I didn’t think I’d be doing another megagame until the summer, even before the coronavirus crisis, just due to wedding planning. And then when more and more megagames ended up being pushed back, it seemed increasingly likely that I wouldn’t get to a megagame for several months.
But then Johan Olofsson announced that Gothenburg Megagames would be running a completely digital version of Den of Wolves, the Battlestar Galactica inspired megagame by John Mizon. A fleet of ships containing the last dregs of humanity is fleeing across space, chased by the enemy “wolves”.
I’ve played in the game previously, as a wolf agent responsible for sabotaging the human Survivor Fleet from the inside. I managed to end up as President, mostly because the room weren’t sure who out of me and Mr Megagame was more likely to be a wolf – and they judged wrong!
Due to the new format, I decided to go ahead and livestream the entire game on Twitch and Facebook, and you can still watch back the video on Facebook.
Den of Wolves is widely considered to be one of the slickest megagame designs currently out there. In normal runs, it takes just two Control to manage the 40-odd players. In this virtual version, this was scaled up to fourteen Control with a similar number of players. This extra manpower, along with some clever tech work by Niklas Lindblad, meant that it was possible to replicate he game online.
The game itself was mostly run over Discord, a voice platform that’s used a lot for online gaming. Channels were set up for each ship’s airlock, bridge, hanger, etc, and you were expected to be in a voice channel throughout the entire afternoon – this was where your character was physically located, which was important for some aspects of the rules.
There were a limited number of text chats, including the “intro” chat that was the only real way to make any sort of fleet-wide communication, and was mostly used to tell people you were in their airlock waiting to come onboard!
The rest of the mechanics were dealt with in a series of Google Sheets. Here we could manage our ship’s resources, crew and stations.
The only other mechanic we had to interact with on a regular basis was our morale tracker, which was stored in the ship’s sheets. Each turn we had to decide how much food and water to give our crew, assuming we had it, and roll for morale using a Discord bot. Our morale roll would be modified by our food and water rations, attack damage and any positive or negative press.
My role on the day was as Captain of the Salvador, the hospital ship. We were one of the smaller ships, with just myself and one other player – Chief Surgeon Matty, who I was excited to play on the same team as again. Most of the other ships had at least four players: normally the Captain, First Officer, Chief Engineer and Council Member. Our interests in the council were to be represented by the Council Member for the Lucas, another ship of the same nationality as us.
Our main contact on the control team was Seumas, who was acting as Ship AI for both us and the Lucas. Prior to the game he’d suggested that he take on a famous AI personality – I suggested Holly, he considered Marvin – but on the day it was more “hurried Scottish man” than anything else.
Our role in the fleet was simple – heal up anyone who got injured. To this end, our ship was mostly fitted with medbays. Five of them, to be precise. However we only had one trained medical crew, and only four crew total. It was clear that medical training would be a priority, ideally by bringing staff onboard from other ships.
Because we were a small ship, our needs were fairly low. We needed just two food and two water to meet our normal rations, and 2 fuel for a short JUMP – our main way to get away from the pursuing wolf forces.
And crucially, this time I was not a wolf. I had one job to do – help ensure the survival of the fleet.
Unlike my last play of this game, where I had been on the council, my role this time was a lot more logistical. Simply, each turn we had two main things to ensure: heal any injured units that turned up on our ship, and ensure we had the food and water we needed. The action phase was 18 minutes long, there were no injured people at the start of the game… theoretically it was very simple.
Unfortunately, this was a megagame. Nothing is ever simple.
The first turn saw me going off and speaking to various people: the Lucas for water and to try to check in on our joint Council Member, the Dione for crew to train, Refinery 124 to let them know our fuel requirements in case we needed a jump. Matty went and got stuck in a very long queue on the Shepherd to get food. And by the end of the turn… we had made very little progress tbh.
