Posts Tagged ‘Aliens’

This is an After-Action-Report on my experience at the Watch The Skies 4: Global Apocalypse Mega-game. I’ve talked about Megagames and what they are before, so if you’re curious please refer to the linked articles in Part One. This is a very narrow account on how I experienced the game, and so a lot of details are missing – apologies, I find it helps the narrative when I write this way. Please do check out the ‘Megagames Makers’ Facebook page for other accounts on what happened during the day.

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I put everything in motion turn 7 or 8, and I yelled to our leader ‘Yo homes smell ya later!’

I looked at my kingdom, I was finally there, to sit on my throne as the DAFT Prince of Kenya(ir)

The Plan

With no real contact with any other DAFTers, and with no counter-ideas to the plan I’d come up with, the rest of my time was pretty much taken up with trying to make a Red Mercury Bomb in time for my coup around Turn 8. For that, I found out I needed an actual Nuke card, something that proved almost impossible to get.

Gavin, despite being the WORST secret deputy ever, did manage to get a lot of funding for me and was a real trooper in trying to get a Nuke, especially with the Chinese. In a past life the Chinese President and I had been best bros, so I was admittedly playing on an OOC relationship to get what I wanted. It didn’t work, but to his credit Matt didn’t rat me in, which I appreciated. Gavin had no such luck either.

Surprisingly, it was the South African guy who followed through spectacularly.

By Turn 8, I had no working nuclear device, but I had a note signed by control stating that I had bits and pieces that represented 30% of a device. I also had Red Mercury, and a captured GMIC NPC scientist who hadn’t been doing anything all game. So I decided to take a page out of Zimbabwe’s book. I bluffed.

Keeping control informed of my idea, I created a facsimile of a Red Mercury Bomb. I figured no-one would really know what one looked like anyway.

Meanwhile, I’d kept my South African DAFTatron informed of my goings on. He knew I needed a nuke. I’d tried a couple of turns earlier to get one out of North Korea, as they were going through a lot of political upheaval and turmoil – I failed and only got the 30%. I did get to witness the rise of Cthulhu while I was there though.

Turns out the SA guy, with the help of the Venezuelan chapter of DAFTpunk, managed to extract one. Legends! A Venezuelan SIF was on its way to Kenya to transport the nuke, so we could actually back up our threats.

Centre Stage

Even though my SA DAFTest contact had come through, I couldn’t wait for the nuke to arrive. Knowing what I know about WTS, turn 9 was likely going to be the last turn, and it was Turn 8. I had to act now if there was any chance of seeing any of it through. I’d learned by this point that there may be other plans in place, but I figured I could at least draw attention to myself to help my brothers-in-arms launch their own initiative.

Turn 8 came around, and Gavin looked at me. It was time – I took the two assassination cards I’d been ‘looking after’ on behalf of my government, and then killed my President and the Foreign Minister. The army then took control of the country and DAFT flags were flown everywhere. I deployed everything as a show of force and to stand a remote chance of defending against the back-lash. Control were informed.

During all this, the Nigerian General asked me what was going on in Kenya. I replied: “There is no Kenya any-more”.

My moment of triumph achieved, I was allowed to go up on stage (Thanks Jim) and declare DAFT and our intentions to the world. DAFT was here, it was real, and we would make the world feel our power.

Then I died.

The End of All Things

So yeah – not even a second after finishing my speech, an American player stepped up and assassinated me. I was a little peeved but I had accepted this probably would happen. I just thought I’d be allowed to return to my table first.

If I’d really thought about it, I’d have challenged the action with control – technically my announced was made from inside Kenya, and having just staged a coup I would have been surrounded by soldiers and several layers of protection. It’s highly unlikely someone could have just walked up and killed me in such circumstances. You know what they say about hindsight though.

With the President and Foreign Minister away taking a walk as part of them being killed, and with me about to join them, I grabbed my secret deputy. He was in charge, along with Joyce, our only other surviving team member.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan’s were trying to deliver the nuke to loyal DAFT forces. With me dead though, some of the loyalist Kenyans fought back and shot at the plane, causing them to drop the nuke… right over Nairobi. The city, our science facility, the captured scientist who hadn’t done anything all game… all consumed in a fiery ball of death, thanks to a really unfortunate case of butter fingers.

