Blog the Second: A Mega-Game

A couple of weekends ago, I helped run a megagame here in Brisbane. Not sure what a megagame is? The best introduction I can offer is this video from the Shut Up & Sit Down board game show as well as the website for the Megagame Makers who wrote and ran the game on the video. For those who don’t want to click through the links it’s essentially a large group (50 players) role-playing game; it’s somewhat akin to a LARP (Live Action Role Play) but with more of a board game set up and feel.

The game we played was a science fiction game called Watch the Skies (the same as the Shut Up Sit Down game but with a few changes on the alien side). It was set in the years 2020 to 2026 as humanity openly encountered aliens for the first time. Most of the players were playing as the human leaders of a number of world nations; they were the leader, foreign minister, general, and head scientist of their respective nations. Another group of players played a disparate group of alien refugees.

Each turn of the game lasted for 30 minutes. For the first 15 minutes, the “human” players split up into different groups of specialties: the generals went to the world map to deploy their national forces; the foreign ministers went to the United Nations to discuss world issues; head scientists went to their own area to hold conferences, trade technology, and try win awards; and presidents and prime ministers lingered and sometimes tried to hold meetings. For the final 15 minutes of the turn the teams would come back together to discuss what had happened and plan their next turn (which represented six months in game time).

Meanwhile, the alien team were secluded in a separate room to plot and plan. They would send “generals” out to the map table to place their forces and attack the nations of the world, but for the most part they played the game totally isolated from the rest of the group. They were a mysterious presence whose presence everyone else in the game was reacting to. And every now and then the the Earthlings would hear the mysterious chant of “worm, worm, worm, WORM, WORM, WORM!!!” come from beyond the butcher-paper-covered walls of the alien enclave.

This setup created an interesting game dynamic where nobody knew the entirety of what was happening in the game—not even the people running the game! Every person had their own perspective and experience of the game. I spent most of the game at the central map where I could watch the various military forces of the world respond to the many feints of the alien invaders. In a way it was where the action was, but at the same time there was so much I had no idea about. I could merely watch on and speculate as to the plans that both human and alien alike were hatching.

The game culminated in an interesting fashion, driven largely by the unclear information. It seems that the alien refugees were fleeing a greater threat which was pursuing them. Their incursions into Earth were largely to take measure of the humans as a possible defender. In the penultimate turn with their pursuers closing in, the aliens changed tack and tried to form an alliance with the humans at a special session of the United Nations; only by working together could they hope to survive. Unfortunately, at the same time the generals had just received the location of the aliens’ third and final base. They were in a position to take out all three at once; they took the shot.

While some forces took out the aliens’ base in Antarctica and others destroyed a mega-weapon in the Caribbean, China and Russia each launched three nukes at the alien mothership in low orbit. The mothership was brought down but the atmosphere was irradiated. (At this point, delegates in the UN could only wonder with concern what the generals’ cheering at the map table might portend.) With nowhere left to return to, the alien saucers currently away from home initiated suicide attacks against the earth, loaded as they were with a biological weapon of death. However, the human forces were able to minimize the damage these attacks inflicted. Earth had turned back the aliens, but with viral agents loose, an irradiated atmosphere, and another alien force on its way their future looked bleak indeed . . .

All in all, it was an interesting 7-hour game experience. There was a debrief at the end where a member of each role gave their groups perspective on what they’d been doing during the game (and the Russian general tried to explain how what was effectively a world-wide coup happened). It was entertaining to hear the interplay of events during the final few turns. It was an experience I’d be curious to try again sometime, but perhaps next time as a player