I'm a geek / nerd / whatever at heart. I've been playing video games most of my life, and since coming to university I discovered board gaming and table top RPGs. A new found thing of mine is Megagaming, which is a weird intersection of all 3 things and is just incredibly good fun. I played Trope High last weekend, so here's a round up of how that went.
But how do megagames work?
The short hand I've been using for explaining megagames is to compare them to board games since that's a reference most people tend to implicitly understand1. Most board games are designed for a sensible number of people, like 5. megagames are designed for 40 (or more). With that in mind, they tend to be very different beasts to the ones that you're used to. In a board game or RPG you have a vague idea of what's going on everywhere, even if there's some secret information. With 40 people, you're lucky if you know what you were doing.
The game also is a full day event: most games will start at 10am and finish sometime around 5pm and run in real time (about 30 minutes for each turn). There is also no break. Pair this with the fact that player creativity is rewarded (so you can just decide to do whatever you want to do and Control2 will give you a die and tell you to roll it and give you an interesting response), and things tend to get very interesting at about the 1pm mark where everyone's blood sugar is running a bit low.
What is Trope High?
Trope High was Becky Ladley's second megagame design, where she wanted to see whether the idea of an American High School works as a megagame. This is radically different from the last megagame I played, which was "A Shot Heard Round The Universe", a megagame set in the far reaches of space and was a more "traditional" megagame (since it had a map, and quite tight teams).
This time, we all played as various students in an American High School. That would be a bit boring if it wasn't for the fact this was an American High School as seen through American Pop Culture, where usually everyone has a dark secret. Maybe they're a vampire slayer. Maybe they're an alien. Maybe they just want to spread the word of our lord and saviour C'thulu.
Turns were "about the length of an episode", and had 4 phases:
- Class (5 minutes). It's a school! Go to class and do some learning! 3 of the lessons were just "essay writing", characterised by a rolling dice. The last was Gym which involved standing away from a bucket and trying to throw a small ball in.
- Free time (5 minutes). Erm. It's free time. Do what you want.
- Clique activities (10 minutes). Each "clique" had their own minigame - the people in drama played Charades, the people in the Sportsball team played tiddlywinks. I was in Band3 and played a game called "The Mind".
- School wide events (10 minutes). This could be prom, college applications or your clique's big event.
There was also the fact that everyone had secret roles and could potentially have "night actions" to perform, which were submitted to Control during the Class phase and you received the results during the event phase.
My game day
For this game, I played as Artie Abrams4. I was actually an alien from Venus. My aim for the day was to remain hidden so that people didn't try and murder me for being an alien, stop the evil Martians from doing whatever it was they were planning on doing, and get into a decent college so I could continue my reconnaissance mission. By the end of the game, I had succeeded in doing one of those three.
At the start of the game, I bribed Band Control with a bacon and egg sandwich, as he was a friend who'd had to arrive at 8:30 from Sheffield and hadn't had time to have breakfast. This didn't do anything for me in the end, but it was worth a shot.
I also met my fellow band mates. I met my best friend, Zack Mooneyham. I also met my rival, Josie McCoy. We were both really good at trash talking each other. Almost to the point where we were going to abandon our actual objectives and instead just spend the day trash talking each other. A typical exchange:
Me: Well, I guess you could be the soloist. You do need the practice after all.
Her: Oh no, it's absolutely fine. I'm sure we can work around your inherent problems and make this a success.
I had a quick walk around the school to see what was available and try and decide which college I needed to get into (insulting Josie as I went5), and tried to find the person I was supposed to have a crush on. I then completely ignored them for the rest of the day. Then the game began.
I had absolutely nothing to go on, so decided to just wait and see what came out on the radio at the end of the first day so I had something approaching a plan. I tried to put a tracker on Josie because I reasoned that she was my rival and was therefore probably bad news but missed the window to do so. The first radio broadcast had two items:
- A tiger had been unleashed on the school grounds
The Modern Foreign Languages building was shut off, and nobody from the school was talking about it.
