Tips and strategy for larger groups
We've all heard stories of the 20- or 30-player chaos game. A few of us have done them. There probably have been larger games than that. (I wouldn't expect it would be too much trouble to organize a 50 or even 100-player promotional game at a prerelease or similar-sized event.)
But these "ultra-large" group games tend to be fairly unique events, and/or impractical to do too often. No one wants to wait half an hour for their turn; and "simultaneous turns" are a rules nightmare waiting to happen. If you're in a super-large group and are making it work, congratulations. You don't really need my help, and in fact you ought to write an Internet article or two yourself!
For the rest of us, "large" means between seven and eleven players. (This column deals with five-player chaos games as a matter of course; and the numbers four and six have obvious team possibilities. Twelve players can break up into a wide selection of permutations, and 13+ puts you back into ultra-large territory.) That particular awkward range happens a great deal in our group, and we've mixed in many different solutions to keep things fresh. I'd like to use a brief column to share some of those ideas with you all.
How Many Cooks?
The first determination your group has to make when at least seven people start showing up regularly is, are you all okay with the pace of your chaos games? Depending on collections, deck preferences, and play styles, a seven-player game can be quite short - or it can be interminable. If your games tend to last more than an hour each, you may want to consider a few options:
- Break up the group into a four-player and a three-player. Some groups don't like to split up because it results in less shared experiences; but on the other hand, you'll probably get more games in. Switch up the tables often, and make sure no one gets stuck at a table they don't like for more than a couple of games each night. Consolidate to an emperor game if someone has to go home early to catch Alias on television, or whatever.
- Use a wacky format. You can devise emperor formats with a "rotating rogue", or create uneven (4-on-3) teams, or pick up that "octant" idea I used a few months ago. It works fine with seven players, starting with one empty octant. (Still love this format! But our group's been doing so many Emperor Drafts, it's been a while since we've indulged ourselves.) A "hunt" format (any limited targeting) or simple attack left can focus minds and decks enough to keep games shorter - and even if they still go long, it doesn't feel so interminable. After all, you're trying something new.
Set a time limit. A fairly extreme method for dealing with extra-long waits between turns is to impose a 30-second time limit on each turn, exclusive of combat. (Combat math can often be hard - everyone should understand that.) The problem here is enforcement. Do you penalize someone who goes to 31 seconds? What if the board situation is really nasty and complex - are you penalizing careful thought? Worst of all, what if you're not solving the problem? Games often go long because of constant board-sweeping like Obliterate and Pernicious Deed - how does shortening turns help stop that sort of thing?
Ban certain cards. As much as I dislike time limits, I think banning is even worse. But some groups may wish to indulge, if certain cards are creating problems. You have to be careful not to ban cards simply because they are effective; nor should you aim at a card just because a particular deck is "too good". That way lies madness. Instead, count on your own metagaming skills to make problem cards less troublesome, and save bannings for those 1-2 cards that always seem to cause more trouble than fun.
- Take simultaneous turns. Now we're really getting desperate! I keep hearing from groups who swear by this, so it's my duty to mention it. I suspect in many cases, the group in question is glossing over some potential rules nightmares. Our group happens to be a little nitpicky (including yours truly), so knowing when things hit the stack and when they resolve makes a big difference to us. If your group doesn't play with too many global killers (e.g., Wrath of God), simultaneous turns may be workable. If you find yourself in worse than one mild disagreement per gaming session, it's not worth it.
- Recruit more players. Here's my favorite. It sounds counterintuitive, but consider your situation if you've got exactly seven players who always show up. This can be a royal pain, but no one wants to leave (and I assume you all respect each other enough not to boot someone). If your group is at this stage, consider pushing through and adding 2-6 more players. Is there another Magic group you're aware of who might want to meet the same night? Who's got friends who've shown interest in the game? You can even plead with a family member or romantic interest. (Oh, I can see it now: "If you really loved me, you'd help us make draft numbers!") If you made it to seven, Magic is probably fairly healthy in your area, so this idea isn't as crazy as it sounds. Getting to a dozen opens up a world of possibilities, divisions, and formats. Even if you only make it to 8-10 regulars, you've at least changed the math so that you can enjoy shorter team games.
Consider this week an invitation to propose your own solutions to larger groups. It's a lovely problem to have - but for those that struggle with it, it's a blessing we all want to keep!
My preference would be for readers to use the message boards - sharing the point, here. Email is also fine, as usual - but brevity and focus are the watchwords. I make no guarantees on posting your format in a future article; normally, I take bits and pieces of different formats and stitch them together into lovable monsters.
As I close, I want to thank Paul Barclay and the rules team publicly for introducing draft multiplayer rules and consulting with the community. To answer many questions that have come at me since: I knew nothing of this initiative in advance, and I have no influence on the results. Furthermore, I see no need to advocate for one approach or another. My weekly columns in the past have been excellent forums for my own viewpoints on matters such as what to do with dying players' spells and abilities and how far ranges should be in Emperor format and such. So please, carry on without my influence - we'll have a better product at the end if more voices are involved.
Anthony cannot provide deck help - he's too busy calculating the sequence of large prime numbers.