Watch The Skies: On the day

2015, Jun 08    

This is the second in a set of three articles about a megagame I ran this weekend. I’ve split it into these parts:

On the day of Watch The Skies, set up began at 8:15 for a 9:15 start, and I was surprised to find players already at the venue waiting to get in! We had meticulously planned our get in and it ran like clockwork - everything was ready to run by the time we started briefing. It was a huge boost to see players so keen and it was great to have everything organised so quickly.

From there, our planning deteriorated. The documents laid out on the control table were laid out terribly - my fault - and it was hard to find rules when players asked us a question. The documents needed to be in some kind of filing system, and the rules needed to be on more cheat sheets, more clearly laid out. I blame this partly on the rules being spread rather wide (e.g. In some dice rolls high is good, in some low is good) and partly on our organisation of them, which went a long way to making them easy to find, but not quite far enough. Sometimes I’d go looking for a rule in the control handbook but it was only found in the human handbook, or vice versa.

In fact, here’s a good point to go off on a tangent about hidden information. A big part of Watch The Skies is incomplete information and misinformation. That’s a very cool theme and it made for some of the best moments of the day, but it also spread into the rules. Players had a hard time learning what they could and couldn’t do. I understand that this is supposed to be roleplay driven, so players should be able to do more or less whatever they want, but there were so many occasions where players more or less had to be told “You have to try it and see”, but trying it would take one of 12 precious turns. For example, attacking an infiltrated area was deliberately a vague action - you don’t know what you’re going to find when you try to assault an alien-sympathetic country - but that meant that one of maybe 4 or 5 units had to be dedicated to that action. Too many times I had to tell players that they couldn’t do what they wanted to do: it was something that was in a rulebook somewhere, but they hadn’t found it or misunderstood it. It took too long for some teams to realise that it took 6 turns - half the game - to build a unit. If I’m being strict, I could say that they should have read the rules and figured that out, but ultimately, they felt like they’d missed out when they realised that and that’s not a fun situation. How do you make hidden information fun without creating situations like that? I’m not quite sure.

Megagame models get treated badly. When I made our models, I foresaw them getting used carefully, being lovingly nudged around like expensive Games Workshop models - that’s not how this game worked at all. My poor gluing skills embarrassed me time and time again as my players rushed from table to table with boxes full of rapidly deteriorating planes and armies. In a related problem, laminated sheets are great, but the counters we’d used to mark positions on them slid around on the laminate all the time. Luckily, one smart player had the bright idea to distribute blu-tac, but ultimately, these two incidents showed that I hadn’t thought about how the players would actually use the components that I’d created. I failed at usability.

On catering: I believe that events need good tea and coffee, and this time around the coffee supplies got completely demolished, so I’m convinced that this remains a good practice. One V60 dripper, however, is not adequate for 50 people, and I need to sort out a better coffee delivery system. That’s a bit of a tough call, because we’re not big enough to warrant an espresso machine, but cafetières require a different grind to filter coffee. I may just have to invest in a brew station. Providing cakes continues to be popular (how could it not be?) and telling people to bring a packed lunch worked well. I’d have liked there to be more options for food nearby, but this is so hard to pull off on a budget: venues with food are usually more expensive. I will continue to hunt for somewhere that suits us. I suppose there might be some legs in trying to organise catering to be brought in, but it’s hard to cater for everyone’s diet.

I worried over what to do after the event for quite a while, and eventually decided that changing venue was a bad idea; we would lose too many people in the middle. Therefore, we booked the hall out for as long as possible and invited people to stay for a beer afterwards. This probably turned out to be a fantastic idea, and almost everyone stayed back to chat about the game. Barely anyone was in the mood for playing more games after such a long day, but a chat and a drink was a fantastic way to spend the evening. I thoroughly recommend trying to keep players back after the day for an after-party in future.

Lessons learned, in bullet points:

  • Have a solid set up plan. All you need is a checklist and a venue layout.
  • Organise all your materials and think about how you’re going to use them on the day.
  • Make your models tough.
  • Think about how players are actually going to use the components you give them - are they actually fit for purpose?
  • Think about catering. Have good tea and coffee.
  • From last event, but still important: don’t let everyone go to the same village pub for lunch if you’re not sure that the pub can handle that many orders at once.
  • Have a plan for afterwards, run some kind of after-party, even if it’s just heading to the pub. Make sure that pub can handle that many people.