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Subject: High level review/overview after a first play rss

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Viktor Haag
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So, this weekend, because the Old Huron Redoubt had only visitor, we decided that it would be an excellent opportunity to try out Twilight Struggle, currently ranked "12" on the 'Geek's overall game ranking list. We had a great deal of fun: so much so that we resolved that we would never worry about only having two people show up to an Old Huron Redoubt afternoon again: we'd just play this if that happened.

With some trepidation we cracked the box, put a sheet of glass over the map (it's a heavy cardstock board, so you really will need something to flatten it), laid out the components and started into reading/reviewing the rules. Surprisingly, the game is very accessible. Going over the rules took perhaps 30 minutes, but there was very little in the way of "what should I do know" feelings once the game started: nor were there moments of "oh crap, we've done that wrong".

Twilight Struggle is, essentially, a majority control game with variably timed scoring events. On to this basic principle is layered a few interesting features.

Firstly, it's "card driven". There are three packs of "historical event cards" of three types: events that favour the soviets, events that favour the americans, and events that apply to both. The three packs correspond to early, middle, and late groups of events within the historical period (the entire cold war period: late 40s through to the late eighties). There are two strokes of genius with the event cards: first, every card (except the scoring cards) have an "operational value" as well as an event. A player must decide whether to use the operational value to provide action points, spent to "do stuff", or whether to use the historical event (something cool happens to affect the game). Some events are multiple use and some are single-use ("socialist governments" for example, represents a historical trend, I suppose, so it can be used more than once, while "Arab-Israeli War" happens once and then the card is removed from the game); additionally, some of the single-use cards have lasting effects (the "Nato" card is, once played, face up on the board and its effects apply for the rest of the game).

The operational value versus event value dichotomy creates tension: do you use a card's points for basic situational improvement, or do you use a card's event for dramatic changes to the board's situation. And the cards are not as simple as "high ops value; good event". The value of the events are very context dependent, so a great deal of the tension in your decision comes from the inevitable question -- which is more valuable to me now: the event or the ops value? Being able to carry over a single card from round to round also adds tension; there's a temptation to keep a juicy event card until the situation is particularly ripe to use it.

But the real genius behind these event cards is the "advantage" classification of the events. When you play a card for the ops value, you don't get the event. However, if the card's event benefits your opponent, the event happens anyway (you get to decide whether the event happens before or after you use the ops points to take actions). This makes sequencing of card play very important: if you have an event card that will let your opponent view your hand of cards, or a card that will add values to all his ops points, then it's obviously more advantageous for you to hold that card as long as possible during the round (each round you start with eight cards, then alternate playing one by one; the round is over when you both have single cards left)--the nasty effect of these cards are muted greatly when they're the last cards to play in a round!

Secondly, the victory point system is a tug of war: you have a forty point scale, the game starts with the scoring token in the middle of the scale, and you try to drag the token to your side of the scale. You get points when the scoring cards are played (they're in the event deck, they cannot be held over rounds, and most of them are not taken out of the game when they occur). This variable timing in the scoring, combined with the hidden knowledge and some control (if you have a scoring card, you control when in the turn it happens), make, again, for tension, bluffing, and trying to discern what's behind the moves of your opponent.

The victory point system awards aggression: military aggressiveness gets you points; however, the rewards are small compared to the values reaped from the scoring cards, and there's a constant danger associated with aggression. Overt military action increases the likelihood of a nuclear event, and herein lies the one feature of the game I don't like: the person who actually sets off a nuclear war loses. Thematically, this implies that there would be a winner after a nuclear holocaust, and I find this distasteful. I'd be awfully tempted to house-rule that nuclear war resulted in a loss for both sides: if you're clever enough to use brinksmanship to push your opponent to the edge, but not over, then you should be clever enough to beat the opponent without causing a war (and if you push the opponent so far that war can't be avoided, then you pushed the opponent too far).

Thirdly, there's an interesting "research track" associated with the space race. By "investing" in the space race, you have the opportunity to use event cards without triggering their events -- this, in addition to the "hold a card over turns" feature, means that you can usually choose two cards with events that you'd really like to avoid triggering and either stick them into the discard pile (they will show up later), or hold them and not play them. There are goodies associated with the space race, and early investment pays out dividends in more victory points than late investment. While the random success chances associated with research make it possible to catch a leader on that track, it can also result in you getting sandbagged and left behind through no fault of your own. This may be an irritant to some players who don't like a random factor affecting their play so much.

