At dinner, on the 22 January, a friend Daan Van de Weem suggested a rather amusing idea: if the colleges of Cambridge fought with medieval weapons, which college would win? It did not take long for us to formulate a plan for defending Homerton, our own college, and destroying others. We noticed that, much like the discussion on Facebook, a disproportionate amount of time was spent discussing the fall of St. John's. We, unsurprisingly, decided our college would win (being far away, with the most students and a single bridge to defend) but I wondered what other people would say; so, in the early hours of the morning, tired from translating Latin, I posted the question.
At the time I thought, "If nobody says anything in the next 30 minutes, I'll delete it," after all, it was not in line with the purpose of the group. However, the next day, as I was trying to give an archaeology presentation, I was being continuously distracted by my phone buzzing away in my pocket! It was quite amazing, on the bus, to sit and read the humorous ideas of so many people from the creation of the Hill's College Alliance, the Sainsbury's Pact and the Newnham Village League to the Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones references and the plans for online games and mods: I was thrilled that people were having so much fun. It sparked such a response that a good friend of mine even said: "You know we were thinking about making a film? We should do this!" with the utmost sincerity.
Above all though I enjoyed the knowledge that the plans and debates became part of what the Overheard in Cambridge group was for: the group searches for things which could only be heard in Cambridge and this whole idea is one such thing. That people have taken this conversation with enough seriousness and good taste to consider modelling a game or making a film is so brilliant and, for want of a better word, nerdy, that here really is the only place something as fantastic as the collection of posts can be found.
George Clarke (Originator)
To give my angle, the project I'm doing, which is kindly being hosted by the Exilian webforums, is using the classic strategy game Rome: Total War to create a model of how the ultimate war between the colleges might play out. The colleges are organised into six alliances centred on different bits of town, so we're assuming some co-operation as well as all-out struggles for supremacy! Generally at the moment the key factors seem to be which groups have a more compact starting area or fewer nearby threats, so the hill colleges tend to have an advantage - after all, the backs colleges don't generally want to bother slogging all the way uphill just to besiege St Ed's!
However, as the game gets more developed, and hopefully eventually tested and released, I'm expecting that to change. For one thing we're going to add in the benefits gained from occupying key locations such as the Sidgwick Site (the only place where viking style axe-wielding ASNACs can be trained), the UL, and - of course - Sainsbury's. I'm currently also working on expanding the diversity of tactical options available, giving the fellows who lead the student forces bodyguards of porters and adding in more subject groups to open up a range of battle possibilities (and I have yet to meet a Phys NatSci who doesn't want my idea of lab coat, goggles, helmet, sabre and crossbow to be adopted as subject uniform).
As to who would win? Speaking as a Pembroke student, expect martlet banners to be flying over a plodge near you soon - we have the expertise of ex-head of MI6 Richard Dearlove, our Master, to bring to bear, and a fairly defensible set of buildings. As a historian, tactician and game designer I guess I should try and have an objective view, though, so here are my key criteria. More compact colleges would have better defensive capability - whilst Clare's Old Court is one of the most defensible places in the University, Colony and Mem courts are both far less defensible and so they'd lose a lot of their manpower that way. Christ's would do rather better, with relatively few entrances and a solid outer perimeter. As I've noted above, key locations are also important - with any degree of turbulence this large we can assume food supplies won't be getting in easily, which would mean that any college that couldn't easily capture a few restaurants or a supermarket could be in real trouble (John's students would have a big culture shock with the implementation of rationing - alternatively, given the reputation Caius food has they seem to be used to facing the choice between the seemingly inedible on the one hand and starvation on the other). Strategically working out the ratio of defenders to attackers would be a further difficulty; larger colleges would perhaps have an advantage here in terms of manpower but some of those are spread over multiple courts, so the compactness issue mentioned above springs up again. Ultimately, though, much like in our game version, it's not going to be starting locations that determine the winner; tactics and leadership will be key. Stocking up on weapons and food may win a battle, but for anyone out there who wants to win the war I'd advise checking whether your college library has stocked up on Sun Tzu.
