Friday, April 1, 2016

Gameplay: I Should Have Told Her The Odds

I sat down to play my first game of Star Wars Rebellion with my wife, Jess, last night.

Despite her preference for the Rebellion in every other Star Wars game, I initially thought that she should probably play the Empire in this game because of a few other factors. First, since the Rebels are trying to hide their base and the Empire trying to find it, I thought she'd prefer to be the seekers instead of the hiders. This was based off of her preference to play the investigator/seeker in any hidden hunting game (Letters from Whitechapel, Fury of Dracula, etc.). 

Second, there is a military aspect to the game and Jess doesn't always like military games. Here the Empire has MUCH superior military might and has more luxury to pick and choose their battles. In games with a military/conflict aspect she prefers factions that have stronger military (Always buying the biggest guns for her ships in Eclipse, Usually being our monster hunter in Edritch Horror, etc.) or a faction that can control when and where to fight (Playing the Bene Gesserit in Dune, Controlling and turtling in Australia in any Risk based game, etc.).

However, at the last moment I decided to switch sides and let her play the Rebellion. It wasn't her preferred playstyle, but she's more familiar with the Rebellion heroes than the Empire ones and wouldn't know Ozzel from Piett.

I was worried, however, because she cursed in this game. She cursed a LOT. Early in the game, when Vader captured Mon Motha and I crippled her diplomacy to sway planets to the Rebellion, she cursed. When I interrogated Mon Motha and got to see her hand of objective cards, she cursed. Luke soon rescued her, but the damage was done.

This was also earlier in the game, when Jess was still finding her footing and the Rebellion starts FAR behind the Empire in strength and power and systems under their control.

She sent wave after wave of X-Wings, Y-Wings, and Corellian Corvettes at my Death Star, but it was well protected by half a dozen Tie Fighters and a Star Destroyer. The Death Star cannot be destroyed by conventional means, so I knew she had something up her sleeve. But after each defeat, she cursed. Soon it was just the Star Destroyer and the Death Star, but I had diminished her supply of capital ships and the fighters she had left didn't have much chance of taking down the Star Destroyer, especially while a fully functional Death Star was shooting at them.

Once most of her ships were gone, I decided to use the Death Star finally to weaken her ability to produce more ships. I moved it to Kessel (which was under her control) and blew it up. That display of power caused Nal Hutta to renounce their Rebellion ties in one move, I vastly reduced the building power of the Rebellion. Not only did she curse, but she also said, "I hate you. I'm serious. I really, really hate you."

So, I started to worry that she wasn't enjoying out experience. She was playing out of her normal element and there was a lot of tension on her as I rolled out and subjugated system after system.

However, through this, she was also finding her footing. Luke became a Jedi and became really annoying as he was able to perform a lot on the board.

She moved Han Solo into a system to undertake a mission, but I was ready for her and Boba Fett fittingly moved in to capture him. The next turn she sent in Obi Wan to rescue Han, but I was ready for her and moved Vader in to capture Obi Wan even as she rescued Han Solo. However, she was able to play a card to sacrifice Obi Wan (to Vader, no less), in a move that gave her her first point in Reputation. The game ends with a timer--if the Empire has not destroyed the Rebel Base at the end of the timer, the Rebellion wins and any Reputation gained by the Rebellion moves the timer forward by one turn. 

After another turn or two, she suddenly gained three Reputation in the course of two turns by pulling off a series of quick objectives which spread her out, but hastened the timer.

We came down to the last turn. I had to destroy the base this turn or else I'd lose. I had narrowed the location of her base down to five possible spots: Ilum, Dantooine, Yavin, Geonosis, or Utapau. I also had fleets adjacent to four of those systems. My second Death Star was outside of Utapau and could destroy it on my turn. I had huge landing forces just outside of Ilum and Geonosis. I didn't have as strong of a force outside of Yavin, but we've all seen A New Hope. Who'd go and hide their Rebel Base on Yavin? It's such a cliché. But Dantooine was my biggest worry. I didn't have anything near enough to it.

My first action was to undertake a mission to send out probe droids to rule out random planets that did NOT have the base. I got to draw one card. It was Dantooine! I had four leaders left to move my four forces. I could hit each of the four remaining systems with my military.

Then Jess went. She debated whether or not she should take the action, but said, "What the hell." She moved three X-Wings to go up against my Death Star with the Star Destroyer. Much hardier forces fell before these two. I could sent a Leader to the system to reinforce my strength there are draw battle cards to play, but if I did that, I would be one leader short of hitting the four systems I needed to.

So, like Grand Moff Tarkin, I thought that there was nothing to worry about.

Three X-Wings attacked and did 2 out of the 4 damage needed on my Star Destroyer. Now to realize the chances of this, she rolled 3 dice. Each die only had a 1 in 6 chance of doing the right kind of damage to the Star Destroyer. She shouldn't have done that amount of damage.

I rolled a ton of dice against her. My Star Destroyer and Death Star are better at fighting capital ships, but I had enough dice to get some successes.

I got none. Zero successes. And without a leader present, I didn't have any cards to bolster my results.

Second round of combat and she got all misses. I scored two hits. However, she had the tactics cards in hand to block those hits, leaving her unscathed.

The next round of combat and she got two more hits. My Star Destroyer was destroyed and she gleefully played an Objective Card which tasked her with destroying a Star Destroyer, giving her 1 more Reputation immediately and ending the game before I could explore those last four systems.

I found out afterward that her base was on Yavin. Out of all of the systems, that one I was least likely to win with. She probably would have survived my assault on her base, but I'm glad that if she got the win, it was in a battle involving the Death Star at the zero hour.


Jess liked the game. She REALLY liked the game. She said it was tense and frustrating the whole time, but in just the right ways. I thought that a 4 hour game would be a tough sell on her, but she raved about how much fun she had afterward.

I really enjoyed it as well. We both started slow as we were learning our cards and what we could do, but the game is amazing. I was a little leery as I am often let down by hype, but this one deserves it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Review: The Grizzled

In the United States, we often gloss over the events of the Great War (World War I) and instead focus on the events and horrors of World War II. However, the Great War had a much more impactful effect on much of the rest of the Western World than it did on the United States and it still resonates in those countries much deeper in their psyches than in the US. Our school books in the US gloss over the Great War in comparison to the depth that it covers WWII, which is understandable considering the neutral role the US tried to manifest during the Great War. Still, the war has always fascinated me. My favorite historical periods are the 1920's-30's and a lot of what happened there was shaped by the Great War.

I am a devout pacifist and I don't see wars as glorious events to be celebrated, but instead, I find them incredibly sorrowful. I have no problem chucking dice and moving armor units on a board game to blow things up, but there is an extreme disconnect there from the theme.

Can Friendship be stronger than War?
The Grizzled is the first war-themed game that I have played that is actually evocative. The focus isn't on blowing things up or holding patches of dirt so that other people don't have those patches of dirt.

Instead, it is a game about friendship and comradery. It is about a brotherhood of friends who have made a pact to see each other through this war. It is a game about emotions and survival and the impact that war has on people. And it is one of the most beautiful and elegant games I have ever played.

The Grizzled is a cooperative game for 2-5 players that plays in about 40-60 minutes. Each player selects one of the six available characters to play. Some of the characters were real people who fought in the Great War. There is no difference in character "ability" other than each has a specific good luck charm that helps the group against a different element.

