So, at the weekend I played a Megagame. What’s a megagame? Go look it up, it’s amazing. Shut Up & Sit Down have a fantastic video about the Alien Invasion Megagame they played last year, called Watch the Skies. What I played was the sequel – Watch the Skies 2: Global Conspiracy.
I’m writing this blog post because I want to get some thoughts down about it before I forget, and obviously I want to leave some open feedback for the developers. Me and my team have already discussed this all to death, but it’ll be good to share.
First off, let me pre-face by saying that it was one of the most amazing, unique experiences I’ve ever had. I’d happily do it again, and in fact me and my friends have already signed up for ‘Come to a King’, a Megagame set in 11th Century England. I’m hoping to be a Saxon Warlord.
Anyway, back to Saturday…
A lot of things broke that day.
Scaling a game that originally had like, 50 people? To one that has to accommodate 300 was never going to work 100%. The fact that it went as well as it did is a testament to all of the hard work put in by the various control teams, and the players themselves for trying to adapt and engage with the tools given to them.
I’m not going to talk about it too much as it wasn’t my department, but it sounded like the Science element needs a major overhaul. I know my science guy struggled with a control team that kept changing the rules, struggled with a tech tree he barely had time to get to grips with, struggled with … the fact that he did as well as he did is amazing, but even the rest of us thought he had the short end of the stick.
For my part, I had my own struggle with rule systems that kept changing. There were a few things mentioned explicitly in the handbook that I found had been changed on the day. Corps upgrades, SIF upgrades, mobilisation rules… I did feel like I spent perhaps too much time talking to control about rule-clarifications.
** Just to be clear, my local control team was amazing, especially the lady I kept talking to. She was really helpful and I feel bad for badgering her so often. **
But there were also a few instances where my team were told conflicting information, like how spies worked in the different phases.
I think generally there was a conflict between the systems that had rules, and the systems that didn’t.
I kept given money to corporations for deals I had going on, only for someone else to come around a phase or two later to ask for the money I’d already given them. Seems they’d decided to collect the money for everything in different phases, and hadn’t told any of their actual customers, so that was confusing (but we sorted it out and I was very happy with what I got from them – a shiny new Modern Army, + 1 PR, and some epic regional terror deduction. Boss).
Had zero contact with Humanity first, The Papacy, or in fact members from other world regions who didn’t specifically come to the EU zone.
I won’t go on, but in summary: Many bits buckled, some bits broke, but the game ran as well as it could have done.
Blessed are the Greeks
Our local problem in the EU region to keep us busy before the Aliens turned up was Greece. Some rebel military organisation had seized the oilfields there, and Turkey and the rest of the central region close to Greece weren’t happy.
Turkey etc… threatened to invade, the Americans were butting their noses in… and yet as a region I’m not entirely sure we handled things very well. Really, for the first couple of turns we were all struggling to get to grips with the game, so that’s why nothing really happened. I think from my side at least It took me a while to see it as a problem we actually had to interact with. I’d gone in to the game too excited about the Alien element, and I guess I was just waiting for them to show up.
Greece proved to be a problem that would never be solved, and I’m not so sure it isn’t just as much the game’s fault as it was our own. Here is a breakdown of how I saw things. Again, not being directly involved, I have a narrow view of things:
- Not really being able to mobilise and send in troops, there was nothing we could do from that perspective.
- The UN mandated economic sanctions against Greece, so I assumed that meant they didn’t want to send in troops initially either.
- That left political influence. First couple of turns everyone was rebuffed, but then my Minister and the Italians managed to get a foothold. The plan was to get the Greek rebels to back down, while getting the Turkish to back off and give them some money to keep them happy.
- The problem is, even when my minister rolled 6’s, and influenced the holy f**k out of Greece, all we got back was “We’ll think about it”. And then another turn would pass.
It got to a point where I didn’t really know what we could do from a game perspective to ‘sort Greece out’. And then Greece erupted into civil war instead so we got the UN to send in peacekeepers. After that, I didn’t really see what else we could do because the UN was directly involved.
I’ve read several comments already on how ‘frustrated’ the US and the central powers were about Greece not getting sorted out, but all I can say is that we felt we did all the game allowed us to do, and once the UN went in it was out of our hands.
As I mentioned above, the day was amazing. Here is a few of the reasons why:
- We were insanely rich. At one point my General alleged that, when we’d just hit maximum PR, we were the richest nation on the planet (he’d gone for a wonder). Generally PR and money were NEVER a problem thanks to some good deals made on my part, some good science on the part of my Scientist, and generally keeping on top of the PR score.
- Telling the Americans that their nuke was safe and that, no, they couldn’t base troops in Germany, only for the aliens to then land on Germany and leave a card behind for everyone to see. God damn it. I still don’t even know what that fecking thing was about.
