There is no 'Me' in Team?...
Team of Teams
A blog by Jim Wallman exploring the differing approaches to team play and the consequential experience within a megagame.
Megagames are team games. That sounds like something one shouldn’t need to state. But as the genre has grown I think I detect that this has been lost sight of a little in some places. I have probably said before that a megagame looks like a board game, but it isn’t a board game, it looks like a wargame but it isn’t a wargame and it looks like a role playing game but is isn’t a role playing game. And the main reason a megagame doesn’t fit neatly into these categories is generally to do with the presence of teams (and often those teams are in a hierarchy of teams).
What I’ve observed is that for many new players (and some grognards) team play does not seem come naturally. This is especially so with board gamers and wargamers. Now, before you get annoyed or defensive let me explain. Most (and naturally not all) board games and wargames are predicated on a number of principles:
There will be one winner.
Individual player agency is paramount.
Player to player interactions must always be adversarial. (Note: Yes, I know there are increasingly cooperative games of some brilliant out there, but I am talking about the generality).
This can, I feel, inculcate a mindset that places a premium on the player’s individual experience. It is so common that I suspect some people are not even aware of how deep these assumptions run in their approach to games. I would summarise them as:
What I personally do always matters.
Victory or defeat is entirely my personal responsibility – I am the hero of my own game narrative.
Other players are there to get in the way.
It doesn’t matter how I win, so long as I win.
This works well in a 4 player board game or a 2-player face-to-face wargame. But I suggest that in a game where players are part of, say, a 4 player team, this cannot work well. A team leader with these attitudes will cut the team out of decision making (“Victory or defeat is entirely my personal responsibility”), marginalise them and not consult because the game is all about him (“I am the hero of my own game narrative”). The other members of the team feel left out, useless and without any meaningful agency in the game (“Other players are there to get in the way.”).
In a megagame, where (usually) the background, structure, content and mechanisms all require intense engagement from the players, a team working together as a team is not something that is nice to have, it is essential. It is also essential to success in achieving the team’s game objectives. One player cannot do it all – or if she can then perhaps there is a design issue – more on this in a moment.
Now, please don’t get me wrong, I am not having a go at players who do not naturally and seamlessly form into well-oiled and effective teams. Team formation, especially with a group of people who only know each other slightly, is a non-trivial problem – especially if the megagamers concerned have no previous experience (either in the game world or the ‘real’ world) of teamwork.
However, there are some real consequences in terms of player experience when a team is accidentally dysfunctional – none of which are good for the megagame or the megagamers.
Players feel disconnected from the game – while their team leader seems to get to play ‘all the best bits’.
The Team Leader misses out on the advice, thoughts and support of the team – in extreme cases the team may try to marginalise the leader by holding back information, misinforming or taking independent action (or worse, might even try to ‘assassinate’ them in-game).
A megagame is also a social event – nobody wants to see people come away feeling they have wasted their day and not interacted positively with the rest of the team.