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I am considering an educational larp, perhaps even suitable for a lesson of one and half an hour in length at gymnasium (roughly: high school) level or at yläkoulu (roughly: middle school) level, supposing the class is not too large. The game should be playable in other contexts. Probably 6-30 players, with focus on 8-20 players. The time limit is not a necessary feature, but it would be nice.

The players are divided into two teams. Each player will have a short description of their character, which communicates some of their social context, their goals, and maybe personality or other such traits for inspiration. The description will also contain historical/setting information.

The groups are decision-making bodies that oppose each other. Both will decide how aggressively they will act towards the other. At the end, everyone will gather in the same space, the decisions of both groups will be compared in a prisoner's dilemma -kind of way to see how history unfolds in this case. There will be no other contact between the groups.

Restrictions and limits

  • Players will not have prepared for the game and are not assumed to be familiar with the initial situation.
  • There will be a short common introduction (maybe 5 or 10 minutes).
  • Most of the facts and rumours regarding the setting and the conflict will only be given to specific players through their character descriptions / info sheets.
  • Players should not have to read very much - the game should teach by play, not by studying for play.

Question

How many layers of information, or how deep information, should the players have? The main educational goals are to give a sense of the event and the political issues of the time, and to give a sense of political decision-making. Here, political decision making means making decisions under uncertainty (already provided by the other team) when the involved people have somewhat different personal goals and various opinions on the proper methods for reaching those goals.

Example of layers of information

  • One layer of information: The communist revolution in the east is likely to succeed.
  • Two layers of information: The communist revolution in the east is likely to succeed, since they defeated the troops sent against them.
  • Three layers of information: The communist revolution in the east is likely to succeed, since they defeated the troops sent against them. Many of the defeated joined the communist revolution and the rest were killed.

The situation

(In case anyone is interested.) The situation is likely to be one of the following: the beginning of Finnish civil war, a decisive moment in the history of IKL or Lapuan liike, or a decisive moment in the history of SMP and Maalaisliitto.

Answers

I am interested in best practices and experiences of negotiation-focused larps. My experience is mostly on the tabletop side. I also have some experience as a teacher (of mathematics, not history).

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What you are trying to do is called a "Planspiel" in German. An educational role playing game that involves a conflict. The Planspiel has derived from military simulations, i.e. maneuvers at the green table with decision-making involving also the problem of having to act on incomplete information. The educational Planspiel is focused on decision-making and - mostly-negotiations.

In a Planspiel you should hand out a scenario description of about half a page to all participants. Illustrations help. The scenario describes the conflict, gives a list of conflicting groups and defines the way of deciding the outcome of the conflict. This can be a treaty, a ballot, or - as in your case an outcome defined by a game master considering all actions taken by the players.

There are scores of Planspiele around. Here is a link to an english site of a professional group of educators focussing on creating this kind of simulation games. A simple form I use for school (I am a history and politics teacher) is to hand out a role description to each group with their goals and ressources, written in a very subjective language so that each group gets the impression to be the only legitimate group in the game. I write descriptions of one half to one page. You can add secret individual roles to these group briefings, involving special interests and additional information as you see fit.

The time schedule you set is tight. I normally reckon 1 and half an hour to introduce the game, have the students find their roles, let them prepare for the first exchange of opinions and let them exchange their viewpoints. Then normally 1 and half an hour have passed. My games normally really start after this first exchange, when a round of negotiations and actions goes afloat. But the limited scope of your project, i.e. one round of decision-making, no negotiation, probably allows for the decisions to take place at the end of 1 and half an hour. But still: If you want to discuss the results with your students (and everything we know about eductional role playing games and learning suggests, that reflecting the experience is what makes the difference) you will need more time or a second lesson.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Good reference and information. Thanks! Does there exist a PDF of a simple example game? (I read Finnish, English, Swedish, a little bit of French, and a little bit of other Nordic languages. German is okay if other languages are not available.) \$\endgroup\$ – Thanuir Mar 5 '16 at 7:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry for responding so late - there is a database bpb.de/lernen/formate/planspiele but as far as I can see there are only German simulation games included. \$\endgroup\$ – Giorin Mar 10 '16 at 13:14
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A game suitable for that age level, designed explicitly for educational purposes, is Dangerous Parallel. See if your school can get a copy of that game and use it as a template for how deep to go. I recall that the game went a little deeper than your third level. There is both open information and secret information that only certain players got. The game can accommodate 6-30 players, and can work at the junior high level as well. There are multiple roles on each team.

If your time limit is one to two hours, you are right to be concerned about complexity and depth. If you want all of the players to participate, level 3 might be the limit, maybe level 2.

We played Dangerous Parallel in high school (with two teachers as moderators/referees) in 1974/1975 as a part of our class on government/international relations. It covered more than one class session. The scenario we played modeled a similar problem to the Korean War. Interactions focused on international relations, decision making, and negotiation. It had opposing parties, neutral parties, and an international body like the UN.

There are a variety of possible outcomes -- it may not be as free form as you'd like, so it may not be the game for you, but it's structure should provide a good guide for depth.

There were some outcomes that would make the war worse, and some that would resolve the war -- all of which relied on decisions made by the players. There were victory conditions for neutral parties who successfully convinced the opposing parties to either not fight, or to stop fighting. If you are not interested in things like "victory conditions," that's easy to remove. You can just focus on process and the uncertainty factor leading to different outcomes.

Role playing was key.

I don't have a copy of the game at hand, so I can't give more definition to you on "how many layers of information, or how deep information, should the players have?" It took very little time to pass out the packets and get to playing. Each team had 4-6 players.

The main educational goals are to give a sense of the event and the political issues of the time, and to give a sense of political decision-making. Here, political decision making means making decisions under uncertainty (already provided by the other team) when the involved people have somewhat different personal goals and various opinions on the proper methods for reaching those goals.

Dangerous Parallel does that very well.

While it's a good model, it is a multi-party game: there are multiple major factions (6) not two. The materials will give you a sense of the depth necessary to get the gameplay to the detail that you desire, and to get playing quickly. (Sadly, I do not have experience in modding that game for fewer parties). A review at boardgame.geek.com is here.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the reference. It seems to be quite involved and probably not something I will use in the immediate future, but I'll keep it in mind. \$\endgroup\$ – Thanuir Mar 5 '16 at 7:28
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I've run a great number of political larps. For one-shots, you have to strike a very important balance: giving people enough leads where they never feel they're lost for something to do, and not overwhelming them with too much information.

Given your examples were all very short - you could give way more than that. About half a page of total background reading material (not in a text wall and easy to reference) is usually what I've found that players can quickly and easily digest. You could go level three with two-three different issues at that level. I also recommend that adding in a "Complication" and absolutely a personal connection.

Ex: Communists are winning the war in the East, after having defeated the army sent against them. All of the survivors have either joined the Communists, or been killed. However many of the turncoats only joined from fear, and may be willing to sell out their comrades. You know your brother survived, but you don't know where his loyalties lie, and getting in contact with him through the wrong channels (loyalist spies in the Communists, or Communist spies in your camp) could be risky, until you know more. If only there was another way...

I also recommend making sure everybody has a sense of which faction they are in (so they know they have people they can work with). Factions should be largely coherent, though with everybody having a personal agenda which might conflict with the faction agenda.

Essentially, from reading about a page (at most) of information, everybody should have a clear idea of

  • What they want
  • What they fear
  • What they have to offer
  • Who they can work with
  • Some idea of who might be working against them

Usually, one of these overlaps with something along the lines of "A secret that is worth protecting from the wrong people, but very valuable if shared with the right person."

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