Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Where's my rubber? Moving information between tables in multi-table and multi-team games.

This might seem to be a very simple thing to do -- to move game related information between tables in multi-table and multi-team games -- but it ain't.

Getting it wrong

A Victory Ship - USS Gage
I can now admit that in one megagame I and another control umpire completely got this wrong for about 2 turns. We were running the western logistics board for the megagame the Last War, 1942 - 45. This mostly meant that we were running the Battle of the Atlantic. The rules were of course simple to adjudicate. However we did not know what to do with the delivered supplies.

Eventually our mistake contributed to the now infamous "rubber shortage scandal" of the game. With players saying "where's my rubber?", or "are you hoarding rubber?"

Here are the relevant rules:

  1. Check materials available via sea routes from naval Players. Note quantity shipped. This should be based on state of access at the END of previous turn.
  2. Check materials available by land routes on Land Map. Note quantity shipped. Collect Materials Counters from Control. This should be based on state of the routes at the END of last turn.
  3. Work out which Industrial Zones have their requisite materials by placing counters on the IC appropriate card.
  4. Hand over materials counters used this turn to Control.
  5. Collect output counters representing industrial output (Tanks/Man/Ships etc) from Control
  6. Distribute counters ‘manufactured’ to correct location on map (the location of the IZ) for use NEXT turn. 

Now I read it again, I can see why I was a little confused by this sequence. The goods shipped are in effect "manufactured" and should have been moved by someone in 6 - this was not spelt out.

The best way of smoothing these things out is to take the control team through the sequence in a test game and then for the control team to pass this knowledge on to their players during the game.

I still feel a little guilty about this. I know it effected the game as there was a big materials crisis that escalated upto the senior political players. When we realised the mistake we quickly recovered and we as control umpires went down to the relevant "land" table and delivered the goods at the end of turn.

Watch the Skies 2 - control team try out

The reason this has come to mind is that last night - 16 February - I participated in a megagame control team try out, and development session for the 300 player Watch the Skies 2 megagame. This was a very successful evening. Not only did we go through a couple of test turns, we also got to discuss rules changes and developments. This was great. It helped us all appreciate the turn sequences on the day that are sometimes implicit in the rules. For example, when the turn sequence calls for players to deploy their units, do they do this simultaneously or in sequence? These things can be spelt out in the rules, but often aren't and control have to resort to the old control motto of: if I don't know it is right, I can at least be consistent.

But the key thing for me was to establish what needed to be moved from table to table. These are the things that often go wrong. Watch the Skies 2 is going to be mostly a player led game, with the control team, monitoring, assisting and driving the game.

I will be one of the alien umpires. My players' tables will be kept away from the main "earth" tables. The Aliens are in effect in space or in orbits around earth. As each game turn will be about 3 months, the "human players" will be able to move about quite freely in comparison. What I wanted to establish was what will the Alien Players take to the table, get from the table and who will carry it.

I cannot go into too much detail, but it looks like this game's design has learnt from the earlier problems encountered in this tricky business of moving game information between tables in a multi-team game. From experience this is what can go horribly wrong in a megagame.

It's not just logistics

In the example I gave of the Last War and from our try out of Watch the Skies, I was most concerned about moving logistical resources between tables. The Aliens of course will have a resource allocation game too, and I will have this to monitor.

In some ways logistics are the obvious of inter-table bits of game information. But in the try out last night we had an example of how "intelligence" can be perhaps even more slippery as it moves between tables. I cannot go into detail at this stage. All I can say is that the Secret Agents deployed to the board can gather intelligence but the actual information they glean will be literally in the hands of another player or player team not located at the same table. I think we as control umpires have worked out a solution to this, but I know Jim and others did voice concerns that we are setting ourselves up for one of these inter-table movements of game information. Was the game effectiveness of this rule worth running the risk of failure?

I was interested to hear Jim say that one of his design concerns is to remove these inter-table hiccups by getting as much done on each table as was possible.

It might seem to be a small thing, but when you have 300 players and 45 control umpires and about 10 map tables things can easily go missing.

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