Watch the Skies session report

Watch the Skies Dundee

“A good chunk of Washington has been destroyed, mister President”

We had been expecting that ever since the ‘crop circle’ that had been burned into the concrete of Washington.   When, with Japanese help, we deciphered its meaning as ‘gather Earth’s warriors here’, we didn’t interpret it as a sign of peace.  Also, a similar circle had presaged Tokyo’s recent obliteration.

“Did we get everyone out in time?”

“I don’t know yet, we’re still to get the reports on that.  It looks like…”.  The Vice President of the United States is tapped on the shoulder by the representative of another country.  The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the same time takes me aside to impart some information.   The United States’ top military official impatiently gestures for me to finalise troop deployment, while our foreign secretary wants to know what we can budget for UN efforts to dissuade Angola from developing a weapons of mass destruction programme.   All the while I’m politely, but firmly, informing the Japanese that the United States will strenuously defend the rights of our Vice President should they put forward a unilateral UN motion to forcibly quarantine those returning from alien abduction.   Their science minister is telling me that a German research effort has discovered that the ‘returnees’ are coming back ‘changed’.  I haven’t quite trusted the Japanese since I received reports they were secretly trading research with the ‘Asian Alliance’, an alliance bloc with which the USA and the UK have been engaged in a cold war.  Or at least, that’s the best information I currently have to hand.

It’s a stressful five minutes, in a day that was made up of incrementally more stressful minutes.    The ridiculously bad American accent I had been affecting from my arrival at the venue is gone.  I just don’t have time, or mental capacity, to keep that shit up while all this other shit is going down.  Watch the Skies packs several hours worth of work to do in each thirty minute turn.   Every minute of Watch the Skies is dense with activity.

CRISIS ALERT

It’s this ALL DAY!

It’s hard to do a ‘review’ of something as singular an event as a mega-game session.   I’m not going to pretend that this is at all a useful guide for those wondering whether they should attend one of their own.  All I can do is offer a partial, confusing session report on Watch the Skies Dundee as it unfolded on October the 8th, 2016.  So much of what makes this kind of thing exciting is the energy on the day.  It is at core a roleplaying experience with (to a certain extent) mutable rules.  If you put different people into the mix, you’ll get an entirely different result.

The world map

This is all going to be fine, right?

In the game we played, there were clearly some people that already knew what they were doing – they had the experience needed to really get the most out of the systems.  The American Team… well.   It was an instructive glimpse into how a Trump presidency would look.   It looks like someone gave the Keystone Kops the nuclear launch codes.   I went in, theorycrafting my role.  I wasn’t sure if I could manage to be Barack Obama, the calm, assured statesman in command of all the facts.  I would have settled for Bill Clinton – the affable Good Ol’ Boy wielding geniality as a political weapon.   At worst I thought I might be George W. Bush – clueless but with the arrogant public confidence that comes from being in the arse-end of the Dunning Kruger curve.

At the end I think ‘Forrest Gump’ would have been a generous description of my presidential style.   The USA had some remarkable successes, including a daring raid on an alien base in Mexico.  That provided us with an embarrassment of riches in terms of exciting alien tech which we then gleefully used to build reciprocal research agreements with the UK and Japan.

UK, USA and Japan alliance

We never had a snappy name for this alliance.

We were absolutely rolling in research opportunities.  We pretty much bumbled our way into that though, and spent a good chunk of the next few turns lying brazenly to the press about the horrendous invasion of a sovereign country.   We never bothered to ask Mexico if it minded us engaging in acts of extra-terrestrial warfare within its borders.

Murica.

The USA table

The dragon is an experimental war drone.

I spent quite a lot of my time in meetings with other world leaders reminding them that America categorically reserves the right to act unilaterally in defense of its national interests.  I pointed out that our first duty was to the American citizens that paid our salaries.   I was gracious when I could be, ensuring that people understood we were acting in the best interests of our friends and allies, and that America was ‘A friend to the world’.  It was all a façade to hide, as best I could, that I had absolutely no idea what was going on.

