I have used Sand Timers in the past to help Control regulate the length of phases within a megagame. I am now thinking about how I could use them as both a timer and an action token within the game that is used by the players.
Sand timers could be:
Placed to indicate choice of action, with the sands giving you time to resolve the action
Placed to indicate the location of the action, with the sands either being the time to resolve the action, or the time limit for other players to react to your action, after which the action is resolved
Placed on top of a unit, allowing it to move or attack until the sands run out.
Some potential problems:
Sand timers are often inaccurate
If there are lots of Sand timers on the tables, players may struggle to perceive what is going on (which could be a feature, not a bug), and Control may struggle to resolve timers finishing at roughly the same time
What happens if the Sand timer is knocked over?
Potential for downtime, where a player is just watching grains of sand tricking down
Control cannot interrupt Sand Timers, the sand will just keep obeying gravity.
The potential upside is that the use of Sand Timers could lead to some interesting real time actions, and present a lightweight way of abstracting handling factors like logistics, technology, and strategic acumen.
Now I am going to try and sketch out how I could use this in a megagame, thinking about Colossus of Atlantis. First, they will be used in the military map game. This subgame has three large regional maps (Asia, Europa, and Libya). Each regional map has a number of land, sea, and colony areas, which the factions are competing to control. The faction tokens on the map indicate area control, or are the dice that represent military units and their relative combat effectiveness.
Second, lets give each team three Strategoi (generals/admirals) and four sand timers (one of 30 seconds, two of one minute, and one of two minutes duration). The number of generals and the number of sand timers could be determined by other game mechanics (e.g. to have three generals you might need to hire mercenaries or persuade another team to loan you one of their generals for the turn, while the number and duration of sand timers might be influenced by research and resource bids). In team time the team gets to discuss which sand timers are allocated to which Strategos, and which table each Strategos is assigned too. So a team might say “We have a reward mission to take a colony in Libya, so we send Paul with the 30 second timer, and a one minute timer there, along with all of our reinforcement dice. In Asia all we have to do is defend our colony in the Black Sea and support our Amazon allies who want to attack Troy, so lets send Jane there with the two minute timer. Luigi gets the remaining one minute timer to go make trouble in Europe.”
Third, the process to use the sand timers:
Place the timer in an area to indicate a logical action (e.g. invading to take control, helping an ally, relieve a besieged colony, etc).
Allocate unit dice to the action by rolling them.* The number scored is their effectiveness for the action. If you roll a 1, the unit is exhausted (removed from play for a while).
If no other player intervenes before the sand in your timer runs out, and you have at least one unit die in the area, your action succeeds. Place a control marker in the area and return the unit dice and sand timer to your hand. Control of the area is locked until the next major game phase is started.
If another player wants to respond to your action, they need to put a sand timer down and allocate one or more unit dice to oppose you. The action resolution is delayed until all sand timers in the area run out. Unit dice are stuck in the area until the outcome is determined.
* I suggest that a “roll and keep best two dice” will lead to a better game than “roll and keep all dice.”
It is quite possible for the outcome of area control to be delayed a long time, if players are interested in the area and keep placing new sand timers and unit dice into the area, and completed sand timers return to player hands for use again. Players can see what the outcome is likely to be from the unit die rolls (barring say the use of a Divine Intervention card, or Control calling time on the phase and sending the armies home for Winter) and could use another sand timer to send reinforcements, or ask an ally to help out. A player might even use a second sand timer to evacuate threatened units before the outcome happens. This might not be the mechanic you want for an Operation Barbarossa game, but I think it fits with the back and forth and alliance diplomacy in Thucydides.
We play to find out what happens, and this time Atlantis definitely sank. As we hit game round nine, Atlantis Doom reached 1,317 and Divine Wrath reached 260, crossing the 250 threshold for triggering the endgame after one faction betrayed another. As the earthquakes started, and the waters rolled back as the tidal wave approached, I asked the Archons in the Council of Atlantis what they were doing. The leader of the Tyrants climbed up to the top of the eponymous Colossus for a good view. Another Archon tried sacrificing half the populace to Great Cthulhu, and the altars and streets of Atlantis ran red with the blood of the innocent. The other half of the populace was “busy” following the use of an Aphrodite divine favour special action. One Archon prayed to Poseidon to save them – no luck – maybe they should not have made Athena the patron Goddess of Atlantis? The Archon of the Oligarchs successfully invoked the wrath of Zeus to strike everyone but them with thunderbolts, and so Atlantis sank, with the 1% counting the coins in their vaults and making sure they had enough to pay Charon.