We had no food. No water. No fuel. We did have one new crew member ready to be trained, but the Dione wanted him back afterwards. It appears that the supplying ships had been overwhelmed with demands. Luckily, partway through team time, a shuttle turned up with food, so our people were parched but not starving. We rolled well, and our morale managed to stay the same level.
The next turn wasn’t much more fruitful. I barely had time to check in with the Dione about training further crew (which they were up for, but couldn’t spare the crew right now) and check the Lucas to see if their Council Member was about (she was still in meetings).
I had just returned to my ship when I heard Tim shout out in the other room: “HOSTILE CONTACTS DETECTED”, and barely seconds later the news of the wolf attack was posted in the main chat.
Mechanically, this meant that all players needed to stay on the ship they were currently on until the wolf attack was resolved. This meant that until the Aegis drove off the attack, I was on my own.
Well, nearly on my own. The Ship AI popped in and kept me company. I was very relieved when the wolf attack was driven off – I can see how people on TV are driven mad when left alone with just an AI for years!
Luckily, this turn we’d managed to receive a substantial water delivery, so while our crew were very hungry, at least this time they were well-watered! We decided to go for Increased Water Rations rather than normal, in the hopes that the extra water would distract our crew from their rumbly tummies. Due to the size of our ship, we could only give our crew critical rations if we don’t have enough to make normal rations, which was a huge -4 penalty on the roll.
We were also slightly hoping that the recent attack would have injured some units so that we’d be able to prove our competence in healing them, and hopefully be moved up the priority list for food and water!
It was around the end of turn 2 that I first started hearing chatter about jumping. At this point we had no fuel, no coordinates and no one manning our jump drive, so if the rest of the fleet had been prepared to make the jump at that point, we would have been screwed.
At the previous run, I knew that obtaining the jump coordinates was essential for the wolf agents, as they could be used to prepare an ambush for us. But apparently large numbers of players at this game had never received that memo. While I took Aegis Comms Officer Anna onto the bridge so she could privately tell me them, and kept a careful watch on the stream to make sure no one jumped in to snipe them… the press decided to broadcast them live on air.
I immediately sent a message to the press to question the logic of this move, and an apology was issued. I also made sure to plug our new medical training programme with the Dione, in a bid to get some positive press in case we failed to get food or water this turn.
I also finally got some face-to-face time with the Council Member of the Lucas. She asked what interests we wanted represented to the Council… and I froze. What interests did we have? We wanted food and water? And staff? But all of that didn’t really seem like the Council’s purview. Eh, I told her anyway, just in case she could have some sway.
Meanwhile, the suspected injured units did not materialise. The Dione didn’t send over any further crew to train, but said that we could keep hold of the original crew member they sent. And this turn we had BOTH food and water delivered, as well as enough fuel for the promised short jump.
We were several turns in, and finally had the chance to look at our action cards. Many were of limited use, but we took a closer look at our Stim packs that could be used to help other ships produce more resources. They required a material to be used, as well as one of our medical teams, and a few conversations suggested there just weren’t enough materials in the Fleet.
I reached out to the science ship Endeavour about possibly borrowing some of their scientists in the case of a medical emergency. Unlike untrained crew, scientists could be converted into doctors pretty much instantly. They weren’t terribly excited about the idea, but agreed that “in the case of a medical emergency” they would be willing to help out.
Then there was another wolf attack, and I ended up trapped on my ship again – this time with the lovely Vice President! We had a long chat about all manner of things, including potential jumps, Red Dwarf, isolation and the creation of a supply spreadsheet.
Luckily, the food and water supply seemed to have FINALLY sorted themselves out, and for the second turn in a row we had sufficient supply.
Finally, people to heal
The latest wolf attack seemed to have been pretty big, and a shuttle turned up with an awful lot of injured crew. I left Matty to it.
