Monday, 23 March 2015

The cracks between tables: Moving the narrative between teams in megagames

I have another confession to make as an Control Umpire for Megagames.

This is similar to the Rubber Failure I wrote about earlier. This time I want to talk about a failure, why it happened, why Megagames are more prone to this particular problem and how it could be solved and the problems with the solutions.

The fail

In the Megagame Watch The Skies 2 (WTS2), there was a problem of an asteroid that was predicted to be about to hit earth with the potential for ending all life on the planet.

I was the Control Umpire for the Alien Expeditionary teams. One of my teams came to me and said they had heard about this asteroid from a human government and wanted to help by averting this disaster.

We talked the various solutions through - this was me as an umpire role-playing their various scientists and technicians on the players' staffs. The team decided which solution they wanted to do, they paid the cost and the asteroid was diverted onto a new course that would take it harmlessly past earth and into the sun. I charged them four Activation Points to do this. This was half the cost of creating a moon base for them. The cost was mostly in lost opportunities, as sending a light spaceship with the right kit onboard to land on the asteroid was a trivial problem for them. They just lost the ability to use the spaceship to do other useful stuff.

And this is where it got difficult and I think I failed as an umpire. I forgot to follow through on this outcome. I forgot to tell the players to tell whoever had told them about the asteroid that they had diverted it. And I didn't think to find the umpire who had deployed this problem and tell them (and I didn't know who the umpire was).

I think this is why later in the game we were told there was a second asteroid. The message about the solution had not got through to whoever generated and was driving the problem.

The problem of umpire to umpire communication

And I think this was the fail. A failure of an umpire to liaise with another umpire.

How else does my ruling get fed back to the umpire who owns the problem? Until the umpire owning the problem is informed the problem will remain, no matter what steps other players and umpires do in the game.

I have attempted to reconstruct lines of communications that led to this - or just guessed.

Rob, one of the game control umpires, who sits outside the team and map games, has a role to have an overview of the game, and to generate problems to prod parts of the game that need a stimulus. If he thinks Table A is quiet or Team 42 is not having a good game he can drop a little bombshell in their laps. This was part of his role. To do this he tells some players or umpires about an incident. My guess is that Rob told those teams that had advanced astronomy or organisations like NASA etc. So it would probably be the American, Russian, and Chinese teams. Again this is a guess.

I do know that the USA team discussed the Shakewell asteroid problem. At some point they asked their alien player "friends" to help and the aliens were willing to help the USA and said they would do it. This alien team worked out a solution with me, paid the resource cost and diverted the asteroid. And then I forgot to check that the solution would get passed down the chain of communication.
  • Did the aliens tell the USA they had solved the problem?
  • Did the correct player on the USA team hear about the solution?
  • Did that player then tell the correct umpire that it had been solved?
  • And why didn't I follow up and find the umpire and liaise with him?

The cracks between the tables are bigger than they look.

At the risk of sounding the obvious, this is the most difficult thing to do in multi-player, multi-room or multi-table games. How to move information between tables is hard. Sometimes it is obvious. For example, when a spaceship blew up over Italy, I told the Europe Regional Map Control Umpires about this and let them run with it. But it was upto me as an umpire to liaise with other umpires about this big news.

But when my aliens divert an asteroid into the sun, who do I tell? The players were two steps away from the umpire who generated it. So they cannot tell me which umpire I need to liaise with.

I should have found out. I should have guessed. My bad.


I can think of two solutions.

1. Don't worry about it - it's just a narrative. The game is actually a narrative that is being told by the players with assistance from the umpires. So there is not a "game reality" and I did not fail. We are just adjusting our narrative as best we can communicate. Only when the story is told and accepted does the story appear in the game reality.

Though I have conceptual problems about this. I do perceive there is a "game reality" which has consequences for actions. So we have to get it right.

2. Have concrete things to represent real world problems. For example the Umpire generating or handling a real world problems outside of the main rule set, hands out cards - pre-prepared - with his details on it - from the desk of  the umpire for game control. These cards are handed out as the problem is introduced and the players are told that these need to be shown to the umpires or other players. When the card is resolved, the umpire or player can take it back to the original umpire.

The problem with this is having enough cards, of players hanging onto cards and not handing them on, or just loosing cards.

Another issue is that it limits the creativity of the umpires, having to think up of problems pre-game to print out.


I hope this little admission is taken in the spirit it is given. 

I am trying to improve the experience of megagames and trying to learn lessons so that others might learn too. 


  1. What I find funny, is, (being a member of team USA) I was told We have diverted the asteroid using a space nuke, but whilst we were deciding whether it was safe to go public with this, our president overheard France having a similar debate, and we realised it might be best to stay quiet...

  2. Thanks Chris. It's funny how rumours start! And that is the great thing about megagames rumours, false stories, misunderstandings. Some people get it - its like real life and others just want unambiguous information flow - unlike real life.

    I wonder who told you that? Did they have an agenda?