Death on the Gambia is our oldest game. I wrote it in the mid-90s, before Freeform Games came into being. I can’t exactly remember where the idea for Death on the Gambia came from, but I remember that I created it after I played a massive freeform called Home of the Bold in 1992.
Although Home of the Bold was set in a fantasy world, I realised that if you stripped out the geekiness one could create a game that would both be fun to play and appeal to normal people. And that’s what I set out to do with Death on the Gambia, and in 2001 Mo and I started Freeform Games.
The name is obviously similar to Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, but that’s the only resemblance. I decided to set Death on the Gambia in pre-war 1939 so that I could add lots of international spies, an Indiana Jones character and so on.
Death on the Gambia has changed over the years, as our approach to our murder mystery games has changed:
The original combat system was much too complicated, and required the players to track “wounds”. If I remember correctly, Mo suggested simplifying it and we threw out the wounds.
Death on the Gambia originally had epilogues, which were used as part of the debriefing. At the end of the game each player would decide whether they had been successful or not (it was up to them to judge) and based on that they received either a “success” or a “failure” epilogue card, which they would then read out. (Epilogues made it into our second game, Curse of the Pharaoh, but no others. They were too hard to make interesting without being overly repetitive.)
Originally, ability cards all came as separate cards – and some of our older games are still formatted this way. They also tended to vary per character, with the result that some characters ended up a bit overpowered. Since then we’ve standardised on three abilities per character.
The host originally played the Captain of the Christabel, which didn’t really work out as we discovered that we needed a more neutral character for our games. (The game still contains tips for being both the host and playing the Captain.)
So that’s the story of Death on the Gambia.