Four Megagame Concepts

June 8, 2018

In this post I will outline concepts for four different Megagames that I might be spending some time on turning into fully developed games over the next 18 months or so. Feedback is most welcome.

1389442808118Watch the Skies: Dragons

This would be a fantasy hack of Watch the Skies, replacing Alien UFO attacks with Dragon attacks. The political scenario for the teams worried about Dragon attacks would be complicated by the adding a Dark Lady who is in the middle of an attempt to conquer and enslave the free world.

I expect the main game roles would convert as follows:

  1. The Scientist becomes a Sorcerer, and takes blood and bone from various slain monsters, plus lore rescued from dungeons, and uses that to research spells (because any sufficiently advanced technology resembles magic).
  2. The United Nations becomes the Grand Council, where the Elves, Dwarves, Free Men, etc all debate how to resist the Dark Lady, what should be done about the Dragon menace, and whether or not inconvenient bits of jewelry should be disposed of in far off volcanoes.
  3. Team leaders remain team leaders, but with more feudal titles and a fear of peasant uprisings. As with WTS, if there are a lot of players, then the espionage function can be taken over by another player.
  4. Military leaders have a dual role that could be split between two players. One role focus is on military operations with armies against the Dark Lady. The other role is focused on individual Hero characters challenging Dragons to fights, exploring dungeons for relics and lore, etc. To keep game play fast, two maps might be needed (and its established in fantasy that large armies find it impossible to find small bands of individuals bearing inconvenient jewelry).
  5. A merchant role focused on trade and the economy could be added, but is not essential.

The teams and other game elements would all be based on easy to recognise fantasy tropes, rather than any specific intellectual property. Possible teams include:

  1. The Elves
  2. The Dwarves
  3. The Crusaders
  4. The Fanatic Caliphates
  5. The Wandering Northmen
  6. The Vestigial Empire
  7. The Horse People.

main-qimg-2e8c75308a30514c28e19b94accd4dd1-cColossus of Atlantis III

My take on ancient Atlantis features giant robots, monsters, rival empires, and ever increasing DOOM threatening to sink Atlantis. Its been run a few times now, and with that experience (plus additional research on ancient Greece and modern boardgames about the Peloponnesian War) there are some significant changes I want to make.

  1. Better maps: I want to move away from abstract maps and make some useful game maps of the city of Atlantis, and the colonial regions of Libya, Asia, and Europa.
  2. More streamlined play: the current version of the game has too many resources (Talents, Cogs, Doom, Vril, Orichalcum, Cities, Armies, Fleets, Colossi) that do too many things and can be simplified. I think combat and monster hunting can also be refined into a card draw system that hides mechanics “under the hood”.
  3. Less is more: an overall reduction in the game components, and placing more emphasis on player driven creative injects into the game (e.g. players describe the Great Wonder they are building, Control then assigns cost and determines game effect from construction).
  4. Using the city map of Atlantis to allow for civil strife to be played out. Rather than moving units around city blocks (like the JUNTA boardgame) I think a drafting mechanism with cards and a large dose of uncertainty is the way to handle coup attempts. It also allows us to have the titular Colossus of Atlantis as a combat unit in the game.
  5. Changing how the factions and Councils work. The approach I want to try is for everyone to have ties to more than one faction, forcing some hard choices about ultimate allegiances in the endgame. Rather than having all players resolve map actions, then team time, then council actions, and then assembly votes (which takes a long time), the game structure will involve more parallel processing, e.g. you can choose to do one of managing your colony, leading an Atlantean army against a threat, monster hunting, or voting in council politics.
    1. One way of doing this may be to have each map elect a Council representative (or two). While being on Council gets you access to the levers of power in Altantis, it means your colonies are not being managed effectively.
    2. The big assemblies where changes are made to the “constitution” of Atlantis would only happen a few times in the game, rather than every turn.
    3. Big projects would be more of a case of the players describing what they want, and Control adjudicating.
    4. Adding a significant trading game – Atlantis needs grain from the colonies, otherwise there will be riots! Atlantis has “cash”, while the colonies have “resources”.
  6. Factions that the game could have include:
    1. Amazons (for the female players, supporting female emancipation and equal citizenship rights).
    2. Medes (a team that supports foreign intervention in Atlantis)
    3. Aristocrats (a team that supports the status quo of a weak High King of Atlantis, limited citizenship rights, and no votes for women)
    4. Monarchists (a team that supports a strong High King of Atlantis)
    5. Tyrants (a team supporting a strong military dominated or Spartan style government)
    6. Oligarchs (a team that supports reforming Atlantis to favour political participation of the wealthy)
    7. Democrats (a team that supports popular rule by male citizens)
    8. Telchines (a team supporting radical change through sorcery and technology)
    9. Cultists (a team dedicated to drowning Atlantis).

Draft-Map1The Reaching Moon

This would be a high fantasy scenario set in the Glorantha world originally designed by Greg Stafford, as represented in one the enduring roleplaying games from the 1970s, Runequest. I believe that a not-for-profit game would be okay under Chaosium’s fan permissions, but I would have to contact Chaosium for explicit authority before spending a lot of time on designing the game.

The big pro for using Glorantha is the incredibly rich detail of the setting.

The big con against using Glorantha is the incredibly rich detail of the setting.

I am still working my way through the PDF of the new Runequest rules that dropped last week, but I think a basic premise for the game would be setting it in the Kingdom of Tarsh, a client state of the Lunar Empire, which is the scene of a civil war with multiple factions. This would take place in the new advanced timeline, where the Dragonrise event and the liberation of Pavis and Prax from Lunar occupation has weakened the formerly dominant Lunar Empire.

The trick here will be in squaring the circle of a conflict with armies, in which individual heroes can be more powerful (with magic from otherworld mythic quests) than entire army regiments. Both need to be important, along with some logistic considerations and the intense diplomacy between all of the religious cults and political factions.

jc-mars1Mars 1938 (or The Queen of Mars)

The idea is inspired by the planetary romance genre, typified by the John carter “Barsoom” pulp novels, and in particular the roleplaying games Space 1889 and Rocket Age, which took the tropes of that genre and added steampunk and 1930s politics respectively. Old Mars is usually portrayed with a breathable atmosphere, but with a dying landscape littered in ancient ruins. This is the Mars of our imaginations, before the scientific probes of the 1960s revealed just how hostile and lifeless the planet is.

