(Part two is here)
As I gave a brief preview of in the last post, on Saturday 21st March I participated in my first real ‘Megagame’. What’s a Megagame, I hear you ask? I’m going to have to disappoint you there, because I still have no idea. No, honestly, I’m sitting here intent on writing a few thousand words to induce some understanding of what it was that I was involved in, and I have absolutely no idea how to do the experience justice.
Let’s start from the beginning.
I was signed up, with Sid, Abby and Erin, to play Watch The Skies 2 ever since watching the now-internet-famous SU&SD video last June. Back in January we found out that we’d been allocated our own team – LEXCorp, arms dealers extraordinaire – and in the run-up to Saturday we’d been doing a lot of plotting and planning around how we’d approach the game. Even that on its own felt exciting; we were getting involved already and couldn’t wait for the game itself to begin.
The game was held at the Camden Centre near King’s Cross. Erin and I were up early, got hard-hatted and suited respectively (you have to dress appropriately for these things, don’t you know), and left in plenty of time to get there for doors open. The central line alas had other ideas, however, so what was intended to be a nice relaxing early arrival with some included pre-planning for the day’s operations turned into a stressfully-late emergency taxi ride instead. (Honestly, every time I take road-based transport in London I wonder why anyone would ever do it.) We arrived in time to join the super-long queue, a little bit flustered but good to go.
Ok, here’s the premise.
It’s the present day, real world. There are probably aliens nearby but that knowledge isn’t public/acknowledged. There are 150 people in the room assigned to playing various roles – mainly representing various positions in the ~30 playable countries, but also some mega-corporations, the Vatican, the alien factions, the media, and a couple of other minor factions. This is alongside the roughly 50 people playing a variety of ‘control’ roles – the Games Masters who would keep the game moving. The game is arranged into turns of ~45 minutes, each turn organised into 8 phases which dictated what particular types of things were allowed to happen, when things might get manufactured or researched, etc. There is an economy of sorts with goods (mainly military stuff) available and money being generated to buy them. Scientific research is taking place and advancing humanity’s knowledge. There are various regional maps with military hardware deployed on them to work at the whim of the owning country’s players.
Ok, you know how to play. Ready to start? It’s 10:30am and we’re playing, non-stop, until 5pm. Now go.
I’m exaggerating only slightly; while we had received a handbook and our corporation-specific briefing a couple of weeks prior to the game they were really only providing some details to some of the mechanical aspects of the last paragraph. As I heard, paraphrased, more than once on Saturday: it’s not a boardgame, the rules are more like guidelines, put yourself into your role and try to figure out what you would really do in that situation.
The four of us had been assigned to play LEXCorp, one of the four corporations in the game; I as CEO, Erin as Head of Production, Abby as Chief Scientist and Sid on PR. We were a mega-corp, and in theory could do either harm or good, but the tone of our briefing implied that in our heart of hearts we were mainly interested in dealing arms for cold hard cash; we decided that was exactly what we would do.
As I suspected, I’m really struggling to form coherent thoughts to describe how the rest of the day went. I’m going to attempt to solve that with bulletted lists instead! Here are various thoughts and happenings as the day progressed:
- Those plans we’d been discussing for the previous week? The old adage about them not surviving first contact with the enemy proved true, especially as we were almost mid-way through turn 1 before I even properly realised the game had started!
- There was an early attempt among some of the Corps to form a cartel but I was having none of that; LEXCorp were better than all of them.
- Oh right, it’s turn 1. Let’s get countries onto those exclusive contracts! Let’s sell our shit! Let’s develop value for our shareholders! Let’s manufacture some interceptors for great profit!
- … hold on. Does anyone know how we build stuff? Anyone? (By turn three we had a pretty good handle on it but the first hour was filled with confusion)
- Lots of glad-handing of nations who have only vague ideas of what we can provide for them. Mostly they’re happy to sign on the dotted line (literally – Sid printed up some contracts!) and start forking over the juice juicy cash.
- We’re HQ’d in the UK and paying an exorbitant rate of tax; I give a turn 1 ultimatum that we can provide a lot of help by being there but the tax rate is too high – deadline turn 3.
- There’s definitely scientific research going on, but beyond that I’m clueless. Abby seems to know what she’s doing; or at least, she keeps returning to the table with buckets of money to hand over. I’m sure that’s the way science works normally, right?
- Speaking of Abby, has she been abducted by aliens? Brief LEXCorp team panic.
- Turns out that no, she’s just been off <doing something> with <someone> for <some purpose> and she’s still earthbound.
- UK foreign minister is uncompromising – he’s certainly not had his cup of tea this morning – and no progress in our negotiations with him. Temporary rate decrease but they want more from us. They’re not interested in our weapons; that’s kind of our speciality!
- My first corporate results/earnings briefing – i.e. me doing a brief interview with Corporate Control about how things have been going so far. I mention the alien menace before remembering that they’re not actually public knowledge yet. I’m sure it’s a gaffe and would cause it to come out at some unknown consequence to LEXCorp, but instead Russia decide to go public with it in that turn anyway so my blushes are spared.
