It feels like it’s been FOREVER since I played in a megagame.
And actually, looking back, it kind of has. I did a press role in January, but it was definitely more of a “Plumpire” role, so the last real game I played was Undeniable Victory last November. WOW.
So I’m super excited to have a few player roles coming up. In July there’s Megamunda, in June I’m pirate captain in Blood & Thunder, and last weekend I was the Russian President in Arrival.
Arrival is based on the most well known megagame, Watch The Skies, about a near-future alien invasion of Earth. Jim Wallman’s original game skyrocketed megagaming from being a niche hobby to… being a slightly less niche hobby, thanks to Shut Up & Sit Down’s viral video. It also happened to be my second ever megagame.
But I’ve only ever played press roles in the five different incarnations of WTS I’ve played in – WTS 1, 2, 3, 4 and Lite: Friends and Family. This was going to be my first time on a country team.
Like Watch The Skies, the majority of players in Arrival are on one of the country teams – in this run, they’re the UK, France, USA, Japan, China, India and Russia. Each country team is made up of a Prime Minister/President, a Foreign Minister, a Chief of Defence and an Intelligence Minister, with the USA and China also having a VP role.
There were two other types of player in the game. Corporations were the science and technology game, developing weapons and gizmos to tackle the alien threat. And the alien threat themselves was played, although it was a long time before we could have any real interaction with them…
Because the core difference between Arrival and Watch The Skies was the language game. The game name is taken from the movie Arrival, which sees Amy Adams try to decipher an alien language. Similarly, before we could communicate properly with the aliens, we had to work out how to speak to them.
Team Mother Russia
We chose Russia for our team. I’ve had something of a (weird) soft spot for them since the Red Dawn? megagame last year, and we thought that a near future Russia would be entertaining to play. The team was comprised of myself as Madame President Bekya Ladlov, “The Mother of the Nation”, Tim as Defence Secretary pushing units on the map, my dad Graeme as Intelligence doing shady operations on other nations and the aliens, and Anthony as Foreign Minister representing us at the International Summit.
Going into the game, we gave ourselves a few objectives. Firstly, improve our standing on the international playing field. Secondly, outshine America in as many ways as possible. Finally, tear the Baltic states out of NATO and bring them back into the fold. Aliens were mostly incidental to the plan – we didn’t want to acknowledge their existence publicly. Mostly, we hoped they’d be a distraction to the other nations.
We had a few allies – China and India, most importantly, but also Turkey, Venezuela and Iran, although they were non-played. We also had… well, I wouldn’t call them enemies, but non-friendlies: the UK, France and especially the USA were likely to be our biggest opponents.
Welcome Mother Russia to the Arrival megagame
Posted by BeckyBecky Blogs on Saturday, 26 May 2018
The game got off to a good start. The US President was channelling Trump and the UK had voted in a socialist Corbyn-esque government. Both good news for Russia.
The map started quiet. Tim did some fleet exercises and chummed up with the Chinese and Indians. The US moved some stuff to Korea very early which was a bit worrying. No sign of anything extra-terrestrial for the time being, but we knew that my dad would be the main person interacting with the aliens at the start of the game, until we worked out enough of their language to negotiate with them. But he was sequestered away upstairs in a separate room for his part of the game so his dealing with them were out of the spotlight.
Economically, we started the game on the back foot with a credit rating of B. This meant our turnly income was just 4 credits, although we got an extra one each turn for possessing the East Russia oil fields. We plunged it all into the economy to try and boost our credit as early as possible.
Anthony was doing a good job of buddying up with the other diplomats at the summit, and I went and did the rounds chatting to the various heads of state. I congratulated Trump on winning his second term and invited him back to Moscow sometime soon. I said hi to the Really Friendly Corporation, based in China, and promised them future support, while also chatting to the other two corps.
Riots were beginning in some of our neighbouring countries – Ukraine and Belarus – and I quietly warned any of the other nations off getting involved with them. Our neighbours were our problem, and if anyone tried to make it their problem, they’d find a much bigger problem on their hands. Or something like that.
This was probably my favourite part of the day. I nominated myself to take on the majority of cracking this puzzle, which game designer Darren and his partner (both real life linguists) had created specifically for the game. And it was fascinating.