James Baillie, Pembroke College
Peterhouse will triumph, partially due to our heroic qualities...but mainly due to our cunning tactics and brilliant strategic position. We will strike swiftly against Pembroke and use their famous brunches to lure in passers-by and enthusiastically singing French rebels. In addition we are the college closest to Addenbrookes so will claim it for our own. Finally, we will bombard our enemy colleges with the might of the terrible Weapons of Maths Destruction created daily by our friendly neighbouring Engineering Department. We have food, a hospital and a Department that makes stuff that actually works - although small, Peterhouse will clearly triumph!
Melanie Etherto, Peterhouse
Since being the sole college to suffer sacking at the hands of the Peasant's Revolt of 1381, when it was youngest of Cambridge's then six colleges, Corpus Christi has played a defensive game. In 1460, during the War of the Roses, it made sound investment in artillery and other armaments; and during the English Civil War, it alone remained neutral among the colleges, refusing to commit resources to either faction. Corpus' prime position to endure comes from its unsurpassed collection of silver, its high thick walls, and from being the most fully enclosed of the colleges along Trumpington Street. Expect neighbouring Benet's to suffer, but the Old House to flourish.
Jesse Harrington MPHil Medieval History Candidate
The tenuous peace is shattered as the ancient meeting ground of the mahal is closed. Without a neutral point in which to air their grievances, the Backs colleges break into open revolt. Unable to withstand the new weapons of the Sainsbury's Pact however, they resort to a long and bloody guerilla war. With the Hill circling around, waiting for the Pact to weaken through internal pressures, city wide war is averted only by the arrival of a sudden new greater threat: the boat race/invasion of the tribes of Oxford. The smarmy smuggness of the oxfordians instantly unifies the Hill and city colleges, who collaborate to sucessfully drive the other city from their shores.
However, with Oxford repulsed, alliances forged from desperation begin to look, well, desperate.
Emma's contribution to the conflict is radically altered as a bio natsci/vet med research team trying to breed superior duck soldiers succeeds beyond their wildest dreams. The newly self-aware ducks secede from Emma and rapidly move to acquire membership of the Students Union, though efforts to gain acceptance are hampered by The Truth's heavily censored reports of their treatment of pigeons. Severely weakened by the loss of half its population, Emmanuel becomes tantamount to a third-class degree college.
James Fielding, Emmanuel
King's students refuse to take part in the imperialist wars, believing them not to be in the interests of the workers. They try to organise a mass rebellion across the Cambridge colleges, calling on people to stop fighting each other, but to fight the bosses instead. They demand the overthrow of capitalism and an immediate abolition of the wage system. Despite some initial success, it is quickly realised that none of us have any bosses, so the newly formed Revolutionary People's Army for the Liberation of Cambridgeshire turns on the King's students, who are promptly massacred.
Toby Crisford, King's
We may be small, we may be shite, but we have the power of God on our side. Rowan Williams would doubtlessly put in a good word with the Big Man so that: 1. Any missiles/ arrows/ brave troops would be flicked away from the outer walls by His mighty finger; 2. We could, at will, smite any other college with an enormous lightning bolt of ultimate destruction; 3. When it's all over, we'd have the blueprint for how to start life over again. Except this time we wouldn't touch the apple.
James Redburn, Magdalene
Robinson is a strange building. I have tried for a while to articulate my thoughts on its architecture and have produced the following descriptions. It resembles an abandoned hotel complex jutting from a decimated LEGOLAND theme park in Chernobyl. It is what a pile of steaming droppings would look like if rendered through the video game DOOM. It is like a dystopian prison camp constructed entirely from thousands of burnt toast slabs. But due to its appearance, I imagine it would fare greatly in battle as a stout and sturdy shelter. It might even transform into a giant brick robot.
David Rattigan, Robinson
The Hill Colleges would immediately form an alliance, after having been alienated for so long from the rest of Cambridge. This would give them an immediate advantage by acquiring high ground. The Hill Alliance would then use Murray Edwards girls as temptresses/sirens to distract Selwyn while the rest attacked from behind and Churchill boys as temptresses to distract Newnham.
Whilst these two colleges and the Sidgwick site were gained in a fairly bloodless manner, Trinity and Johns would have engaged in all out war under the assumption that their seemingly endless resources would ensure victory. However, the war of attrition has worn both colleges down.
