In the last part I discussed some of the pros and cons of designing a megagame based on an existing game type, be it board game, wargame, role playing game or LARP.
In this part I introduce a worked example… so I give you …
MEGACHESS : The Chess Megagame!
An outrageous example of applying megagame structures to a board game.
In this section I want to look at the conversion process a little – how one might look at a well known two player board game and turn it into a megagame.
To really highlight the process I have deliberately chosen one of the simplest two player board games, chess. The basic structure of a game of chess is used and my megagame map is the familiar 8 by 8 grid, the pieces move in the way they move in chess. But in order to adapt the game to a megagame-like format there are important changes made to the rules and procedures of chess.
In this megagame there are two sides, Black Kingdom and White Kingdom. Or the ‘Kingdom of the Black Forest’ and the ‘Kingdom of the White Mountains’ if you want to add spurious ‘fluff’.
Each Kingdom has an army which is organised in a hierarchy, with the King at the top.
There are 16 player roles per side (including the King), one for each chess piece.
MegaChess is a double-blind closed game. The King and his council does not see the main map – but has a smaller map to update the situation based on reports from the front line players who are positioned at the main map.
The main maps do not show all the positions of all the enemy pieces, only pieces adjacent to a friendly piece are shown. The Control team observe both maps and keep them updated, but do not update the King’s council maps.
Megachess Game Layout
Each game turn takes 10 minutes.
Action is SIMULTANEOUS. Only one piece can be moved each turn.
The game is a double blind game – with a limited visibility range allocated to each piece. perhaps Rooks can ‘see’ further’ than pawns?
Interactions between pieces are ruled on by Control. So it is possible for a piece to be attacked and for it to move out of the way. Players issue ‘orders’ for their piece based on instructions from the King’s Council as players receive written orders from their King each ‘Move’.
These cannot be in the form of ‘Pawn to B4’ but must be ‘Pawn No.6 Advance’ or ‘Pawn No.6 capture enemy Knight’. So there is some room for error in interpretation.
The front line players in control of pieces issue instructions to move their piece as ordered on the ‘map’ (game board). This might be actually moved by control based on a written instruction or a flash card. The players then and report back to the King. Some will be reporting newly ‘sighted’ enemy pieces, some will report on their actions.
Turn lengths are rigidly timed to 10 minutes, so it is possible for the King one side not to have given orders for a move in a given turn if they take too long to decide what to do. However, front line players might still issue instructions to their piece to move in the absence of King’s orders thus representing the degree of local initiative or disobedience.
Internal Politics Element. All orders must be agreed upon by the Privy Council composed of the King, Queen, Knights and Bishops, who attend the meeting. There is a status ranking system in the Court, with victory points or status gained if your suggestions are adopted. The attendees are also front line players, so have to rush back to the main map room if they want to move their piece.
Religious Conflict Element. The two Bishops represent different and opposed sects (the White Diagonalist Sect and the Black Diagonalist Sect), and have secret objectives (and a secret communication route with their co-religionists on the other side). They will be seeking to influence strategy and diminish the influence of the rival sect.
Revolutionary Element: Some of the Pawns are Republicans are are trying to convince the other Pawns to overthrow the oppressive Monarchists, depose the King and end this pointless war. They have private line of communication with Revolutionary Red Pawns on the other side. They can also try to convince higher value pieces to join the revolution. They might choose to change sides or disobey orders.
Imagine converting Black and White Pawns into Red Pawns on the board when the revolution starts!
Captured or ‘Dead’? – captured pieces’ players are physically moved to the enemy kingdom’s dungeon room (or area in the hall). They have their own Control who gets them to play a ‘escape from prison’ sub-game loosely based on the ‘Escape From Colditz’ board game so that they might escape and return to the main game They can also be ransomed or a prisoner swap negotiated between White and Black. And of course pawns reaching the other side of the board can perform rescues. Rescued or escaped prisoners are restarted in their traditional start position on the board.
Question – is this a megagame at all?
It has some features or a megagame – size (32 players), hierarchies, time pressure. The rules are very simple. It has some politics and role playing. It meets many people’s definition of a megagame – in theory.
Most of the players have little to do. They are likely to be spending much of their time waiting for orders from above. You can see how the game design has had to create some opportunities for the 10 or so players who are likely to be inactive on each side to do something meaningful that contributes to the gameplay. This is, of course limited:
The pawn conspiracy might generate some discussion, but until they rebel they are just talking.
The Privy council sub-game will be entertaining for the six members of each council, but will it dominate to the extent that the chess battle is ignored or marginalised?
Is turning up to a megagame, getting captured on turn 2 and spending the day playing ‘Escape from Chessdiz‘ with 2 or 3 other people really an inspiring megagame experience?
Is there enough player interaction apart from the privy council, the revolutionaries and the religious rivalries? To take an example – imagine you are one of the rook players? What would you be doing all day? This is a key question in megagame design – always ask “what will this player actually do?”
The base rules of chess have been altered to allow simultaneous action. Will this break the basic structure and make the chess-like game not work at all? Are there other modifications to the chess structure that might help add depth to the megagame? For example allowing more than one piece to move each turn. Or adding a random element where one rolls dice to determine whether a piece is captured. Or make the capture process a direct stone-paper-scissors type combat between the players on each side.
What this example seeks to illustrate is how, superficially, a board game might look like if it is translated into a megagame, but also how this process of conversion throws up some design issues that must be addressed to ensure that it is a genuine megagame experience.And how the megagame-ising of a baord game can change its character altogether. This is important if you wanted to replicate the experience of your favourite board game as a megagame. Will those changes destroy the bits you loved?
No matter what your favourite board game, or wargame or role playing game might be, translating them to the megagame format is never a trivial process. In fact often it can often be both quicker and easier to construct an original game around the theme than to modify or adjust an existing game that was never intended to be a megagame.
In Part 3: Another examples of a board game conversion – how the Pirates of Yendor came into being….