China strengthens relations with the US

I have no recollection of this alliance.

Do you see that picture there, of me shaking hands with the Chinese premier?   I remember the hand-shake, I don’t remember anything about agreeing to an alliance. Was that an accurate report from the meeting?  I don’t even know.  The press in Watch the Skies is a faction all of its own, and journalistic ethics were not particularly in evidence.  Rumours were printed as facts, facts were printed as rumours, and American stonewalling and disinformation had resulted in hostilities between our administration and the free press.    Hostilities that were gleefully stoked by our friends and allies in the international community.

With these rocher you are really spoiling us

This was an important element of our foreign policy

‘What did you have to do with the Mexico explosions’, I was asked at one point.

‘We have no involvement in any actions in Mexico’, I answered.  ‘That had nothing to do with us’

‘To be clear, you are saying America was not involved in the invasion of Mexico?’.  The reporter’s eyes drift over to the world map where US troops are all over Mexico.

‘We had no involvement.  What explosion?’, I replied.  ‘What’s a Mexico?’

Aliens at the world map

Aliens! These are aliens!

At one point the foreign minister of… I don’t even remember where… comes over and demands to know why we have spies in Egypt.  What did we find out?  Why won’t we share information?

‘We have no spies in Egypt’, I say.

They know we do, because for some reason spying actions are conducted in public on the main map.  Or at least, that’s what we assumed on the day.  They saw our agents go in.  We found a butt-load of aliens there.  We smiled politely and backed out.  ‘We’ll leave you to this’, we cheerfully announced to the extra-terrestrial presence.  ‘Just playing through’

‘We have no spies in Egypt’, I re-iterate.  ‘America does not engage in covert observation of its friends and neighbours’.  To be fair, that was true for a time because I didn’t want anyone to see we were doing it.  I’m still not 100% sure we were using spies properly.  When towards the end of the game Japan and Brazil adopted a surprisingly strident ‘pro-genocide’ platform, we deployed spies freely and liberally just to show that we knew what they were up to.

I make that sound like we’d cleverly pieced together evidence.  What actually happened was in a summit of world leaders Japan and Brazil had told us they were pro-genocide.  They then tried to talk the rest of us into engaging in biological warfare with a vastly advanced and provably aggressive alien species.  The USA was opposed in no uncertain terms.  We couldn’t stop them acting unilaterally without engaging in war, but we’d have no part in using a bioweapon that Brazil cheerfully admitted had been developed with the use of human trials.     We took the moral high-ground there, although my real worry was that it’s almost impossible to release a weapon like that and be sure of the results, especially when it was derived from alien technology.  Technology that may have been put there to facilitate our own extinction.

By this point we knew we were facing two factions of aliens – one that was looking to tinker with our genetics, to ‘fix’ the mistakes that had been made with our evolutionary design.  The other faction was an exceedingly creepy death cult that viewed noble death through combat as a pre-requisite for spiritual ascension.   They had met with Brazil, Japan and the UK and told them that they would continue attacking the warriors of Earth while warriors existed.  They had told me when I quizzed them that if we wished to hold off on ascension they would allow us the time to decide on our own whether we were ready to join galactic civilization.  According to them, that could only happen through ascension.     There was a long pause before that answer though, and the testimony of other world leaders was very much in contention.

Aliens are among us

The aliens are at the back. The guy in the amazing suit is the president of Brazil, and genial advocate of alien genocide.

‘The only other option would be to multilaterally disarm’, says Brazil, ‘so we have no warriors for them to face’.  They’d been trying to get us to give up our nuclear weapons throughout the entire game.  It’s amazing how pro-nuke I was once I had them.  China and I shook our heads instantly.  No way.  I had been entirely unwilling to negotiate even a single nuke away during the alien crisis.  If ever there was a wrong time to talk about disarmament, it was when we were facing alien forces of unknown intention, but proven aggression.   ‘That would be a stunning dereliction of our duty to the American people’ is what I said to – someone.  I don’t even remember who.

