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Daily Archives: 26/02/2016

Still more reflections on a megagame

The following piece was written by Thomas Fisher, who served as Economic Control during the recent New World Order 2035 megagame in Montréal. You’ll find earlier reflections by Vince Carpini (Science Control) and myself (Map Control) here and here.


 

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New World Order 2035: A new era for Montréal gaming

February 20th, 2016 saw an historic gaming event for Montréal: her first ever megagame. Under the guidance and tutelage of the Grand Master of megagames, Jim Wallman himself, the Montréal Control Team and player community pulled off an exhausting, exhilarating and extraordinary day of gaming excitement.

The premise seemed simple (as if): in the near-future, faced with climate change, shifting power balance, unequal resources and (rather effective) rogue elements, the 100+ participants would shape the geopolitical, scientific and economic narrative of the world. Mastering the ever-shifting economics, research, technology diplomacy and military struggles of this new world became the aspiration of 16 country-teams, 4 mega corporations, the world’s press, cutting edge (rather competitive) scientists, the United Nations, and a very sly cadre of anarchist terror cells with their own chaotic agenda.

The game culminated in a possibly scary future where an independent AI believed it knew what was best for this technology-dependent, über-connected world, and began acting on this belief.

Of course, the destination only part of any journey’s story. Along the path to the New World Order, scientific discovery, unhindered by controls lead to the regeneration of dinosaurs, but also the cure for cancer. Altruistic countries came together, forging an alliance made possible, in particular, by the diplomatic efforts of the Vatican, and free sharing of technology by states such as Canada, to ratify a complex and comprehensive Climate Change Treaty, forcing all countries to take an immediate and substantial economic hit for the greater good. This New World saw a nuclear warhead fall into the hands of a terror cell, whose goal it was to detonate the devastating device in New York, and they succeeded. Meanwhile, mega corporations, merged and plotted as they were developing technologies that saw them achieve near country status as they weaponized bio-weapons and agents, selling cures to only the highest bidders.

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The immediate takeaways were how immersive and engaging the MegaGame experience could be. Emotions ran very high in some instances, but the players did, certainly, keep all in perspective (and fun).

It became immediately clear that game success relied on player buy-in, and quality a Control team to keep things running smoothly. While we may have used more Controls, I do not think we could have found any better. Playing the careful role of arbiter, coach and occasional encouragement provider/shoulder to lean on, the Control team performed exceedingly well in this baptism of fire!

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Following discussions with various Control members and some player-participants, room for improvement was certainly identified:

  • Megagames have been the domain of experienced war gamers, role players and the pro gamer community. This run with a more casual-gamer, student population revealed a need for a simplified guide to the possible. A number of players felt initially overwhelmed by the vastness of the possibilities in play, being used to more structured rules-based games. Adapting the rules and guidelines to the particularities of the Montréal setting will be a priority to future megagames.
  • Some roles need to be more clearly defined, with hands-on guidelines to keep players engaged. Particularly the Press role who, as arbiters of information and shapers of the narrative, have tremendous power in the game, yet a number of the Press-players felt the opposite. Discussions are ongoing among the control group to develop a game mechanic highlight the media’s role and bring it to the fore.
  • Technology is a powerful asset—when it works. We had unfortunate screen and audio failures (leading to this Control bringing out his old rugby-coach voice) that needed backup. While we recovered with manual substitutes, the confusion was not insignificant to some teams.
  • It became apparent that some game mechanisms were either ignored or deemed insignificant by the players. While a stock market component should have been of particular importance to the corporate teams, they seemed nonplussed by any changes in the market. Whether overwhelmed by other aspects of the game or simply not caring, these small issues will certainly be addressed, and either given prominence in their effect or adapted (dropped) in favour of more effective metrics.
  • Certain Control-specific functions have been identified for improvement. There are certainly some logistics issues with regard to economics that have been identified which will simplify the transfer of funds. Items such as treaties, deals and alliances were handled on the fly with Control-improvised adaptations that will certainly be built into future games. Fortunately, through discussions with players, the participants were completely unaware of any logistics issues that sprung up. Again, highlighting the impact Control has on these games.

As the megagame movement evolves in Montréal, I see it having a very bright future, indeed.

A very special thanks goes out to Jim Wallman for developing the megagame revolution and bringing it to Montréal, that has opened up such possibilities and avenues for gaming excitement.

Rex Brynen, organizer, adapter-of-rules, and all-around games guru, provided such insight and played the role of local control team Captain as only he could.