- Rallying to a call to mobilise interceptors to Antarctica. Only two alien saucers turned up, and each had about four SIFs on it, and none of us managed to shoot the buggers down. I learned much later that me (and about 7 other nations) had massively breached international law by doing that (although there were no consequences, which there probably should have been). Oops. I also decided not to waste my time with such a deployment again.
- Rallying the EU leaders into firming up the EuroUnion to resist outside meddling from Russia and the US. Europeans will solve European problems… although I’m not sure how effectively we managed that in the end, given what I said above.
- My foreign minister telling me that he had the Greece situation sorted. The next turn he told me that he’d accidentally caused a civil war.
- Thinking for a few minutes that the abduction of the UNSC was due to the fact that my General had shot down an interceptor that turn. The alien player maintains the saucer was over Geneva to pick up the delegation, but my general says it was in German airspace, so I support him. Another saucer managed to land that WAS firmly in Swiss airspace, which we ignored, which then abducted the UNSC.
- Learning that the Aliens were fighting some kind of interstellar war amongst themselves and using Earth as some last-ditch, back-water refuelling post. This was a highlight only in the sense that it made me really cross, hah.
- Another thing that got me a little cross is that, whenever a UFO appeared over Germany (we didn’t get that many), EVERYONE bum rushed their interceptors into our air-space. Sure, it’s ok, just come right in. It’s not like we have sovereign rights or anything. I kind of blame the game for that one though.
- Fighting Russia to a standstill in the Ukraine. I’m still not entirely sure about how easily we got dragged in to that 11th hour conflict, but when civil war broke out in the Ukraine I let my General mobilise, and he sent an army unit to the Polish/Ukraine border, to ensure the conflict didn’t spill over. Next thing I knew the Polish army AND ours had joined one half of Ukraine and was squaring up against the other half, along with Russia. He exchanged fire and it was a draw (epic rolling on his part), but then that meant the whole of NATO was then at war with Russia.
- My Foreign Minister then had his finest hour and first of all got the Russian to back down, and then went to the Americans and got them to not send in the troops. I’d like to think I helped a little with that.
The ultimate icing on the cake though was a plan me and the French leader were discussing to try and rescue the UN delegation. Operation ‘Trojan Horse’ – my scientist had researched the tech for a sub-orbital civilian transport, and the French had (somehow) managed to research Interstellar Marines. Together, we were going to attempt to mount a rescue (I don’t even know if it would have worked, given it was only a sub-orbital ship. Maybe we could have captured a saucer and ridden that to the Moon or something). Due to some frankly beardy rulings by the science control team, we lost a turn or two trying to get everything in place, but then we were ready. On Turn 10, we were going to mount our operation. There was no Turn 10.
My final thought is one that I’m not particularly proud of, but something I’d like to share anyway. This will probably make me sound jealous and slightly childish. Here goes anyway:
I felt a little left out.
My expectations going into the game was that it would be some grand Alien incursion onto the globe for reasons beyond our understanding. There were six alien teams – conveniently one of every region, so I expected every region to be heavy with alien activity due to some master-plan involving all of humanity.
Really, it was just about the Japanese and their Whaling. And something about the aliens needing to mine minerals to fight a war they were losing, neither of which meant that Europe was particularly bothered by extra-terrestrials. From what I gather, every region had varying degrees of alien interaction, with East Asia getting perhaps the most (hell, Tokyo was destroyed), and it felt like Europe the least.
I think what bugs me the most is with a storyline like that driving a lot of the alien interaction, we didn’t really need to be there – whether the European nations were played or not, Africa would have still lost its kittens, Japan would still have had to deal with sentient Whales and then been bombarded from orbit… It was an interesting story, an amusing story, and a story worth telling. It was just one that didn’t seem to need me or my team. That made me a little sad.
Hell, If it wasn’t for the fact that we were wrestling with a crisis in Greece all game, we’d have had very little to do. Looking back, the game me and team ended up playing had nothing to do with Aliens. It was an incredibly fun game, full of political tension, high-level negotiations, rebels, and sure the odd UFO to shoot down. Every now and then I’d have a meeting to discuss the Alien problem that was only really a problem to other people.
Ultimately, it wasn’t the game we were expecting to play. Dare I say, it wasn’t the game we paid to play.
If I were to sum up this last point, it would be that I feel my team worked amazingly hard, did a really good job at the EU regional table, and at the end of the day it felt like none of it really mattered because control had come up with this wonderful plot for the aliens that seemed to revolve around a handful of specific nations that weren’t us. I gather we missed out a lot of the ‘Real Deal’ talks in the pub afterwards (we were knackered and decided to go drink back in Kent), but it would have been nice to have had more of ‘big picture’ debrief at the end.
Other than that, it was the best day of my life. Probably.