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.