Our Vice President had met with the other aliens, but at one point during the ‘World-O-Vision song contest’, he and many other people had been abducted.  He got sent back almost instantly.   That’s why the world wanted him and the other returnees quarantined.  For the rest of the game, I wasn’t at all sure he hadn’t been given secret new instructions, such as ‘You’re a Cylon.  They look like us now’

That was a bit like being back in a school playground.  The rest of the US cabinet debated whether or not to turn him over to UN quarantine.   Poor James sat there like a kid in an Enid Blyton book sent to Coventry.   We decided ‘no’ in the end.  Spliced with alien DNA or not, he was still an American citizen and we would not surrender him to the UN.   I went to tell Debbie, our foreign secretary, but she was already in session.   Was that to be debated there?  Was that going to be voted on?  I wasn’t sure of the agenda.

‘Do you have Debbie’s number?’, I asked Carrie, our research scientist.

‘Yes, but she’s in the UN so I can’t call her’

‘Send her a text message.  Just say ‘veto’’,

‘She’ll know what that means?’’

A brief pause.  A poker face.  ‘Sure’

I don’t know if she got the message, or if the quarantine motion was on the agenda.  It’s entirely possible I asked her to veto UN support for hurricane relief.   Would she have done it without more information?  Maybe!  After all, perhaps I knew something that she didn’t.  Why wouldn’t she trust the president of the United States, other than having seen me in action?

See, here’s the thing about Watch the Skies.  It is a game of intensely imperfect information.   Absolutely everyone on your team is getting information all the time.   That information all has variable reliability.  Every country has their own agenda to follow, and nobody’s motives are pure.  Events progress quickly.  At one point, control is yelling at me about how angry the American people are that we’re letting Russian troops act without US consent in Northern Africa.  ‘They think your administration is weak!’

Control tells us some bad news

I don’t remember what he’s telling us here, but I’m sure it’s horrible.

‘We’ve got the situation under control’, I snap back.  He storms off, to terrify some other world leader about some other world crisis.

I turn to Pauline.  ‘What Russian troops in Africa?’

She shrugs helplessly.

Why were the Russians interested in North Africa?  Probably because we were, because we had a spy there.  Also, probably because of the reports of US fighter jets massacring Egyptian civilians.

Our spies had told us in no uncertain terms aliens were masquerading as US military forces.  It wasn’t us.  But public opinion was starting to turn against us, and the international community pressure was intense.     We had to act.

As I left a meeting with the UK prime minister, James grabbed me by the arm.

‘I’ve arranged for you to make a statement’

‘Oh, right, fine…’

I’m hauled up to the front stage, and given a megaphone.  I turn to James.  ‘A statement about what?’, I ask.

‘You’re announcing aliens on Earth, and GNN will be doing an interview with you after it’

Shhhiiiiiitttt….

Real press in attendence

There was real press there too. I’m a bit worried about what might emerge from footage of the day.  I did go Full America in some of my rhetoric.

I feel sorry for whatever world leader has to do that in the real world, and I hope they have more than a fraction of a second to work out the wording.    My recollection of the day is my speech was this:

‘People of the world.  The United States is here today to announce that aliens walk among us.  They are masquerading as United States military assets in an attempt to frame us for aggression in Egypt.  That is categorically not the case.  God bless you all, and God bless the United States of America’

What I probably said was:

‘UM.  OH GOD ALIENS.  BYE’

I honestly don’t remember.  It’s all kind of a blur.   The manual for WTS says ‘All countries take a public relations hit when the existence of aliens is announced.  The first country to do it takes a much larger hit’.  It also turns out it really pisses off the international community if you do it without telling them.  I apologised to our allies for the unilateral release of the information, but in my defense it took me as much by surprise as anyone else.

This was perhaps four turns into a twelve turn game.

