I'm running a Megagame

You get 20 people into a town hall. They run around as all the world's leaders: USA, UK, Japan, Brazil, Scientists, Generals, Presidents and Diplomats, all trying to solve the greatest crisis in world history. Behind the curtain, a cabal of sinister alien players works to destroy them. 

It's X-Com times Diplomacy times 20. I'm organizing it in my home town of Brisbane, Australia. If you're interested, join this Facebook group, or this forum thread, or let me know somewhere else on the internet that you'd like to receive updates.

It's a massively exciting challenge for me. The logistics part is chugging along fine, but I figure y'all are more interested in the game design challenge. There are a lot of interesting questions to answer, like: 

How can I help the Aliens roleplay a genuinely inhuman intelligence?

The Alien Handbook for the first game above says:
"First of all then, the primary victory condition for all Reticulan players is to role play
good Reticulans. The successful resolution of the Earth Crisis is only of secondary
importance to that."
The most important thing for designer Jim Wallman was to make the Aliens feel like Aliens: a completely foreign culture. Core to the game, and the thing you can't achieve in any game medium but Human Beings, is modelling the collision of two completely different cultures and sets of assumptions. That's hard enough to achieve when you're writing a script for a CGI character, let alone when the aliens are humans making actual decisions in real-time.

I've listed the game design levers I can pull to help the Alien players roleplay below. I won't go into specifics, but I don't recommend you read it if you have a chance to play the game.

Separation of information

Because the Humans and Aliens stay separated for most of the game, they can each build up their own assumptions. In their own separate little hothouses they each reach different definitions of what's true, what's important, their own separate groupthink and way of communicating. Ideally these assumptions could become so ingrained over the course of the game that there's genuine culture shock when they finally meet. I could encourage this by giving the aliens slang terms to refer to specific game concepts, hoping they end up using them until it becomes second nature.

You can see this separate groupthink emerge among game groups. Group A decides that X is clearly the best strategy, and everything they do is an attempt to counter it. Group B reads about it on the internet and finds this totally bizarre. Listen to a group of hardcore players talk about a game like this and it's like they're talking a different language. I hope I can use this effect to create a moment like "Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?" - where your assumptions crumble around you.


Crucial to a foreign culture is a foreign set of motivations. They believe different things are worthwhile, and different things are terrible. This is handy, because games do really well at molding people around Victory Conditions. In a game, your external desires don't matter - only the desires the game has given you.

This becomes less true the less thematic a game is. Roleplaying games have pretty vague wobbly goals, so you might be happy to have your character get drunk and smash up a bar, sacrificing your in-game goals (get rich) for your external goals (see something exciting happen). You wouldn't do the same kind of thing in a hardcore Chess match.

While I appreciate the roleplay approach taken in the Alien Handbook, I think it'd be better to tell the aliens to concentrate on their goals, then make those goals follow an inhuman logic. "What do they want?!" is going to be the core question the humans are trying to answer, and I want the slow unraveling of that mystery to be as strange and satisfying as possible.


The way you solve problems is who you are. Sherlock Holmes, Dirty Harry and Cugel the Clever are all just a way of solving problems. I should give the aliens fundamentally foreign ways to achieve their goals.

What specific goals and tools these should be, I still don't know.