As you may have seen from our In The Parks updates – a new type of interactive experience has been brewing at Disneyland. Called Legends of Fronterland, the goal of this experience is to allow the guest to create and engage in some of the story that drives a narrative based on the land. Let’s look at the official line from Disney:
Frontierland and its neighbor, Rainbow Ridge, are in the midst of a good, ol’ fashioned land feud. Rainbow Ridge – a once-booming mining town – has dried up, and they have their eyes set on Frontierland. The steady, hardworking folk in Frontierland want to keep the town safe and free of rougharound-the-edges, opportunistic types. Rumors are spreading that gold has been discovered in mines belonging to Frontierland, and there is even a rumor that Frontierland itself sits on the motherlode! Whether or not the rumors are true, the folk in Rainbow Ridge have one thing on their minds: take over Frontierland! Thus, the struggle begins …
MiceChat was there on opening day, and being a fan of interactive games that the park has done in the past, including The Optimist, we thought we would explore how the gameplay works, and what to expect from the experience.
Getting a badge and picking a side
As you enter Frontierland, you’ll notice the new Frontierland Trading Post. This serves as the main point of entry for the game, as you can take a look at the Land Map, and see how each side of the story (Fronterland vs. Rainbow Ridge) is doing. In addition, you can pick up your map and name badge here. Each side has a different color name badge, Frontierland is orange, and Rainbow Ridge is yellow. Most players started as Frontierland, but were encouraged to switch sides by the bandits in Rainbow Ridge.
On opening day, the mines and many other aspects of the game were not being used – which added frustration because the Cast Members didn’t always know what was going on.
Currency in Frontierland is called ‘bits’, and you can earn bits by doing just about anything. As we started into the game, we went over to the Telegraph station to get some sort of message to start our journey.
Zane and the Welcome Center
Once we delivered a message or two, we ran into one of the main characters, Zane, who had a job proposition for us. Over the day, we interacted with Zane many times, and he did a great job of rolling with the punches.
Zane had us create some signs for the ‘Welcome Center’, and for the Telegraph agency. Now, none of these activities were listed on the map, and instead there was a ‘talent agency’ that didn’t seem to be running. Making these signs seemed like a stop-gap solution to not having aspects of the game going.
A Rainbow Ridge character, Red, also needed some signage help, and tried to make us switch teams a couple of times, because of our good sign making. Considering this seemed like a last-minute way to give people something to do, the improv actors had no problem keeping things rolling.
After making and posting some signs, we were looking for more to do – so we headed over to the Golden Horseshoe.
New Golden Horseshoe show and River Water
Once inside the Golden Horseshoe, there’s lots to do. You can either help out for the welcome committee, play High Card, or watch the show and get some new food options (which were not very good).
In Frontierland, you can challenge any authoritative decision, by either rock-paper-scissors, or via a Water River challenge. We got to test out some Water River in a desperate attempt to earn bits.
Arresting guests (or attempting to)
One of the main play components to earn major bits (100+) is to arrest fellow guests. As the characters and cast members see major players in the game, they report them to ‘Chicago’ which sends out telegrams with descriptions. You’re goal is to draw up a wanted poster, then find the guest.
Unfortunately, our guest to arrest had already left the game area – so we couldn’t get those sweet reward bits. Seems like a common problem with this play element, but I think that’s why the reward value is so high.
Buying land, and a wrong turn
After a few hours of play, we had earned about 300 bits, so we thought it was time to buy land. We walked up to the trading post, and we were offered ‘The Hideout’ for 250 bits, so we bought it!
But, we made a quick mistake with that move. Instead, we should have gotten the squares of land, to build out Frontierland’s land lease-ship. Buying the buildings is a long-term thing, meaning they can just be re-bought by the opposing team, as long as they pay the new market price (it went from 250 to 300 after we bought it).
