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It's a Godawful small affair...

Sunday 3 October, 2010

OK, so recently I designed a board based on the hit UK BBC TV show 'Life on Mars' and it's spin-off series 'Ashes To Ashes'. I'm a massive fan of the show (I grew up watching The Sweeney), and after working out the best way to go about it, set about the task of translating it into a fully playable boardgame.

 

The problem that Life on Mars presented was this: it has six principal characters, a few minor recurring people and a 'villain of the week' – as much as that works great on the telly, it's not quite enough to pad out the board substantially. I'm sure I could have made it work as an individual board if I'd really gone to town and featured every petty thief featured, but if an idea feels too stretched, I tend to put it on the backburner until I can figure out a way to do it justice. As a fan, it's a fine line between doing it because it'll look cool, and doing it because it's there.

 

Luckily, the makers of Life on Mars didn't want to end the world they'd constructed just yet, and produced the excellent Ashes To Ashes, continuing the story of Gene Hunt and co. Spreading over three series, with a strong arc of characters and storyline, Ashes provided enough new material to fill a board of its very own – but how to incorporate the story that started it all? The only option – a 'dual' board. Half Life On Mars, half Ashes To Ashes, all boardgame!

 

So, I watched, I researched, I revamped the squares as the third and final series of Ashes played out on television every week. Halfway through the third series, I was satisfied with what had emerged on the board. I knew the show was running into its final, dramatic conclusion, and this would be incorporated into the forfeit/reward cards.

 

Whilst researching the board, I stumbled upon the fantastic fan-forum, 'Luigi's' – a place for all things Ashes To Ashes, as well as the Life on Mars forum 'The Railway Arms'. Sometimes it's very easy to be so involved in what you're designing that you may not realise that you've missed the obvious, so in need of a little feedback, I posted the board artwork onto each forum, and awaited the response…..thankfully, people loved it. A few suggestions were taken on board, and the board was tweaked, the cards were written and the pieces were settled on.

It was not to end there.

 

Having embroiled myself in the third series of Ashes, I found myself returning to the Luigi's forum week in, week out, discussing ideas and carefully avoiding spoilers for the show. During all this, I found out that the lovely Luigi's people had become quite involved in the show, had attended filming locations, met the cast and even had their cars used in the show! As a result, they had organised a charity evening to raise money for CHASE, a children's charity supported by Ashes star Keeley Hawes. Signing myself up to be one of the attendees, I also discovered that they were holding a charity auction on the night, with lots of stuff donated by cast and crew of Ashes. I contacted one of the moderators on Luigi's, and donated the first set of the newly-created Life on Mars/Ashes To Ashes board to the auction.

 

The big day came, and as some of the attendees were going on a tour of some of Ashes' shooting locations in the afternoon, I popped along early and got to meet some of the people I'd been chatting to on the forum. A beautiful, sunny day out around London, ending in The Railway Arms (actually The Horseshoe pub near London Bridge). Then came the charity evening – a venue that had been donated to the evening free of charge (thanks to a little help from some of the people at Kudos, the show's production company, from what I remember). Little did we know that they also had a couple of stars of the show in attendance – DC Slate actor Jack Walters, and the mysterious 'PC6620' from series three, the very enthusiastic Mason Kayne.

 

Both Stars were complete gents, taking time to sign merchandise, pose for photos and chat to the fans. They even hosted the charity auction and signed the set that I donated for its winner. All in all, the evening raised £2,000 for CHASE, with the board fetching a healthy £100. Chatting to Mason and Jack during the evening, Mason expressed an interest in his own set. I gave him my card, and said to get in touch.

A Facebook email popped up a couple of months later, from Mason, asking if it was still possible to get one. By this time, I had constructed a solely-Ashes To Ashes board for one of the many lovely people I had met at the charity evening. As Mason had turned out to be a pivotal character in the third series, I had given him his own square, so with that in mind, I offered him a tweak of the Ashes board, with the 'Gene Hunt' centrepiece from my original 'dual' board. That was fine with him, so I set about producing the set. Juggling numerous other orders at the time, a few weeks later, Mason's board was ready. I emailed him to see if he wanted it couriered somewhere – but no, he wanted to meet in person to thank me! So we did, and one sunny Saturday afternoon at Paddington station a few weeks ago, we met up, had a drink and a chat as he went through his board, enthusiastically checking all the little details. He even signed my Life on Mars/Ashes board that I'd cheekily brought along. After an hour and a half of swapping stories, we cajoled the bar-staff into taking a couple of pics of us with the board. For a fan, it was a great afternoon, and for the boards, it was a very proud moment that one of the stars of my humble creations actually wanted one for themselves. Now, how can I track down the other stars… ;)

 

Follow-up:

Shortly after delivering Mason's board to him, I met him again at a Collectormania event. After a lovely chat and catch-up (which rendered my fiancée (now wife!) all giggly, as Mason is a very charming man), he kindly signed a photo with me - along with a very nice personalisation which you can see below...

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