We were given two sentences to translate into the alien language. Translate one, and we could write to them using single syllable words. Translate both, and we could speak to them in person freely.
We could gather language cards, containing short sentences and their translations, through a number of means – chiefly through my dad collecting them on missions. We were very slow to collect them, and by the end of turn two had only managed to scrounge six… three of which were functionally identical! However I was cocky, and thought I was actually not that far off translating one of the sentences. How wrong I was!
Luckily on turn 3, Russia was chosen to head up the International Intelligence Council to deal with the aliens on behalf of the earth. This was crucial, because it meant we got a whole load of language cards.
I sat down trying to crack the code. It seemed maddening. Now with about 20 cards in my hand, I realised the true extent of the problem. Not only did I not understand how to form some of the complex grammer that I needed, but there were several cards that translated to the same thing in English, but had completely different alien words on them.
I stared at the cards. There must be rhyme or reason somewhere here…
The Alien Invasion
Dad came back from the Intelligence game with news about what the aliens were like – there seemed to be two breeds, hunter and gatherer. The British told me, out of the blue, that the alien action upstairs seemed to correlate with where unrest appeared the following turn.
A number of bases, some grey, some orange, were starting to appear on the map.
It wasn’t clear whether these were acts of aggression, so Tim set to work trying to figure out how to get rid of the closest one to us, in the Ukraine. First he tried a bomb disposal robot… which melted. Next he tried blasting it with various missiles… no luck. Next he tried to mine underneath it, only to discover it had a spherical protective field.
Finally he came to me with the proposition of using chemical weapons on the base. It appeared that air was still flowing into the base. But I told him to hold off…
Cracking the Language
Because, suddenly, a breakthrough on the language front. Some of the alien phrases were written in a different colour. When I sorted them into the two colours… well, it wasn’t perfect, but it was suddenly clear. There wasn’t just one language. There were two!
But I still didn’t have enough to go on. Luckily our close allies India were also big on the language game and had a massive stack of cards. We quickly made a deal to, quite literally, lay all our cards on the table. By sorting them based on words we knew, using the colours as a rough guide, we could work out the simpler sentence in one of the languages just before we broke for lunch. Receiving the card that we could use to send a message to the aliens felt like such a victory, especially when I discovered I was the first to crack it.
Over lunch, I decoded the simple sentence in the other language. Unfortunately, we only had a single card which contained two of the vocab terms needed for the more complex sentence, and it was hard to determine which it belonged to. It was also necessary to work out the more complicated grammar rules that applied to this sentence, which had both the concept of a perpetuating action, and both a subject and an object.
Luckily this is exactly how my brain works. With the help of the Indian president, I deduced that for one of the languages, one of the syllables is repeated to create a continuous action, while in the other the prefix “ak-“ is added to the word. The sentence structure for both was also a little different. So I created the two different sentence options as if the vocab were for each language, and presented them.
Success! We could now speak fully to one of the aliens, the Zhilinka. But the other we could only write to, and it appeared none of our allies had the vocabulary for “push” and “down” that we needed.
I immediately shot off messages to each alien group: “why are you here?”
Unfortunately, the Zhilinka didn’t reply. But the other group did, and their message dismayed me. “To destroy the evil Zhilinka.” Great, we have two warring alien factions on our planet. “Why are they evil?” I asked. The response was quick. “They want to use the Earth as fuel and none of you will survive.”
Absolutely frigging brilliant.
I was hoping a Zhilinka (who had a green emblem) would turn up so I could actually speak to them, but I only saw the purple alien logo on badges at the map. My team pressed me for decisions – did this mean we wanted to kill the grey bases (the Zhilinka)? Or the orange ones (the others)? Or both? Neither? I told them I had no idea if these guys were telling me the truth, so to proceed as normal and treat any incursion onto us or our neighbours as a threat.
Around this time, China started going cold on us, and I later discovered that this was because my dad had told them one of the translated phrases and taken money for it, but for some reason the phrase hadn’t worked when they asked Control.
Before lunch, a base had dropped on Kazakhstan, and the French sent in special ops to deal with it. I was busy with the language game when it happened, but I eventually took the French to task (which was kind of scary because they were SUPER chummy with the US and Britain). “Stay out of our countries. You can consider anywhere that borders Russia to be none of your concern.”
