Chrysalis Youth Empowerment Network

The Uganda Village Boardgame Convention 2018

Lead-up

Our own teaching version of Molerats in Space

In the weeks leading up to the Convention, there was a real buzz of excitement, from all those who were attending.  The energy of preparation and initiative shown by the young people was special and they were all ready to work together in a team to make the Convention a success.

For those that are not aware, our project is a youth empowerment project.  The reality of this is tha our youth undertake many different activities under the guidance of adults, who often stand back and let the young people do the majority of the work.  His means that they gain experience and confidence, as they realise what they can do.  In Uganda, children rarely are given these opportunities, usually reserved for adults, as they are expected to put all of their energies not school.  While this important, Ugandan schools have limited resources and it is rare that with their large class sizes, that they can give the level of practical experience that we are able to.

So, we divided up the responsibilities into the following:

  1. Administration and Registration
  2. Boardgame Tryouts
  3. LARP and RPG, including props and construction
  4. Tournaments (Molerats in Space, Omweso and Dragon & Flagon)
  5. Food and site preparation (which we had an adult team responsible for)
  6. Budgeting and buying (again an adult team)

The young team that were responsible for putting this together were 12-17 years old, with the majority 14 and 15.  All of them were members of the Butterfly Project, the members of which we train to be social entrepreneurs and changemakers – more information about us at http://cyen.org.uk.  In total we had about 25 youth in the organisation team, some of them residents at the Chrysalis Centre, Kampala, others from their homes in Kampala, others from their homes in Gulu.

Of course, not all are keen boardgamers, but all had learned a lot from boardgames in the first year and they realised that it was important for children in villages to develop their skills, so last December, they volunteered to take boardgames back to their village areas and run Christmas workshops, where they could teach the children what they had learned, not exclusively boardgames, but also drama, art and other activities, such as active games.  The response they received from the rural children inspired them to wish to be part of the team to teach the games to other rural children, who were part of the Gamechangers Boardgame Clubs, formed last August.  Many of their friends from their home village were now part of the boardgames clubs that we set up.

So, back in March, we decided how we were going to put this Convention together and I contacted Matt Leacock (Pandemic etc.) and Tony Boydell (Snowdonia etc.) to see if they were prepared to help us again this year with the Convention.  Matt is an amazing professional and he had his blog page up with opportunities for prizes for donors within just a few days.  Tony Boydell had some brilliant ideas and designed a promo card for us, based on the Tsavo lions, who ate railway workers on the East Africa railway construction 100 or more years ago.  I can’t thank these two people enough for helping us, as I would doubt we would have raised anywhere near enough to put the event on without their support and publicity this year.  In fact we raised 30% more this year than last and I hope that we can build this idea year on year, as the Convention was quite a success.

A few years ago we bought 2.5 acres of land in Koro, because we believed, as a team, that there was a need to work with rural children in villages.  Many of us close our minds to the obvious fact that village children are amazingly capable beings, yet are so neglected that they never reach their potential, without some form of intervention.  I did not discover this until 2007, when a 15 year old boy in a village in Nigeria told me that he wanted to be a changemaker and asked me to teach him and I realised that he was but one of maybe thousands of children, who were thinking similarly in Nigeria.

The first bricks we laid in Koro

We had no buildings in Koro for a while, which meant we had to run our activities and even boardgaming under trees and we had no protection from the rain, but gradually we were able to raise some money to put a small building up and over time we have expanded the work space that we have, as well as put up some residential accommodation, for teachers and security.  Security is really important, as local policing cannot stretch to these remote areas very easily and in some cases police have to move on foot.  Last year, donors supported a container for us and this has been incredibly useful in preserving what we have on this site into the future, by reducing the opportunity for theft.  With constant theft, it is very difficult to grow a project, so we have been pleased that recently we have been able to start on our rural Chrysalis Secondary School, which we hope to complete this year.You can see a little more information about the school project and buildings at the Justgiving page.  Since boardgames are an integral part of our offering for youth, the games will form part of the extra-curricular activities at the school and we will also have a Games Library there.