All this I learned much later though. When my victims and I returned, all we knew was that my Secret Deputy had turned traitor and denounced DAFT – causing the regime to instantly collapse. We knew Nairobi had been nuked by an unknown party, and we spent the last turn trying to rebuild our shattered nation.

Gavin had taken the role of President, and used his time to out and arrest the Senior Ambassador for South Africa. The Angolan DAFT member was assassinated not long after I was, and globally DAFT members were being hunted down and executed, from what I understood. The game ended on Turn 9 (I was hoping we’d get to 10 this time, since it was the last WTS), and that was that.

Final Thoughts

DAFT had made its presence felt, and I liked to think we made the world tremble, even if the glorious DAFT revolution was un-done in a few minutes. I’m not sure how well we achieved our aims, but the President of America was eventually assassinated, despite surviving four attempts on his life, as had been the Grand Mufti and the Pope by the end of the game. The Pope was killed in South Africa, by the SA Daft member, during the African games that SA was hosting.

On the other fronts, apart from kidnapping a GMIC scientist, I’m not we had much of an impact on the Corporation game. I’m not even certain they were told one of their NPC’s had been taken. The thing was, I needed them to sell me weapons first for my coup, so I wasn’t really in a position to do much to them.

According to our super-secret DAFT handbooks, our measure of success was determined by how hard the World governments worked to try and supress us.

I was assassinated, so I’m pretty sure that means I win, right?

Long Live DAFT!

Some Amusing Moments from the Game:

  • When Africa was quarantined, one of the UK Generals came over with one navy unit and said he was here to “Blocked” Africa. This was hilarious for many reasons because A: He was trying to blockade an entire continent with one navy piece. B – by coming over to the Africa Map, Control were seriously considering trapping him there because he was now infected. I think they let him go in the end.
  • In the last turn, after our newly appointed former-DAFT President ousted the SA Ambassador and got him arrested, I was tasked with going to the press to declare that Kenya had Saved The World. I turned up at their desk to discover they had relocated to space.
  • Sending Kenyan forces to retrieve some Alien Tech while also sending my own DAFT agent to retrieve it. No one asked in the end, but my story was that someone from something called ‘DAFT’ stole the tech from under me. Yes, I stole something from myself to give to me.
  • Whilst we’re here – the whole process of having to secretly do DAFT-things through Control was both tense and hilarious. My secret-backhand shake got really good by the end of the game.
  • The look of joy and relief on some of the cetacean’s player’s faces when they found out we could talk to them because we had Dat Card.
  • Having bought a Level 3 SIF from GMIC, only to discover later my Foreign Minister had sold it to the Chinese, and having to go buy it back. I needed it go steal a nuke, dammit!
  • Watching Cthulhu rise from the deep. What was more amusing was a great alien battleship skidding into orbit and only doing 4 damage with its death lasers.

 

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This is an After-Action-Report on my experience at the Watch The Skies 4: Global Apocalypse Mega-game. I’ve talked about Megagames and what they are before, so if you’re curious please refer to the linked articles below. This is a very narrow account on how I experienced the game, and so a lot of details are missing – apologies, I find it helps the narrative when I write this way. Please do check out the ‘Megagames Makers’ Facebook page for other accounts on what happened during the day.

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Now this is a story all about how my game got flipped-turned upside, and I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, I’ll tell you how I became the Daft Prince of Kenya(ir).

I woke up on March 19th, 202whateveritwas from a bad dream. In that dream I thought I was the Chief of Defence for Nigeria and that I’d just spent countless months cleaning up poo. I’d been having a lot of dreams like that recently – one where I was the Chancellor for Germany, and another where I was a Viking.

As the Chief of Defence for the glorious nation in Kenya, I did find it odd that I was having dreams of being other people, but having talked to my local shaman about it he put it down to after-images from a past life. My wife thought it was probably just stress.

We were dealing with a lot of things at the time – Aliens had been a thing for quite a few years now, and they kept trying to strip-mine Africa. We’d also recently discovered the existence of sentient whales and dolphins, and had been having tentative communications with them about Fish and cleaning the oceans. As a nation that lacked anything that resembled a navy, you can probably guess how well those early talks went.

As Chief of Defence, I was tasked with making sure our glorious army – all 1 militia unit of it – was in tip top shape and ready to deal with any crises, the first of which was that Zimbabwe was apparently building nukes. After a quick con-fab between the rest of the Kenyan government, we decided that we actually really wanted those nukes for ourselves to make up for our lack of basically everything.