The USA pointed out there were three of them and only one of me. I told them I had the full support of India and China. Trump asked why they hadn’t come to my aid in Kazakhstan, and I told them I didn’t call in my allies for minor squabbles, but I would next time if they weren’t careful.
I was shaking, but I pretended it was with anger.
Anyway, they had other things they should have been worrying out. Big bad monsters started appearing on the map. And they just so happened to be in Canada and Mexico. Trump went on and on about how the wall was keeping them out, but surely he should have been focusing his attention on his own neighbours, rather than mine?
Finally, I spotted a Zhilinkan at the map. “Yo, why are you here?” I asked, but he was busy doing combat mechanics. Then he disappeared. I was feeling pretty peeved, when finally he returned to answer my questions.
“We want to destroy the evil Katta Utim,” he told me. “They violated an intergalactic treaty by setting up a base on your world, and we’re here to kick them out.”
“Prove it.” But neither he nor I had any idea how either side could prove their story. We would have to go on faith.
“Aliens are Real”
Anthony came to me to ask if we wanted to announce that aliens existed. I said no, of course, but then he told me that several of the nations were coming together to tell the world – including China and India, and excluding the UK. I made a snap decision that we’d rather be on the inside of this.
Magnanimously, I decided not to press the matter of who would make the announcement, happy to let Japan have the foreground. I did weigh in heavily on what needed to be said though. No mention of defence, no mention of aggression. Big up the benefits – we’re in communication with them. We can learn from them. This puts Earth on the universal playing field.
So, standing alongside the heads of state from China, India, France and Russia, Japan told the world. We managed to sneak it out while Trump was still standing on the far side of the room (though his Secretary of State was included in the conference).
This historic moment… led to global panic.
Improved Relations and Giant Dinosaurs
We’d made the announcement, so we were in control. Britain, and to some extent the USA, were left out in the cold.
The aliens were invited to join the next summit, and a de-escalation plan was proposed. They would be permitted to keep a base each – one in Australia and one in Argentina – and they must evacuate all their gribbly monsters there.
Unfortunately, this deal took several turns to pin down, and no ceasefire was called. This was especially bad for us, because a giant T-rex appeared next to the orange base in the Ukraine – as it turned out, a Zhilinka monster sent to attack the Katta Utim base.
“Can I kill it?” Tim asked me eagerly.
“Kill it.” I had no idea if he could, but we had to try.
Meanwhile, the countries who had made the announcement were concerned about the levels of unrest across the globe. The reveal had triggered a great deal of uncertainty, and we needed to keep the situation under control while we negotiated with the aliens.
Venezuela was one of the danger states, being right next door to Columbia (full of monsters) and Central America (collapsed state). I volunteered us to help out with the situation there, as you may remember it was one of our allies. Our plan was to stick a Russian base there that we could use to negotiate with the Americans to remove theirs in Western Europe.
Tim spoke with the Venezuelan president, who was initially hesitant to allow our forces in. So Tim bided his time til the next turn, when the unrest turned into full on riots. They were begging us to come in and help.
Cool Kit and Good News
Around this point I remembered I had about fifty alien artefact cards in my back pocket – Dad had been collecting them in his game, and I’d forgotten I had them to be honest. When the corps had come begging earlier in the game, I’d given them the one or two that I had, but in recent turns he’d been getting a lot more. So it was time to go shopping.
I bought a fusion reactor (which everyone else already seemed to have) and ordered a level 5 interceptor, then two more interceptors the following turn.
Tim threw everything he had at the dinosaur, and merely managed to wound it. But luckily our citizens adored the footage of Russian troops bravely attacking giant monsters, and our approval ratings went way up. The dinosaur itself had also had enough of taking Russian damage, and stumbled out the Ukraine, through Turkey, and made it to Israel… where they nuked it.
Yeah, that happened.
Meanwhile, Britain had formally declared war on the aliens, meaning they could open their all exciting “only open when you go to war” package, and the US president had been deposed, meaning chaos in their cabinet. Negotiations with the aliens continued, although it seemed they now wanted two safe bases each.
