The Mystery of Rzhevka

29.05.2021, Rzhevka district, Saint Petersburg

The Prehistory

In 2019, thanks to the excellent cooperation with the Polish Institute in St. Petersburg, we realized three city games: Build the City Yourself, Where is Adam? and Follow the Sound. You may think: what the heck, making three city games is not such a difficult thing. And you’re probably right, but there are a few additional factors to take into account:

  1. the gaming season in St. Petersburg is a bit shorter. Of course, for the real enthusiasts nothing is impossible and you can play in 20-degree frost, but for the majority of people the acceptable playing conditions are somewhere between April and September (according to the principle: it’s cold in St. Petersburg for 10 months and then it’s just summer and summer 🙂
  2. the games were made in Russian, which involved a lot of translations and corrections – I speak and write in this language myself, but when I write something, it’s better to have someone check it.
  3. last but not least – we don’t have our gaming world here, we don’t have permanent, frequently used places, we don’t have (we didn’t have) a wide base of animators who know what we’re about

That’s how it was at the beginning of 2019. At the end of the year we were already after three games, we were also after the Fusion festival, which, although at the other end of Europe, allowed us to make friends with important game writers. Full of enthusiasm we set off to plan new ventures, got in touch with the Rżewska Library and were already looking forward to preparing a new tasty game for spring 2020 when the world stopped.

This time – beyond the downtown

A year later we returned to the preparation of another Polish city game – this time in Rževka. What is Ržewka – you will ask. And it will be the right question. Rzevka is a right-bank district of St. Petersburg, located in the eastern part of the city, cut through by the ring road and – as it happens with such districts – abounding in local titbits completely unknown to the general public. Why should we make a game there – you will ask. And this will also be a valid question. There are at least two reasons:

  1. our games are aimed mainly at city residents. Every citizen of St. Petersburg has already been to the city center, walked along Nevsky and along the canals. Probably s/he was also on Petrogradka and Vasilevsky Island. And of course – we can always show these places from a new side, first of all by revealing Polish threads to the players – this is what we have already done in previous games and will do in future ones. But it’s also in our – the Department’s – DNA to show places and themes that are not obvious – and here Ržewka was perfect.

2 The decisive factor, however, was the support we received from the Rževka Library. The library supported us in many ways – not with a substantive consultation, but through assistance in promotion and  making its premises and resources available. Libraries in St. Petersburg (or at least in the Krasnogvardeyskiy district) are amazing places in general – in the maze of underperforming, problematic (from mismanagement to poor design) public services in Russia, libraries are a sort of an oasis of good design and truly enthusiastic staff which is offering their friendly help and ensuring enough support for local initiatives.

The preparation process

And so – the decision was made – we are doing a game in Rževka in collaboration with the Library. We started as usual with exploration of the area, discovering more and less known stories, spectacular and less attractive places. A century and a half ago, the life of Rževka was concentrated along the Ohta River – a dam was built on the river, and using the dammed waters around it, the Ohtinskaya Powder Factory – the largest in the Russian Empire – was built. Today most of the factory buildings still perform production functions (as part of the chemical complex), and for this reason they are inaccessible to ordinary mortals – the players. Available to all, however, is an incredibly atmospheric cellar – the former powder magazine. In the twentieth century the center of life in Rževka moved to the south of the Ohta valley – first a small settlement of several-story blocks of flats was built there, and then a full-fledged “sleeping quarters”. To the east of it Rževka woods unfold – a large, dense forest, a real treasure for the city residents. In each of these three zones you can find unique places, relics of the past, places where there used to be something and now there is nothing, or modern curiosities – we guided the players along the trail of these points.

As usual in games strongly connected with history, an important role was played by the plot. Here, the plot was based on the character of Roman Kozlowski – a Polish engineer from a gunpowder factory. In addition to the historical thread, there was also a fantasy thread (what is better than a fantasy thread to arouse emotions in players?). It turned out that Roman, apart from working on gunpowder, also had a small “side project” – he invented the formula for an elixir of immortality. This fact, for security reasons, had to remain a secret, and as we all know, secrets always find their discoverers – the first of them was the detective revealed in the game trailer, in the game itself the detective was joined by players trying to solve the mysteries of Rževka.

Here we play

And so we play! On May 29, we started the game in the charming Little Ilyinskiy Orchard – an intimate park picturesquely located where the Lubja River flows into Ochta, at the foot of the old Ilya Prophet’s Orthodox Church. On the spot it turned out that we were not the only ones willing to use the stage in the park – right next to it a joyful celebration of seniors was taking place – fortunately the manager of the celebration turned out to be a great man, we shared the place, regretfully refused to participate in the dances and set off to play.

The game used the Encounter system to guide the players among the points – once again, it turned out to be a simple yet effective tool to operate and run the game – first, the players automatically received the next tasks, and second – we could see where each team was.

In the game the players travelled through Ochta in spatial and temporal dimension – they visited the area of Gunpowder Factory, where we referred to the 19th century history, in Ržewski forest they explored the history of the beginning of 20th century, at the end they explored the district going through its part built in 1950s – to the part built in 1970s and 1980s. The game ended in the hospitable library – there the final task was waiting for the participants, as well as various awards and the mutual joy from …the world saved again.

Organizer: Polish Institute in Saint Petersburg (Ewelina Przyczyna, director Ewa Ziołkowska)

Partner: Rzhevka Library (Alyona Gevorkyan)

Coordinator: Michał Grelewski

Animators: Olga Oniszczuk, Aleksandr Purgin, Jarosław Nikołajenko, Kristina Bobrova, 

Video: Aleksandr Gusakov

Photos: Denis Szczegłów

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