Border Riding – a unique map drawing game

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Did you know that we’ve printed our first game? And there’s something a little bit different about it – it’s a map! Border Riding is a collaborative map drawing game, where players create a community and follow it through the years. We catch up with Jo Reid, the game’s creator, and Brian Tyrrell, from its publisher, Stout Stoat Press, to find out more.

Can you tell us what Border Riding is about?

JR – Border Riding is a collaborative history building game. It’s about maps, borders, boundaries and how a small town is shaped. Players create their own community and explore small town divisions, how residents think of themselves as “us” and how they define outsiders as “them”. It takes its inspiration from the Common Riding festivals, a tradition turned festival in the Scottish Borders, where locals ride around the outsides of communities to define their boundaries.

What inspired you to create the game?

JR – When I started developing Border Riding, I was looking at the folk tales I grew up with in a Scottish Borders village. I was thinking about how to put the mechanics of a folk festival into a game. It was the idea of the squiggly border of the community, with the boundaries redrawn each year and people on horses riding around the village to mark these boundaries.

You describe the game as being ‘GM-less’. What does this mean?

JR – In a traditional role-playing game one person is the Games Master and leads the game. In Border Riding no-one is in charge, and everyone controls the narrative together. You’re not playing as an individual but as a community, so having everyone take on the same role made sense.

How did you end up working on Border Riding together?

BT – In February 2022 I put out an open call for people to submit ideas for Stout Stoat to help develop into games. The day before the closing date I received Jo’s submission. I read the first draft and knew I had to publish it! From the start, I could imagine what the game would end up looking like.

Why did you decide to present the game on a fold-out map?

JR – It happened naturally. We were telling a story with the theme of boundaries and how communities shape them. Maps are the manifestation of this. Maps are nice visually, easy to pick up and can be put in your pocket. With a map we can capture something big, confusing and contradictory – the physical world around us.

Border Riding

What makes Border Riding so special?

JR – It’s special to me personally because I view it as my first game. I’ve created a few games before but it’s the first time I’ve created something this big and polished. It’s great to see so many people interested in it too. But even if no-one saw it, it’s me telling the story of my community. A lot of the time, when we look at Scottish traditions the Borders don’t get a look in. The Borders are part of our heritage too and it’s nice to be the one to bring the area to people’s attention.

BT – This is the largest game I’ve worked on and the only one in the format of a map. All the other games I’ve published at Stout Stoat are traditional A5 books. It’s definitely the most unique game I’ve worked on so far.

You’ve said that when creating a game about boundaries it’s important to recognize the real-life violence and discrimination they can create. With this in mind, you consulted Romani tabletop roleplaying game creator Penny Blake. Can you tell us more about this?

BT – Working with Penny was incredible. She grew up in Scotland in the Romani community. She has lived experience of being an outsider to the culture the game is exploring – border towns.

JR – Borders can be a big, difficult theme so we got advice from someone with lived experience of these issues. Penny helped us think about marginalised people who aren’t seen as being part of the community. She encouraged me to reflect on how to approach the portrayal of outsiders in the game and to make it clear to players that we’re being deliberate making them think about “them” and “us”.

Border Riding was funded with the help of over 1,000 supporters who raised more than £23,000 on Kickstarter. How did this feel?

BT – It made about £1,000 a day, which was jaw dropping! We had rewards for supporters, and I had to keep adding extra ones to the site.

One of the rewards on Kickstarter was for people to become cartographers and name a landmark, mountain, river or road on the Border Riding map. What kind of names did people come up with?

BT – Some made subtle references. For example, there’s a Japanese games publisher and one person named a hill after them. We had some commemorative ones too, like Eileen’s Smokehouse and Heroic Hazel’s Mead Hall, that were clearly named for someone as a gift.

What takeaways would you like players to come away with from the game?

JR – The biggest takeaway is that they have fun! Another thing is the idea of borders. They have incredible meaning in our lives, even though they’re arbitrary. With Border Riding I wanted to bring the sense that we’re creating these borders and that it’s a responsibility. What do our borders say about us and how we treat others? You’re creating a fantasy community, but it’s very much based on the real world. The game’s an accessible way for players to think about these questions in their own lives.

BT – The game has a lot of scope for storytelling and the different directions you can take it in. I’ve played it with friends, and it’s been light-hearted. I’ve also had college professors in the US email me to say they’ve used it as a tool to talk about Israel and Palestine. There are a lot of different directions you can take. I want people to reflect on what borders mean to them and what they can mean to other people.

Border Riding is available to buy from the Stout Stoat Press store.

Border Riding

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