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leslie's guiding traditions

Wide Games first appeared in 'Scouting for Boys', in the form of games like 'flag raiding' or 'English and French'. But what is a wide game? Quite literally, a game played over a wide geographical area, usually outdoors.  

There are 4 basic formats around which almost all wide games are based, and no matter how much they are 'dressed up' with themes, plot-lines and scenarios, any wide game is sure to originate with one of these 4 basic formats! Because of this, wide games have to be 'dressed up' - given a plot, a theme, a purpose of some kind - not just presented as running around for the sake of it (even if, in a sense, that's precisely what's happening) or all the older girls (and some of the younger ones too) will see straight through it. If it is being done at a camp or holiday then the theme or location of the event should inspire the wide game - it may be a historical event which happened at that location - festivals, national events, or anniversaries can give ideas, or a more general theme can give ideas too. There are books of wide games available, and ideas published online, which can give inspiration for plans to use or adapt to fit the purpose - but they will need to be adapted, and some more so than others - for they have to be shaped to suit the location, the players, their age group, their abilities/skills, the weather and time of year, the presence/absence of daylight, the staff available, the equipment available, the time available etc - which are bound not to be an identical match for the set-up the author envisaged or used.  

The 4 basic types of wide game are:

Treasure Hunt: Participants follow a series of clues which lead them from place to place, until they reach the end of the trail where they discover the 'treasure'. 

There may be activities to do at each clue/stopping point, the clues may be straightforward or in code/puzzle form, and participants may not necessarily all start at the same place, or be set off at the same time (although they would normally follow the same route in the end, perhaps by means of a 'round robin', so they get to do all of the activities, perhaps by one group going clockwise and the other anti-clockwise, perhaps by a staggered start). It can involve collecting components at certain locations to be used in an end-task - ingredients for a recipe they then make, parts of a stove such as a trangia to collect and then at the end assemble to cook their dinner on, or jigsaw pieces which will be put together to produce a picture or map which gives the final prize's location. It can be an incident hike where, whilst following a provided route, the groups will 'happen to come across' carefully planned challenges or situations, and will be judged on how they react to and deal with them (or indeed, whether they just ignore the potential good turns and carry on straight past them!). 

Often, the difficulty lies in setting up the hunt in such a way that a trail which takes 30 minutes or more to lay out - isn't completed in 5 minutes or so by the fastest runners in the group sprinting from clue to clue, while the rest of the girls all trail bored behind, knowing fine well that hurrying is pointless as the next clue will be solved already regardless of whether they run or walk. Hence, it's wise to either have tasks at each stopping point which the group can't start on until all team members are assembled, or puzzle clues to be worked out meaning the girls have to spend a little time at each key location, and can't just 'read and run' - it makes it more fun for them too, they enjoy working out secret codes, or revealing invisible ink (and codes also cut down the risk of unwanted outside interference with the trail you've laid if you are playing in a public area), and often, girls who are skilled at working out clues aren't the fastest runners.

Or you can have tasks to carry out at each location - these can be simple tasks like throwing quoits over markers, re-arranging an anagram, loading and firing a 'film canister rocket', making up a group limerick or rap, lighting a hike fire and cooking a piece of spaghetti until they can tie a reef knot in it - or whatever else suits your purpose or fits within the confines of your imagination!

Where groups are collecting clues or equipment, it's important that all the players are quite clear about exactly what and how much they are meant to take, and what they should leave for any following groups (so the first group round doesn't pick up all 4 bags of flour and the following groups waste time in fruitless searching, or girls collect all the cards for their team where you intended them to carry one at a time and have to make several return trips) - and it can be helpful if the last group round know they should remove everything from each location, unless it suits you better to have a Leader go round and tidy up. This can also be managed by labelling or colour coding items for each group.

