Once More into the Breach…

Its been a while since my last post, last Summer, so this is a sort of catchup to bring things up to date.

Last August I was talking about the 2018 Programme for Megagame Makers.  And this is now well underway, with a full programme of games for the coming year.  And much to my delight I’ll be running the fourth iteration of my pirate-themed megagame Blood & Thunder (more on this later).

In September last year, Rex Brynen and I ran our new ‘Dire Straits’ megagame – themed on multiple, multidimensional crises in East Asia, and developed specifically as an icebreaker for the annual professional wargaming conference CONNECTIONS UK.  It was especially interesting in that this was the first time we had a megagame that was subject to close scrutiny and analysis by professional defence analysts.  And not just one group, but three different and independent teams of analysts studied the game and wrote reports on it.  A truly terrifying experience.

Rex reported at length on his PaxSims site.

From the point of view of megagame design it had some interesting challenges:

  • it was designed for over 100 participants, only a handful of which knew what a megagame was,
  • there could be no pre-briefings,
  • team allocation would happen on the fly on the day,
  • The control team had to be small.

It all worked on the day, though interestingly the ‘professional wargamer’ audience had relatively little actually face to face game experience, and the environment made them, I think, a good deal more timid in their game play than recreational gamers tend to be.

We were able to put this to the test by re-running the game in a more recreational environment, at McGill just a couple of weekends ago. The participants were a mix of McGill students, local recreational gamers, and a smattering of ‘professionals’ from the Canadian military and DRDC.

The action was a good deal more dynamic with a greater inclination to take risks, and even an attempt to re-unify China by force!  The game design contained the usual elements of master map and military resources and capabilities, with the addition of two sub-games on internal politics, one for the USA and one for North Korea, simulating (perhaps controversially for some) the effects world leaders have to take into account an internal political narrative that is not always transparent to the rest of the world.

Autumn Wars

October I had a brief outing to run a small megagame based on the battle for Arnhem (using the OpCom core system).

Then a trip to Cambridge to run Exterminator War, a science fiction political-military megagame based on a long-running role playing game I have been involved in.  This was an interesting experience of translating a rich fictional universe into a game that would accessible to players without them having to read lengthy background briefings.  It worked passably well, but a lot of lessons were learnt (or re-learnt) – mainly:

  • A megagame looks like a role playing game but it isn’t a role playing game.  You cannot build in the narrative subtleties in the time available.
  • Putting communications delays into a game (there was a one-turn delay in comms between different quadrants) is very challenging for players.  Though I would do it again!
  • An implacable robotic enemy has feeling too – especially if they are players and not being managed by the GM.

I had a bit of a peak megagame experience when I went to the CONNECTIONS NL conference in Rotterdam.  My presentation on megagames gave me the opportunity to run an ad-hoc megagame for 50 conference attendees lasting about 90 minutes, which was improvised on the spot.  All that was required was

  • a couple of skilled facilitators
  • the willing participation of the players
  • setting it in a well understood and well know scenario and region.

The idea was to illustrate multiple interactions and how a narrative emerges from this.  I think everyone got something from the experience as well as had an entertaining break from ‘death by powerpoint’.

It was all over by Christmas

The last part of 2017 had little in the way of new megagaming action for me, as I was absorbed in some professional wargaming with the Royal Air Force on Exercise Eagle Warrior.  As this wasn’t a megagame, I’ll say no more here.

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