So, first. Is Bring Them Home a megagame? Well, they’re advertising it as one. It might be more of a kilogame – a mini-megagame that runs with fewer players and control in a shorter time span. But let’s not focus on that for the time being.
Instead, let’s focus on what else it is. Which is a really fun way to spend an evening.
What is Bring Them Home?
Created by Treehouse, a geeky immersive theatre company, Bring Them Home draws inspiration from Apollo 13 and Gravity. An astronaut, alone in space, floating, desperate to come home, and a host of people on the ground trying to help her make that happen. It’s set in 1972, which makes it even weirder that somehow the USA and the Soviets are working together on a space project… never mind that the EU are involved as well, considering it didn’t exist until 1993. Historical inaccuracies aside, the plot is compelling and I can see why they chose it as the setting.
Lasting for 2.5-3 hours and featuring stripped back mechanics that can be explained in a 5 minute briefing, there’s no wonder why this game has had commercial success where other megagames have struggled. It’s been covered (somewhat controversially) by Shut Up & Sit Down (who originally shone the spotlight on Watch The Skies) and earlier in the year they had a run at Vault Festival in London.
And luckily for me, they decided to bring it north, in collaboration with X-It Games in Shipley, for three games. Tim and I took part in the last run of the day. And I got to be the astronaut.
Team allocations are pretty fast and loose – I volunteered to be the astronaut by email beforehand, although sometimes they select the astronaut on the day. Tim was allocated to the USA team, and apparently there were micro-briefings for each member of the agency teams.
There was also a two-person press team who would be reporting on the happenings throughout the game.
While the Earth players were getting briefed, I was taken into a side room, given my orange jumpsuit and my own rules.
It was pretty simple – each turn I had three points of energy. I had five different systems – engines, life support, shield, scanners and repair – and I could either split my energy between three of them, or put all three energy into one system.
I also had a grid map, and ten turns to get from the top left corner to the bottom right. A brief calculation told me that I needed to make 8 moves towards home. If I funneled all my energy into Engines (which meant none towards my shields, of course) then I could make a double move, which theoretically meant I had plenty of time to make it.
Stuck in my spaceship
Although the coverage on Shut Up & Sit Down makes mention of a real spaceship – well, real as in made of wood and metal, with a ladder and a printer and lots of techy gizmos – by the time Bring Them Home got to me, I was in a tent with tinfoil stuck on the inside. A lot more portable than the spaceship they made, but a lot less cool. And a lot more hot – tinfoil is great for keeping in the heat.
For the better part of 3 hours, I was trapped inside my personal hotbox. My only contact with the outside was through a letter hatch, and I spent spare moments gazing at the small glimmer of outside light. They wanted to make me feel isolated, and they succeeded. Real spaceship or not, it was damn intense.
Rather than sharing a play-by-play of what happened up in space, I’ve decided to avoid potentially spoilering the game for others. Instead I’ve put together a video dramatisation of the game.
How was it?
I went into the game with somewhat low expectations – could they really pull off a megagame in just a few hours- and I was pleased to say that I was blown out of the water.
Honestly Tim didn’t have as good a time, but he ended up the odd-one-out on an agency team who all knew each other. Additionally his personal objective was to become my favourite Earth player, which he immediately realised he would never achieve as I probably skewed a bit too far against being biased towards him.
But the other agency players seemed to have a pretty enjoyable time, including the many other megagamers who turned up to play. I’m somewhat tempted to play it a second time to get the view from “outside the space ship”.
Bring Them Home yourself
So excitingly I’ve just seen that BTH is on its way back to the north, taking place at Meeple Perk in Newcastle next month (and I cannot confirm or deny that seeing this finally prompted me to get my act together and post this blog).
So if you fancy being an astronaut lost in space or an agency person frantically trying to save them (or at least to find out their favourite colour), then get on that.