Magical Moments

By Catherine Chenoweth and Nicholas Smith

As the last hour approaches, a Golem has been captured, and now the malevolent forest creatures will fall to the might of Irontown! Ninety strong, the warriors band together for the final hunt. This time, they hunt the Nightwalker. The music swells and the very air in the woods holds its breath to see the endgame played out. All of the quests--from the depths of the mines to the dangerous woods that border their homeland--have led to this ultimate confrontation.

This is not the same forest in which campers play every day, nor is it the same as in the land of Narnia from yesterday, or the battleground of vampires and werewolves from the day before. For this evening, every camper and staff member is transported to a land other than their own, and the woods become another realm.

Welcome to Nature's Wrath--one of the all-camp programs played at Camp Augusta in Nevada City, Calif.

These games, going far beyond an average carnival, have developed story lines that tie all the activities together into cohesive, narrative adventures. The tones of these stories are set by the skits that introduce and bid farewell to each adventure.

Each staff member takes on a character as the new world unfolds right before campers’ eyes. Sometimes, the characters are mysterious creatures that either chase or are chased, while at other times they are station leaders offering rewards for completing challenges, or noble friends guiding campers as they wander through the world of the game.

Philosophy In Practice
It is our philosophy that every child has the same dream, wishing at some point that a book or computer game would suddenly come alive and transport him or her away from normal life. This is the universal dream of the all-camp program.

For this evening, the dream is Nature's Wrath--a hybrid game that involves different aspects of multiple games, such as an elaborate game of tag, as well as scavenger-hunt missions. Campers try to capture various forest spirits in order to seize the mighty Nightwalker, the ancient forest creature that is intent on destroying the nearby human settlements. However, in order to catch the strongest spirits, campers must begin with the smallest one and harness its energy in order to secure powerful charms that allow stronger spirits to be captured.

To see a full synopsis, visit where the entire game is available for free.

Making a program of this magnitude a reality can seem overwhelming, even to the most creative. Although none of our programs are written in a day, the creative process that culminated in Nature's Wrath and so many other games can be applied to any program.

It starts with a spark that can happen at any moment--watching a film, talking with friends, reading a book, or staring into space. The spark behind Nature's Wrath hit while working a ski lift. In this case, it was the desire to create a game in which campers work together against a greater adversary, increasing their hunting skills as they go, until they defeat an epic creature.

Armed with this initial idea, it was then time to flesh out the world. The scenarios were created with memorable characters and tantalizing bits of back story. Then our questions were answered: What is the core conflict? Why do the campers need to be involved? Is there someone to save, a foe to defeat, a reward to strive for? It is important to keep the game new and exciting.

Game Mechanics
Once a story has been created, it is time to decide the logistics of the game. Most importantly, what type of structure will it have? There are generally two categories: ”run-around” or ”station game.”

Run-around games are usually fast-paced. Traditional Capture-the-Flag fits into this category, as does tag, or even football. Any game that has participants running in offensive and defensive positions is a run-around game.

Station games have a series of activities or challenges spread throughout a number of locations in a play area. Campers complete the stations--in cabin groups or as individuals--and receive a reward for completing each successfully. This reward may be gem tokens to help free the trapped Elemental Lords, lines from one of Shakespeare's sonnets to help him get his memory back, super powers to combat the villains on the loose or clues to the site of once-lost artifacts. There are many ways to tie the mini-games and tasks together.

Hybrid games combine station games with running characters that are to be either avoided or caught. In Nature's Wrath, campers seek to capture spirits and avoid hostile ones in run-around style while collecting pieces of iron to purchase useful items from the store, like a station game. Some games do not fit into either category, or even the hybrid model. In this regard, there is always room for innovation.

Further Details
A number of factors decide the structure of a game. The first consideration is the story. Battles against invading hoards lend themselves to a run-around game, whereas seeking out buried treasure fits easily into a station-game format. Just be mindful of the energy level to play the game--90 minutes of running can wear down even the most eager participants! Station games are good for campers who may not want to run, and are often simpler to explain, therefore very inclusive.

Alternatively, run-around games can be more exciting and immediate, but are reliant on a solid and unique game mechanic. Can people be tagged? If so, how do you monitor it so it does not become an argument: "Got you first! No, you didn't!" Dividing territory into friendly and hostile areas or using flag-football belts to accommodate different energy levels and preemptively solve disputes is a good idea.

Most of all, the game must be appealing to everyone, from the youngest girls to the oldest boys.

Making a game appealing takes more than just a solid story and an appropriate game type. A successful program takes a minimum of 40 hours to create on paper, and most of them require over 60, going through revisions and reviews along the way. Whether it takes a month or half a year to refine, every game strives for the same immortality and enchantment--to be remembered by the campers who played as a time spent in another realm.

And don’t forget about the realities of construction. Every adventure must be set up, broken down, costumed, explained to campers, and so much more.

Life Changers
No one who has attended camp can deny its power to promote play and spark the imagination. Camps and their staff members are life-changers, taking kids into a world beyond their own, where they are never too cool or too old to chase forest spirits and wield magical Popsicle sticks. Camp is a place that inspires children to go out and create their own worlds and reclaim some of the wish, wonder and surprise of childhood.

Some 60 to 90 minutes after it began, the game ends. Still, the glimmers of its passing remain long after the boundaries are taken down--a quick bow and whisper of "my lady" to the counselor who played the queen the previous night and a wistful reminiscence between cabin mates of their shining moments from summers past. And a feeling that, for just a short while, something truly magical took place. That is the potential power of all-camp programs.

Catherine Chenoweth and Nicholas Smith both work at Camp Augusta, located in Northern California. If you’re inspired to write your own all-camp programs, the camp will happily offer you some initial thoughts and advice. Visit for more exciting camp programming.