We had just enough players for five teams of four, rather than the eight teams of five players the game was designed for. Marketing is hard, and on a holiday weekend there are a lot of alternatives. Wellycon is also rapidly becoming the GENCON of New Zealand, and with a large con you get a bit of FOMO and its a big ask to get players to commit eight hours to one game. Next year we might do better to run two to three short duration games, with one running from 1030-1330, another from 1400-1800, and then an evening game from 1830 to 2200.
The space we had at the venue was fine for the number of people we had involved. If we had a full complement of 40 players I think it would have been getting cramped. If I had known that the exit door on out back wall was definitely going to be closed to casual traffic, I would have set the tables up differently, e.g. placing the Strategos table closer to the middle. Another option if using the same space again would be to try and get some smaller tables for the factions to have a home base.
Some logistics elements that can be improved on:
Bring a PA system
Have a Control person tasked with emptying “dump bowls” for tokens used at one table that need to be moved back to another table
More plastic tubs to help players move/store their tokens
Use multiple vehicles to transport stuff to the venue.
The map game and combat between generals flowed fairly well in Act I. In Act II everything slowed down as player versus player combat was enabled. The two main factors in this slow down appear to have been the duel mechanic and the use of Divine Favour cards to increase battle strength. This meant that rather than battles being largely automated, every fight required a check pause for resolution, and with 13 maps and four battle rounds, that meant 52 pauses in play. So it is not surprising that the Strategoi went from finishing three full Action Phases in Act I to only finishing one in Act II. Some “bluff” cards might help speed up divine intervention, as might committing the favour cards before battle cards are pulled.
The rough count of finished Megaprojects was that 13 Colossi were completed, against two each of Temples and Wonders, and zero for Architecture. While building giant robots is fun, the disparity in numbers suggests that the value of the other Megaprojects could be increased or better communicated to the players (e.g. a note in the Archon brief telling them that Architecture projects increase their popularity).
The Colossi dominated Sieges, taking part in 70-80% of the sieges and only losing on two occasions. At one stage in game development I had a siege engine mechanic, which posed a threat to Colossi in sieges. For balance I might need to reduce Colossi effectiveness versus cities, or increase the damage they take.
One feature of Colossus was the large number of game currencies: Talents (cash), Tyche (luck), Arete (virtue), Doom, Wrath and eight types of trade goods. Of these currencies Arete would be the one to drop from a future run of the game. It serves mainly as a “bennie” for good play from Control, and Control can probably fudge things in the margins without needing a specific token.
Priest Control observed that the downsides of Divine Wrath (which works a bit like the Terror Track in Watch the Skies) needed to be more clearly communicated to the players, such as a note in all the player briefings that a major crisis happens at every 50 points and 250 triggers the sinking of Atlantis (or a similar catastrophe). I should have built a spreadsheet for tracking Doom efficiently.
Strategy Control wanted a clear visual of which factions were allied with each other. The league oaths pinned to the wall were too far away for reference. Some kind of reference chart at the table or pairs of team flags. If we had run a full Priest game, then priests would have been more involved with alliances. We also had a very fuzzy alliance, where the players specified the outcomes the alliance was intended to achieve, rather than the behaviours the allies were to follow. The question was “Given the abject failure of the alliance to achieve its goals, has it been broken, if so by which side?”
The Archon game worked well, except for Stasis (civil strife/street battles in Atlantis). What was supposed to be a quick playing minigame turned into a half hour marathon. Once again duels slowed the resolution down, and counting the VP proved much harder than I thought it would be. Archon Control suggested rejigging the main Archon sequence of play so that determining vote strength happened before the Debate Phase, which is a good idea.
Archon Disaster/Event cards would have been clearer if they had two options rather than three options, and faster if the default outcome was a “No” vote for option (1) means that option (2) happens. The full set of 10 Constitution articles was only ready for Assembly Adoption by Round 4-5, and only after the last article was rammed in place by the winner of a Stasis outbreak. I suspect that the Act I deck can be just Constitution cards, and then Acts II/III can have the interesting stuff when trying to rule an empire.
In terms of game demands on players, the Strategoi and Engineers appeared to be working at 110% in Action Phases, but only 50% in the Diplomacy Phase. The Herald and Archon players appeared more evenly involved in both phases. I am yet to read the player feedback forms, so we will see if players felt the same way later in this post.
A list of unrelated Control feedback points:
The harvest mechanic needs to be simpler.
For speed of play, player badges and other game materials need to incorporate faction name, colour and symbol.
A red flag for tables where divine wrath has been triggered
More clarity around Wall tokens for colonies
Some grey walls for neutral colonies would have reduced some wild map control swings
Not sure if we needed all 13 game map tiles with just five factions, could have capped it at number of factions +1?