Our new building under construction

So, this year, we had a completely new and large building, so we were able to offer residential accommodation, even at a very basic level, to those children that attended the Convention.  This meant that we could offer places to he most remote children from places like Pakor near Karamoja and even Omoro district, where Koro is a subcounty.  We had already established clubs throughout Northern Uganda, so we offered each separate club 8 places at the Convention, essentially wo teams for the Molerats in Space tournament.  In reality, quite a lot more arrived and we had around 180 children from 10-17 on site during the event.  We have also been working to recruit young adults, who can help establish the games clubs in each local area.  It is quite difficult to simply walk into a village and tell them to accept your club, especially when it is something which has not been seen before.  Not every village immediately appreciates the educational benefit of boardgames, so it is usually important to have a trusted person who introduces the concept and then continues to run with it.  Once the games club is established, however, the children and youth are happy to take over much of the responsibility for running it and preserving the games.

Convention Days

Squeezing into the bus

Fortunately the Kampala group, that was doing early preparation for the Convention, managed to arrive at the site early, though even they had difficulties, with so much stuff needing to be fitted into a small coach.  There was a downpour throughout the day, which we had dreaded, which made the road to our centre, which is about 1500m off the main road, very challenging for vehicles and even those forced to walk.  Mud in Uganda is extremely slippery and this makes it treacherous and can leave even pedestrians marooned.  Nevertheless, vehicles came in and either made it through or were forced to turn around and leave their passengers to talk the final part.  By 2.00pm all bar one group (Lira) had made it, even those from Agago with a four hour drive from the remotest parts.

The local children welcomed us as we arrived, with dance and song and this became a theme throughout he camp, as the children were overjoyed to be there and every night danced and sang of their own volition.  Many of the children at the end of the camp told us that they did not want to go home, though of course our hired 4wd vehicles collected them at the end of the programme!

Afterwards, we started to set the camp up and brought out the omweso sets.  Daniel (13), Innocent (14) and Ronald (14) discovered a talent and interest in carpentry, as a result of this camp, where we had a lot of things that needed to be made, including 4 omweso sets for the tournament.  Last year we were donated tools by Tools with a Mission and they arrived on a container partially funded through last year’s Convention.  The tools have enabled us to make good quality wooden items and these have even helped produce the swords and axes that were used in the LARP event later in the week.

Setting up the Omweso competition

In the areas we have been working there has been a resurgence in the traditional Ugandan game of Omweso and we are very proud to say that we have been responsible for this unexpected development, as children clamour to learn how to play their national boardgame, both boys and girls.  Omweso is a very good game, which requires a bit of dexterity as well as planning skills and each game can take up to about ten minutes, at most.  It has more “holes” than Mancala, which many will have heard of, though the rules are quite similar.

Next day the teams for the rural boardgame clubs started to arrive – from Omoro, Nwoya, Gulu, Koro Abili, Koro Barogal and Agago. Some brough two teams, others one.  When food is so scarce, children in these areas are quite starved and so it was important for us to register all comers and give them a badge, which they could use for food.  Suzan did a brilliant job, as she also noted the breakdown of children’s school classes, where it was discovered exactly how few were attending that were in the Senior classes, whereas almost all of the ones from Kampala were Seniors.  However, there were some from the P7 end of Primary class, which was important, as we are looking to recruit new children this year from this P7 class for our core Butterfly project.

Barbara was very quick to register also the teams for the Molerats in Space tournament, as it was our intention that every single person at the Convention learn how to play this game.  This game was made for tournaments, as, like duplicate bridge, it has more meaning when you are making a decision that others on other tables are making and you have to make a better one than they do, if you are going to compete and win.  Even compared to Pandemic, the fewer options means that whatever decision you make is more crucial.  Barbara was very strict during the tournament, as you will see on the video, but the children who participated really felt that they had achieved something when they qualified to go through to the next round.  These cooperative games in tournaments are very powerful in training teamwork and the whole competition aspect for the participating children proved to be very exciting and tense, when they had to make a move under time pressure.  Many children said that Molerats in Space was absolutely their most favourite game.  If you would like to see some of the footage – we played the game mainly on large mats – then it can be found here.

The rest of the kids leapt into either playing omweso or going to our boardgame tryouts section, where we had divided the games up into:

  1. For anyone
  2. For club members
  3. Experienced
  4. Challenging

 

At first the gaming area was packed indoors, but gradually almost everything moved outside.  When you are teaching games, it is important to be able to be heard when explaining the game, so I think that was the part of the reason.  The other might be that the village children prefer to be outside and, if there is no rain, as we were generally fortunate during the daytime, and there is no wind at all, then gaming outside is preferable in the fresh air.  Our site has a number of trees providing shade and, with the mats and tables very portable, we were able to move things around, dependent on where the sun was!

Usually brick-making, but now our areas for challenging boardgames!