Aware that an attack of town colleges would now be safer without back-up from Johns or Trinity, the Hill Alliance would attack Clare, Kings, Catz and Queens from behind, using their West Cambridge resources to their full advantage.
In order to take the other side of Cambridge, the Hill Alliance would then use the collection of snow they had acquired during the Winter months to flood Magdalene Bridge Street all the way along to St Andrews Street using a weather machine concocted by the scientists at Churchill. Their high ground would offer them protection from the floods.
Having gained all these colleges, the rest would have no choice but to submit to the evil overlords of the Hill Alliance. Their evil plan to move all shops/clubs/lecture theatres to the top of the hill, and thus make all other colleges feel the pain of walking an extra 20 minutes that they have felt for so long, will finally come into fruition.
Jenny Steinitz, Churchill
Knowing that Old Court is too small to defend against powerful, larger neighbours, Clare makes Memorial Court its base. We reinforce it with those who make it across from Old Court and thereby gain strength. We annex the UL with Robinson and create a solid border that can resist any attempt by the Hill College Confederacy to capture the Sidgwick site and with it control of the ASNaC Varangian guard. We are then invited to join the Western Treaty (Newnham, Darwin, Queens', Selwyn, Wolfson) as it does them no good to have a large, embedded, hostile force so nearby.
Much of Clare's strength remains in the Colony on Chesterton Lane, and we use this combined with the presence of Caius accommodation on West Road to also form a pact with the River Entente (John's, Magdalene, Caius). A pincer movement of this whole group against the Backs Alliance with the Colony acting as rearguard against Hill College interference gives us control of the Backs as well and Old Court is reclaimed. The pact falls apart when the Backs are taken, but every college independently decides to attack John's, because now Trinity's out of the way they're completely insufferable. Realising our common humanity, a single political and military entity is formed amongst the rubble with uncontested supremacy as its goal.
Those colleges who had less to do in the capture of the Backs (Newnham, Selwyn, Darwin, Wolfson) are then at the forefront of the assault on the Republic of South Cambridge. Peterhouse and Pembroke fall quickly, but then the ASNaCs capture the Fitzwilliam Museum and are so distracted by pillage that not much more progress is made. Fortunately, a continued embargo from the Sainsbury's Pact (who saw which way the wind is blowing and signed an economic agreement with us) leaves them unable to withstand a siege and the RoSC is forced to capitulate. A declaration of sovereignty is made, excluding the Hill Colleges, Girton and Homerton. They're not happy about it, but by this point we have the geographic and economic security to resist their incursions. Eventually they abandon their dreams of independence and are incorporated into a battle-hardened army as barbarian auxiliaries. From these beginnings, the Catabrigian Empire continues to expand, taking East Anglia and doing to Oxford what the Mongols did to Baghdad, until we reach the City and by force of arms secure well-paid jobs in banking, politics and management consultancy for everyone, covering letters be damned.
Final winners: Everyone who isn't Trinity, Tit Hall, King's, Catz or John's.
ASNaCs, forswearing all previous loyalties, form a marauding Viking band. Quickly striking from Sidgwick Site, they take the UL as a fortress and launch raids upon neighbouring colleges, imposing outposts in Clare Memorial Court and Newnham. Corpus is ransacked and the Parker Library pillaged for its manuscripts. Forming an autonomous warrior-caste society, their loyalty can only be bought. Preferably with mead.
James McIntosh, the Fitzwilliam ASNaC
The King's pacifists, using their secret tunnel, form a safe commune in Grantchester, whilst no-one at Girton even notices the war. Trinity and John's fall on each other at the slightest provocation. Trinity annexes Tit Hall and Caius; John's forms an uneasy alliance with Magdalene which, by threatening the Colony, forces Clare into becoming a client state. With the sides drawn up, trebuchets fling heavy projectiles everywhere, destroying central Cambridge. Homerton burns down in a failed attempt to invent gunpowder; Churchill, more successful with new technology, sweeps down on the exhausted central colleges. Only Peterhouse and Downing, far to the south, are safe.
