Love & Barbed Wire Playtesting

Playtesting of Love and Barbed Wire has produced some lovely stories. Here are some of the letters which people have created as a result of their playtest games

Some of these playtests took place before the final version of the rules, so there may be some elements which are different to the published full version of the rules.

Ian and Agnes (correspondence play)

Ian (born 1880, 34 yrs old in 1914) and Agnes (b. 1882, 32 years old) MacKay. They were married in 1898, twenty years ago. They have three children: Duncan (b. 1899), Angus (b. 1900) and Flora (b. 1902). They are from Inverness, Scotland.

Phase 1 - Goodbye and good luck!

The general theme is optimism. The war isn’t going to last long, all is going to be well.

Ian: (diamonds)

Agnes, me wee dear wifey, ah hope this letter finds ya an’ the wee bairns well. Some o’ th’ boyos caught a bit o’ cold, but ya know me. Ah ain’t ne’r been sick a day o’ me life. Th’ trainin’ was quick but thorough. Ah feel ready, wit’ th’ Grace o’ God ta beat those bloody Krauts back ta Germany.

Ah canna tell ya how proud ah am o’ ya. Ya be doin’ a fantastic job wit’ th’ farm. Birthin’ th’ calf all by yerself an’ it bein’ a breech birth too. Tell th’ boyos tha’ they better be good fer ya, or there won’t be any presents from France. {This is as far as I got in five minutes.} Tell me bonnie Flora tha’ ah keep her pretty picture in me pocket all th’ time, an’ th’ boyos in me company be very jealous o’ it.

Agnes, me wonderful, lovely lass, ah am proud ta do me part so tha’ right may prevail, but ah look forward ta bein’ home wit’ ya in me arms again soon. May God keep ya an’ the wee ones safe. All me love, Ian

Agnes: (clubs)

My Dearest Ian, I and the little ones are well, though I have done nothing but fret since you left us. I know the war is important and that you are proud to be a part of it but I pray to God every day that He keep you safe from the Germans and their allies. Duncan complains daily that he could not go with you and has to wait FOUR whole years to fight, and the war will be long OVER by then. He always makes Angus play the Germans in their games sometimes with Flora as his ally. Perhaps it is selfish of me but I thank God that they are too young to go to war too. I will only be happy when you are safely home again. Your loving wife, Agnes

Somewhere in France

The general theme is settling in to the war in a foreign country. The letters tended to be a little upbeat or cheery, and thankfulness for presents or tokens that have been sent back and forth.

Ian: (diamonds)

Me lovely lil’ baby, God is good, He be keepin’ me safe here in France. Yer prayers be doin’ th’ job. Please keep them comin’. Ah know wit’ me bonnie lass prayin’ ta God, ah will be safe. Ah be sure tha’ ah will be home long before Duncan be old enough ta fight, though his spirit makes me proud. Ah be proud o’ all yah. Ah man could na ask fer a better family. Me dearest lovey, ah thank God every day tha’ he blessed me wit’ a wife such as yah. We be fightin’ ta keep ya safe, and tha’ be done, ah’ll be comin’ home. All me love ta ya an’ th’ bairns.

Ian {17 seconds to spare}

Agnes: (spades)

Dear Ian,

The boys have been difficult lately. I miss your firm hand with them. How terrible that this war has forced us apart even with the growing family we have. I am making plans to visit my sister in Glasgow. Maybe some time away from the house will get Duncan and Angus to stop being such hellions. This horror in Europe needs to end soon. I hope the package I set you gets there safely. Connor MdDermott will be holding the mail while we are gone.

All my best, Agnes

Separation and longing

The general theme is more intense emotions.

Ian: (spades)

My dearest wifey, ah be sorry th’ boyos be givin’ ya such problems. Has th’ time at yer sister’s house helped? I’ve enclosed a separate note for them, as ah hav’ more time ta write fer ah wee while. Ah hav ‘nothin’ but time as ah lay here in me hospital bed waitin’ ta heal. Now doncha worry none. Th’ doctors say tha’ wit’ th’ Grace of God, ah will be back in yer lovin’ arms before we know it. Please don’t give up hope on me lass. Ah do na know wha’ ah would do wit’out ya an’ th’ bairns ta come home ta. If ah had ya takin’ care o’ me ah be sure ah would already be well. Thank ye fer all th’ packages ya be sendin’. Th’ wee pieces o’ home, packed by yer lovin’ hand keep all o’ ya close ta me heart. Keep th’ faith me dearest, ah be comin’ home ta ya as soon as ah can. God keep everyone safe.

Yet lovin’ an’ faithful husband, Ian

Agnes: (hearts)

My dear Ian,

I miss you so much I can’t even describe it. The thought of you hurt and in bed in France without me there to take care of you breaks my heart. Nothing ever changes in the war and I despair that I will ever see you again. I miss our walks along the babbling streams, picnics on the open heath and nights after the children are in bed. Can we ever go back to those happy times? They seem now almost like a dream. We are still in Glasgow and I think we may stay here for the duration of the war, if it ever ends at all. My love for you consumes me day and night. Be careful and come home to me.


