Being a control player

Chrissy Sliney-Biss is a regular megagamer who also controls. What does a control player do? Read on to find out more from Chrissy.

Chrissy and Ollie Sliney-Biss controlling at Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos (Photo by Ollie Sliney-Biss)

Chrissy and Ollie Sliney-Biss controlling at Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos (Photo by Ollie Sliney-Biss)

Control

In every game there are players – government officials, army generals, famous figures from history, superheroes…But as powerful as their characters may be, the actual player often needs guidance and structure. This is where ‘control’ come in – stewards who have been appointed by the game designer to help run the game. You may have noticed these people running around, standing at maps or shouting, ‘TEAM TIME!’ at an ungodly volume.

These control players are not paid, they have read the core rulebook and may have attended some play tests.

They are split into types which may include:

  • Map control (this often involves co-ordinating players to put their troops down in a timely manner and ruling on combat)

  • Political control (hopefully they have some knowledge of the setting)

  • Plot control (the most fun, often dealing with wizard wheezes)

  • Economic/trade control (often a shop keeper)

  • Council control (often a time keeper but can require in-world knowledge)

  • Team control (can be a quiet role, not present in every game).

All overseen by the master and ruler – game control, the person who designed the game.

Why control

Some people have expressed to me that they enjoy controlling, more so than playing. However, this isn’t the case for me. I feel an immense amount of pressure when I control. A whole players game can be ruined due to my actions, I need to fully understand the whole rulebook and I need to ensure that I remain patient.

So, why do I do it?

I have been megagaming since 2014, and from my first game I could tell that this was a close-knit community. Old friends caught up whilst new ones were welcomed. The pub afterwards was alive with debates. This was a hobby I wanted to be part of.

Therefore, I want to be a face that helps everyone to have a good time and be welcomed. I want to ease the stress on the designer by knowing they have an experience control to help. I want to be fair and enable everyone to have a chance to play. There is the risk that if the same people are always left to control, they will get ‘control burn-out’, which risks them never controlling again, thus losing an asset to the community, I can lessen this by being another person that can control a game.

Chrissy as map control at Crisis in Elysium (Photo by Ollie Sliney-Biss)

Chrissy as map control at Crisis in Elysium (Photo by Ollie Sliney-Biss)

By controlling, I also improve as a player, I can see behind the curtain and it enables me to act kinder towards that frazzled map control or the stressed game designer. It also can give me essential skills for when I design my own game.

Regardless of which megagame group you frequent, consider volunteering for control. It’s not as scary as you may think, and we are always in need of more experienced control.

How to control

How is it done? Well luckily the game designer wants you to do a good job and so she should instruct you well. Some designers will produce a separate control handbook whilst others will just give you the players handbook. Some handbooks will be clear, and others will require an almanac to decipher – but don’t worry! Things often make more sense on the day.

My number one tip for being control is…BE NICE!

It’s something that is overlooked, but I’ve had many an experience of a map controller snapping at me for not making a decision fast enough or being unclear of the rules. But being snapped at didn’t make me a better player, it just upset me and affected my opinion of the game.

Yes, being control can be stressful, but you must overcome that. You can be stern but still nice at the same time. Remember that many new players don’t know you and can’t tell that you’re being flippant.

I also like to check in with new players when I have a free moment. People did that to me in my first games and it had a huge impact on making me feel welcome and appreciated.

Troubleshooting

What if I don’t understand the rules?

If you are control, you need to give yourself enough time to read the rules a few times. Do not leave it until the night before as the designer will no longer have time to answer your questions.

Once you have given the handbooks a couple of read-throughs, don’t be shy to ask the designer for clarification. You won’t be the only control asking.

A player and I disagree on the rules

Don’t assume that you are right. You are not god. Try to look at the rules together. If there is a time limit, make a call but reassure the player that you will check with the game designer when you have time.

Before the game starts, control should chat to clarify any rule applications. This is especially important for map control, as it can be very frustrating for a player when maps are running mechanics differently from each other.

I’m super busy and I’m dying of hunger!