At the same time, I’d discovered that the corporations had perfected the weapons manufacturing process to such a degree that not only were they able to upgrade my army, but expand it as well. In my past lives as a German and a Nigerian, I distinctly remember being forced to deal with the fact that a nation’s army couldn’t be expanded. It could be upgraded, but you weren’t physically able to build any more regular units. Unless you’re awesome like me, that is.

So, you can imagine how happy I was at this new marvel in corporate manufacturing. I ordered two, plus two upgrades. Kenya was going to get all the guns.

It was at this point, around about Turn 2 (in Kenya we mark the passage of time in ‘Turns’ rather than days, weeks or months. It’s more efficient), that I got the call.

DAFT beyond measure                    

You see, there was more to me than apparently even I knew. I was a member of DAFT – Democracy and Freedom Today – an organisation dedicated to the destruction of corporations, the dismantling of America, and the curbing of oppressive organised religion. I was being activated – there were others like me, but I didn’t know who they were. All I knew was that “living the dream” was the code-phrase used to identify ourselves.

This. Changed. EVERYTHING.

Well not really – as a team, we’d already decided to walk a bit on the wild side and be a dark horse in Africa. I was now just going to be an even darker, more secret horse. I immediately set two aims for myself:

  • To launch a military coup in Kenya and declare DAFT to the world.
  • Get a nuke so that people took me seriously.

I thought Zimbabwe having a nuclear program was going to make the second point easier than it actually turned out to be. Turns out they didn’t actually have a nuclear program and were just trolling everyone – typical.

Still, a military coup was very doable – As I grew the army, I bribed the **** out of them to make sure they were personally loyal to me. We had an empty, state-of-the-art research facility in Nairobi that no one was using (as we didn’t have a scientist), so I kidnapped an NPC GMIC scientist (who I was using to expanded and upgrade said army), to work at that facility. Early in my time as a DAFT agent I recovered some Red Mercury from the aliens. I didn’t tell anyone about it and my vague plan was to make a Red Mercury powered weapon. That sounded scary, right?

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

Normally in a game like this funding become a problem. As one of the poorer African nations, we only got so much money in a turn, and I could only steal so much of it without anyone noticing (turns out that amount was a lot more than I probably should have been able to get away with). As a DAFT member though, I could claim 1 megabuck per 10 points in the regional terror track. I don’t know if anyone outside of Africa was paying attention, but it got pretty terror-fying over there. Suffice to say I was making it rain.

It was touch and go though – my plans took me away from the African map a lot – a lot more than I’d ever had to do in any of the previous games I’d played, and a lot more than a Chief of Defence with no back-up (one of our guys got sick and couldn’t make it) really should. The thing was, whilst I revelled in the terror and tried not to help or hinder the situation, I was worried at some point that it would all go horribly wrong and my country would collapse around me before I could do anything.

After Zimbabwe, Uganda kicked up a fuss and raised an army right on our border, which If I’d thought about it I probably should have been more concerned about – the U.N. sorted it though, since they were actually being useful for a change.

After that, there was a Zombie Virus out-break that Africa, collectively, hilariously failed to deal with. So much so it pretty much spread across the entire continent, spawning countless hordes and forcing Africa to be quarantined. South-Africa developed a cure early, but didn’t seem to do much to it other then sell-it to the player nations, including us. I was away from the map for a lot of this, although I had the presence of mind to mobilise the army to defend Kenya’s borders. I understand the Egyptians, Algerians and some Europeans did most of the zombie fighting.

There was also that one turn where literally every alien ever descended onto Africa, and no-one intercepted them. I didn’t because I was DAFT, but I don’t know what everyone else’s excuses were.

One big happy, anonymous family

It took me a while to figure out who the other DAFT Members were. As a military player in a game the size of WTS4 (and playing the nation that I was), I didn’t get a lot of opportunities to visit the other map. Early on in my DAFTness I recruited my friend who was in my team, Gavin, to the cause. It was his first game and he was feeling a bit directionless in his role, so I broke the rules and included him in my plot – sorry Jim/Viji!

Not long after though I discovered the Senior Ambassador for South Africa was also “living the dream”. We quickly started combo-ing our agent actions, and through him I found out that the United State’s team’s Ambassador for Africa was also a DAFT member. He was a weird one – I always got the impression through-out the whole game he never trusted me (having asked him about it afterwards, Ken said that he had this vague idea I may not have been DAFT. I was, but now that I think about it I never showed him my passport) – he wouldn’t talk openly with me about his plans, and whenever I would tell the SA guy something, he’d run off and tell the American and I was genuinely worried for most of the game that I was setting myself up for a big fail.

