Game Lab is a new feature at DEFY DANGER where we will be talking about backburner projects that are rough, in development, and may never see an official release. The schedule for these will be sporadic, slipping into our regular blog posts whenever we’ve got something worth sharing.
This past summer, a good friend reached out to me for help in running a Watch The Skies MegaGame in our area. I’m always eager to try new games; play more game and more different games, that’s my mantra for spurring more creativity. It was an interesting experience. A fun time, met some great people, and learned quite a bit. I pride myself on being ambitious, especially in the world of gaming. Nothing is ever good enough, never big enough, can always be done better, can always be done MY way. And I think that’s not an uncommon feeling in our hobby. So afterward, there was no question in my mind – I had to make my own MegaGame.
In this blog post, I’ll be discussing the design of this MegaGame, some behind the scenes information, and tips on how to run it, and games in general, more effectively.
Be a MegaGame. By that I mean, run a primarily tabletop hobby game involving 20+ players with interactivity across multiple circles with a high degree of social interaction.
Limit the Number of “Control”, the term for Game Masters. The MegaGame I was previously a part of had a pretty high ratio of game masters to players, and I wanted to craft my game in a way to reduce that. I wanted to complexity and nuance to principally come from interactions between competing players, not a set of Byzantine rules.
Related to that, I wanted a tight set of impactful game mechanics that helped foster interaction between not just competing players, but also players cooperating on the same team.
Lastly, I am very interested in the deep lore of the A Song of Ice & Fire universe. One of my goals here, then, was to bring forth some of that arcane knowledge and share it.
Game Promotion Description
AEGON’S CONQUEST is a live game experience which melds fantasy, strategy, and betrayal like none other!
Players are formed into teams of four, called a House, and assume the roles of the major movers and shakers within eight factions vying for control of Westeros. Each House has its own unique skills and strategies which players must use to leverage themselves into a better position to dominate their enemies. Players will set off to:
- negotiate powerful alliances with other Houses
- delve into forgotten ruins seeking lost relics
- dig up dirt on your allies while their backs are turned to betray them later
- forge the chains of knowledge and advance the capabilities of your house
- manage incoming resources, sellsword company wages, and army supply lines to keep the coffers full
- conquer thy enemies with a powerful military
The game itself plays out like a crazy mash-up of Diplomacy, Settlers of Catan, and Dungeon World.
Each player will have a specific role to play within their House;
the mastermind LORD, who negotiates alliances to help the other member of the House, trades resources, betrays other Houses by exposing their secrets, and directs the overall strategy of the House.
the adventurous HEIR, who dabbles in being a sellsword, a diplomat, or a bookworm as needed, as well as an adventurer delving into dark dungeons in search of lost relics.
the studious MAESTER, who researches new advances in medieval fantasy technology, tracks down lost lore, and uncovers allied Houses darkest secrets.
the cunning KNIGHT, who leads grand armies in an extended military campaign of mounted knights, castles, fire and blood.
The great Houses of the land at the time of Aegon’s Conquest are: Stark, Arryn, Lannister, Hoare, Gardener, Durrandon, Martell, and Targaryen.
To play this game, you’ll need to gather together at least four people to run each table.
- Three people for each of the Houses (Lord, Maester, Knight). This is the bare minimum, ideally you would have a 4th player on each team to run the Heir. If you only have three, have any of the players grab the Heir sheet each turn and bring it with them to the table they go to. If you can, try and group players up together into Houses so that they are teaming up with people they know. It helps foster a competitive “us versus them” mentality that the game is going for.
- Four people to run the game, one for each table (Lords, Citadel, Delve, and Westeros Map).
- The eight House Summary sheet packets.
- Half page versions of all the House banners, to show alliances.
- At least 16 Secrets cards for each House, a total of 128 cards
- At least 32 Dark Wings, Dark Words cards
- At least 48 Relic Location cards and 48 Relic cards
- Rules summaries for all of the Game Masters
- Four tables
- Some six-sided dice, at least three pair (Westeros Map Table, Citadel Table, Delve Table), but as many as you can spare.
- A ten-sided die for the Maester to determine where the Relic Locations are. This is very helpful to have as the individual area names help the Delve GM come up with ideas.
- A large printout of the map of Westeros. Make this as large as possibly, and in color if you can. For our recent game, we had a color vinyl map at 4 feet by 8 feet. It was huge!
- A means to easily track and display alliances. We used vinyl banners, hung on the walls, and then printed small sheets of paper clips to the banners to indicate the alliances.
- A way to track resources (Lumber, Wheat, Sheep) and gold. We used Settlers of Catan cards and cheap plastic gold coins, but this could be as simple as printed images or index cards, in a pinch.
- A means to represent armies, easily identified by House, and whether they had acted on the current turn. We started by having simple poker chips, color coded to each House. Later, we took old D&D minis and glued them to a stack of three chips, trying to generally match up the creature to various House sigils. You only need five armies per House, so scrounging up some figures isn’t too onerous for most hobby gamers.
- Stark – white
- Arryn – blue
- Lannister – red
- Hoare – grey
- Gardener – green
- Durrandon – yellow
- Martell – brown
- Targaryen – black
- A way to show which armies had the effects of Support (+1 to rolls) or Oppose (-1 to rolls). We used little red and blue colored acrylic gems.
- Which armies have been upgraded via the Maester’s iron chain link. We suggest some pipe cleaners twisted into a loop.
- A way to show which areas were under what control. We printed out House sigils on round 1” stickers, which came off of the vinyl map very easily. This could just be a slip of paper or a poker chip or whatever you have available.
- Temporary Control markers, at least 3, for each House. We suggest using the permanent control stickers with some color-coded poker chips.
- A prop for the iron throne would have been really fun to have
- A 5th person to solely coordinate and organize the whole event is nice to have … we think. We only had the minimum four people as Game Masters and it worked pretty well. It helped that our GM’s are very well organized.
- A 4th person on each House to play as the Heir.
- We bought a croupier stick, the thing used in casinos to pull back dice and chips, to push armies around on the map. This was a lot of fun and made people feel like generals in a war room.
- Music. A little ambiance is nice. We had a mix of tunes from Game of Thrones, video games like Diablo, and generic renaissance faire stuff. Here is the playlist we used.
- Decorative name tags to help people identify who is with what House and which role.
- Snacks and drinks. This can be a long, exhausting game and it’s good to have refreshments on hand.
- Some little props to get people in the mood. We had a plastic chain to go around the Citadel GM’s neck and gold foiled paper crowns for all of the Lords, and a few other odds and ends. Be careful not to go overboard with this and lose sight of how you want the game to go. We ran Aegon’s Conquest as originally intended; foremost as a game, not a LARP. If you really want a LARP, that’s cool too, but in that case I’d suggest you drop a lot of the fiddly rules here.
- Extra tables for the Houses to huddle around between turns.
The goal of Aegon’s Conquest is to be the House with the greatest amount of Power at the end of the game.
Each House is composed of 3-4 players representing different functions of a medieval fantasy clan, set in the world of A Song Of Ice & Fire. The players of the Houses act cooperatively together for the benefit of their House, but competitively against the other Houses. It is a team-based, competitive gaming experience. Each player type (Lord, Heir, Knight, Maester) operates independently of the other players in their House, with their actions having consequences that effect all.
Players may achieve the ultimate goal of increasing Power by:
- Conquering and controlling areas on the Westeros map
- Unearthing lost artifacts
- Additionally, House Secrets can be revealed, subtracting Power from rivals.
Play continues for a specified amount of time, either in terms of turns or hours, with Power tallied and the winner declared at the end. For our game, we nominally started at 10:00am (it was more like 10:45am once we got everyone settled in and rules discussed) and then had a soft stop time of 3:30pm, with everything done and cleaned up by 4:30pm.
Having a clear, concise in-game goal was key to achieving some of design goals, as discussed previously. Having a goal and knowing, generally, how the game is going to end gives your game a direction and purpose. It drives forward the action and makes choices more meaningful.
As players arrive on site and are checked in, immediately send them to huddle with the other members of their House. Once you have everyone squared away, ask that each player go to their respective table (Heirs to the Delve table, Knights to the Westeros Map table, Lords to the Lords table, Maesters to the Citadel table). There, have each GM introduce themselves and go through the rules of his or her table. The Heir will need to know a little bit about every table, but it might be best to just let them play catch up for now. Reiterate that players can’t wander over to tables where they aren’t supposed to be, as it’s very disruptive. If they want to share information in the middle of a turn, then they need to get their table-hopping Heir moving.
Hand out the starting Resource cards to the Lords, the starting Relic Locations to the Heirs, and have Knights setup their starting two armies. Once all the players have been briefed, send them back to discuss strategy with their House for 5-10 minutes before proceeding to the first turn.
The first turn is crazy. The chaos of this kind of high player game can get overwhelming quickly, so be sure to take a few breaths, slow down, and focus on one step at a time.
During the first turn, make sure to go slowly and deliberately. There will be some confusion and adjustment on everyone’s part.
When the players at a given table are all done, immediately send them away to the rest of their House. Clear up the tables as soon as possible and keep things streamlined. When all the tables are cleared, including the Lords collected Resources at the Westeros Map, make an announcement that the turn is over and give players 5 minutes to strategize.
During this time, gather the GM’s together and get a quick feel as to how things are going and what, if any, on the fly changes or rules interpretations were made. Use this opportunity to coordinate and present a united front for the players. When you’re all ready after the 5 minutes, make a big announcement and get the second turn going.
In Between Turns
When a Secrets card is revealed, have the Lords table GM loudly announce a betray. They should be putting out as much drama with this reveal as possible.
End of Game
After a few turns, you’ll start to get a good feel for the flow of the game and about how long everything takes. When you are two turns out from the end, make a big announcement and give the players plenty of warning. Repeat this for the final turn as well.
When the final turn is over, huddle with the GM’s and tally up the accumulated Power of all the Houses. Announce the winning House with as much fanfare as you can muster, as well as the Power scores for all Houses.
At our game, we thought it would be fun to have all of the defeated Lords place their golden crowns at the feet of the winning Lord.