Hero control needed to be clearer
Add sea monsters.
The game ran to schedule, starting on time and completing the expected number of nine rounds of play.
We picked up about ten new emails from people walking past the game. Next year at Wellycon we should have flyers.
Feedback forms were handed in by about two-thirds of the players. The top quantitative feedback (higher numbers are usually better) was:
Enjoyment: did you have fun? 4.5 out of 5.
Briefing: how well did the briefing enable you to play the game? 3.8 out of 5.
Difficulty: how hard did you find the game to play 1 = hard 5 = easy? 3.2
Rate of Play: how much time pressure 1 = too much 5 = too little? 3.3
Control: how good a job did they do? 4.6
Involvement: how was your involvement with other players? 4
Value: did you get value for money? 4.5
Overall a pretty good result.
Tickets for the day were $NZ 22 for players. All of that went to Wellycon, and the game costs were covered by me (the Control team got free tickets to the event, snacks and drinks, and pizza after the game). In feedback players indicated a desire to pay an average of $NZ 29.67 for a similar length game in the future. This would be enough to cover hall hire and half the printing costs of a megagame with a similar number of players.
Marketing – where people first heard of the game – was an even mix of friends, mailing list, and announcements at the Den of Wolves game in February.
Communication – the best source of information that led to people signing up was a mixture of friends, emails and Facebook posts. Not much love for our website or store posters this time around.
Things players wanted kept for future games
My comments are in brackets after the player feedback in italics.
Trade goals had that Advanced Civilisation feel, which suited veteran gamers. (I think the territory objectives were too easily achieved earlier on, I may focus on goals that actually require trading something in the future).
Oaths laws and other interplay mechanics between groups, the group speeches and voting.
Having to perform extemporaneous speeches as the archon was a fun challenge (I think the podium box we brought along helped a lot for the speeches)
Divine favour very much fun
Interaction between the roles was fun and interesting.
It was very fun I like the idea
Herald role linking all the other teams was a great experience and helps reduce time for individual table rounds. (The Herald role was also of way of reducing the number of required Control, by getting players to move items and information between subgames)
Archon debate phase
Things players wanted stopped
Engineers probably had too much to do. (Everyone wants the Engineers to build them more stuff. However, they did have ~11 types of thing they could build, and trimming that list down to ~8 would improve the cognitive load on Engineers)
Split off the hero or streamline, took a lot of time (This may have been less of an issue if we had the players for a dedicated priest subgame, which would have been responsible for all the hero quests)
Little less opportunity for wrath so game can continue for longer.
Cypher was a bit distracting. (I could have done more to push the espionage cards out to players earlier in the game)
More availability of civil war and battle rules, i.e. would have been good to read as an Archon.
Not a full stop, but something that could speed up the civil war would be good.
No to long side quests like street fights and quests
The 20 minutes were too much for doing the diplomat phase, I had time were I was doing nothing. (A thought I had was to shift the “letter” technology development mechanic for engineers into the Diplomacy Round, where the tech being developed is for Atlantis, and factions have different perspectives on whether the tech should be military, economic, cultural, etc.)
Suddenly ending game by wrath of gods as having a lot of fun. (We had pretty much reached the end of the game and our allotted time in the venue. It’s great that people wanted to keep playing, but the Control team were running out of steam)
The stasis phase needs streamlining. I really enjoyed it but it was slow. (I agree, not sure whether I should refine the existing minigame, or handle it in a more abstract fashion, like the voting mechanic in a past game where everyone had to close their eyes, then point at who they supported to win a vote).
Things the players wanted started
More ways to stop big stompy colossi (yes, they were just a bit too strong)
There are many “luxury” roles that might improve the game but we didn’t have the turnout for them. (Yes, I would love to have solo roles for: High King of Atlantis, an Oracle, Historians, Cultists, Mercenaries, foreign ambassadors – but it requires us building up a much larger base of regular players)
More goal based mini stories to keep you invested and excited in your faction. (While we had some scripted injects, I think the ideal in megagames should be for the emergent play that the players create to be engaging.)
Scheduled food breaks. (Mentioned a couple of times. The problem with a food break is that if anyone goes off site you lose an hour of game time. In theory, everyone should be able to find a few minutes in the Diplomacy Phase for food, drink and a toilet break)
Make heralds magistrates. (This was a player choice in the range of options for Constitution articles)
More work on the rules – some still a bit ambiguous.
More ability for players to backstab. (This is on the players I think, the more deals and alliances you make, the more people you can betray. I am reluctant to give strong incentives to betray everyone in a game where breaking oaths triggers Divine Wrath).
