Today I took part in a day-long 300+ person megagame in London, called Watch the Skies 3, with teams playing various nations, alien factions, whales and even the Vatican. It was bizarre and crazy and unforgettable! During the course of play aliens kidnapped many civilians, many countries reached the verge of nuclear war, the whales found out how to get to space, Israel tried to follow them and a mysterious group called The Others remained a complete mystery (to me, anyway).
I played as PR Director for Wimpey Fergusson, a weapons and technology company. Our remit was to make profit and I was determined to both sell and make our company well-known. Unfortunately I was not prepared in the least for how chaotic and fast-paced the game would be, and all of my pre-planning was for naught when the game got underway.
Out first crisis at Wimpey Fergusson was the lack of a CEO – the player booked in for the role was off ill, meaning we were down to just 3 people. The Deputy CEO rose to the task, but it meant we were immediately understaffed for the tasks before us. None of the three of us had played the game before, and we quickly discovered we hadn’t a clue what was going on.
We set about selling and building and trying to make deals, but the division of tasks wasn’t easy and we were seriously overwhelmed. By the end of turn 2 (of 10) I felt shattered, and could have sword half the day must have gone past. But we persevered, and Control (the rules people) gave us some tips on what we were doing wrong. Tips that we were in serious of need of!
Going forward we managed to set up more alliances, particularly with African nations. Rising corporation tax in South Africa made us look for a good place to relocate, and we nearly landed a great deal with the USA, but they didn’t like our exclusivity demands. Thankfully I managed to arrange with France to get a zero tax deal, with research sharing, an exclusivity arrangement and the rights to build a manufacturing plant there. The French President was most generous in this I must say, and looked very handsome in his beret!
But the real fun came later on when we realised our agents were sitting around unused and they could be put to much more use. I managed to convince various nations to buy our covert services, sometimes not bothering to actually send agents out as I realised I could just feed them false information. Yay! Turkey wanted to assassinate the Iranian Ayatollah, but Control told me we couldn’t kill a player. Which is strange, because a few turns later they let us do exactly that… Our CEO organised a coup in Venezuala, where the Venezualan President had been feeding his citizens and military to the aliens. Probably our greatest achievement in the game.
As the rounds went on the profit cycle continued. It became very hard for us to really compete with other corporations because we had no research arm, and our attempts at funding and sharing research from others brought in almost nothing. I spent a lot of time trying to butter up officials from every country, but with little effect. We snagged a little more money, I arranged for us to help with infrastructure building to unite Korea, and we did our best to sound good to our shareholders. Turkey paid for an agent to uncover the perpetrators of a dam explosion, but I just pocketed the money and made up an answer after speaking to a couple of nearby countries. Profit!
The game ended at some point, I’m not sure what really happened, but we came second-last in the corporation rankings. Overall I felt we did well to survive in a tough global market, especially being a player down and without a research division.
As PR Director I think I did a poor job. A Twitter account I put a lot of effort into making went almost untouched during the day (though I had an enjoyable spat with rivals LexCorp the previous evening). We never got into the news, and our shareholders criticised us for this. I think maybe this was down to the lack of people on the team – I had to spend so much time running around chasing deals that PR was at the back of my mind.
It’s hard not to feel a little negative about some aspects of the game. The game design bit of my head wants to deconstruct things and find ways to improve elements. As a corporation we felt very disconnected from the world, utterly unaware of the fish-people and kidnapping and all sorts that I found out about later. The Global News Network neglected to include us in their distribution, so we missed out on a lot of global happenings. In general the advance rules brief explained the background of the game well, but not the physicality of the mechanics like “get this from Control”. Control in particular were hard to get hold of, often with long queues to speak to them and rounds ending before ever getting a chance to arrange details. At the end of the game we were still completely in the dark about how to upgrade our aircraft, what science was needed, etc – I felt like what little time we had couldn’t be spent asking questions.
At the same time it’s hard to be critical of a game that offers such a unique experience. I don’t think a game of this scale can ever be done “perfectly”, and the overwhelming chaos is part of the game. Still, if anything were to be improved I’d hope the designers can look at getting more Control people on board and making the pre-instructions clearer as to how to interact with Control. Also the risk of people dropping out / falling ill can badly impact small teams, so some consideration should be made for how to mitigate this.
I’m definitely keen to play this sort of game again, though I’d probably prefer to be in a more centrally involved team – a nation rather than a profit-chaser that doesn’t care what’s going on in the plot. I’ve already signed up for Watch the Skies 4, and The Washington Conference (a WW2-themed megagame). I’ve also been in touch with designer Jim Wallman about arranging a megagame for my bachelor party next year :) If anyone hasn’t tried this sort of thing before I strongly encourage it! Nothing quite beats the brain-numbing overload that sets in as you realise you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing :P
Ooh, and as a bonus there was someone there who said they listened to Roguelike Radio! Awesome :D
Edit: Other after-action reports: Reddit thread, Megagame Facebook group, Whales report, Angolan report. The photos give a sense of the scale, the video a sense of the chaos, and the news some elements of the evolving narrative.