After the war we shall…

The general theme of this section is looking forward to the future.

Ian: (hearts)

Oh me dearest little, Agnes, how ah so love ya. I’m back in th’ trenches, but yer letter has me soarin’ above th’ clouds. Ah be blessed by th’ Almighty wit’ th’ best wifey tha’ e’er existed. Ah love yer generous soul an’ gentle heart. Ah miss yer twinklin’ eyes, warm lips, soft bossom and strong legs. Ah miss yer soft sighs an’ stiffled cries when we be in bed together. Ah know it doesn’t seem like it, bu’ th’ war will end, an’ we will have all tha’ an’ more again. Stay strong me dove. Giv’ th’ bairns me love. I WILL come home ta ya. God keep ya all safe, an’ never forget tha’ ah love more than anythin’.

Yer adorin’ an’ faithful husband, Ian

Agnes: (spades)

Dear Ian,

There is no end to this nightmare. How can we hope for any future at all after this apocalypse? We are putting down roots in Glasgow. The house and the farm up north are being worked by your cousin Angus. Your sons are thriving in the city though I fear they too may be caught up in the war. I can’t do this anymore. I cant spend any more of my days gazing south waiting in vain for your return. I must start a new life here. If this horror should end come find me here. God go with you.


Darkest days

For some reason the usual flow of letters have slowed. There is a big military push taking place, like Gallipoli, Passchendaele, Verdun or the Somme. This is the most dangerous time for the soldier. If they draw any black card, then they died in battle and the letter that comes back is a terse “killed in action”. The story ends.

Ian: (hearts)

Agnes, me dearest, darlin’ wifey,

Ya canna let th’ God-cursed Krauts destroy our home along wit’ th’ rest o’ Europe! Me lovey, why won’t ya answer me letters? Ah hav’ stared down th’ horrors o’ war ab’ spit in their eye because ah had th’ beacon o’ yer love behind me, light’in th’ dark an’ remindin’ me o’ God’s Grace. Ah canna imagine life wit’ou’ ya. Ya be me everythin’. Ah love th’ way ya stick ou’ yet tongue when ya thread ah needle. Ah love yer voice when ya tell Flora her bedtime stories. Ah jus’ love ya so much, lass. Please come by back ta me. Please write an’ let me know there still be a wee bit o’ love in yer heart. Please.

Yer ever lovin’ an’faithful husband, Ian

Agnes: ()

[ no letter ]

After thoughts:

Cindy: Yes, it was fun to play. I really enjoyed getting into Ian’s head. Damn, what an ending. Poor guy. War sucks. Belton: I really like the idea of a role playing game designed for two players.

John and Anna (correspondence play)

England, 19 and 17, and childhood sweethearts, not engaged yet; they were waiting for her to turn 18.

Goodbye and good luck!

John (clubs)

My darling lovey,

Training has barely finished and I miss you terribly. I know we will lick the Krauts and be home soon, but this is so much worse than I thought it would be. The guns are so loud and there is so much blood even in a small accident. God’s Grace and your love are the only things keeping me going. I don’t care what your parents say, we are getting engaged as soon as I get home, and married as quickly as we can. I need something to look forward to. You are forever my little ducky and my lovey dovey,


Anna (hearts)

My dearest John,

Not a day goes by that I don’t miss your smile, your wit, your courage. Take courage, now, that God will see you safely back to me. You have only just left, and God willing, you will return by Christmas. You will see my little sister and brothers’ eyes shine as they have their Christmas oranges by the fire. In my own mind’s eye, I see you telling your tales of faeries and princes to them as they laugh and hug their knees, sitting on the rug. Think on this when war raises his nasty head. Your voice, your stories, the laughter of children, my own adoring smile.

I feel we are already engaged in our hearts. I do not need a ring to know your love, or to remember your hands on my shoulders. I long to year your voice again, my dearest. I pray that the war will end soon and you will be back in my arms again.

All my love, Anna

Somewhere in France

John (clubs)

Anna, my darling baby girl,

Your letters and thoughts of warm lips are the only things keeping me sane. This is a godless place. They tell us we are somewhere in France, but in truth it feels more like hell. God grant me the strength to stay strong enough to make it home to you. The trenches are full of mud and rats. The cries and screams of the dying ring in my ears and in my dreams. I’m an Oxford man. I didn’t know that the smell of blood coats your tongue in with a metallic taste. That it bathes your face in think crimson warmth when the man next to you gets his arm blown off. That it…my God! What am I doing? I am so sorry my dearest little one. I should not burden your kind heart and pure soul with these things. God forgive me, you are the only I can share this with. I promise my next letter will better. Please forgive me and pray for me, my only Love. I have been and always will be your loving and faithful John.

Anna (spades, oh-oh)


My dearest, I am so worried for you. You do not sound like yourself, my darling love. I hope that you received the package I sent you–all I knew was somewhere in France, but the Queen’s postal service is said to be the best in the world, so I hope they will find you. I want to keep some of it a surprise, but I do hope some of what I put in there takes that awful taste out of your mouth and replaces it with something sweeter.

