Monday, February 29, 2016

Watch the Skies: The Man Who Would Be King

Once again my friends and I gathered together with 40 or so others, dressed up, and talked with funny accents at the Bellingham MegaGames game Watch the Skies: Neptune's Revenge. This was our second Megagame and this time we were representing the UK. Ryan served as our PM, Shaun was the Deputy PM, Cameron was Foreign Secretary, Daniel was Head Scientist, and I was Defense Minister. After the success of the Gundam Project last time we felt we needed another big project to focus our efforts, so we developed TARDIS. TARDIS was a conversion of the HMS Illustrious into a space capable weapons/defense platform. 

As the military commander I was tasked with defending the UK and our NATO allies, as well as shooting down alien craft to recover the advanced tech we'd need for TARDIS. By Turn Two we realized that would be extremely difficult as the aliens were doing their best to avoid contact with human military units. 

Everyone was struggling to gain tech and control the panic that we wouldn't be able to defend our homes if/when the aliens became aggressive. Everyone except the US. The US deployed none of their advanced military units, but instead espoused a "wait and see" mentality that the rest of us found suspicious. 

A nuclear explosion in the Pacific was an ominous portent as the next turn a great sea monster rose out of the sea and attacked Tokyo. A handful of turns later three more rose up and attacked London, San Francisco, and Beijing. In the confusion we learned that the PM was assassinated by Brazil before he could escape the attack. They held a grudge against him selling them false tech based off a Stephanie Meyer's book. I guess they're not fans of sparkling vampires either.  

In defense of London - Germany, France, Russia, and ourselves gave nearly everything and slayed the beast before it could completely destroy that great city. The Queen was safe. Temporarily. 

Temporarily, as the US faked a nuclear launch from France and wiped London from the map. 

In this bleak moment it seemed that our revenge was near - our chief scientist finally had all the components we needed for TARDIS. Then they were dashed again when he and the rest if the scientists defected from their respective nations and formed their own nation of Science in India. TR-8R!! 

The betrayal didn't end there. Like a poorly written spy novel, Daniel actually had betrayed Team Science as well. In secret he'd built the Illustrious alongside the battle mechs the scientists had built and a kill switch into all their tech (and probably into the Illustrious as well now that I think of it. TR-8R!!). 

Despite my desire to bomb the US back to the stone age for the safety of our fully operational battle station, I instead deployed it over Europe to defend Germany's peace mission with the aliens. The UFO that arrived was a decoy and the Kaiju attacked across the world, including the coast of France and in the Baltic. With the Illustrious and the combined but depleted NATO forces we did our best to stop the beast at the gates of Paris and came close, possibly saving the earth from falling into complete panic. Then the US nuked Berlin and the other Kaiju devoured whole cities despite the best efforts of multi national defenses. 

The US were dicks. It was a resolution passed in the UN so that's official. Sure they can argue it was illegal to remove their veto power from the UN, but the world felt (and rightly so) that the US did not have humanity's best interests at heart. 

UK leadership remained on the Illustrious with the Queen safely aboard, making for the asteroid belt to form the United Stellar Kingdoms (USK). My final order involving the Earth was to launch a kinetic nuclear strike on the alien base in the Mariana Trench. Thanks for the fish. 

Mean while TR-8R... 

...produced false blood work to prove he had Windsor blood, allowing him to declare himself King of England or at least what was left of it. TR-8R!!!!!
All hail the king of filth! The king of refuse! The king of lies and deceit! He had love! True love! And he threw it all away! 

I enjoyed this game, but not as much as the last one. More often than not everyone on our team would say something to the effect of, "We need to do something." With the limited amount of tech coming in because of the non-aggression of the Aliens there was little we could do to advance our agenda or adapt to the current situation. There was a strong pull to become villains and just let the bombs fly. Ultimately we stayed truer to humanity than I thought we might based off of our preplanning. We were certainly more altruistic than China who tried to Goo-ify everyone and the US; who again, according to UN Resolution 47 were dicks. 

I had also suspected that the Alien threat was coming from the sea and had a few suspicions about how to deal with the Kaiju, but even with that knowledge we couldn't focus on a solution or see a way to use that information in the moment as so much information and many requests are flooding in each turn and our resources felt so constricted – also our scientist was a TR-8R! 

Finally I think I need to push myself to be more proactive and not constrain myself to the "rules" as much as I did. I needed to go to Control (the people running the game) and ask them to let me do some crazy idea or ask permission to try something out during the whole game and not just before the game or at the beginning. Too often I hesitated to do something or felt constricted by the rules; when that is the exact opposite of what I should feel. Since that is the point of the game I need to give myself the freedom to do that, so watch out world next time! 

