Behind the scenes of the Manorcon Treasure Hunt

Manorcon board games convention logoTen days ago, this site previewed the Manorcon board games convention in Leicester, with a focus on the event’s puzzle-based Treasure Hunt. This site is fortunate enough to be able to feature a retrospective of the finished event, very kindly supplied by hunt organiser Annie Percik.

Up until 2013, I had never entered the Manorcon Treasure Hunt, so of course the first year I did, my team won. The prize was the responsibility of running it the following year.

Sunday 20 July 2014 – a full year of preparation (largely on my own, but with several hugely important contributions from others) found me rather looking forward to the experience, and confident of its success.

Usually, I operate via an attitude of positive pessimism – if I assume something is going to go badly, I’m nearly always pleasantly surprised. So, even though the event was mostly fine, and I got some great feedback afterwards, it still felt a bit of a let-down because it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.

Basic structure:

  • Teams move from A to B on a map with multiple routes.
  • Solving a puzzle allows the team to move one space.
  • They each start with some pieces and some time for the final puzzle.
  • Leaving yellow spaces allows them to pick either more pieces or more time to add to their loot.
  • Landing on red spaces or spaces where there is already another team causes them to sacrifice some of their loot.
  • The first team to reach point B gets some additional loot, and then the final puzzle begins.
  • The final puzzle is a jigsaw, and the winner of the overall Treasure Hunt is the team that manages to put together the most pieces in the shortest time.

The playtest a couple of weeks before went really well, which gave me confidence – but we only had one team testing, so we had no experience of dealing with multiple teams and how they interacted on the map.

It was all a bit chaotic and demanding, especially at the beginning, and the teams solved puzzles faster than we expected, which put pressure on all of us – moving markers on the map, handing out new puzzles and keeping an accurate record of the various amounts of loot.

We panicked a bit on the timings and changed the rules half way through (probably unnecessarily), which annoyed some teams who had strategised based on the time available. We should have stuck to our original schedule and forced the teams who were steaming ahead to take a break (which was what the schedule was designed to do in the first place), rather than making a snap decision under pressure to try and fix something that wasn’t really broken.

Anyway, everyone seemed to enjoy it, it certainly didn’t over-run, and overall it went reasonably well. Plus, it was amusing that the team who had never played before, and joined in at the last minute to support my endeavours, was the team that won – and so they have to run the event next year!

While setting high standards for yourself before taking pride in the success of your own work may be the greatest motivator of them all, it’s extremely easy to be very negative about an event that you have run. For instance, the second year I (co-)ran the event, when the plans were for a 1½-3 hour event, it was something of a surprise to see the fastest teams crack the metapuzzle after about 57 minutes. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop the hunt from being fun on its own terms, and this site firmly believes in the maxim that “Nothing would be done at all if a man waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault with it.” The important thing in practice is, as Annie says, that people seemed to enjoy it. Many thanks to Annie both for running the event and for writing it up for this site.

Manorcon XXXIII is set for 17th to 20th July 2015 and looks extremely likely to contain a highly puzzle-based Treasure Hunt for a fifteenth consecutive year. Some of this year’s winners come from a team who did very well at this year’s DASH in London, so the omens are extremely promising. More news as it becomes available!

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