I'd been looking forward to this event for months. A cast of hundreds representing nations all around the world in a day-long XCOM inspired Megagame.
I was to be the Head of the Armed Forces in Venezuela, but also taking part were nations across all the regions of the world, giant corporations, the Vatican, some humanitarian organisation that may or may not be a shady-cult, and several factions of aliens whose numbers and motivations were unclear at the start (and honestly not all that much clearer by the end).
The game played out in 9 Turns of about 40 minutes each. The general flow was that the military commanders would react to new UFO sightings or any other activity and pay money to activate their armed forces, inteceptors and secret agents, any combat or recon would resolve. Then after regrouping with the rest of their nation, diplomacy would occur in the form of actions being performed on the maps, players visiting other players, and so forth, before a final regroup to decide on the action for the next turn. While all this is happening, scientists were writing papers and attending conferences in an attempt to gain new technology.
At the end of the game we heard a brief summary from all the regions, corporations and the alien factions, and then it was time to pack up and go.
It would take a lot of explaining to properly summarise the events of the day, but as Venezuela among other things, we:
- Formed an alliance of South American nations (LATO)
- Dealt with a PR crisis following multiple alien abductions in our country.
- Assisted in escorting alien spaceships to land to pick the Pope up after the Vatican had relocated to Brazil.
- Researched Space Nukes and then, realising we weren't allowed to have any, quietly sold them to anyone who would buy.
- Made the USA so suspicious that they very nearly nuked us.
So, was it any good? Yes! But with reservations.
There was a good atmosphere at least wherever I went. I didn't know anyone on my team before today and we all got along fine and nobody behaved in a way that ruined the game.
The control team were available for questions whenever I needed them.
We sent the Pope to the Moon.
There was always something to do, and it regularly felt like there wasn't enough time to do it. It was stressful in a good way, with several panicked conversations happening every turn, which I think was the mood they were going for.
THE LESS GOOD:
I was accidentally put on a different team to my friends, and despite efforts to reunite us, they were unable to do so. This rather put a damper on the day before it started.
The rule book was good as a reference guide for what we could and couldn't do, but it was poor as a guide about how actually to do it. Throughout the day we were constantly confused about when and who we had to pay to do certain things. It felt like this should have been much more clearly defined.
The control teams, while very helpful, didn't seem to have as good a grasp on the rules as I would have expected. They got several things wrong, resulting in situations where some teams were given an unfair advantage through different interpretations of the rules.
A subplot about whaling meant that the aliens were encouraged to give an undue amount of focus to the far east. We had some interesting things going on in the Americas too, but there were countries that were never visited by a UFO, and the numbers were almost always easily manageable. One region, the Middle East, only had alien visitors during one turn.
There wasn't quite enough motivation for international tension. It was always better to simply get along, which is why in the end very little actually happened on a lot of the maps. They'd tried to give us motivations in the form of sub-goals, but they were never strong enough to really create the desired tension. It felt like the situation should have started out more volatile - if the game had begun again on Sunday (starting where Saturday left off) I think everyone would have had a much better time because by that point the Pope was on the Moon, Tokyo had been destroyed, space battles were happening and nations were just starting to get an idea of what they wanted to achieve. Then it stopped, and it all felt a bit like an anticlimax. It feels like a game where you need to run the simulation for a little while... and then set players loose in it, rather than the cold opening that we got. Or at least set the starting conditions up in such a way that players are strongly motivated to act in more interesting ways sooner.
Those were a lot of criticisms (and I have some more specific ones, too) but I do want to emphasise that I thought it was a remarkable day, and if I had the opportunity to do another one very soon, I most certainly would. My frustration was in the fact that it was so nearly incredible that I can't help wonder what might have been if it had had a few more rounds of testing and iteration.