I’ll remember 2020 for a lot of things, but one great thing that happened was that I discovered megagames.
What’s a ‘megagame’, you ask? A megagame is a huge game played with 50+ other people over the course of nearly a whole day. These can be about nearly anything: corporations trying to take over the world, humans fending off an alien invasion, business magnates managing a sports team, or any number of other fun themes. The ones I played in were exhilarating, chaotic, exhausting, and I loved every minute of them.
Unlike many other games, the primary purpose of a megagame is not to win or lose. Rather, it’s to generate stories. With 50 players, there really can’t be winners or losers. It’s all about the experience you have while playing. The rules of the game are merely a framework to allow people to build stories around them. If you want to learn more, I recommend watching Shut Up & Sit Down‘s video of them playing Watch the Skies (it’s how I found out about megagames).
The first one I played in was a game called Running Hot. It was based in a dystopian future where corporations had control and runners would try to turn a profit by stealing from them. We played the part of Augmented Nucleotech, a shell corporation for an Icelandic nuclear power company. It was an interesting introduction to the whole experience.
Everyone on the team had different jobs, and thus different experiences. My sister was our CEO, in charge of negotiating with other teams and runners. I was the researcher, and my part was most akin to a normal board game, gathering science resources and spending them on upgrades. And rounding out our team was our security expert who defended our facilities.
That game was pretty interesting. All of the corporations were blindly researching things from their tech tree without knowing what they would do until after they completed the research. For example, one of the first technologies we researched was the intimidating-sounding “Glacial Worm”. It turned out to just be a computer virus for defense. Meanwhile, the runners were encountering various security measures that convinced them that our corporations were evil.
It turned out that the bioengineering company had no idea what they were doing, and their successes were just flukes. The media company’s subliminal messaging attempts just made everyone convinced that they were attempting to implement mind control. And the runners kept raiding the weapons manufacturer to save the dogs they were using as guards. Also, one of the runner groups was obsessed with Nicolas Cage? Things got weird.
This was the first time Running Hot had been played. It was a relatively slower-paced game, so I think it was a good game for my first experience. The next game I played, however, was anything but slow.
Den of Wolves
When Sunday rolled around, I was fresh off my experiences of Running Hot, and thought I was prepared for what would happen in my second game, Den of Wolves. Boy, was I wrong!
The premise of Den of Wolves was that we were a ragtag fleet of starships fleeing a deadly force bent on wiping us out (basically, Battlestar Galactica). Our enemy were the Wolves, a group of humans who had staged a massive rebellion and destroyed the majority of the colonial forces. The ships comprising our fleet had been lucky enough to escape annihilation, but were now in a precarious situation. Our goals were twofold: Find sanctuary and get rid of any traitorous Wolves lurking in our midst.
Each ship hailed from a different colony/nation. And each ship might have its own goals. These could be benign, like making sure that they upgraded their food synthesizers to become self-sufficient, or a little more antagonistic, like trying to maintain political control of the Council. And worst of all, anyone could be a Wolf. (If you want to learn more about the background, you can find the background pdf below).
Though the game itself didn’t start until Sunday, most teams started preparing the week prior. My group was the Media team, responsible for finding out the news and reporting on it. Before the game started, we interviewed as many people as we could, focusing on the Captains of the ships, the military command, and the civilian government. I was the Fleet Correspondent, responsible for looking into logistics and the status of the Fleet as a whole.
At first, I was disappointed when I was given a media role. I wanted to play someone who would get to engage more directly with things, get my hands dirty. But I quickly realized that this was a great opportunity. The media had access to everything. Every text channel on the Discord server was open to our perusal. We could go (nearly) anywhere we wanted. This allowed me to see so much of what was going on. And we were far from powerless – from our routine reports to our breaking news channel, we could inform people about things they had no idea was going on. We could easily sway public opinion for or against whatever we thought important. And this did have tangible effects in the game.
The game started off simply enough. Our team held an initial broadcast, bringing up some of the concerns we had discovered during our pre-game interviews. After that, each team went off to their ship to start planning. As the Fleet Correspondent, my first lead was the fact that neither the Icebreaker nor the Refinery had any shuttles. These two ships were responsible for fuel production, and without shuttles, they would not be able to transport the fuel to other ships as easily. I wanted to find out what their plans were about that dilemma.
In the meantime, the Council was holding their first meeting. They quickly passed a resolution to grant the Logistics Officer of the Aegis (the sole military ship in the fleet) command of all the shuttles, so that he could oversee the transport of vital supplies. A logical decision…or at least it would have been if the Admiral didn’t lock him in the brig about a minute later, accusing him of being a Wolf. And here’s where everything started falling apart.
Because the Logistics Officer had just been given command of all the shuttles, none of the ships could move any supplies. Instead, the Strike Wing Commander took over that role. But while he was busy managing the shuttles, the fleet was attacked by a Wolf force. And since the Strike Commander was busy with the shuttles, he was not on the Aegis, and thus couldn’t launch fighters to help defend. The Aegis also never provided a reason why the Logistics Officer was locked up, then quickly released.
