All posts by James Kemp

UNSOC Playtest After Action Report

UNSOC = Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos. UNSOC is Jim Wallman’s latest evolution of the megagame. After the 300 player Watch the Skies the next step was multiple simultaneous and linked megagames.

I blogged about Urban Nightmare during its first run. I played as the emergency services with a friend. UNSOC is multiple cities in multiple states. Each city will have political and emergency services player teams in the same way Urban Nightmare has. There will also be state level teams covering politicals, press, emergency services and military. So far there are games planned in several locations, you can sign up to play UNSOC which runs on 1 July 2017.

UNSOC Playtest

This afternoon we played two city games (physically one in Brussels and the other in Cambridge). We also had a State Governor and a national guard player (both in Cambridge). I was the President/White House and Jim was the Pentagon. Jim and I were in our respective homes using the internet for comms.

The players in the cities had a game map with counters on it in a very traditional megagame fashion. This will continue for UNSOC. Being some distance away I couldn’t see this, and that was realistic. I got some updates by email from the Pentagon. There were also some general game updates on Facebook, mainly in a message thread.

Most of the way that I experienced UNSOC was via Twitter. I set up a temporary account @PresidentBrump to follow this, and tried to use #UNSOC when I tweeted, although I often forgot to add it. There were about four or five active people, and you can probably follow the whole game from reading their timelines. Here are some example tweets.

Lessons for UNSOC

  • The White House team probably needs some pre-programmed events to keep them busy with other things until the crisis becomes Federal
  • Twitter is good for public announcements, and OK for a 1:1 private message but not quite so good for proper behind closed doors political deal making.
  • Email is good for getting sitreps from the Pentagon players, but there probably becomes a point when POTUS needs to be in the situation room
  • The White House needs a clear method for speaking to people and communicating orders. Possibly there needs to be something in the briefing materials about what communications methods will be used, and perhaps a suggested list of twitter hashtags for the game day to make it easier for people to find out what is going on.
  • There are several federal agencies that could be called on in UNSOC, not all of it is appropriate to task military players with.
  • The Federal political control needs to factor in the Senate and House views on things. There’ll be concessions needed for support to be given.
  • The President probably shouldn’t be directly played, there really aren’t that many decisions to be made. The Chief of Staff and a Press Secretary, maybe Secretary of Homeland Security or Defense could be played too if there were a lot of Federal players. When those players decide it’s above their pay grade then control can be the President.

Logistics of Megagames

Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics

English: Logistics
English: Logistics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Continuing the theme of advice for new megagamers I’m going to talk about the logistics of playing in Megagame Makers style megagame (like Watch the Skies). This is player logistics though, not in game logistics (see the military player advice for that).

Logistics of Megagames

Megagames are juggernauts. Once they are rolling they don’t stop. So you need to be prepared for that. Also you need to be ready for everything you need to do during the day. There won’t be time to stop and prep mid-megagame. Even if there is, you’ll want to use that time to play and plan and talk to the other players.


Some people like to dress up in character. This is good for adding flavour and helping you get into role. However it isn’t part of the megagame as designed. You can pretty much wear what you like (subject to the usual caveats around public decency).

What you do want are:

  • Comfortable shoes, you’ll spend a lot of the day on your feet and/or walking about
  • clothes with multiple pockets, so that you can stash separate lots of money/counters in them and also pens and notepaper
  • layers so that you can adjust your temperature depending on the heat/cold
  • a top you can stick a sticker or pin a badge to, megagames tend to have a name sticker and a role badge

Food and Drink

As said above a Megagame doesn’t stop for anything. So you need to make sure that you have brought in everything that you might want to eat or drink during the day. Depending on venue there is sometimes a café dedicated to supporting the megagamers. So bring plenty of change with you just in case.

Megagames give you more mental and physical exercise than you would expect. So bring extra snacks with you. If you can bring shareable sweets or similar with you then it is good for team morale. Especially when produced about 2pm! Player morale is vital jn megagames. I’ve seen otherwise strong teams fall apart because their player morale has collapsed.

Have a good breakfast before you arrive at the venue. Bring plenty of no-nalcoholic drink in with you. Have fresh fruit and a healthy lunch that you can nibble on through the morning. Bring out the sugary stuff after lunch. Megagames get critical around lunchtime, the play is building up for a finale and plans need to be unleashed no later than 1430 to have a chance of coming off.

Game related Logistics

You are comfortably dressed, and you have the right food and drink to keep you going. Before the game you read your briefing. So what else do you need for the game?

  • pens and paper for making and sending notes to other players
  • dry wipe markers for writing on laminated maps & counters (only if you have them)
  • printed copy of your briefing, especially if there is a playsheet with a rules summary
  • small post-its or similar to mark units on a map (small scissors too if you have them) or blutac and little pieces of card

Objectives – Megagame advice

Objectives form the basis of game play in megagames. I’d like to start here by reminding you of three things:

  1. The British Army’s master principle of war;

    Selection and maintenance of the aim is the master principle of war

  2. Clausewitz‘s most cited quote;

    War is the continuation of politics by other means

  3. the British Olympic rowing team mantra

    “will it make the boat go faster?

These are all totally relevant to success as a megagamer (and in life).

Continue reading Objectives – Megagame advice

New Megagamer Advice

My ten year old son is about to become a Megagamer. We are scheduled to play in two Megagame Maker games later this year. So I’ve been thinking about how to ensure that his first games are fun. Part of that is to ensure that he is engaged. He’s going because he has asked to, not because I’ve made him come. That’s my first bit of advice for a new Megagamer. Play because you want to.

My experience as a megagamer

It’s a long time since I became a megagamer. My first megagame was Death of Fascism, at the Staff College in Camberley. There were over 100 players and dozens of umpires. I was a junior staff officer in OKH, I never saw most of the other players except in the plenary briefings. I do recall being involved in the arrest and court martial of Jodl for failing to obey orders. I also recall the controversial Hitler order to shorten the line to introduce a reserve. It was so good that I signed up for every other megagame going. To date I’ve done about 75, almost a third of them as control. I’ve also seen them being designed and contributed bits to a handful of games. I even have a couple of unplayed megagame designs.

I’ve learnt a lot from being a megagamer. It has helped me refine my negotiating skills, improved my rapid analysis ability, and helped in dealing with difficult people (NB mostly they aren’t really difficult, but they can present that way as part of the game). I’ve also had a lot of fun, and I’ve not ever felt that it was hard work.

Advice for a new megagamer

You’ll already have had the advice from the megagame makers site. It’s the official word on advice for the new megagamer. What follows is my personal executive summary, I’ll try and expand on them if I have time.

Here are some bullets to bear in mind when you play in your first few megagames

  • Megagames are all about people interacting, so you need to talk to lots of people during the game.
  • Make everything you do about achieving your objectives
  • Help other people to achieve their objectives, megagames work best as team games
  • Always look like a hard target, even when you are not
  • Don’t make threats you can’t carry out (although once you have a reputation you can play on it)
  • An adequate plan robustly implemented will do better than optimising, and probably get you inside other players decision loop
  • When you need to take someone down finish them off quickly to remove the threat of retaliation, they’ll get another interesting role
  • read the briefings before the game to understand the mechanics and the period, it will enable you to make good decisions rapidly on the day
  • the megagame waits for no-one, so get moving and engage it

Got any other advice for a new megagamer? Remember your first time and want to share? Leave a comment.

More advice for a new megagamer