I headed over to prison ship Vulcan to see if they had any spare untrained crew that we could train up into more medics, but unfortunately (and perhaps unsurprisingly) they only had prisoners. The Dione also couldn’t send anyone over, allegedly due to a lack of shuttles, and the Endeavour apparently didn’t consider this enough of a medical emergency, even though we had twice as many injured people as doctors.
JUMP JUMP JUMP
And finally, we were given clearance to jump, as well as new coordinates that hadn’t been broadcast across the entire fleet. I went back to the ship and told our medics who were manning the jump drive (we had trained all our crew up but someone had to do that job) to prepare to jump. Just before I gave the command, Matty raced in.
“The Lucas can’t jump!” she announced. “We should remain behind in solidarity.”
I halted the order, and watched out of the window as the rest of the fleet left us behind.
Those left behind
It turned out that four ships hadn’t made the jump: ourselves, the Lucas, the Vulcan and Refinery 124.
The Lucas didn’t have staff manning the jump drive at the right time, and also didn’t have fuel for some reason (this should have been more suspicious!). The Refinery had been told we were jumping at the start of the next turn rather than now. And the Vulcan’s jump drive was damaged and they were unsure if they could successfully jump.
We rallied together. This was probably my favourite part of the day – among the entire fleet, the Salvador was small and almost insignificant, but here we were one of the key players. We tried to send over an engineer who had recently recovered in our sickbay to fix the Vulcan’s jump drive, but a shortage of materials meant that didn’t happen. We also offered to send some of our surplus fuel over to the Lucas.
We managed to confirm that we all had the same jump coordinates. I noticed some shady dealings between members of the Refinery’s crew – the First Officer seemed to not trust his Captain at all.
Actually jumping for reals this time
I suggested that the Vulcan try to jump first. If their jump drive failed, then we could come up with another plan. Luckily they successfully jumped away, and we three other ships jumped too, reuniting with the Fleet just in time for team time.
Unfortunately, we had no food, no water, and our crew were panicking about having been left behind. Our morale dropped down two levels, and we were at risk of riots. With only one security officer on board, riots would be hard to quell once they started.
I immediately spoke to the press and massively bigged up my part in the reunification efforts. Clearly I was the BRAINS behind the entire operation. This was announced to the world while I did a little happy dance, and the resulting morale roll brought us back up to reasonable levels.
It was actually around now that I started to think about who the wolves could be. Many people had some amount of suspicion towards the Shepherd, although they weren’t sure precisely who. I also had picked up on the peculiar dynamic on the Refinery during our left-behind chat. However, I do think that this was an element of the game that was harder given the online format, and honestly I couldn’t have told you any particular person that I suspected was actually a wolf, at any point during the game.
Wolf attack the third
We hadn’t been back together long when a third wolf attack saw Matty and me stranded on our ship, under fire. Our fifth medbay was damaged (actually fine because we only had four trained crew and one of them was still on the Jump Drive.
Lots more injured people made their way over to our ship, and I went out in further search of water and food, but I ended up at the back of pretty much EVERY queue wherever I went. Luckily when I returned to the ship, I found that we had received a shipment while I was out.
This turn, we decided to try to boost our morale out of the riot zone, and we gave them increased water rations. That, and a lovely mention in the press, allowed us to bring our morale back up to reasonable levels.
Meanwhile, the Icebreaker had its mining areas destroyed. Was it a wolf attack, or sabotage? While I had spent the entire game so far asking people for food and water, it appeared that other players had managed to hunt down the first wolf!
Meanwhile, it our sickbays were flooded with further injured people. The Captain and Chief Scientist from the Endeavour game over, offering two of their scientists in return for our approval of their latest scientific advance – some sort of chip they could implant in people to turn them INSTANTLY into engineers.
But the manner in which they requested it was unorthodox. They were very insistent that a member of the Salvador come over immediately to ratify their experiment. In person. And no they couldn’t explain it here. And, while laughing maniacally, of course they weren’t wolves! They wouldn’t be here any more if they were wolves! Or something.