The key elements of this genre are Earth as a centre of technology and colonialism, with Mars as the exotic locale filled with hostile tribes and decadent monarchies (standing in for Africa and Asia). The pulp novels largely focus on individual male heroes and the exotic women that they meet and fall in love with. Swords are used a lot instead of modern weapons. For a megagame though, the enduring subject is going to be the encounter of alien civilisations, the difficulties in communicating, and the disasters that follow from misunderstandings.

One of the historical touchstones for the scenario would be the events associated with the Spanish Civil War, with its clash of ideologies (fascists, communists, socialists, anarchists, monarchists, Catholics, and regional independence movements) and foreign intervention (the international brigades, the Condor legion, League of Nation sanctions, etc). The other historical reference would be the relationship between China and other nations during its transition from Empire to Republic and collapse into Warlordism in the 1920s. This saw several wars (both with China and between the colonial powers), corruption influenced by the opium trade, secret societies, unequal treaties, palace politics, heroic sieges, rebellions, coups … all good stuff for megagames.

A note: if its the 1930s then there are Nazis, and in 1938 Adolf Hitler was Time magazine’s man of the year and not a contender for worst monster in history. I would be very explicit in the player briefing that no Nazi uniforms or insignia are to be worn in the game.

My first concept for turning this into a megagame is to focus on one large Martian empire, its internal factions, and the Terrestrial Powers. There can be a Indiana Jones minigame of rescue archaeology and ancient relics. The main game is then divided into three parts:

  1. The first stage of the game is the competition phase with three major components:
    1. The terrestrial powers are trying to gain ideological adherents among the Martian factions, and other goals such as more land, permission for missionaries, open trade agreements, arms sales, etc.
    2. The Martian Queen is attempting to introduce a constitution that can create a modern state system that can preserve Martian independence and the monarchy.
    3. The Martian factions are trying to influence the constitutions towards their own interests (like a game of Credo where Church factions argue at the Council of Nicaea), gain support from the pesky humans without alienating supporters, and gain control of recruits and weapons.
  2. The second stage of the game is the coup phase. This is when factions unhappy with the outcome of the first stage can stage uprisings and coups. This phase will be short and brutal.
    1. This is when we test for assassination – players that have betrayed their principles being more likely to be torn apart in mob violence. Player briefings would be upfront about the risk of character elimination (“Its like A Game of Thrones, on Old Mars”).
    2. The faction that does the best in stage one will control the Martian capital and likely be in the best position for the next stage of the game.
    3. At this point in time we break for lunch, assign new characters to anyone who has been assassinated, and set up the map for the next stage.
  3. The third stage of the game is the conflict phase. This is when we fight out the civil war, and see if any of the factions can achieve a military victory, or if a negotiated settlement occurs. The political actions from stage one will continue, allowing players to do special actions like opening the city gates in the middle of a siege, trigger peasant uprisings, or escape into a luxurious exile.

This was the most popular idea in the player poll at Wellycon, and its definitely the one that most captured my imagination this week.

Advertisements

Megagame plans for 2018

March 2, 2018

This is what I hope to achieve in the Megagame space in 2018:

  1. Set up a Wellington area collective of people interested in designing, testing, and running Megagames.
  2. Run Watch the Skies at Wellycon in June.
  3. Run a revised version of Colossus of Atlantis in the second half of 2018.

Last year I had hoped to do a megagame of Operation Unthinkable (an alternate history scenario where the USSR and USA/UK fight a war in central Europe in 1945) in late 2018. I am being more realistic about how much I can get done, and this is now more likely to be a project in 2019.

Wellington Megagame Collective

I want to run Megagames that work as good games and are a heap of fun for the players. But I need help. The volunteers I have had for Control in running games have been fantastic, but running The Galaxy Will Burn taught me that I need to ask for more help earlier in the process in order to make the final game a good one, with all the supporting logistics sorted out ahead of time.

So if you would like to be involved, send me an email at grand.vizier@gmail.com. I will be looking at setting up some kind of discussion meeting later in March to handle the basics of group name, purpose, how the money gets handled, and what kind of initial structure is needed. I’d like Watch the Skies to be the first group effort.

Watch the Skies

Watch the Skies (WTS) is the most famous megagame design in the world right now. I think a factor in its popularity is that its so easy to build on the template of “today’s world” plus “mysterious aliens”. The aliens can be friendly, they can be hostile, they can be divided into factions, or anything else that Control’s imagination can come up with. At GENCON the aliens were there to cover the genocide of the Dinosaurs, which required drilling down through Italy into the planetary core to retrieve their old Doomsday machine.

Image result for cold war alien ufo movie tv

My initial concept for WTS is to set it during the early Cold War – taking inspiration from the movies of the 1950s and 60s rather than more recent media like the X-Files and UFO TV series. So rather than multiple teams of similar sizes, its more likely to be two large teams (USA and USSR), the alien team, and a number of smaller teams (US and USSR ally states or more non-aligned nations like India or China). I will take input and refine the idea from whoever volunteers for the Collective, as figuring out how the aliens will slot into the game is important.

Image result for cold war

Colossus of Atlantis

main-qimg-2e8c75308a30514c28e19b94accd4dd1-cOver the next few months I intend to revise Colossus of Atlantis for a game in Wellington in the second half of the year, building on the feedback and experience from last year. I have been doing some more reading of Greek history, and looking at how several games about the Peloponnesian War have handled things like city-state politics and battle resolution. At a high level the changes I want to make are:

  1. Reduce the overall number of game components, while expanding the opportunity for player creativity when it comes to designing and building Colossi, Wonders, Spells etc.
  2. Have a Junta style map of the city of Atlantis, with the potential for street battles there between different factions to change the government. The image above gives you an idea of the city layout, although its dimensions are a bit off and there is at least one too many rings compared to Plato’s description.
  3. More detailed continent maps, so “Libya” actually looks like North Africa.
  4. More emphasis on the kind of political factions found in Ancient Greece, e.g. Oligarchs, Democrats, Tyrants, Medes, etc. The factions struggle to control voting blocs in Atlantis, and to control the semi-autonomous Atlantean colonies.
  5. Emphasising the role of fear, interest, and honour identified by Thucydides in triggering conflicts. I may frame Atlantis as being at the height of its power, with the rival empires as the rising challenges to Atlantean supremacy (to echo current real world politics a little). For dealing with the rival Empires I want to have a simple global map, so all up there will be three levels of map in the game: globe, continent, and Atlantis. The globe map may include a hollow earth section.
  6. Changing the structure of play away from 20 minutes for each of the Map Phase, Team Phase, and Council Phase to one where the play at Map tables can proceed in an asynchronous fashion (i.e. if one map table gets its turn done quickly, they move onto their next turn rather than waiting for everyone else to catch up). After an hour of play there would be a half hour break for diplomacy, snacks and toilet breaks ending in the Assembly phase where votes are resolved on important matters.

