A Road of Oak

A few weeks ago, during a holiday in Ireland, we took a fascinating trip to the Corlea Trackway in County Longford.  This is an amazing piece of archaeology: a well-preserved section of a walkway constructed in the 2nd Century BC, that has been painstakingly preserved and put on display in a really nice visitors' centre.  The trackway is a road built from oak planks, designed to traverse sections of the bog and was both a marvelous feat of engineering and something of a failure, as it appears to have sunk into the bog under its own weight after only a few years.  If you are in the area, I reckon it is well worth a look as it is a pretty unique site with a fascinating history.

After this visit I couldn't help thinking about the box of lollipop sticks I have sitting in my stash of stuff at home, and pledged to myself that I would try making a game based on the trackway.

There is some (to say the least) debate about the actual purpose of this trackway.  It seems like overkill for simply allowing the locals easier access to or across the bogs (after all, it was built from oak, which was normally reserved for higher purposes).  The alignment and positioning of the route suggests that it might be part of a path connecting major royal sites in Leinster and Connaught.  Of course there are suggestions of a spiritual or religious purpose too.  I have proposed an alternative theory, based on extensive ludological research: it could have been a race track.

So my first attempt at a game had me marking lolly sticks with colours so that there were six colours (matching the six colours of meeples I have in the general stock), and on each side of the stick there were two different colours.  I then got the relevant meeples and asked Miss B to help try the game out.

Play basically involves pulling one of the sticks out of a bag and adding it to the growing trackway as a plank, and you get to choose which way up to put it.  You then move the meeples of the two colours showing on your new stick: one of them moves one space, the other moves two.  Each of us was secretly supporting two of the colours (randomly assigned) and we scored points for the race position we were in when the sticks ran out.

Miss B loved the game.  I have no illusions that this would entertain hobby gamers for more than the first couple of seconds, but I think impressing a 9-year-old, who is not afraid of being very critical of my games, is a good start.  I think we may have a viable core mechanic, but something far more is needed here.  In particular, I don't think that there is either enough room for strategy or enough chaos in the game; it may seem contradictory, but the game probably needs more of both.

So, some things that I may experiment with include:
  • Some sort of board which may provide some sort of restriction on how planks get played.
    • Possibly the board could grow and be made from cards or tiles.
  • Another class of sticks which may do something different to just moving two meeples.
  • Maybe "legs" to the race, so moving along stretches of trackway between islands.
  • Sections of the track might sink.
  • The different meeples could have special abilities.
  • Drafting sticks/planks instead of pulling them from the bag.

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