Some miscellaneous points: 
  • Trolling the US President by acting like I didn't understand the language he was speaking 
  • Trying to convince the US Joint Chief of Staff to overthrow her government 
  • Cameron spearheading the removal of US Veto power from the UN, getting the US Ambassador out of the meeting, and then surviving when the US sent troops. 
  • The disjointed nature of my team as evidenced by this picture of our chat - 
  • Placing the Illustrious on the board and having everyone oooohhh and ahhhhh. She was beautiful. 
  • Placing forces in Africa every turn because the French were insistent we didn't need to 
  • Sabotaging Brazil's dome 
  • Sabotaging Science's dome 
  • We needed more domes to sabotage 
  • Shooting down my one and only Alien UFO was of course a diplomatic mission to the US 
  • Germany essentially running the War Map, keeping all of us working together 
  • Brazil's picture of Pele 
  • The tea was lovely

To learn more you can read about Shmee's experience here

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Agents of Us - Killswitch

At first there was the sense of heaviness, like a boulder rested on top of her body. The next sense came suddenly like a surge of electricity races from her feet to the top of her head. She was cold. Next she could feel that she was exposed, completely naked. Finally she could feel the nerve endings running down the middle of her torso were tingling and warm not just on the outside but on the inside as well.

Sounds and smells followed. A steady rhythmic, mechanical breathing and a low beep reminded her of the hospital where her grandmother had died. The small too was sterile and cold, so very much like the room where she had sat watching her only living relative slipping away.

Sight was the last sense to awaken and slowly. First there was only black and then a gray muddled world without color or form. Things, strange things took shape, and the dimensions of the small room took shape, though still clouded by an addled and drugged mind.

She had been sight-seeing along the coast of Nevu'memelli Unguli'do in the south of Quio, the second largest Gob'Jaffer world. During the day she strolled along the concourses of the Markets overlooking the chocolate brown seas of the Unguli'do, taking pictures of the inhabitants who lived very much like the first settlers to Quio did a thousand years before, slaves of the Tu. She tasted ancient delicacies and purchased rich linens she's wear the next day. The days were light and airy.

At night she danced with the lower castes around bonfires built atop the great cliff that stood like sentinels overs the port cities of Hu, Tra, and Wot. Hundred of fires dotted the hills those hills, thousands surrounded the flames, while the dour upper classes shook their fists and hurrumped from their places of power at the ancient tradition.

Amongst the crowds whispered the treasonous words, the seditious words... Liberty... Equality. Young women pulled at the ears of young men to whisper them. Old men debated their meaning. Mothers held their young and discussed the means to implement them. The winds of change wiped up the flames of the bonfires and of the collected hearts of the downtrodden. Of the...

Pain sheared across her stomach to her neck. What feeling she had told her that her insides were missing, so she strained to raise her head and look down. She was completely naked, her brown skin flayed away from her belly button to her throat, the flaps of skin held open by armatures, and inside where organs should have been were tubes connected to arteries and openings normally reserved from things like the heart, stomach, or lungs. She felt faint, but forced herself to follow the tubes and was rewarded to see them connected to metal bays to her left and her right. She could not see inside, but she could guess that her organs rested inside.

"You are not a Gob'Jaffer."

A long and lean form stood in the now open doorway. He was old and wrinkled, but his bright blue eyes shined brightly and his bearing suggested energy and vigor.

"You're a spy, that much is obvious, but for whom and for what purpose? I hope you don't mind, but I took the liberty of taking you apart. A hobby of mine, to keep the mind fresh."

Doj Verroanak.

He had greeted her politely as she entered his home. It had taken years to get the invite, even longer to arrange a time in his hectic schedule, and now she was walking into his spacious home located far off into the wilderness of Quio. It was very modern, multi leveled, and no doubt full of secrets. How could it not when it held the greatest mind of the Gob'Jaffer race?

"Oh, yes, there are many secrets in this and my many other homes."

His guards eyed her closely, their staffs ready to strike at the smallest sign of threat.

"You of course wish to learn them? No need to deny it. You've been more persistent than any of the others and that has intrigued me. Indeed you have intrigued me greatly Jin Eleastra. In a world of castes you seem to be casteless. In a world where women are defined by their ferocity in battle or by the number of young they've hatched you are defined by nothing. You, Eleastra, are an oddity."

"My mother was very much the same. Had my father not been as persistent I would never had been."

"Are you hatched," he asked. The Doj Verroanak walking beside her in the sun lit hallways of his expensive home was replaced by the Doj Verroanak standing over her, studying her exposed body in some laboratory.