Each player is then given three Support Tokens. One is marked with an arrow to the right. One is marked with an arrow to the left. The other is drawn at random and may either be an arrow to the right or to the left, or a double arrow right or left (depending on the number of players).

Peace Card and Monument Card both still covered. Only
25 cards separates you from the end of war.
The deck of Trials Cards is shuffled and then 25 of them are placed on top of the Peace card. If the Peace card is ever uncovered AND there are no cards left in any player's hands, then the group has survived the war and they immediately win. The remaining 34 Trial Cards from the deck are laid out on the Monument card. If the Monument Card is ever revealed, the players have all lost as they have not made it through all of the Trials before the Armistice was signed.

Trial Card with a Trap symbol.
The round begins as the mission leader chooses the Intensity of the round's mission. The Intensity is the number of cards each player will draw into their hand from the Trial Cards on top of the Peace Card. During the first round, the intensity must be at a minimum of 3, but following rounds, it can be as low as 1.

Since you are drawing cards from the cards atop the Peace Card, the more cards you draw, the closer you get to revealing the Peace Card. And remember, at the start of the game, only 25 cards separate your group from surviving the war. The impulse may be to draw many cards to quickly move through the deck to reach the Peace.

However, each card drawn has symbols and artwork on it that designates a particular type of threat: Night, Rain, Snow, Gasmask, Shell, and Whistle. Most cards have two symbols on them, typically an environmental threat (Night, Rain, or Snow) and a physical threat (Gasmask, Shell, or Whistle); though some cards have more than two symbols on them--some with multiple environments and some with multiple physical threats.

No Man's Land with the Trial Cards.
During the Mission Phase, each player will be trying to get as many cards as possible out of their hand by playing them to "No Man's Land" in the center of the table. Each card played to No Man's Land makes its Threat active and if ever 3 identical Threats are active at the same time, the Mission is lost. So a card with Night and Whistle on it, make Night and Whistle active. If then a card with Rain and Whistle is played into No Man's Land, then Night and Rain are active and 2 Whistles are active. If a third Whistle Threat is then played, the Mission is immediately lost. Some cards also have a Trap symbol on them which, when played to No Man's Land from a player's hand, force the player to also add the top card of the Trials Deck to No Man's Land as well--which means you are adding Threats blindly risking a bad Threat draw that could fail the mission.

Hard Knock cards.
There are also Hard Knock Cards in the Trial deck which are not played to No Man's Land. Instead, these cards represent the personal sufferings that a character is going through during the war. Hard Knock cards detriment the players with new rules and exceptions that are always negative to the play of the group. Hard Knocks include things such as Fearful, which forces a player to withdraw if there are 2 identical Threats are active--even if they could play a card or take another action, and Phobias and Traumas, which have a Threat symbol on them and count as one additional Threat of that type being active. Also, if a player ever has 4 Hard Knocks on him at the end of the final phase of a round, he succumbs and the players lose.

So, during the Mission Phase each player takes their turn taking one action. They can...

...Play a Trials Card from their hand, where they play a card from their hand to No Man's Land, or play a Hard Knock card to their character.

...Use a Good Luck Charm, where the player flips over their character card to hide their Good Luck Charm symbol. Each character has a charm for a different Threat. If I were to use my Rain Good Luck Charm, I could then take one card with a Rain Threat on it from No Man's Land and remove it from play. When that card is removed, it also removes all other symbols on that card.

...Make a Speech (if they have a Speech token), where the player encourages their comrades for the trials ahead. The player making a Speech chooses one Threat that he announces to the other players. Each other player may then discard and remove from the game one card from their hand that matches that Threat. The speech-giver, however, cannot discard a card, as he is simply inspiring his friends.

...Withdraw and play a Support Tile, where the player removes themselves from the current mission and will no longer be able to take any actions during the round. If that player had any Phobia or Trauma Hard Knocks that added additional Threats, they are ignored once the player has withdrawn. They then take one of their Support Tokens (which have the right or left arrows on them) and place it on their character. This signifies who you will be offering your support to at the end of the Mission. If you do not have any Support Tokens, you can still withdraw, but you will be unable to support one of your allies.

Multiple Threats on each card.
The Mission ends when either all of the players have withdrawn or when 3 identical Threats are present in No Man's Land. If everyone has withdrawn, the Mission was successful and all of the cards in No Man's Land are removed from the game. If 3 identical Threats are present, then the Mission was failed and all of the cards in No Man's Land are shuffled back into the Trials deck on top of the Peace Card. Regardless of success or failure, any unplayed cards in a player's hand remain there and are carried into the next round.

In the Support Phase, players reveal their Support Tokens and pass them to the person indicated. If any one player has received more support than the others, then they may either get rid of 2 Hard Knocks affecting their character or recover their Good Luck Charm, if it was spent. The players each keep the Support Tokens that they received and add them to their supply. Thematically, everyone has come to the aid and supported their friend who needed it most and it gives him the strength to shrug off some of his adversity. 

My hand of cards to play and
one Hard Knock already down.
Finally, if the players have not won by having no cards in their hands and no cards on top of the Peace Card, they have to drop their Morale. The players count how many cards remain in their hands and they transfer that many cards from the cards on top of the Monument Card to the Trial Deck on top of the Peace Card--however, a minimum of 3 cards must always be transferred. If transferring the cards reveals the Monument Card, all players immediately lose.  If they do not lose, the Mission Leader token moves to the next player and the former leader takes a Speech Token if any still remain and the game continues.

The game is simple and elegant in design. And really, that is almost all of the rules right there. However, the only rule that I did not mention is the most important one: you are not allowed to discuss the contents of cards in each player's hands and when you withdraw, you cannot say what Support Token you played.

This does two things very well:

First, it creates a new level of challenge as you have to be very cognizant of what has been played previously, and aware of your own hand. When giving a Speech, you allow every other player to discard a card from their hand of the matching Threat, but you do not discard one. So if you have a handful of Rain Threats, you have to decide if that means that the other players are less likely to have Rain Threats in their hands and therefore you should choose another Threat to remove, or if you should have them discard their Rain Threats to make it more likely that you can play your hand. And Supporting other players becomes a challenge since you have to remember who has what symbols as they might not be able to Support the person who needs it most.

The artwork is absolutely beautiful.
But secondly, and more importantly, it creates silence. Players can still chatter and talk, of course, but there is a silence that permeates the most important decisions in the game. And that silence is evocative and it creates tension and, surprisingly, it creates a stronger atmosphere of brotherhood than speaking. When there are multiple Threats in No Man's Land I may look at my hand of cards and see two cards that I can play, but I have to give pause. In any other game, I might just ask the next player what they have so I can optimize my play. It would be done as an afterthought.

But instead, the silence makes the play for the next player more evocative and stressful. They are relying on me, but I can only help them as much as my gut and how well I watched their plays and anticipate their hand. I can ask a stranger what they have in their hand and we'd be none the closer at the end of the play. But to anticipate the needs of every other player around the table in silence creates a brotherhood that invests you so much more than speech would.

I love this game. I love it more than the groups I've played it with though, I fear. I don't think that anyone I've played it with has disliked it, but when getting together for game night we are used to big and brash games.

The Grizzled is intimate.