- First stock price updates are in, LEXCorp are top!
- Called back into corporate control. Apparently two corps have signed exclusivity contracts with the same country. Arbitrary fine. Oops!
- Turn 3 has come and gone, I finally remember the ultimatum with the UK. We move HQ to the US for a more favourable tax rate.
- I arrange to rent one of our agents (spies) to the US for a turn for a reasonable fee; this relationship is working much better already!
- Hilarity; I had apparently forgotten (ahem) to tell the UK PM that we were moving HQ away from London. Let’s just say they were a bit surprised when they came calling for their next tax payment. Oops?
- Turkey start grumbling that they’re not getting anything beneficial from our manufacturing centre in Ankara; they want cheaper deals, I respond by telling them we won’t sell to them. They can’t touch us.
- Apparently the US were a bit careless; next thing I know is the PM of Argentina is at our table holding our spy accusing us of a lot of nasty things. I deny everything; he leaves, spy presumably languishing in some Buenos Aires dungeon.
- At some point in here I assemble a very hasty sandwich lunch. I don’t really remember anything else about it, apart from any time I put it in my mouth there were two people waiting to talk to me.
- Turkey have come back to bite me; apparently they can touch us – they’re threatening to shut down our manufacturing plant unless we do something nice for them. I guess, yes, that does seem like something I should have seen as possible! Erin negotiates our way out of it, somehow.
- We’re now in the odd position where the corps are rolling in money and the countries seem ever-present on the poverty line; Sid and I turn into salesmen, offering top-of-the-line platforms of destruction for bargain basement prices. What could possibly go wrong?
- I return from another corporate earnings interview to find three people sitting around our team table, none of them from LEXCorp. They’re all demanding something or other, China in particular seem pretty pissed off about one of our spies being found in their territories. I deny all knowledge – I think that’s what’s known as plausible deniability, me having given Sid the agents and a wad of cash some time previously.
- Our manufacturing plant in Turkey mysteriously blows up; we immediately suspect AIM, another corp, vile underhanded dogs that they are.
- Tokyo is nuked from the face of the earth; AIM made a valiant attempt to convince anyone who would listen that LEXCorp were somehow behind it. Publicly I laughed it off, in my head I was wondering – what did Sid do with those agents?? It turned out we definitely had nothing to do with it, though, ’twas the aliens that did it.
- Another corporate earnings interview ends and I come out of the briefing room to overhear “We really want to fuck up LEXCorp’s stock price”. The CEO of Weygand (I think) in deep discussion with one of corporate control. What did we ever do to them??
- We research the orbital nuke platform technology and try to sell it to Italy, who want to do something permanent about Greece. Unfortunately they don’t have a nuke and my bargaining with region control about us procuring a nuke off the back of a truck was unsuccessful.
- Getting close to the end of the game, I send Sid off with a wad (a significant proportion of our entire game earnings) of cash, and instructions to figure out something with Corporate Control to tank the other corps’ share price. He comes back looking satisfied with himself and distinctly lighter on cash, promising some excellent results next turn. Looking forward to turn 10!
- I’m approached by the leader of the definitely-not-a-cult Humanity First organisation, who we’ve been funding since the beginning, offering me a seat on a spaceship to meet the aliens next turn. Oh hell yeah, I’m going to be the first CEO in space! Looking forward to turn 10!
- Turn 9 ends, I’m all set for turn 10 when …
- Game Over
- What? No! It can’t be! But I was going to go to spaaaaaace!
- Game Over …
…fade to black.
Debrief time. We collapsed on chairs and listened to snippets of happenings from the various heads of control for the different regions and roles. Many of them were things we had no idea were going on, some we had our dirty little fingers in the middle of.
I was out of it, completely in a daze, but also weirdly on a high. I couldn’t even start to process all of the things that had happened to me (and us) directly, and could only barely comprehend some of the other stories I could now hear being discussed. There were some small words between the four of us but mostly over purely mechanical things like tidying up our table; it was clear that Syd, Abby and Erin were in the same mental and emotional state as I was.
It was over; time to turn off.
It was getting on towards 5.30 and lots of people were heading to a pub for some post-game food, drink and analysis. I would have loved to go but we were completely wasted; if we’d sat in a pub we might never have been able to move again. We headed home instead, and once there we collapsed in front of mindless TV – House of Cards suggested and rejected for requiring too much focus – for a couple of hours. Somehow managed to not fall asleep before 8pm, but only barely.
It was over; why couldn’t I stop thinking about it?
I woke twice during the night, both times still thinking about the day just gone.
I was still frazzled when I got up Sunday morning; I honestly had trouble putting two coherent wordstogether for most of the day, never mind sentences. My mind was still busy reliving, second-guessing, analysing, thinking of how I would approach that kind of game differently next time.
Because if there’s one thing for sure: there will be a next time.
There’ll be another post later in the week in which I’ll go more into the things I think worked, what didn’t, what I’d like to do differently next time, etc. Also more pictures! But for now, that’s enough.