Vince Carpini, Science Control mastermind and the fastest idea developer and typist I have ever known, who shared this particular megagame baptism of fire with me as hundreds (if not over a thousand…) of emails flew back and forth in the weeks leading up to the awesome event.

The rest of the Control team consisting of: Kaitlyn Bowman (UN), Merouan Mekouar (Corporate), Claire Sinofsky (Americas/Pacific), Karen Holstead (Europe/Central), Ruth Gopin (Africa), Isabelle Dufresne-Lienert (Media), performed so well and with such aplomb that their impact on the game can never be overstated. The success this game enjoys is thanks to you and the engaged players who made for an exceptional day!

Tom Fisher (Economic Control)

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More reflections on a megagame

The following thoughts were contributed by Vince Carpini, Science Control during the recent New World Order 2035 megagame. You can read my own reflections on the game here.


 

Then the Science Gets Done, and Everybody has Fun

Rex has been kind enough to open PaxSims to further commentary from the NWO 2035 megagame Control team, and I am happy to share my own observations.

Full disclosure: I am a hobby gamer and have little serious games experience. While I don’t think this was a drawback for NWO 2035, it does frame my perspective.

As Science Control, my role was to manage and (gently) drive the R&D aspect of the megagame. Players in the Scientist role are crucial, as they enable teams to research technological advancements that provide a variety of game effects, from hunter-killer satellites and military cyborgs to the cure for cancer and flying cars … and yes, even the game-changing Mycroft AI.

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Scientists hold a press conference to warn of the dangers of sentient AI.

In NWO 2035, most teams do not have a Scientist, and so must vie for the attention and assistance of a limited pool of ‘International Scientific Geniuses’ – in our game, there were six Scientists for 15 country teams (the Holy See and the four Corporations each had a dedicated Scientist). For their part, the Scientists are also engaged in a separate ‘mini-game’ wherein they aim to make the most impressive discoveries, win the acclaim of their peers, and ultimately be recognized as the Greatest Scientist Ever.

Like most of our participants, the majority of the Scientists were not gamers, and this presented a challenge: like virtually everything else in the megagame, the role requires player initiative – but without the backing and advice of a team. Fortunately, the Scientists rose immediately to the occasion, taking full advantage of their independence to work with different teams throughout the game, they shamelessly promoted their own work, stole credit for others’ efforts and bitingly undercut their rivals. All of this was expected and encouraged.

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Selling science to the highest bidder.

Quite unexpectedly however, the players spontaneously adopted a sense of responsibility as the Smartest People in the World. Each turn, the Scientists withdrew to a closed-door Conference, where they presented their work and competed for awards and prizes. On several occasions, the established agenda was ignored in favour of entirely player-driven discussions about how the Scientists could help to address the larger problems that plagued the near-future world. Global Warming was of particular concern, and several Scientists became very active in international efforts to address the phenomenon (in one case, two Scientists skipped a Conference because they had been invited to speak on the topic at the UN). I found the way in which this small group of largely-inexperienced players chose to expand their role within the confines of the larger game to be very interesting.

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I share Rex’s opinion that the game was quite successful, and I agree that there are some refinements to be made for future megagames. Speaking specifically to Science:

  • There is room to streamline the rules for how researching Technology functions in the game. The basic mechanic is sensible: spend Research Credits to ‘unlock’ a Technology, and then spend Money to put that Tech into play – but many players struggled with the idea that they had to ‘pay twice’. Further complicating matters, researching and implementing Technologies was not captured in the turn sequence provided in the player briefings, so teams only learned the exact when-and-how once the game began. Also, many Technologies directly impact team economy and/or the overall level of ‘Global Tension,’ which required a somewhat unintuitive and cumbersome process of confirming with Science Control that the research had been done, and then advising the Map and Economic Controls of any relevant developments. Going forward, I would like to explore how to reduce the administrative workload associated with getting Technology into play.
  • The Technologies available for research at the outset of the game were determined pseudo-randomly. As the game went on, I tailored which new technologies became available based on the interests of the individual Scientist players, and a general knowledge of what had already been discovered. However, while many technologies had (or acted as) pre-requisites, we did not provide a tech tree, which made it difficult for Scientists and teams to make meaningful plans or set specific goals with regards to their research. The resulting dynamic was of a world in which science ran amok, and was tremendously entertaining – but I think it would be interesting to give players the tools to make more thoughtful decisions as well.
  • Science Control needs to be disciplined and consistent in how they interact with the teams. While I believe that I succeeded in this from a ‘rulings’ perspective, I would change the way in which I actually moved through the room. Caught up in the excitement, I allowed myself to be dragged around the room by first one player, and then another. As a result, teams were often left waiting an over-long time for me to answer their questions or approve their research. Jim Wallman suggested that future Science Control could remain in a fixed position and have players come to them, which I think has merit. Personally, I enjoyed moving around the room and catching snippets of what was going on – but I think that if Science Control wants to rove in this way, then they must adopt – and stick to! – a regular route to ensure that all teams are seen.
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Who cares about the effect on the future of humanity when you can win science awards—and genetically re-engineer dinosaurs!