What adds to that intimacy is the artwork. The art itself is beautiful in every line and the color palette is perfect. But there is a knowledge that adds even more to the intimacy of the artwork. The art is by the French cartoonist Tignous who was killed on January 7, 2015 in the Charlie Hebdo shootings. This is a sorrowful accent on something that is already so sorrowful.

The Grizzled is a beautiful look at a tragedy. It is simple and elegant and it resonates more about what war is than any game of chits and tiles and line of sight and charts ever has. It is a challenging game, and I don't mean that because of its difficulty. It is a challenging game because of its intimacy and what it evokes. That isn't to say that it will evoke something in everyone who plays. The game is solid and can be enjoyed without it. But for those who it does touch, The Grizzled will be something special in their collection.

The Monument.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Watch the Skies (MegaGame) from the Deputy Head of State Perspective

John Costello, who played as Brazil's Deputy Head of State in the Watch the Skies MegaGame that we played in last Saturday (read my summary here) also wrote up a summary of the events that happened. I've made a couple of edits to redact information pertaining to the possible motive of the aliens (something I told Noam I would not reveal). His perspective is from the one role that was able to go anywhere in the game. And through his summary, I found out a lot of things that I had no clue were happening to us.

Let the games begin.
On the drive down, Casey opened up the PDF for our national briefing and recreated it in a word document. We changed two of our national objectives "make sure Brazil is taken seriously" and "Do not let China gain a technological advantage" to the much more friendlier sounding "Work together with the global community to promote peace" and "Preserve and protect Brazil's biodiversity." We also added a section at the bottom under "Formal Alliances" (which was just Angola and Spain) which included "Secret Military Alliances." We added  Argentina, Columbia, Ecuador, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, New Zealand, and South Korea. The idea is that we could show people this alternative briefing to prove that 1) we were genuinely "good guys" and weren't out to hurt anyone and 2) that we had a lot more friend than it seemed at first glance and we were not to be fucked with. 

Casey and I had a bit of trouble finding parking and eventually settled on a parking garage. I was worried because the email recommended that we get there at 10:00 and we didn't make it until quarter after. I needn't have worried though, as the period between 10 and 10:30 was very preliminary setup. 

The first newspaper. We had no clue what to expect with
three separate media players each competing in their own
game. However, I am proud of how often Brazil pops up
in the articles and bylines here.

We signed in and met in a kitchen area with all the other nations and some of the staff who went by the title "control." Around 10:30 we were given a briefcase with Brazil's flag on it. Inside were badges (with magnetic backing instead of a pin, useful - but they did spin around and pop off from time to time.) with Brazil's flag and our title. The quality was nice, but there wasn't a place for your name so many people inserted some paper with their name on it or used a dry erase marker to add their name to the badge.

At this point Control and the other players began to notice that Chuck and Team Brazil had really brought it. They had seen the Presidential sash, but now we had clipboard, notebooks, an additional flag to the one the game provided, and a coffee machine. 

A documentary group was filming and after triple-checking that they weren't a part of the in-game media (I was already a bit paranoid that the in-game media would be super sneaky) we showed them some of the "dirty tricks" that Chuck had cooked up. The photoshopped alien autopsy images were a big hit in particular. 

As Deputy Head of State (or the VP as I started calling myself) I had the wonderful ability to go into all of the rooms. The Science Lab, the War Room and the UN. There wasn't much to the UN room without any people inside, but the War Room was deeply fascinating because the game map (we had been provided our own copy that was printed on 8 1/2 x 11) was huge. 4x10 feet at minimum, maybe bigger. Also, all national allies were revealed on the board. I had been really curious as to what allies the other nations had, and thought it would be secret information. I immediately took pictures of the war room board and filled in our team as to which countries had which alliances. It was a bit disconcerting. China had far more allies than we did, and they were better placed throughout the world. In fact, it seemed that every nation had more (real) allies than we did. Worse, some of the alliances that I had been thinking we should make (Mexico, Canada, Australia, Korea) were already taken by other nations. 

Fake photo we had prepared with India's flag in the background.
I came to debrief the President and the rest of our team when the gears started moving the whole game forward. I was grouped with the other VPs and was given a briefing about our portion of the game. This was basically the same tour I had just given myself and a very basic overview of the black market. "It's shady and sometimes stuff goes wrong. Give us 3 credits at the start of each turn, and you'll get something about 10 minutes later." There was a little chit-chat among the VPs. I mostly stayed quiet, but was able to jump in when someone asked if there was any coffee and Control broke the bad news that they did not have any. "Brazil is happy to share our coffee with the rest of the world!" I pointed out our machine, and we quickly made good friends with leaders from the US and France, whose table were right next to ours. I also had an appreciation for the French team because (like us) they had flag pins and were wearing flur-de-les on their ties, a nice touch I thought. 

Fake photo we had prepared with China's flag. This is the one
we ended up using. I regret not printing out a second one to
send up to the aliens.

There was a little confusion over when the game would actually start and how long the first round would go, but all of that was quickly solved by a fantastic feature of this game. All over the floor were TVs and projectors which had the same feed (they also distributed the web address so we could watch the feed on our laptops or phones). They showed us the current time, the current round, when the next round would start, the terror track, some kind of breaking news (this updated every 5-10 minutes) and a countdown clock letting us know exactly how much time was left in the current round. Looking online, many participants expressed the desire to have something like this (the news feed in particular) and I give a lot of credit to this particular Control for making it happen.

The President allocated funds (we started with something like 9 poker chips, each one equaling a "credit"), giving me 3 to play the black market. I ate up another 3 of those chips at the start of the second round before I came to the conclusion that the black market is for chumps and the crappy artifacts I was getting were of low quality and only one of the half dozen our chief scientist was digging up every turn. 

Assorted notes from the Foreign
Minister's notebook.
Steve had revealed a fear of public speaking, so I promised to hang out in the UN a lot for support. This promise was almost immediately forgotten in the press of the game, and I found myself spending a lot of time in the War Room and Science Lab. In fact, I developed a habit of going first to the War Room and then to the Science Lab as part of my routine every round. I think this War Room/Science Lab strategy paid off. First I would watch combat unfold in the War Room. Usually I'd get there a little late and would have our Military Chief fill me in on where the actual UFOs were shot down. Many of them were decoys - in fact nearly every single UFO we successfully engaged the whole game was a decoy - but other nations did shoot down real UFOs. I'd take that information and run over to the Science Lab where our Chief Scientist would be sending our science team to different locations around the world to look for rumors and dig up artifacts. I'd let Jess know where the real UFOs/Aliens were that round. Honestly though, I still have no idea whether 1) she actually sent the scientists to that location, as actually moving the science team was no small task or 2) whether there was any behind-the-scenes linkage between were the real UFOs were placed/shot down and where the better artifacts were. It's very possible that any one location was as good as the next, or that the artifacts were randomly located, or that it was based on the prior turn's combat, not the current turn's combat. But it felt important at the time, so I spent the beginning of each round running between The War Room and the Science Lab, trying to send our teams to the best sites. 

The UN felt less urgent, but I really enjoyed my time there because the woman running Control for the room really knew what she was doing. I'm not sure what her prior experience was, but I got the feeling that she was a veteran/expert of model UN and it's post-HS equivalent. In fact, she was so on the ball that it wouldn't have surprised me to find out that she had actual experience as a diplomat or worked at the actual UN in some capacity (we were just a dozen miles from the actual building). 

