File this one under things I Desperately Wanted to Finish and Post a Week Ago. It’s come up a couple of times in the past few entries, so you guys might be aware that for the past few months I’ve been dealing with a decidedly un-fun set of health issues. I won’t bore you guys with the details, but symptoms and path to recovery have done a number on me, so the otherwise ordinary task of drafting up a post ends up taking far longer than it used to.
But no medical malady was about to keep me from participating in my very first Megagame.
Wait, I think I’ve heard of those. Aren’t Megagames kind of like model UN?
Sort of. One thing is for sure: the name is especially apt. Take one part model UN, one part LARP, and one part board game on steroids. Blend in the company of 30-50 new friends over the course of six or so hours and you end up with a Megagame.
That sounds amazing, if maybe a little intense. What’s it like to play?
Short answer: awesome, if also delightfully exhausting.
The longer answer could probably do with a little setting of the proverbial stage. Megagames are the brainchild of a group of British friends who have been coming up with the large scale playable scenarios since the early 80s. Scenarios, which comprise both the fundamental rules and the core narrative of the game, can vary significantly in terms of the subject matter covered and the roles made available to individual players.
Whether the thematic narrative involves clashing Celtic tribes or scheming Renaissance era Italian barons the basic mechanics remain largely the same. Players are assigned a role, each with specific abilities and functions, and are usually tasked with leveraging those to the benefit of whatever team or faction they are placed in. Some players are given access to and control of one or more colossal board game-ish setups, which usually represent combat and/or tactical interactions with the forces of other factions. A combination of interactions in those giant board games and skillful roleplaying will yield a winner, though winning seems to be less a concern than just performing well and producing memorable experiences.
Our theme was ‘Watch the Skies’, a scenario in which teams of five or six players would represent current nations in the lead up to and fallout from humanity’s first point of contact with extraterrestrials. Each ‘country’ had a leader, a vice-presidential type role, a science officer, a military commander, a representative to the UN, and a utility role. Players could also be placed with the invading/visiting aliens or take on the role of a member of the media attempting to report on the historic events as they unfolded.
If you guessed that last one was the role that I got to play, you’d be correct. While it wasn’t too much of a stretch to play a fact-hungry blogger, taking control of the Global Technology Journal gave me a unique vantage to see just how a Megagame worked while still being an active participant. The rules for the media were surprisingly robust and added an interesting dynamic to the game as a whole. Not only did the media players have to try to keep up with, and provide accurate citations for, the sometimes chaotic happenings around us, but we had to do so before any of our media brethren could land the scoop themselves. Balancing the need for timeliness with the accuracy (while simultaneously trying to curry favor with the individual countries) was definitely challenging and made the game go by in a flash. There were precious few moments of downtime and, in all honesty, there was enough content within the media role that it could easily have been split between two people.
The other players seemed like they had similarly engaging tasks. Both the science and military officers spent the majority of the day perched over their respective game boards. The board gaming aspect seemed like some of the tactical turn-based combat from XCOM (for the military players) and the tech tree progression you might see in the Civilization games. You can see variants of these in action in this Shut Up & Sit Down video. Officers controlled individual units with unique abilities and had to respond to various challenges and confrontations, which themselves varied from round-to-round.
Wait, back up a second. What’s this about rounds?
The game itself is played in up to five or six rounds, exactly how many of these depends on how quickly the players progress through their given objectives or how much of the narrative they uncover. For sovereign nations, each round requires the management and deployment of a finite number of resources (team members being one such resource, but financial capital being the most significant factor). Representatives must be sent to the UN where, as you might guess, all formal diplomacy takes place. Scientists and military officers are deployed to their respective game boards to carry out agreed upon plans and the almighty budgets must be balanced. Money becomes especially precious in the later rounds, which allowed for several underhanded and interesting mechanics *cough cough* bribery *cough*. Where once well-cited stories were tough to come by there was a sudden deluge of state secrets at our media disposal…for a price.
Our particular game moved along at a slower pace; we reached only the end of round four. Despite this, those four rounds packed in a lot of action. Aliens landed, other unspeakable horrors were conjured, alliances were forged and shattered, backs were stabbed, and various Earthly entities were abducted into extraterrestrial custody. Our gamemasters (or game weavers as they’re termed in a Megagame) revealed the ‘winners’ along with a breakdown of what was actually going on, including various storylines that we didn’t have a chance to play out.
There were a few bumps during the course of play, but that was to be expected given that this was the first full Megagame run through for our game weavers, and these were generally minor (e.g. a few roles needed additional clarification). The layout of the space where our game took place also presented a few challenges, but those certainly didn’t detract from the overall experience.
LARPers, former debate teamers, model UN veterans, or just fans of human psychology/team dynamics/problem solving will enjoy Megagames. You’ll definitely have the chance to untangle some thorny situations, so make sure that diplomacy skill is maxed out (and maybe deception too, if you’ve got the build points). Snacks and the caffeine source of your liking will also come in handy, especially after hour 3 or so. It’s definitely a unique gaming experience that’s worth sampling.