What I’ve been doing since March.
The short version: I formed an organization to help host MegaGames in New England. MegaGames United.
The long version: About 5 months ago, at PAX I got to do 2 really cool things. Thing #1 was that I got to host a panel about game design, with some great people. It was an incredibly entertaining panel, and I’m excited to do it again next year. Thing #2 was that I got to experience playing a MegaGame! Which I talked super briefly about. Well. . . MegaGames have since consumed a big chunk of my time. I got to talking with the folks who organized the event, and the week following PAX, I was on the road to host my own MegaGame, which would eventually happen on May 24th. Hosting this MegaGame became such an undertaking that literally all of my effort for March, April, and May was spent just making sure the MegaGame was passable.
What is a MegaGame
MegaGames recently got a lot of press with a couple of videos by the guys over at Shut Up and Sit Down. It’s a long watch, but totally worth it. The MegaGame getting the most press is “Watch the Skies” by Jim Wallman and a group called the MegaGame Makers. “Watch the Skies” has (roughly) 40 players, 20 game runners and takes 6 hours to play. Many MegaGames with different rules, follow roughly this standard as a benchmark. To give you the broadest picture in the fewest words, “Watch the Skies” is a simulation that borrows heavily from Model United Nations, War Games, Role Playing Games, and Board Games, and is insanely fun. If you want to learn more, I recomend checking out the Shut Up and Sit Down video.
Getting Ready for the MegaGame
The folks that ran the game at PAX were super encouraging, and have a very spiffy organization, and as I started to figure out how I was going to make a MegaGame happen, they were very accommodating and happy to share their resources. Through March I found free pieces of “Watch the Skies”, and started to put together what I would need from these bits of rules and from watching the Shut Up and Sit Down video. Also the folks that ran the PAX game, sent me an unfinished draft of one of the three rule books you need to run the game, with talk about sending more as it got more polished. Getting a space wasn’t too much of a problem, I helped set up Boston’s first Board Game Cafe, Knight Moves, and have a good relationship with Devon the owner, and was able to get a tentative space set aside on a Saturday.
Just about when things we’re lining up, on a tentative basis, I got an e-mail from the folks who ran the PAX game, letting me know that there was another MegaGame video about to hit the net that week. The tone of the e-mail felt very, “If you’re going to run a MegaGame, launch now or never”. I wasn’t quite sure about 100% of the details, but I finalized my graphics, threw up a website, finalized the venue, and put made my tickets live the day after the video went live.
I got in touch with the other MegaGame group, and got to talking about anything else I’d need to get the MegaGame off the ground. There was a lot of work to be done, but I had a month to do it, and within a few days of the tickets being live, I had sold half of them. Things felt pretty good.
Starting from Scratch
I did get in touch with the folks who ran the MegaGame at PAX and quickly discovered I had only been talking to one person on a ruling council. Over the course of a week and a half, discussions went from them sending us a big chunk of the components and rules just to help us out and help promote the game to they couldn’t send us the physical components but would help us out in any way they could to they couldn’t send us anything including the digital files and rules nor would they help promote us and our tickets in any way. Now, I want to be very clear that these folks are actually pretty cool and are doing excellent, amazing work on MegaGames. It appears that I caught them in a transition period between going from a very open volunteer organization to adopting a more corporate business model. A business model that precluded helping me out in any way. There were miscommunications, a little bad blood, and a furious tide of neverending anger and rage on my part, but I want to be clear that the other organization didn’t really do anything “wrong”.
Long story short, this left me with 20 tickets already sold (over a thousand dollars worth), and four weeks to build the entire thing from scratch.
The Pieces I Had
The group that ran the PAX game wouldn’t sell any of their pieces, so my alternative was to purchase the original “Watch the Skies” game. The original is great, but it is also written for a big group of friends that want to play around and already know each other. I had a group of volunteers whom I only knew about 4 of, and players that had spent $55 on tickets and were total strangers.
Needless to say, the game rules I paid for were not sufficient to run the game. So I set about reconstructing elements I already knew, and designing new bits to fill in the holes.
With 4 weeks to make a game happen, I knew that the biggest hurdle was getting everything printed in time. If I spent a week designing the cards and boards, it’d take another week to get them proofed and print ready, and another week to get them printed and sent.
I had a general idea what the map was supposed to look like, but the technology cards and artifact cards I needed to create were completely new territory. In the end I designed over 300 different cards, and printed close to 800.
In the end, I actually only had half the game really designed before I created the cards for printing. Which meant that I then had to design the rest of the game around the cards I had created. The maps I actually received two weeks before the game, and the printed cards a bit after that.