Regarding the byline, I never
found out what those lights were
from, but I was able to pass it off
as Rio being a "party city".
I tried to "help" a few times by giving Steve advice. But that amounted to vigorously encouragingly him to pass SHAFT (Southern Hemisphere Alliance for Free Trade) when he had already done it, or huge PR bungles like telling him to propose an international boycott poisoned Chinese rice which the Chinese ambassador spun to mean a boycott of all goods to and from England, the US and China. We got pillared for it. 

Speaking of PR. We worked really hard and spent a good deal of money trying to increase our PR (essentially invest in our economy, as the higher our PR the more credits we take in each round) only to face a bunch of negative PR chips from international riots or botched UN agreements. We kept ourselves from sinking too far - as France's PR seemed to tank and crippled their team economically - but it was a bit frustrating that despite our efforts to increase our national income global events and a skilled Chinese Foreign Minister resulted in a slight drop. 

We also lost PR from "bad news stories" showing up in the paper. It turns out that when you use the black market, there's a small chance that "something goes wrong" in working with criminals. I never ended up getting all the details, but at the end of the very first round, the GNN reporter ambushed our President and asked if he had any comment about the explosions in our country. He spun it pretty well and said we had demolished our World Cup stadiums to make room for refugees, but then grabbed me and asked me to find out why we didn't know about explosions in our own country. I went to human control and asked them to help me simulate a government probe into our nation, and they revealed that it was due to my own black market dealings. 

US and Brazil had good relations
throughout the game.
I like to think I helped by abandoning the Black Market (saved us 3 credits a turn) and turning to the Newspapers. I used my ability to go into any room to gain a level of access that the science newspaper lacked. He started regularly paying me to give him reports from the UN/War Room/Science Lab before the mid-round point, which enabled him to scoop his rival papers on most stories. (He ended up losing the Pulitzer anyway though, because despite his generally superior reporting, the GNN paper broke the "aliens are real" news story first.)

Chuck also had a great idea of selling our excess alien artifacts BACK to the black market. Control was legitimately surprised by this tactic and after a brief conference decided that it was risky and would have a low return, but I could try my luck with a dice roll if I still wanted. I did, and we ended up getting a total of 6 credits back (all of the money I had spent in the first two rounds for a level 1 and a level 2 alien artifact) over the next three rounds, giving them about 18 artifacts (evenly distributed level 1, 2, and 3 artifact cards). Eventually they told me that the black market was saturated and I couldn't sell anymore, but I was happy to get that cash back, particular in the later game when we needed it more.   

So having established my initial experience and how my role as Deputy Head of State worked in general, I wanted to break out the different experiences.

The Science Lab:

I certainly spent the least amount of time in the science lab. I would pop in from time to time to send our Chief Scientist information about UFO crashes, but I just learned that the current science round was based on the crashes from the prior combat round, so while my information was accurate, it was coming in a round too early. I really only have two main takeaways from the Science Lab.

1) From a game-mechanic perspective, I thought the dice-rolling game was pretty fun. It was very tense when everyone was rolling and calling out to Control what they were doing. Particularly, I liked the ability to "lock down" opposing scientists - it added a nice bit of competition into what struck me as an otherwise isolated role. 

2) In-game, I struggled to find something useful to take away from what I saw in the lab. It concerned me when I saw the science team from China in a different region of the world from everyone else, or conversely when I saw everyone else in the world focus on Norway or Antarctica and our science team was elsewhere, but I didn't feel like I knew enough of what was going on to be able to really judge the level of concern or what I should say or do as a result. The two things I was able to gather were that the Japanese somehow had it out for us - they were using their lockdown ability to prevent Jess from using our science team - and that the science reporter might be interested in what the world's science teams were up to.

About halfway through the game, I started regularly going to the science reporter and told him I could report on the actions of the world's leading science teams assuming he could compensate me for my travel expenses and time investment. It worked, and I started regularly getting on the Science reporter's payroll to report things like "3/4 of the world's science teams are digging up something in Antarctica." I was glad to get the income, although when my stories got printed in the paper, they often lacked citations from the Brazilian government. I wonder if we could have gotten more press PR if he had mentioned the information came from Brazil. 

Foreign Minister's speech in

The UN

Like I said earlier, I was torn about my visits to the UN. They rarely yielded useful information that I could take back to anyone (usually it was the opposite, where I'd rush in and whisper to our FM that France and the UK had just launched a massive combat invasion of our newly minted ally Norway. Or to give a bewildered French FM my condolences on the massive, deadly alien assault on his nation. Yet, the UN mini-game was really exciting to witness. I liked how much the game depended on actual politicking and smooth talking, convincing other nations to give up their hard-won currency to support your agenda. Also like I said earlier, I think my "help" (at least as far as suggesting what Steve should do as FM) was largely counter-productive. I wish I could remember exactly what Steve said about my suggestion that he propose a world-wide embargo of Chinese food - something like "that went over like a lead fart" or "you really fucked me on the embargo proposal" -  but I'll always remember the look on his face when I came back to our table and realized that it might be best if I stopped trying to help propose legislation. 

I did considerably better by trafficking information. Letting our President know about the refuge crisis (and that Brazil was the only nation to accept actual refugees) gave him something to play with when he needed to spin the news story about explosions in our nation. Also, giving Steve the heads up about Norway enabled him to deeply embarrass the UK FM. Not a minute after the UK foreign minister denied having sent troops into Norway (our ally), a news bulletin flashed across the TV about the invasion. Also, I was able to get several articles printed about Brazil taking the lead on ensuring our planet's genetic survival or being the only nation stable enough to host a science conference by spinning UN stories to the science newspaper. I also got some money for our team by breaking the "aliens visit the UN" story to the press, who had been kicked out of the room during the Alien's visit. 

Modified military insignia that our Military Chief put together
basing it off of Brazil's military emblem.

The War Room

I loved going into the War Room for a couple of reasons (it was usually action packed, I really enjoyed their giant map, it was where things "happened" so I could then report that information to the rest of our team) but the best was that it was where the veil of backroom politics was pulled aside and we got to see what nations were actually doing, instead of merely just claiming to do (or not do.) There was also a ton of rumors and information floating around the room, as the results of secret missions could be overheard or read over people's shoulders. In terms of national motivations, it was the "leakiest" room. 

From what I can tell, Casey played this room well despite very poor luck. We might have been the only nation to never succeed in actually shooting down a UFO, and I can't help but wonder if we were left in the dust in the Alien part of the game because we basically had zero interaction with them in the War Room. Yet, when it came to putting down riots, Casey got the other nations to spend their money to put down riots on our boarders, which was pretty nice. And, when the One Direction mutants started wrecking havoc in Norway, Casey stood strong with the USA and successfully killed the mutants - giving us some serious world credit among those in the room. I wish I had played up that story more in the press, as it seemed like the UK and France got most of the credit in the paper for the our hard work on the ground.

As Chuck pointed out in his vignette, the War Room was also where I tried to convince Casey to use one of his James Bond agents to blow up a Japanese nuclear reactor. Mainly, this was just out of vengeance for them stonewalling my attempts at diplomacy at their table, sabotaging our proposals in the UN, refusing to share tech as per our agreement when they shot down UFOs from our allied bases, and locking down our scientists in the Science Lab. However, I told Casey that if he was asked, it was to take down the [REDACTED--editor] that was hovering over the nation. Control decided that the plant should be directly under the [REDACTED--ed.], which gave us a perfect cover story for genocide. We nearly pulled it off - we even got the planet to start going critical, but unfortunately our spy was caught and the Japanese manged to prevent the planet from melting down. 