You don’t have the luxury of time.  You can’t say ‘Woah, hold on – let’s get everyone on board with this and control the story’.  Each turn is only thirty minutes, and there is so much to deal with and so much of it is absolute bullshit.  The newspaper printed a correction to the Russian story.

Errata:  Russian does not have military troops in North Africa.  They are assisting with the UN relief effort.  GNN apologises for the error.

Thanks GNN.

You get a regular newspaper digest of stories from the day – in fact, you get about a dozen of them.   Some of these stories are fed to them by control, some by other countries, some by aliens, and some I’m pretty sure they made up just for the fun of it.   That’s one lens on the world, and you don’t even really have time to read the newspapers as they come out.   That’s a shame, because they often contain useful information.  As for the GNN_Dundee twitter feed?  Haha, are you joking?  It’s obvious why real world leaders have people to do their social media for them.

Another lens is through the shadowy ‘control’ players – they’re running the thing.  Every so often they come up and ask you frighteningly detailed questions.  ‘What did you get from that?  How much?  Where did you get the money?  Who made the decision?  Why did you make that decision?’

Every question is a nail into a coffin.  HERE LIES:  RAMIFICATIONS.

It makes you genuinely jittery.  When we were quizzed on the spoils we robbed from the Mexico alien base, we decided we were going to pull all of our troops back into the US.  I was convinced there would be an alien counter-attack, perhaps to rescue some of the live aliens we’d picked up.  I warned our allies in the UK, because they had come in with us on the attack, and were also the only reason we went through with it.  When I found out that what we had planned constituted an act of war against Mexico, I grabbed Pauline.  ‘Haul back our troops, don’t do it, don’t send them in’

‘But the UK is already sending theirs in!  We’ll be sending them off to die alone’

‘Commit all the troops to this!  Send them all in!  Oh god!’

The war room

No fighting in the war room!

The UK was the only ally we had throughout the entire game that I felt we could reasonably trust.  They had our absolute support as they negotiated re-entry into the EU (turns out, a second EU referendum had 89% support for rejoining.  France were not keen).   We backed them up as best we could with research assets.  We shared information freely.  We even supported them when they blew up the Pyramids at Giza.     We couldn’t pull out of the engagement and leave them to take the blame.  Or get all that sweet alien tech to themselves.  In the end, confused screw-up that it was, Mexico was a stunning US success.

The rest of our international partnerships were not quite so clear-cut.  Every turn, a dozen people take you aside and ask ‘What do you know about this?’, and you have to Trump it out.  You know nothing, but you can’t let them know you know nothing.  ‘We’re still checking up on our information.  I’ll let you know when we have something more concrete’.  Then you turn to one of the cabinet and say ‘What the hell is happening there?’

And then worse – people don’t come and take you aside and suddenly cold-war levels of paranoia start to take over.   Japan had been one of our main allies in the early game.  And then they started to cosy up to India.   I don’t think India ever came to speak to us, and they were part of the dangerously cosy ‘Asian Alliance’.   They had been agitating for membership of the UN security council, which the US was absolutely committed to vetoing.    At one point Brazil (I think) asked me to come sit down with the Indian foreign minister to come to an arrangement.  Because of Other Things it just didn’t happen.   The USA basically snubbed them, and so from that point on every Indian action had to be interpreted in the most hostile way.

Japan came over to us and said ‘We are putting together a research agreement with India, and they have told us the only way it will happen is if we absolutely do not share the results with you.  But we’ll share this other research we’re doing, because that’s fine’.

‘Sure, sound good’, I say.  Mentally, I think ‘Japan is dead to me’.

We smile, we make polite, but we start cutting them out of discussions.  And they in turn do the same.   Carrie and the Japanese scientist had been doing wonderful work together.  They were the world’s new Watson and Crick.   Even as Japan was being frozen out of the UK-US alliance, we had strong scientific links that would take time to chill.

But then you start to notice things.  Japan talking to Brazil.  Japan talking to Germany.  Japan talking to Brazil again.   Oh no you don’t Japan, we’re freezing you out.  You better not be freezing us out.   What’s going on?