Apart from us four musketeers though, I didn’t encounter any other DAFT players. Apparently a big group of them met around turn 5 (including the SA player), but no-one told me about it. Not even Gavin! You really can’t get the staff.

Just before I made my coup, I found out one of the Angolan military players was also DAFT, but it was a bit late by then.

More to come in Part Two!

 

Hey Sports-fans,

So last week I posted about my experiences in Watch the Skies 3, which was hella-fun. Now, having had some time to reflect, I’d like to talk about three key tweaks I’d like to make to the game.

This post might read a little weird as I’ve essentially pasted the email I sent to the admins, as they need the feedback too and I don’t want to re-write.

Thoughts are appreciated!

Press Interaction

Idea: To split the Paper (layout-wise) into two distinct halves – Regional News & Headlines. In the Regiona News section, Press have a quota of one story per continent with players. Headline half is the same as always.

Thinking: I don’t have a problem with the press game, and if this idea is rejected it’s not going to ruin anything for me, but I do believe it can be tweaked to make the… relationship between Teams and Press a little bit fairer for everyone involved.

I’ve already spoken to Becky about this idea for some feedback from her end of things, and she said she was on board with it.

Essentially, in a game with 300 people all collaborating and being smart and doing *things*, many, many teams are going to lose out in the press game. It’s just a fact – too much going on, not enough spaces in the paper.

That’s fine – but It’s one of those things where between Nations doing things and the presence of Aliens and talking whales, a lot can get lost in a game, and yet as human national (and corps) teams, we’re still told to court the press, to try and get good coverage to boost ourselves. But not all of us get to interact with the aliens and whales or do something crazy like blow up a Eurovision team. As a specific example to Nigeria:

  • We bribed FIFA to hold the 2030 World Cup in Nigeria. To be fair, Becky said she was going to print this but she forgot about it due to technical snafus, so that was bad luck.
  • Nigeria cleaned up the ocean several times. We were specifically told by local control to go to the press and tell them, but the press didn’t report on it so we didn’t get anything.
  • Nigeria bribed a whole American Old Tech Corps to their side. A reporter came over to ask a few questions, but nothing went in the paper.

Now – I’m not upset by any of this. We had a great game without the press boosts. Like I said: someone always has to lose out because it’s a competition for the news slots.

My only concern is that as a nation it’s hard to just make something up that’s newsworthy, as that’s not in the spirit of the game. It’s not something you can force, or engineer – either something interesting enough happens or it doesn’t, depending on how your game unfolds. Random chance and ‘reasons’ also don’t help a nation’s odds of getting featured, and then it’s really easy to lose out to an exotic story. This tweak allows nations to compete in two ways – on the regional level for a ‘local’ story, and then if their game is particularly interesting then there’s the global headline stage as well.

My resoning for wanting to make this fairer is BECAUSE it’s something we’re told to interact with, and get rewarded for. I’d like to think I’m not fundementally changing how the press works, just that they give more consideration to regional stories as well as their headlines. Boring stories will always be ignored, but interesting stories that arn’t quite as interesting as aliens or whales stand a better chance of featuring.

To use real-world precedent – many global news services have regional sections that fill up news from a specific international area, separate from the headlines. There’s always something going on so these sections can always get filled, and even if nothing interesting happens that turn in a region… well, welcome to real life. You ever read a local newspaper? They still have to report news, even if that news is just a cat getting stuck in a drainpipe. Besides, there are enough wonderfully creative people in a region that something is bound to happen, so it just means the regional reporter has to try a little bit harder to find out what it is.

Permit Cards

Idea: Expand Permit Cards to other areas of the game that rely heavily on controlled interaction or specific pre-requisities. Save Control a lot of work.

Thinking: The talking language permit cards worked wonderfully well. Helped keep the player base honest I think and focused a lot of interaction around seeking out one of these cards.

I personally think this should be expanded to other concepts – such as travelling up into Space. I know you had to stop people going upstairs who didn’t have a spaceship, so perhaps this could also be controlled by cards.