We permanently moved the Level four gaming to an area, which is usually reserved for brick-drying, as we are in he process of building a school, making compressed earth bricks and cement to be used in the construction.  We hope that the school will be completely built by the end of this year, so that we can open next year, but this will also mean we have a much larger venue, with better sleeping accommodation for 2019, perhaps even good enough for overseas visitors, who might demand better facilities.

Another huge hit at the Convention was he Dragon & Flagon competition, which Uganda Boardgame Pioneer Kenneth managed, along with help from Marvin and a few others.  It was targeted at the older 14+ children and this game was played without pause throughout the Convention right up until the competition, which took place on the final day.  Kenneth staes: “initially the game was complicated to these older ones, but the younger group, whom I did not expect to understand he game performed better and spurred the older ones into learning the game properly, as they had been open-minded enough to grasp it.  I mixed up the older and younger groups together, to make sure that everyone understood the game.”

Dragon & Flagon – a little-known 8-player boardgame

“The game can be a bit lucky but having a tournament really encouraged those who were finding it hard to learn, to come back and try again each day, as I told hem that only those who knew the game would be allowed to participate.  When they started to grasp the concept, I was asked whether it could be played in the evening.  Sometimes I was even called away from my filming (I was responsible for the videoing) in order to start the game.”

“I had a few individuals who could not read, so I explained how the pictures on the cards could be used to understand their purpose and this helped broaden out the game to more people.”

We chose the game because it runs up to 8 players, has not too much written English, but most of all so I could be converted into a tournament, where games could be played and the winner qualifying for the final.  The paladin and the cleric in this game seem really strong, but it can so fun, when you manage to get a good combination off and it is also such a colourful and imaginative game.  Full marks to the Boardgame Pioneers for choosing this game last year on EBay, using the small amount of money left after the Convention 2017.  Next year, I guess we will try another game, with a fair number of players, if we can discover one.

Multiplayer games – Rexx, Citadels, Bang the Dice Game and Saboteur

Games with many players were a success in this Convention.  With so many games needing to be taught, 2-players games were few, as the teachers were too few to pass their knowledge on, but games like Saboteur (10 players), Citadels (7 players), Bang the Dice Game (8 players) and even Rexx (6 players) were really popular throughout.

Mr Jack was one of the more successful 2-player games that we played

The exception to this was Mr Jack, which became another favourite, as the game was taught to some, who then passed it onto others, throughout the time of the convention.  The component quality of this game makes it well suited for the rougher rural areas.  Kenneth picked the capable players from Dragon & Flagon and introduced this game to them, showing how we can utilise the games themselves to tease out the best problem-solvers.  Kenneth said; “The first time I taught this game, it drew crowds and I asked them to team up and make decisions jointly as a team, which worked quite well in teaching the game to more people at the same time.”

Spirits of the Rice Paddy

Farming games have been popular, though we own just a few.  One of the more complex games – Spirits of the Rice Paddy proves that, when children already know about a subject, then they can learn it more readily.  This game is about growing rice and the winner is the one who ends up with the most having had the most successful harvests.  However, it requires very careful planning and complex thought processes and decision-making when drafting cards and allocating workers, so I have been really surprised how quickly the children picked this game up.  The girls in particular have taken to this game and they play it back in Kampala a few times each week.  We’ve tried Agricola, but this game crosses a border, relating to its need for English comprehension, with the improvement and occupation cards, which makes the game far less accessible.  We hope to add some more farming and animal games in future, to tap into this obvious enthusiasm.

So, what other games were popular and played again and again?

Level 1 – Dice Risk, Escape from Atlantis, Vampire Queen, Hanabi, Megastar, Korsar, Hexago Continuo, Dodekka, I lost my Mummy, Manitou, Saboteur

Level 2 – Iceflow, Welcome to the Dungeon, Dracheninsel, Relikt, Alhambra, Ticket to Ride Card Game, Drunter und Druber, Kingdom Builder, Empire Engine, Good Cop Bad Cop, Turbo Taxi, Air Ship, Colorado,

Level 3 – Shadows over Camelot Card Game, Citadels, Ravenloft, Forgotten Planet, Lowenherz, Mr Jack, Cosmic Encounter

Level 4 – Dragon & Flagon, Signorie, Rexx, Spirits of the Rice Paddy

This is approximately 36 regularly-played games, though there were others just played a few times, like for instance DR Congo, Puerto Rico and Legends of Andor.