Quite a bit of work to do there, which is another reason to run WTS in June. Also, if you have recommendations for venues in the Wellington area, please let me know. The ideal venue is available for an all day hire, has a large hall with a kitchen, toilets, and a side room or two, and needs to be priced around $200. I think the price is largely going to restrict us to Church and community halls.

 


Fiddling while Atlantis burns

October 27, 2017

Today my design thoughts have focused a fair bit on how I might improve Colossus of Atlantis through simple changes to the sequence of play, and how the last turn of the game could be handled.

The Classic Turn Sequence20171027_Turn-Sequence

 

This is the sequence of play that I used for the two games of Colossus of Atlantis this year. It starts with the Map Phase, and then players take information and resources from the Map game to their team, where they can exchange resources and make future plans. This is then followed by the Council Phase, then some free time for diplomacy, snacks, and bathroom breaks. The intent was for a game turn to take 50-60 minutes of play.

Adding a DOOM Phase

20171027_Turn-Sequence+DOOM

This extends the turn sequence, but it creates an explicit phase for feedback from Control to the players about the DOOM score, plus any other important game announcements, and could also be an opportunity for player speeches and roleplaying. I think this makes a game turn definitely around 60 minutes long.

Rearranging the Turn Sequence

20171027_Turn-Sequence-New

So this puts the team planning phase at the start of the game turn. Because the Council Phase follows the Team Phase, I expect player discussions to focus on potential Council options and decisions. So team options should focus a fair bit on allocating resources between members for effectiveness in their role Councils.

The Council Phase is now between the Team and Map Phases. Because players now move from the Council table to their Map table, it should be intuitive for the players to be responsible for conveying Council decisions to their map tables. So a lot of the Council option choices should be reworked to be relevant to the map game.

Adding an Assembly Phase

20171027_Turn-Sequence+Assembly

Seattle Megagames added an Assembly Phase every third turn of the game, with half an hour or so of speeches, roleplaying and voting. I would like to try having an Assembly Phase every game turn. Because such a phase often involves one player or Control on broadcast mode to all the players, it can overlap with free time to some extent (as can the DOOM phase that follows).

I imagine the Assembly Phase as being where proposals from the Councils are debated and voted on. This is where the non-map Historian/Poets have a vital role during the Map Phase – they need to find the time to get everyone on their team up to date on voting plans. There are a lot of different ways that voting could be conducted, and I am still mulling over the following:

  • always have an Ostracism (which prevents a player from attending the next Council and Assembly meetings) which is a write in ballot (most votes is ostracised)
  • the fastest way to do votes (by voice, by rising up from seats, by show of hands, by division, using ballot boxes, etc)
  • or using the most authentic form of voting by placing coloured stones in an urn.

There are two important forms of privilege to consider here – who is allowed to vote on a motion, and who is allowed to speak on a motion. Is this privilege gained at the individual, team, role, faction, or office level? Lots of different ways for it to be done. There is also an opportunity in here to work in the traditional forms of government that warred for control of Ancient Greek city-states: Democracy, Oligarchy, Monarchy, and Tyranny. If we follow Plato, then Atlantis starts with a Monarchy where only the Kings and Queens vote on matters. But then we can give all the teams goals to change that status quo to other forms of government.

Another option for Last Turn Madness

I had a bit of a crazy idea for approaching the Last Turn of a Colossus of Atlantis game – why not completely change the rule set for the final turn?

This reworks some of the options earlier in the game – do you take an option that improves your next game turn, or do you improve your team’s position for the last turn of the game? It also means that for the lucky players who “have it all” in terms of meeting initial objectives and power build up, still have a goal to work towards.

So what could we do in that last game turn?

main-qimg-2e8c75308a30514c28e19b94accd4dd1-c

First, how about a battle in the streets of Atlantis? Something like the Coup phase in a game of Junta, with the different factions fighting to control the various Palaces and Temples in old Atlantis, or to pilot the titular Colossus of Atlantis itself? A variant on this could be to still run the regular map game, but to add the option of sending some of your units to join the battle for Atlantis.

Second, have another mini-game for the various Megaweapons and Megaspells. This would involve offensive and defensive options, with the potential for exploding cities and sinking continents.

Third, we could have the struggle to get one of the last seats on the Great Ark, for the players who are certain the first two mini-games are likely to result in the Doom of Atlantis and the great deluge striking.

I am happy to entertain other suggestions.


Feedback on Colossus of Atlantis

October 26, 2017

Over the last month, Seattle Megagames have run The Colossus of Atlantis on two occasions. This was a milestone for me, in that its the first time I have been paid a license fee for the use of a game I designed (I have in the past been reimbursed part of the cost of running a game at a convention). They have been kind enough to share some feedback on their games.

The first game was run with a set of game components close to the version of the game I ran at GENCON 2017. The second game made quite a few changes to fix problems identified in the first game, changing a lot of the cards and council options, and also added a major assembly phase every three game turns. Apparently a lot of the players had an improv background, so the chance for speeches and roleplaying helped make the game fun for them.

