What do I mean by this? Basically we’re going to be pinning down all the details of the game that you need to know to start a) designing it and b) selling the concept. So we’re looking at the elevator pitch (or something a little bit longer, but still a brief summary), as well as essentials like the main mechanics, turn structure, cast list and other basics like that.
A lot of these feed into each other – it’s hard to create a turn structure without some idea of the key mechanics, for example. So this is something of an iterative process, and it’s not unheard of for these to change fairly late on in the development process. But we’ve got to start somewhere.
FYI, this is also good groundwork for if you’re pitching your game to an existing megagame group – many will expect you to have these details pinned down (or at least considered) before they consider adding you to their calendar.
When you’re selling your game, whether on a website, social media post, or vocally, it’s good to have a short summary of your game that you can use to pitch your game to potential interested parties. Your in-depth history about the setting and why the specific geo-political situation led to such a fascinating game state might be exciting… but no one wants to listen for half an hour, or even five minutes, without knowing it’s worth their while. You need a short (maybe thirty second) pitch – which you can then follow up with something more detailed once you’ve caught their interest.
Elevator Pitch for Trope High
Imagine all those classic high school movies and TV shows: Back To The Future, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Breakfast Club. Now imagine they all went to the same high school. This roleplay heavy megagame is set in a high school where all the kids have something weird going on (and don’t get me started on the teachers). But whether they’re a secret witch, the queen bee or a jock who wants to join the choir, they all need to remember to focus on the two things that are most important to your typical high school student – your GPA and your social standing.
There are a few well-defined genres of megagames – political-military, operational-military, disaster management, political council, etc. But there are just as many games, if not more, that don’t fall easily into a genre. So I’m somewhat of the opinion that megagame genres aren’t that useful.
But if your megagame does fit into a genre, or you’re the sort of person who likes genres, then feel free to define yours.
Genre for Trope High
My game is one that absolutely doesn’t fit into an existing megagame genre!
It’s nothing to do with the military. It technically has politics, but at a high school level. There’s no map. And while disasters may happen, you’re not exactly managing them. It’s roleplay-heavy and borrows a lot from LARP (but is absolutely not a LARP). It will have a fair few boardgame elements. But overall I think this is a new kind of megagame, and it doesn’t have a name yet.
When you consider your turn structure, think about how long you want turns to be, and how many you want to fit into a game. As a general rule of thumb, megagame turns are between 20 minutes and one hour in length. With a 1 hour turn, you’ll probably get 6 or maybe 7 turns into a game. With a 20 minute turn, you get a lot more in. If your game is fast-paced, a shorter turn makes sense, but if people need to consider decisions more at length, a longer turn makes sense. It’s also about how much you want to fit into a single turn, mechanics-wise.
Most megagames have the following key components of their turn structure. I say most, because I know multiple megagames that have omitted one or more of these elements… but they’re a good starting place.
It’s also a good idea to consider how long turns are in-game. The easiest way to do this is to consider what you want players to achieve within a turn, and how long that would take in-universe. This is also useful for considering things like movement points and number of actions when you come to finalising your mechanics.
Most megagames have teams, even if they’re loosely affiliated, and it’s important to build in time for your players to talk to the other people they’re supposed to be working with. It’s important not to short the players on the time either. You might want to shorten your team time to 5 minutes so you can keep your turns to 20 minutes long, but supposing you have a 5 person team that’s barely a minute each once they get back to their table to catch everyone up. It might make more sense, in that situation, to have team times every other turn and lengthen them.
Action phases on the map
If you have a map in your game, you’ll want a specific time at which map players need to be there to carry out the mechanical aspects of their role. Whether you choose simultaneous movement or staggered movement, consider who needs to be at the map and when. Your map will have a maximum capacity around it, so consider that if you’re planning on having trade and combat players place counters on the map at the same time. Also think about whether you have any periods where players are standing around waiting for other players to act, and whether it makes sense to stagger any parts of the map action.
It might also make sense for other in-game reasons to have multiple map action phases per turn, for example to accommodate a longer council phase. There’s no problem with this, just reduce the resources they have to act on the map (such as movement points) so they’re still working at the expected pace.
Action phases for any other subgames
If you’re running other sub-games, such as trade or a council, consider how to fit these around your map action phase. Does the action need to be off-set to get results from the map? Would it make sense for them to work with last turn’s map result so you can run them simultaneously?
There is usually a set time in the game for players to receive new resources (money, goods, political capital, whatever) from Control. Think carefully about when this is, especially if it requires control to do any maths, or if players are likely to be physically away from their team table at this time. Whose responsibility is it to get the resources – the players or the control, or can they only get it if they’re at the table and they miss out otherwise?
Turn Structure for Trope High
I want to fit in a lot of turns into my game – most high school TV shows are short and snappy, 20-30 minutes in length. I’m thinking 30 minute turns split into three action phases. There won’t be a formal team time (despite what I said above) because the teams are pretty loose.
The final action phase will be the “special event” (see below), and players must spend at least one of the other two phases doing “school work” otherwise they will fall behind in class (which will slam their GPA). The other phase can be used to do whatever they like (unless they get detention).