Would like to play with the Priest role active. (This was mentioned in several feedback forms. We would have loved to have more players along so that role could have been played).
Colour coded resource tokens cheat sheet (Yes, would be handy)
Team tables for diplomacy phase. (Would be great, and if we had our own venue to ourselves could be done.)
While I will look at tweaking Colossus and I plan to see if running a game in Sydney later this year could work, I have my wedding to help plan for February 2019. So I am not going to be running any megagames in Wellington between now and mid-2020. If other people want to take the opportunity to organise a game, I have the ability to help with maps and tokens.
I am currently reading M. John Harrison’s Viriconium, and thinking about building a dying earth genre setting for a Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition campaign. I’m calling the setting Old Sun Renaissance. I like the idea of a last city where “the wealth of its people lay entirely in salvage” and which “revered stability and poetry and wine merchants; its cousins only revenge.”
For this campaign I am thinking of taking the Escalation mechanic from 13th Age and changing it into an Entropy mechanic. I see it working like this:
Entropy starts at 1 for the party.
Increase Entropy by 1 each round.
If using a powered item, any roll under the Entropy value exhausts its current charge.
When a player rolls a 1, roll 1d20 on the Entropy Event table, and then reset Entropy to 1.
Entropy Event Table
A device the PC was using breaks.
One of the laws of physics is suspended. Probably gravity.
An adversary uses a surprise action.
A spell expires early, or the spell being cast turns out very differently from what was intended.
An NPC runs away. Was it a friend, or a foe?
If it can catch fire, it catches fire. If its already on fire, it explodes.
The sun flickers, plunging everyone into darkness for a round.
All death saves are made with disadvantage next round.
Re-roll temporary HP and keep the lower score.
Ancient machines start activating.
The floor collapses, revealing a hidden chamber.
Drop something small and valuable, like your ring of invisibility, without noticing it is gone.
Re-roll initiative for everyone but the person who rolled the 1.
Temporal surge. Anyone reduced to exactly zero HP next round is immediately restored to full HP.
An ancient dimensional door reactivates, and a wave of faceless enemies starts pouring through. It closes when the next entropic event is triggered.
A device is triggered, and starts loudly counting down, starting from the entropic die value, or three, whichever is higher. Roll again when the countdown reaches zero.
Reduce the number of Death saves allowed by 1.
Proficiency bonuses now equal the entropy die until the next entropy reset.
An NPC changes sides.
Check icon relationship dice.
In play I would expect to refresh the table so the same outcome does not occur too often. I might also need a table for social encounters and exploration. Overall the intent is to prompt something interesting to happen when a 1 is rolled on a d20, and to some extent for the players to be happy that a failure has occurred, because the POW cost of some of their play options has been reset to minimum. You could call this “flailing forward”, where a failure creates a window of opportunity from the chaos that follows the failure.
The other use for the Entropy die is to set the power (POW) cost for using Entropy Feats. So when Entropy is 1, it costs one POW to use an Entropy feat. If Entropy has reached 5, it costs five POW. Here are a few examples of Entropy feats:
Magic: choose a spell you can cast, you can spend POW and refresh that spell as a bonus action. Increase the Entropy die by 1. From 5th level, if you take an entropy feat a second time with a spell, you can refresh and use it as a reaction action.
Final Blow: once per combat, spend POW and declare who you intend to attack. You act last in the initiative round, but add your total attribute score to damage to one successful martial attack (e.g. if using a finesse weapon with DEX 17, add +17 to damage, not +3). If the POW is spent, but the final blow is not attempted, the POW remains expended but the final blow can be attempted later in the combat (with a new POW spend). After using this feat, reduce your HP to 0. This entropy feat can only be purchased once.
Ragged Endurance: once per combat, spend POW and gain HD temporary HP. From 5th level, gain 2 HD of temporary HP, and from 11th level, gain 3 HD of temporary HP. You can take multiple uses of this feat.
In order to calculate your Power attribute, you first need to generate all of your character’s other attributes. I am borrowing Rafu’s Matrix Method for this, because both point buy and 4d6 drop one would be terrible for what I have in mind. Start by outlining a matrix with the six standard attributes (STR, DEX, CON, etc) and three columns.
STEP 1: roll 6d6 and arrange as you wish in the first column.
STEP 2: write the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 arranged as you wish in the second column.
STEP 3: roll 1d6 in strict order, in the third column, no rearranging of scores! Sum up the three columns to get the score for each of the six attributes.
