(Mostly Don’ts!)

For those of us who have been doing the game design thing for a long time (too long some might say) it is (to me at least) important to make efforts to bring on the next generation of game designers and encourage, support and mentor those who might want to learn from our experiences. This might be helping out with playtesting, running workshops for new designers or presenting at conferences, workshops etc. There are some things I’ve observed (and done myself) that are helpful, and perhaps less than helpful, when supporting the next generation of game designers.

I have come up with a number of insights from my experience that might help game design grognards [Definition : ‘grognard’ someone experienced enough to know better.] when they are working with, supporting or mentoring new designers. These are not rules as such, more like guidelines.

1. MAKE SURE EVERYONE IS HEARD.  If someone is quiet then encourage them to participate by asking their opinion.  BUT be careful of ‘searchlighting’ (i.e. putting them in an uncomfortable spotlight).

2. Don’t mention someone’s appearance.  Ever. Either referring to those present or as part of an anecdote (“I met this really good-looking man the other day”).

3. Don’t mention someone’s age.  Either directly or inferred.  Especially be VERY aware of your own assumptions about youth & gender and implied inexperience.  I.e. “Good idea young Jim-lad” is patronising at best.

4. Personal banter is risky.  You may know another member of the group really well, but continually referring to that closer relationship (especially with banter and ‘in jokes’) is potentially exclusionary for the other participants.

5. Keep your Flak guns silent.  Shooting down stupid ideas is not allowed.  Also do not shoot down dumb questions.  Dumb questions are better than dumb mistakes later. [Definition: ‘Flak’ is an anti-aircraft weapon, used for shooting down enemy aircraft].

6. Do not explain how you would do it better.  If you are the expert in the room it is a given that you know how to do it, you have nothing to prove.  Instead guide the participants towards their own solutions by skillfully using open questions.  Also your solutions or methods may not be the best (or only) approach – be open to learning yourself.

7. There are brain cells in the room.  The participants are intelligent and bring knowledge and experience.  It is better to assume they already know something before you explain it to them.  “Are you familiar with the events of the Munich Crisis?” gives them a chance to say “Yes it was the subject of my doctoral thesis” BEFORE you launch into a long (and no doubt fascinating) exposition.  In short, do not ‘mansplain’.

8. DO STOP TALKING.  No really, please stop. Mentoring is not a casual conversation.  Also when you do speak, keep it SHORT and RELEVANT.  This is a genuine challenge for the experienced and knowledgeable subject matter expert who is bursting with experiential anecdotes and wisdom.  Rigorously self-check with regard to relevance, and if in doubt save it for the book/blog/podcast.   “When I play wargames with the great Peter Perla” is not relevant in the mentoring context.  Reference other experts, naturally, but only to signpost their work.

9. Obscure references do not help development.  Especially with an audience new to the field.  However, respectfully check in with them.  For example – “Have you heard of a wargamer called Don Featherstone?”  <blank looks>  “Well, he was a famous wargame writer in the 1960s and 70s and he always advised….”  OR <nods of recognition>  “Don Featherstone always said…”.

10. ACRONYMS ARE EVIL.  Designed to provide a helpful shorthand, like technical jargon, acronyms often work as a tool for excluding the uninitiated – and can work brilliantly to alienate and exclude.  Avoid using them at all in sessions, or, if unavoidable ideally PAGBITS  (Provide a Glossary Before Introducing The Session) or explain them on first use.  

This might look like a ‘Top Ten’ but I’m sure there are a lot more than 10, so feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

Rules of Engagement

I have become increasingly interested in how we make sure that the game experience is the best and at the same time ensuring diversity, inclusivity and good behaviour.

I hope to write much more on this soon, but in the meantime I thought this might be a good place to share the new Stone Paper Scissors commitment and ground rules for behaviour at games we organise and run.

Documents like this are not cast in tablets of stone, but act as a baseline – becomeing refined and, if necessary, expanded as circucumstances change or as a result of experience.  We also aim to keep the ground rules as simple and clear as possible.

What guidelines like this must not become, in my view, is a sterile policy document created for the sake of form. It must (and in this case does) actively reflect day to day practice and be a realistic reflection of what we actually do.

Much of this has been influenced by the Derby House Principles, and by the standards set by the Swedish Sverok codes of conduct.



  • to have a professionally facilitated and managed game experience.
  • to make your own choices within the game and its rules
  • to be listened to both in and out of games.
  • a safe friendly environment free of physical, verbal, and emotional harassment.
  • to not be subjected to aggressive, argumentative, racist, sexist, transphobic and homophobic behaviour or language.
  • to have your property left alone.


  • to participate as fully as they can.
  • to participate within the framework of the game provided.
  • to listen to other participants both in and out of games.
  • to contribute to a safe friendly environment free of physical, verbal, and emotional harassment.
  • to not be aggressive, argumentative, racist, sexist, transphobic or homophobic in behaviour or language.
  • to respect other participants’ property.