So to go up to the alien balcony, you’d need either:

  • An alien player with you.
  • A ‘Travel to Space’ permit card, (Or a ‘Spaceship’ card) which you get when you collect some pre-requisite techs or something. Or be with someone who has that card.

I think it’ll help keep the player-base honest again, save you from having to act as a bouncer, and again prove a focal point for interactions.

Terror Track

Idea: Evauate Terror Track’s purpose, influences, and how that fits in with how the game is evolving from an ‘Enemy Unknown’ to a ‘Enemy Known’ situation.

Thinking: Again, I don’t really have a problem with the terror track. I wonder if it needs evaluating though for WTS4?

Basically – the Aliens are known about in WTS3. In our region, a few nations even actively encouraged them to come down, do stuff on the operational map… and yet the terror track still went up. The operational game almost goads you into shooting down UFO’s because if you do you get Good Stuff(TM), if you don’t your regional terror goes up and then Bad Stuff™ happens. But you don’t really want to shoot them down as you want to have a dialogue. Which requires them to come down to Earth. Which puts the terror track up.

It’s possible I missed something important behind the scenes, but from where I was sitting there seemed to be a genuine disconnect between the Operational and Diplomatic/Politica portion of the game in this regard. Our own national policy was to not shoot down UFOs, something all Africa agreed on and many African nations had working Alien relations. Yet turn after turn I had to watch the regional terror track go up every-time a UFO turned up, and I found myself wondering why that was happening and what I could really do about it.

The terror track was perfect for WTS1 & 2 – aliens were unknown, strange events kept happening, and people naturally freaked the hell out. Nations had to balance between trying to open a dialogue with these visitors, and keeping their skies clear and their people happy.

In the WTS3 and I imagine even more so in WTS4, the game has changed, evolved. The Aliens aren’t an unknown force anymore, so what does the Terror Track represent now? What factors influence it’s rise and fall? Depending on what WTS4 is going to be about (it’s called Global Apocalypse?), I can see a terror track being needed, but does it need to evolve as the game is evolving? Do you need to make players more aware as to it’s changing nature and what influences it? Otherwise a team’s default policy might as well be “Shoot Everything” and know your public will love you for it, because terror is an Important Thing(TM).

So, you may remember back in March I went and took part in a MegaGame called Watch the Skies 2. It was an all-day experience where 300 people pretended to be nations and companies of the world in 2025, where Aliens were very much a real thing. It was flawed, but fantastic.

This weekend just gone, I took part in the sequel – Watch the Skies 3: Global Conspiracy.  This time it was simply a fantastic experience. Sure, I can objectively look at certain points and say “This could probably be better”, but I came away with so many more positive feelings.

Here is an account of that day.

Poo Wars

As the ‘Giant of Africa’, Nigeria was in a pretty sweet position. We had an ok Army, decent income, a fair bit of a political clout… even a scientist! There were a lot less scientists in this game. Fifteen in total I think, and the African region itself only had two of those.

Watch the Skies 3 was a de-facto sequel to Watch the Skies 2, so the timeline had advanced by a couple years, key events of the past game stuck through to this game (such as Tokyo being bombed out of existence, for example) the presence of sentient whales in the form of the Atlantic and Pacific Cetacean Conclaves, and of course Aliens. Everyone knew aliens existed in this game, so the dynamic had shifted more towards “what do they want?”.

Nigeria got of a hilarious, if cautious start. A stroke of genius on the way up lead to one of our Senior Ambassadors coming up with a proposal to bribe FIFA into hosting the 2030 World Cup in Nigeria, which was a great success. The funniest thing about it is that we paid about 1 – 3 million up front (pocket change, as far as the game is concerned), and that we promised to pay “The Rest” (I don’t know how much) when the World Cup actually happened in 2030. The game only lasts until 2027. Score!

That was only Turn 1. Our early turns were fairly occupied with dealing with the two big challenges our local controllers had set us. The first one was famine in Uganda, and then there was a long-term challenge of dealing with rising pollution in our ocean. The Glorious Nigerian Grand Navy was on the scene instantly, methodically and carefully clearing up the waste as best it could. It was a costly process, as it costs 2 Million to deploy a fleet, and then three million per box of sewage we clean. What we didn’t realise until Turn 2 is that pollution was so bad that one block of sewage goes on every turn. FFS.

The next few turns on that matter saw an epic whip-round from our diplomats on raising money to help fight the pollution, and we were knocking the blocks down like the cleaning-heroes we were.