Major Themes in the Control Feedback

My top level reaction to an element of feedback is in (brackets):

  • Cogs appear to be either one resource too many in a game with a lot of different resources, or just not intrinsically useful enough (As much as I love the steampunk feel of Cogs, I am leaning towards dropping them from my next version of Colossus. I am also thinking of cutting Talents – despite all the time I spent finding a font that would accurately display the correct Attic Greek Talent symbol for the various talent values. While it was interesting trying to have a unique resource type for each player role in the game, I now think its adding complexity without adding more fun)
  • Balance between number of map regions and number of players, and the degree of combat that follows (dropping the number of regions will increase the amount of combat, ideally the number of regions should be such that the players at that map table cannot share them evenly, e.g. if there are six players, then a map with nine regions is going to divide the players into “haves” with two regions and “have-nots” with only one region)
  • Kudos – too abstract for a victory condition, it needed some use within the game system itself (I am thinking about how Kudos might be a “wild” resource that teams can use to purchase other game resources during the team meeting phase. This also adds a specific decision point to team meetings beyond meet and share information, resources, and plan future actions)
  • Feedback to the players on DOOM and Kudos totals, and other game announcements (I think an ideal set up is a combination of whiteboards, projector screens, and a PA system, plus making someone on the Control team, or a player role like Media in Watch the Skies, responsible for feedback).
  • Oaths are not getting much use (In my games they have only been used two to four times per game. I put oaths in the game for thematic colour, and to allow an option for player creativity. They are a bit fiddly in terms of creating a conditional effect that needs to be tracked by players/Control, so a simpler approach is to encourage it for roleplaying, but drop it as an explicit game mechanic).
  • Lack of interaction between maps, or a reason to really pay attention to what was happening at other maps (I agree that I need to add something here to enhance opportunities for diplomacy and team cooperation, such as the ability to move units between maps or some kind of trade )
  • More goals and directions for Houses (I have been working on an extended set of goals, where each House gets to pick five goals at the start of the game. Adding cults and secret factions with their own hidden goals can add some depth to the diplomacy in the game)
  • More time for player interactions (Time constraints are a feature of Megagames, there are always more people than you can talk to, more deals that could be made, more information that could be obtained… That said, there may be a better way to structure the turn sequence to facilitate conversation between players)
  • A game role like Press/media in WTS (I am thinking about how “Historians” or “Poets” could be added to the game. They could be a role attached to each team, with no map position to play. For the map phase of the game they become observers/couriers/spies and then in the diplomatic phase of the game they could have some strong asymmetric abilities, such as the ability to shift blame (DOOM) between factions)
  • More quests and artifact hunting (I could adapt the relic hunting mechanic used in Aquila Rift easily enough, and there are a lot of Greek myths that could be turned into quests. In my working draft of the rules I have been working on an “expedition” mini-game where you could run into a Cyclops or Amazon tribe, with a range of different outcomes)
  • Limit the number of cards/wonders that can be used in a phase (I agree that it can get just a bit to much. I am thinking that power cards purchased from Councils should be both awesome and one-use, while Wonders are more of a slight bonus that can be used more than once)
  • Adopt simultaneous action planning and resolution for Councils, like the map game has (Great idea, wish I had thought of this earlier)
  • Trade options were either underpowered or hard to implement (agree, still thinking about ways to improve this)
  • Bloated economy (this is partly intended as a feature of the game, Atlantis should feel like a runaway train wreck of an economy about to have its burst bubble moment. In my working draft I have changed resource spawn to only have one type of resource per region. So land regions have Arete cards, coastal regions have orichalcum, and rival empire regions have Vril. This should make resource management easier for Control and more intuitive for players. Reducing the impact of power cards/wonders will also help)
  • Monster strength versus players (its hard to keep consistently challenging, this is likely to be a game element where a short intention statement to guide Control adjudication works better than a rigid set of rules for determining strength. The same could apply to Rival Empire strength)
  • Information packs sent to players a week before the game (a good goal, I am somewhat frustrated by late player sign-ups, and random player additions on the day of the game, which make casting and team composition more complicated)
  • Call the small Colossi units Automatons, make it explicit that the “hero” token is a giant Colossus being piloted by the player’s character in the game (sounds good to me, the Automatons could be thought of as a range of small size steampunk machines,  such as submersibles, flyers, rapid fire siege engines, autoplaying bagpipes, etc).

