-like I.T. department in Linehan's award-winning sitcom, The I.T. Crowd, since season 2. Initially, only the eagle-eyed picked out its bright primary colours from the shelves behind Moss's desk. It wasn't until Season 2, Episode 4 ("The Dinner Party") that Moss and Roy are seen briefly playing the game and we suddenly got 50 phone calls from people excitedly telling us about what they'd just seen (three of whom were actually just complaining that Moss and Roy weren't playing the game correctly).

Related link: War on Terror Cameo on The I.T. Crowd

Exhibited in the Akademie Der Kunste, Berlin

A couple instinctively reach for the Axis of Evil spinner, only to be thwarted by the - irony of ironies - bullet-proof glass

War on Terror made minor radio history when it was played live for an entire hour on Resonance FM. Some might call that a broadcasting error, but we thought it was pretty artsy. When we were subsequently asked if War on Terror could feature in an exhibit on "Embedded Art" at the prestigious Berlin Academy of Arts, it was official: games are art. It just takes someone brave enough to say so. Ironically, encasing it in glass renders it not a game, so instantly undoing our claim of "games are art". Hard to be both, if we're honest.

Related link: War on Terror at the Berlin Academy of Arts

A Dangerous Weapon

The Kent Police are our best PR agents

Back in 2008, War on Terror made headlines again when it became the first board game ever to be classified as an offensive weapon. Several copies were seized as part of a weapons raid on an environmental camp in Kent. Police claimed the balaclava in the game could be used to "conceal your identity if you were going to commit a criminal act". This little episode exploded all over the internet and caused our server to go into meltdown. I think we sold about 80 games in an hour. We love the police.

Related link: Police Seize War on Terror Games

Infiltrating Intelligence Circles

It's easy to tell I'm the good guy; everyone else is Evil

This is one of our all-time favourite photos. Not only is it a wonderfully sinister portrait of a battlefield and simulations expert playing War on Terror with an assortment of his high-ranking buddies in the Intelligence community, but it also acts as a kind of metaphor for our own positioning within the wider 'war on terror', namely: "We must be the good guys because everyone else is evil". Amazingly, we have it on very reliable information that the game has also wormed its way into the doors of the UN Counter Terrorism Directive, the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, MI5 and a number of embassies worldwide. No wonder our security intelligence is so unreliable ...

Father-Son Bonding Activity for the Head of MI6

Never pay the photographer in booze; definitely not in advance

On the rare occasion we try to set up our own photo opportunity, it goes stupidly wrong. We got a tip-off that ex-head of MI6, Richard Dearlove was in town talking about the 'war on terror'. We ambushed him with our beautifully pertinent gift and asked for a nice pose and a photo. "Only if it doesn't end up on the Internet tomorrow", quipped Dearlove. So we waited a full week before publishing. Unfortunately, Ben, our photographer for the evening, had been drinking since 3pm and so the critical capture is less-than-spectacular. Anyway, Dearlove said he'd play the game with his son. Imagine if that game was the only quality father-son time they spent together?

Related link: Richard Dearlove "will play war on terror with son"

Caressed by Kandyse McClure

Get a room you two, for heaven's sake!

At one of the many conventions, actress Kandyse McClure was there as a special guest and after her signing session, approached our booth and sheepishly admitted she liked board games. We sheepishly admitted we didn't know who she was (that's harder to do than you think when you're speaking to someone beautiful and charming and clearly recognised by most as famous). She bought one of each of our games and seemed particularly taken by WoT. This is her enjoying a quiet moment with the box of terror. It went OK.

Related link: Kandyse McClure Digs Our Games

Studied by Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein and her assistant study the box of War on Terror, the boardgame

We went to Housman's Bookshop in London to meet Naomi Klein at a signing session for her new book "The Shock Doctrine". We had the bright idea to present her with a game of War on Terror. She'll enjoy this, we thought to ourselves. But of course, handing someone an oversized 2kg box who is about to spend several months on the road, dealing with baggage size and weight restrictions every few days, wasn't maybe the best idea we'd ever had. Not that Naomi didn't accept our gift graciously and with what seemed like genuine joy, but it was only later that we felt bad about the ungainly object we'd foisted upon her.

Related link: A Quickie With Naomi Klein

The Green Zone, Iraq

After a long, hard day of fighting the war on terror, I like to relax with my buddies by playing a spot of war on terror ... wtf!?

We realised long before we got the first pictures that War on Terror was proving surprisingly popular with the armed forces. It was (and still is) very conflicting to know that our game - as much a critique of violence as a means of combatting violence as anything else - is being consumed and enjoyed by the War Machine. But nothing prepared us for the brain-frying power of the photos we would later get sent of frontline soldiers kicking back with a darkly satirical boardgame to pass the time inbetween patrols. It's still weird.

Related link: Washington, Iraq and the ICA

Taking Baghdad by Storm

Looking a bit like a nightmarish, Middle East Disneyland, I guess this character would be the mascot that greets you at the main gate

The beautiful thing about War on Terror is that it's proved to be educational in many ways - not least for us. We learnt a lot about the soldiers fighting this war; we learnt to see them better as individuals and accept they shared many of the misgivings and concerns we did. We also learnt they have a very, very cynical sense of humour.

On Tour in Afghanistan

Stop being terrorists! Or the board game gets it!

A crate of War on Terror was even requested by the Chaplain of the 1st Royal Welsh infantry to help keep the boys "relaxed and grounded" for their tour of Afghanistan. He added that it would also help with literacy and numeracy. No kidding. This lovely photo though is of Pete W, Task Force MED in Afghanistan. I think the sign translates as "We need 5 people to play war on terror with, it'll only take 100 minutes".