I also liked the War Room because there were two instances where Control gave the Deputy Heads of State something specific to do, and both were in the War Room. The first followed the massive UK/French invasion of Norway. Only the Deputy Heads of State (not even the Military Chiefs) were brought in, and we found-- [Editor's Note: I am redacting this enitre portion of the report because you may be able to determine too much of the alien's motivations from it and I promised Noam, who organized the game, that I would not spoil any alien motivations]. This was one of the few times that I took a video (and pictures) and sent them out to the President and Foreign Minister. 

The UN opened a seat for an alien
delegate at one point.

The Heads of State room and Dirty Tricks

I spent the majority of my in the "national tables" room where the Heads of State hung out. A huge part of my experience involved trying to get everyone away from their tables, or messing with their tables/materials when someone else had managed to get everyone else away from their tables. This was incredibly fun for me. It's one thing to role play buying goods on the black market, it's quite another to feel the adrenaline rush of having to bullshit on the spot to explain why you're lurking around or spinning a tale on the spot to give my President time to anonymously submit photoshopped alien autopsy images to the press. 

Chuck called a national summit for... something, in order to give me enough time to place evil fortune cookies (fortunes like "we will crush you") on the tables of the other players - mixed in with the regular fortune cookies the Team China players had brought themselves. One of these evil fortune cookies got brought to the UN, and the the UN leader looked over at China: " 'We will crush you' - geez, that's a little on the nose, don't you think?" The best part for me was that the Chinese FM didn't know that they weren't their fortune cookies, he sort of shrugged and confessed he thought it was a weird fortune too. I also saw the Indian team open their "evil" cookies and look very confused at the message. The PM turned to the Deputy - who put these on our table? The Deputy nodded his head at China - who do you think?

At two points in the game, our chief scientist researched a tech that would enable me to plant bugs on another nation's table. These took the form of barcodes that you had to stick to their briefcase, national income tracker, or table. China was pretty good about making sure that their table was always attended, but there was a window around the 15 minute mark each round where the Heads of State needed to take their brief cases back to Control (so they could give them next round's income and inform them of PR bonuses/minuses). I found that if I stood right behind the glass doors to the UN, it would look like I was watching the international debates, but in reality I could watch China's table in the reflection of the glass. Whenever she turned to take the briefcase to Control, I could immediately turn around and walk behind her, slipping the barcode onto the table as I walked by. This also helped prevent any other nation from seeing me place the bug, as I wanted Brazil to appear to be on the "up and up." I was able to successfully place both bugs, which gave me enormous satisfaction as a player, even if the intel we got from the bugs wasn't particularly useful.

When aliens decide to use the
media, you know things are
getting out of hand.
During another big conference, about halfway through the game, I managed to get my hands on the Russian briefcase. It was locked, but simply adjusting the numbers one spot (one at a time) enabled me to crack the combo in a few seconds. Russia was located in the middle of the room, so I was very worried about getting caught. It wasn't just the Russians, but if the French, English, Indians, or Chinese came back to their tables, they would see me as well. I looked very quickly at the contents, and found the Russian stamp booklet (essentially the Russian return address when they sent messages to the Aliens), grabbed it and closed the briefcase. I was in and out in 10 seconds. I was overjoyed about getting the booklet. (I had asked before the first round whether I could fake messages from another nation. Control said that we could so long as we had the stamp, but wanted to warn all players that this was a possibility first. They gave all players a warning about making sure they ensure the security of their briefcase and it's contents, as "real life" espionage was going to be legal. At that point I never imaged that I'd be able to get my hands on the stamps). 

I talked to our President about what sort of message we should send as the Russians. I had previously heard a story in the warroom that the Russians were getting their interceptors repaired for free by sending artifacts to the Aliens, and Chuck decided to forge a message as the Russians telling them that the Aliens could trust Brazil and that they had artifacts they were willing to send them as well. This was a nice diplomatic approach, but I was still seething a little from Japan's "dickishness." I forged several messages myself (I think I sent at least four on my own) that had messages that escalated from "Japan has a plan for the destruction of all Aliens, watch them closely" to "Russia pledges the genetic samples of all of her citizens and all of our natural resources in exchange for a massive alien attack on Japan." The very next turn a [REDACTED--editor] landed on Japan, and I had a hard time suppressing my glee. 

And with pictures to boot!
Back to the Russian briefcase, the French Deputy Head of State turned around the corner just as I was walking away from the Russian table. I decided to take a risk, and walked over to him. "Hey, Russia left their briefcase - wanna raid it with me for techs?" He smiled and ran over to the briefcase. It turns out that they only had one tech in there, but it was a nice one, gave you a free PR each round. We brought it to control together, and they decided to give us each the bonus of that tech this round (and deny it to the Russians) so long as we kept the card visible in our open briefcase next turn. We did, and I think we pulled it off without the Russians figuring out who stole it. 

About halfway through the game Chuck managed to steal the techs out of the English briefcase. One the second to last round, they left their briefcase open again, and I raided it that time, getting several powerful missiles that Control said I could simply take from the English (they wanted to send them a message about being careless) and give to our military chief. I'd like to think that when French nukes started flying over England they gave the order to launch their own missiles, only to find their silos empty the only trace was a discarded shipping manifest for Rio. 

Our very tense endgame.

Other Thoughts

There was so much that I didn't know about in this game. Even being able to go into all the rooms, and bugging China twice, and eavesdropping on every conversation I could, and trading that information (or sometimes just bogus information altogether) in exchange for other rumors and information... I still felt hugely in the dark. The TV news tracker was wonderful, alerting me to major events (like the Russian/Indian/Chinese alliance) that I would have entirely missed otherwise. I never personally learned anything about the aliens or their intentions. I think it was because we never shot down a UFO, but I really have no idea. I later found out that Russia had a legitimate quid pro quo deal of artifacts for repairs, or that UK/France had captured a live alien and were interrogating it, or he was a defector or something. I know that Russia had a communication relay in Urkaine they were using to chat with the Aliens. The Japanese managed to build a giant space ark for their population without any of us noticing - it may or may not have been related to a turn where instead of shooting down a UFO, Control simply handed the UFO piece to the Japanese Military Chief who put it in his pocket and walked away from the board. We found out after the game that there was an Alien Base on the moon and on Mars, and some nations were working on a plan to assault those bases. 

I really loved the epilogue they gave us at the end of the day, and I felt as though team Brazil did quite well. Not only did we achieve all of our objectives, but we were nearly the most technologically advanced nation (coming in a hair behind Japan) and stood alone with the United States as the only nations to not be completely obliterated or descend into anarchy by the end of the game. 

Really a fantastic experience, thanks guys!

I was updating my eight year old daughter of what we were
doing heading into the game and why I was taking fortunes out
of thirty fortune cookies. So she made us this picture in
solidarity of our struggle against China. I like to think that
this was hanging on our Presidential refrigerator,

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Review: Watch the Skies (MegaGame)

At 5:38 PM I received a text from my Military Chief asking me if he really should go through with my Deputy Head of State’s plan to send an agent into Japan to blow up one their nuclear reactors in order to try to damage the alien UFO that was hovering above it.

