The twelfth century Orkney Earl Rögnvald Kali Kolsson, later canonised as Saint Ronald of Orkney, once boasted of nine exceptional skills that he possessed. One of these was that he had mastered boardgames. It seems appropriate then, that, seven and a half centuries after his death, he finally gets to feature in a board game himself.
Maeshowe: an Orkney Saga is currently on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, where it has funded in just 38 minutes. A co-operative cardgame for 1-2 players that takes 15-30 minutes to play, the game was designed by archaeologist Lee Broderick.
‘In 2016 I attended a conference at Orkney College and finally realised a long-held ambition to visit Orkney.
‘I took the opportunity to stay a little longer and explore the islands. Obviously, that included a visit to Maeshowe, where I expected to marvel at the Neolithic architecture. Instead, it was the Viking graffiti that blew me away.
‘I remember standing there thinking “wow, those stories were true” – years ago I’d read some of the sagas and I vaguely recalled how Rögnvald Kali Kolsson had discovered treasure there and that Harald Maddadsson had sheltered there from a snowstorm before having to dig his way out.
‘At the time I’d dismissed the stories as fairy tales but here I was confronted with tantalising suggestion that they were based on real events. I went away thinking that more people should know these stories and, by the time I’d driven back down to our house in England, I’d resolved to design a game about them.
‘The game conflates the two events into a single narrative of survival, casting the player(s) as the two Jarls as they have to dig their way out of the tomb before succumbing to madness or starvation. A happy theme, obviously! It’s been in development for four years and got picked up for publication by a Finnish company in 2019, after they published another of my game designs through Kickstarter.
‘I’m really proud of it now – I think the developments shaped a really fun and robust game. It’s also a game that’s unique in its theming, I think – I’m not aware of any other games that are based on historical events of individual suffering and survival, as opposed to major cataclysms and battles.’
‘I’m really pleased by the feedback so far,’ says Lee.
‘This has become a bit of a passion project and the idea that I can help bring a bit of fun into someone’s home at a time like this is pretty amazing.
‘The story’s important to me – part of the rulebook for the game is actually dedicated to historical and archaeological notes – but ultimately it has to be a game that people want to play. That people who previously knew nothing about Maeshowe or the Orkneyinga Saga and who play a lot of games are enjoying it suggests to me that I got it right.
‘I’m looking forward to hearing from more people who play it as we get it produced and shipped out to put more smiles on faces in people’s homes where they can relax, play a game and learn about some remarkable people in a remarkable place.’
Prototypes of the game were sent to several boardgame reviewers around the world ahead of the campaign launching and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
Maeshowe: an Orkney Saga is on Kickstarter now and you can receive a copy of the published game in return for backing the project up until it finishes on 4th February 2021.
Reviews of Maeshowe: an Orkney Saga
‘Maeshowe easily earns its place in a gamer’s bag or shelf, bringing them a gritty, tense and customizable time that will lend itself well to replayability and will leave the player wanting to come back for another try,’ said Le Raz, a reviewer for the French website Le ComboteurFou.
There is ‘a strong feeling of adventure and narrative as we attempt to dig our way through the collapsed tunnels’ Giles Pound, a reviewer based in Estonia.
‘Maeshowe: An Orkney Saga is an addictively challenging 20-30 minute game. Beat it at the easiest setting and you’ll want immediately to step up the difficulty for a replay. Get beaten by it and you’ll always want to take another crack at it.’Selwin Ward, of A Board’s Eye View.