I’m not sure if we had much effect on the Ugandan thing, but our strategy was allying with countries around us and asking them to let in refugees. That was solved relatively quickly, and then a new crises emerged – Zimbabwe was building nukes.

In the meantime, Alien Saucers were coming and going but we weren’t really in a position to do anything about it, with only one interceptor. None of the saucers went near us or our allies, although they visited Angola and Egypt a ton, as well as mining resources in other places.

Poo Wars 2: Poo Strikes Back

Since our Alien game had fallen behind and we weren’t really sure what to do about it, we decided to take a different track. We’d given our science-guy a mandate to be really good at One ThingTm and he chose Fish. For some reason. On the way, he managed to get access to the ‘Speak to Cetaceans’ card, something which we realised no one had, or was even close to getting. With that in mind, we decided to talk to the Cetaceans instead, and by the sounds of things (at least as far as the Atlantic Conclave is concerned) we were one of maybe a handful of entities that could. Before getting the tech, we actually spoke through intermediaries in the ‘Ordinary Humans’ group (who later turned out to be the ‘Deep Ones’ – a team previously known only as The Others), but I think the Cetaceans had a bit of a rough game. In a setting where you have aliens and wondrous being visiting you from above with shiny tech, why would you bother putting the time in to talk to Whales?

We only did it because we fell into it, but I’m glad we did, as it gave them someone to talk to and we got some stuff out of it.

Meanwhile, I sent in my Spy to blow up Zimbabwe. The country was in state of turmoil and this nuclear thing was getting everyone on edge. Us, South Africa and Britain all went in first with spies, but because there were three of us we tripped over each other and didn’t find out anything other than there were suspicious facilities about.

I managed to get GB and South Africa to stand down, and they even paid for the spy’s upkeep next turn. I also got budget from the Government for the spy, so I pocketed the extra money to fund my private army upgrade. The next turn frustrated me a little – the UN wanted hard evidence, but my spy couldn’t find anything, so the UN wouldn’t budge on sending us hep. So I blew up the suspicious facilities, and my diplomats spent the next few turns calming the political situation down.

That one I’m pretty sure was all down to us – after I spread the information that the nuclear program was taken care off, everyone kind of forgot about the other half of the problem, so it was just my diplomats taking care of things there. Turns out the nuclear technology came from China – who knew?

Meanwhile, Ian, our other diplomat, made a herculean effort and managed to raises a whopping 9 million in donations to clear up the last of the poo. Unfortunately, the Poo was fighting back.

Turns out that the reason it was going up one a turn, was that everyone was polluting too much. In game terms, this meant that all of the nations of Africa had to agree to cap their PR at 6. At the time, as far as I remember, Angola was the only one above 6, and naturally they wouldn’t budge because they felt ‘victimised’. I left it to the diplomatic team to sort out, and braced myself for the next crises to emerge – Boko Haram.

This was nice because I actually had a fight on my hands – the insurgents had carved out a new nation for themselves which encompassed the northern part of Nigeria. Using some bribery and some overwhelming force, I rolled over them within a couple of turns, re-securing our borders. There was a military unit in Niger, which Algeria and Egypt took care of, and then there was the insurgency in Chad. I would have gone in and sorted it out myself however the UN had already sent peace keepers in and were basically just fannying about, so I didn’t deploy into that region for fear of ticking off the UN. The crisis was prolonged a turn or two more than it needed to be though, because of this. The Americans eventually went in and I believe struck the final blow. Whether they did or not isn’t important, but I want to mention now because it gets better later.

With my part over though, I was keeping an eye out for the next challenge, which came from a most unexpected source – The United Nations.

Poo Wars 3: The UN Are Dicks (And Seriously Angola Sort Your Shit Out)

So, the UN ended up sanctioning the entire African Continent because we were polluting too much. Never mind that Nigeria had single-handedly reduced an entire pollution block down to zero (thanks to some donations), and never mind that the money we gave to the UN for the global effort was actually spent on everywhere BUT Africa. They sanctioned us anyway.

Remember that PR Cap I mentioned? Turns our Angola wouldn’t budge. At this point everyone was hovering on 5 or 6, with Angola on 7, and they felt they were being singled out because their nation was poorer. I was getting cross at this point because the Glorious Nigerian Navy had spent six whole turns clearing up poo. SIX TURNS. I’d even stopped our PR going up to 7 (we’d had a good news round somehow) just so we weren’t violating the pollution rule.