Feedback from Players of the Game

  • Add defensive options for cities and colonies (Balance is needed, if defence is too strong, then city attacks become impossible and players will turtle up)
  • Balancing the upgrade cards, some were always useful, others only situationally useful (Its hard to playtest Megagames and all their myriad gameplay options. I think that reducing the overall number of cards will make it easier to balance, and I can cut out boring/under powered cards.)
  • more consistency between Control at different map tables (Control experience will vary. It is always good to have all the Control team taught their roles before the game day, but sometimes you need to sub in a Control player at the last moment. This was pretty much the most common comment from the players.)
  • more time on training players at the start of the game (One thing I want to try is to put a video of a turn of gameplay online)
  • provide a gameplay overview before people buy their tickets, not all megagames are the same (A problem when running a Megagame as one part of a convention rather than a unique event, is that the con will filter a lot of the information reaching players)
  • Rewrite the rules for clarity (There is a definite art to writing rules. Too concise and important information is missed. Too long and some players will not read all of them. In the next rulebook, I want to add more pictures of gameplay, and the training video idea mentioned above. What would be good for me to know here is exactly which parts of the rules were confusing or needed clarification)
  • Mixups with rules from previous editions (Probably due to running Colossus twice in quick succession.)
  • More order, less free-for-all in upgrade card purchase (Giving everyone a turn to make card purchases takes a lot more time.)
  • Atlantis sank without being aware how close it was to sinking (There needs to be feedback on DOOM. Initially I only had a warning about DOOM when it crossed 50% of the sinking threshold, I intend to make a DOOM track more like the WTS Terror Track that has at least three warning steps before the deluge. It is also my design intent that DOOM is easy to acquire, hard to get rid of)
  • Inability to split units of the same type made it hard to defend (Working as intended, in that offence should be stronger – otherwise everyone can turtle up, which is dull gameplay – and splitting forces makes the strategy phase immensely more complicated, and I was deliberately trying to keep the number of major decisions a player makes each planning phase to eight, with the ability to split forces you end up with perhaps 20 decisions to make)
  • The spy role was tacked on, less powerful and influential (yes, it was the last role developed. The role could be dropped or reworked. If there are secret factions and hidden goals, then spies with information revealing powers will be much more useful)
  • Map turns often ran late (its possible that processes that worked well for 20-30 players may have stalled a bit with 40-45 players)
  • More enforcement of time limits (I think my ideal set up now is a dedicated Control time keeper with a microphone and a PA system)
  • Councils were less interactive than the map or the assembly (This is true. I cut back on extensive voting mechanics because they consumed too much time. My current rule draft requires the Council President to consult and listen to the Council before choosing an assembly motion. I also want each Council to have a choice that interacts with the game map, and to have a major project that requires contributions from multiple players to have a chance of success. I did intend for the Spy Council to act as a Monkeywrench in other councils, but time sequencing is hard to get right. The War and Trade Councils have actions that are in opposition to each other, and I do not think I have the balance for that right)
  • Unit building was tedious (Not sure exactly which mechanic was used here, I have had simple build systems and build systems that required cross-referencing several numbers and a chart. I am now thinking about only having one counter for each unit type, and the main form of improvement being quality improvement, not quantity improvement)
  • Lots of positive comments about assemblies (and other bits of the game, but I am focusing on the feedback that indicates where the game can be made better)
  • A longer lunch break please
  • Unexpected Control intervention and scope of adjudication was frustrating – extent of Control power should have been made clear at the start of the game (Yes, a feature of this Golden Age of megagaming is there are a lot of new players who do not share the assumptions that veteran players have)
  • Map game varied a lot between tables based on players (experience, rule understanding, team instructions) and Control (Yes, different tables will have different outcomes. Its possible what is needed is one briefing where its Control to all players, followed by one Control briefing each team, then a third stage of initial briefing which is one Control and each table group of players)
  • Not enough time with team to plan or learn how other roles worked, learnt more about the game AFTER it had finished (I think role specialisation is part of the team element of Megagames, but when running my games I do put all the role briefings online in a way that all players can read them. Time pressure is also an important element of Megagames. The post-game discussion can be part of the best moments of a Megagame, as you find out what really happened)
  • I would have liked a two minute regional council before the map phase started (Could be possible to add this. Essentially its adding an opportunity for collusion about who is going for which bits of territory, but it might also be useful for coordinating monster hunting and rival empire attacks. But those two minutes are two minutes less for everything else)
  • Make alliances an option earlier on (I think my versions of the game were different on this point)
  • More guidance on goals
  • I do wish there was a bit more of a focus on creativity. It seemed like things were focused on getting resources and spending resources. (I am trying to add a creative project option to each Council. A major part of the game is the map/resource game, so having some non-map roles may be a better fit for some players)
  • It was hard to counteract the damage done by traitors (this sounds like a secret faction addition to the game by the Seattle Megagames crew)
  • Too much variability in fight outcomes (either all die or none die) (Working as intended in an attempt to simulate the decisive battles of the bronze age)
  • the final round – it encourages complete chaos and not in a fun way. (Last turn madness is a feature of Megagames as play behaviour changes now that there is no tomorrow)
  • Role balance at tables – hard to compete with the military upgrades of three Strategos players (Balance is possible – but should the game also be open to players moving between tables?)
  • The narrative needs to be stronger (Certainly room for adding more elements from Greek myth/history to the game, but narrative is also in part a player construct)
  • Make dishonour mean something, I avoided it but in the end it didn’t matter (I think the idea of dishonour is important for the Greek theme, but its not connecting to the game adequately yet.)
  • Interactions with foreign empires could have been more interesting, perhaps they could offer sanctuary if Atlantis sinks (Sanctuary is a nice idea. Resource bribes would be more meaningful if resources were harder to get. I might have to experiment with having players in charge of the rival empires, as the current model puts a lot of stress on the Control player in charge of them)
  • Once I had a max size army and all the upgrade cards I ran out of things to do (I hope adding more team goals into the game will help here. At the same time at least one other player struggled to build up, and felt pretty insignificant for most of the game.)
  • Attacking foreign empires and Atlantean cities should be harder and provide more meaningful rewards.

My Thoughts on the Next Version of Colossus

I have been working on a few broad changes to the game:

  1. Reducing the flow of resources into the game (its always easier to increase resource flow midgame, then to try and reverse a resource glut)
  2. Only having one type of reward for each type of region, Land = Arete cards, Coast = Orichalcum, Rival Empire = Vril. This makes admin easier for Control, and should be easier for players at the start of the game. Kudos cards come from battle victory, DOOM tokens from battle defeat.
  3. Experimenting with planning/reveal/resolve system so that Council meetings work a bit more like the map game (see first image below)
  4. Adding an Assembly Phase
  5. Changing from improving unit quantity to improving unit quality (see second image below)
  6. Trying to make combat easier to run.
  7. With only one unit counter per unit type, most units roll 2d4 in appropriate terrain (e.g. Triremes in Coastal regions) or 1d4 if not. The Colossus unit rolls 1d13 and 1d4.
  8. Make upgrade power cards great, but one use. Make wonders good (but not great) and multi-use/permanent.

Experimental Council Template

20171025_Council-Template

Plan by playing Arete cards and DOOM tokens face down in options (one minute timer). Start on top left and work clockwise (i.e President first, DOOM last) to resolve. All players reveal Arete cards for an option. Highest value of card + DOOM tokens wins the option.

Experimental City Template

20171025_City-Template

In the planning phase, spend resources to improve quality (pictures indicate resources you cannot spend to upgrade quality). In combat, if you have a higher quality type of unit (e.g. your Hoplites are the best, even though their Triremes are better) then upgrade a Chaos die (d4) to a DOOM die (d13) (so if the Hoplites were in Land, they would now roll 1d13 and 1d4, elsewhere 1d13 rather than 1d4, while a high quality Colossus will roll 2d13). City defence quality is added to other units present and defending the city.


Kapcon 2017 AAR – The Colossus of Atlantis

January 23, 2017

img_0259The Colossus of Atlantis Megagame was a success. We had a few last minute registrations that allowed us to run four map tables, with four five player teams and a wandering hero or two in each round. Close to 30 people involved over the entire game. The feedback on the day felt positive, and secondary feedback from other people on Sunday lined up with everyone having a good time and raving about it to their friends.

With the late registrations we started a little late, and halfway through we changed the 30 minute turns to 40 minute turns. We still got through eight of the planned ten turns and were packed up before the LARP needed the space.

The overall outcome was that Atlantis did not sink, and the Atlantean Generals combined their forces and defeated all four of the enemy empires of Leng, Mu, Argartha and Lemuria. The most fun plot element that I observed was the squabbling and plots over who would get one of the five seats on the Ark if Atlantis did sink.

The map game worked well. There is some room for refinement, but I will award myself a B+ for that part of the game. The council game worked okay, but has definite room for significant improvement, so I will only give myself a C+ there. While I had good rules and help sheets for the map game, its clear the Council games needs more support structure to enable the players to make interesting choices, and for Control to be able to stay on top of what is happening. I also need to make the admin more efficient for Control – they had almost no time for breaks.

