Monday, October 26, 2015

I Burned While I Watched The Skies

Left to Right
Foreign Minister, Head Scientist, Military Commander, Prime Minister

I am the ambassador to the cosmos. Or at least, I would have been had everything gone according to plan. Then again, one can never fully rely on plans when dealing with the political intrigue of the competing nations of earth, add to that three factions of Buddhist-like hivemind aliens working against you and really, everything is left to the roll of a dice, figuratively and literally.
This weekend I had the privilege of playing Bellingham MegaGame’s inaugural run with “Watch the Skies”. Essentially what this game boiled down to whas a simulation in which various nations were faced not only with the international tension of world politics, but with the impending threat of an alien presence descending from the skies. Practically what this meant is that teams of four (ideally) acted as The Prime Minister (or President), Military Commander, Head Scientist and Foreign Minister. Each team was assigned a nation to represent, and it was my pleasure to act as the Foreign Minister of Japan.
The turns consisted of two phases. In the first phase, teams would be separated into a series of mini-game sessions. The second phase had all the team members rush back to their countries (a table on the edge if a large room) to share information and ideas with the rest if the team. Scientists researched technology. Military Commanders allocated troops and resources to a large map where they duked it out with aliens or spied on other nations. The Prime Ministers divided up resources and directed the other members of their team. Finally, the Foreign Ministers dealt with a variety of world crises and tried to sway the actions of other nations to their cause within the security  council of the UN. My narrative takes place through this lens. For a glimpse into some of the other roles read the write ups from our Scientist and our Prime Minister.
As a team, Japan had gone into the game with the goal of creating giant mech robots. To what end we weren’t sure, and, granted, it was a little short sighted, but it was something. It’s absolutely vital to go into this type of game with an idea, and by, golly we had one. Accomplishing this goal was a matter of discussing our plan with one of the many, talented game controllers. This was really a story based game, and they did a fantastic job of facilitating every aspect of every hair-brained idea that was thrown at them.
So, some discussion began with almost no idea what to expect, and then I was off and running to my first UN session. Out of the six nations present I was one of two that did not have Veto power, Brazil being the other. From the get-go the other teams were coming in hot. We were presented with a famine in Uganda to deal with and the two pre-eminent ideas were from Russia and the UK. Russia said let them starve, and the UK said sell them food for alien tech. Ultimately we decided to set up a refugee camp, while Brazil and Japan opted to take refugees back to our respective countries. As we were about to head out the UK Representative also asked us each for a sample of blood… this was disconcerting to everyone, except for Brazil who was kind of freaked out by it, but didn’t want to cause any waves. The idea was that the UK was developing a test to find out who were aliens hidden amongst us. Still I thought it was coming on pretty strong, and I wasn't about to agree to something this bizarre this early on. So, heading back to our respective tables, we discussed. Our Prime Minister was delighted that we had received refugees, as we were wanting to find the best and brightest high school students in the world to pilot our “Project Gundam” (which was almost called “Project Pacific Rim II).
He can't come in here, He'll see the big board!