It got to a point where I asked control if I could use my Navy to seize the Angolan coast-line to forcibly stop them polluting the ocean. I didn’t go through with it though. (They said yes I could, but It would mean War, obviously).

Angola however said that they were using their alien friends (they made friends with the aliens really early) to come up with a solution. I THEN heard from my scientist that they were building a Hell Laser. Something that’s used on a Space Battleship and has nothing to do with pollution solving.

I snapped.

Going over to the operation map, I sent my Spy into Angola. I then told control I wanted to find their Hell Laser project and blow it up. This involved a dice roll…

** Rolls a 1 **
Control: Ok, you see some large infrastructure buildings.
Me: I blow it up
Control: It’s blown up

**Some Time Later **
Me: What did I blow up?
Control: An Angolan Power Station. There were civilian casualties and major black outs. That Hell Laser thing didn’t actually exist.

Oops. The next turn, Angola announced they’ve solved the pollution crises. True to form, the pollution blocks disappear. I felt kind of bad, but I was really getting tired of cleaning up their shit. Literally. And I got their PR down to 6, which made me happy.

As the game was coming to its twilight stages, a weird lull fell about the game for me. A new crises in the form of a Zombie Virus outbreak emerged near to us, but we traded in some Red Mercury to some aliens who sorted it out the next turn. No new challenges emerged.

We’d had pretty much no contact with the Aliens all game. This didn’t bother me, as we were having a fantastic time over all. The closest we got was that we stole some resources (including the afore-mentioned Red Mercury) from some aliens trying to mine our resources. They never came back to our region of Africa after that.

Meanwhile our Cetacean relations were stagnating. We were on extremely good termss with them, and we were harvesting a lot of fish to trade with them, but they were running out of things to trade back. Meanwhile we were representing them at the UN as much as we good, and cleaning up the waters for them – but their… usefulness kind of ended there.

Lots of people tried to get our Cetacean Language ability off of us, but we get it a closely guarded national secret. In hind-sight we should have charged, but there you go. A UN representative even came up to me and was like “we’d like to trade for your Whale Tech”. Given we were still under sanctions, I told him in no uncertain terms that we’re not even talking with them until those are lifted.

Egypt built a space port, which was blown up by the same aliens who built it, and Angola nearly went to war over Egypt at one point over a saucer they wanted to shoot down, but things seemed to be almost winding down for us. I’d managed to privately fund an army upgrade so that we ended up with One Modern Tech, One Old Tech and a Militia, having started with 2 Militia and an Old Tech.

Corruption was given more of an emphasis this game, although with no way of tracking it (and it not *really* meaning much), the degree in which our team interacted with it differed. I engaged in ‘practical’ corruption, in which I lied, cheated, begged an borrowed money where I could, but I ploughed it into the military to get a shinier army. Jamie, one of our ambassadors, took a 10 million bribe in a bit of Last Turn Madness, because he hadn’t done anything all game. God knows how much our leader pocketed, but I don’t think it was that much, ultimately.

Anyway, I eventually noticed something peculiar – a US Old Tech Unit still in Chad. I remembered that the American had deployed to sort out the insurgency, but that was a few turns ago and they must have forgotten about it, so it was just sitting there. Crucially, the upkeep on it wasn’t being paid. This lead to the greatest thing I did all day (in my view):

Me: See that Army Unit.
Control: Yes
Me: It’s been sitting there a few turns now. The US never came back for it, and the Upkeep isn’t being paid.
Control: … Yes?
Me: Can the Nigerian Military take control of it? It’s clearly been abandoned.
Control: … !?

It’s worth pointing out a couple of things. One, Control was grinning ear to ear as I explained this, and two, it’s impossible to grow your conventional armed forces in the time-frame of the game. By the end of that turn I expanded our forces by 33%. I achieved the impossible.

After checking with various control members, they let me make a roll, and pay 5 Million in bribes. I like to think I made a convincing case – control was positing that the US wouldn’t just leave all the tanks there, but I stuck fast to the line that if the US hadn’t informed Control what they were doing, then you can’t assume that. Upkeep wasn’t being paid, which means the soldiers weren’t being paid. I proposed that many had abandoned the army and gone home. Regardless, the unit was technically illegally placed, so it didn’t matter, it shouldn’t still be there.