STEP 4: The Power (POW) attribute is equal to the difference between your highest and lowest rolled attributes. For example, if CON 17 is your highest attribute, and WIS 9 is your lowest attribute, then your character has a POW score of 8.
So this is a version of D&D where you want one of your attributes to be low. Which is why point buy and 4d6 drop one are not good character creation tools. My inspiration for POW as a strength based on your weakness comes from a line in The Magicians:
I think you’re magicians because you’re unhappy. A magician is strong because he feels pain. He feels the difference between what the world is and what he would make of it. Or what did you think that stuff in your chest was? A magician is strong because he hurts more than others. His wound is his strength.
Grossman, Lev. The Magicians: (Book 1) (p. 217-8). Random House. Kindle Edition.
Gaining More Power
First, POW recovery is based on class HD when you have a short rest, modified by the absolute number of your lowest attribute. For example, if DEX 4 is your lowest attribute, then you get +3 on POW recovery rolls, not -3. On the whole this recovery process advantages martial characters with larger HD and I am comfortable with that. On a long rest, recover all spent POW. Second, permanent POW gains occur when:
The two contributing attributes change in value
You choose to increase POW rather than gain an Entropy feat when leveling.
I am thinking of allowing a player a chance of increasing one attribute each time they level and do not get a standard feat (which happens at levels 4, 8, 12 and 16). Roll 1d20 + level and score greater than current attribute value to gain a +1 increase. If you fail, you can optionally choose to reduce an attribute by one (as your weakness is exacerbated by the stress of the adventurer lifestyle), and always gain advantage on your next level up attribute increase attempt.
If you get resurrected, you can also choose to drop an attribute by one point. I do not recommend this is a way of increasing POW, but I think its reasonable for a journey to the other side and back.
I might have some relics grant their owner POW, but on the whole my philosophy for a dying earth setting which magic and science are one and the same, is for “magic items” to cost POW to use for a scene.
The level up choice is to either gain one Entropy feat or to gain POW equal to the new level. No choice at level 4, 8, 12, and 16, as you get a standard feat at those levels. I imagine that most players will choose feats at low level, before switching to boosting POW at higher levels.
I have more ideas to explore here. I think I have two posts worth of material on icons for the final age of a dying earth, and then at least one post on how I would hack the D&D 5E classes into shape for the setting.
Den of Wolves is essentially Battlestar Galactica, minus specific IP such as robots with bouncing red eyeballs, with a focus on the politics of the survivor fleet and crisis management. Click on the heading to go to the event page for the game blurb and some links to after action reports from games in the UK.
Den of Wolves is an experiment in using an off the shelf design, and then not hacking the rules! I do have some plans for adding some elements to the game that players can riff off in their roleplaying, but I do not intend to alter any of the mechanical elements of the game. This is also the first time I have run a game in Wellington without piggy backing on a convention, so the cost of the game includes venue hire, as well as production and licensing costs. As we already have players coming from Australia and Auckland, I am hoping for a good local turnout as well.
Tickets for Den of Wolves are on sale here. Unwaged or Control $15, Waged $30. There is a $5 price rise on 19 January 2019.
Photo from South West Megagames, of the three sheets used to control one ship in Den of Wolves.
Colossus of Atlantis, 1 June 2019
A complete revision of the second version of the game. This is likely to be what I run at Wellycon.
The central premise is that all the players start the game as leaders in the expanding empire of Atlantis, and are members of one of the factions competing to dominate Atlantis, without triggering the wrath of the Gods and the doom of Atlantis. The game will follow a three act structure:
In the first Act of the game, all player versus player options are disabled. This is a learning phase of the game, during which Atlantis will expand over a map of the Mediterranean and adjoining lands with 60+ significant cities.
In the second Act of the game, the player versus player options are enabled and both players and factions can be exiled from Atlantis.
In the third Act of the game, we will find out if earlier player actions mean Atlantis is likely to suffer a deluge or not.
The game will feature up to eight factions drawn from Ancient Greek myths and history:
The Amazons, a team of women pushing for emancipation
The Aristocrats, a team that seeks rule by the best people
The Democrats, a team that seeks rule by all people
The Medes, a team that supports peace, trade, and magical research
The Monarchists, a team that supports the rule of Kings descended from the divine Poseidon
The Oligarchs, a team that seeks rule by the wealthy
The Stratocrats, a team that supports military spending and war
The Tyrants, a faction that seeks to make Atlantis great again.
Each faction has players with the following roles:
Archon – the team leader who represents the faction on the Council of Atlantis, and in any street fighting that takes place in Atlantis
Strategos – the team general who commands military units on the main game map
Engineer – the team builder of military units, wonders and other technological marvels
Priest – the team magician who tries to keep the Gods happy, and can create curses that harm other players and wards/amulets to protect players from disasters
Trader – as well as playing an economic role for the team, the trader is also the team spy.