I feel very fortunate to have helped facilitate New World Order 2035, and I learned a great deal about game design and management from Rex, Jim and Tom Fisher. I look forward to another megagame in 2017!

Vince Carpini 

 

 

Reflections on a megagame

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On February 20 more than one hundred participants gathered at McGill University for Montréal’s first ever megagame: New World Order 2035, designed by Jim Wallman. NWO2035 wasn’t a serious game, to be sure: during almost seven hours of play, this particular future involved—among many other things—a nuclear attack by terrorists against New York, aided by a rogue Turkish defence minister; a multinational corporation willing to threaten the world with space-based bioweapons; a secret Brazilian hunter-killer satellite programme based in Antarctica; genetically reengineered dinosaurs; an Australian plot to influence the UN Security Council with mind-control drugs; a global warming treaty; a hyperactive Vatican, solving major global problems; the launch of the USS Trump, one of two American orbital battlestations; and Japan’s creation of a sentient artificial intelligence. The latter, known as Mycroft, promptly hacked the world’s high-tech militaries in an effort to end war, and/or possibly enslave humanity.

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Setting up at 8am.

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Jim gives the pre-game briefing.

Overall I thought it went very well indeed, and I certainly had a great time. Feedback from most participants has been very positive too.

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The game underway.

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Science!

NWO2035 also provided some insight into the challenges of running mass-participation games:

  • The Control team was key. Ours was outstanding, and we couldn’t have done it without them. Many thanks are due to Kaitlyn Bowman (UN), Claire Sinofsky (Americas/Pacific), Karen Holstead (Europe/Central), Ruth Gopin (Africa), Isabelle Dufresne-Lienert (Media), Merouan Mekouar (Corporate), Vince Carpini (Science), and Tom Fisher (Economic).
  • Megagames are chaotic by nature, the rules are flexible, and player creativity is encouraged. We saw that at NWO 2035 too. However, I think we might have done a slightly better job of adapting the game to the audience. Most megagames have a very high proportion of hobby gamers (who are perhaps more inclined to study the rules and briefings in depth before the game), and a significant proportion of veteran megagamers who know what to expect. By contrast, fewer of the participants were hobbyists, most were students, and almost none had played in a megagame before. Consequently when we next run a  game like this for a similar audience, it would be worth spending more time orienting players, and streamlining some game mechanisms to make them easier or more intuitive.
  • Turn length will shape not only game pace, but the entire atmosphere of the event. We deliberately ran a quite fast clock, with turns taking a maximum of 40 minutes, and the various phases usually lasting 5-10 minutes. Had we made the turns longer we would have had more thoughtful and coordinated actions, perhaps—but at the cost of the frenetic buzz that characterized almost all of the game. Personally I rather liked the hectic nature of it all.
  • The media role is an essential one, but presents particular challenges too. In NWO2035 I thought that the Global News Network did an outstanding job, reporting simulation news via blog, tweets, and live announcements. However, some of the media team felt that they weren’t full participants, but instead were largely limited to rebroadcasting press statements provided to them by the players. We should have been clearer that they were under no obligation to report everything, and that they were free to set their own journalistic agenda. We might have also explained more fully the various investigatory tools they had available to them to uncover the many secrets and conspiracies in the game. I also know from more than a decade of running the equally large Brynania civil war simulation that the press role is one that isn’t for everyone: some participants love breaking an important story, while others would prefer to do the sorts of things that states and other overtly political-military actors do.
  • Be prepared for technical problems. We encountered dodgy VGA cables, a data projector that would randomly shut down, and a wireless mic that ran out of batteries part way through the game. Fortunately spare cables, a flip chart, and shouting allowed us to overcome those problems. I forgot to properly charge my GoPro too, which was annoying.
  • The staff at New Residence Hall were extremely helpful throughout. We couldn’t have asked for a better venue.

I’ll encourage other members of the “Control Illuminati” to post their own reflections. If we run another McGill megagame next year we’ll also be sure to announce it first here at PAXsims.

You’ll find further reflections here:

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GNN at work.

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Post-game debrief.

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