Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Funeral Games II - The Plight of Perdiccas

I was Perdiccas in the Megagame* "Funeral Games II", played in London, on the 22nd November 2014.

Perdiccas was the Regent of the Two Kings and the titular inheritor of Alexander the Great's power. Alexander died suddenly in Babylon aged 32, just after conquering vast territories, stretching from Greece to India and from Egypt to Bactria. Unfortunately Perdiccas was not the most popular choice for the post. He got the post because he was the most senior of Alexander's generals at the death bed scene. His big rivals were Craterus, somewhere in Asia Minor, and Antipater, somewhere in Macedonia.

It is unusual for me to get such a senior role in a megagame. I have an inkling of why I was chosen for this post. I was chosen so I would fail. Well let me put it a different way: the historical Perdiccas failed because he was not the most popular choice and because he tried to rule by dictate and ordering people about. He was not a good political operator, perhaps a good general, but not able to negotiate, and broker deals like a politician. And eventually he was murdered by his Generals when he has made one too many mistakes. I think I am not a strong leader and would thus recreate history.

I was aware of my destiny with history. And I was aware that my fellow Generals and other players would probably have briefs to dislike, or distrust me.

My game objectives, given to me by the game designer in my game briefing:
  • Issue strong and clear commands to your subordinates across the Empire.
  • Regain control of the Empire, especially the frontier provinces
  • Employ someone at an early stage to do a financial appreciation
  • Decide on the outcome of the Athenian Appeal against the Exiles Decree
  • Marry into the Royal Family if at all possible
  • Ensure the survival of the two Kings unless it makes more sense to ask the Macedonian Assembly for ultimate power.
  • Do all you can to repay Eumenes for his loyalty

Now I am firmly in the school of Megagame players who honour their player objectives, even if my game-playing brain is saying better you do something not in your character's brief. Perhaps this is the other reason why I was selected for this senior role: the designer trusted that I would try to follow my brief and not get clever and start to develop a clever political strategy to survive. Megagame designers are very keen on getting the players' casting right. It is probably the most important decisions they take to cast players into roles that means that the strengths or weaknesses of the historical characters are mirrored by the personality of the players.

I decided after a little reading around the history of the time (Wikipedia!) that the key to my brief were the first two objectives. Perdiccas had tried to rule the Empire like he would an Army. I give strong clear orders. I was concerned with the entire Empire, not my little patch of power in Persia. If I was sensible and a gamer I would have started brokering deals with my subordinates and rivals and started to limit my ambitions to perhaps control the provinces around me in central Persia. I would have been less of a Regent, and more of a survivor.

But as I said, the briefing informs how I will play the game. I am not one of those armchair wargaming generals who thinks they have thought up some fantastic strategy and want to try to do better than the historical counterpart. One of my great joys in playing in Megagames is that it enables me experience as near as I can what it is like to be in Command, or to be a General etc. 

In this game I was overwhelmed. I tried to meld a team of inexperienced players (for several their first megagame) into a team that ran my operations, my intelligence and my logistics. But this was difficult. One player would not cooperate and gave me a lot of stress. The others were hesitant and coming to me for every decision that I had hoped they might get on with. And then I had all those loyal subordinate generals, in far flung provinces, sending messages, requests, suggestions, whinges, accusations, and admonishments. Often in the game I had a queue of players waiting for their ten seconds worth with me. 

If I was a more focused player, a more calculating player I might have coped better with this. As it was I was overwhelmed. I started to narrow my focus, crisis manage from one input to the next. Occasionally I wanted to take control - go and negotiate with a player - and my arm was jostled, my elbow gripped and another player asking to talk to me.

And this for me was an interesting lesson in the failures of leaders in history. Some people can and have excelled in leadership. And I - and others - do not. I cannot dismiss and ignore people, and talk to only those I want to. I find it difficult to keep in my mind's eye my objectives and aims. I get pushed and pulled by the immediacy of events, requests, conversations etc. And this led me to make the mistake that would become my fatal mistake.

My mistake was to allow the betrothed princess Eurydice to come to Babylon and marry Philip III of Macedon, the idiot half brother of Alexander the Great. I thought it would mean I would control one of the royal princesses and it would give me another thing to trade. However, soon after her arrival she secretly married Philip. She apologised and looked innocent. I believed her and forgave her. She then took control of Philip, and I lost some "Legitimacy points". She apologised and looked innocent. I believed her and forgave her. And then she set off with the funeral cortege of Alexander - without my knowing, without my permission and with nothing I could do about it.  

I got angry - well more of a role-play anger - and had a few shouts at people. But I realised that the bindings of my Regency were becoming frayed and undone. When the body of Alexander was buried in Alexandria, Egypt, I saw red. I denounced Ptolemy as an outlaw and asked all to turn their hands to defeating and capturing him, with intention of moving Alexander's body to Macedon for a proper burial.

As I was making my speech to the 
Macedonian Assembly... 
I was assassinated by 
Peithon and Puecestes. 
And then... well it all went wrong. My armies marched, some generals hung around, some slunk away and only a couple came with me. I had to leave most of my loyal supporters in Babylon looking after operations and watching the other generals. I came a cropper at the Nile, a flood took away part of my army and my subordinates lost faith in me. Grasping at papyrus reeds I took the opportunity to attend a Macedonian Assembly in Alexandria. I made my case about the outlaw Ptolemy, there were strong words said, accusations etc. Eventually the Assembly voted out my declaration of outlawry of Ptolemy and then I was stabbed in the back by my generals Peithon and Peucestes.

And as the blades went in I said: "thank f**k for that, I can get a cup of tea now." My games was over, what a relief.

And this was the other insight that the game brought. Towards the end of my game I realised that all was failing, and that it was only a matter of time before I was stripped of all my power by my rivals. So I did something I could do - I took control of a field army and marched, giving distinct, clear and strong orders to march and fight and get that outlaw Ptolemy. I was so out of control of the political situation that I decided to roll the "iron dice of war" and take control of an army on campaign. If you sometime wonder why generals do foolish things in history, like march to the attack when their support is ebbing, I had my answer. When all goes to sh** you start to focus on doing things you can control.

A great game, even if I was backstabbed. 

I learnt a lot about myself, and about command and leadership. And confirmed that I am no leader of men. I make a good staff officer, a loyal subordinate. I am one of the world's NCOs.

* Megagame is a game about a conflict that involved teams arranged in hierarchies. It usually involves about 30 to 50 players, some rarer games having 150 players. If requires people skills more than tactical or strategic knowledge. It requires that the players talk to each other, cooperate within their team, seek information about the enemy and negotiate, make alliances and political deals.

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