Japan and the UK and... Germany?

What are you up to, Japan?

There’s such a vast gulf between the information you have available and the information you have time to absorb.  That’s nothing compared to the information you don’t have available, but that you know is out there.   There is nothing to which you can reasonably anchor your understanding of world events.  Everything is murky.  Everything is questionable.  TRUST NO ONE.

AND THEN!

You also need to layer onto this that your team members all have a different subset of the information, obtained from different parties, and often via a complex chain of associations.  ‘The Indian foreign minister told the German science advisor that the Russian president…’

If you just had time you could sit down with your team and unpick all this and come up with some kind of Bayesian analysis of truth and reliability.   But you don’t.  You get about five minutes to sit down with your team, but for the rest of the time people are busy doing stuff.  Some are talking to other officials to add more recent unreliable information to the stack of historical unreliability you’re working with.  Others are placing military assets with dubious utility to achieve foreign policy goals of unknown importance.   Some are off delivering scientific papers and earning research prizes of uncertain benefit.   Yet more are off making resolutions on emerging world crises with unknowable long term implications.   You’re all acting as best you can, and you don’t have time to confer with each other much less with international allies.

That’s why the USA extended a warm, cordial invitation for one group of aliens to set up a fixing facility in the Rockies, and then shot each and every one of them down when they arrived.   Relations… cooled at that point.

If this all sounds confusing and erratic and difficult to follow, it’s only because it is a reflection of my own appreciation of the day.   My summing up address made special mention of that – by the end of the event, I was more confused about what was happening than I was at the start.   The successes we had were accidental.    In the end, I was a case study in what happens when a dangerously uninformed blowhard is put into a position of power in a complex, geopolitical context.   Bear that in mind come the election, America.

It was, all in all, a fantastic day.  I would very much recommend that anyone that gets the opportunity to attend one of these Watch the Skies Mega-games should absolutely do it.   Sure, you run the risk of it falling flat but I think it’s worth taking the chance.    So much of it is bound up in the decisions of the day, and the people playing, that satisfaction can’t be guaranteed.  There is though a vast dollop of energy injected by the sheer pressure of constant decision making against unforgiving deadlines.   It’s the kind of thing that forces you out of your comfort zone, and in the best possible way.

Carrie, our research scientist, was a little uneasy about how much of her role was public speaking and coming up with theories.  In the end, she absolutely nailed it – she did America proud, earning two Nobel prizes (I think) and some kind of award for research excellence.

Carrie and some research points

She had pockets full of these research awards.

Debbie did phenomenal work as our foreign secretary, smoothing over our many diplomatic bungles and maintaining a hard-line stance on American exceptionalism.

Our foreign secretary

I am pretty sure Debbie is the only reason anyone was still speaking to us by the end

James, our Vice President, was a veritable political Delboy.  He was constantly wheeling and dealing, and coming back with pockets full of dirty money obtained by back-alley alien tech deals.

Mister Vice President

Still not convinced he wasn’t a cylon.

Pauline, our Chief of Defence, was the only one that had any idea as to what America’s military position was, and was constantly sending back an exciting stream of recovered tech for us to play with.

Chairwoman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Pauline went all out to get a suitable military jacket for the day

And me? Well, I took some photographs!  And spent most of the day looking like I was terrified by what was going on:

SELFIS

Wait, what happened to the pyramids??

I still don’t know if we genuinely did evacuate Washington, or if we just convinced ourselves, and the press, that we had.     In the end, that’s all that matters.   And oh god, there was the time the aliens told us they had left a cache of advanced technology for the USA.  In China.   And the mecha-robots.  And the fact we got so close to the brink of nuclear war that the entire game was on a knife edge.  And!  And!  And!

Attend Watch the Skies if you can!  It is an amazing day.