With incident hikes in particular, it's really important to ensure that the way the Guides deal with the problems you have set won't cause disruption to the emergency services or the public, especially as, in normal life, their first step in dealing with most problems would be to summon outside help, from the emergency services or bystanders, not just take on full responsibility themselves. We don't want Guides actually using their phones to call out ambulances over our 'casualty' with fake wounds, or stopping police officers or passers-by to get help in searching for the 'escaped spy', with the risk of inadvertently sparking alarm or wasting the time of the emergency services . . . nor do we want the risk of members of the public coming across the apparently badly injured casualty before the Guides do and either being frightened, or rushing in to try to help! On the other hand - a local community police officer or off-duty paramedic might be very happy to help out with a larger scale event if approached in good time and consulted about the idea and it's set-up, as an opportunity for them to meet local teenagers and get to know them in an informal way. You could also approach other groups such as Scouts to help with the setting up or staffing of incidents for wide games, especially if you and your team would be willing to reciprocate. 

If you have participants collecting up particular objects, it may be best for these to be located on private ground or in the gardens of specially-primed friends of yours, so that the objects are not likely to 'walk' between being laid out and being collected, and so you control just where the Guides go, to avoid the risk of inadvertent trespassing (and it means you can have the Guides discretely supervised at intervals along the route if you wish!).

Stalking: Though the term itself has unfortunate connotations nowadays, in this case we're talking about practicing the skills of stalking for the relatively innocent purposes of observing, sketching or photographing wildlife, and more importantly, of developing the physical self-control needed to get near enough to observe said wildlife in order to take a photo. In a stalking wide game, teams are trying to get from where they are, to a particular location, without being spotted or captured in some way by those protecting the destination.

This provides all sorts of exciting options for spy, border post or detective scenarios. It can incorporate several small teams of 'attackers' each trying to sneak up on (or past) one or more larger teams of 'defenders' - or it can be larger teams trying to both defend their own allocated patch of ground, and at the same time annex new territory or equipment from their rivals.

With a stalking game, it is best to have a system of 'lives' so that someone who is spotted or caught fairly early on can get to rejoin the game later (perhaps with a modest penalty of some sort such as having to take a time out, or a point being credited to the catcher) rather than have them spend the whole rest of the game sitting out, bored - often those caught early are the ones who would benefit from getting extra practice anyway. 'Lives' can be done through systems such as having players wear 'tails' tucked in at the back of the waistband or belt, or coloured wool armbands - anyone caught must hand over their tail or armband to their opponent and has to collect a replacement from the Leader at a certain location before they can rejoin the game - any opposition tails/armbands collected can count towards a team's final score in the game. Another option is for each player to wear a label with an individual code of letters or numbers, pinned onto clothing or worn on the forehead and held in place by a sweatband - so the 'guards' have to get near enough to be able to see and note down the code, as proof that the individual was definitely spotted. The game definitely has to be played in a location which provides suitable 'cover' - woodland which has plenty of densely-packed trees, or scrubland which has long grass and bushes - and locations where there are lots of side-paths and trails which can be used to dodge around or hide from the 'guards' - not just one main path you have little choice but go along, or lots of open country, which makes it too easy for the defenders. Where these labels are used, it may be wise to have some adults patrolling, to make sure that the labels are kept in view during the game . . .

Postal Game: This is a game where participants (as a team, individuals or potentially a bit of both) are trying to transfer quantities of items, one at a time, from one location to another without being caught. Usually, there would be agents tasked with obtaining the objects which are being transferred, with anyone who is caught being obliged to hand over any 'mail' they are carrying, but then free to go back and collect a fresh item from the 'depot' to try again. 