It’s a good idea to pack easy-to-snack food in case you can’t leave your post. But remember that the control team are a team. Call another control over for help if you are struggling.

If you are lucky enough to have some free time as a control, check around the room and see if the other controls need help. Offer each other food and drink. You may need to warn the game designer that a control person is swamped, as it is easy for them not to notice during the game.

Make sure you learn the whole handbook and not just your part in case you need to help out another control.

Chrissy dressed as the superhero ‘Hero By Night‘ at City of Shadows 2 (Photo by Ollie Sliney-Biss)

Chrissy dressed as the superhero ‘Hero By Night‘ at City of Shadows 2 (Photo by Ollie Sliney-Biss)

I don’t know anything about the historical time period!

Warn game designer of this when you offer to control. Many control roles require no knowledge, particularly map control. However, I would always recommend watching a YouTube video on the subject prior just in case (shout out to the crash course history videos).

Can I rule on a wizard wheeze (aka an action not covered by the rulebook)?

It will highly depend on the action, a small thing that only affects the map that you are running – go for it! (but warn the player that other map controls may not allow it) or a player pleads home for a few extra gold coins – sure!

Anything large enough to affect multiple players or the story as a whole – You should check with the game designer. They know the game inside out and may see a problem or solution that you haven’t thought of.

Remember that you want to reward the players for thinking outside the box. If you shut down every idea they have, it’ll lead to frustrated players who become disengaged in the game. Never tell your players ‘no’, tell them ‘yes, but…’. It might be near impossible, but they can still try. They may also have to face story consequences.

A small note, game designers can be quite different in this area. Some designers like to keep tight control over their game and will not look kindly upon you adding in non-handbook rules, others won’t mind. Always check with the designer beforehand.

Being control can be stressful, but you must overcome that

I have a player who has no game/ isn’t engaged

Checking in with players is a great way to notice if something is wrong. If it is someone’s first game, they may be overwhelmed, or they may just not like megagaming. You can show them that you’ve noticed them and ask if they would like any help. Even if this game doesn’t go well for them, we’d like them to come back and try another game!

Encourage all players to constantly be talking to other players, a moment not talking is a moment wasted!

You can give that player extra resources or new objectives to give them more to do, or even brainstorm with them on how to reinsert them into the game. Talk to established players about incorporating someone who is being left out (we are a community and should strive to help people).

If all else fails, talk to the game designer. That person may be able to become a new character or just have their stats/resources/allegiances shifted to give them new focus.

I’m bored

It’s good to bring a book just in case.

It can be hard for the game designer to predict which area of the game will become busy, and this can change at a moment’s notice. Remember to check in with your other control, they may appreciate the help or even a break. You can also check in with various players, take photos or grab food for the game designer.

Chrissy receiving a medal at her first megagame, Iron Dice (Photo by Jim Wallman)

Chrissy receiving a medal at her first megagame, Iron Dice (Photo by Jim Wallman)

A player has been nasty/sexist/racist

Most megagame groups should have a 0 tolerance rule on this behaviour. Don’t turn a blind eye, as a community we must work together to ensure all marginalised people feel welcomed. Speak to the head of your megagaming group as soon as you can. Tell the perpetrator loudly and publicly that that behaviour isn’t tolerated and ask them to step away from the game until the game designer / group head has spoken to them. Publicly denouncing this behaviour is important. Check in with all players that were involved and allow them time out if needed.

Check with your specific megagaming group that they have a written policy on this, as this will discourage and reinforce behaviour expected at a game.

Whilst I have covered some control questions, there will be many situations that you may have to deal with. Generally, you should always be kind to players and check with the game designer if you are unsure about anything to do with the game.

Is controlling for me?

Yes. Go do it. You’ll only get better with practice. And it’s only fair so I can also play sometimes 😉


Thanks to Chrissy for writing this blog post for us — we really appreciate it! Do you control at games? If so, how many times have you done so? If not, would you be interested in doing so in the future?

You can tell us about your experiences controlling, or if you’re going to be controlling for an upcoming megagame on our Facebook group. If you’d like to write a blog post for us on anything to do with megagaming, please get in touch.

Chris Brown