During the game, players will have the option to spend time performing hero quests based on Greek mythology. This might happen if you are exiled from Atlantis for a turn, or if your team chooses to send you off questing. Questing can result in both great rewards and tragic complications.
Flower Power II, second half of 2019
Revisiting one of my best games, which was originally run down in Christchurch in 2006. The premise was a lost colony, settled by peace and nature loving hippies, which had gone through technology collapse, balkanization, warfare, and then recontact with the rest of humanity.
The original Flower Power game was essentially a world war two scenario of mass industrial warfare, with some drug smuggling and COMINTERN intrigue on the side. It definitely resonated with many of the players, who still reminisce fondly about the game today.
I now think the best frame for revising the game is to focus on contemporary issues of fragile states, peacekeeping, and counterinsurgency that we see happening around the world today. Where many of my past megagames have involved teams with relatively equal amounts of power and options, Flower Power II will feature factions with asymmetric power levels and options in the game.
I am not sure yet what the player roles in the game will be, but the factions are likely to include:
Offworld aid organisations, trying to uplift local education and economic practices
Offworld civil government representatives, trying to shepherd the planetary government into membership of an interstellar polity
Offworld military commanders, trying to keep the peace
Offworld private military contractors (mercenaries), trying to profit from keeping the peace
Smugglers, trying to make profits from criminal activities
Corporations seeking access to local resources, or contracts to supply offworld goods and services
Planetary coalition government, trying to avoid a return to destructive warfare
Insurgent factions derived from former local governments, spanning a range of ideological positions, and tactics from non-violent protest to terrorism.
A campaign premise I sometimes pull out and tinker with is “Humanity has fled the destruction of Earth, and now exists in one refuge system.” A static version of Battlestar Galactica without the wagon train to the stars aspect. I sometimes pair this with options like:
All high technology has been disabled by the energy fields that protect humanity.
Some high tech has been disabled (anything that generates signals that the Enemy might detect). Cue some kind of Thought Police/Inquisition to making sure no one dares reinvent the radio.
Human high technology lasts for a while, enabling a dictatorship over other sentient folk in the refuge (each of which has their own way of surviving incursions like the humans until business as usual can resume).
Because other aliens have also done (3) there are a lot of vestigial empires and associated ruins.
Many habitable worlds in the system (due to forerunner engineering) all linked by portals, or by limited space travel. With lots of relic scavenging – like Alistair Reynolds novel Revenger (2016).
Today’s addition to the toolbox is to make the sanctuary a crapsack world, a bit like Ready Player One, where the alternate VR is an attractive past time for the 99% of humanity living on soy paste and recycled water. The twist is that completing quests/dungeons in the VR activates portal travel or other Macguffin devices (or a nice meal, or the admiration of NPCs who watch the stream on replay channels). So in a campaign, you start playing the hard SF game, then when you need to get from A to B in a hurry, you log into the VR and do a quick mythic mode instance and off you go.
The VR is where the former alien hive minds/AIs get to experiment and interact with humanity in a safely contained system. Cue factions and conspiracies dedicated to finding out what is really going on/keeping the truth hidden from the sheeple.
The VR could be divided into nice little theme parks. Samurai World is right next door to Musketeer World and West World, and maybe the bleed over into each other in a few places. Maybe with a bit of digging you can figure out how to access the old forgotten alien VR realms, where the stories are completely different from those nice comforting fairy tales from Earth, where the plucky hero always wins the rematch.
I think the campaign would work well with a mix of game systems. Something crunchy for the “real” world (EclipsePhase?) and something simple for the “fantasy” world, which could easily be D&D or something a few more baroque buttons and dials like Blades in the Dark. Not more than a one page PC sheet, and damn easy to create a new VR PC as required.
I should note that I have not actually read Ready Player One or seen the recent movie.
For The Galaxy Will Burn I am planning to use the tower building and collapse game of Jenga as part of the game mechanics. This is to represent the collapse of bubble economies. As the Jenga tower grows higher, players can gain a bonus when they trade, and the bonus gets bigger as the tower gets higher. When the tower falls, that ends trading at that game table until the central government intervenes to get the trade mini-game up and running again (in the grand tradition of privatising profits and socialising losses). I am hoping that this creates some of the emotional tension of market trading.
As some people have pointed out, there is the sandbox problem of what to do with the kid who likes knocking sandcastles over. I think the best solution to that is to make it clear to the players that the spirit of the game is to do your best not to knock the tower over, and have a little in-game penalty for when it does happen. I think that is the 99% solution for 50 cents, or two lines of rules rather than two pages of rules.
