Monday, 19 December 2016

Milestones in Gaming: Megagame Makers

Megagames need lots of space.

Back in 1999 I moved down to Dulwich, in south London, a leafy and very civilised suburb, that sits in the shadow of the hill where the old Crystal Palace used to be, before it burned down in 1936. The Crystal Palace was originally built to house the Great Exhibition in 1851, when it stood in Hyde Park. In a work of engineering audacity, of which the Victorians were justly proud, it was moved to a hill overlooking south London and surrounded by model dinosaurs, which can still be seen in the park today.

I lived in Dulwich between 1999 and 2001. As it happened, I was not far from the school where the Megagame Makers staged their regular mega games. What are these mega games, I hear you ask? They are massive multi-player games, usually with a political or military theme, but there have been versions embracing fantasy and science fiction as well. Typically they take place over a single day, and feature as many as 70 or 80 participants, not including umpires, who are called game controls.

My first mega game was a re-run of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, where I was on the Egyptian 'team'; I was actually Anwar Sadat himself, who at that point was the commander of the Egyptian air force. My responsibilities were to manage the air support for the Egyptian divisions in the Sinai, plus ground-based air defence west of the Suez Canal. The game was hosted in a primary school on a Saturday, and took most of the day. The Eygptian command was housed in a classroom with an intercom which we could use to communicate with our corps commanders. Every 30 minutes I would also receive updated intelligence reports from one of the umpires, effectively what my pilots were seeing on the ground and in the air as they tangled with Israeli jets. We also received a couple of visits from the 'press' - a separate team that was trying to figure out what was going on, and read out a news bulletin on the hour.

The game was very intense; Israel still won out in the end, even with the Jordanians throwing in their lot with the Syrians. The day flashed by, and at the end of it all, the umpires briefed us on what actually happened. I think we Egyptians managed better than the historic army, and ended the war in control of at least some of the Sinai.

The close proximity to the school where these games took place allowed me to attend several more. Some were military in nature, like Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 (I was in charge of logistics for the German Army Group Centre), while others mixed military with politics. We had a very entertaining day as barons in the Wars of the Roses for example, and another as Japanese daimyo. I also played a White Russian general during a Russian Civil War day.

Since I moved to Brighton, I have found it more difficult to get to London for these games, and the craze has itself spread its wings to the Netherlands, the north of England, and more recently to the US and Scotland. While commentators on the increased demand for table top board games have wondered why this has been happening in the era of the Playstation/X-Box, I think mega games have been benefiting from this trend. In  particular, Watch The Skies, a game about an alien invasion of Earth, has been doing particularly well, and has become the standard bearer of the mega games movement.

Which brings me on to the fact that I've just put up my hand to play test a couple of new designs. My hope is that I will be able to host these in Brighton somewhere. One is a US political simulation, and the other is about mobsters in Chicago. I've been sent the playtest packets which I will review in January. I will be updating my blog with further progress, including hopefully event dates, when the opportunity arises. If you are interested in taking part, or would like to help in any capacity, let me know.

1 comment:

  1. I've never been involved in anything of this sort, so I'm in!