Rainbow Ridge did a quick fundraising session (walking around collecting funds), and bought the land back. We ‘owned’ it for 5 minutes. We were also disappointed to find out that we didn’t really ‘own’ the playspace – we wanted to charge Rainbow Ridge outlaws rent to us – so we could earn more money. So, after literally 5 minutes, we spent all our cash, had no land, and couldn’t really do anything.
Frustrated and a little upset that we made a bad decision (when the rules were not clearly explained to us), we at least got some land back on the board, and ended our adventure. We could have challenged the ruling, but we were done.
So – is it fun?
So overall, we had a fun and fantastic time. The cast member improv interaction was amazing, and we had a great experience. The telegraph machine is quite neat, and there’s a real idea of a solid game here. The ongoing day-to-day land battles are going to be fun for Annual Passholders, and day guests could jump into the fun by only doing one or two things – but this is clearly designed for a locals crowd.
The game isn’t finished yet.
Imagine you went out and bought a board game, and when you got it home it was missing pieces, and there was a flyer that said ‘We’ll send you the rules next week’. That was how Legends of Frontierland felt on the first day.
There were many aspects of the game that were just not done:
Talent Agency - Making signs and posting them felt like a stop-gap solution to an entirely missing aspect of the game in the Golden Horseshoe. The talent agency part wasn’t done yet.
Mines, Moving Pieces, and Land Ownership - Only certain Cast Members knew what was going on, and some of them couldn’t even explain the somewhat-complex rules. The fact that there were aspects missing made the signage pointless, and led our group to make a bad purchasing decision.
Sending telegrams - The whole game has this overtone of sending telegrams, which totally broke and failed the first day. The technology to do it is neat (there’s a hidden scanner and a receipt printer). But once the ‘lines were cut to Chicago’ – the game grinded to a halt – as no character new anything, and no one had tasks to do.
Leveling - Players will be able to level up and get more clout in the Frontierland community, eventually being able to run for mayor – host sessions, and do other things we don’t know yet. None of that was functioning day one – so our first day felt pointless for long-term play.
If you want to play Legends of Frontierland, I’d wait a week or two for the rules to get hammered out, all aspects to be working, and more playtesting to be done by Disney Imagineers and actors. This is going to be a very dynamic thing that will change rules and gameplay quickly as problem arise.
Interactive Experiences at Disneyland
Overall, do interactive experience like these have any merit at Disneyland? We think they can. We saw many kids and adults having a great time together, and people seemed engaged by what was going on. Mind you there were also hundreds of guests walking by that didn’t care, but the overall experience did a good job of not effecting them.
As things like Cosplay, Tabletop Gaming, roleplay, and other nerdy aspects enter our society – interactive transmedia experiences like these play off those aspects perfectly. Disneyland has always been a place for entertainment, and these experiences can play into that. Experiences like these need to be better integrated, and feel like they are ‘part’ of the land – and not just tacked-on as they do now. Interactive games like these should compliment attractions and existing offerings – not supercede them.
Is this something that a day guest is going to spend their whole day on?
No. Experiences like these (and other interactive games at Epcot and Magic Kingdom) are designed for long-term multi-day guests, and Annual Passholders – and I think the idea of an ongoing story could be more engaging that just one-off experiences. There are aspects for the quick player, and they can get into the fun if they want to.
Is this for everyone?
Not yet. There are lots of barriers to a game like this. You have to be outgoing, enjoy character interaction, and enjoy gaming. I fall into that target demographic, so it works for me.
Does it work for the average guest?
Maybe not. But if there’s an engaging enough gateway into the experience, it might. Some people were just playing to get some wooden nickels, and then stopped. Transmedia and interactive experiences are a relatively new thing, and I’m glad to see Imagineering exploring them. They may not last in the long-term, but they are becoming more popular as time goes on.
Overall, Legends of Frontierland could be great, but it’s not quite there yet. Once the full game is running smoothly, we’ll consider another review with all aspects of the game functioning. Overall, once they get these kinks worked out, it should be worth your checking out.