As it turns out, this was all a part of a honeypot scheme to figure out who the Wolves were and to determine the codeword they would use to identify each other. And to that end, it worked beautifully – one of the Wolves came forward and dropped the codeword. However, because the Aegis never launched fighters to defend against the first attack, and had one of their officers in the brig immediately, trust in them was very low, and things only got worse.
As the game went forward, the Aegis attempted to use the codeword to draw out other Wolves, but only succeeded in drawing more suspicion. By the time the end of the game rolled around, the Admiral had been dishonorably discharged, the Council had been bombed twice, the President had been almost assassinated twice, several ships had almost started an insurrection, and nobody had any faith in the crew of the Aegis, not even themselves.
During the final moments of the game, all the ships were preparing for what would be our final jump. But just as several ships were jumping, the Aegis launched a shuttle and rammed it into the side of the Dione (a civilian refugee ship). The Dione, having sustained massive damage, decided (understandably) that they didn’t want to come with us, and jumped to a different location. Turned out to be a bad move and they all died. The rest of the ships all made it to a location free of Wolves, but at that point basically decided to abandon the Aegis.
I think my favorite moment came when I was on board the Quellon at the end of the game, just after the final jump. The Aegis‘s Comms Officer came aboard seeking asylum. She explained that she didn’t trust any of the other crew members aboard the Aegis and wanted to jump ship. The crew of the Quellon welcomed her with open arms, with one of them saying “Yeah, that’s cool. We don’t have any drama here.” To which the Comms Officer responded: “Okay, thanks. I think we should plant a bomb to blow up the Aegis,” causing everybody to shout at her about how they didn’t want any drama.
And the best part of this whole game? None of the members of the Aegis were Wolves.
In the end, this game was an awesome second look at how megagames can go. Though I was initially disappointed at being a member of the media (I wanted a more active role), I’m now glad that I got to see that whole game in all its insanity. One of the cool things about megagames is that they are often so big that no one person can tell what’s going on everywhere all the time. So after the game, you get to join up and tell stories about what happened from your point of view.
Red Planet Rising
More recently, in December, I participated in a game of Red Planet Rising. This game was about surviving and rebuilding a Mars colony after a massive disaster. Each team represented a different faction of survivors, with slightly different objectives.
This one was pretty interesting, because unlike Den of Wolves, I was an active player. In particular, I was the General of the Nomads, or, as we preferred to be called, the Mars Expeditionary Corps. Our team was the remnants of the engineers responsible for building and maintaining the terraforming devices. Our objective was pretty simple: protect the terraformers so that we wouldn’t all suffer a horrible death.
As the leader of our three-member team, it was my job to provide my teammates with direction, as well as to interface with the other teams and engage in political discussions and decisions.
When the game started, my primary goal was to convince the other factions to help us run the terraforming stations, as well as to convince them of our neutral stance. Things really started to pick up about three rounds into the game, when one of the faction leaders jumped into a discussion I was having with other leaders in the government we had joined and demanded to know why our coalition was attacking them. Turns out that one of the members of a team we were allied with had gone rogue, taking control of their army and destroying a terraforming station.
Things got pretty wild after that. Our team decided to hunker down and defend the terraforming station we had taken, while using our airdrop ability to provide reinforcements to conflicts around the map to protect the remaining terraforming stations. In the meantime, we scrounged for resources to enable us to upgrade the terraforming stations.
The game ended with a massive plot by the opposing government to destroy the capitol by sending a bomb-laden train through a tunnel to blow it up. This coincided with the Dean of the University detonating their nuclear reactor. But in the end, we hung on and managed to protect the terraformers and come out unscathed.
Ultimately, this experience managing a team was really great. Both of my teammates were great; my Resource Lead kept us flawlessly supplied; we never needed any resources. And my Map Lead did a brilliant job managing our troops. I don’t think we lost a single unit.
This month, I’ll be participating in a play-by-email game called Afterlife. It’s about, well, the afterlife. Players take the role of shades, living in the Necropolis. The time has come to elect a new ruler, but the players don’t have all their memories. The game is about discovering who you were, as well as deciding who you will be. It’s going to be running for 12 whole weeks, and I’m super excited to see where it goes.
If all of this sounds interesting to you, then you should try one out sometime! While I was nervous the first time I played, the community has been super welcoming. A lot of people I played with the first time have also been playing in other games I’ve done. And thanks to the magic of the internet, everybody can enjoy playing! I’ve played with people from Russia and Australia, and one of my teammates in Red Planet Rising was from England.
While 2020 shut down many social gatherings, necessity is the mother of invention. And the past year saw an explosion in online megagames. All you need to play is a computer and a good internet connection (and about eight hours). I really hope that I can participate in an in-person game sometime soon, though.
If you want to find out more, check out the Megagame Coalition and Megagame Assembly. They collect information about when various megagames will be held, and provide details about how to sign up. There’s also a few Discord Servers you can join. And as always, you can reach out to me if you have any questions!