Other links about the day:

 


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  • James Boyden

    So, if Michael’s plan was to imitate a former US president, my plan was to emulate Doug Stamper from the US house of cards series. While the Pres was off making important negotiations to advance our agenda, I attempted to keep as many plates spinning as possible. The intention was for the Prez to make the calls, and to make sure that got translated into cold-hard action. For this, I didn’t have much interaction with our military wing, instead focusing on keeping our diplomatic and science arms informed and tried to translate policy into decisions.

    Eventually I took a role in trying to calm international relations. Michael was the public face, and had plausible deniability in saying “I don’t know”, because about 4/5ths of the time, it was an agreement I’d made through a back channel. I was leaking the press false information sometimes, but every so often I was stirring in juuuust enough of the truth for them to continue talking to us; to the point where they once came back to us with a cap-in-hand apology.

    I think for the most part we needed our diplomatic, military and science arms to act autonomously. I think we basically gave our UN dignitary 2 units of funding every turn and hoped for the best. From what I hear, she was (and I quote) “Scarily businesslike” at the UN meetings, and if that isn’t the sign of a master at work I don’t know what is.

    The science arm basically engineered their own alliance with Japan and we brought the UK on board as their diplomatic interests seemed to align closely with ours. The great Japanese betrayal was an amusing one, where we were waiting on them completing a keep piece of tech after we’d decided to cut them off. I’m still not sure whether we did or not, but I never heard from another member of the Japanese team after that.

    I had talked to our allies of the time, UK and Japan about the rumours about to hit the press that american jets were bombing civilians in Egypt. We had an agent in egypt and know for a fact it was aliens impersonating us, but would find it damn near impossible to prove without revealing to the world aliens exist. We had no way of contacting the aliens without a broadcast the world would hear, and we can’t publish our military maneuvers. Backed into a corner, I got (apparently distracted) consent from our Prez, informed our partners that is was going down next turn. I then heard from the press that India were about to release a report condemning us for bombing civilians. I had just enough time to organise our own funding and inform our allies to do the same to deal with the PR hit that we knew was coming before announcing to the world. I grabbed the control player, who double checked I wasn’t blundering into this without knowing the ramifications, then handed me a loudhailer.

    It’s at exactly that point that I realised: “Shit. I’m only VP. The President should be doing this.”. He was dragged to the front of the stage, handed the loud hailer, before asking me what he was announcing. What I should have said was: “Aliens exist and they appear to be hostile. They’ve been impersonating us in Egypt, and attacking civilians.”, instead I left him to piece that together, which turned out alright in the end.

    How’d I fund the PR hit, you ask? Well, I sold a bunch of spare assets to the gray market and pocketed the one-use extra bit of funding for a rainy day. I traded science on an international scale looking to fuel our science ambitions before we were suddenly, “mysteriously” (as far as the world was concerned) come into a bunch of alien artefacts that we had stumbled into in Mexico. If anyone asks, it was New Mexico.

    At one point, I was talking to the press about something that now seems irrelevant, because I then took a casual glance at their twitter feed, and see “Giant concrete crop circle reported in Washington, DC”. I asked him if that was a joke, and where the source was from. “Control, obviously. You didn’t know?”. This followed the Japanese deciphering the same symbol to mean “Assemble your warriors here”, and who had then had a giant mecha destroy Tokyo. I returned to the table, swearing and blinding, as we suddenly had to arrange foreign aid, and rejig a bunch of plans that were already mostly-completed.

    I tell you all this not to brag, though let me tell you it felt brilliant at the time, but to inform you as to what it’s like to suddenly be an outcast amongst the international community and your compatriots.

    We entered the world-o-vision singing contest at the last minute. We agreed with the UK that we wouldn’t be funding Germany’s nonsense, but then a control player let slip in a round-about sort of way that it was going to be worth a PR point to join them. I had dirty money in my pocket, so we entered. Then we were told that it wasn’t an abstract sort of thing, and that we had to put forth a singer. Having caused my own mess, and being the most expendable person at the table, I decided to sing the worst rendition of “Freedom isn’t free” the world has ever heard.
    Once the contest had concluded, there was an alien attack. No casualties, but the entire building was abducted. I was lead into a small side-stage area along with the other leaders. Then a looming figure in a biohazard suit with a mask that obscured their face and blinking lights took everyone else and shoo’d me back to earth. It was announced to anyone close enough to the stage that I was being shuttled back alone.

