For his 70th birthday Dave Boundy decided to run his Washington Conference Megagame again. It’s at least the fourth time Washington Conference has been run as a Megagame. I’ve previously played as a Japanese Admiral, although this time I was one of the press team. Also, unlike recent megagames the entire cast list were veteran megagamers, most of us in the 50 to 100 range, with a core coming close to double that.
So it was rather old school as recent megagames go, not to mention that this was a different sort of megagame from the recent experiences, being all about negotiations. There were no mechanisms or control in the megagame, just players.
Just in case you’ve stumbled here, the game was about the 1921 Washington Conference which was aimed at naval arms limitations, primarily focused on the Pacific. The main countries involved were the US, the British Empire, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and China. The key flashpoint is the Western Pacific and China. Notably only the victors of the first world war are present, and they’re setting the rules.
The other main thing on the agenda is China. China helped the allies during the war and is looking for them to meet their promises and establish a single Chinese state that can bring stability. There are internal problems with warlords and some Soviet sponsored communist rebels.
Historically the conference established size limits on battleships of 35,000 tonnes displacement. It also limited the main world navies to a ratio of 5:5:3 for the UK:US:JP and the French & Italians at 1.8.
Washington Conference Megagame
We had five members of the Baltimore Sun press team. We were playing real reporters from the period with their own agendas. I was Hector Bywater, a military journalist.
We all wrote articles on different parts of the Washington Conference. There was a political track and a military one and a number of subcommittees. I followed the main military committee, and spoke to others between meetings.
Every hour of game time was a week of the conference. We put out a physical paper (one or two sides of three column A4 in 11 point) every hour. I ended up physically collating the paper every time because that’s a real life skill that I have. So I have a copy of all the issues we produced.
For the most part all the stories were written during the game. There are four that were pre-generated and those can be identified from the fact that they are the only ones with pictures.
I only realised after the game that there were a load of period photos, adverts and some more articles that we could also have used to add to the material that we produced.
Overall I enjoyed being a press player at Washington Conference. It was engaging, entertaining and also I felt I had an impact on the game, even if it was only about prompting the complaints the editor got about my articles!
Alexander and I played arms merchants in the Blood and Thunder 4 pirate megagame on Saturday. It was mostly a fun game, although there were a couple of sticky points for us as merchants.
I was cast as Theophilus Blodwell, a Glaswegian on the run from the British Authorities. As well as being an arms trader with a fine grasp of the importance of economics (i.e. that the money should end up with me) I was also a member of the ‘Protectors of the Seas’. The Protectors were a secret society opposed to the ‘Sons of the Sea’. The latter group were collecting ancient magical artefacts and intending to use them to bring about the end of days. So I had a side mission to identify and stop the Sons of the Sea.
Alexander was the owner of Weygand and Sons, and his side mission was to find six model ships and then to play a wargame with them involving at least four other people. He had to write the wargame rules himself, which he did right at the beginning of the day. I suspect we’ll need to bring them to Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group the next time we go so that he can try them out to see if they would have worked had he found sufficient model ships.
Blood and Thunder 4
I’ve lost count of how many megagames I’ve played or been control for. This was badged as Blood and Thunder 4, but I don’t recall the first three.
Blood and Thunder is set on an unspecified Caribbean island under Spanish governance in the early 18th Century. There were a number of pirate ships, each with a crew of about 15 players. When at sea they worked cooperatively to find and board merchant ships. The faster they did this the more they can do in their sea time.
Every ship had scheduled port time. During this time they could sell things they’d captured, replenish consumables and effect repairs. They could also carouse in the taverns and pursue plot points with people from the town or from other vessels.
Welcome to San Serif
My role in Blood and Thunder 4 was as the salesman for Weygand and Sons. Weygand and Sons was one of three large merchant companies on the island of San Serif. We all sold arms and ammunition, as well as acting as buyers for cargo. Alexander was the owner of Weygand and Sons, so he was my boss for the megagame.
For me the game fell into three quite distinct phases, all of which had different challenges. These were:
The first hour or so, where the pirates weren’t in port at all
The early trading period, where we were still finding out how it worked
The end game, where I mostly did other things than sell stuff
Blood and Thunder – beginning
Although the game properly started at 10, we had a whole hour as traders with pretty much nothing to do. None of the ships came into port until 11. We needed a little bit of time to shake out, and talk amongst ourselves, but a whole hour was too much. It was also too early in the game to be able to start the side plots. That said Alexander used the time productively to write the naval wargame rules he’d need with six ship models.