Now that I have written the above, I will look at the actual feedback sheets the players filled out. I adapted the Megagame Makers feedback sheet, which can be found here.

Enjoyment – did you have fun?

An average of 4.7 (to one decimal place) on a 1-5 scale where 5 is good and 1 is poor. This is an excellent result, and no one rated the game below a 3.

Briefing – how well did the briefing enable you to play the game?

An average of 3.3. Not a great result, so I went and dug a little deeper into the numbers. Seven people did not read the rules before the game – not an unexpected proportion as we had 4-5 people join at the last minute. The average of the six people who did not read the rules for this question and have it a rating was 2.8. The average among the 15 players who did read the rules was 3.5.

Difficulty – how hard did you find the game to play (1 = easy)?

An average of 3, right in the Goldilocks spot. Two people rated the game at 1 (too easy), but no one rated it a 5 (too hard).

Rate of Play – how much pressure (1 = too much 5 = too little)?

Once again a 3, right in the Goldilocks spot. Most people rated it a 3, with five each for 2 and 4, and no one rating it at 1 or 5. we did increase the time for each turn by ten minutes after the lunch break, and there was a bit more pressure on Control than players.

Control – how good a job did they do?

An average of 4.6 is an excellent result. No ratings below 3.

Involvement – how was your involvement with other players?

An average of 4.1. I did not see or hear of any major problems between players and/or control. No one rated this below a 3.

Value – did you get value for money?

4.7. Almost everyone (20 of 23 responses) rated this a 5. At NZ$20 for the weekend convention and no extra fee for the Megagame, its about one-third to one-quarter of the international benchmarks for pricing.

Did you read the rules before playing the game?

15 said YES and six said NO.

Would you be interested in playing Megagames in the future?

22 players said yes and one said no. Looking deeper at the no response, they gave Colossus a 3 for fun and a 5 for value for money. Their specific comment on the game was “Explain how invasions work.” As they were a Philosophos, I was relying on their team Strategos to tell them how invasions worked, as that information was in the Strategos briefing.

Would you be interested in being CONTROL in a future Megagame?

15 people said yes. Which is awesome. Always need more Control players.

How much would you be willing to pay for a Megagame?

I broke this down into two subcategories: day-long and evening length games. For day-long games the range was $15-70, with an average of $32.22. For evening length games the range was $10-50, with an average of $23.83. This is about half the going rate for Megagames in Canada, USA and UK.

This question is of interest to me as hiring a basic conference venue in Wellington starts at around $450 a day. If I have 35 players willing to pay $30 then my budget for running a future Megagame is a little over $1,000. But if I lose about half my players if I charge more than $20 (I had some feedback that the standard LARP charge in NZ is $20), then my budget is only $700. That is enough for one large room in a basic conference venue – which could see a bit of noise pollution in the game. $250 will pay for some printing and game components, but its not going to let you buy premium components or even full colour maps (the last time I got A3 colour printing done a complex map covering a standard gaming table was costing me $150 due to the set up fees for multiple images).

For the immediate future, the safe bet is to attach the game to other conventions, and pass the hat around for donations at the end of the game. I would like to see the community of interested players grow to the point where I can hire my own venue and choose my own dates for running the game. The main disadvantage with Kapcon is that it clashes with Canterbury Faire, the biggest SCA event in New Zealand, and I probably had at least five potential players away at that week long event.

img_0247

I also asked people to give me feedback on one thing to keep in future games, one thing to stop, and one thing to start doing to make the game better. Original feedback in plain text, my follow up in italics.

Keep

More team time for general strategy.

Combat upgrades works well.Council interactions were fun.

Almost all of it.

Timing. Role changing, within reason. Changing roles could break the power balance in councils if a team could have multiple positions in the same game role, and the design intention is that each role is essential to a team, and each role is engaging and fun to play (even if it was not your first choice).

Diplomatic wrangling. More reason to do it. Skulduggery – wandering heroes as empire emissaries (or) incentive cards for treachery. I do intend to add more options for players to choose between altruism and corruption.

Complexity level about right.

Confusion from lack of team communication about NPC enemies, multiple rooms and time pressure.

35 people. At 35 players all the game components fit in one suitcase. The game is designed to be scalable, but once you have more than seven players on a Council they will require more time, or the creation of more Councils.

Simultaneous actions.

Alien armada. I think they meant “enemy empire”.

Having a team to assist victory. Keep being strict on times but maybe expand the length of the rounds a little. Council had some great emergent stuff. Control resetting map was excellent. Yes, Control were tasked with helping players by rubbing all the marks off the players laminated sheets each turn.

Alliances short of joining a house for heroes.

Oversight in each room. Being nice. No swearing.

Empires and monsters. I do wonder if having an ambassador for each of the enemy empires would have been an interesting addition to the game.

img_0276

Stop

Make sure Control on same page.

So many rule changes. One role per region, i.e. not 2 Strategos in one region. Because we had four map tables, not five, each team had a table with two players on it. I left it with the teams, however, as to where they allocated their leaders, and they could change players between map tables if they wanted to (I am not sure any did so).

Additional rules. modify instead of add.

Maybe limit the number of new rules added in a turn.

Need for clearer rules around council meetings.

Team (a) scoring at the end of the game was horrible! By tables? (b) Wonder scoring is BROKEN. VP for BUILDER + VP Contributors (people who supported construction). Some kind of worksheet. Yes, I needed better worksheets for the end of game scoring (the turn by turn sheets for each map table seemed to have worked okay). Wonder scoring was deliberately broken (a feature, not a bug), but at least one team had an Arkitekton who failed to realise they needed to spend money on Wonder construction, so they lost out on the VP race.

Game was too soft/too easy to win? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe we just played well. Yes, you played well.

Rampant player collusion. Although … 5 x str 89 smash 18 monsters … [comment from a Control player].

Time pressure.

Rule change.

Rule changing.

Overspending on wonders.

Dividing the last minute players onto one team was a bit tricky ~one experienced player would have helped. Its hard to find an experienced player when its the first public run of the game – and the one player who had been given a run through the game was promoted to Control when the extras turned up. The problem with rejigging the teams was that many players had already been plotting for a couple of days, and I was loathe to break up their team.

Missing some info that could be on cards i.e. voting cards not clear (I think) that turn values add to VOTE total (and if 1 person [knows?] can get out of hand).