The rest of the nations managed to finally reach an accord with the aliens. They would retain two bases each – South Africa, Ghana, Australia and Argentina – and the humans would provided a protection force for the Argentinian and Australian bases. We would not attack those bases, and the aliens would relocate their forces there while we worked out a long term plan.
The world leaders had a lot of disagreements over how to proceed with the aliens. We didn’t have all the knowledge, but what we did know seemed somewhat worrying. They wanted hydrocarbons (oil), and they definitely wanted to kill the other alien race. We were also fairly sure that whoever won wouldn’t exactly be nice to us, and they seemed to far outpace us from a technology level.
Britain, for some reason, wanted us to join in the fight – either committing forces on both sides, or working together to end the conflict sooner. I massively disagreed – the sooner the alien-vs-alien fight was over, the sooner they could turn on us. Dragging on the alien war for as long as possible, making sure both sides too as many casualties as possible… that seemed to be the best approach from my perspective.
Aliens and aggro at Arrival megagame
Posted by BeckyBecky Blogs on Saturday, 26 May 2018
We argued long and hard about this, both sides refusing to give ground. Despite having declared war on the aliens very early on, Britain hadn’t actually fought against them much at all – in fact our assault on the T-rex was probably the most aggressive action seen in the game so far.
Accidentally Attacking Australia
Unfortunately, I forgot to tell my dad about the protected bases. He was upstairs for so much of the game that I frequently forgot that he wasn’t hearing the major news. So when Anthony came over to me saying the rest of the summit wanted my dad’s head… I had to think quickly.
A quick call confirmed it – he’d attacked the Australian base. The truce with the aliens was being threatened. Anthony suggested we fire or imprison him, but Russians don’t pander to what other people want. I told him to tell them, stiffly and coldly, that we were “dealing with him”. Then I did no such thing.
We did offer some hydrocarbons to the aliens as a peace offering though. It cost us a single credit, and they were absurdly grateful.
This did put me on the back foot, unfortunately. The confusing state of affairs meant now would actually have been a really good time to start our play for the Baltics, but I didn’t want to put our position in any more jeopardy. I also discovered what dad had done with selling (apparently dodgy) language information to the Chinese, and managed to smooth it over by offering all the sentences we’d translated.
Frustratingly, I still hadn’t found out what Katta Uitm word for “push” was. I ended up writing to the aliens to ask them, and though they told me the translation for “down”, they themselves didn’t know their word for push. Luckily the summit meetings with the aliens meant we had the ability to speak to them through Anthony anyway.
Mechs and Tech
And this was soon put to good use, when the Katta guy told us he could sell us a mech for a Level 3 artefact and a credit.
Our financial situation was doing pretty well by this point. We were up to an A credit rating, worse only than the Japanese, while many of the previously AAA countries were down and B or C. Obtaining Venezuela also gave us an extra credit per turn, as did the fusion reactor. We were kind of rolling in it!
So we ended up buying two of the mechs, and then throwing a load of our tech cards in with the Monoc Corp, who were trying to build some sort of base-cracking super weapon. This would be used to take out the non-permitted bases around the rest of the world. The aliens had apparently evacuated all their people to the four bases, and many of us wanted to crack on with getting life back to normal – in particular France and the USA, who had bases within their own countries.
It took a few turns to get the requisite artefact cards and for the corp team to “unravel the blueprints”, but eventually we got the shield buster. I paid Monoc a credit to make sure the Brits didn’t get it – I didn’t trust them for some reason.
Apparently for good reason. Despite the backlash that had arisen from my dad accidentally sending a minor force against the Australian base… the Brits were planning on nuking it!
Getting Riled Up
I was incensed. Unlike the rest of us, clubbing together against a common enemy, Britain were standing completely apart from the rest of the world. If nuking was the right path to take – and it wasn’t! – it would only be at all useful if we worked together.
I went around gathering support from the various nations. China and India were as angry as I was. Japan and France were also shocked. Apart from the USA, I had the support of most of the countries to issue an ultimatum – if they nuked the aliens, we would nuke them. The hands of the clock ticked closer to midnight as we confronted their prime minister…
We were mid-flaming row when the news came in that two of the bases – Spain and Ghana – had apparently “burrowed into the ground”. We had no idea what that meant – were the bases destroyed? Had the heard of the nuke rumours and gone underground to protect themselves? Given that one of the bases was on the permitted list, the second seemed more likely.