I did do a bit of negotiation around supplying the town’s shore battery with powder and shot in return for tax exemption. It almost worked, but the mayor vetoed it because he needed a source of income and exempting us from cash payments would have eaten into that. In the end I got undercut on the supply contract by one of the other merchants who decided to sell it at cost.
Blood and Thunder – the ships come in
At 11 the first two ships came in. However the pickings were slim. Inexperienced crews had (correctly for them) chosen the lower risk routes to raid. This got them less cargo. Also what they did pick up wasn’t that valuable. We also suffered a bit as merchants because our warehouses were at the back of the room from the pirate ships. They had to get past the street traders and the taverns to reach us. By the time we saw them some of the valuable (to us, but not to the pirates) cargo had been bartered with the street traders.
We had another problem at this point too. We didn’t have much cash by way of a float, and the locals taxed us before the trading was complete, making it thinner still. So we weren’t in a position to buy cargo for cash. There were three traders, and two pirate ships. By chance I got missed by the main officers buying for the ships. I did do some trading with individual pirates, but it was almost all barter and for low value items. It was at this time that I picked up a strange eldritch item that glowed in the dark. I recognised it as an item of power and gave the pirate who offered it to me a blunderbuss in exchange.
The bartering continued, between attempts to convert newly acquired stock to cash within the townsfolk. I picked up several bottles of wine, a couple of snuff boxes, anf a valuable necklace that turned out not to be convertible into cash that reflected the barter value. I’d expected a bit of this, but I was surprised at the scale.
The wine came with a quality rating. All the ones I handled had ratings between 1 and 10. However I’m assured by one of my customers that there were bottles up to 12 in quality.
My expectation had been that lower quality wine would be essentially worth the same as rum. That is it would have a use to players, but would be worth more than one gold per bottle (maybe multiples per gold). The higher value stuff would have a value above that of the standard, and the top values would attract a premium.
As far as I could tell only one player had an interest in wine. I sold him an 8 for 10 gold early in the game. So I valued the rest accordingly. I never sold another bottle because he raised the bar to a minimum of 10. I didn’t count, but I had over a dozen bottles at the end of the game, most between 4 and 8 in quality. My estimation is that there were over a hundred bottles in circulation based on the amount the merchants held and the number of times we turned down offers to trade wine.
As a fix to this there ought to have been a bit in the social reputation rules about consuming wine. It would have driven a bigger market which would have made the many bottles in circulation valuable for both us and the pirates. I’d have given a point for publicly consuming a bottle (per person you supplied). I’d give another point of the quality of the wine was higher than the person’s social standing. This would have made the quality people drink the nicer stuff.
There was an entry in the player guide about valuable items. The suggestion was that they should be worth a minimum of 5 gold. I accepted a few in barter before I realised that they had no value. Not one of the players I encountered wanted one of these, and I could only convert them to cash for 3 gold each.
The idea in the game rules was that players would want these inherently valuable items. However there was no game purpose to them and no-one seemed to have them for a side plot, unlike the strange coins, model ships and the scraps of paper.
Everything needs to have a game purpose, even if just to soak money out of the game. However that latter purpose needs to be driven by people wanting them to meet personal objectives rather than as cruft.
There was a point about half twelve when I hadn’t sold anything for cash and had run out of money. My personal morale plummeted to the point where I was about to ask to be re-roled. I couldn’t quite see the value of trading as none of the pirate ships could afford our big ticket items, and the individual pirates didn’t have enough cash to pay for the replacement values of the goods O could sell them.
I wallowed a little, for maybe five minutes, and spoke to my trade control about it. Particularly the feedback on the so-called ‘valuable’ items. He was sympathetic, and I know he spoke to Jim about it.
Thankfully I held my nerve on the roling. I’m a veteran megagamer, I lost count some years ago. One thing I’ve learnt, and remembered on Saturday, was that player morale personally is often the difference between success and failure.
At that point a pirate bought a rapier from me for 25 gold and the Governor’s secretary paid 30 gold for some medical instruments. Even though I had to buy the medical instruments I was solvent again.
The next wave of pirate ships that came into port were cash rich. Morale soared, and trading resumed in earnest. I lost track of all the individual trades, several times I acquired merchandise after selling it. This practice saved me from large losses when the cost of powder and cannonballs doubled. I was able to renegotiate those before the deal was finalised. My biggest deal was with the captain of the Queen’s Revenge. She bought a heavy cannon and some powder and ball for it with 100 gold in cash.
