Before I start – the Shut Up and Sit Down guys (whose video last year was my first encounter with megagames) have released the first part of their video of WTS2; well worth a look for anyone at all interested! Linky
If you’ve not read the previous post then this one won’t make much sense to you. So, go on then; I’ll wait.
You’re done? Excellent! Are you all excited by what you’ve ready? Good, because, almost two weeks later, so am I!
The last post was an attempt to capture the raw feelings I had while playing, and in the aftermath of, my first real megagame. It was deliberately written as soon after the game as possible so it’d be all still fresh in my mind. This post, on the other hand, has deliberately been delayed instead. I felt I needed to get a bit of distance from the experience before I could properly begin to look at it from a slightly more analytical viewpoint. Some of this will likely be a bit critical because I will naturally tend towards looking at some of the weaker aspects in a more analytical post; however, I caveat any negativity that follows by saying that I feel like I’ve fallen in love with both the play and idea of megagames – as you’ll have already gathered!
Right, let’s get to it.
Things that worked well
Setting the Scene
I, and I think the rest of my team, found the setup utterly compelling. I don’t even mean the general ‘Watch The Skies’ (ooh aliens) setting, I more mean the role-tailored briefing that put us into the mindset of the Corporation that we were to play. We spent the week prior to the game discussing approaches and making plans, and most of those plans were related to how we’d compete with the other corporations and were very tangential to even the possibility of aliens.
Emergent and Freeform Gameplay
This one is almost for free by definition of what a ‘megagame’ means, but picture this: put a couple of hundred people in a room, each with their own different goals and expectations. Wind everyone’s clockwork to ~7 hours. Yell ‘go’ – now it’s up to those people to create their own game experience. If the majority of those people buy into that premise then, so long as the game control and structure is used to guide rather than railroad, the inevitable conclusion of that process is emergent gameplay that there’s no real way for anyone to predict in advance; like, the stories with the pope moving to Brazil.
As someone who’s only recently been dabbling with P&P DnD, as opposed to PC RPGs, the freedom of gameplay – that is, where the options on what path to take originate from the mind of the player rather than the player choosing among a set of options – is something that excites and intrigues me quite a lot. I can’t say I’m particularly good at it as I struggle with lack of that kind of imagination more often than not, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the challenges and possibilities inherent in that kind of game.
It’s all so hectic, what’s going on
I suspect this is a point that everyone who played the game would agree on, but the disagreement would lie in whether they thought of it as a positive or negative. As should have been clear from my previous post I was in this mindset for most of the game; I was barely (let’s be honest, rarely) able to keep on top of the things I was supposed to be keeping on top of for most of the game, never mind anything else. I really didn’t have time to do much longer-term thinking or planning lateral jumps in strategy etc. While in-the-moment I actually found that exhilarating; I have a reasonable amount of short-term/bursty stress in my work life and I feel like I thrive on it, so being in that mindset for 6 or 7 hours was quite a lot of fun especially when I felt like I was making a difference to how we were doing. On the other hand I think that as CEO my time may have been better spent taking at least some time outside of the fray to try to come up with other options for what we could do. However, that’s a criticism of my own play rather than the game itself, and I just appreciate that the game was believable enough that I, and clearly many others, fully bought into that mood of franticness.
Things that worked not-so-well
Corporations were a new addition to the game relative to WTS1, and while we had a lot of fun playing as one (“LEXCorp”) it was clear from the start that they hadn’t really been play-tested or ‘debugged’. The briefing was strong on theme but light on details, even on the mechanics of such basic things as how we built stuff. It wasn’t until at least turn 3 that we had the basics mostly down, almost 90 minutes into play. The corporation metagame on the whole was quite interesting, although I feel like it could have used maybe one more game mechanic to somehow tie it more into the rest of the game. However, I think that the world state tending towards global peace limited some of the power of corporations late-game, whereas if it was all going down in flames that might have opened up some interesting options.
Most Favoured Company (“MFC”)
This is quite tied into the above point but the MFC stuff was a mess. Basically, corps wanted to sign countries up to MFC agreements because it gave us more money, higher stock price and allowed us to do some other stuff in that country. It was beneficial for countries to have an MFC agreement as some of that other stuff was good for them. All good. In theory only one MFC was allowed per country, but in practice, well… three times during the game I was fined by Control for having MFCs where we shouldn’t, but there didn’t seem to be any way of keeping track of it properly. Governments weren’t really aware (or had any real reason to care) that they should only have MFC with one corp, region control people weren’t aware of (or likely, much too busy doing all of the other things they were responsible for) the restrictions on people placing corp-related things on the map, etc.
These were one of the things that corps could do for countries who they had an MFC agreement with. One of the bonuses they provided was a PR boost and from what some customers told me on the day it was potentially a bit overpowered compared to other ways PR (an important stat, I understand, although irrelevant to me on the day) could be modified.
Feeling Like an Accountant
Not that I know what being an accountant feels like, but midway through the day I got to the end of a few turns feeling like I’d spent the last 90 minutes just collecting money for various ongoing projects; not the most interesting thing in the world! This is more a criticism of my own play than of the game itself, and it got better once I consciously thought about how to correct it and get out of that rut, but I thought it worth mentioning as a mental note for next time.
This part of the game felt pretty irrelevant to me, and others have done a good job of expanding on why that was and how it could be done better. Each issue was, at best, of fleeing interest as I scanned it quickly for mention of either us or another corp. Having multiple real-time reporter twitter feeds on a screen in the hall would have made them relevant and potentially exciting I think.
A little bit too big for the space
I think the game came together quite well for something that had 300 people in a room doing a wide variety of different things, but physical-space-wise some of the regions felt very cramped. Finding somewhere a bit bigger would be much better, or failing that cutting the numbers by about 10-15% would make for a more comfortable (if slightly less epic) experience. There’s nothing particularly fun about trying to burrow between people to get at some of the less-accessible tables.
Could have done with a bit of a better overview of how science worked before the game started. As the CEO I had no clue what Abby, our Head of Science, was up to or even what our options were, and there wasn’t a huge amount of opportunity during the game to discuss it. I’m not really criticising the need to delegate the responsibility to make the right decisions to the person directly involved, but I didn’t (and still don’t, really) have even a 30000 foot view of what was going on there.
I mentioned it above, but there was poor explanation for some of the most basic mechanics in the briefing, and even Control were on shaky footing for some of it. How do we build things? How to we pay for them? I know it’s not a boardgame, and that’s a good thing, but some of these things felt like they’d never been play-tested before – surely these would have been obvious things that would have come up if they were?
There’s probably other stuff that will come to me about the day as well but those are the main points. Looking forward to WTS3 in July!
Can’t think of a tidy way to finish this post so I’ll just sto