Aha! My first clue! I'd been told that the Martians had possibly caused a solar flare of some description which meant that I'd lost contact with my home world. Something like that would need a secret building just on the school grounds so obviously I had to get in there. I scouted out the rest of band and asked them if they'd heard anything about the tiger (I got a panicked response from someone who ran away from me, so I decided that it was probably just a prank), and then brought some friends to quickly scout out Modern Foreign Languages. It was bordered up, and we couldn't get in.
Luckily, I had an alien laser.
Me and Zack broke in the turn afterwards, and were told we were both drawn to different rooms. I decided to follow Zack, and was treated to a flash of fire and then we were in a jungle. Huh. That was odd. We break in a turn or two later, and go to the other room and are transported to a big red planet with no atmosphere. Aha! My second clue!
The martians had obviously built themselves a portal so they could get to and from their high command and possibly do something bad. Maybe they were planning an invasion or something?
I was also distracted by someone coming up to me and telling me straight away that they knew I was an alien, but they wouldn't go public if I helped them by giving them some dirt on other people. And then Glenn Coco was about to go and talk to the media and tell everyone that there was something in the Modern Foreign Languages building. In an attempt to scare him, I tried to send him to Mars. He came back talking about megaflora6, and then the radio started talking about it the turn after. Glenn said it wasn't him, which meant I needed to find out who else knew about it.
After bribing Radio with some more dirt, I discovered that Glenn Coco was the one who told them. I walked up to Glenn, said "Lie to me again, and I will end you" and walked off7. Clue number 3 - Glenn Coco is lying to me. He's probably an alien.
The mid game slump
Then I hit a wall. I had a vague idea that the martians were doing something but I didn't have a clue who that was beyond Glenn Coco. I asked control if I could set up something to watch what was going on, but I didn't have anything. I came up with a hair brained plan to throw a party where we'd watch a load of sci-fi films and I'd try and work out if it meant anything to Glenn.
I decided to focus on my studies for a bit (not that it helped, Artie Abrams graduated at the end with a low C grade and didn't get into any colleges) and go and speak to everyone else and attempt to help them with their daily quests.
- I asked the person who knew I was an alien who was trying to prevent the end of the world by making sure certain things were happening. They seemed to know a lot about everyone, so I asked if he knew any Martians or if he knew anything about Glenn Coco. He didn't, but he said he'd keep an eye on it for me.
- The radio team were continually attacked by werewolves and poisoning. I decided that they needed some support, so I spent some effort with the rest of band and wrote them a quick song that I performed on the radio that turn in solidarity for them which got me a bit of cred.
I started to flounder a bit more, and then decided to go all in and reveal that Glenn Coco was an alien on the school's messaging board.
The end game
A turn later, I noticed that two of my band mates were severely injured. One was attacked by wolves8 and Glenn Coco had been shot by an alien for being from Venus. I decided I should do something about the wolf attacks now they were affecting my band ma- Wait, what? Glenn had been shot because he was from Venus?
I dragged Glenn beneath the bleachers to have a private chat, where he revealed he was actually an elder vampire and had been shot because someone had put on the message board that he was an alien so the Martians (who had no idea who the hell I was) had just gone with the only information they had available to them and shot him. Doing this revealed who the martians were, but it was reaching the end of the term and I had no idea how I could get involved. I considered shooting them back in retaliation but I felt that wouldn't help matters and resolved to deal with the portal to Mars.
I asked the science teacher for some help with creating a space suit, who asked cryptic questions about whether I needed my space suit to blend in with a red planet. I'd heard he was a time travelling space doctor of some description so decided he wasn't likely to be a threat. I tried to set up a turn where I had a lot of effort so I could build a space suit or something like that, but completely mistimed it and was stuck performing in a musical that turn instead.
Finally just before graduation me, Glenn Coco and Zack Mooneyham broke in to MFL again with the help of someone who could disable the alarm. I was transported to Mars, Zack was transported to a Jungle, Glenn was transported to a place that was filled with blood and occult symbols and...the person who could disable the alarm had a gas mask and saw us all inhaling toxic mold, leading to hallucinations. Oops.