In the space of less than four hours we’d gone from being insolvent to being cash rich, with over 300 gold in the company treasury. I had 23 gold personally (from a 10% commission on sales), along with a stock of interesting items (I’d bought the valuable items and some of the better wine from the company).
Blood and Thunder end game
Towards the end of the game, when I was happy that we’d traded enough to see us solvent to the end, I started to worry about my side plot as a Protector of the Sea.
The Governor’s secretary had finished his obsession with dissecting animals and was now looking out for strange items. I found this suspicious, suggesting that he might be one of the Sons of the Sea that I was supposed to stop.
I hatched a backup plan to stash some gunpowder at his house to blow him up. Before carrying it out though I had a chat with him about these items he was looking for, under the pretext of having been offered one earlier and that I could possibly get him one. I said that I collected antiquarian artefacts, older than the colony.
He decided to risk it and asked me if I’d heard of the secret societies. I confirmed that I knew of them, but thought them somewhat shady. He outed himself as a Protector, so I confirmed that I was too. By chance he’d infiltrated the Sons of the Sea. I was able to do so too and compiled a list of members. I also discovered that they were about to conduct a ritual, although it wouldn’t work because they’d been misled about what they needed for it. The Governor’s secretary and I also had some of the components.
So we told the Colonel that there was a treasonous plot going on in the tavern. I went along with a couple of loaded blunderbusses to support the police action. As it happened I only needed to provide moral support. The regular troops easily subdued the Sons of the Sea and they were taken to prison pending execution.
The game ended there, not because of us busting the Sons of the Sea, but because it was 1630 and The Rackham’s Ghost had just been sunk!
I played the leader of a terrorist organisation in the Divided Land megagame. Divided Land was about the situation in Palestine in 1947, we played from March through to an agreement on partition in August 1947. We then made plans on what would happen when the agreement came into force at 00:01 on 1st January 1948. Predictably there was an Arab invasion….
I was cast as Menachem Begin, the leader of Irgun and a future Prime Minister of Israel. Begin described himself as a terrorist in his autobiography, he made no bones about ensuring a viable Jewish state in the land of Israel. Irgun were extremists, they wanted all of the biblical lands of Israel, including Judea and Samaria (including some of present day Jordan). Begin also blamed the British for not rescuing Jews from the Holocaust by failing to grant visas in sufficient numbers before the war, and failing to act to interdict the railways carrying Jews to be murdered by the Nazis.
Irgun were a breakaway faction and outside the Jewish assembly. The British had a price on Begin’s head of £25,000 (about the same as the US offered for bin Laden). So Irgun are on the outside and hiding. But there are a lot of angry Jews who agree with the view of never again will Jews rely on others for their protection, nor for retaliation against wrongs to the Jewish people.
We started with a brief discussion on policy. We decided that we needed to keep up the pressure on the British, and that we only needed to act against the Arabs in retaliation to attacks on Jews. We had 15 active cells of about 20 people (we recruited women as well as men). We could afford to run half of these every fortnight to give people time to rest between operations. We also needed to find arms and money to sustain operations.
In March 1947 we ran a campaign of bank robberies and also a planned kidnapping of a British Staff officer. The first campaign wasn’t without setbacks, we did do some banks, but some of our guys got arrested. The second was better, we netted an Intelligence Corps Colonel. We decided to pass him on to the Palmach for interrogation because we didn’t have that skillset.
It was about this point that the Jordanians approached us off the record. Through back channels we agreed to work against the Grand Mufti in return for arms and other support. I was suspicious, but the arms were supplied without strings and I had wanted to kill the Grand Mufti anyway.
The British decided almost immediately to reinforce Palestine and started to make arrangements to bring in a Mechanised Brigade. I left my partner in crime to arrange some weapons smuggling from Europe while I went off into Gaza to blow up the railway line and lay an ambush for the repair crews. My thought process here was that if we ambushed them it would increase the impact and make the British deploy more troops on protecting very long lines of communication.
Surprisingly I wasn’t the only one acting against the railway in Gaza. Adherents of the Grand Mufti were also doing the same thing a couple of miles up the track. It also turned out that there were no immediate repair attempts.
