True North Megagames have smashed their way onto the UK megagaming scene with their first game, Lights In The Sky, a spin-off of the classic Watch The Skies alien invasion game that has been played all over the world.
Designed by Kyle Raymond, Seumas Bates and Daniel Burkle, this run was something special – it combined the alien invasion theme with the Cold War. Set in 1982, tensions are running high. I’m a big fan of Cold War megagames, having previously played AFCENT in Rob Cooper’s fantastic Not Over By Christmas, where I fired a warning shot nuke that unfortunately forced the West Germans out of the war.
I’ve previously played Press at the five different Watch The Skies runs I’ve been to, while at communication-focused spin-off Arrival I played the Russian President. But this time, I fancied a change. I asked to be an alien.
Cold War Aliens
I wasn’t disappointed when the cast list came out, and I was listed as an Alien Menace, alongside two others whose names I didn’t recognise, Rob and Dan. But it wasn’t until we received the alien team briefing that I realised it wasn’t going to be your typical alien invasion.
It turned out that that our team was actually a highly classified branch of the CIA. Operation Reticulan exists to further the patriotic interests of the USA in the aftermath of WW2. The moon landing was fake, and since Uncle Sam never made it to space, clearly the prospect of anyone else succeeding is farcical. Aliens clearly do not exist.
The current crisis that we are tackling is that the US President is secretly meeting with the Soviet Premier in order to peacefully end the Cold War through mutual de-escalation. But our CIA cell cannot suffer the Communists to continue as a major power in the world. We alone could save the might of the West, we alone could ensure that America remained at the centre of the world.
Our goal: provoke the Warsaw Pact into a first strike. Only an act of aggression by them would remind the world how threatening they are – how they are the true enemy of freedom.
Down the Rabbit Hole
Right, does that make sense? Great. Because there’s more.
Being an Alien Menace at Lights In The SkyPosted by BeckyBecky Blogs on Saturday, 30 March 2019
A week or so later, I received my personal briefing. Seumas had warned me that it was intense, but he didn’t do it justice.
In fact, aliens do exist. And I am one. But not a Reticulan.
I am a Promarathaen from the planet Promar. We are a peaceful race, who have infiltrated human society in order to help them prepare to join the intergalactic community. Unfortunately it is not going well. After half a century of global war, they have invented nuclear weapons that risk wiping out the entire human race – never mind what they would do to other species, should they discover them.
Unfortunately, solar flares have knocked out my communications with the other Promarathaens on Earth, and also with our Capital Ship. But we have a plan. We must construct a Peace-Maker Pylon Network across the planet. Doing so will convert all plutonium into a fuel-rich but non-weaponisable fuel, and will also signal to our home-world that something awful is happening.
And that’s not all. We believe there is another alien race on the planet – not the Promarathaens, not the Reticulans, another one. And who knows what they want…
On with the game
So that’s all just pre-amble. As you can probably expect, I was a bit overwhelmed by the time game day rolled around.
But I donned some blue lipstick, space buns and shimmery silver fabric to give off my best casual alien impression. Upon arriving at probably the most impressive megagame venue I’d been to so far (Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life, inside Carlisle Castle), I met up with my team and we found our spot in the corner of the Berlin room, shielded by a screen.
Our first job was to purchase our starting units, and we decided to focus on more of a subtle intimidation strategy, rather than an all-out assault. One of my fellow aliens, Dan, was more aggressive, but with myself and Rob both backing a more reserved approach, he quickly agreed to our plan.
Each turn we had a number of Resource Points (RPs) to spend on different types of offensives, research, new units or other actions. At my suggestion, we focused mostly on Decoy Drones for the first turn, and targeted neutral powers rather than members of NATO or the Warsaw Pact. At Rob’s suggestion, we also sent a Harvest mission to Yugoslavia. While this would be harming civilians, which as a Promarathaen I preferred not to do, it also enabled us to do research. This would give us more RPs to spend in the short term, and also unlock access to the CIA vault of magic treasures in the long run.
While the other aliens headed to the map to implement our actions, I wrote up a note to the first fellow Promarathaen I had identified. I knew there was one in each of China, the UK and the Warsaw Pact. And due to a last minute role reshuffle, China was no a team of one.
“Are you there? – Space” read my note. I didn’t want to risk it falling into enemy hands, and Control assured me he would know how to reply.