Generally, it's best if these 'agents' are Guiders or Young Leaders (or the agents are supervised to some extent), as Leaders are better able to judge how to make a 'fair' challenge, (and can judge when to look the other way while someone sneaks past 'not quite quietly enough' to go unnoticed), especially in an area where cover is limited! A common option for a 'challenge' is to ask a question on Guide knowledge the girls ought to have, where those who manage to answer the question are free to carry on unhindered, but those who can't must hand over what they are carrying then go back to the depot to try again - or if you want to test memory skills they could have a message to recite accurately. Winning team is usually the one which transfers successfully the largest number of 'posts' - either in total, or calculated in proportion to their number of players on the team if the numbers playing are uneven. As a variation, you can make a limited number of posts worth different values, so teams have to judge who should carry the more valuable ones and when, or can think about using decoys, or sacrificing some players . . . or you could even allocate different values secretly, so teams aren't aware until the end that it wasn't a straightforward one-point-per-post as they had blithely assumed it would be, or you can count the number of completed sets (e.g. if a group of 'resistance operatives' is transferring radio sets they might have 5 components, and points given for the number of complete radio sets transferred, not for partial ones) . . . Postal games do have to be played in an area where there is enough cover, or enough choice of realistic-length routes between the depot and the destination, that sneaking through without being caught is feasible, and the duration of the game and the size of playing area has to be balanced so that there is the potential for the players to make several trips during the game, but no risk of the supply of post at the depot running short before the scheduled end of the game . . .

Scavenger Hunt: A scavenger hunt is where a group is challenged to collect up certain objects, or pieces of information, and bring them back to base. Traditionally this would be physically collecting up the objects and bringing them back to the home base (e.g. collect a natural object starting with each letter of your Patrol's name) or collecting factual information from particular scattered locations (e.g. going to different locations to find the answers to questions from the information provided on signs, plaques, notices and the like), or taking photographs of certain objects. For younger children, it could be numbered cards for each team which had been scattered in a particular area (in which case you might require them to bring the cards back in number order, which helps to prolong the time it takes). 

When setting up a scavenger hunt which involves physically collecting objects, it's important to assess the availability - if you have 4 or 5 groups all collecting an acorn, are there definitely so many acorns on the ground that everyone who manages to find the Oak tree is guaranteed to find an acorn without difficulty - or is there a risk the girls may cause damage to the tree in trying to pull down branches to pick acorns - whilst ignoring those lying on the ground or in easy reach (or indeed, by some mischance might the street sweeper have been past 10 minutes before the girls arrived and swept away every last fallen acorn from the inch-thick layer that was there when you checked?!) You also have to be aware of the risk of groups being tempted to tresspass in order to obtain a requested item. This is where it can be better to go with the modern variant of the groups taking photos rather than actually removing items (most of the Patrols can arrange to have a phone with a camera between them) the other benefit being that no matter whether a group arrives first or last at the correct location, they have an equal chance of finding the object they want - and it also means that you don't have the after-game chore of putting back or disposing of all the collected items!

With all wide games, of whichever type, it is vital to consider safety in the planning stages - perhaps especially so, as in the excitement of the playing the game, Guides often give no great thought to their own safety, and will take silly risks. So:

  • Make sure all players are really listening when briefed about how the game works and what the rules are - it's worth asking them to repeat what the last thing you said was occasionally, to make sure they have both listened and understood, particularly regarding the boundaries, safety rules and precautions.
  • What are the ground and weather conditions like - is it slippery underfoot for people running, do the participants have suitable footwear for the conditions, are they going to be warm enough and dry enough, with legs covered against nettle stings and the like, sunhats worn and waterbottles carried if if is hot? Might the weather or ground conditions make some of the activities difficult or unsafe, or require part of the trail to be re-routed?
  • What is the lighting situation - is it being played in full daylight (makes it easier for the girls to see each other), in the dark (be aware that some Guides may be scared of the dark, and the difficulty of navigating an unfamiliar area in the dark particularly if there is undergrowth or uneven ground), are there other hazards to visibility like fog/mist? In this case it is even more important to consider the size of the playing area, ground conditions (risk of injury from stepping in unseen holes and hollows), risk of disorientation. Can you arrange things so that Guides are always in sight of others in their group and no-one is ever left on her own? On the other hand, playing games in the dark can provide extra camouflage/cover, and it can be surprising how many Guides are totally unused to being out in the local streets after dark.
  • Avoid ever asking the Guides to do a wide game on an empty stomach (e.g. one which involves collecting ingredients to make their own breakfasts) - or at least make sure they have had something to eat (e.g. cereal bar and glass of milk) before they start. Some girls can become very unwell if they don't eat something reasonably soon after getting up, especially if they are exerting themselves. Also be aware of the issues with having the girls running around in full sun during the heat of the day - we don't want what should be good fun to turn into illness. How could you adapt the timing, location, or activities to reduce the risks in high summer, or the cold weather of autumn or winter?
  • It's vital to consider ratios for groups outdoors, especially if unsupervised - in general the Guides should be in groups of at least 4, all of whom are in sight of each other at all times. It's wise to have an adult in a fixed location (or contactable by radio) who holds the first aid kit, so anyone who has a problem during the game knows where to find help - depending on the scale of the game, equipping all the Leaders with radios may be wise. And do check how the Guiding rules on ratios and unsupervised girls may affect how the wide game can be set up for the age group in question.
  • Consider the health needs, and the abilities/disabilities of each participant, and try to mould the format of the game you create around these needs. Could you work out a game so that those who are less mobile still have a fun and meaningful share in the action, and aren't just 'keeping score' yet again, or left to trail round behind their group? For instance, could you have a trail to follow but have the groups come back to base to do the activities, so those who can't do the trail part still get to join in with the activities and contribute to their team's efforts? Could some of the activities be ones that the disabled player may manage equally well or even do better at than the others do, so she has the chance to be the one who earns points for her team?
  • All players need to be aware of the boundaries of the game, so that they aren't accidentally wandering onto private ground, and so that you know, at least in general terms, where they are at all times, in case you need to gather them in before the scheduled end of the game. The size of the playing area needs to be kept realistic - large enough that the groups aren't tripping over each other, small enough that the girls aren't spending too much of the playing time in getting from a-to-b and not enough time doing fun activities.
  • You need to think about the safety instructions you will give - you may need to remind them about things like crossing roads safely, avoiding trespassing in private ground or out-of-bounds areas, being careful if hurrying through woodland, awareness of the needs and wishes of other users of public areas (in terms of noise, causing alarm by hiding in undergrowth, running around), not disturbing wildlife or farm animals, not making too much noise late at night in a residential area, or whatever applies to the game's location and circumstances - we are meant to be polite and considerate.
  • It is also wise to have a signal arranged to indicate the end of the game - a whistle sounding a particular pattern, a handbell or similar - and to have agreed in advance with everyone which location the participants should head towards when they hear the signal - again, this can be especially useful if you have to stop the game earlier than scheduled for some reason. Make sure the signal is a loud and clear enough one for participants, but not confusing/a disturbance for others who may be in the area - if it's an area with horseriders and dogwalkers whose animals could be spooked, a handbell may be preferable to a whistle, but you may need to walk around the area so it is audible to those who are at the far end of the playing area . . . whereas if you are playing in a public area at night, you may want to limit the volume of the signal to avoid disrupting the neighbours.
  • Remember to consult the Guiding Manual afresh to ensure you comply with all the relevant rules - permissions, ratios, rules regarding unsupervised peer groups, and any other rules which apply to your game. Because these rules can be changed regularly, you do need to check each time you organise a game. It is usually relevant to let your Commissioner know you will be out, and the outline of the activity, or include it in your residential event's risk assessment.
  • Depending on the scale of the game, you may need to contact other relevant people - at a shared campsite it's wise to inform the other site users and the warden in case someone else is planning a wide game at the same time or using the same patch of ground; For a larger District event you may wish to consult with the Community Police Officer to make sure they are happy with what you are proposing and it won't cause inconvenience. (If you ask in good time, they may even be keen to help you!)