She could not reply.

"It doesn’t seem possible, based off of your construction. I see no pouch for gestation, unless this orifice holds it. Of course, the Dine do not hatch. They are a species that suffers live birth and you're arrangement resembles theirs very closely. However you lack the redundant heart and lungs of the Dine. I dissected many Dine during the Contact Wars, that long period where star nation after star nation bumped into one another with haphazard first steps.

"If not a Dine, then perhaps a Wessslefff? You have an obvious gender though, so that seems unlikely. There are two extinct or near extinct races you could be; Voth or Subbok, but you have neither the height nor the elongated neck. Constructive surgery is a possibility, but your body shows no indication of such. Such a procedure would require delicacy and precision neither the Voth or Subbok were known to possess."

Verroanak used a long metal rod to poke at different parts of her insides, talking to himself in a soft voice as he did so. She strained to hear him.

"I am at your disposal of course, since you've worked so hard to gain my time. There is one question I would like answered."

She leaned forward on the seti to listen as he spoke softly.

"Is your intent to kill me or gain my trust?"

"Doj Verroanak I can assure you I have nothing but respect for you and your work. I want nothing more than to record for posterity your life so all can understand and marvel at the long and fruitful life you've had. I could no more kill you than I could kill a star, it is simply beyond me."
Verroanak continued to poke.

"You sought to gain my trust then or at least plant your listening devices. Clever, but not clever enough for the greatest mind in the universe to suss out. Your association with the dung around their fires of sedition aroused my suspicion, so I had you followed and watched. Curiously some of the best men in my retinue simply disappeared whenever they were tasked with watching you. It became a pattern that I thought I had worked out. You were a rebel, working with the rabble to overthrow the Jed, and so my choice was clear. I would draw you in like a vii and then spring my trap. Of course it worked, but it appeared my hypothesis was wrong.

"You were no rebel. You were something else." Verroanak smiled a wane smile. "Even my great mind cannot conceive all options and the possibility that you were some interstellar provocateur... shows that there is still so much for even I to learn."

"My examination of you is almost complete however and I'm afraid I am needing to return to the pressing research I abandoned before the might Jeb'relesh handed you to me. There is one final bit of information I'd like to gather before I hand you over to the Jed. You might find this interesting actually. You see, we are each born under the light of a star and that star has its own frequency, its own song if you will. No matter where you are that song still rings in you."

Verroanak picked up a metal fork and tapped it to her knee. He then placed it on a pad.

"Match the song to its star and we answer the burning question of who you are? Interesting... the frequency doesn't match and known world... unsurprising, so we'll expand the parameters..."


"What was that?"

"Earth," she said, forcing strained voice muscles to speak. There was a soft crunch in his mouth and then she smiled a faint smile.

"A name, no doubt a falsehood, but it bodes well to your... what's this? A match at last." He turned the pad so she could see it, it showed a blurry image of a yellow star. "Your Earth? I look forward to visiting it so I can validate some of my findings."

Verroanak looked very pleased with himself and even patted her on the head. "Goodbye Jin Eleastra, you've been a wonderful diversion."

"Janice," she whispered.

Verroanak heard nothing.

* * *

"Spectrum activated Captain."

He looked to his comm officer and then turned to his weapon's officer. "Spectrum Protocol Mister Bruce."

She went to work immediately and a few seconds later the ship shuddered. The Captain put his head in his hands and closed his eyes.

"Open ship wide comms please."

"Comms open."

"All hands. All hands." He paused to steady his voice. "Spectrum has been activated; Agent Wobbart has activated her killswitch. Recall all recovery teams and set condition two. Thank you all for your diligence and effort."

The comm officer cut the feed after the Captain left a pregnant pause. They all watched the large heads-up-display that tracked Spectrum's trajectory.

"I'm sorry Janice," he whispered.

* * *

"The planet-wide sensor network is being examined to find how a space object could have entered atmosphere without warning. The tragic loss of life is unacceptable and those who failed in their duty have already begun the purifying rituals. While many will wish to mourn close to the site, we do also ask that the area be given a wide berth as radioactivity has been detected. Appropriate sites have been erected by the Jed in safe zones in accordance with Safety Officials and due custom. Please now join the Jed in the mourning ritual for Doj Verroanak and the others who lost their lives here." Ruin Calthro took the vii venom and poured it along his forearm, the acid instantly attacking the exposed skin. As one all who gathered did the same, their muted moans of pain mingled with the ashes that still rained down from the site of the asteroid impact that had vaporized Doj Verroanak's home.