The game ended, and we all discovered the truth of the day that I'll leave as a spoiler since I know Becky plans to run this game again as a "Spin off" in one of the colleges but various highlights:
- I heard about the cultists had nearly brought C'Thulu among us and were just one puzzle away from managing it.
- There was a battle between the forces for good and evil going on under my nose.
- There was a spy battle going on between a fellow band mate and 2 other people
- There were about 7 time travellers. There was also Marty McFly who wasn't a time traveller but started telling everyone that he was9.
- The revelation that the Modern Foreign Languages quest wasn't a part of the original game design. The radio only talked about it because they didn't have anything for the first turn, so Control just said "Eh, just talk about the fact MFL is closed". I brought a considerable amount of joy to Control for my dogged investigations for something that they'd had to invent on the fly.
I really enjoyed the day. It's a radically different megagame than the last one I played because the team structure was really opaque. I did find that this game was a bit of lonely experience since I didn't have any friends from Venus, but playing the band mini-game was a lot of fun and Zack Mooneyham was a great partner in the "Great Mystery of the Modern Foreign Languages building". Having to play cards in order without speaking is really quite difficult, but there was a real sense of joy when we managed to play a 0, 2, 4 and 6 in order across 4 different people.
The 1pm slump was really quite disheartening, but I don't think there's anything that could have prevented that. I'm quite new to megagaming so I'm not really aware of how best to play in that space and how best to get hints on how to continue. I think I possibly should have asked Control for a bit of guidance on the Martians or for a hint as to how I could try and learn who they were, and maybe my initial briefing could have given me some way of identifying Martians. As I later learned the Martians had no idea who the hell I was either and didn't actually have their own overarching plan, so I couldn't have really intercepted them10.
I also found the night actions to be incredibly frustrating - having a 5 minute window was far too short for me to go to my lessons and then submit them11. I later switched to writing my night actions during the event phase of the previous turn so I could submit the night action at the start of the turn instead of trying to do both my lesson and my night action at once. I also ended up with a bunch of mana that I couldn't spend, but again that was just down to the fact I didn't have a good way of fulfilling my objectives.
However, the fact that turns were well defined so was actually a real benefit for when I hit the slumps. I didn't know what I was meant to be doing, so I could instead just focus on being a good student and musician and enjoying the events each turn. I think for Trope High 2: The Tropening or whatever Becky decides to call it those structures are really important for helping anyone who's got lost like I did.
I'm planning on attending two more games this year:
- Flyin', Tradin' Misbehavin', a game based in the Firefly universe. Firefly was a space western TV show written by Joss Whedon that got screwed over during it's first showing by being shown out of order, being given nasty time slots and a lot more.
- Who will watch them?, a game based at a conference hall where superheroes and non-superheroes are going to argue over what laws need to be passed.
Control are the people who are essentially umpiring the game. For Trope High there were about 8 people running control. ↩︎
Of course I was. ↩︎
Every player character was named after someone from American High School shows/films. I am not ashamed to admit that I had to search up who Artie Abrams was (he's in Glee it turns out). ↩︎
"Are you sure you should be looking at that college Josie? They want talented musicians after all" ↩︎
I then went to Control and asked them what was going on with that, because I'd tried to lead him to Mars but it sounded like he'd gone to the Jungle instead. ↩︎
One of the things about megagaming is that it's got a lot of roleplaying elements involved. There's a lot of trust that when someone says something to you in character, they aren't usually being mean. The person who played Glenn was a seasoned megagamer and probably knew that I was talking in character as someone who was very annoyed. At least, they didn't complain at the end of day when we all went to the pub. ↩︎
I never found out why. ↩︎
Marty's crowning achievement was telling someone that he needed a date for the prom, and in his previous timeline he had them as a date and he was feeling a bit weak and oh no. That person already had a date, but they said they'd check with their date to find out if it was okay to switch. Marty took this as a no and then went on to try this line 3 more times before being caught by the person he'd initially tried it with. ↩︎
I might be wrong on that. I was going to ask them at the pub debrief after the game but they didn't come. ↩︎
Control said afterwards that because everyone had night actions they basically had a big board that they tried to resolve in turn. With 40 players, they did need that window to be short to make sure resolutions happened that turn. ↩︎