“Time is an illusion…megagame time, doubly so” (apols to Douglas Adams)
It was 1987 and the UK was going through seismic changes. Thatcher was in power and unreasonably popular (50% approval rating), golliwogs had been banned from Enid Blyton books, my neighbour Cynthia Payne had been acquitted of running a brothel, British Rail (yes, we had our own railway back then) abolished Second Class and replaced it with Standard Class and the Channel Tunnel plan was given a green light.
It is true that the past is another country.
It was into that maestrom of change and upheaval that a 32 year old civil servant joined the ranks of a mysterious cult known as ‘megagame designers’. He was not the first, of course – he had been recruited and encouraged by the founder of recreational megagames, Paddy Griffith (who had run the first megagame of that ilk in 1983 named, with chracterisic iconoclasm ‘Memphis Manger IV’ ) and inspired by games by Andy Grainger (who wrote the very successful megagames Kirovograd and Clouds In the West in the mid-1980s). This young enthusiast’s first attempt at a megagame was ‘Blood & Thunder’ involving a load of plastic sailing ships and toy soldiers, cardboard houses , rum, a pig roast and 126 participants. Briefings produced lovingly using 9-pin dot matrix printer and a ‘powerful’ PCW8256 word processor.
I’m not entirely sure what ever happened to that fresh-faced keen young 32 year old megagamer. But in the intervening 31 years he seems to have run 100 of his own megagames as of last Saturday.
There never was a plan to do quite so many games – and surpringly (to me at least) that those 100 games represent 61 different game designs. Interestingly, when I coulnted just now, exactly 50% have been on historical or contemporary themes and 50% on fantasy or science fiction, showing a remarkable lack of focus or consistency…
The most run game, is, of course Watch The Skies (9).
Looking back over the list it is interesting to note the ‘lost megagames’ – games that were run or twice once then consigned to the scrapheap of megagaming history either because they failed so abysmaly that they need to be expunged, or because the basic idea really didn’t make a good megagame. Notable (notorious) examples were :
‘Fire & Steel’ (1993) – an attempt to run a tactical tank battle megagame, using model tanks and players directing their movements over a huge floor model of some terrain. Inspired by the way the ship-handling systems worked in ‘Final Frontier’ or ‘Blood & Thunder’. It didn’t work. Slow and hence dull and not enough player interaction.
‘Outer Worlds’ (1993) – an attempt to run interstellar politics an economics on the strategic scale. Teams had to bring a computer (in 1993!) and issued their orders on supercalc spreadsheets passed on floppy disk. Er. It was a nightmare.
‘First Contact’ (1993) – Actually some of this worked quite well. It was the attempt to implement a strategic movement and detection system using a computer that failed utterly. Attempting to find a bug in a program while the game waits was not a great experience.
‘Cruel Void’ (1996) – tactical space dogfighting campaign game – a sort of ‘Battle of Britain in Space’ game. One player per ship, vector movement with a promotions / campaigning element. Game systems worked ok, but the player progression and campaign aspects never really took off because the tactical game dominated, and despite an attempted re-run the following year it never re-appeared after that.
Then there are the games that have never seen the light of day at all, such as ‘Valiant Musketeers’, ‘Bosnian Crisis’, ‘Warriors for the Working Day’ (how Fire & Steel should have been), ‘Escalation’, ‘Supers’, ‘Monster Movie Madness’, ‘The Blitz’, ‘The Day After’ to name but a few.
I guess 61 isn’t an upper limit – who knows what will come next?