The complexity curve suggests a preference for Level 2 games, which we would describe as gateway games.  There was definitely a preference for card games, though this may have been because board games tend to be more complex and fewer were accessible, so we will expect the group to graduate more into games with boards during this year.

Patrick, one of our Boardgame Pioneers, had as his responsibility the LARP (Live Action Roleplaying.)  Patrick was supported by Paizo a few years back for his innovative approach to roleplaying games in Uganda, whilst just 12 years old and for he Convention, he worked on ideas, which he believes will make roleplaying more accessible to young people in Uganda.  One of these was LARP and in this Convention, we’ve been very lucky to have the support of Anders Berner, who is an expert in LARP and has been giving us advice on how best to run it, as we have never done quite such a challenging project as this.  Patrick’s idea is that if children can actually play with the swords and axes, fighting against the monsters, then they will understand far better what the pencil and paper roleplaying is about, which he and many others enjoy these days.  However, many children have struggled with roleplaying due to a lack of understanding of the swords and sorcery culture.

The LARP was really successful, not least because we had put a lot of effort into it. Daniel took on the reins of making 40 swords and other weapons, using a design that we found on Youtube.  He gradually involved a larger team of our youth, who expanded the range of items to axes, daggers, curved scimitars and warhammers!  You can see the weapons in action here.

Patrick worked on the story, which involved orcs and eight different races, including he elves, dragonborn, elementals, humans, half-orcs and half-ogres etc.  The idea was that the Lich King (they are Hearthstone fans) had been mistakenly awoken yet was still weakened.  The eight teams had to discover the locations of artifacts and attune themselves to these artifacts, so that they can return the Lich King back to the tomb it came from.  The children had never done anything like this before and it was really very exciting for them and clearly was stimulating their imaginations.

Our member Sione took control of the elven team and made pointy ears for each of his team and each team leader also designed an insignia for their race.  The event actually took much longer than we had anticipated, as the teams were enjoying compleing the different quests that they had been given, so we were only able to run the event once, when we had planned for twice, but for those that took part it was an amazing experience.

Innocent (14), another of our young members has been working on using art as a games concept.  The idea has been borrowed from an art professional, Don Pavey, who used art team games to develop teamwork and working towards personal and joint objectives simultaneously.  Here are Innocent’s efforts from last and this year:

At the end of the event we had an evening of drama, dance and our presentations.  We also gave out more than fifty games, which had been played at the Convention out to our games clubs that had sent teams and also gave out the prizes for the E-Tabletop.com Molerats in Space team prize and for the Dragon & Flagon Competition.  Our cooks roasted two goats in celebration of the end of the camp and then there was a huge swarm of flying white ants, a local delicacy, to the children were jumping up to catch something favourite on their menu.

Presentations at the Convention

I cannot thank everyone enough for helping us make this Convention such a success.  It was not without its difficulties.  We had sometimes too few games trainers, though I believe with time this problem will start to disappear, as many more young people expand the number of games that they know.  We also had too many children come from the outlying districts and there was no way of sending them home and this meant extra spend on food, as we were responsible for feeding everyone three times a day, even though they may have been used to eating only once!  Also, the weather initially played havoc with our transport there and back, as cars were stuck in the mud, but in the future perhaps we can invest in some road repairs ahead of the event, so this problem does not recur.  Bedding was too few for those that came, so people were very squeezed together on the sleeping mats.

However, nothing will replace the amazing feeling seeing 150 children or more concurrently playing, learning and enjoying boardgames designed from all over the world together with their own Omweso.  Board games are brilliant for rural areas, where there is often little or no power available and we know that good boardgamers are also good problem-solvers for communities and this is where our Gamechangers programme is most effective, as it means that we can find more young people capable of creating change through this amazing event.

Thanks also to Matt Leacock and Mindware (who sent us multiple copies of Molerats in Space), who has helped us so much in establishing this Convention.  If you don’t own a copy of Pandemic, please buy one to thank him from us!  Similarly Tony Boydell of Snowdonia fame has just launched a Kickstarter for his Deluxe Master Set for Snowdonia.  Tony’s idea for a promo card for us was really helpful and helped us meet our record target this year.

We do plan to build on the convention in the remaining months of this year, running a smaller event for the more experienced boardgamers perhaps in August.  If you are interested in helping with this one, then please mail me on socentafrica@gmail.com (Ben Parkinson).  Hopefully we’ll also be running the Convention in May 2019 too, and we’re open for suggestions for that event.

The 2018 Convention attendees