Unidentified Flying Objects Headed for Minneapolis

Alien contact role-playing game Watch the Skies! simulates nations’ reactions

Illustrator: Katie Heywood

Illustrator: Katie Heywood

The world of tabletop games and role-playing is fairly niche. For the brave few that dare to venture into the dungeon, they can find a hobby that is both endlessly enjoyable and incredibly rewarding. Over the past few decades, hordes of gamers have ascended from their basements and taken their games with them. A new breed of game is rising in popularity that draws influence from the wargames of the ‘70s and the video games of today: It’s called a megagame.

Whereas a typical tabletop game like Dungeons & Dragons draws four to six players, a megagame is meant to be played by anywhere from 20 to a few-hundred. Watch the Skies! is a megagame being played from New York to San Francisco. People have traveled hundreds of miles to partake in it. University of Minnesota student Peter Nixon grew tired of having to make the pilgrimage, and so he decided to bring “Watch the Skies!” to Minneapolis.

Nixon described the rules:

Watch the Skies! is a “gamified simulation,” meaning it simulates real world activity, but it “takes out all the boring bits.” More than 60 players partake in a game of strategy, negotiation, coordination, and misinformation. The game simulates global geopolitics with players divided into different nations, and different roles within those nations such as president, U.N. ambassador, and military chief. There are also mysterious aliens, self-interested corporations, and a clueless media thrown into the mix. The game is remarkably complex, but the role each participant plays is relatively simple, which keeps the game from becoming overwhelming.

Because every nation has its own agenda and motives, and misinformation is rampant, rumors can snowball and things can get out of control very quickly. In examples from past games, the aliens abducted the pope and replaced him with an alien clone. In another, the aliens, appalled with Japan’s whaling, got someone to invent “Whale-fi” to communicate with our aquatic friends. No two games of Watch the Skies! are alike; Nixon promises it to be one of the most unique experiences participants will have.

The campus “Watch the Skies!” game starts April 8. Individual student tickets are $30 on Eventbrite.