In this part I look at a real example of converting board games mechanisms to a megagame.
Pirates of Yendor
Turning ‘Trireme’ into a megagame.
There is a much loved tactical wargame written by Ed Smith called ‘Trireme’1 (originally published in the UK as ‘Greek Naval Warfare’). This is a tactical wargame where each player takes control of a small number of ancient Greek warships and aims to outmanoeuvre her opponent and ram and sink the enemy fleet. The game is built around a set of wargame rule that take account of differing sizes of Greek warship, the presence or marines and archers and the effects of ramming from different directions hitting more vulnerable parts of enemy vessels.
Movement and action is simultaneous, each side writing orders for their ships using a simple letter code (P = port, S = starboard and so on). Interception was handled by an ingenious ‘phased movement’ system which allowed ships to do a series of partial moves depending on speed until the point a collision or ram occurrs.
It is an elegant system and fairly easy to learn and play.
The origins of the megagame Pirates of Yendor came about because I wanted to do a naval themed game based in my long-standing fantasy universe built around the City of Yendor. The political structures, back story and environment already existed, so the main requirement was some sort of sea-based action. Having loved Trireme for many years I started to look at how this might be adapted to the megagame.
The basic story of the megagame was that the City of Yendor, being a major port, was vulnerable to attack by sea raiders and corsairs. The megagame was to be about a campaign of a series of seaborne attacks aimed at controlling the sea approaches to the city. In every Yendor-based game there is an element of internal rivalry and posturing within and between various factions within the city, each of which would be buying, equipping, and dispatching ships to fight the Corsairs.
It would have been possible to play a straightforward wargame on this theme, on a game board and with many ships. However that would not have had the command and control and political, elements that made this a megagame.
So the main changes that were implemented were:
Moving from one player handling several ships, to several players handling one ship. This meant having some role differentiation within the ship-team. Since there would be many ship crew teams in a hall, the ship models needed to be large and colourful so as to be easily identified from a distance.
Instead of written orders the player used large flash cards each turn displayed for the Control team to see. Control then moved ships in accordance with the orders displayed.
The ships’ status was shown on the ship models rather than recorded on a separate sheet held by the player. This meant that the ship models had to be large and their status clear. Crew on the ships were represented by actual toy soldiers and things like oars (which could be damaged) shown by removable cards.
There are, broadly speaking, two sides to the game – the Yendorians and the Corsairs.
However, within each side there were factions each with their own agendas, so the way the sea battles played turned out to be more than a straightforward tactical battle.
In a two player ship the roles were:
Captain – Responsible for decision making and signalling.
Ship’s Master – responsible for issuing the ships’ movement orders, rolling dice etc.
The larger ships, with 3 or more crew had their own separate briefing on how they operated – some had additional weapons to contend with.
The players could not come onto the playing area or move the ship models and the game controllers moved the ships in accordance with the players’ wishes.
There was the all-important time factor.
Players did not have unlimited time in which to carefully work out the optimal manoeuvre for their vessel. We started off by giving everyone a few minutes to prepare their orders, but as the day went on, and the players got more used to the system, we shortened the time available to prepare orders for each game period.
As is normal in megagames, the game did not wait until all the players were ready – once Game Control announced that it was time to display orders anyone who was not ready lost the opportunity to issue orders. Ships with no orders continued on their last heading at their last speed.
In addition, communications were limited. Nobody in this world had a radio. Communication between ships was by shouting or by flags. A ship had to be within 2 squares for shouting to be effective.To make this a bigger challenge, ship teams from each side were interspersed, alternating round the room as Yendorian and Corsair
Flags could be seen at any distance and we gave players coloured paper flags and signal books to help this. Systems of flag signals were specific to each side and there was scope for additional signals to be developed by players. Other than flags and close-range shouting, players were not allowed to discuss their forthcoming orders with other ship’s crews. To discourage conferring we alternated the seating arrangements so that crews on the same side were not necessarily sitting next to each other.
On the day the megagame was divided into three linked scenarios – each scenario taking about one and a half to two hours, with a break in between. The outcome of each scenario determining the start set up for the next.
As a megagame this worked pretty well, though it helped that the player interaction part was separated from the tactical element – and the tactical game was fast-moving enough that players did not experience down-time while adjudication took place. This was helped by simplifying the actual combat rules themselves, and giving the control team several practic session so that they were able to resolve combats with ease and confidence without needing to spend time looking up rules or checking too many rule tables. However the physical representation was important – there needed to be a lot of room to lay out the game so that everyone had a clear and uninterrupted view and that individual crew’s ship’s position on the playing area was clearly visible to the crew at all times. The physical preparation for a game like this is non-trivial!