The rest of the Materials
Beyond the printed components, there is also a ton of stuff that goes into “Watch the Skies”. Clipboards, briefcases, pens, rule books, tiny pieces, cubes, poker chips. The biggest help I got in prepping for this game was my wife, who after I created a shopping list, went out and found all of these components at incredible prices through discount outlets online. When everything was said and done with this event, we would just about break even. Which means that including the venue cost, we spent over $2,000 to build this entire thing. When all the components were boxed and piled up in my living room, it create a pile taller than I was.
I also 3D printed all of the little alien space ships and human ships and the stands that hold them up. That’s a discussion for another time on my 3D printing board game blog, Solved Components. But the most important component of all, is people.
I am very active in the board game design scene here in Boston, and have a handful of contacts throughout tabletop, rps, and video game communities in Boston. I had a few really high quality volunteers, who I now call GameWeavers, but “Watch the Skies” calls for 20 people to ensure the game runs smoothly.
In the end we pulled a lot of volunteers just from the ticket page, and hit the pavement to round up a whole bunch of folks. I sent out materials and tried to work with folks as much as I could to help them learn the game. A week before the game I held an orientation to teach everyone the elements of the game, and by that point we had just over 20 people who had signed up and seemed very excited about making the game happen.
We also managed to sell the remaining tickets, which was not at all easy. The folks that ran the PAX game had told me that they do almost no marketing, and when they put up tickets they sell out in minutes. This was not at all my experience, and really had to work to sell the last handful of tickets(reddit, newsletters, posters, twitter, etc). Which again, had a sense of urgency since the price tag for this event is more than $2,000. It all worked out though as we sold the last ticket about 5 days before the event.
The Last of the Components
Despite getting all the printed components and the physical bits and pieces. A lot of the forms for recording information weren’t ready until a few days before hand, and my inkjet printer ran pretty much non-stop for those days. But ultimately, everything was ready. It took 3 hours to double check everything, pack it, and pile it into the car by myself at 5AM, but by then, all the players had already confirmed their attendance and my GameWeavers assured me they all felt rock solid on the rules.
I showed up two hours before the event, to unpack and get ready, I told my GameWeavers they didn’t need to show up until an hour before the event, but most of them were there not long after I was. Setting up a MegaGame was a massive endeavor in and of itself, and I’ll be honest, more than a few components were lost or missing by the end of it, and several things had to be fabricated on the spot. But my Game Weavers absolutely came through and though I hadn’t talked with them in person more than a couple times, they worked like a well oiled machine. We were ready for the players more or less on time.
The Game Itself
This article is already long enough as it is, but I will say that the game turned out incredibly well. Players seemed to really enjoy themselves, and while there were more than a few rocky patches, everything came together. Two bloggers wrote about their experiences, which you can check out to get a feel for the experience.
The Cardboard Republic
The Care and Feeding of Nerds
There is a lot I wish I had had time for to help make this game run smoother, but when I look back on the event I realize that with 4 weeks of preparation it is incredible that it ran without falling apart and a miracle that the vast majority of people responded with nothing but positive feedback. In the end, the aliens abducted studio Ghibli, the humans fought off something giant and horrible in the oceans, the atmosphere was siphoned off into space, and Brazil left with the aliens. So an alright day.
The Future of MegaGames United
A Resource for MegaGamers: My goal for MegaGames United is to make it a platform that anyone with a dream and passion can make a MegaGame come true. A MegaGame needs a game, a space, volunteers, and players. Right now, we’ve been approaching several spaces, we have a big mailing list of players and volunteers, and we’re reaching out to designers to see if they have a MegaGame they want played. We want to see an ocean of MegaGame spread across the world, and we’ve got the resources to help people make that happen.
A Free and Open MegaGame: Right now, we’re putting all the extra polish on the rules and components we have to make sure the next MegaGame we run is incredible. We’ve changed so much of it, that at this point we can’t call it “Watch the Skies”, it has become it’s own thing, so we’re calling it “From Beyond”. Once we’re solid on the basics and are sure it is legally differentiated from “Watch the Skies” in every way, we’ll launch it as a free package that anyone can read and use and modify. Ultimately the rules of a MegaGame are a very minor element in comparison to the coordination and running of the actual event. So we’re happy to keep it open source to help any fledgling MegaGame coordinators get their start.
Our Next MegaGame: We’re running playtests July and August, and our goal is to run our next MegaGame sometime in September. We want to make sure everything is perfect before committing to a date though. If you want to make sure you know when we realease tickets though, I recommend liking us on Facebook.
Thanks for reading, and I wish you the best of luck in any of your MegaGaming Adventures too.