I waited and waited for his response, but none came.
On turn two, we amped up the harvest plans. One of our craft had been shot down in Yugoslavia, but luckily there were no human ground troops around to apprehend our units, so we were able to pick them up, along with the two other units we sent to other countries.
On turn three, we tried a different tact. Still frustrated that I hadn’t made progress in contacting any of my fellow Promarathaens, I suggested we attempt some infiltration. Our targets were the UK and Romania (well, I needed to start somewhere with the Warsaw Pact).
As I was setting the pieces down, Kyle the Control commented that there had been a peculiar structure erected in West Germany. I checked it out – it was a Galinite Pylon. And who had performed the unveiling ceremony? None but the Queen of England herself.
I fished a pre-written letter out of my pocket and handed it over to the Control. “I know who you are.” I binned the two I’d addressed to the Ambassador and MI6.
Tempting the Reds
Meanwhile my fellow Reticulans were trying to bait the Soviets into an attack, by undermining the US. Their plan was to iBlast the US embassy. This elite tool can be used to instil a sense of fear, or a sense of lethargy. It was the second we attempted to instil in the American embassy employees.
Even though the attack failed, it had the advantage of drawing the Head of the FBI out. We grabbed him and headed back to our shuttles.
Once we’d got him back to our “spaceship” (really, a secret base in the Crimea), we debated what to do. Rob came up with the idea of telling him that we’d implanted him with some software that meant that, at a later point, we could give him an command and he would be unable to resist following it.
In fact, we’d cut him up and sewn him back up. No funny business, just sleight of hand. We knocked him back out then sent him home.
The Power of Knowledge
Our infiltration agents returned. We now knew:
- the DBD rep in East Germany had sold information to the Stasi
- the Romanian Secretary was embezzling money
- the Queen ate puffins
Now, I knew that the Queen had such… tastes… due to her Promarathaen tendancies (I probably dined on the fauna of Crimea when no one was watching).
And while everyone knew that we had infiltrated the Romanian embassy last turn, the DBD news was an extra snippet we hadn’t expected.
So naturally, we used it to our advantage.
Across the world, screens were filled with my genetically engineered-to-look-alien face (that was of course, already part of my human suit).
“People of Earth, we are the Reticulans. We have travelled from a distant planet to visit you, based on your rockin’ 80s vibes.”
I claimed that we had abducted a prominent member of each side of the conflict (naming no names) and compromised them by implanting something in their brains that would make them follow our commands.
We gave our evidence about the DBD as evidence for the Warsaw Pact, and we hoped that the knowledge that the FBI Lead had disappeared would convince NATO.
We ordered the people of Earth to resolve their difficulties peacefully.
“We want you to resolve this on your own. But if you do not… we will do it for you.”
“The Queen will meet you in the toilet”
My favourite quote of the day was delivered shortly afterwards, so I headed to the Ladies to meet Her Majesty. I arrived first, and looked eagerly to the door when it opened. It wasn’t the Queen, and Holly gave me a glance when I seemed to just be lingering.
I headed to the door and managed to cut the Queen off before she entered. Instead, I had my first rendezvous with another from my race in the Gents, with Kyle the Control standing watch outside.
We shed our suits and talked openly. She confirmed that China was definitely a Promarathaen (but couldn’t say why he wasn’t messaging me back), and that she was able to continue building the Pylons. We speculated over the identity of the final person, but we were cut short and had to separate.
AlienationPosted by BeckyBecky Blogs on Saturday, 30 March 2019
A Surprise Visitor
We’d reached around turn 5, and I was minding my own business in the alien area, when out of nowhere someone showed up. The humans had invented “I.P.H.O.N.E.s” by this point (some sort of crazy acronym that meant space communicator), so I expected it was a player wanting to chat with the aliens.
“No, I’m actually here,” said the French President.
I ran to find the rest of my team. If he’d genuinely gone up to space, it wouldn’t take much for him to realise that S.K.Y.L.I.G.H.T. was a projection. I fiddled some knobs, and the holographic spaceship zoomed away faster than they could ever keep up.
This was our fault. We received a message from the French asking to meet in person, but since we knew they had an alien detector device, which none of us wanted to go near (me for even more complicated reasons), we invited them up instead. We didn’t think they’d actually manage it.