In order to keep our events safe and successful, attendees are expected to respect the ground rules. When you attend, you hereby agree to respect the rules above.   Participants who are unable to meet the expectations above (especially with regard to behaviour) may be asked to leave without refund.



The Economics of the Madhouse…

Are we running megagames for fun or profit?

It has been a while since my last blog post (life getting in the way of blogging) and following a recent conversation with a friend, I thought it time to write something about the economics of running megagames… at least from my perspective of being involved in designing and running games in the UK.

There are a number of key costs involved in designing and putting on a megagame.


This is often the big one. When we run a megagame there are a lot of factors in choosing a venue above its suitability for the game itself, including availability, location, access to public transport, accessibility, parking, comfort, catering space, facilities and the helpfulness of the facilities staff.

All of these have an impact on the price.

A basic hall with minimum facilities in a suburb with limited access to transport links might be as little as £500 for a day, a run-down church hall miles from anywhere, £50. A venue with catering, full accessibility and in the centre of a city will cost anything from £2,000 upwards (I was quoted £8,000 for a central London venue a little while ago).

The other critical factor with venues is the up-front cost. The organiser (whether the designer herself, or the supporting group organising the game) will have put a substantial deposit up for a venue, especially the expensive ones, often long before any revenue from player fees has come in.

This is a big financial risk.


Running a megagame is more than just rocking up on the day with a box of components and running a game.

Someone needs to:

  • design the game.

  • produce, gather and collate the components, including printing of maps.

  • print off and /or email background and briefing notes.

  • buy tea, coffee, milk, sugar, other refeshment ….

  • promote the event.

  • to recruit and manage participant enrolments.

  • manage refunds, cancellations and role casting.

  • check and book the venue.

Using booking systems such as Eventbrite may save time but these have a fee charging regime. And someone needs to make sure Eventbrite has the correct information.

Most of us take payment via PayPal, which also charges for the service (2.9% at time of writing).

This all takes time and effort.

Administration is a non-trivial task.

People’s time is a cost whether they are being paid in money or not. Even if they are doing it themselves (or have a willing friend or friends), the organiser is using enthusiasm and energy and, in the case of their friend or friends, the goodwill of others.

Personally, I think the person doing this should be acknowledged and recompensed in some way for their time, even if this is just a token sum.


For most designers the megagame is not their day job, and they don’t expect to be paid for the time spent on the labour of love that is a megagame. However, it is worthwhile considering the time cost of the design effort. Based on some timekeeping I did a little while ago, I find that a new megagame might take a minimum of between 150 and 250 hours of designer time, not counting playtesting and administration. Many designers I know take a lot longer.

And to understand the value of this time is important – game designing is not just a simple manual task, but challenging creative work. Consider what you would be paying for, say an artist or a writer for that sort of effort. Even at minimum wage (currently a derisory £8.72 in the UK) the 150 – 200 designer hours comes to over £2000 worth of effort. And this is generally for a one-off game; repeats are relatively few.


We all love beautiful game components, whether they are paper, card, plastic or wood. Creating and printing components is a significant cost. Ink is expensive – a colour printer ink cartridges costing £12 a shot and soon mounts up when printing large full-colour maps. Even outsourcing map printing is not necessarily cheap. AND once again its the many hours of printing, assembling, cutting, laminating etc. This all mounts up.

Recently we costed the production of ‘Watch The Skies’ in terms of time and effort. It takes around 40-50 hours of effort and around £250 in materials.

The Game Fee

So how does the costs of a stereotypical 40-player megagame break down compared to what is typically charged for a megagame (as at 2020 anyway):

What megagamers often think the costs are

What it costs if we were being realistic.

Venue Hire



Materials cost


(“you only have to print up some stuff, right?”)


Production time (40 hours)

Nil (its just a hobby after all)


Designer time


(“Yeah, but you love doing it – so why pay you?”)


(at minimum wage rate)

Administration (including PayPal fees)


(“PayPal / Eventbrite does all the work”)





Cost per player



Normal Game Fee



Player’s reaction?

These megagames are too expensive!

Oh my, what a bargain

And if you substitute a more expensive venue in the table above, it shows that even in the first column the game fee is barely covering the cost of the venue alone.

It quickly becomes obvious that running megagames isn’t something that easily generates massive profit, which probably explains why many megagames are being designed and developed by hobbyists in their free/spare time. Repeat games make the whole thing more financially bearable, but it is still a very fine line between turning an actual profit and subsidising the game. Even very popular games can need subsidy due to unforeseen circumstances, especially when there are significant numbers of no-shows or drop-outs at the last minute – the margins can be tight, especially for smaller games. And where the venue is an expensive one the decision to press on might mean that even if there is a financial loss, it is less than the loss involved in cancellation.

