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.
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|
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|
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.|
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!