Watch the Skies! is a contemporary geopolitical megagame that takes place during a historic world moment – first alien contact. Players take on leadership roles within nations, corporations, the media, or the aliens. Anything goes as players navigate their way through politics, economics, and warfare in pursuit of their team’s objectives.
In Watch the Skies! I was Operative Control – the person who ran the operative minigame for deputy heads of state, corporations, and the aliens. Operatives represent special agents or elite specialists that can be sent on freeform missions.
As always in megagames, innumerable conversations and events occur. This is an accounting of those from the operative minigame with the most significant impact (that I can recall).
Whispers. I hear all the whispers in the covert world, flowing like an underground river beneath the masses’ feet. Secret mechanisms, silent cliques, subtle shaping and reshaping. Whispers are powerful.
When the aliens came, it was a fascinating case study of reactions. An amazing display of human stubbornness to continue to pursue their previous ends, as if a game-changer had not occurred, as if they saw the visitation of aliens as merely a profitable distraction by which they could catch the rest of the world unawares.
I took notes on the most interesting comings and goings during that time. If you’ll allow, I’ll record them here.
Immediately after alien appearance, the operative world was slow, as if the governments and corporations were figuring out their positions before bothering to pursue missions – a surprising level of self-awareness, I must say.
The first amusing incident was the arrest of the Chinese mole. The official order was simply to embed in a Japanese research facility and listen to see if any profitable research was occurring. No order to gain access to or steal the technology…just to harmlessly reconnaissance. Realizing something was afoot, the Japanese uncovered and arrested the Chinese mole, prompting an embarrassed public apology from the Chinese President as he claimed that China was “still learning how to interact with others on the world stage”. Apparently kindergarten skills are not a prerequisite to the UN.
Other general espionage, counter-espionage (some deserved, some paranoid), and technology theft then continued amongst the nations and corporations of the world – who were often in bed together. The US in particular liked to pay corporate operatives to perform lesser missions on their behalf, so as to avoid incrimination.
Meanwhile, operative agencies everywhere considered how they could get operatives onto distant alien ships.
Once the aliens touched down in Southeast Asia and started “collaborating” with local government there, the first alien missions struck – to varying effects.
One operative succeeded in infiltrating the alien earth base and discovered that the aliens were mobilizing a force there. Unfortunately, the operative was not successful enough to discover this force was meant purely for defense. This partial information didn’t help the world’s impression of our visitors.
Then there was the botched US operative mission. This operative might as well have been wearing a t-shirt that said “I’m with the US government”. He was observed by the aliens as soon as he attempted to set foot into their base. In response, the aliens chose to play gracious host, taking the operative on a tour around the facility to prove that, despite world accusations, no human testing was occurring there. [It was occurring elsewhere]. Further, they showed the operative that aliens were providing advanced aid to the local people there, as reported in the news, and that the local government was genuinely happy to have the alien collaboration and assistance, as that government had publicly claimed. Thus the operative was peacefully returned home and the US secured as a pro-alien voice.
Despite their obvious good intentions, alien operatives took action against two of the hostile world nations – the UK and Russia – intending to slow down their technological development. The mission to confuse research and send it down false trails worked well against the poor cyber-defense systems of the UK, but Russia is known for its cyber…well…“activity” we’ll call it. The aliens not only failed to infiltrate the Russian systems, but also left digital trails that progressed Russian research.
The corps to this point were split between contracting out their operatives to nations and pursuing information via good, old-fashioned espionage. But midway through the game, a corp would start a new trend of corporate sabotage. They eagerly rubbed their hands together when one of their engineers was hired by a rival corp, intending to weaken their interceptor designs. Unfortunately, the rival engineering group was just a front – this corporation didn’t build their own ships! The engineer quit his new post and returned baffled. [Their rival was acting as a drop shipper. Nations purchased interceptors from them, then they turned around and bought those interceptors from a second rival. No interceptor production required.]
Meanwhile, the US wanted to know – why was the UK so militantly against the aliens? On what basis was the UK government claiming that the alien aid in SE Asia was fake? The US operative found no evidence or documentation for the UK claims within their government. The reasons for the UK hostility remained unclear.
At this time, the aliens took stock of their situation. Excepting the pro-alien US, the world nations’ disposition ranged from distrusting to hostile toward them. Fearing that the world’s nations were too aligned against them, the aliens sought to sow some discord.
Knowing the nuclear disarmament pact, the aliens used their advanced technology backed by a large investment of their own capital to frame an underground nuclear test in Russia, hoping this would separate Russia from its allies. The explosion was picked up by an independent scientist group and reported to the media and UN. The Russians, of course, passionately denied this test was theirs, and such was the trust at the international level that this event surprisingly did not become a divisive issue. It might have died completely, but the nervous Russians proactively offered to allow the UK to investigate the detonation themselves, which the UK decided to do.
The UK operative discovered physical evidence that the Russians detonated a nuclear bomb. That evidence was presented at the UN.
Shortly thereafter, the Russians sent their own specialists to investigate the detonation. To their great surprise and dismay, they also discovered physical evidence that it was a Russian nuclear detonation. [To say the alien mission was successful is an understatement. When you roll a 12 on a d12, and also have several bonuses…that’s what we call a spectacular success.] The Russians considered using their specialists to put together the circumstantial evidence that would discredit the physical evidence, but – I’m assuming because it was not significant enough of an issue at the global stage – they stopped short of this approach.
Inter-corporation warfare continued as one corp investigated the Russian-based Kraken Corporation, following suspicions that Kraken was using black market funds to perform corporate takeovers of subsidiaries, giving them a large advantage. While the corporate operative was not successful to discover proof, it did release information to the media damning enough to arouse suspicion. As a result, Kraken’s funds were partially frozen until investigations could occur.
The fever pitch of global, national, and corporate strife was nigh. Aware of the anti-alien nuclear intentions of France and the UK, the US requested to send corporate operatives to scramble French and British launch codes. This discussion did not go far, as corporate operatives are not equipped for such extraordinary missions. So instead the US agreed to send their operatives to Paris and London, but they would need extraordinary levels of finance and support to have any chance of success in this endeavor.
Meanwhile, a different corp, for reasons I never discovered, aimed to slow down the building of the Russian Space Elevator (!) through labor unrest. Part of their workforce went on strike for better wages. After selling an interceptor to raise funds, the Russians were able to pay off the demands of the striking workforce and still complete their Elevator on time.
The US and their allied corp meanwhile had drawn up an impressive amount of finance and support, from within themselves as well as other nations. With a tense breath, they awaited to see the results of their missions. [Rolling the missions one at a time in front of them – something I normally did hidden – the US and their corporate ally yelled in triumph as each mission succeeded! They then casually walked away as if nothing significant happened despite the curious stares of nearby nations.]
Ultimately, this did not end up as the complete victory they had expected. Of course the UK happily attempted to blast the alien ships, resulting in dismay when they discovered their launch codes had been scrambled. France, however, revealed they had lost their launch codes. But the kindergarten-skilless Chinese came aggressively forward with a nuclear launch of their own at the aliens – one which the US was not prepared to stop – significantly damaging (and ultimately destroying) an alien terraforming ship.
And there you are – the hidden thrusts and parries of power that played out away from public notice. While these snippets of history may be missing the main beats (I seem to remember lunar theme parks, reinvigorated UK colonialism, and aliens terraforming the earth into a giant battery), hopefully these have given you insight into some of the unexplained moments you’ve been curious about from Watch the Skies! at Gen Con 2019.