In the end, it turned out they hadn’t. Control retconned it, as the scientist hadn’t actually completed the spaceship build at the time the President departed. But I sent a message to them to let them know we’d come pick them up… sometime.
Kidnap a human, and it turns out they do it back to you. We sent another infiltration mission in, this time into the Volkskammer (East German Parliament). It failed, and one of our operatives was captures. As I was the only one at the table at the time, it was me.
I was terrified that I was going to be found out, but in fact it was a stroke of luck. I was interrogated by the KGB then the Supreme Unified Commander Europe. Who, it turned out, was the final Promarathaen. And he didn’t care who knew it! Somehow, the last person I found was the guy who’d been bragging he was an alien since turn two.
I had to hand over the evidence against the Romanians in order to secure my release, but I was happy to do so. I knew my crew. And more pylons were popping up all the time.
Alien meet alien
I told the Unified Commander we were on the same page, but I neglected to tell him that my fellow Reticulans were not. So when he flashed them his Promarathaen card, they were understandably… concerned.
“I think there are REAL aliens,” my team confided during our next team time. They had also noticed the existence of the pylons – which had finally reached the magic number of six – and were growing increasingly troubled.
Meanwhile, NATO was a shambles. The Americans had pulled their troops out of the alliance after not being elected Commander. If we did bait the Soviets into a first strike, we were worried that NATO would just fold. We needed to do some damage control… and I needed my fellow Reticulans distracted.
Plans for Plutonium
In order to activate the Pylons, I needed to bring plutonium to the Master Pylon in West Berlin. I was sure there was some in the CIA secret vault, which we were now actually fairly close to unlocking. But I would need a convincing reason to requisition it in the first place.
The plan, as I put it to the Reticulans, was to plant some plutonium in West Berlin, and make it look like the Soviets had attempted to blow the city up. Naturally, they were sceptical. It was a dumb plan.
I suggested we take it down when we go to Commie Con, which we’d been invited to.
But first, we had a turn of research to get out of the way, to bring us a step closer to unlocking the vault.
Queen of Space
Unfortunately, at that moment I received a letter from the Queen. I opened it at the table and read it frantically.
“Hang on… who’s that letter to?” asked one of my Reticulans.
“Um… me,” I said, glancing at the cover, which read ‘Queen’. “I’m the Queen of Space.”
A desperate lie. As it was still team time, my team continued to speculate on who the others could be, as I penned urgent missives to my fellow Promarathaens to see if they could get their hands on any plutonium. I send letter after letter away with Control, lying about the destinations (I said America, to see how NATO was holding up) or the content (my letter to the Unified Commander wasn’t asking him if he was seriously an alien).
I looked suspicious, and I knew it.
Last chance shuttle
I heard back. The Unified Commander had plutonium by the barrel-load, and they’d already tried three of the locations. It seemed they didn’t have the knowledge I did – the location of the Master Pylon, and that all of us needed to be there in person.
I knew it was now or never. With my team at the map, and most of our RP already assigned to research for the turn, I grabbed a shuttle key and flew it to West Berlin.
I was granted landing at Gatow airport, and emerged to thousands of questions. The French and the America mobbed me with questions, but I turned to the UK Ambassador and said “I believe the Queen is expecting me”.
2pm madnessPosted by BeckyBecky Blogs on Saturday, 30 March 2019
She wasn’t, but it stopped a lot of the questions. He hustled off to find her, while I waited for the Unified Commander to finish at the map table and help me activate the Pylon. I sent missives to the Queen and the still-not-speaking-to-me Chinese ambassador, and waited.
Meanwhile, what the Unified Commander was doing was attacking a mysterious base in the Crimea. A base that just happened to contain my colleagues in the CIA.
“Becky, are you there? We’re under fire. Why have you gone to Berlin?”
I smiled sadly, and told him there was nothing but radio static coming through. His face fell, and he said “I knew it.”
I was all in. There was no going back to the Reticulans now. I found out later they thought I was a KGB spy, and that I had sided with the Warsaw Pact. I can see why I thought so. I briefly toyed with the idea of telling the Commander not to attack, but decided against it. The CIA were just collateral damage.
Finally, the Commander was free, and we powered up the Pylon. We felt a warm rush go through us, but then nothing seemed to happen. I got hold of a communication device and got through to both the Queen and the Chinese. “Get to Berlin. Now.”
