Uncovering Niwa’s secrets

Infinite Horizons - the colony grows

Our first home-brewed megagame, Infinite Horizons, took place on 6 June at Southampton Uni! With 41 players, 6 stressed-out controllers and the godfather of megagames in attendance, it was a colony planning, snark-hunting, resource-trading and jungle-exploring madness!

You can read a bit more about the setting for the game over on the Infinite Horizons page, but let us save you a click. At some vaguely defined point in the future, Earth as we know it is overcrowded, overheating and running desperately short of resources.

15 years ago, as the nations and corporations of Earth were gearing up for the war to end all wars – literally, this time – a half-forgotten interstellar probe sent back details of an Earth-like planet, Niwa. Humans being humans, we stopped stockpiling weapons long enough to assemble a collective asset-stripping mission colony ship and sent it to Niwa.

Arrival on Niwa

The game kicks off a little time after landing, with the players organised into teams representing each of the colony’s nine main sponsors. The sponsors back on Earth each have their own unique needs and priorities, from the near-bankrupt mining company WeyTani Industries to the GIC, a loose alliance of democratic(ish) nations whose economies are teetering on the edge.

The GIC, commanded by Jim Wallman of Watch the Skies fame
The GIC, in negotiation with Universal Banking Group

A brief introduction to the game’s four main areas ensued: the Trading Floor, where the Factions’ trade reps stared aghast at their Earth-side sponsors demands for resources; the Operations Map, where survey teams and engineers were sent forth into the Niwan jungle to claim land, lay roads and harvest resources; the Colony Table, where the administrative Council of Niwa would try and coerce, intimidate and beg the various Factions into building enough habitats and farms to feed and shelter the ever-growing colony population; and the Assembly, responsible for legislation and crisis mis-management; .

Niwan Assembly rejects Justisphere. Other Justishapes being considered.
Niwan Assembly narrowly rejects Justisphere. Other Justishapes being considered.

Meanwhile, back on each Faction’s home table, the team leader would stare at their HQ board and try to work out whether to a) pay their workforce, b) please their sponsor, c) help stabilise the colony, or d) none of the above.

As the game went on, Option D seemed a very popular choice.

Nonetheless things began well, with a flood of survey teams, engineers and security escorts pouring out of the colony to start dividing up the Niwan landscape and milking it for all it was worth. Massive Resource Extractors (MREs) churned along in their wake, slowly providing a bare pittance of food and basic resources the colony needed to tide itself over.

The Advanced Ventures team fighting over fresh Snarkmeat
The Advanced Ventures team fighting over fresh Snarkmeat

The traders looked at their modest resources, and their sponsors’ demands for resources to be shipped back to Earth, and realised maths was not their friend.

The Assembly members looked at their handful of votes, and realised maths was not their friend.

The team leaders looked at their reserves of Creds, and their unpaid worker pool, and realised maths was not their friend.

Losanna HQ
Losanna HQ, with the economy humming along nicely

The Council looked at the current Colony population, and the amount of food available, and realised maths was not their friend.

By turn two the colony was on the verge of meltdown, with unpaid, unhoused, hungry colonists causing stability to plummet.

The Council of Niwa, realising the challenge ahead of them
The Council of Niwa, realising the challenge ahead of them

Complete breakdown of society was avoided at the last minute when a policy of draconian socialism put massive numbers of colonists to work on state-funded farms.

Crisis averted. Then people started noticing the ugly yellow mould that was creeping into the colony…

Xenolife infestation: won't somebody think of the children?
Won’t somebody think of the children?

A thousand stories

It seems to be a fundamental aspect of Megagames that their sheer scale makes them unwieldy – but that’s a bug, not a feature. Over at lestradesgame.blogspot.co.uk, talking about Megagame-Makers’ Don’t Panic Too, a lovely-sounding chap named Simon pretty much nailed what makes Megagames so interesting:

The key game mechanic is really poor communication. If this was a two player game with no time limit it would … be fairly calculated and more chess like. With 60 players most players have no real idea as to what is happening and it becomes more about making a simple plan work at 50% efficiency. … The chaos is what makes the game really fun.’

He’s right. Megagame rules usually seem to be pretty light, simply to keep Control from having an aneurysm. but you’re so focused on your own little part of the game that you totally lose sight of the bigger picture. You hear rumours and gossip, but unless your team excels at clear, concise communication you’re going to get caught out by events that (it seems) were old news everyone apart from you.

And the same holds true for Control. Even if I hadn’t been trying to track nine different (and increasingly fractious) economic relationships simultaneously inside my head, I’d probably only have been aware of half of what was going on around me.

So much happened! And only once the game was packed up and we’d all packed off to a local pub did the stories start to emerge. Brilliant stories like the mysterious button that just had to be pushed, or of BET Pharmaceuticals’ desperate search for Transcendence – did their Trade Rep achieve it, or simply disintegrate himself?

BET Pharmaceuticals - don't drink the little blue one
BET Pharmaceuticals – don’t drink the red one

Like the best roleplaying sessions, a good Megagame is one where the narrative flows out of the players’ decisions, not from the GM’s pre-scripted plot. A good game – board, video, roleplaying – gives its players meaningful decisions to make, enabling them to do more than just witness the story unfold. It’s their story, to shape as they wish.

Walking that line isn’t always easy, and there were aspects of the game that we’d like to improve before running it again. But the feedback we’ve had from Infinite Horizons suggests that most of the players enjoyed themselves and felt engaged… and what we saw after the game would seem to agree.

How can we tell? Because when down the pub at the end of the day, players from Factions, Council and Control alike were all bursting with stories of Niwa.

After all the hard work and stress of organising and running the game, that’s a good good feeling. Roll on the next one!

Breakdown of relations: Cain Enterprises' home office severs ties with Niwa
Breakdown of relations: Cain Enterprises’ home office severs ties with the Niwa office

Your stories

If you were there for Infinite Horizons, what were your favourite memories of the game? What crazy and/or hilarious stories have stuck with you? Please tell us about them in the comments…

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