Related link: Original image and (hilarious) comments on Board Game Geek

A Dominatrix's Sex Toy

Definitely not a Tory MP

When we exhibited at Erotica we got a fair bit of stick from people claiming board games weren't remotely "sexy". Despite the obvious extra-curricular uses for the balaclava, people remained unconvinced. But then a professional dominatrix approached us, said she was a big fan of the game and that she used it in her sessions. Not just the balaclava, but the entire game - wired people up to electrodes and punished them for poor tactics. Pure, evil genius. She later forwarded a selection of photos, this being the only one we can comfortably show. Could easily be a Tory MP. But it's not. Obviously.

Invading the High Street

Thanks, Zavvi. No, really, thanks. You're the best.

In between Virgin Megastore becoming Zavvi, our first big retail order of War on Terror was delivered. We had borrowed a considerable sum to get these games made and flown over to meet their Christmas demands. Alas, the new CEO of Zavvi wasn't a fan of our game and tried to pretend they'd never ordered any. A long legal wrangle ensued and just as we were approaching bankruptcy, they caved, paid for the games and let us keep half the stock too. We responded in the only way we knew how - we celebrated by giving away over 100 of those games to happy shoppers outside Zavvi's flagship store on Oxford Street. The cops were called but only ended up praising our organisation. And our pal Graham Linehan turned up for moral support, which was lovely. Especially after the stress of the fight and almost being pulled under, this was one of the most fun, most joy-filled afternoons we ever spent.

Related link: THANKS, ZAVVI!

An Expensive Paperweight

Hello? Yes, I'd like to order a copy of War on Terror please.

Late in 2008, our attention was brought to this thread on Board Game Geek that had unearthed a much earlier posting over on ronaldreagan.com. This original post appeared to show George W. Bush in his office with a corner of a War on Terror box just visible in the background. We wanted so hard for this to be true but it seems to just be a very good fake. Internet detectives unearthed the original image which shows no game in the background, however to my eye the original photo looks more doctored than this one. The funny thing is, we *did* actually send President Chimpface a game and we never heard back. Stranger things have happened ...

Related link: George W Bush a Fan of War on Terror?

A Diplomatic Peace Offering

I want to return this game, I ordered 'Bolivarian Revolution' not 'War on Terror'

A much clearer fake this time, but funny enough to just make the grade and also get our list to a nice, round 15. This also cropped up on Board Game Geek (what is it with that site?). Before seeing this, we never harboured secret desires to play a game of War on Terror with Obama and Chavez round the same table. Now it's all we can think of.

And that's the end of our list. To cap it all, we're going to be on the telly next week - a rerun of the excellent BBC Games Britannia series, wherein presenter and historian, Benjamin Woolley says we're the future of British board games. If that's the case, I feel sorry for British board games. But it does make a pleasing conclusion to this pictorial potted history of War on Terror.

To celebrate these 5 Glorious Years (and to off-load the last remaining stock) we're knocking a 1/3 off the original edition of the game. That's a saving of ten whole English pounds. And just look at its pedigree! Look at it! You could own that piece of history right now. Then make it into a dress and wear it at the next awards ceremony you attend. Go, grab a bargain.

Posted by TerrorBull Games on 14 December 2011 - 9 comments

Comments so far:

  1. Beautiful! Amazing! Makes me proud!Giles from London - 16 December 2011
  2. EPIC post guys! I was bored at work and made a montage. No offence but it has more impact without all the blather. Don't get me wrong, it's great blather. But the photos are greater. Here you go http://i.imgur.com/3ZeNe.jpgH from Steps - 16 December 2011
  3. What a great 'tour of history'! I've been following you're work since 2008 or so, so most of these moments of glory I was already familiar with. However, something caught my eye: in the picture of the 'Berlin Academy of Arts: Embedded Art' exhibition, it seems there is one item that is not in the actual game, and though I can't see it clearly, it looks like a doll (a barbie, perhaps) with an 'evil' cocktaildress. If this is true, then 1): it's awesome!, and 2): why can't we buy it (the dress anyway)?David Holt from Amsterdam - 16 December 2011
  4. H from Steps! THANK YOU - that is a wonderful, wonderful poster. Amazing, you're right, the pictures are better than blather. Out of interest, is there an automated way of fitting images into a grid like this? I've always struggled ...TerrorBull Games - 19 December 2011
  5. David - very sharp of you, that's actually a "Suicide Bomber Barbie" (http://www.theculture.net/barbie/). It is awesome, but not our doing. We were honoured to share a display case with her.TerrorBull Games - 19 December 2011
  6. So glad that My little games with 'terroist slave' made it onto this list. Hope to work on the Dungeon game with you guys soon.Mistress Absolute from The Dungeon - 2 January 2012
  7. Mistress A, your photo still makes me chuckle every time I look at it. Thanks for broadening our horizons. And the Dungeon game! ... now that'll be a fun game to prototype.TerrorBull Games - 3 January 2012
  8. Well let Me know when you have time to work on that - I think it could be a whole lot of 'fun'. As you can see from My use of WoT I have a creative imagination......Mistress Absolute from torture Chamber 2 - 6 January 2012
  9. Excellent game, we argued over it just this evening from about 5 to 12 o'clock Give ex-president chimpface and everyone who's really keen on iraqi oil my regards.Archie from Zurich Switzerland - 15 October 2012

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