If it makes you feel better to put your horrors of war into letter, do so, but I fear that I am losing you and your cheerful spirit. What would the bonny and mischievous Puck do in this situation? My sweetheart, try to remember your stories and imagination and dream yourself a better place, even if it is just at night.

All my love,


Separation and longing

John (diamonds)

My little lovey,

I did get your package, and it was a gift from God. It was almost like I could hear your voice whispering in my ear and feel your breath on my neck as I read your letter. By your grace, God opened a passage through the fog of war and reminded me of your love and your light. I feel reborn as thoughts of your loving arms, sparkling eyes and soft lips occupy my waking moments. I miss your quick mind and your bubbling laughter. I cannot wait until we can sit under the elm tree in your backyard, sipping your mother’s lemonade, eating my mother’s scones and reading sonnets to each other. I love you so very much.

Your only, John

Anna (diamonds)

Dearest John,

I am so proud of you for rallying. I know–well, I do not truly know, but I imagine it is so horrible there, and here you are, fighting for the Crown and keeping home in your heart. So brave, so true, so loyal to country. Every day without you tears at me like the claws of some kind of demon or beast. I walk by the elm tree, I pray at it, I hear nothing but the wind in its boughs. It has lost its leaves, just as I don’t have you, but in the spring the leaves will grow, and I hope to God you can return to me. You are amazing in your courage, my life, my dearest one. Here you stand between our home and utter hell. Please think of home and stories of fiction. What would brave Lysander or Demetrius do?

In the meantime I have sent another package. After the colors changed on the tree, we realized you must be cold in France. I cannot take all the credit–my mother and Eleanor dug in as well, and when the lady at the dry good store heard it was for a boy at the Front, she threw in an extra skein for free. I thought the colors would suit your eyes, with their own green-blue. I hope it arrives with all the pieces intact: It should be two pairs of mittens (they are so easy to lose), a scarf, and a hat! The scarf may be a little long, I think Eleanor got a little overexcited. Anyway, imagine that every single knit and purl was done in love and (in my part) longing for you. Know that I am ever so proud of you and the home front awaits your return.

All my love, Anna

After the war we shall…

John (clubs)

My Dearest, loveliest little Anna,

Your package arrived just in time. I did not know France could be so cold. I’m afraid the mittens are a bit dirty, but I think of you every time I wear them. I’m very glad you are such a smart gal. I often need to wear both pair at once to keep away the frost bite. I thank God every day you, mother and Eleanor are so skilled, thoughtful and loving. It’s as if the fibers of your love cover my ears so I hear the whistle of the bombs and the extra length of the scarf keep the shrapnel from my neck.

I’m doing my best to make you proud of me. I try to be brave for my trench-mates. I ask myself, “what would Odysseus do?” I pray to God that I am not away as long as he was. Even if I am, I know you will be even stronger and more cunning than Penelope. Keep in your heart and prayers as you after in mine.

All my love, always, John

Anna (diamonds)

My darling John,

I am so pleased that my package was so good for your spirits. And I am so proud of you and all the lads. I told the ladies at the dry good store about you and the other boys at the front, and they ALL made mittens and hats and scarfs! We pooled our money to ship it to you and your company. By my count, there are twenty pairs of mittens with matching scarfs and hats, all from the ladies of our town, all in different bright colors. We debated the colors–dark and grey to keep you all hidden from the Krauts in your trenches, or bright to bring the love of home for you. It was quite the debate, and in the end they are mostly dark colors, but some of the fringe on the scarfs is very bright indeed. We hope you can tuck this into your coats. I also have a separate package for you, just from me, for my dearest love. A sweater. Be very careful unwrapping it, because inside it is a paper package with some hard cheese and a flask of scotch. I hope these provide comfort. And maybe the flask will be of use. Bring it back to me when you return, and we will see what we can fill it with next.

Odysseus would persevere, as you do. He would keep his wits and wisdom and compatriots, as you do (I am so proud of you!) and bring everything to succeed and come home. I am thinking of what we can do after the war, and praying for your safe return. I will be here awaiting you with my own weaving. I hope it will be spring, and we can walk in the field of daisies behind the church. Let all the lads know that we at the home front are proud of you! Your strength in the face of danger and horrors, your duty to God and Crown.

All my love, Anna

Darkest days

John (spades)

Madame, It is my painful dirty to inform you that a report this day has been received from the War Office notifying of the death of (No) 16929 (Rank) Corporal (Name) John Hawkins (Regiment) Royal Regiment of Artillery which occurred at not stated on 13 November, and I am to express to you the sympathy and regret of the Army Council at your loss. The cause of death was killed in action.

After thoughts:

Cindy: I found a picture of an actual form letter that was fill in the blank. I was horrified. Both letters were moving in different ways. Ian made it home alive, but lost his wife. John never made it home, and there is a world of unfulfilled potential in their relationship. This game shows that we really have no idea of the horrors of war.

Susannah: It is fun, the randomizer element is particularly poignant. Timing it is helpful too. It might be nice to be able to mix up the genders some (woman at the front, man back; man at the front, man at home). Thanks for having me play!