This Saturday at Castle Hill, they’re gonna party like it’s 1899.

That was during the historical period that inspires steampunk, a subculture in which people wear Victorian clothes while wielding imaginary forms of technology, which seem at once both archaic and visionary.

Steampunk has also inspired “Lace, Coal and Cog,” an interactive game that will entertain guests this weekend at the mansion on Castle Hill in Ipswich.

“This is a house that runs entirely on steam,” said Robin Donovan Bocchiaro, who is in charge of tours and guest programs at Castle Hill. “How could we not do this?”

The Great House was built in the 1920s by Richard Teller Crane Jr. of Chicago, whose family’s company manufactured plumbing fixtures and steam heating equipment, along with a range of industrial components.

There is still plenty of machinery from the 1920s in the basement, which is visited by tours but has rarely, if ever, been incorporated into an event like the Steampunk Party, Bocchiaro said.

“I think it’s pretty typical of its era, but it’s also ahead of its time,” she said. “A lot of the technology was still patent-pending when it was installed.”

While the boilers and electrical systems don’t date from the Victorian or Edwardian periods, which are typically cited as the inspiration for steampunk, Bocchiaro said that the technology is old and funky enough to qualify for this party’s purposes.

“We’re being a little more loosey-goosey with steampunk specifics,” she said. 

Beer, wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served at the party, Bocchiaro said, and guests who want to get in the spirit are encouraged to create their own steampunk outfits — or rent them from local costume shops.

Bocchiaro credits Trina Schell, her colleague at Castle Hill, with the idea of hosting a steampunk-themed event at the mansion.

But it was Bocchiaro’s idea to ask a former colleague from the Old State House Museum in Boston, Daud Alzayer of Curious Experience Design, to create a type of role-playing game that guests of the party can take part in.

Alzayer describes a lot of what he does at museums and similar settings as historical interpreter, rather than tour guide, to suggest a greater degree of involvement. 

“Generally, when I’m using the word ‘interpreter,’ I’m talking about somebody who embodies a historical character, to help people achieve an emotional engagement with history, so they can get into emotions about things and not just hard, cold facts,” he said. 

At the next level of engagement is immersive theater, in which the audience gets involved in the interpreter’s world. 

“Basically I think of immersive theater on a spectrum between role-playing games and traditional theater,” Alzayer said. “It could be anything in between there. It could be scripted, but the audience is in the middle of the action instead of sitting in a theater.”

While “Lace, Coal and Cog” is inspired by the Crane family and its company, Alzayer has been careful not to confuse the factual and invented worlds.

“The fiction is that the players are joining a group of steampunk aristocrats who run a company called Fulcrum Industries,” he said. “They pick a new director every few years, and this is one of those meetings.”

Members of these families, who will be portrayed by current tour guides at the Crane Estate and by historic interpreters that Alzayer is bringing in, will be available on the first floor for guests to meet.

“They’re going to be casting a ballot to vote for one of the people,” Alzayer said. “They’ll need to go around and get their ballot stamped by each of these people before they can vote.” 

Along with aristocrats, the cast of characters will include domestic robots on the second floor and “grease monkeys” in the basement.

Guests will meet the latter by signing up in groups led by actors, which will be necessary because the space downstairs where the grease monkeys work is cramped. 

“They’ll be meeting some of those people and finding out that there’s some stirring of revolution among them,” Alzayer said.

Bocchiaro said that she has applied a lot of what she learned from working with Alzayer in Boston to programs and tours at Castle Hill.

That includes encouraging interpreters who are portraying servants, for instance, to delve into the details of their characters’ backgrounds. 

“We’ve switched the focus to make it much more of a historical experience,” she said.

But Alzayer has a growing list of clients for whom he applies his skills to sharing fictions, rather than history, in the format of games like the one he has designed for Castle Hill. 

“There is definitely some escapism of just giving people an evening where they can set aside day-to-day concerns and get involved with fictional problems,” Alzayer said. 

If you go

What: Steampunk Party

When: Saturday, 7 to 9:30 p.m.

Where: Castle Hill on the Crane Estate, 290 Argilla Road, Ipswich

How much: $55 ($44 for Trustees of Reservations members)

More information: 978-356-4351, ext. 4015, or

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