Tag: teams

Megagame Design – Using Inspiration

Many megagame designers have used existing board game or computer games as an inspiration or framework or basis for a megagame idea. This can be an extremely good way of getting into designing your own games.
There are some advantages and also some pitfalls for the the unwary new megagame designers.
It is important to remember at this stage that a megagame is superficially like many types of games but its characteristics mean that its design is not like designing a role-playing game, a board game, a LARP or a wargame.
At this stage lets look at the similarities and differences in game types.

Board games :

Are designed to be played in a few hours and their mechanisms are optimised for that. Some very complex board games such as Twilight Imperium, Europa Universalis and their ilk require very long playing times closer to 10 hours, but these are generally an exception.
They can have simple or complex rules and processes. In general board games that aim to simulate something (in the same way megagames contain a simulation) have reasonably complex rules and procedures which might take some time to learn and a while to work through.
The vast majority or board games operate on an ‘I Go, You Go’ (IGYG) principle. This is a major distinction with megagames which simply cannot operate in that way because of the constraints of time, space and numbers of participants. It would be unacceptable for 40 players to be waiting around while one team of players have their ‘go’.pic00022

Mainstream wargame rules:

Wargames often aspire to be a simulation of real historical military operations and as such are designed to contain complex simulations requiring rules for different circumstances, weapons, abilities and so on.
Complex rules and procedures mean that wargames can often take many hours to play just a few game turns.
Like the board game, many of the current generation of mainstream wargames operate on the IGYG principle, creating a lot of player inactivity. Older wargames, utilising order-writing and simultaneous movement and action are closer to the needs of megagames.imgp0609

Role Playing Games:

Often characterised by in-depth character development and statistics for each individual player. In megagames there might be elements of character development, but there are generally simpler because of the need to apply time pressure. In some cases character development is not relevant, for example where someone is role playing as real historical role (King of France, or some such).
They need careful adjudication by a skilled Game Master (GM) who manages the narrative and injects situational updates to challenge or assist the players. This has a lot in common with the way the Control Team operate in megagames – though in a megagame there is a need for the emerging narrative to work within an overarching theme and structure.
The RPG has a wealth of tactical detail about individual player actions. This often requires a considerable expenditure of time and attention.dscf1497

Live Action Role Playing (LARP)

LARP place a heavy emphasis on role immersion and role playing on a personal level. In the most developed form it requires what is, in effect, improvisational acting skills. In fact it is these improvisation skills which form the core of the experience. Megagames contain elements of this, but more often players are role playing a role rather than a character – they are themselves being a Prime Minister, not role playing an actual prime minister.
There is an absolute requirement for dressing up in role. Whilst in megagames there is some fun to be had with a bit of dressing up, it has never been a requirement, as megagames attract gamers with a much wider field of interest, not all of whom are comfortable with dressing up and it is not necessary because megagames are not LARPS.
In some games there are physical interaction rules – rules for hitting one another with rubber swords etc. The physical and environmental aspects for a LARP are important even if there is no combat.
Many LARP games often have a highly structured narrative which has a clear denouement, which many be scripted or at least ‘nudged’ to create an exciting end-game. This is very distinct from a megagame which is fundamentally open-ended – the principle of following the emerging game-play makes it impossible (and undesirable) to have a dramatic ending.dscf2098

What becomes clear is that merely ‘porting’ an existing game from an existing genre, adding more players and calling it a megagame does not work very well. And this has been our experience.
However, that does not mean that concepts and some of the mechanisms from other game genres might not be usefully used in the megagame context, obviously with some important adjustments. This is an especially attractive route, particularly where the designer is new to megagame design and maybe does not have to confidence or experience to develop all the systems and mechanisms needs for a game from scratch.
That said, even the most experienced designers will draw on their own personal ‘toolbox’ of systems, structures and procedures that they have developed in earlier games or borrowed from other designer’s games.
Many of our most successful games started with inspiration from another game.

BUT when drawing on another game design remember to allow for the unique dynamics of the megagame.

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Describing Typical Megagames (2)

In addition to the inter-communication problems and the hierarchical nature of the player team structure, in many games there is a representation of the situation using what is known as the closed ‘double blind’ system. Players only have the information that would realistically be known to them about the location of their enemies (or even of their own troops). The Control team (of which much more later) keeps a master map updated, and this master map is hidden from the players. Team Control report back each turn of how their orders have turned out and collect orders for the next turn. This method is very common in both operational megagames and political/military megagames.

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Here we see a simple example of a military operational megagame which shows how the simplest of hierarchies are represented in a megagame format. And this doesn’t have to be historical – one could just as easily use command hierarchies to represent Steampunk armies, or fantasy armies or space fleets and star empires.

Hierarchies can be represented in other ways, for example there might be a political game in which the teams represent different parts of a government – with a Cabinet Team and teams representing government departments. Or you might have teams representing samurai clans who owe allegiance to their overlord. There are many ways this playing into game structures.