    I walked across the hall, back to my team along with some of the UK diplomats. They were as shocked as I was. And no one spoke to me. I sat down, and they moved the conversation away. No foreign dignitary would speak to me for about a turn and a half. I would later find out that this was because they were discussing whether or not to allow me to be taken away and scanned by the UN.
    4 hours later, I was still annoyed about being singled out to be sent back early. I would later find out that it was the aliens trying to sow distrust. “…Did it work?” I told him this story and he was very happy about it.

    I never quite got back to my glory days of wheeling and dealing with the humans, so turned my attention to what we had decided where “The good aliens”. There were reports from others that had scanned returned abductees and found them better than ever, and the offer was put forth that they were going to accept donations and “any volunteers” to be ascended to the same factions that had rejected me so harshly earlier. If I was going to be accused of being “fixed”, the least I could do was go away and get it done.

    The second interaction with the aliens was ten times more terrifying. I was lead up to the same stage with my bushel of food donations from the folks of the good ol’ US of A. I introduced myself and laid down my token. They stared at me.

    “You are friends with ucck. We do not like ucck.”
    “Ucck?”
    “Ucck. You know. Ucck.”

    It took about 3 rounds of this to realise this had meant the UK, our allies. They then went on to tell me that they had blown up “The pointy place in the sand” (Giza pyramid) shortly after my ascension. I gave them assurances that this would be dealt with most harshly and such an experience would not happen again.
    They asked me, in my position as “King of Usss” to make a new ascension point on US soil. I agreed, given that our allies surely wouldn’t bomb us and we had plans to make peace with these aliens. I chose the Rocky mountains. They voted to fix me, silently, and as they decided I should be, they shone a green LED on me and shoo’d me off stage again.

    Next turn, the aliens were coming as per my invitation. The president had been called to an impromptu meeting of the world leaders, so it was me and the head of military to decide how we’d deal with aliens on US soil. The crux of the issue was that we had no idea on how to discern between the different types of alien craft, and the other lot had blown up Washington by this point. We stood down most of our forces, but eventually got cold feet as more and more ships arrived.
    Against my protestations, Pauline scared off the saucers and abduction teams. I’m still convinced it was the right thing to do, but I also still can’t say for sure it’s the wrong thing to do.

    The game ended 2 turns later. Germany had allowed the “Good” aliens to build a base, and we had sent out a press release with our report saying that “fixing” was beneficial for all known ailments, and advising all citizens who wished to partake that they would be welcomed back as any ordinary citizen would be.

    On the way back to Edinburgh, I met the entire French delegation and some of the German one. We talked for over an hour, sharing stories from our differing perspectives. It turns out that when you can’t see all the motives behind someone’s decision, it makes them impossible to trust, something proven by the fact that we hadn’t talked to the French for most of the game. It turns out, one of their goals was to undermine the USA and the UK as much as possible, and they were responsible for a good chunk of disinformation directed at us by the end.

    It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked for my fun before, but that made the day all the better. Thanks to all my team for the excellent day out, and GOD BLESS AMERICA.

    • GOD BLESS AMERICA MISTER VICE PRESIDENT

      This was a great read. 😀

  • As one of the GNN reporters on the day (I’m 90% certain I’m the one who asked you about Mexico), I feel the need to defend our honour a little bit, especially against this:

    Some of these stories are fed to them by control, some by other countries, some by aliens, and some I’m pretty sure they made up just for the fun of it.