Logo credits - Circles graphic by Freepik and Agent graphic by Picol from Flaticon are licensed under CC BY 3.0. Made with Logo Maker

Monday, October 26, 2015

I Watch the Skies

              Running a country takes having the right mindset, having the right team, and a lot of luck. It’s never easy or simple – are the Russians for us or against us? Did an element of the United States kill their own President? Why does the U.K. want our blood? Aliens is the best answer to all those questions and you’d think being one would help make those answers more clear, but I see I’m getting ahead of myself. 

Daniel, Ryan, Cameron, and myself - Team Japan
             Saturday, three friends and I played the MegaGame “Watch the Skies” with about 40 other people – each serving in different roles in different countries, or as news reporters, or even as aliens. The setup of the game is that aliens are real and each nation needs to deal with that fact. Will they fight the aliens? Join them? Underhandedly collect DNA from cards you handed out to figure out who is an alien and who is not? The possibilities are endless as each team can define its own agenda – even if it breaks the “game”; in fact you are encouraged to break the “game”.

We were Team Japan; Ryan our Head Scientist, Cameron our Military Commander, and Daniel our Foreign Secretary, and I was Prime Minister leading the “Calm is Strength” Government. Each of us had our own game to play within the game itself. As PM I held the purse strings, deciding where to place our precious resources each turn therefore setting our nation’s agenda. As Head Scientist Ryan was tasked with collecting research and completing our nation’s primary goal PROJECT GUNDAM (more on that later). Cameron had the difficult task of placing our Advanced Interceptors and Advanced Tactical Squads on response to flying saucers and abduction squads; he also tasked our Secret Agent who turned the U.K. spy the very first turn, disarmed a nuke in Angola, and double-crossed the British when he assassinated the U.K. PM after he paid us to kidnap the Russian Military Commander. Last but not least was our Foreign Minister Daniel, who sat through grueling United Nation’s meetings serving as Japan’s public face on the world stage.

The game started slow, our plan was to remain neutral yet helpful in the world, but to acquire alien technology to complete PROJECT GUNDAM. Our agent found 100 special candidates within our borders that we started training in special high schools. We were starved for technology though; while Cameron shot down an alien craft his operatives failed to recover any tech. The first two rounds were disappointing in this regard, so we went to the Gray Market to buy alien tech. That allowed us to jump start our research. Meanwhile Daniel learned of a plague in Uganda which he pledged our willingness to take in refugees – who we shifted through for more special pilots.

In proceeding turns the other nations’ actions became difficult to decipher. The U.K. wanted to test people’s blood to see if they were aliens. Russia wasn’t fighting the aliens. The U.S. declared to the world that aliens were real. It was difficult to know who to trust and with what information. You learned to not only appreciate the worth of information, but also the cost – does revealing this information reveal my intentions or imply something I didn’t consider or intend. Decisions were made by implication; for example: failing to shoot down a saucer one turn implied to the rest of the world that we were far more complicit with the aliens than we actually were.

Eventually Ryan succeeded in creating d├ętente and collected the much needed power source for PROJECT GUNDAM from the Brazilians. Sadly here is where we made our misstep though – we announced the completion of PROJECT GUNDAM to the world and then we failed to anticipate foreign agents being used to sabotage them. Had we used our agent to protect our mechs the final battle would have turned out very differently. Despite this Japan was left on excellent footing, the Gundams could be repaired, we were masters of Science, and Daniel had usurped the UK’s position on the Security Council in the UN gaining Veto power. Sadly Daniel was vaporized when the escaping saucer was destroyed with him in it.

Some advice I would give future Watch the Skies players is to have a goal to work towards; whether that is giant fighting robots, secretly assassinating every Head of State, or building an undersea lair have that plan in mind and go to the game controllers with it. The unscripted, improve nature of the game means no-one is there to hold your hand, so you need to take charge and at least have a starting point. Secondly, use Whats-App or another messaging app to stay in the know. I don’t know how many times we collectively knew things before the other teams (like when the US President was assassinated, Daniel actually gave his condolences before the US Foreign Minister had heard the news). Finally, look the part. Team Japan all wore suits and red ties to create a united front. It made it easy for us to be identified and it gave us an air of credibility. The paper lantern and home-made mochi also helped sell the fiction. You’re not going to get the chance to be the Prime Minister of Japan any other time in your life, why not live it up while you can?

