Designing a birthday quest through Amsterdam for my family and friends

40 quests and questions, 18 people armed with bicycles, 7 locations, 3 groups and 2 hosts—all this was a 4 hour quest where groups became competitive teams.

That was my idea for my ‘dirty thirty’ birthday party. I sent the invites over email and they could fill in a Doodle to plan a day.

The setup was “I want to do something special for you, since it’s a special year for me.” I needed a full afternoon, no more context was provided.

Then, 4 weeks before the date I sent out a text message from sender ‘Unknown?’ with a personal invitation to ‘join an adventure’, together with a link to YouTube.

Little did I know, sending out a totally random text message is kind of intimidating. Only 6 people got the message or saw that it was a YouTube link or that they were personally addressed.

The 12 others thought it was a scam, phishing or spam, even my mom; “I trained you well mom”.

The service I used to send out the text message was Message Bird, because they offer a way to send in bulk, build a flow and to plan sms-campaigns in advance. I could use this on the day itself to give objectives and hints in an effective, slightly intrusive way.

There was no need for my brave quest goers to download an app or check their email, it was just text messages that did the heavy lifting. And with a 99% open rate; and the short nature of messages, it was pretty effective.

We were off to a great start, the weekend I sent out the invitation I was still sending out the invitation video on Whatsapp and emails to people that did not reply because they thought it was a scam. Maybe the joke being ‘unknown?’ as the recipient was not the best thing there ha ha. Next time, just include a better sender’s name.

The weeks and days that followed to the event were filled with vague riddles that were used as hints to get answers during the actual day. The trick was to make them so farfetched that my friends would already twist their minds prior to the actual quest, but not get pretty far.

It was pretty hilarious to meet my friends and family in the meantime; them being ridiculously curious and confused about the text messages.

The day in advance of the event I worked all day to perfect and fine tune every part of the experience. From some extra hints in the morning, to assignments I could not be present at to ways to find solutions to problems that arose.

The starting location, which was my favorite coffee place closed for the week because of some problems. And my favorite Indonesian restaurant did not serve my favorite drink Tjendol in the winter.

Totally understandable, but I needed alternatives from initial plans, I needed to improvise a lot.

In the morning of the quest day I prepared all the items and QR codes throughout the city.

Coming up with fun quests

The quests were based mostly around my last 12 years in Amsterdam, but also about the people that were playing the game.

That resulted in the people that I love, getting to know each other better; I 💜 that side effect

One quest was about finding a keypad number from one of my old offices, in order to enter a part of a building to find the next assignment. The keypad numbers was riddled and you could calculate it by counting the amount of tables on a specific side of the Apple Store on the Leidse Plein, so you needed to go in the Apple Store to count and calculate it.

Another quest was to mix and match Lego/Duplo blocks with cat names, stories from the cat’s perspective, cat owners and pictures — from all my cat sitting adventures over the years. The combo’s were hilarious.

This was Romeo on the picture (but the players thought that was the owner’s name) with not the right story. My hint to the players with the story was that my profile pic on Whatsapp (and name) included Vishnu.

Another objective was to find my favorite bike shop, talk to the shop owner and to collect items in the neighbourhood. My dad hinted that I surely made a promotional deal with the shops and stores, but I didn’t (what was that game again, Foursquare? Scvngr? That app where you could do quests around town), but it could be fun.

One objective I planned wrongly, where the location answer was sent at the same time as the question. Oops

And in the morning we had 3 sudden and understandable cancellations, which made me stress out completely because quests and groups were specifically made for this, but I hacked and glued it back together in time.

My girlfriend was on the roof terrace of a friend’s house, looking over Amsterdam, hosting the cat quest. Myself was in the Sarphatipark where they were to do a mini frisbee/disc-golf course I prepared for them.

For the rest there were assignments at the old location of Lev Kaupas in 2009, Trello boards with a task to order when the players met me. There was plenty of time to get coffee, beers, food and ‘Adventure Time’ Happy Meal toys 👇, that last one was actually part of the assignment.

Around 500 text/sms messages later,

that’s approximiatly €35 in Message Bird credits. I still had those credits from my venture with Wildcard. Thanks guys.

In competitions, even if you hint at collaboration, there’s SABOTAGE! How naive could I be to not actually expect that?

With disclaiming that were was no saboteur in play, even when recording the invitation video, a WIDM season 18 finalist—in Dutch, ‘Who is the saboteur?’—walked by. WIDM, a highly popular gameshow where 9 + 1 people look for one saboteur in their midst — is known for their hints and counter intuitive signs.

👈 That Olcay Gulsen cameo in itself was enough for many of friends to become a saboteur.

From vandalising QR codes, so it wouldn’t show they did not work anymore; to buying all the spekkoek from the Indo so other teams couldn’t buy them anymore.

Teams were so incredibly competitive they would go and spread false information about other teams, in assignments where you needed information of the group or an individual.

There were also players that included outside people in the game that couldn’t attend that day and maybe had certain information. They then included that if someone else would call they would not share any information, wow, dark ha ha!

It reminded me of the Taggy game I designed where people would gather a group and start playing ‘Tag you’re it’, to tag people in real life. In this game players would bribe friends of players to ‘give up’ their partner or colleague and start a conspiracy to tag the other person.

I miss that time ha ha, waiting outside people’s houses in the morning when they went to work. Or barging into player’s offices to tag them politely.

Glad this is over, I would totally do it again

Thank you MessageBird for making this possible. Thank you Anna for helping me host. Thank you friendly and familiar players that joined and enjoyed the game.

Maybe this can become a thing, another one of my crazy ventures, where I host quests like this. If you want to brainstorm how I did it, because you want to do something similar, let’s talk.

♠Milan van den Bovenkamp♥

Written by

Initiator by Trade 🤙 I just CAN’T STOP STARTING things🚀— Design; Community, Games & Tech @Online_Kicking ♠️ — Plays Ultimate Frisbee ⚪️ 🌏

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