Matty was obviously hesitant to go with them, and asked if she could take the Salvador security crew. I turned that down, not wanting our ship to be defenceless, and instead pointed her to one of our other Action Cards: Do No Harm.
I knew how powerful it could be. In the last game, it was used to send me to the sickbay in the midst of my presidential campaign.
Matty went off with the scientists, and I spoke to the Logistics Officer of the Aegis who told me everything on their ship was burning. I made a mental note not to be too pushy about getting an engineer to fix our completely unnecessary fifth sickbay.
Out of the blue, Aegis Comms Officer Anna turned up and told me something that blew me away.
“Alright, dear Captain. The military are about to put a lot of people on your ship right now.” She seemed quite flustered and stressed, though very polite. “We are taking your ship.”
What? The military were about to storm my ship, commandeer it and take it away from me? What?
“We’ve found a survivor planet.”
Okay, that sounds good.
“The Aegis will save the rest of the fleet by sacrificing themselves. There is a wolf attack incoming.”
That sounds… less good. Why can’t we just jump?
Note that I wasn’t actually verbalising any of the above thoughts. I was still trying to process why the military was taking my ship.
“Who is taking my ship?”
“The XO. He should be on his way. They should all be on their way.”
In retrospect, this would have been a hilarious time to use Do Not Harm on Anna and force her to go to the Sickbay so she didn’t take my ship. Especially as it turns out, she was NOT taking my ship. She was asking me to take my ship and spearhead the charge towards this safe planet while the Aegis stayed back to defend against a massive wolf attack.
I didn’t understand this at the time, however. Before heading back to her ship, she asked if I could jump, and I hesitantly said yes – planning to do nothing of the sort.
Then it was team time. I clicked over to check out our stores, saying “did we get any bloody food?”, only to drop my proverbial cup of tea all over the warehouse floor. It was stacked floor to ceiling. 13 food and 31 water – far more than I’d seen all day. My personal cabin was filled with tacos, while Matty’s was stuffed with celery.
I initially thought it was a glitch with the AI. We asked, and he went to double check that our records hadn’t been confused with those of the Shepherd. But upon checking our docking records, they showed that the Aegis had in fact dropped off a bumper load of supplies.
Meanwhile, other ships had started jumping. First the Vulcan, then the Shepherd, then the Dione. The only coordinates I had were the ones which had been leaked to the press earlier in the game, and could easily have a wolf ambush waiting at the other end.
New coordinates were broadcast, but this was after some of the ships had already jumped to the original coords. Things felt like they were breaking down. Humanity was at it’s final limit.
And with that, the game ended! Johan narrated as a massive wolf fleet jumped in from hyperspace. The daring sacrifice of the Aegis allowed the rest of the ships to jump to safety. Well, comparative safety.
Next was time for the debrief, and we found the wolves:
- Council Member for the Icebreaker (discovered)
- XO of the Aegis (undiscovered)
- Chief Engineer of the Lucas (undiscovered)
As for the fate of the Survivor Fleet – who knows. Perhaps their ships will continue drifting throughout the cosmos. Or perhaps these three traitors will bring the end to humanity.
The experience of playing in a virtual megagame was undeniably different to playing in a physical one. There was less buzz in the air, and being stranded on a voice channel on my own was very different to being stood at a table on my own. I still think I prefer the real thing.
However, given that megagames are off the table for several months at least, it was an excellent way to pass the time. The backend worked well from what I saw, and the Discord server seemed very well suited to the format. I’d definitely be interested in trying more online megagames.
And on a side note, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the game as much this time, even if it were in-person, simply due to having such an outstanding game last time. As a Council Member AND a wolf, it was basically a perfect storm of awesomeness, and begging for food and water all day just would never match up.
Massive thanks to Johan, Niklas, John, all the Control, and all the rest of the players for a very enjoyable day in isolation.
You can watch my full live stream of the game here on Facebook.