Out in the hall outside the toilets, Seumas the Control told us we were in a rave in the depths of West Berlin. Cuz 80s.
Finally, all together, we used up another of the precious plutonium, and held our breath. Nothing happened. We looked at Seumas. “What do you think you need to do?” he dared us.
“A star formation!” I shouted! We held hands and made the points of a star. “Now do the twist!” added Seumas. “What twist?”
Thus ensued a rather peculiar dance routine that I don’t think I could recreate if I tried, and in the middle of it all the Romanian General Secretary stumbled out of the toilet. It felt very 80s rave.
We finished our strange ritual, and Seumas laughed and said it had worked as soon as we spent the plutonium. All radioactive matter in the world was now unweaponisable. We had neutralised the threat of Earth. And the Promarathaen Capital Ship was on its way.
Sightseeing in Berlin
I used the next couple of turns to “see the sights” around Berlin… aka I didn’t really have much that I needed to do. I couldn’t go back to my old team time – my Reticulan buddies glared at me constantly – so I visited the Soviet Union and the UK for a bit. I put some sunglasses on and told everyone who spoke to me that I didn’t look alien at all. I was just a normal Earth tourist.
Honestly, I thought that was probably it.
The truth is out (there).Posted by BeckyBecky Blogs on Saturday, 30 March 2019
World War V
Nope nope nope. On turn 10? 11? who even knows by this point, the Prime Minister of Sweden stood up and announced that he was a Vlorg. He was an evil devouring mushroom alien, his spores would take over the planet, and all we could do was die.
We’d been so busy saving the world, we hadn’t noticed it was crumbling beneath us. Suddenly rumours about a strange plague came flooding back, and Control informed us that we’d heard of this race before. It was evil incarnate. All previous mission parameters – prepare humans for interstellar politics, stop the war, keep our existence secret, etc – were overruled by this one – save the human race.
We jumped into action. While the rest worked with the French scientist on a booster ray called the O.S.H.I.T. protocol, I knew just the people to help me.
You can always go home again
They’d moved their base to Armenia, but I managed to track them down. “Don’t shoot.”
“Give us one reason why we shouldn’t.”
I gave them plenty. I lay it all on the table – I wasn’t a spy, I was an alien sent to Earth to save them from nuclear war (not technically true, but it’s a good appproximation). The Vlorg are the most dangerous race I know of. And that I needed their help.
I think they’d missed me. I was welcomed back (though they agreed this wasn’t going on the official reports back to HQ).
It was just in time to requisition something from the vault. My suggestion: your strongest anti-fungal.
Promar vs Vlorg
As the many Vlorg spores spread over the map, I looked to the skies. The Capital Ship had arrived just in time.
My fellow Promarathaens had worked with the scientists on the O.S.H.I.T. protocol, which would amplify the beam from our ship. We positioned it over France – the most densely covered country – and sent out the beam.
I was handed a giant d20 and told to roll. I took a deep breath… and rolled 6. My heart sank.
Luckily, it was enough. The mushroom Vlorg were decimated in France, and the O.S.H.I.T. protocol expanded it to wipe out the spores in Spain too. Meanwhile the CIA’s anti-fungal went to work in Italy.
As the game ended, there were still Vlorg on the board, but far far fewer.
The Promar were safe. The Vlorg were on the decline. And the humans… well, it appeared after we neutralised the threat of nuclear war, when there was no deterrent… the Cold War went hot. Various forces on either side quit to join the Central Alliance (including the CIA, who were well and truly ROGUE by this point).
We might have stopped them from blowing each other to ash, but it seemed they were never going to stop blowing each other to pieces. Perhaps it would have been better for the intergalactic community if the human race had wiped itself out in 1982.
Definitely a wackier look at the Cold War than my previous Cold War experiences (but then, I guessed that from the aliens). While the game was a bit slow to ramp up, it delivered plenty of twists throughout, and the communication difficulties definitely added to the complexity of the problems posed to players.
The variety of tools available to us felt really thematic, and we were rarely struggling for stuff to spend RPs on.
Finally I love the way it did secrets, and the sheer number of secrets in the game – both player generated and planted by the designers. Top game, looking forward to the next True North Megagame, Kingdom of Seasons, in August.
I’ve also put together my first full length megagame video – mostly with footage from the livestreams, so the video quality is a bit rubbish. But here you go: