Why The American Revolution is the Perfect Period for a Megagame
The game designers of The World Turned Upside Down, Brian & Stefan, chat about what makes The American Revolution so compelling and why it’s perfectly suited to be turned into a new megagame.
Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story
Stefan – I feel like I should air this out at the beginning and say that we’re both really into Hamilton. Like many I was skeptical about its pitch, but after listening to it on repeat for months on end, it’s really easy to see why it’s so beloved.
Brian – I blame my obsession completely on Darla and Stefan. When they first described Hamilton to me, I was pretty unconvinced. I’m not a big hip-hop fan, but I do love Broadway shows. I gave it a listen, then another, then another. And I was hooked. It seems like a very short time after that Hamilton started turning up everywhere. Why am I obsessed? A couple of reasons. The music, it’s fantastic and full of lines to quote/sing anytime. The period of history has always been interesting to me. And through the music the characters become very relatable. It isn’t history through the dry lens of a lecture, but rather a story that crosses time with characters that could be your friends.
S – I think that’s what’s most compelling about it. So many Founding Fathers are put on such a pedestal, which makes them incredibly admirable, but not relatable. Hamilton brings humanity to all its characters. And that was something very compelling for us as game designers. We want to provide that same kind of feeling by letting you be a part of revolution as it happens. Not only to provide a “what would you do” environment, but to also follow along with the emotions of the people during such an uncertain time. Megagames gives players a great way to provide emergent narratives. Players take actions into their own hands and shape the way they want to see history played out. We want to make sure that they have the ability to affect the world around them as they see fit.
History Has Its Eyes On You
S – It’s also often quoted by Hamilton’s creators that they wanted to tell the story of America then told by America now. It’s such a blend of modern storytelling with an historic context. What’s amazing about megagames is that they’ve been using a similar formula for living inside the history it recreates. We’re using modern board game mechanism and ideas against a compelling historical backdrop.
We want to provide that same kind of feeling by letting you be a part of revolution as it happens.
B – There is a ton of history, and we are working hard to keep as much of it as possible. But again, like Hamilton, we are trying at the end of the day to entertain people. And so we have said from the start, that the gameplay will come before history. With that said, we are also trying to keep as much as we can accurate.
S – We don’t have to stray too far from history to find some amazing stories to pull from. The American Revolution has such fabled tales of heroism and daring that we don’t have to make up too much to make it exciting.
B – It’s really true. Every time I go to look something up, I find some other amazing event I want to find a way to include. There is such a rich amount of backstory already built up for the time period. So many other stories most people haven’t learned about in school.
S – There’s also something very understandable about the American Revolution. Each side had very understandable motivations. It doesn’t take much for people to get into the spirit of the Revolution.
B – Definitely! The built in backstory is awesome for a megagame. This saves players time when preparing. There is no need to detail the motivations for each side, since we have been taught the motivations in school already, at least in the US.
S – I think megagames also give such an important perspective that’s hard to capture in a textbook. Each person knows that they are integral to the success of their group, but they also know that the game is too big for one person to do it all themselves.
B – Our hope is that people leave the game thinking about what they just played, and how events that happened 200 years ago are applicable in life today. Maybe they’ll leave interested in learning more about one of the events that comes up during the game. Or maybe they leave and send us an extensive email outlining why something we did wasn’t accurate. All of those responses mean that we touched someone, drove some passion in them enough to go and look deeper into something they may not have know much about before. I love when a game can do that to me, so I hope we are able to have that effect on our players.
The Room Where It Happens
S – One of the most interesting aspects about the American Revolution and megagames was the strength of colonial pride. Built inside the motivation of the colonies is the inherent team structure of Megagames. The Colonials know they must deal with the global superpower of Great Britain, but they don’t see themselves as a country. They see themselves as individual colonies that have their own people to provide for.
B – And then they are trying to stand united against that superpower, but are not sure where to begin. Separately there is no way they could have won, but there were no mechanisms in place for cooperation between the states. The establishment that handled that is what they were rebelling against. They were really trying to run a government while they were forming that same government. So now you have military and political challenges, and that lends itself so naturally to a Megagame format.
S – There was a constant struggle for both the Colonials and the British to balance War and Politics. Neither aspect was ever clear cut. Every famous event had countless smaller decisions that had to be made before it became history. Inside this game you’ll have to deal with those decisions.
B – And some events and participants that are more well known in movies then in textbooks, or games, the spies. Both sides used espionage to try to gain the upper hand, near constantly throughout the war, but the Colonies were starting nearly from scratch. The results of this intelligence played a vital role in the war effort for both sides, and it was important to us to design a way for espionage to influence the game.
There is such a rich amount of backstory already built up for the time period.
S – We couldn’t have an American Revolution megagame on Long Island without giving credit to Washington’s Spies! They were the backbone of American intelligence. We’re trying styles of play found in games like The Resistance and Battlestar Galactica that will be pretty new to most megagames. It’s pretty important to us as Long Island natives to get espionage right.
Wait For It
B – So by my count, that is 3 pillars, or a pretty nice triangle of game mechanics; Politics, War, and Espionage. For me, the combinations and interactivity between those mechanics on such a large scale is what really makes a Megagame feel unique. Each of those mechanics helps drive the player experience, and hopefully helps the players feel a connection to the time period. We want to give the players the framework to make informed decisions about what to do, without being prescriptive. I am looking forward to seeing what kind of divergent strategies the players employ, and how those end up influencing the revolution.
S – We’re so incredibly passionate about this topic and about megagames, that we hope that we can share this with you soon. We’ll be excited to see all of you in the fall and join the revolution!
Edit: Here is our podcast on this very topic where we go a bit more in depth into megagaming and the mechanics behind twtud:
- Stefan Salva Cruz
- July 4, 2016
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