Risks of Cancellation

When the designer or organiser decide to cancel and return the game fees, once again, the administration costs are all lost. PayPal for example no longer waive the fees on refunds, so designers are in the invidious position of either not refunding the whole amount, or taking on the chin the lost fees. A cancellation will also mean losing a deposit on the venue.

How to run a ‘profitable’ megagame:

There is a way to run a megagame that doesn’t make a loss, and that is to run it multiple times. Some of the costs remain, but they can be minimised as well as spread across multiple games, for example more durable and therefore reusable game components.

Of course, no megagame designers I know design and run megagames primarily for profit – they do it for the laughs, for the joy of seeing their creation in action, for the kudos of having put together something as magnificent and exciting as a megagame.

Megagame Design The Easy Way (4)

Turning ‘Shogun’ into a megagame.

Sengoku the megagame of classical Japan.

Japanese history has been a long term interest of mine, and when I first played the board game ‘Shogun’ I was very impressed at the way it captured the flavour of the age of civil wars, the Sengoku-jidai. It looked like this would be an excellent way of introducing the subject via a megagame. pic761201

The original board game has a lovely simplified map of provinces, and hundreds of plastic toy soldiers with which to represent armies as well as tiny model castles, swords, game money and so on. The components themselves were inspirational.

Of course, I would be turning a 5 player game into a 40 or 50 player game and so some changes would be necessary. It turned out that a lot of change was necessary – so much so that now nothing of the original game’s structure or mechanisms remains in the current iteration of the Sengoku megagame.

The first thing was to identify the player teams and this was the first major change. I wanted to set the game in a specific time and chose 1551 as a good starting point. It became clear who were the leading clans of this time, and I was able to create teams of players based on the historical diamyo and their families, and create briefings of ‘recent’ historical events based on the real world of the period. In doing this it became clear that the economic values allocated to the provinces in Shogun were not quite right, so I reset that data using actual rice taxation levels from 1551. This made quite a difference and whilst it would have created an unbalanced board game, it was a distinct benefit in a megagame which thrive on unbalanced scenarios and it made this historical feel a good deal better – once the wealth of provinces was taken into account it was pretty clear why certain clans came to the fore (and why some clans were never deafeated).

To further the sense of historical feel, the teams needed much more than just decisions about raising armies and marching them about to conquer areas on the map to properly reflect life int he period.

Drawing on my experience developing role playing games set in the period it was obvious to me that the core of the game would be the dynamic within the clan as much as it would be about rivalry and conflict between clans. Japanese samurai society contains a wealth of inter-related individuals, complex clan and obligation networks and this would form a basis for the team sub-game. I also wanted to introduce a high degree of Japanese culture of the time including the formal nature of relations, the rituals, and something of the mood and attitude of the time.

sengoku saito mapTo achieve this I developed individual briefings for each player in the game explaining their relationship to others and their individual objectives. Watching over each clan team would be a Team Control who would be acting as GM for the team and allocating awards in the form of ‘culture points’ for good role playing and acting in accordance with some basic rules of etiquette selected for the game. This was entirely new and not part of the board game.

The board game had a neat and simple system of die rolling for battles, and in the early versions of the megagame I used something based on this. But it became clear that this took far too long, and by the second iteration I had a much more streamlined system that could be resolved quickly enough that it did not hold up the rest of the game. Of course, fromt he very start the megagame also had moved away from the IGYG game turns of the original and introduced simultaneous actions, based on written instructions where it was important.

It was also important to add in institutions like the main warrior monk temples (major political actors in the period) and the role of the Imperial Court and Nobility as well as the Bakufu (the shogun’s civil service).

By the time all the various teams, structures, streamlined systems and detailed briefings had been added the resulting game bore no resemblance to the board game that inspired it except for having a similar-looking game map of Japan. And there are only so many ways you can draw a province map of Japan so even that changed.

In retrospect the game could probably have been developed from scratch more easily, and  with much the same end result (or even better).   What is important here is that the prototype board game was a template to start the design process going. Even if you end up discarding absolutely everything of the original game (and be prepared to do this) having something to start with really helps, especially with your first megagame designs.

In Conclusion

There have been many cases over the years where a board game or even computer game have provided the baseline on which to develop.

The ultimate example of this would be the influence of the computer game UFO: Enemy Unknown (also know as XCOM and its successors) on the inception of the successful Watch The Skies series – whihc was inspired by the ideas of the much loved original computer game, but has ended up in a very different place.


The important part about converting a game into a megagame is be prepared to throw out anything that doesn’t work in the megagame context.  Much loved mechanisms, structures, map, components – anything – if it doesn’t serve your megagame discard it.  A megagame is a thing on its own, inspired by other games, or fiction or history or life, it still has to work as an experience for the players as well.