It was around this time that I realized that the entirety of my knowledge of running a South American country had come from the fact that I’ve listened to “Evita” a bunch of times and saw a couple stage productions of it.

Weighing the options, nuclear disasters are bad—but it seemed like the aliens weren’t being friendly anymore either. Who knows what damage we would do to the face of Japan if our plan succeeded?

But then again, in just the last turn, three out of the four of my cabinet members each told me separately that Japan were being “dicks”. 

At 5:39 PM, I sent out the message to carry out the plan to destroy Japan’s nuclear reactor in hopes of damaging the alien ship without any regard for the nation of dicks that we could destroy. Our agent ultimately failed his operation, but for someone whose governmental experience is limited to knowing the lyrics to “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, that was a pretty impactful call to have to make.

The Brazilian National Cabinet.
Yesterday I spent the day playing the “Watch the Skies” MegaGame, made famous by Shut Up & Sit Down’s video coverage. If you want to see a larger glimpse into how the game is played, watch their video.

Around 75 players got together to play a simulation of the world in the crisis of aliens appearing in our skies and our not knowing what it is that they wanted. Well, except for the alien players. They knew what they wanted. But the rest of us played the roles of the Earthborn. Most of us were cabinet members of the eight most influential powers in the world, while a few played eager media outlets trying to find out as much information as they can and publishing a newspaper each turn reporting on their stories.

Each country is broken down into five roles, each of which has its own purpose and its own set of rules. Turns were half hour blocks. At the start of a turn, each player would go to the room that housed their role. For example, all of the country’s Foreign Ministers would gather together in a room designated at the United Nations. Everyone would play their own role’s “game” and then, fifteen minutes in, would return the rest of their nation’s team and relate what went on and plan for the next turn.

Very Presidential.
I was the Head of State of the country of Brazil. My role was ultimately to set the agenda for the country. Mechanically, the only role I had in the game was to distribute our never-enough income to the other players to try to have them try to be the most effective in their roles. That was a big responsibility and, at times, I was worried that my giving or withholding funds could mean my deciding if my teammates would have a fun turn or just not be able to do anything. That is a lot of responsibility. But I feel that we talked about our decisions fairly openly within our team and I hope that was never the case.  There were no mechanisms for the rest of my game. Everything else was role play and that meant brokering deals with other countries, manipulating the media and trying to get our team to present itself as a uniformed front in agenda—even when in two separate instances, different Cabinet members came up and confided in me that they thought that other members of my Cabinet may be mind-controlled by the aliens. The Head of State, however, cannot enter the areas set aside for the other players. I could not enter the United Nations (except with explicit invitation by the delegates), the War Room, or the Scientists labs.

John was my Deputy Head of State. Mechanically, he could take the funds I gave him and enter the Gray Market to buy alien artifacts or commit certain acts of espionage if we had a Spy. Functionally, however, he was so much more. John was my eyes and ears in the game. While I could not enter any of the other player’s rooms, John could enter the UN and then take that information immediately to our Chief Scientist in the Science labs, then stop in the War Room and come back and brief me on everything that happened before other countries heard about what had been happening. Most of his role was role play as well—he had was able to be my mouthpiece and set up deals with other nations that ultimately I would determine if we followed through on. He was also able to assist me in a number of our “dirty tricks” which allowed me to maintain a bit of credibility. John was aggressive in negotiation while I was friendly and played everything as if I were above the board. If he got caught stealing tech or planting a bug, it didn't damage my friendly, open demeanor that I was cultivating. He even found a number of ways outside of the simple rules structures to get money when we were desperate and struggling for it—from selling information to news media outlets to selling artifacts on the black market until it was oversaturated with Alien Artifacts.

Brazil's main HQ.
Casey was my Military Chief. Mechanically, he could enter the War Room—something I could not see—and he was in charge of our troops and our advanced interceptors, which could shoot down enemy ships. He could commit conventional troops to try to deal with uprising and rioters. If there are too many rioters in our country or around it, we lose PR, which means we get less money and move closer to our government being overthrown. Also, if there are too many rioters worldwide, every country loses PR. Casey was also in charge of our Agents. Agents are special forces that can be given virtually any kind of mission to undertake. This is where the role playing starts to take over the mechanisms once again. If you can come up with an idea or mission for an Agent to undertake, you run it by control (the game masters) and they will make up some rules for it on the spot and come up with some system to see if you succeed or not. The Military Chief also helps the Chief Scientist to try to recover alien artifacts from downed UFOs. For me, Casey was the most pragmatic of my Cabinet. I know he always wanted more money, but he was always capable of getting just enough done with the little I gave him each round. Our borders were relatively well-protected and we committed enough forces to big raids and events that I could legitimately boast to other world leaders how we did our part to help do things like take down the alien base discovered in Norway.

Deputy HoS and Foreign Minister.
Steve was my Foreign Minister. On the surface, it seemed like his role was to disappear for fifteen minutes and then return stating how he needed an exuberant amount of money or else the world was going to collapse. Thankfully, however, I know that there were more mechanisms than that. Each round he would join the Foreign Ministers of the other players in the United Nations and they would propose agendas to effect boosts and gains within the game. Most of these agendas required money—some required large sources of income. Again, the role playing of the game came in by what agendas were brought up. Players would simply come up with something to propose and the UN Control (the GMs for that part of the game) would assign a mechanism and cost to it. We hosted a Science Expose thanks to our Foreign Minister. While it was costly to hold, we gained a huge tech benefit for our Chief Scientist the next round. And, nearing the end of the game, when the world was in chaos and near collapse (If the world’s terror track ever reaches 250, the game ends—at one point we were around 235) the United Nations proposals were the best thing that we had to try to uniformly lower the terror track. However, getting all of the nations to commit money to the UN, effectively taking money out of Defense while fighting alien forces, is a difficult thing to accomplish. Sometimes it took the aid of the Heads of State to convince one another to follow through the plans of the Foreign Ministers. 

Chief Scientist.
Jess was my Chief Scientist. Mechanically, the Chief Scientist has the most fleshed out “rules” systems in their game with the Military Chief second behind them. Jess had a timed dice-rolling game that was sort of like the game Escape: Curse of the Temple to try to get to a location where there was an alien battle and recover artifacts from the site and then return back home or to an allied country. She also had to bid on consultants that gave her more dice to roll to try to match symbols with. But consultants had to be paid each turn, whether she had the extra money to try to recover artifacts or not, otherwise, she lost them. Chief Scientist probably had the least opportunity to come up with “off the books” ideas since they had the most structured game and a preplanned tech tree that they could advance along. However, that still suited Jess fine and she was very happy with the science game. Her recovery of artifacts was needed to advance on our tech tree. She had to spend an artifact of an equal or higher level of the tech we wanted. If she only had lower level artifacts, she had to spend twice the amount. So, to get a level three tech, she needed to spend a level three or higher artifact. If she only had level one or two artifacts, she had to spend six points of artifacts for the level three tech. However, working with our Deputy Head of State, they were able to sell a number of artifacts to the black market which was vital in funding our often floundering economy. Most of the role play of her game, however, came when Brazil and the US opened up our tech trees for free trade with one another. They negotiated which techs to trade with one another, but they could trade through insecure channels—which had a chance of going wrong and losing the tech in the trade, or through secured channels, which required coordination with the Military Chief to place an Agent (which, of course, cost money). Both countries could place an agent in a neutral country (but it would cost each country one credit for that Agent). Or, just one country could use an Agent, but it would have to be placed in the other country. This means, just Brazil could spend the credit and move an Agent to the United States and make the trade. It is cheaper, however, while there, the Military Chief could decide to give the Agent another mission of espionage or anything else he wanted. Most countries were VERY leery of letting anyone place an Agent in their country.