    We didn’t make up any stories. We didn’t have time to make up any stories. We barely had time to fact-check information – not helped by the fact that getting anyone to speak on the record (let alone corroborate someone else’s version of events) was nearly impossible. In between speaking to world leaders, getting an internet connection, running the Twitter feed, writing the newspapers and fixing the printer (we ran out of ink twice, and the damn thing would lock up for five solid minutes if it ran out paper partway through a job), getting a second source for a story was often far down the list of priorities, if we could run it now and get comments later.

    I lost count of the number of times I’d have someone come to the news desk, I’d ask them to wait while I proof-read and hit “print” on the paper for this round and then they’d give me some massive story that should have been in the document I’d just sent to the printer.

    I do think we could have organised things a little better, though. If we’d had more reliable internet from the beginning I’d have liked to use Twitter exclusively as a news ticker with “breaking” stories, which would then be investigated (at least approach implicated parties for comment) before appearing in the next available paper.

    I know how difficult it is to lead a country in Watch the Skies – I was President of China for (most of) Watch the Skies Aberdeen last year, and that chaos is tough to deal with. But the other two reporters had no WTS experience at all, and GNN was spinning plates even I didn’t know existed.

    We took our reporting pretty seriously (…most of the time), and I think we did a very respectable job (…most of the time) in keeping people accurately informed (…most of the time).

    • US perceptions of GNN may have been soured somewhat by the ongoing PR war we had to wage against the things we only found out in the newspapers, many of which were unfounded pieces of disinformation from other countries. Plus, you know, we were lying to you constantly and it’s good policy to never trust anyone you’re lying to.

      • It definitely didn’t help that we’d intercepted (somehow) an alien communication intended for the US. I don’t remember what turn it was (just after your announcement, we retasked some GNN satellites and antennas to look for alien signals so I think it was the turn after that), but it became immediately apparent that what little information you were giving us was complete bullshit.

        But of course we were never able to 100% verify that the message was genuine, and any attempts to find out what was at the coordinates proved fruitless. Which is why we ended up running a “competition” to see if anyone else found it. Russia eventually did, but by then the site was clean and their top general wandered off dejected before I could give him the $2m we’d decided on as a prize.

        http://i.imgur.com/lAJZsQW.jpg

        • We got that too of course, but it looked very much like it was a ploy to get us to invade China. What with alien attacks masquerading as US atrocities, our working hypothesis was ‘the aliens’ (I don’t think we knew there were two factions at that point) were simply planning to ramp up hostilities until we all killed each other, and then swoop in unopposed. Of course, when one of us went to someone in China to say ‘Hey, we have no intentions of invading’ our suspiciously precise denial did little to ease global tensions.

          • James Boyden

            You got that message? I was operating under the assumption someone else made it up!

          • I think control gave it to us at one point. I don’t remember being given the co-ordinates though.

    • Plus, I don’t recall the USA being asked for a statement regarding allegations we were massacring Egyptian civilians before that went to print. That may have contributed considerably to the US view that GNN were a propaganda arm for the aliens, the damn communists, and anyone we were currently embroiled in a feud with. ;-P

      • Honestly I don’t even remember seeing that story. The whole day got so fast with stories that by the end we were just throwing everything we got in the doc for other people to sort out.

        • Haha, I’m not at all surprised that it’s as hectic and uncertain being the news as it is being a country. It basically fired the starting pistol though on the announcement of aliens since we’d already pissed off quite a few countries and had little goodwill to rely on. It’s amazing how besieged you can feel by what you consider a hostile media, EVEN WHEN there’s no *genuine* evidence that there is actual hostility. The whole game is an exercise in escalating paranoia.

          Man, can’t wait for the next one.

  • Tom Lansdale

    I really enjoyed this write-up, and the alternate perspectives from other players in the game. Mega-games fascinate me and I would love to try one some day. Whenever I’ve looked into it though, it seems like it’s very hard to get accurate up-to-date information of when the next WTS will be, or know for sure which other companies are running mega-games with a similar level of competence, culture of fun and interesting theme. They also get booked up very fast!

    So do any of you have any good resources/sites to keep an eye on? Thanks!