So final highlights that probably make no sense out of context:
·       Cameron’s brilliant play to turn the U.K.’s agent on the very first turn. We didn’t get a lot out of it, but we knew when their agent was killed.
·       Still having no idea who nuked China.
·       Still being clueless about who assassinated the US President.
·       Revealing that I was also an alien right after Ryan did and after I had been funneling money and interrogating a live alien for my own ends.
·       Getting a Haiku published in the GNN Newspaper
·       Brazil becoming a world power right under everyone’s noses
·       Seeing the biggest smile on Control’s face when I told him we’d built Gundams piloted by unstable high schoolers.

If you get the chance to do a MegaGame, any MegaGame really, get your friends together, make a plan, and sign-up I think you’ll enjoy it. Learn more about our local group the Bellingham MegaGame here.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Danger Zone!

I had this scene just sort of came together on my commute home this week so I thought I'd write it up while it was still fresh. Its a little silly, enjoy.

They had come in the Winter, an envoy from Ferndale and the first contact we'd had with flesh and blood from outside our city limits since the Fall. They called it the Crash, which was just the first point divergence between the two of us. The laundry list of demands had led us here, standing on rows across from one another in an empty field. 

Thirty of us and fifty of them - paltry numbers compared to most wars, but this was our first and felt big enough to us as it was. We'd spent the rest of the winter and spring building defenses and training. I'd pushed for archers, so we'd raided the sports store of all its bows and arrows and trained in the snow and rain until all thirty men were proficient archers. 

We could only assume they had done the same, although I could see no bows in their front ranks. They were a formidable sight though, all dressed in blue with yellow armbands around their right arms and lined up in perfect formation. Our hodge-podge dress and loose formation left a little to be desired. It was either train to shoot or train to stand pretty - we felt the former was more useful. 

I could feel them all looking at me, standing in front of everyone like some warlord from a by-gone era. They shifted constantly, their eyes darted from the otherside to me and then to their brother or friend beside them - weighing the incalculable in their minds. Should I stay or should I go? 

I heard the song start to play in my head and it made me smile. I would probably never "hear" that or any other song again but the memory would always be there. 

The men from Ferndale parted to let a man come forward. He turned to his own men and started to speak. He talked about strength, giving it all on the battlefield, fighting for their families... it sounded like something a football coach would say right before the big game and then I recognized the man - he was the high school football coach. 

His speech done and the ranks of the enemy firmly emboldened it was now my turn to do the same for my men - farms, store clerks, contractors, and day laborers. I had no speech, no word for the men; the song was still playing and muddling my thoughts. They looked to me, some with pleading eyes, but I just stood there. Then my head cleared and a new song started. I couldn't think of a speech so I just opened my mouth and let the song come out. 

"You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips..." 

Eyes that were plead where now wide with wonder - they had followed a mad man. 

"...and there's no tenderness anymore in your fingertips..." 

The more stoic among the group kept their eyes focused on the enemy but I could see that they were starting to mouth the words. 

"'re trying hard not to show it..." 

"Baby," several men sang out. Their voices were uncertain and weak. 

"...but baby..." 

"Baby I know it!" More voices joined the choir. 

Then they all joined. "You've lost that loving feeling! Oh, the loving feeling. You lost that loving feeling... and now its gone... gone... gone... ohhhhhh!" 

The were boisterous and half sang with reckless abandon, giving themselves over to the song and the memories. 

Someone else took over the second verse. 

"Baby, baby, I get down on my knees for you! If you would only love me like you use to do!" 
The men were swaying to the rhythm that was only in their minds. 

"We had a love... a love... a love you don't find every day! So don't... don't... don't... don't let it slip away!" 


"BABY!" The call caught us all by surprise. It had come from across the field. We held for a half second and then responded. 



"I need your love!" 

"I need your love!" 

"So bring it on back!" 

"So bring it on back!" 

Then, despite all the animosity, fear, and division between our two groups, arrayed on the field of battle we all in unison sang out with gusto, "Bring back that loving feeling... ohhhh, that loving feeling..." 

I let the others sing and instead watched the men from Ferndale. They were singing with enthusiasm and even hamming it up like we all remembered Goose, Iceman, and all the rest did in our collective memories. I smiled for perhaps the first time since the Fall. The song was starting to come to its end. Each side was echoing the other with the tune of the song, fading little by little just like the song did - we had remembered it perfectly.  

One of the men from Ferndale yelled, "Watch out for the cockpit Goose!" Eighty men who had marched out from their homes for war that morning were now all laughing together. 

"Thank you God," I prayed aloud. 

I started towards the other side, my arms up and hands empty. They all met me half way and I shook the Football Coach's hand.

As always, let me know what you think, like, shares, and retweet. And remember to light the fires and burn the tires! DANGER ZONE!