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Dr Martha McGill

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Witch Hunt 1649

Something exciting happened last week (June 2022): I finally received the professionally printed version of Witch Hunt 1649! Lots of it. Enough boxes to occupy a sizeable chunk of the attic for probably the rest of my life.

I celebrated by taking a few boxes to the UK Games Expo, where I shared a stall with some Warwick students who’d made exciting prototypes on the IATL Serious Tabletop Game Design and Devlopment module. The expo was rather overwhelming – first time I’ve seen that many humans all in one place in years! – but it was lovely to playtest some of the students’ games.

Back to Witch Hunt 1649. When I was first designing the module I teach at Warwick University, I spent some time thinking about interactive activities that would bring some variety to seminar structure. I wondered about the possibility of making some quick games to introduce particular topics in an engaging way. I was drawn to the witch hunts as a topic because of the inbuilt drama, high stakes and community tensions. There exist various games about the witch hunts, but most are not particularly academic: they’re sensationalised in various ways, they often involve real witches, and there’s not much in the way of educational content.

I was planning a very small-scale thing I’d put together in a weekend. Then I saw the wonderful Virtus, a game about masculine virtue in the Middle Ages made by Professor Frank Klaassen and students at the University of Saskatchewan. I’ve always played a lot of board and card games, and have made various abortive attempts to design a game in the past. I was immediately tempted by the idea of doing something more serious. By turning it into a work project and getting some students on board, I could ensure that I didn’t run out of steam!

I started working on the design of the game over a year and a half ago, with students coming on board a few months later (at which point it evolved into two games, using most of the same cards). I want to write up the whole process in full, because I’ve learned a huge amount about design, collaborative working, funding, publishing, preparing artwork for printing, laws around selling products, and so on. But that’s going to be a long piece, and I need to think about the best format. So for now: Witch Hunt 1649 exists! There is a set of webpages about it, with some more details on the project and team, historical background and resources for classroom use. You can also buy the games (proceeds will be donated to charity) or download the cards/rules and print them at home for free. The games are fun and easy to learn, and can be used for teaching purposes or at home. And there’s lots of original artwork to admire, mostly by Abigail Rylance. I’m especially fond of this goat:

I’ll update this when I’ve written something more extensive, but please do have a look at the games in the meantime.