Wonder building as dominant VP. Wonders were intended as a money sink, but I will admit to being surprised at just how altruistic all the players were about giving nearly all their cash to their Arkitekton.

img_0243Start

General meetings between rounds for announcements. I had originally wanted to do this, but on the day I was just too busy. With another Control person to help with admin this would be possible.

Show magikos Orichalcum is sum of compared to the number allocated to Hop/Tri/Col. This calculation was too complex/not clear enough on the reference sheet. I will be changing it.

More time to plan unit deployment. I’m not convinced more time is needed for this.

Maybe add extra time to say what rules are changed each round. If a create a lot of the optional changes before the game starts, then I can have prewritten material to be distributed to update people on changes. Another option is to restrict each Council to one rule change per turn.

Permanent Control over card trading. One way of doing this will be to place the cards by the table where the Council meeting for the players allowed to purchase those cards is.

Come to Canberrra! I’m happy to travel and run the game as long as my travel, accommodation and incidental costs are met. I will also work on a licensed version of the game that anyone can download and run for a small fee.

More motivation for skulduggery, [therefore] rules need to be in there. I think the best place for more skulduggery is in the Council meetings, as the map game is already very busy. It is a goal of my design that Colossus  includes some “prisoner’s dilemma” choices and personal goals that can undermine team goals.

More visible timers. Yes, one of the Control team working on an app for more synchronised timekeeping.

A briefing sheet for wandering heroes similar to other roles, but focused on hero. My bad, these did exist, but I failed to put one in your hands when you turned up halfway through the game.

Maps.

Keep better control of time. And also involve less luck in the win. Time pressure is something Control can always be improving. I don’t think the final win relied much on luck. The wining team had scored well consistently throughout the game.

Refining the voting rules. I think if each Council is given its own rule book with a clear process and flowchart of actions, then a lot of the problems with voting will go away. The player vote cards can definitely be improved with better instructions on the one use vote cards and a clearer display of how many votes each player has.

Online video with rules. I would like to do this, but I would need to get/borrow a decent video camera first.

A DOOM track. Yes, good idea. Need a visual reference for all players/control of what current Atlantis DOOM is. This would also be something that could be tweeted.

More focus on how the council works/voting works – having a GM be able to say do A B C.

Trying to dominate one council completely. I’m pretty sure players were trying to do this, with reasonable success in the game. Allowing a player to permanently dominate a council, makes that part of the game play broken for everyone else.

What next?

I will think about the feedback for a bit longer, and then pen a second post on some possible changes to the rules later this week. I am still committed to running this game at GENCON this year. In the mean time I am keen to hear further comments and suggestions from the players and Control who helped make it all work on the day!


Building a better tech tree

June 28, 2016

I have had a stimulating couple of weeks working on some ideas for Colossus of Atlantis II. One goal for the redesign is to have a better tech tree. Last time the research game was “go fish” in the card deck, followed by “collect a set” trading, and for some of the teams, eventually building a colossi or two. I think I can do better next time. Ideally I want every team to have the chance to put Colossi on the table in time for them to make a difference. I am also keen to move away from people holding large piles of cards for trading – I want trade negotiations to focus on a contract like piece of paper where people haggle over the split of profits.

Tech trees have always been a staple of RTS games, but they go back further, to the old Civilization boardgame (1980), if not earlier.

Some of the design questions you need to consider in building a tech tree include:

  1. Is the research order set? How much choice do you want to give the players – this can be crucial if there is a system mastery challenge where some options are better than others.
  2. Is the research order known to the players? If its known it can be a spoiler, if it is not known the uncertainty will change player strategies.
  3. Can steps on the tech tree be skipped? If players do screw up, is there a catch up mechanic?
  4. How much control do the players have over the research effort?

Technology developments can be great rewards and motivators. Its a way of adding complexity to the game as the players master the core rules of the game, by adding new capabilities to the game mix.

Time is a constraint in megagames. You will only be able to process a finite number of game turns. If you make the tech tree too big, teams will never complete the end of the tree, and this may disappoint the players. This suggests you need to calculate the resource fountain or flow dedicated to research, against the cost of the options. You definitely want a playtest of the system. After several turns what does it look like for teams that focused on research, ignored research, or did a bit of research?

Because technology can be used to change the game rules, you also need to consider how this change is reflected in game state information. All the other players and GMs need to be able to verify and understand the research outcomes. Keeping things simple is always a good idea.

In real life, tech change tends to be evolutionary, not revolutionary. One thing I would not want to do, is to have one option in the tech tree that is a dominant strategy. Some teams will spot it, others may well miss it until it is too late.

Putting this all together in a new package

I usually have about four hours available for a megagame, and get through about eight 20 minute turns, after briefings and delays are taken care of. So I want less tiers of research than I expect game turns. I think the tech tree should be open knowledge to the players, especially as I want to run the game more than once.

Because each team should have five players, that sets the upper bound of research effort each turn – five attempts to generate research points and buy technology cards. That means no more than five branches on the research tree. With the mechanics I have in mind, at the start of the game a player should be generating 1-12 research points a turn. By the end of the game, a player should be generating 2-24 research points a turn.

research2

This is a table I put together quickly, so the numbers might be fine tuned later. It has four tiers of research, although I might extend it to a fifth tier as well. There are two concepts represented in the cost/reward structure – diffusion of knowledge and diminishing returns.

The first team to research a breakthrough pays the highest cost, but reaps the greatest reward in Victory Points. The costs diminish as the knowledge is spread throughout society, but the Victory Points drop more quickly to zero. This can be done by building a card deck, set in a prearranged order, so the cost of the top card is the highest cost, and so on down to the cheapest and last card.

If a team focuses on maximising research, they should unlock most of the tech tree within five turns, granting them three or more turns to enjoy the fruits of their labours. A team focusing its efforts elsewhere, can catch up with a bit of effort.

I do have some problems to work on. First, I need a way to make it clear who gets the privilege of choosing cards first (it could just be random).

Second, because I need to keep the research card decks in one place, but my initial map design has multiple maps where research can be generated, I need to find a way to accurately transmit information about research (do I give the players cards or token chips, or rely on Map GMs to coordinate the information).

I also have not decided exactly what the research will do, but it is likely to be a mixture of:

  1. Adding more units to a team’s force pool.
  2. Improving the capabilities of controlled units (e.g. rolling a d8 rather than a d6).
  3. Changing game rules.
  4. Unlocking new types of units, such as the Colossi.
  5. Allowing the build of ancient wonders of the world.

