The last May bank holiday weekend I played another megagame! I've actually played a lot more since my last post about the subject but not had the time to write up how they went. However, I finally got the chance to play John Mizon's Den of Wolves
With lockdown taking effect, a lot of the megagaming community that I'm part of has had to quickly pivot to providing online versions of the hobby. As of yet, nobody has created an online-first megagame (though John Keyworth is in the middle of working on one) but DoW has been adapted for online play using Discord for communication1.
Den of Wolves
The story behind Den of Wolves is very similar to the sci-fi series Battlestar Galatica2, in that humanity has spread to the stars and then suddenly the
aliens humans (I've been corrected by John that the colony was human!) from Wolf-1061 decide to sabotage and destroy humanity. All that's left is a battleship (the Aegis) and a few other ships on the run from a terrifying pursuant.
This is my second play of Den of Wolves. I'd heard an awful lot of good things about it from the various people who have played it but every single run of it in the real world has been in a place where I couldn't get to, but I played in the first online version by Gothenburg Megagames at the beginning of lockdown and signed up for this game ran by Kurt LaRue since although it was using US timezones3, it was a bank holiday and I didn't have to be up the day after.
The role I was assigned was the comms officer on the Aegis. It's not 100% clear what my job is actually meant to be, but I took it to mean that it was my job to discuss with the ships in the fleet to keep them informed of anything that they needed to know about. The Admiral would have final say, it was just my job to pass that information on.
The important thing about Den of Wolves is that the wolves have traitors in the survivor fleet. I don't know how many are usually there, but we had 3 in this game. I discovered just before the game started that I was one of them4. My job now as a wolf agent was to sow dispair and discord (hah!) amongst the survivor fleet. I had absolutely no idea how to do this.
The early game
I've learned that the best way to remain hidden in a traitor game like this is to actually always tell the truth and don't lie to anyone - if you're going to do a backstab or something it needs to be hard enough and unexpected enough to make sure that nobody can recover from it.
So for most of the game, I was a good little Comms Officer. I went round and spoke to all the ship captains to find out what was happening, got a rough idea of their requirements (so I could maybe do some sabotage later when I'd thought about it) and did very little in the way of naughty wolf things.
Early on, I spotted that the Icebreaker (the mining ship) had been left completely unattended by their crew. I snuck up and asked Control what sabotage I could do. They asked "What are you trying to do?" to which I said "I'm looking for the big red 'DO NOT PUSH THIS BUTTON BECAUSE THAT WILL MEAN OUR MINING FACILITIES WILL BREAK' button" - I didn't want to kill any of the ship crew who were just doing their jobs because that might have outed me. Control said I was successful and Icebreaker's capacity for collecting ore that could be refined into fuel was at a lower capacity5.
On of the primary features of Den of Wolves is that the fleet needs to keep on moving (because, you know, there's a wolf fleet after you). The Admiral receives the new jump coordinates and all the players need to spend fuel to jump to those new places - hopefully all together. Those jump coordinates needed to be shared between the fleet. I was in charge of disseminating information to the fleet. Hello sabotage plan...
I concocted a plan to "Encrypt" the fleet coordinates, where I gave every ship two different coordinates and told them I'd tell them the real one later on. I did this by giving them something like A12345 and B67890, where everyone's letters and numbers were different, with the plan being that I can just post in the general text channel a string of letters like AIGSDPKJ and people would then choose the right ones.
As I went around to the various ship captains, I was constantly followed by the press. I kept on telling them to go away while I was discussing matters of security, to the point where one of them was convinced I was up to something (I mean, I was but not at that moment!) and kept on hounding me. The press were being incredibly hostile throughout the game6, and when I suspected they were going to accuse me of doing bad things to the fleet I demanded that any story they ran about me included the chance for me to reply and defend myself (luckily they didn't).
The plan fails(ish)
I made sure that the first jump was successful - I expected that we were going to need to jump again soon after so I could use this tactic again but give everyone the wrong coordinates. This brilliant plan was scuppered by two ships in the fleet not jumping.
Soon after, there were rumours abound that there was a wolf agent on the Aegis - and since I was the only one who knew the jump coordinates all eyes fell on me. Luckily, just afterwards the two ships jumped to the correct position. I immediately ran to the ships in question to find out what had gone wrong - to be told that neither of them had seen the order to jump and the unlock key. Whew - I was safe. The press then ran stories about a possible wolf agent on the Aegis that wasn't being investigated.
Shouting at the press
I was absolutely livid about this for two reasons:
- I'd never heard about this thing that we were supposed to be investigating and weren't - and neither did the rest of the crew
- I was a wolf agent and I was doing a damn good job of staying hidden
The next press player who came onto the ship I gave a massive dressing down to and demanded to know what the hell they thought they were playing at - freedom of the press was very important but during a national crisis sowing discord like that would only lead to hardship. I also spoke to the editor and reiterated my concerns and said their political correspondant was causing much damage to morale, and needed to be reigned in before all trust in the fleet was removed7 and anarchy descended upon us.
I don't think that endeared me to the press.
Meeting a friend
If you're a wolf agent, you're given a codeword to help identify yourself (in this game, it was "FRAME"). I'd tried slipping it into various conversations and didn't get anything back from anyone (including my team mates when I'd heard there was a wolf agent on the Aegis).
