My board gaming group has an annual weeklong retreat coming up. We’ve had metagames running in the past, mostly in the background, that have been fairly successful overall. Chris, who used to host at his place on the beach before they sold it, came up with really good ones, usually involving some sort of cryptocurrency and based on how well you did in games and when you did nice things for others.

When we went to a single week long retreat a few years back, I volunteered to take over the metagame duties, and I have to say it’s been a mixed bag at best. Two years ago, I had a Star Wars theme, with the idea that people could play lots of interesting Star Wars games. We had a mob game of X-Wing that was sort of fun, but marred by a room with way too many hard surfaces so hearing people was difficult (think your high school’s indoor swimming pool acoustics), and a few critical questions getting missed. Also kind of late in the week, and we had a bit of the cranky happening.

The next year was a complete disaster, my otherwise excellent Co-op-a-Looza that suffered primarily from people not being all that much into co-op games, which was a surprise.

This year, I’ve decided to use an Olympics theme, although I’m hopeful no one is running a doping lab out of the basement. My main problem has been that I don’t want a metagame to overshadow gaming in general. For example, if I had people on teams and you got points for winning games, I really don’t want team members throwing games to each other for the purposes of the metagame. I actually experienced this at the World Boardgaming Championships when I ran the Successors tournament there nearly 20 years ago. There’s a “team competition” system there that turns perfectly wonderful people into wolves, all for bragging rights and a piece of wood you could get made up yourself for $20. One brother threw, in my presence, the game he was playing to another player to try to keep one of the other players out of the semi-finals that he considered a threat to his brother’s chances (he’d made the semis already). Don Greenwood threw them out of the con.

So I want to avoid that, although this is not the WBC crowd. A crowd you never want to play Euros with, btw. Must be the East Coast.

After this general theme gestating in my fevered brain lo these many months, I’ve finally decided on our metagame, and I think this one will work well because it doesn’t involve boardgames at all, but should be very entertaining and inclusive.

This past New Year’s Eve, we hosted my family’s annual party, and since I had a new PlayStation 4, we decided to try out some of the Jackbox Pack party games. These include things like Murder Trivia Party, where you have to answer questions or submit to the will of your serial killer host. In the game, not me. If he takes a finger, you have one less answer choice when a question gets asked, and it might be the correct answer! All of these games are played using the television as the central source of information, but everyone uses a tablet or phone tied into a website to actually play.

And there are several games to play, as I’ve got three of the four packs.

Here’s how this will work:

  • We divide up the attendees into teams. This is a little tricky as we have about 20 people attending, but not everyone will be there at the same time. I’m thinking teams of 3-4 people as I’d like to get 5-6 people playing a given game. Each team will be called a “country” and be responsible for providing a national anthem. Bonus points if you have a flag. You should probably have a name, too, although I hear Ferengistan has been taken.
  • I’ll choose six of the Jackbox games as the Events. The teams will be responsible for deciding which member will attempt to medal in that Event. Only one medal will be awarded for each event, no participation medals here.
  • Each night, we will play one of the games. They tend to last about 30 minutes to an hour, so it shouldn’t take up too much of each night. We’ll have a practice round, as well as the ability to try out the games ahead of time to help countries choose their mathlete for that event. One full game and we have the medal winner!
  • Everyone in your country must play at least one game, and must have a participant from each country in each game.
  • One of the fun parts of this game is that those watching can often participate in various ways, so that should encourage spectatorship.
  • On Saturday, we will award medals. Since we do a Prize Table every year, medal winners will get to choose first, followed by the other members of each country with the most medals. So there’s a frickin’ point to all of this!

This is a bit of a risk, as I’m not sure that this population is that into video games. I do know that my extended family loved playing these, we even had kids as young as 12 playing and doing well. Given that most of my family aren’t video gamers either, I’m very hopeful. The biggest hurdle will be having everyone understand what they’re supposed to be doing (Fakin’ It was particularly difficult to grok, especially when my instruction on my device was “look like you know what you’re doing”. Eventually I figured out I was the faker, but managed to win anyway).

We used to have video games at retreats back when my family had vacation property and I’d bring whatever console I was enjoying at the time. Guitar Hero was a big hit, as I remember, as was the beach volleyball game on the GameCube. In recent years, however, as video gaming has moved multiplayer to the network realm, it got less appealing. These Jackbox games should make this fun again.

Our biggest risk is internet access. We have had some issues with wi-fi in the places we’ve been renting, particularly the one intended for multiple groups. I’m hopeful we don’t have lag issues, which could be a problem. This is a new site for the retreat, so we’ll just have to see how things go. Otherwise, I’m optimistic.

Hell, I may get actual medals.