Since the game is at least half role playing game, the game organizers and designers had told us before the start of the game to be free to come up with as many ideas as we wanted—the game would be ultimately directed by the players. Our national briefing was short and didn't offer a lot of direction, which is good. This means that the next group that plays Brazil in a game shouldn't be anything like us. However, one of our national goals was simply to try to be beat China in the technology by the end of the game. 

In the weeks leading up to the game, we began to spitball ideas—some too ambitious and out there, but others more feasible and we walked into the game with a slew of “dirty tricks” and propaganda tools at the ready.

First, we were representing Brazil. So we had a Keurig coffee maker to set up at our table. This way, Brazil could continue to provide coffee to the world. And it worked. Brazil’s initial relationship with the United Kingdom was solely based off of the fact that the UK’s Deputy Head of State came over to our table to ask if he could have a cup of coffee.

Damning evidence against
India, if you ask me.
I took an “alien autopsy” photo from on line and Photoshopped in flags of the other nations in the game. The plan was to “leak” the photo matching the flag of whichever country we needed to hurt to the press. A little before lunchtime it became clear that China, Russia, and India were all working very closely together and it made the rest of us a little nervous. So, I had my Deputy Head of State call one of the media players over to him for an interview while I slipped over and left the doctored photo on the media player’s desk. Fortunately my Deputy Head of State is able to instantly turn on his ability to bullshit and pulled off a reasonable distraction. Knowing what was coming when the papers would release next round, I started to try to sow seeds of doubt against China. A couple other Heads of State and I were talking to India and I said that I had heard rumors that China had captured a live alien, but I didn't have many details. India stated that China did not and that they had been very open and friendly with them. The next turn, after the paper was released, we approached India and showed them the article in the paper that claimed that China had performed an alien autopsy. I pointed out that China obviously hadn't been very forthcoming and had lied to them and perhaps China wasn't as trustworthy or as good of a friend as he had thought. Throughout the game we tried to discredit China and I would like to think that this article revelation helped to turn the opinion of the other countries against them.

Admittedly, one of our more outlandish ideas.
The night before the game, I bought 30 fortune cookies and, using tweezers, I pulled out all of the fortunes and replaced them with incendiary messages such as “We will conquer you.” I called forth the other Heads of State to discuss the world situation while my Deputy Head of State went around and placed them on the tables of the other countries to try to imply that they were gifts from China with ominous, threatening messages.

The game events themselves are difficult to describe. I have such a small fraction of what happened. If the five members of Brazil each wrote a summary of what happened in the game, each story would be VASTLY different, and that isn't even accounting for each other nation’s five individual stories. And that is what I love about it. Even in debriefing and talking to other players afterward, I have such a small understanding of all of the nuances of their own experiences. This was more than a tabletop role playing game where you all sit around a single table and, even if your character isn't present, you still hear all of the narrative spoken. The only hidden information is what might be passed on a 3x5 card to the GM. I feel saddened that there is so much of that day that I will never know. But also, a part of me marvels at that fact. That is what made is so amazing. I role played in the largest Venn diagram that I've ever encountered and I feel like my overlaps were just tiny slivers. So as amazing as my experience was, there was so much more out there.

I will give a bit of a summary with the caveat of potential spoilers. There are a couple of events and reveals that I will not mention. But otherwise, the spoilers aren’t really that much of spoilers. Every game will be different. The motivations of the aliens in the next game might be completely different. And even if they are exactly the same, the collection of alien players may approach them in a completely different and unique manner. But, regardless, I will not spoil the alien motivations in our game.

Round time, the terror track, number of world wide riots and
current events were projected out in various places to keep
everyone up to date on the world status.
When the first round began and my Scientist, Foreign Minister, and Military Chief went to their individual rooms and my Deputy Head of State left to survey the lay out, I found myself sitting alone at my table. It is the equivalent of a DM starting a campaign with, “Okay, you are inside a town. Begin.” At this point, we had no threats. We had no world crises. We were just a bunch of Heads of State at their tables. The way the area was set up, Brazil’s table was near the United States’ table. We were cut off from most of the other world by a semi-partition. But it was fitting. In real life, we would be cut off from the rest of the world by a hemisphere. 

So I went over and started conversation with Madame President of the US. Since we were a bit isolated from the others, we bonded. We talked about mutual defense of the Western Hemisphere and those talks later turned into our joint decision to protect one another’s borders. The US was our strongest and most solid ally throughout the game. In fact, our joint protection of one another's borders meant that if there was a round where we couldn't afford to send out our interceptors, we could rely on the US to defend our borders for us that round. Now, I never explicitly stated this to the US President, but it gave me solace during the rounds where I was too strapped for cash to fund our military properly.

The press had bought our ploy about the China/alien
autopsy cover up. Things were going swimmingly.
That first round when everyone returned and I had my entire Cabinet to discuss what was going on was when I first discovered a vital point in the game: you never have anywhere near enough money to do what you want. As I stated, this is a heavy responsibility because I often felt like it was up to me to determine who could have “fun” the next round of the game. But we didn't have much in the way of money and we were always making cuts. We relied more on the US’s defense pact than I let on. It was the only thing that gave me any solace when I had to funnel money to our science and Foreign Minister.

As the game proceeded, we assumed that the UFOs were being hostile. There is a mechanism where you lay down a battle card face down on a unit to denote its attack and stance. The aliens always had to lay a battle card on their UFOs regardless of purpose. This gave the humans the impression that the aliens were always hostile. You don’t want to take chance that a UFO with a battle card on it over your nation is being friendly. So, humanity shot first. And often. The alien artifact spoils of war helped to smooth over any hesitation that we might not be doing the right thing.

I think it is because of their early miscommunication in motive, and because of human greed for tech, we limited our ability for peaceful outcomes. Later, when one of the most “alien peaceful” nations was attacked outright, we knew all hope of peaceful outcome was lost. But for all we knew, the aliens didn't differentiate us as different countries. They might have assumed we acted together as humanity and if Japan shot a UFO, it didn't matter to them that the UK did not. However, we were fortunate that most of the involvement of the UFOs were not in the Western Hemisphere. 

Turn about is fair play, I suppose. Especially
when everything they said was true.
China, Russia, and India were all working together and the rest of the nations were worried about the strong Asian block that was building. 

Lunchtime came and pizza was provided by the game masters, but it didn't stop the flow of the game at all. And, at what became known as the Pizza Summit, the Heads of State of Brazil, the US, the UK, and France all met and ate their lunch as we talked about what to do about the growing Asian threat. We had all agreed to work together to counter this juggernaut block that we saw rising, but no official pacts were made.

