Unique role-playing game started at Colby

“The clouds of Venus glow blood-red as an ore-miner returns from his daily toil. As he emerges from the clouds, a few droplets of blood collide with his optical sensor. He gazes upon his beloved home to find it strewn with debris, a dreadful shadow cast by a massive Arc. The Maroon streaks of the DaFeng adorn this ship, as its volleys disable any viable defensive systems on the base. His radio erupts with the shrill sound of an emergency NASO broadcast: Who will save us?” – Wes Zebrowski ’18

Maybe you like to play “Call of Duty” or “Halo.” Perhaps you enjoy board games such as Settlers of Catan, and maybe you’ve even given games such as Dungeons and Dragons a whirl. Well, the above excerpt is from a different sort of game: a spreadsheet game.

Colby student Wes Zebrowski ’18 created a spreadsheet game entitled “Dawn of Galaxies” for the gaming pleasure of a small group of students. The story of this game starts with another spreadsheet game called Dawn of Worlds. Dawn of Worlds is a board game created by Legends in 2005 in which players create a fantasy setting and raise civilizations. The complex politics and world can be used for the backdrop of a fantasy novel, another role-playing game or whatever the players decide. When one of Zebrowski’s friends from his home state of Wisconsin created a more complex version of Dawn of Worlds, Zebrowski took it upon himself to make a science fiction adaptation: Dawn of Galaxies.

This game starts on an increasingly apocalyptic Earth, where resources grow scarce and the only option for humanity’s survival is to conquer the great darkness that lies beyond. Beginning with few resources, players must build ships and settle planets—some as close as Mars and others as far away as warp technology will take them.

So, how does Dawn of Galaxies work? As game moderator, or more colloquially, “Galaxy Master” (GM), Zebrowski manages the game. Every week by Friday, each player must submit what they want to do to the GM. On Sunday night, the players are sent a summary of what each player did in the previous turn. This allows them to easily submit their turns and stay on top of what is happening in the game. The GM manages the galaxy through a series of spreadsheets, hence the name “spreadsheet game.” He enters which planets and how many ships each player controls, determines the fates of each battle, every attempt to settle a world, and so on.

There are many sci-fi video and tabletop games, but as a mixture of the two, Dawn of Galaxies is special. Unlike a video game, players are limited only by their imagination. There are basic rules dictating what players can and cannot do each turn, but the rest is left up to players. They are free to make alliances and start wars, and destroy and create as they like. Players can even skirt around some of the rules by developing new in-game technologies. For example, although mining on a planet normally hurts the planet’s environment, players have developed biotechnology to increase the environmental efficiency of their mining techniques.

Additionally, while most tabletop games take place in one room with all the players present, in Dawn of Galaxies, players can communicate as much or as little as they like. Turns are described over Facebook, and there is normally one turn every week, giving players the time to consider their personal strategy and communicate with one another. This allows for deep diplomacy between players that is unmatched by other types of games. Players post on the Dawn of Galaxies Facebook page about alliances, developments in the game, to call for support, or establish their disapproval. Furthermore, players often communicate with private Facebook messages to scheme without letting others in on their plans. This diplomacy is enjoyable to players because the people they interact with are real, and deceit can be difficult to discern through the veil of text, which makes the game rife with political intrigue.

There is one more layer to Dawn of Galaxies: lore. One of the most difficult parts of beginning a role-playing game is the process of deciding on a deep and interesting setting. By playing through Dawn of Galaxies, the players are creating the perfect setting for another role-playing game. This lore creation is the game’s most overt embrace of imagination and creativity. Players can submit as much lore about their faction as they desire, and the contents of that lore are limitless. From a cult grown out of worker unions to a sci-fi neo-America, Dawn of Galaxies is teeming with all sorts of civilizations, religions, and stories.

The spreadsheet gaming experi- ence is also unique. With a hull composed of Google sheets, and the player’s imagination on the bridge, Dawn of Galaxies will certainly take players where no game has before. Between space exploration, war, political intrigue, and scientific development, there is a vast wealth of fun waiting to be had. Games like Dawn of Galaxies push your imagination to its limits, stretching and strengthening your creativity. So, if your mind misses the wonderment of childlike imagination, or you miss role-playing, send an email to tewagner@colby. edu, but if not, while our universe will remain deeply mysterious, the players of Dawn of Galaxies will continue to explore the true final frontier: the human imagination.

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