Over the course of the next few rounds, we almost lost the entire continent of Africa. The famine spread, the warlords took over refugee camps and then Angola and South Africa pointed nukes at each other for good measure. Japan and Brazil swiftly disarmed the two countries while Russia, secured the oil fields in Uganda.
The greatest part about these sessions in the scope of the game was the nuggets of information that were dropped. Russia let loose that there were at least four factions of aliens, which, upon learning that tid-bit of information, took all the composure I had not to start hyperventilating. Sure we were dealing with things the “didn’t matter” (which actually really did, very much so) but it was like on big espionage room. Everyone’s phones were constantly buzzing with information being sent to them from teammates in other areas of the game. A particular highlight was when I learned of the assassination of the American President. I offered my condolences to the representative and he brushed it off, not knowing what I was talking about. As the turn progressed, other nations glanced at their phones and quickly turned their heads toward the American in the room. He was probably the last to find out.
Eventually after throwing enough resources at the problem, the famine and blight that plagued Africa subsided just in time for us to start dealing with the aliens directly. We invited a representative from each faction to visit us, three of the four accepted. The story went that the three factions that had shown up were peaceful while the fourth faction that did not show up was violent. Seemed pretty straightforward, except that Russia, our closest ally in the game was adamant about it being the other way around.
It wasn’t long until the UK Representative announced that he had stealthily stolen everyone's DNA and was going to test it to see who was an alien. No one was pleased with this development, so we leaked to the newspaper that they were working on a cloning program to thicken the distrust in the brits. This was unnecessary, no one trusted them. I still don’t know who actually nuked China, but the UK was certainly blamed, despite it most likely not actually being them. It was particularly delightful to watch the collective faces in the room as the UK announced in front of everyone a list of people the assumed were aliens. They were like mad geniuses at getting everyone to loathe their country. They even convinced one of the three “good” alien factions to call themselves the Elizabethans. It didn’t take much longer for me to convince some of the other nations to boot the UK from a permanent seat on the commity and replace the seat with Japan. Veto power at last!
What eventually became clear was this: there were,  two warring aliens (one consisted of three groups, but that’s confusing). One group was trying to eradicate the other from earth. They had come to earth with the sole purpose of destroying this other group that had landed and interbred thousands of years ago. Imagine my shock in turn 11 when I express my concern over which faction to back and our Scientists drops this: “Cards on the table, I’m an alien” Our military leader and myself stared at him. “I am...also an alien.” Our Prime Minister chimed in. We stood for a second, our Scientist wondering if we would attempt to kill him. “ok, we know which faction to back then.” That was that, we were going to try to help these other aliens escape earth before the Elizabethans and their motley bunch of human friends gunned them down.
They walk among us

This became hopeful when we successfully completed our Gundam program. We announced to the world that, although Japan was not a nuclear power, we had giant robots now that we had handed over to emotionally damaged teenagers to pilot. The idea was to use these bad boys to protect the mothership if it ran into any trouble as it left earth. Easy peasy. I went into the final UN meeting with the idea that we had our plan in the bag and I would use my newly acquired veto power to shoot everything down, just for fun. Then I got distracted by ideas of grandeur and things kind of went haywire. To hedge our bets, China suggested we send a man a woman and a DNA bank of all living things on earth with the ship that was attempting to escape. Should earth be destroyed by the Elizabethans for having not stopped “faction 4” from escaping, we would at least have a way for the human race to live on in the cosmos. If the ship was shot down, we lost two people. I was going to Veto the whole thing unless my condition was met “I want to be the man on the ship.” No one seemed to care all that much, so I climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies. Unfortunately we didn’t get very far off the ground. We quickly voted on the plan, and one of the controllers ran in telling us that there was a large battle going on and we had better come witness it. I walked out to a large group of people surrounding the battle map. Our Prime Minister, who along with our Scientist had decided to stay on earth, stood there solemnly. Our Gundams had been sabotaged and were useless, almost every nation and alien faction was attacking the spaceship. “It doesn’t look good” he said. “I’m on that ship!” I exclaimed much to his surprise. Those of us aboard the ship were asked to step forward. It was myself, the American President (who had been cloned or something, I’m not really sure how she was back) and the Russian President, who was the only alien player that had opted to leave earth. We watched as our hope went up in flames. I was the ambassador of ash and fire, not the cosmos.
In the end, Japan did just fine. We had a strong economy, and were the most technologically advanced country in the world. But the real surprise was Brazil, who had been on everyone’s good side. They were playing the long con and spent their time stealing resources and uniting all of South America.

The game was an absolute blast, it was exhausting, fast paced and all day long. The enjoyment of the game really stems from the creativity of the players, and there was just so much going on that it never felt dull. Having constant contact with your team was incredible. I was receiving real time information about insane things that were happening all while arguing about sending troops into Uganda. While the scale of the game and the open-endedness might sound like a problem, the way everything was handled made for a smooth and thrilling ride that I would play again anytime, and hopefully will soon.


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