Today I played in Undeniable Victory, Ben Moore’s megagame of the Iran Iraq War. I was an Iranian Radical and a member of the Council, starting off as the Procurement Minister responsible for buying military kit.
I was a late entrant to Undeniable Victory, getting a place because someone else couldn’t make it. That said I was pretty happy with being cast as a radical Iranian. I like political roles, and being just off the side of the main targets.
Procurement Minister was senior enough to be interesting, yet junior enough not to be an automatic target. I was one of three radicals in the seven member Council. There was always going to be a move to displace one of us to change the balance of power.
The Conservatives had the First Minister and Interior Minister to start with. My fellow Radicals were the Defence Minister and the Infrastructure Minister. The Moderates had the Finance and Foreign Ministries. Ayatollah Khomeini was umpire controlled and mostly absent dealing with religious matters.
Undeniable Victory – Procurement
As a radical council member I deliberately skipped over some of the military bits of the briefing for Undeniable Victory. I didn’t think it would be right for me to have a detailed understanding of the combat system when there were players in the military HQs responsible for briefing me on what they needed. I started off with a straightforward policy of equipping the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps with good quality equipment so that they were at least as good as the army.
My chief procurement officer in the military high command (Tim) was a moderate. We had a bit of conflict sorting out how to work things, but we came to a workable agreement. I became aware very early on that he was doing his own deals to get kit as stuff I hadn’t ordered was appearing. Also kit I’d ordered for the IRGC was going to the regular army.
I didn’t bother doing anything about this as I was spending more time involved in setting political leadership in the Council. There were several interesting reminders of the fundamentals of the revolution when we were dealing with events. (As an aside the events were really very well scripted and also had clear game impacts whenever we chose an option.)
Trial & Exoneration
This almost became my undoing. The Radicals, under the august leadership of the Defence Minister, narrowly failed to boot a moderate off the Council and replace them with a fourth Radical. This was followed by us swapping me with the Interior Minister (pictured above). The latter immediately brought a case against me for corruption and treason by way of evidence he’d collected of dealings with the Israelis.
I denied this vehemently and blamed Tim for any transgressions, mentioning that he’d been acting without authorisation on other matters. Witnesses were called and my version got some corroboration. So Tim was sent for and he immediately confessed to getting kit off the Israelis for free. His testimony was very eloquent and I would have applauded if I’d not been so relieved that I wasn’t going to end up on a lamppost. The Council accepted Tim had acted in the best interests of the revolution and he was warned not to act without authorisation from the Procurement Minister again. He was also sent to a re-education retreat to contemplate the error of his ways. (OOC he was told to go stand on Anerley Station platform for a minute before returning to the game).
If I ever had to give advice to another megagamer it would be that you don’t want to let me be Interior Minister unless you’ve got a lot of people you want to see dead. Dave, our radical leader and a veteran megagamer, was well aware of this when he organised the swap. He also managed to change the form of the government to advantage the radical position. This sowed the seed for our Undeniable Victory.
Sadly for Dave he was the victim of a council reorgisation in the following season. We’d been too successful too early, and as the faction leader he got hit. He was swapped out with the Chief of the Army. Alex, a Conservative became the new Defence Minister and lasted there to almost the end of the game. I let the other Radical, Callum, take leadership in the Council for a bit.
Touring the Front
I went on a tour of the front to audit players and procurement to make sure there were no chemical weapons in play. This was in response to allegations that we had used them. The front line visit was an eye opener, I’d previously had no real idea how things were going because the reports back were vague at best.
Back in the Council we’d suffered a massive funding cut for the Interior Ministry. All the money was going into procurement and social support. The latter was something I was strongly in favour of, and I’d rather not repress the people unless they were acting against the spirit of the revolution.
I made the political dissidents kick off by blaming them for everything. This played out well because they blew up a military HQ player and got him out of my beard.
At this point the war was going very favourably for us. Militarily it really was looking like an undeniable victory. However the Ayatollah intervened because he didn’t think we were playing nicely enough with each other. He was assuredly correct. Some subtle agreement and positive suggestions couched in suitably revolutionary language helped manoeuvre others into actions that suited my agenda. I also did a deal with the Conservative First Minister to try and position the Moderates to take the fall when the time came.