While trying to pass on the set of fake coordinates to the rest of the fleet, I was stuck in a council chamber when the wolf fleet attacked. I kept quiet and chuckled to myself when the President said "You know, that method of giving out coordinates is quite complicated. It's the sort of thing a wolf agent would do, but it seems to be working". During this, I got to hear how they were about to strip the captaincy of the Shepherd because they suspected them of being a wolf. Hurrah! A possible friend.
When the wolf attack abaited, I legged it over there and spoke to the captain under the pretense of it being a chance for me to give the coordinates to them. At that point I said "It looks like this might be a frame job" to which they replied "Ohhhhhhh! Awesome". I passed on the coordinates and told them that their cover was blown.
At this point everyone had the fake set of coordinates and Control were informed that the next jump was going to be interesting. Then the ship containing the wolf agent jumped.
At this point, things got messy. The ship had jumped with members of various crews, so now we couldn't jump because who knows where the Shepherd was. After some time passed, I ran around and gave people the wrong jump coordinates so that people would be ready to jump as soon as able, when the Shepherd returned.
Immediately the prison ship turned their guns on the Shepherd and threatened to destroy it until the first officer got the comms out to say they'd wrested control and they were damaged after doing an unprepared jump. The Aegis tried to take a shuttle to arrest the agent, when the prison ship said "Hang on, that's our responsibility"8.
Finally the captain was arrested (but shortly after was assassinated in prison - which was a shame because I was going to break them out). I made it clear to the Admiral that we needed to jump now, while spotting that somone else had been sent to the brig. I went to go say hello.
They told me that someone had planted a weapon on them when they went into the council, because they were going to be elected president. I asked very pointedly "Are you saying this is a frame job?", and was told "Yes, yes it is!". I then saw all the ships jumping and so did an evil villain monologue. Then the Admiral came and asked to see me in his office.
The conversation went something like this
Him: Are you aware that the entire ship's fleet has been scattered everywhere?
Me: I pull a pistol and try to assasinate you.
Unluckily for me, he had bodyguards who threw me back in the brig (he considered throwing me out of the airlock but was too humane). My brig friend then said "So, I'm also a wolf, and it turns out that when you've actually been framed it's very difficult to use the code word 'Frame'".
The game ended there - Control loved the fact that I was so successful and said that their dashboard of ships all being positioned differently in space was brilliant. I discovered that most ships actually had enough fuel to jump to the real coordinates and some ships had discovered (slightly too late) that their coordinates didn't match. Thinking back on it, I should have sent a message to the Wolf Fleet with all the coordinates where I'd sent people so that they had a greeting party ready but I was still trying to remain hidden until the jumps happen.
The Admiral told me after the game he kept on wanted to check up on me because I had an awful lot of power when disseminating the fleet coordinates but didn't have time. The great thing about this method was that it did look really good and if he had done some checking up then I had given the right coordinates to people.
Control pointed out it wasn't particularly secure upon closer inspection but I retorted that I really didn't care about that - it had the illusion of security to most people. If people had actually spoken to each other then they would have been able to deduce the correct coordinates because everyone had one set of coordinates in common, but because of the "security" nobody wanted to risk that.
All in all, it was a blast to play. I'd really recommend the game to people as a first megagame - the rules are really simple and easy to understand and most of the tension comes from the political angle. Whether I'd personally play it again I'm not sure - I think I've seen enough of it to know how the game works and I think that as a sort of cooperative game it's quite easy to acccidentally be an alpha-player and tell people that they have to do xyz because that's how to keep the fleet moving. I'd much rather be Control!
The megagaming calendar is rather empty with games being cancelled left right and centre due to the pandemic. In theory, I'm running the game I've designed called "Running Hot" for Pennine Megagames at the end of September, but it's still a bit touch and go on whether that'll happen. Hopefully the run of Indochina: La rue sans joie manages to go ahead - the combat mechanics for that look fascinating. Maybe I'll see you at one of those games?
This is the 3rd such run of Den of Wolves that I'm aware of. The first two runs by Gothenburg Megagames used Discord + Google Sheets to handle resources. This game used a custom web interface to track resources. ↩︎
If I recall, John's not a fan of people calling it the Battlestar Galatica megagame because he's written a whole damn universe. ↩︎
This was actually a fundraiser for the tabletop.events service, due to the fact that all of their income had dried up because of the COVID-19 pandemic and they were losing money due to having to handle refunds etc. ↩︎
This was extra hilarious because I'd spent most of the time in the pre-game going "Awoooooooo- I mean, NORMAL HUMAN NOISES" in the general discord chats. To the point where I just laughed at Control when they told me that I was a wolf agent. ↩︎
They apparently never fixed this, which was a good sign for me. ↩︎
I've literally never seen a press this hostile. A lot of the early press headlines were "The council is doing this this - why are they wasting time doing that?" - I was shocked at how morale didn't take a massive nose dive. ↩︎
This was the point where my wife came in and asked if I was alright, because I sounded really upset and angry with someone. It's not my fault I'm that good a roleplayer. ↩︎
Throughout this entire conversation, I was angrily messaging Control that I was really looking forward to the jump but people kept on getting in the way. ↩︎