One option I am considering, is allowing a narrow thrust up the tree to unlock the Colossi at Tier IV or V. But all the branches of the tech tree lead to Colossi (each gives the Colossi a different capability). After all, making a game about giant steam bronze robots, and not letting the players use and enjoy such leviathans, would not be good design.

 


Adapting boardgames

September 20, 2011

An old book I have on designing PBM games referred to “shell” designs.  These were designs that could be easily recoloured for a new theme without requiring a major redesign/new coding of software.  So Unit A and B might be Knights and Peasants in Shell Z, but Battleships and Submarines in Shell Y.

For a Grand Strategy game, the largest difficulty in adapting an existing boardgame, is that mechanics often don’t scale well when upscaled from 5 to 35 players.  This can be due to the iterative nature of the mechanics.  If everyone needs to make five decisions to resolve a coup in Junta, that’s 25 decisions in a 5 player game and 175 in a 35 player game.  We’d probably end spending half the night resolving one civil war.  It can also be due to the nature of the game components, and in this respect I am leaning away from using cards as a resource in the game (I still think they can be useful for objectives or currency).

I’m not happy with how special power cards have worked in some of my grand strategy games.  One reason for this is that I have often gotten the balance wrong, too many/too few cards or too weak/too powerful.  Another reason is that most of the players don’t get to see most of the cards, so they never learn which cards are good or bad, so the decisions they make in the game are not informed ones.  In Colossus of Atlantis and Dark Lord players spent a lot of time getting large numbers of cards, and then only used a few of them.

So in considering how I could adapt the look and feel of Junta into a Big Damn Galactic Empire game I start with the following thoughts:

– the variety of Influence cards is too complex

– the combat is too indecisive

– the Coup phase has too many steps to it

– the various Ministries need to start balanced.

What I am thinking about at the moment is a game with several levels of play:

1) the Rebels are fighting a wargame against the Imperial Governors of the Great Houses

2) the Great Houses are fighting other Houses for influence, and need the favour of the Dynasty to ward off the Rebels

3) The Dynastic Princes are fighting each other for the Throne/control of the Imperial Government, and need the support of the Great Houses.

So we have at least two map displays.  One is focused on the “Core” game, and has the key points needed to control the Galactic Empire and the movement links between those.  The other is the “Periphery” game, representing the border zones menaced by the rebellion.  The Rebel game is probably the simplest of the three – fight the big bad Empire – and that’s not a bad thing, as it could be pitched as “suitable for inexperienced players”.  The other two games will involve a lot more player diplomacy and trading, with the occasional outburst of civil war.  What I see as the main points of interaction are:

1) the Great Houses acquire Influence (a currency) from control of map sectors, which they can trade to Princes

2) the Princes acquire Warrants (a resource) from control of Government Ministries, which they can trade to the Houses

3) Princes spend Influence in voting on the Imperial Budget

4) Houses spend Warrants (a one use document that grants a “free” map action) on the game map.

Part of what I am thinking here, is that the Imperial Fleets used by the Princes are an order of magnitude more powerful than the Great House Fleets.  This explains why the Princes stay in charge of the Empire, and the Great Houses keep their heads down during the internecine warfare between the Princes (or Princesses).

One of my reasons for building game tokens as currency notes rather than cards, is currency is just a bit less fiddly to build and/or keep track of in game.  A few notes of 1, 2, 5 and 10 are much easier to deal with than 55 unique power cards.

So, time to look at how we might adapt the Junta turn sequence:

Budget

1. The Emperor receives a budget of currency (possibly based on how well the Houses are doing against the Rebels)

2. The Emperor proposes a budget.

3. The Princes vote on the budget, possibly spending Influence.  I’ll probably need a fixed order for the voting, as players will likely be standing around a table for this.

4.  If the budget passes, it is distributed, and all Princes gain a Warrant from their Ministry.

5. If the budget fails, the Emperor keeps the budget, and there is a Casus Bellum for a Civil War.

Locations

1. Each prince secretly chooses one of the following five locations:

  • Flagship (grants a Casus Bellum)
  • Office (can spend Influence to gain an extra Warrant)
  • Pleasure World (gain a Decadence resource)
  • Senate (double Influence spending in next vote if there is no Civil War)
  • Court (trade places with the Prince above you in the Order-of-Succession)

Assassins

1. In a set order, each player announces who they wish to assassinate and where.

2. Reveal locations

3. If an assassin is directed against the right location, they have a chance of killing the target (I think most should be around 50/50 chance, with ten players a close to 100% chance would allow a couple of players to be constantly murdered which feels a bit rough to me).

4. If a Prince is killed, their replacement clone goes to the bottom of the Order-of-Succession, and everyone else shuffles up the list. (I imagine the OoS will be tracked on a prominently displayed whiteboard or similar device).

5.  If the Emperor is assassinated, there is a Casus Bellum.  If a Civil War does not start, then the player who is next in the Order-of-Succession becomes Emperor.

Civil Wars

If a Prince has a Casus Bellum they can trigger a Civil War by declaring their intent to usurp the Imperial Throne.  Everyone else is then free to say “me too”.

Only Usurpers can move in the first phase.

Usurpers that control less key victory locations than the number of civil war phases, are murdered by their unhappy followers.  The Civil War ends if a) only one Usurper is alive (they become Emperor) or b) all Usurpers are dead (the non-Usurper Prince next in the Order-of-Succession becomes Emperor).  If there are five victory locations, then the Civil War can last a maximum of three phases.

During the Civil War, rebels gain a bonus to recruitment – this is a hurry the fuck up incentive for the princes.

New Emperor or Emperor wins Civil War

1. The Emperor can execute one Prince of their choice.

2. All Princes score Victory Points based on their rank (from 1-10, with the Emperor gaining 10).

3. The Emperor allocates the nine Ministries among the different princes.

Ministries

With ten players I will need a few more arms of Government than Junta has.  My initial thoughts here include a few Fleet Admirals, Colonial Marines, Naval Intelligence, Imperial Intelligence, Transport, Communications, Pensions, Monopolies … feel free to suggest some in the comments section.

I’m not sure how many rounds of Budget allocation you should get through in one game bound (twenty minutes or so).  One plus a civil war should be possible, two-three without.