Ashley Chhibber, King's
Queens' would form an alliance with King's. With snipers on top of the towers in the two colleges, they would control King's Parade and Queens' Road. Queens' would tax passing punts to generate revenue while tourists would contribute to king's economy. Using its powers to generate rumours (think Newton's mathematical bridge), the alliance would spread paranoia and dissent among the other colleges. Once the other colleges started fighting each other, the alliance would use its leverage with the Royal family (Queen as patron) to ask for national reinforcements and take over Cambridge, sharing the spoils.
Zulfiqar Ali, Queen's
So in the battle Catz, due to lack of river and food (except wonderful Smiley's but that closes too early to feed the whole college) pretends to ally with either King's or Queen's, even at one point pretending we might merge with King's only to pull out at the last moment. The college goes into siege mode with back doors locked, archers from the windows onto Trumpington Street and a Les Mis-style barricade along the front railing, manned constantly by students (the Spokes) wearing pink and claret. Tragically St Chad's is cut off with only a few making it to the island site and college parents and children weep that they will never see each other again. Because everyone overlooks Catz, the college remains independent for a surprisingly long time before the winning side (whether it be the King's People's Republic, the Hill or the Girton/Homerton alliance) sweeps into the city. Finally all hope seems to have faded but Catz mounts one last rally cry and storms over the barricade only to be cut down by the overwhelming enemy forces. It will be a glorious end and, whilst Trumpington Street may run with blood and the pink scarves be trampled underfoot, the spine-chilling cry of "For The Wheel!" shall echo along King's Parade for eternity.
In a shock move, Trinity and St John's form an alliance, controlling substantial parts of ground along the river. With the help of Trinity's legendary, labyrinthine wine-cellars, raids are carried out on market square, as Johnian and Trinitarian guerrillas pop up from manholes to raid the waffle stall, preventing the Sainsbury's Pact from starving them out. Walls of punts blockade the river, immobilising any pincer-movement action from Magdalene or King's. Years of May Ball security means this pair is well-versed in keeping out unwanted visitors. However, when all other Colleges are defeated, the alliance starts to fall apart, and the two giants fight it out like Gog and Magog, in a display as spectacular as their June fireworks, with only one emerging victorious...
Christina Farley, St John's
We can create a barricade across the road to Sainsburys and hoard all the food, and thus starve the rest of the colleges out. We only have three small entrances to our fort (college). In fact our college is so unknown we will triumph at secrecy. We will be the invisible enemy.
We shall awaken the ghost of the great revolutionary Cromwell via his buried head; hence we will be guided by the best.
As for allies, we will join with other alliteratively double-barrelled tongue twistery colleges, such as Hughes Hall, Corpus Christi, and, because they may not have anywhere else to go, Girton
Izzy Bowen, Sidney Sussex
Regarding inter-college warfare, I don't know how the rest of Trinity would fair, but us lot who live in Burrell's Field would be alright. It's kind of built like a fortress; there's even a moat (okay, a stream) that runs around the front. All we'd have to do is get one of the many engineers that live here to convert the bridge into a drawbridge, then we would be virtually untouchable - though we might still be vulnerable to a rear assault from Robinson (oo-er missus, etc.)
Emily Weissang, Trinity
Given that Trinity are effectively the Lannisters of Cambridge (being the richest and all) we have the power and the influence to take down our attackers. We may have a lot of people who hate us, but the likelihood is most of the smaller colleges would be too frightened to attack us. So the best thing to do would be to sit back, armed and ready, letting the colleges destroy themselves and then, when we are eventually threatened, rain fire on them all from the battlements!
Trinity would move everyone onto the main site and Whewell's Court and make a last stand in front of the Great Gate (the entrances are too tiny for an invading army). Just as this is about to be breached, Trinity repel the invaders at the Sidney Street gate and get round to the Great Gate, surprising the attackers. Just in time, the invaders are surrounded and flee. The College is safe - until next time.
Indranil Banik, Trinity
If St.John's goes to war, it may just better off join the ally of Oxford and Anglia Ruskin, considering its relations with the other colleges. The other colleges may sing that notorious song to provoke them. It can also use the famous Bridge of Sighs as perfect fortress for archers and shooters against the navy of punters - it will protect them well while providing perfect spot for shooting. Besides, many of the great shooters from CUSBC belong to John's.
Eun Young-Park, St John's
Photo - Jimmy Appleton