In January of 2014, we prepared for a winter campout. An enterprising youth texted me:
“Can I bring a flare?”
I quickly gave permission, on the condition that he tell me before setting it off. We departed into the woods, and finally the moment arrived. He set the MK-40 militray flare in the middle of a clearing, ignited it, and the woods came alive with vivid, blinding red light. My only thought was, “We have got to make a game out of this.”
Reactor was born.
THE GAME (Don’t actually play this. Flares could misfire, burn you, or start a forest fire.)
Reactor, to sum it all up, combines a little bit of Capture the Flag and a little bit of Kick the Can and adds a dramatic twist. I’ve played with as few as 10 and as many as 40 people at once.
At the top of the hill (or wherever, I guess…) is the reactor. It’s a flare, extended, armed, and ready to ignite. The pullcord is attached to a 3’ strap of webbing. With the right combination of para cord and zip ties, the flare can be hung from a tree sideways so that it never melts too much of the rig. We also learned quickly that a 5-gallon bucket half-full of water made a useful place to drop the white-hot flares after they went out.
Half of the group are saboteurs. They start at the bottom of the hill and are trying to sabotage the reactor (i.e. ignite the flare).
The other half are sentries. They get flashlights. Their job is to tag out the saboteurs, sending them back to the bottom of the hill.
The game can be played infinitely (until the reactor is sabotaged), or on a time limit or with permadeath so that saboteurs, once out, cannot return. Typically a round lasts long enough to be fun but not so long as be boring. (The reactor turns out to be pretty hard to defend once the saboteurs have been caught a few time and start to wise up.)
I hesitated to post about this game because a lot of things could go wrong. So don’t actually play it… or play it where pulling the strap breaks a glowstick or something.
When the reactor is ignited… it’s pretty obvious that the round is over. And people flock back to the light like bugs. It’s dramatic, beautiful, and fun.
GAME DESIGN PRINCIPLES
Exaggerated Feedback: Anyone who has ever played Capture the Flag or Kick the Can knows that the only way to know that someone has won the game, especially in the middle of the night, is that you hear a bunch of yelling. Reactor’s exaggerated visual feedback is somewhat more… epic.