The radicals got the Iranian war goal shifted to total war and we also promoted obedience to the Ayatollah’s desires to strike hard at the little satan. An election also happened at this time and the Moderates campaigned on an anti-Arab platform. The Conservative faction Wendy anti-colonial and we chose anti-imperial. We also chose to lose the vote, playing out worst card. It didn’t make any difference to the Council freedom of action and we came out with our radical credentials intact and a better chance of winning another crucial vote (I kept back the Ace, which was the highest card possible for resolving votes, this was very useful later).
The Council buckled down and focused on the war. We came under increasing pressure from the USA, via the Foreign Minister (Bernie) to end the war. Bernie was a moderate and had taken a very technocratic position, acting in the best interests of the foreign relations agenda throughout. It was clear he had a specific agenda, but as far as I could tell it broadly matched mine, so I supported him. I even did so when the Conservative faction tried to swap him off the Council. He was someone we could work with.
Undeniable Victory – ‘Peace’
Shortly after this we suffered a massive cruise missile strike against the southern oil terminals. This was the US deadline to negotiate running out. Our undeniable victory forced them to act directly. We’d also lost half our revenue because the oil price had collapsed. So it was time to sue for peace. But this needed careful handling, we still needed the undeniable victory for the home front.
The Council discussion was interesting. Ollie and I saw the inevitable, as did Bernie. Others were for continuing to spend scarce funds on procurement at the cost of social support. At this point there was another bomb in the Council. Chris, the Procurement Minister, was killed but the rest of us were fine. He was rapidly replaced by another Conservative from Army HQ. I later discovered that Tim, the procurement officer, had been behind the bomb as revenge for beingput on trial for dealing with the Israelis.
We then got informed that Ayatollah Khomeini was gravely unwell and believed that he was dying. It was time to pick a successor. Callum and I had a quick chat, I over-ruled him as the Radical choice on the grounds that he’d been happy, as Finance Minister, to cut social support and buy tanks when the war was effectively over.
The Moderates surprised me at this point. Rather than nominating a Council member Bernie went off and found the Air Marshal and spoke eloquently about all his many successes and sacrifices for the revolution. It looked like he might actually get picked without a vote. So I also praised him and said that he was a true hero and should absolutely definitely replace on the Cpuncil. whoever might be chosen as the successor to Ayatollah Khomeini. I also prayed that it might be some time before the successor need take up post as the new Ayatollah.
So it went to a vote. I played the Ace I’d kept earlier. Thankfully Allah was great and saw that I submitted to his wisdom.
Ending the War
It wasn’t quite over yet. Although on his sick bed we managed to present a united front and persuade the Ayatollah that the surest way to safeguard the revolution was to discuss peace with the Iraqis. He agreed and a peace conference was set up. Head of State, First Minister and Foreign Ministers were invited. As the designated successor I tagged along. Mostly I stood at the edge and listened.
In the background news of the peace had spread. My fellow Radicals in the army were upset and worried that the Moderates had sold out the revolution. They marched on Teheran with a Division of the IRGC. I took time away from the peace conference to deal with the purge. One of the arrested Moderates (the previous Finance Minister) confessed to being involved in a plot to assassinate Ayatollah Khomeini just before the Americans had forced the peace conference. He was promptly sent for a show trial. The Radical Generals were told not to be too indiscriminate and to make sure there was some sort of evidence against the people they were arresting. It was clear I wasn’t going to be able to stop them completely.
I then got a call from the Ayatollah. He was very worried about all the shooting he could hear. Was a counter revolution under way? I reassured him that there was evidence that the Moderates had been planning to kill him, and that we were reinforcing the revolution by arresting those involved.
That was where the game ended. A tentative peace deal underway and a second revolution in Iran to strengthen the radical position. Certainly the Radicals appear to be in the ascendancy for the next few years. Iran will rise rebuilt as a shining example of radical Islam.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Last Saturday I was control for East Asia for Watch the Skies 3. This picked up where Watch the Skies 2 left off, with some modifications to rules and briefings etc to make it flow much better. There were a number of obvious improvements, the media being a prime example.
There were more journalists all on the same GNN team and they had the technology to pull it off. As well as a laser printer they also had a projector and screen for their twitter feed. This made it easier for people to follow the headlines. There were also several hardcopy single sheet newspaper issues too. Here are some sample tweets from GNN
Another feature was that everyone knew the aliens were there. So the emphasis of game play was different. There was only one attempted SIF interception in our region. That was foiled by Vietnam escorting the alien shuttles in to land. After a couple of turns people gave up entirely on this and all the SIF where just used to scout.