After my successful gambit, I took one of our “Allied to Nigeria” stickers – usually used for marking NPC Nations – and stuck it firmly over the US army unit, then moved it within Nigerian borders. The rest of my team cracked up laughing. I’d won the game. Time to go home.

I then sent an email to the US Armed Forces saying “Thanks for the Tanks!”.

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This is a very narrow view of how the day went, and focuses stuff I was directly involved in, I’ve already forgotten so much of what happened that day, and there’s so much that went on I wasn’t even aware of.

The team I was part of tough was amazing, and did far better work than I did – Darren was a great leader, and gave me enough freedom to try and get away with whatever I could, and used the resources I gave him to excellent effect.

Tom, as always, was the master diplomat, and represented us extremely well at the UN.

Ian and Jamie were amazing Ambassadors, keeping everyone in the loop, pushing our local agenda, and helping me on the operational map when I needed them. A lot of the stuff I did was thanks to them paving the way – especially the getting the pollution donations.

Best props goes to Alex, our Scientist, who despite being seconded into the role that morning (our original person fell Ill, leaving us a man down), he bossed science, making us the Cetacean’s best friends, the masters of fishing AND winning the ultimate science award.

Super-Special mentions go to:

Matthew and Keith, our Control Team in Africa, who were an absolute pleasure to work with and really responded well to all Nigeria’s crazy ideas. I’d like to think we were their favourite.

Brad, Defence mogul of Angola, who is my personal hero. The amount of private funding and wheeler dealing he did puts my efforts to shame. By the end of the game he was sitting on a fully modern army, SIX Interceptors, and a metric ton of other back-hand cash. Legend.

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My next post will do with some of the objective critiques I have on the game, as well as some suggestions, which I will also email to Jim in due course.

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.

Highlights

 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.

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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.

I’ve been doing this gig for over four years now, and I’ve still never given a game a 10/10, although I’ve come close several times. The most recent was XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 2K’s remake of the classic Alien Invasion series that 90’s PC gamers will remember with fondness. Being a ‘remake’, there was every possibility that 2K would mess up in some way; not quite capturing what was (and so not getting the old audience) and not quite enticing new audiences either.

Remakes can be a bit like movie tie-ins that way. But as preview builds and information started to get released, it soon became apparent that we may be onto a winner here. I was certainly excited; That’s not to say that I went into the review thinking “This is going to be 10/10″, but during the first few hours I was thinking “This could be the one”.

It’s an interesting emotional process – playing a game, being so full of hope and excitement (slightly unprofessional, but there you go) and then slowly but surely (as you take stock of the faults, bugs, annoyances etc…) realise that, actually, it’s probably not worth a 10 and we need to settle on some arbitrary number that basically translates into “Good, but with the odd issue”. It’s one of the things that’s annoying, from a reviewers point of view. Really good games are easy to score; really bad games are easy to score. Games that are highly subjective or have issues that may or may not annoy others though? Nightmare. You’ve probably heard this from others, hell, you may have even said it yourself, but the numbered rating system really is a bit naff. But hey, I got over it; I always do. You just have to soldier one in these instances, pick a score that seems about right and just make sure your words are spot on.

XCOM really is a cracking game though, even on the console. I’d argue actually that it’s probably slightly ‘better’ on the console, only in the sense that a PC version of XCOM could do so much more than what was actually done. Strategy games and Consoles haven’t always had the easiest of relationships (EndWar, Y U NO get sequel!?), but XCOM is the best console-strategy & management experience I’ve ever had. The controls, the presentation, the interface… everything just works, and works really well. It’s a shame really that it wasn’t as polished as it could have been.

Don’t get me wrong, the PC version is good – visuals are better, you get more customizations options with your troops which is quite nice (only if you buy new though), but there’s nothing else really to it, and a PC-only version of XCOM could do a lot more – just look at the originals. I know, the lower visuals on the originals meant that a hell of a lot more depth could be achieved, but I can’t help but think a lot more could have transferred over if console limitations weren’t also being considered (although it could have just been a question of time and resources as well). The same bugs and issues plague the PC version as well, and then there were some basic design decisions that spoil the game sometimes. You can read more about it in my review if you really want.

But yeah – you should really consider getting XCOM. Dishonored was the other great game to launch recently, and I hear good things about that as well although to be honest the whole Steampunk thing doesn’t really grab me. I’m a sci-fi boy all the way. If you can afford them both, do, although Christmas is not too far away.