We knew we had to act quickly. I corralled the world leaders – we would lead a coordinated strike on the non-permitted bases. This wasn’t breaking the pact, and it would help us determine if they were truly committed to the de-escalation of alien presence on Earth. What’s more, we wouldn’t be using nukes – they would be massively damaging to the Earth and our own people. Only those with shield-buster technology could take part.
Four nations had the shield-buster tech. Russia would attack the Kazakhstan base; the USA the one near Washington DC, Japan the second bases in Australia, and India the one in… okay I don’t actually remember. The American attack went well (once they brought in some French forces), and France managed to obtain the tech in time to target one as well, but India and Japan couldn’t get their forces together in time. And when we approached Kazakhstan, a massive ape appeared. So much for that evacuation.
Tim threw everything he had at it, and chopped its legs off, but it kept coming.
It’s all getting hot…
Posted by BeckyBecky Blogs on Saturday, 26 May 2018
This Means War
Clearly the aliens weren’t keeping their word. Again, we managed to coordinate many of the states to simultaneously declare war on the aliens.
I got to open the envelope!
Posted by BeckyBecky Blogs on Saturday, 26 May 2018
I was a little disappointed to discover it mainly contained nukes, to be honest – both tactical and strategic. There was also a card that genned one point of unrest in Russia (the only unrest seen in Russia all game!) and gave us two free combat card respawns. I immediately tucked the nukes into my back pocket – if I didn’t give them to my team, there was no way any of them could use them without permission.
Some of the other countries didn’t share my compunction. When word came that Britain, socialist Corbynista Britain, had nuked Spain… I didn’t know how to react, to be honest. On the back of that came the news that Spain was dropping out of NATO and interested in joining an alliance with Russia. It was fantastic news (well, not for Spain or NATO). We would soon be controlling the Straits of Gibraltar!
Meanwhile, despite their success in Washington, apparently America had decided the conventional attacks were too slow. So they nuked North America. Five times. With strategic nukes.
Yes, I’m serious.
Seeing them writing out the strategic nuke slips, I warned them not to even think of targeting anything on our side of the Atlantic/Pacific. But no, that wasn’t their plan, they nuked central and west America, western Canada and Mexico.
What the hell?
I nipped over to NPC control and politely asked how they felt about the USA/NATO, and if they fancied joining us instead. They demurred on joining the Commonwealth of Independent States, but as the end of the game was called, it was confirmed they were dropping out of NATO.
And with that, the game was called. We’d managed to inflict a few more hits on the Kazakh King Kong, but due to not wanting to turn our country into a wasteland it was taking a bit of time.
But let’s take a look at our initial aims.
- Improve our standing on the international playing field. We were near top of the economic tracker, on track to getting an AAA rating next turn, and had the lowest level of unrest throughout the game.
- Outshine America in as many ways as possible. While America certainly was a shining beacon at the moment… that was simply because it was radioactive. The country was a damn wasteland.
- Tear the Baltic states out of NATO and bring them back into the fold. Well, they were out of NATO. Give us 5 years and they’d be ours.
As for the aliens… well, chances are they’d eventually kill us, to be honest. They seemed to outgun us quite significantly, and their ongoing battle was causing a lot of crises around the world. Russia was on top of the heap, but the bottom of the heap was on fire.
Who knows how close they were to victory? Who knows what the victor would have done to us? I only know that for now, Mother Russia is going strong.
The game itself was excellent. It was a totally different experience to most of the games I’d done previously – having such a pivotal game role was really cool and exciting, and it made me remember a) how much I like being a team leader and b) how much I like playing, full stop.
There were a couple of things I would suggest changing for the next run. Firstly, there was a ton of setting information – a civil war in Yemen, global warming leading to flooding in Bangladesh… but these had basically no impact on the game. We interacted with the situations in Turkey and Venezuela, but mostly this was because we chose to interact with them. The game could have done with some more Control inserts. In fact, they could have done with two more on the Control team.
But otherwise, it was an incredibly enjoyable game, and I’m pleased that I’ve finally played in a WTS-style game!