As for how long turns last in-game, they’re going to be episodic. You know how TV episodes vary in the time they cover to get significant stuff done? Just like that.
We’ve touched on this already, but let’s talk about the major mechanics you might need in a game. This can vary widely – two games with an identical setting can have vastly different mechanics, depending on the designer’s spin on the game.
In political-military games, the key mechanics tend to be map, diplomacy, trade, culture, religion and council/politics… although not always, and of course these aren’t limited to just political-military games. Elections and logistics are examples of common mechanics in non-political-military games.
And games may introduce more obscure or niche mechanics that a more particular to their setting, such as language deciphering (Arrival), a rum tracker (Pirate Republic), Rorschach blots (Shot Heard Round The Universe), the King Aerys Game (Everybody Dies)… these are the things that make games significantly different to each other.
Mechanics in Trope High
Because this is a weird game, the only classic mechanic we’re likely to encounter is elections. (for things like Prom Queen and Class President). The key mechanics are going to be school work, extra-curriculars, socialising and special events.
Players will have several attributes, including their GPA (and grades in individual classes), their social standing and their secret. These will be developed further as the mechanics come along.
School work will add towards a player’s final GPA, which will affect the college they end up going to, or their post-high school career plan if they’re not the college sort. I’m imaging these will be puzzle based, of a variety of different types, meaning players can excel in one area of school while doing badly in others.
Extra-curriculars are things like school clubs. They contribute towards a player’s reputation and will form the main part of their clique. They’ll also contribute towards school leaver options and college acceptances. I’ve already decided to condense all the possible school sports into two: sport ball and cheerleading. Additionally I want to include the academic triathlon (for the nerds), the drama club (for the arty students), school government and the school newspaper. Who knows, maybe there’ll even be a yearbook committee. I may even make it possible for players to set up new clubs throughout the year.
Every turn there is one Special Event, which includes school dances and the prom, major extra-curricular events (e.g. the Academic Triathlon, the Big Game), and of course graduation. There will be specific things that occur in a particular turn, and unlike in many megagames, the main events will be known about well in advance. Also unlike many games, the last turn won’t be obfuscated – I reckon last turn madness at the end of high school is a well-documented phenomenon.
Socialising is basically diplomacy. There will be a few specific situations that add to a player’s ability to socialise (some of the special events will be geared towards it) and some that detract (e.g. detention and school work). How this has a mechanical effect (or, indeed, if it does) will be decided later. Something like, school adds to your GPA but not your social standing, detention adds to neither, extra-curriculars improves your social standing within your clique but not outside it, but the time you spend working towards an extra-curricular affects how much your social standing improves during that club’s special event. Or something like that.
Player secrets will have specific rules that they themselves are responsible for administering. For example, if you are a teenage witch, everytime you are in a stressful situation you must roll a dice. See control on a 6.
Most megagames have a team structure, for a number of reasons. Firstly, in the historical definition of megagames, a hierarchical team structure was said to be one of the key components of a megagame. But just because it’s in the definition, that’s no reason to do it…
But you might want a team to make creating mechanics easier – having a specific person with a team who interacts with a specific mechanic makes the game easier to scale. A lot of players also enjoy working within a team. And finally, most settings lend themselves to a team structure of some sort, whether that’s countries, factions, …
That’s not to say you can’t have solo players. And in fact in Everybody Dies, the teams are definitely not united – they’re fractious and divided, and many players are briefed against their region-mates. But dividing them into regions made admin much easier.
Teams in Trope High
The two obvious teams are teachers and students. But I want to further divide the student team, and I have a few different options here:
- school year (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior)
- clique (jock, nerd, troublemakers, arty kids, etc…)
- school house
Based on the mechanics I’ve thought of so far, I think the clearest division is going to be by clique. I’m probably only going to be including seniors, just to make things like the Senior Prom and Graduation make sense. US schools don’t tend to have school houses, either.
If I tie in the cliques to specific extra-curriculars, you get the popular kids being cheerleaders, the jocks being sportballers, the geeks being in academic triathlon, the arty kids being in drama club, the gossips running the school paper, and the wasters probably with detention as their main extra-curricular activity. School government can come from any of the clieques, and anyone not in a club can be a loner.
I’m estimating about 5-10 teacher players and 40-50 student players. Control wise, we’ll need a control for each club, a teacher control, and a few extra control for new clubs, special events, and player secrets (so about 10).
Scoping your Megagame
So if you’ve got a megagame in the works, can you answer these questions? If there are key areas you’re missing info from, spend a bit of time thinking that through. Remember – this might all change between now and your finished handbook. Nothing is set in stone, so crack on, make some decisions, and then we can start working on the meaty stuff.
I’d also recommend having a look at this article from Military Muddling if you’re sizing up your megagame. It’s quite closely focused on traditional megagames (you might struggle if you don’t have a map) but it’s got some great thinking points.
Feel free to post your own megagame scoping in the comments below – it’s always good to see what other megagames are in the works.