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Some megagames have political as well as operational elements – some are wholly political, some have very key elements of role playing. In the more political and role playing games, hierarchies might not be so important. A game like Washington Conference by Dave Boundy has no hierarchies of teams, each team being a national delegation in an arms control conference. However in these cases the key element is team intra- and inter-communication. A megagame like this, one of pure negotiation, has the important elements of requiring complex player to player communication. The dynamic created by a megagame with virtually a 1 to 1 representation of key historical roles is where megagames are at their most LARP-like.

It is the combination of all of these elements that make each megagame slightly different to every other megagame.
Each megagame is unique in its own way – depending on the size, structure and theme – there is no ‘official’ set of ‘Rules of Megagame’ as a whole because each game must be designed to suit the theme and the interactions required (though some games might share some elements with other games – simple things like combat resolution methods are often re-used or adapted). In fact the creation of a set of standard rules would be antithetical to the whole megagame approach.

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Intercommunication, interaction, teams and hierarchies – with the additional challenge of `player management’ makes the megagame unique as a gaming experience. It is this aspect that regular mega gamers tell me, time and time again, is the element that brings them back to play again.

I have often remarked that all that is really necessary is to put 40 regular megagamers into a hall with some paper, pens, tables and chairs and maybe a die or two, and a game would emerge of its own accord. Well, perhaps I exaggerate to make a point – but it is true that megagamers carry away anecdotal stories of their activities and interaction in a way that does not happen nearly so frequently in other areas of gaming.

On the subject of game size – there is a distinction between the megagame and merely a game with a lot of players. Big open miniature games, whilst providing an impressive visual spectacle are rarely structured into a hierarchy of teams, but more often as a two rows of players facing each other in a ‘multiple two player game’. Such a game would not, in our terms, be a megagame because it would lack, teams, sufficient hierarchy and meaningful interaction.  There is a big difference between a “100 player game” and 50 x 2-player games.

Defining Megagames

Defining a megagame too rigorously can be a tricky business, because the genre covers such a wide range of potential subjects and game structures. There are games that involve a lot of players but they are not megagames, and games with only a few players that are megagames. Over the years I have often described a megagames like a boardgame, but not a boardgame, like a role playing game, but not a role playing game, and like a wargame, but not a wargame. Most megagames combine aspects of all of these, but also involve lots of people usually in the same location interacting in a structured way and following a common emerging narrative around a theme.

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There are some key features that appear in most megagames although I would suggest than none of these features, alone, define the megagame but that if a game has many of these features then it is probably a megagame. If it has none of these features than it definitely isn’t a megagame.

  • Teams. There are teams of players

  • Hierarchy. The teams of players exist in some sort of hierarchy

  • Conflict. There is some sort of conflict, rivalry or adversarial situation

  • Open Possibilities. The game is open-ended and allows a wide range of possibilities through emerging gameplay and player-determined narrative. We often say that the game should accommodate anything that could be done in real life.

  • Meaningfulness. There are relevant and meaningful interactions both within teams and between teams.

  • Urgency. There is time pressure and a sense of urgency. Players cannot have unlimited time to make decisions and the game moves at a pace that is not determined by the players.

These large structural features are distinct from mechanisms and game procedures.

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Superficially many megagames might resemble a board game or a kriegspiel1 expanded to accommodate many more players. In terms of mechanism and game systems this might be true (though we will discuss later the essential differences in the requirements of megagame mechanisms and how they differ, fundamentally, from board games).

Something happens when a game concept is expanded beyond the familiar 2-8 players you might typically find in a role playing game, wargame or board game.

What changes is the how the the experience of participating in a megagame is determined by players’ interaction and communication with other players.

Face to face social interaction is at the core of the megagame experience – a megagame cannot be satisfactorily played in an on-line virtual world (at least not with technologies currently available) or using on line tools because the social interaction in these environments is currently too limited and cannot replicate the actual experience of talking to real people, or groups of people, face to face.

If we take a real world analogy – when world leaders want to discuss or negotiate something important they travel somewhere and meet face to face – because it is worth the time an effort, even for Presidents and Prime Ministers to do this. Skype or Google Hangouts is not the place to have any sort of in depth or subtle negotiation in the real world.

Megagames are usually trying to simulate the real world and this is why getting everyone in the room for a megagame is an essential part of the dynamic and is one of the reasons megagames are popular and very engaging for the participants.

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1 A kriegspiel, or literally ‘wargame’ is a term borrowed from 19th century military wargames, characterised by armies represented by blocks moved around on maps and the results of the campaigns and battles being determined by written rules. There would typically be a map per side, and a master map, so that the opposing sides would be unable to see enemy movements that they would not be able to see in real life. This term is used in the modern sense to distinguish games like this from the more mainstream ‘open’ wargames using miniatures and no hidden movement or fog of war.