I’m in the council chambers. I’m reassuring everyone the explosives stockpiled by the previous monarch (who I betrayed to save my skin) are safe and secure because I don’t trust anyone not to use them to destroy the city. I then discover, for the second time, the city has been invaded. The king and most of the councillors flee, but I’m too slow to react and end up left behind when an army of religious fanatics besiege us. They’re not very interested in negotiating and I don’t have an army; I’m just a bureaucrat. I do, however, have access to a lot of explosives…
This was my first megagame experience. If you’re active in the tabletop scene, chances are you’ve heard of megagames. They're large-scale games, usually played across a full day, averaging between 20 and 100 players. Megagames occupy a unique design space: not quite a board game, not quite an RPG, not quite LARP, not quite model UN, but somewhere in the blurred lines between them.
Megagames began with wargames, historical recreations and crisis-management simulations. There are still plenty of megagames that let you play out historical conflicts, exploring the various possibilities and what-ifs, but the hobby has diversified massively since it began approximately 40 years ago.
Previous megagames have included fantasy civil wars replete with dragons and debauchery, companies competing to colonise Mars, vampires bickering over blood and power, genetically engineered legions clashing in intergalactic civil war, alien infiltrators trying to destroy humanity’s last fleet, and world governments uniting (or not..) against zombie apocalypses, alien invasions and/or rampaging kaiju.
Some of these may sound rather familiar to experienced tabletop gamers; megagames are often about taking a familiar tabletop experience and expanding it. Sometimes they use their scale to explore settings and designs you wouldn’t normally see realised in a board game or RPG, such as games set in high schools full of cliques and backstabbing, or even post-apocalyptic cake-baking competitions.
One of the best parts of megagames is the way they let players think outside the box in ways you can't in a board game - like using your explosives to destroy the throne everyone was fighting over. In other games, players have started entirely new sporting competition minigames, become record producers in a fantasy setting, created literal monsters… almost every game has an example, and some games are all about player-created chaos. With a dedicated team of game masters, the game can be far more responsive than any board game while operating at scales RPGs can’t match.
While some megagames skew towards map-based combat, building economic engines or political manoeuvring, most incorporate sub-games tailored more to specific interests. One player may focus most of their attention trying to manoeuvre armies to victory while a teammate makes backroom deals and another tries to win accolades for their scientific research. As such, it’s fantastic to go to a megagame with a bunch of friends, even if they have slightly different tastes. Most games group players into teams and let you list players you’d like to be placed with (or against!), letting you enjoy the game with people you know and trust. Or know better than to trust…
If you can’t get a group together, you’ll still find people to work with. You'll make allies, enemies and friends over the course of a game.
For those interested in playing, there are several organisations in the UK, US and Australia that host multiple games each year, advertised via mailing lists and social media. Most tabletop conventions, including UK Games Expo and Gen Con, have a few megagames you can book to attend. This hasn’t been the case for the last few years; while the first few face-to-face games are reappearing, throughout the pandemic most of the scene moved online.
This shift made it easier than ever to get into megagaming, with geography no longer a barrier to entry. Online megagames have also started to take cues from video games, using interactive boards, custom-built apps and AI assistants. The shift to online has led to several longform megagames, with each turn lasting a week rather than an hour, leading to a slower, more considered pace and often more roleplay-intensive experience for players to enjoy in their downtime. While most people are excited to play games in person again, the online scene is here to stay.
If your interest has been piqued or you’ve always wanted to give megagames a try but never had the chance before, now is the perfect time to start. Will you end up as a bureaucrat accidentally stockpiling explosives? An academic creating the noble sport of wyvern jousting? A politician faking a movie production to cover up an alien invasion? Find your local (or not so local) group and it won't be long before you'll have your own stories to tell.