I spent a lot of time last weekend thinking through the rest of the trade process. My conclusion today is that making trade a 20 minute mini-game is not going to work. This is partly because of the process elements. If you need to collect trade resources at table A, take them to table B, and then put them through process C, before taking resource D back to table A, then you have a lot of components which Control needs to be tracking. It is also because unless there are a lot of resources to trade and a lot of potential rewards to buy – on par with the complexity of the old Advanced Civilization boardgame – then there is not enough important stuff for the trade mini-game to actually resolve.
Remembering that less can be more in Megagame design, my design intent is for there to only be half-a-dozen rewards from trade, but for each reward to be quite powerful. It will also be simple enough to be handled at each map table, during normal gameplay. This means trade competes with the other gameplay options, i.e. you have to fit trade in and around options for building and moving units, fighting battles, etc.
The Jenga tower is the key chokepoint for mechanical resolution. If a standard turn of player action is resolving six-nine actions in 20 minutes, then the number of draws from the Jenga tower needs to be limited. While I would like the granuality of letting a player make multiple draws based on the number of hyperlane bases they control, its too high a bottleneck potential. I could make an exception for a draw based on Megapower, and allow that to have a double draw.
I still want Hyperlanes to influence trade, so I could limit the number of trade actions based on how many hypelane bases you have (zero bases = no trade, one base = one trade action, three bases = two trade actions, six or more bases = three trade actions). Another way of representing this could be to have just one trade action option, but to increase track values by the number of hyperlanes bases controlled.
For example, if you controlled three hyperlanes and did a normal trade action, you could boost a trade track by three. If it was a Megapower action, then you could increase two tracks by three, or one track by six.
The Jenga bars will each have a sticker on the end, indicating the reward it offers. Each time you draw a bar, increase the corresponding track on a player record display by one.
Bubble – for every 12 bars drawn, each player who completes a trade action gets one bonus atomic power counter. I do not expect this bonus to stack more than three times. The best estimate of number of draws to Jenga collapse I have found is a range of 12-35. When the market crashes, reduce the trade track scores, with the highest players being reduced to zero, and other players losing half of their position (round up).
Rewards – you need the highest score at the table to benefit. Rather than handing out dozens of cards, the trade system just needs to keep track of five reminder cards and a few counters on the player record track.
Green – military, your lock on defence contracts for parts and logistics lets you move more units and draw an extra battle card
Red – disruption, your economic stranglehold on the markets for new goods and services allows you to reduce the budget of another player by one (or two with a Megapower) when you undertake future trade actions
Silver – industry, your hold on cutting edge manufacturing lets you build additional units
Gold – political influence, the spice must flow, this increases the influence gained for the imperial politics mini-game
Blue – technology, exploiting intellectual property laws allows you to take technology cards from other players.
You can also choose to reduce a trade track score by four and collect a Megapower token. Cashing out of the market before it collapses will be an element of system mastery for the players. Cashing out of the market in a way that “bankrupts” other players by reducing their track value to zero, leaving you still dominant in the market … that should be a priceless experience.
My next post will probably be on how I plan to do the technology/research side of the game.
So I went to GENCON and ran my Colossus of Atlantis Megagame with 27 players and a control team of eight players (including myself). The game mostly worked, most of the time, which is about as good as you can hope for a Megagame.
The overall outcome was that Atlantis did not sink, but Europe did, and the two high-Kudos teams merged together to dominate that generation of Atlantean politics (with a Kudos score of 12,261). As in the previous game, players started changing the rules so that DOOM tokens were treated as an efficient energy resource, being renamed mid-game as “Destiny” rather than DOOM. The final Destiny score was 1,517, and the Destiny score required to sink Atlantis was 2,000. Over half of the Destiny points were gained in the last turn, due to the sinking of Europe.
Possibly the best compliment I had came a couple of days after the game, when one of the players said to me that while the game was complicated, it had worked smoothly. The half hour lunch break proved essential, given the distance to food vendors and washrooms. One team turned up in full on ancient costumes, a trident, and brought delicious cupcakes and other treats with them that they shared around.
That the game went well was in no small part due to the Control team, with Catherine McNamara doing number collation for DOOM and Kudos, Witt Yao handling hatred scores and the rival empires, and Jesse, Jessica, Peter, Joseph, and Benjamin on map table duties. This is the biggest control team I have had for a game, and everyone did well for not having been run through how the game worked prior to GENCON. It is a blessing back in Wellington, that I can often recruit my mini-game playtesters for Control duty.