Cetaceans featured in Watch the Skies 3 also. The aliens had been in contact with them in Watch the Skies 2. By the time WTS3 started there was enough translation to allow human – cetacean dialogue, albeit slowly and under controlled conditons. In East Asia this manifested as a Vietnamese embassy to the Cetaceans built in the Spratly Islands.
One thing about both the very large Watch the Skies games is that it is practically impossible to know what was going on. As map control I can only tell you what was going on at my map. I literally have no idea what the player teams for my region were doing away from the map, nor what happened in other regions.
We had two natural catastrophes in our region. There was an earthquake in Taiwan in turn 2 and then around turn 6 another major earthquake followed by a tsunami just off the Philippines.
In the Taiwanese earthquake we had a good international response and more than enough humanitarian assistance. However sorting the cracked nuclear reactor out took longer. The issue was that it needed a scientist to sort it out. So the first scientist along didn’t have anything suitable for fixing up nuclear reactors. He did have a disaster recovery advance but it was about people and psychology rather than engineering. I ruled that this helped solve the application of aid, but couldn’t solve the nuclear reactor problem. The second scientist just had lots of genetics and biology advances. A third scientist with the advanced disaster recovery, which also included engineering finally fixed it.
When the Philippines tsunami hit it was much worse. Many Cetaceans were washed ashore around the affected area, not just in the Philippines. The scale was larger as well, but fortunately the UN were ready for it. A side effect was also a series of criminal gangs trying to profit from the disaster. The Philippines was offered military aid to deal with this from both Vietnam and Indonesia, which it accepted. It took some months but law and order was restored. Generous donations (49 Megabucks in total, plus four aid teams) sorted out the infrastructure repairs too.
Throughout this there were several other things going on.
International cooperation was sorting out sea pollution
Covert action stirred up trouble with the Chinese, lots of special actions being used covertly against the Chinese government
South Korea attempting to persuade North Korea to re-unify
Pollution was a new factor in Watch the Skies 3. This was in part because sea dwellers were now played characters and there was a need to have something that showed human impact on them. The basic mechanism was that each sea area had a counter on it with six strength points. People could attempt to clean up the pollution at 3 Megabucks a time. However unless there was political agreement to limit pollution from all nations bordering a sea area the pollution regenerated a strength box every turn. In practical terms the pollution limitation manifested as a cap on country income (PR) one level above the start level (PR=6).
In East Asia there was a treaty agreed fairly early on, certainly pollution clean-up started during the aftermath of the Taiwan earthquake. I think that this was driven by Vietnam’s diplomacy with the Cetaceans. The PR cap only seriously affected two of the nations in East Asia and then only in one turn. Both it turned out had other things to achieve that cost them a PR level that they offset by their increase. They had deliberately decided to implement the reduction to stay within the cap when they were next eligible for an increase.
As in Watch the Skies 2 South Korea put a lot of diplomatic effort into reunification. I ruled that they had moved the North Korean officials from being hostile to the idea to where they were prepared to discuss it with the Dear Leader. This took most of the game.
Dear Leader was quite taken by the offer to unify Korea. He had always known that all the people of Korea would welcome him as their Dear Leader. When it was broached that perhaps that wasn’t what the South Koreans were suggesting he was less than pleased. The head of mission found himself facing an anti aircraft cannon.
On realising that the Dear Leader was a major obstacle to reunification South Korea decided to smooth the path. A sniper team were sent North and successfully assassinated the Dear Leader. However, this just enraged the new Dear Leader who mobilised North Korea and started throwing rockets and artillery shells over the border. Fortunately the game ended at that point…
Anyway my role was to keep an eye on the British war cabinet and ensure that they stayed suitably strategic and global while still providing input to the player teams at Command and Corps level. The game needs some player induced friction from the top, especially when Churchill has a wizard wheeze and send a Division Commander one of his famed ACTION THIS DAY notes.
The structure of the megagame was in two parts. From arrival until 1230 was a planning session simulating July and August 1940. Following that the German invasion lands in early September, and the game moves to 12 hour turns every 40 minutes or so.
Don’t Panic Political Game
The political game started pretty much on arrival for the players, before even the plenary briefing. I had a stack of laminated political event cards to throw in if the war cabinet looked less busy or was spending too much time in the details of the military game. I also had a panic track to keep score of how well the war was going for Britain and how the war cabinet were contributing to that. The panic track was on a 100 point scale and started at 50. Every 10 points the British got a modifier to their supply state depending on the direction of travel.