During this time, a failed tech implementation apparently poisoned some of India’s food supplies and I was doing my part to implicate China in the matter. We didn't want to imply them directly and simply started to rumor that it was the rice that was the contaminated food. When asked about it by the media, we never directly implicated China, but both the media and China’s players put together the pieces and called us out on it and turned the headlines against us for a round. However, just enough was going on to distract the world leaders where my Deputy and I were able to feign surprised ignorance and outrage at the slanderous headlines and our Pizza Summit leaders believed that we weren't being as devious as we really were. Or, at least, there was too much shit going on for them to really care about our petty actions against China.

As the game progressed, battles between humanity and the aliens grew. The aliens hadn't returned communications from me since the first turn, but they had been talking extensively with the UK who was in contact with an alien defector that warned us that war was imminent.  However, there were questions to the validity of this defector’s words. But, regardless, it was enough to focus us as the United Kingdom was forced to reveal the presence of aliens to the world press and the terror track of the world swiftly rose and rioting began in countries throughout the world. 

Mark this as "things you don't want to see in a game".
While this was going on, Brazil was still relatively unharmed. Most occurrences were happening in Asia and Europe. This freed us up to focus some of our funding on tech. We spend an inordinate amount of money on tech in those rounds, but unlocked a level 6 tech (the highest level). That would be our crowning achievement in technology, but it was along a track that boosted our PR which was necessary. At one point we had dropped to two steps away from violent revolution, but our tech gains pushed us up nearly to our starting levels by the game’s end.

As the terror track became a more ominous threat, we realized that we had to stop global panic or else governments would topple and none of us would be able to worry about the aliens. Fortunately, one of the benefits of our tech research was one tech that our Foreign Minister could use for a one-time reduction of the terror track. One of my favorite moments of the game was when my Chief Scientist handed my Foreign Minister the tech card and his eyes lit up and he said, “I've got to write a speech.” 

But that was a small bandage for a shotgun shot to the chest. We needed something else. Something bigger. Our Foreign Ministers had brought back a UN proposal that would significantly reduce the terror track, but it cost 4 credits initially and 1 credit each turn thereafter. That round, I only had 8 credits. Joining in on the proposal would be half of our GDP. And every country would have to agree to it. If any country did not commit, the others would lose the money they pledged and the proposal would fail. I would have pledged half of my GDP for nothing.

Shit, meet fan.
Everyone was nervous that someone would balk. France stated that they would not commit. But we needed the terror track to drop. So the Heads of State then entered what was known as the Behind The Chairs Conference where the eight Heads of State gathered together to pledge to commit their resources to this proposal. France still said no. We then committed that everyone would pledge their money and if any nation did not pledge, the other nations would then invade that country. And that is how the Behind The Chairs Conference forced France’s hand into committing to the UN proposal.

It was from that point on that the eight nations worked together. More or less. We all had national interests, of course, but we were unified in that we needed to defend ourselves against increasingly threatening aliens. The United Kingdom had been a staunch ally in our endeavors and we had talked very amicably throughout the game. However, when the Prime Minister of the UK left his briefcase unlocked and walked away from it, I popped it open and stole all of his tech cards from inside of it and put them in my brief case. I let Control know and for the next round I got all of their bonuses and the UK got none. That was the round where we were finally able to fund our level 6 Tech. 

The Deputy Prime Minister had heard that Russia was talking to the aliens and had an agreement of repairs with them. So my Deputy Prime Minister stole Russia’s note cards with their nation's stamps on them. We then started to write messages to the aliens with the Russian stamps saying, “Aliens, Brazil has artifacts. You should trade tech with them. Love, Russia.” Although we never got any message back from the aliens, we were told afterward that the conflicting messages that the aliens were receiving from Russia really confused them. 

Messages like these really make you wish that the Head of
State could enter the war room to see what is happening.
During all of this I was very proud of the fact that while Brazil was relatively untouched militarily, our Military Chief had sent forces to most of the major raids against the aliens. Brazil did its fair part and it gave me the honest credibility I needed in the Anyone Want Coffee Summit where we gathered around Brazil’s table and discussed what we needed to do militarily. 

As the game neared a close, the terror track was as much as a worry as the aliens that were decimating the earth. Japan looked lost as a huge alien ship hovered above one of their nuclear reactors and I made the call to go through with my Deputy Head of State's plan to blow it up. Perhaps fortunately, the Agent failed his mission. Though, it is wholly possible that my Military Chief lied to me and never tried it—he was hesitant about the idea of nuclear sabotage. We talked afterward and he told me he went through with it, but I love the fact that I will never be one hundred percent certain.

In the waning minutes of the game, and after a press conference held by the aliens threatening that we were out of time, nuclear war occurred. Five nuclear detonations went off over the UK, France and Japan, destroying the alien crafts. The game ended there and the Control got together to form an epilogue for the end game.

The only good news we got all game.
Most of the world was reduced to a Mad Max style wasteland, but the US and Brazil were away from the fallout and actually made it through relatively unscathed. Two-thirds of the earth was in ruin, but it wasn't our two-thirds, so we were ecstatic. We also came in second overall in tech, but we did beat China. Only Japan was ahead of us.

The epilogue was wonderful. It was the narrative punch that the day needed. We found out the alien motives and the pieces of what we gathered started to make sense. But it also summed up the aftermath of what happened and it ended the day with that bit of DM narrative that all of us got to sit and hear and experience together. I have no idea what happened to Japan throughout the game, but I know what happened to them afterward.

I talked to Jess afterward and asked her to rank this against the other events we've participated in—from tabletop RPGs, to Escape Rooms, to various LARPs, to one-shot events we've played in. She put it just under some of the excellent Cthulhu LARPs that we've been a part of. That’s a fair assessment, though I don’t know where this will ultimately settle for me.

We were willing to settle for anything we could
scrape together to call a victory.
I am used to most of these events being made up of moments that resonate. A clever puzzle or reveal in an Escape Room, a moment of intense role play in a LARP, that incredible laugh that you get from the way things click in a game of Fiasco. But this event wasn’t made up of moments for me. It is made up by the whole. There isn’t a single moment that I could say defined the experience for me and so much of the experience is made up of the fact that there is so much more that I will never know.

That makes it difficult to quantify and it is something that will be better assessed by me over time. There is not a single moment that I can point out that was quantifiably fun. However, yesterday I had more fun than any other time I can think of. I laughed only a couple of times during the day, but yesterday had some of the funniest things I've ever encountered. There were moments that were intense, but none of them properly quantify how intense the entire day was.

Maybe I look at things too much as a sum of their parts. But that isn't a fair way to view the Watch the Skies megagame. When I review a board game, ultimately it ends up picking apart the pieces and commenting on how they total. It is 5+3+2=10. But the megagame can’t be quantified like that. It isn't the sum of its parts, it is just a sum. And the sum is that I had more fun and it was more intense than anything I've ever done. Picking apart individual mechanisms or components doesn't do it justice. The megagame is just the megagame. And it is the best thing I've done in a long, long time.

The MegaGame society's website is here and you can also find them on Facebook here and Twitter here. I want to thank Noam and all of the Control for making this a wonderfully amazing experience for all of us. I have so many more stories that I could tell and I'm not even scratching the surface of the roughly 74 other people attending.

John Costello, who played as Brazil's Deputy Head of State, did a write up and summary as well. I am surprised to find out how much happened in my own country that I did not know about. His summary is here.