I think I definitely want to be using a PA system again in the future, if I have a large hall space. Otherwise my voice would have been lost in the vast space of the Lucas oil Stadium. The PA let me focus on timekeeping, along with using a countdown timer on my smartphone, to keep things mostly moving along after the long first turn. We finished seven complete turns, rather than the hoped for eight turns, a result similar to the last play at Kapcon in January. The projector screen that the Megagames Coalition hoped to have for GENCON fell through, and another suggestion at one of the design seminars was to play countdown videos off You Tube to help with time keeping.
Now for the initial feedback from players and Control broken down into Keep, Stop, Start themes, with my own comments following in italics:
Council options – after looking at how these played out, I think the game would play better with a reduction in the overall number of options (and many of them were duplicated between Councils)
Separate map tables – after looking at the size of the tables we had at GENCON and the maps the other coalition games had, I wish my map tiles were bigger, but back in Wellington there was only just enough room for the map tiles, player cities, and other game resources.
modifying and writing laws – I had some feedback that the delay in getting a law ratified by the Council of Law made some players uninterested in trying this option. The problem with a same turn change lies in communicating the change to all of the other Councils, players and Control (possibly this could be done in something like the Watch the Skies press conference/media phase).
too many tokens – I agree with this, but I need to think about which tokens can be dropped. I can also just try and reduce the rate at which tokens fountain into the game so that handling them is easier.
too many rules – see comment on rules clarifications below
unit caps made armies depend on upgrades too much – one problem here was a hard limit on the number of counters (everything for the game had to fit in one suitcase), if I had dropped to five players per faction, everyone could have had an extra token of each of the three unit types, but increasing maximum force sizes makes it harder for players who have been defeated to make a come back later in the game
the d4 was too weak – another way of doing dice for the game would be to use d6s and d12s, this would also be cheaper. I did have exploding d4s in the previous version of Colossus but this tended to extend combat time rather than change combat outcomes.
factions having two players at one map table (and thus dominating that table) – this was a feature of having five map tables and teams with six players, I was dithering over whether or not to drop the spy player role and have five teams of five rather than four teams of six, and went for the latter option on the day. If I had one more Control available I could have run a sixth map table.
wonder stacking – this would have been less problematic if each House could only buy each Wonder once, and I note here that the Council of Wonder unanimously passed a resolution to allow players more flexibility in the purchases (i.e. making it easier to stack wonders).
some people liked the abstract region map, others wanted something more like a contemporary map
make chaos happen earlier – Colossus is a very player driven game, so if the players choose to cooperate over territory division, not a lot happens. I did have feedback that the rival empires needed to be stronger/scarier (and I was deliberately avoiding making them too strong in this game)
more time for discussion planning and trading – another good reason to try and trim some parts of the game
more rule clarifications – this makes the rules longer, and I am not sure what a good length for a Megagames rule book is and I was aiming to keep the main rules to 13-14 pages. It will always be too short for some players, and too long for others.
Kudos cards drawn over a certain amount should give a static result – because of the number of cards drawn due to some wonder stacking, some people ended up having to count 160 Kudos cards in one game turn.
upgrade cards should be single use – I agree with this, but worry about them being hoarded for the last turn (I don’t think people carrying 20+ cards in their pocket is elegant design) so another option is to require them to be used in the following game turn (or to pay a higher cost for a more flexible use)
After this game, and the opportunity to see several other Megagames in action I have some thoughts on what to do for the next iteration of Colossus:
In some ways the easiest resource token to drop is Talents. Each of the remaining six resources could then be the key resource for one of the six player roles (Kudos for Generals, Cogs for Spies, Arete for Kings, DOOM for Sorcerers, Vril for Architects, and Orichalcum for Merchants) with that resource being needed to purchase/use upgrade cards or to activate certain Council options.
Player role briefs should have more information on council options and upgrade cards.
To make the map easier to understand in the early-game, each region should only spawn one type of resource. So land would spawn Arete cards, coastal regions spawn Orichalcum, rival empires spawn Vril, cities spawn Cogs, and Kudos and DOOM tokens depend on winning/losing battles.
To make dividing the map up evenly between layers less dominant as a strategy, Control will vary the number of resource tokens/cards each region spawns.
Oaths did not get a lot of use, perhaps half a dozen times in the game. Perhaps I should drop that mechanic?
Perhaps rival empire attacks should be driven by player bribes?
Colossus is next going to be run in the Seattle region in the next few months, so I am going to be trying to do a quick turn around on small changes to the rules by mid-September. Feedback is welcome here, as are any stories about events that happened in the game which I missed.