At the very start of the game I put some ground rules down for the war cabinet players.
There needed to be an official record of all decisions by the war cabinet
All decisions had to be by consensus, effectively giving everyone present a veto if they were uncomfortable with the direction
Collective responsibility applied to decisions, failure to abide by that would lose them political capital
Decisions that were unpopular or against advice required political capital to be spent (which was sometimes returned if the outcome was good)
Actions that were carried out by other players needed to be communicated by a war cabinet player to the appropriate person to make it happen
There were some interesting discussions at Cabinet, (I have retained the minutes and will make them available over on Milmud). To start with there was a discussion about the Royal Family. Should they be dispersed or remain in the UK. It was decided that at the very least the King should be seen to remain until the last sensible moment. Other members, especially the two Princesses, would be kept away from likely invasion landing areas and removed from the country if things started to go badly.
The Royal Navy
The next major debate was on the Royal Navy. Sadly Admiral Pound seemed to be asleep for much of this, which would have been OK had it not been for the consequences following the decision to move most of the fleet from Scapa Flow to Portsmouth. The Cabinet Secretary made a number of interjections to the debate and attempted to put context on the importance of keeping the Kriegsmarine bottled up and the disastrous consequences should the Germans get capital ships in amongst the supply convoys. The politicians in the war cabinet were concerned about the fact that it would take the capital ships at least 24 hours to respond to an invasion across the Channel from Scapa Flow and they couldn’t be sure how well the RAF and army would be able to defend against seaborne assault without naval assistance.
As it turned out (and I listened in to the three way debate with the German Admiral Lutyens) the threat wasn’t as clear to the Germans as it looked to me. Lutyens waited before committing to action, and even then didn’t commit all his resources to breaking out into the Atlantic. Lutyens concern was, rightly for him, that the end result for the Kriegsmarine was likely to be loss of all vessels that they put in the Atlantic. What Lutyens either didn’t seem to realise was that this was potentially a game winning move for the Germans. His fleet unchecked in the Atlantic caused supply difficulties for the British. It also increased the panic track by 3 points every turn.
Once the German fleet was out it created all sorts of bother for the war cabinet. They debated moving Force H out Gibraltar, and more Cabinet Secretary intervention was required to ensure the war cabinet was properly advised. It was about that point that the Italians started their offensive in North Africa…
The Germans invaded on a fairly narrow front, about 40km, in the Brighton to Portsmouth area. A planning failure (they didn’t follow the orders they’d been given) meant that they didn’t have enough transport units in the first wave, so they couldn’t move supplies inland. This limited the operating radius of the landed troops to about 8km from the beach. Also the Germans sent armour in the first wave, but couldn’t unload any of it without a port (which was clear in the briefings).
To help things further along the RAF got air superiority over the channel fairly rapidly, and unlike the Royal Navy, sank a significant proportion of the invasion fleet. The Royal Navy frankly didn’t know whether or not it was coming or going. The army reacted as fast as it could to the landings, but was hampered by a combination of shortage of supplies, rail capacity and their organic speed of movement. Mainly the army was a bit further East than the German landing spot. About this time the Royal Navy lost a battleship to a combination of mines and u-boats, this didn’t help panic levels even though the cabinet suppressed the news.
The panic track went into overdrive at this point, and the war cabinet got quite panicky. Their reaction helped things, although not as much as the RAF shooting down dozens of Luftwaffe and sinking about half of the German transport fleet. About two days into the invasion the front stabilised and the Germans largely became unable to land more troops or supplies. They also stopped making progress inland too. The Royal Navy lost a cruiser in the Channel too, damaging the two German Capital ships and driving them off to Brest.
All through this time I was also throwing political events at the war cabinet, making them worry about the Soviets, Japanese, Italians and the Americans, as well as domestic issues. Churchill spoke to President Roosevelt and Lord Halifax spoke to the Irish foreign minister, neither with any real success, although FDR was sympathetic.
Gradually the British Army started to get a grip of the situation (largely after Churchill personally gripped the senior officers). The RAF helped this with carefully targetted bombing of German Divisional HQs and supply dumps. In Portsmouth the Royal Marines held out although surrounded, aided by naval gunfire support over open sights. Even the Press (10 issues over the afternoon) finally became pro-British with the headline news from an anonymous German commander that their situation was hopeless.