Finally, there's multiple paths to victory in this game: there's an instant win scenario (anyone who controls all of the key areas in Europe wins), a tug-of-war win scenario (when you have forty more points than your opponent, you win--that is, when you get the scoring token all the way to your side of the board), and a grit-it-out win scenario (you play through ten turns, the person left with the most points wins). This has more effect on tactics than you might think: if you have the right cards and the right situation, then racing to a Euro-win might be advisable, especially for the Soviets (who I suspect are saddled with a "lots of resources now, but will gradually become weaker" situation).

Reviewers have noted that Twilight Struggle's theme (the global struggle during the cold war for ideological domination) is intricately married to is mechanics, and I concur. Accordingly, you might not want to play this game with someone who does not react well to nasty, interactive, take-that sorts of games. There is a lot of take-that-ness in this game: the theme pretty much demands it. Both I, and my opponent, were gleefully taunting one another as we unleashed our evil and devious plots to eradicate the other's influence in various parts of the globe.

In the end, thanks to a combination of a lucky card draw, carefully played sequence of cards, and the opponent not quite watching his backyard closely enough I managed to score a Euro-win after about an hour and a half of play (we were almost halfway through the game on turns). In three card plays, I managed to weaken his influence in enough states that I had control of more regions than him, in Europe, eradicate his influence in West Germany and France, and then used a fourth card play to slip in enough tokens to take over all the "battleground regions" in Europe and secure the win. Just before this, I had feinted in several other regions of the board, encouraging him to spend resources there (Japan, Middle East), and as a result, he was distracted and had played away his good cards. By the time I took control of France and W Germany for the win, he was blind-sided. I highly doubt I shall be so lucky again.

We both enjoyed the game a lot. It probably plays between 90 minutes and three hours. It's not any more complicated than the "gamer's game" type of euro games (i.e. Power Grid, Goa, Puerto Rico, Age Of Steam), and it's very accessible and straightforward. And it's fun. As long as you don't mind confrontational, take-that-type games.

Currently, Alan Moon (designer of Ticket To Ride) lists the game at the top of his Personal Top 10 and "Hot 10" lists. That's high praise indeed, and not far off the mark in my opinion. I'd have to play this game more to be convinced that it should rate that highly, but it is most probably a classic and certainly one of the best (if not the best) variations on the majority control mechanic.
 
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castiglione
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Just one thing:

"Thematically, this implies that there would be a winner after a nuclear holocaust, and I find this distasteful."

Actually, that's not it at all. The point of this rule is that the entire world is destroyed but for game purposes, the person who starts the nuclear war loses the GAME.

The reason for this rule is because many cold war games have a rule which states that if a nuclear war starts EVERYONE loses, i.e. the GAME ends in a tie...this results in gamey situations where one person is obviously losing so intentionally starts a nuclear war to at least get a "tie" (usually on the last turn where it's obvious who's going to win and who's going to lose).

The purpose of this rule in Twilight Struggle is to prevent this from happening. It doesn't imply that someone wins the nuclear exchange. If anything, it implies that when the super-race of cockroaches climbs out of the ashes and builds their own civilization, their history books place the blame for the destruction of the previous great civilization on the side that started the war.
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Richard Irving
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Quote:
Some events are multiple use and some are single-use ("socialist governments" for example, represents a historical trend, I suppose, so it can be used more than once, while "Arab-Israeli War" happens once and then the card is removed from the game);


Actually, Arab Israeli-War is not removed after use. (Historically, there were several such wars during the period.). It come back multiple times until Camp David Peace Accords are played.

Also Indo-Pakistani and Brush War can come back into the game.

Other wars are removed after play, such as the Korean War and Iran-Iraq War.

 
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Viktor Haag
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rri1 wrote:

Actually, Arab Israeli-War is not removed after use. (Historically, there were several such wars during the period.). It come back multiple times until Camp David Peace Accords are played.

Also Indo-Pakistani and Brush War can come back into the game.

Other wars are removed after play, such as the Korean War and Iran-Iraq War.


Thank-you for this clarification, Richard: I wrote the review at a distance from my components, and from memory.
 
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Viktor Haag
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castiglione wrote:
Just one thing:

"Thematically, this implies that there would be a winner after a nuclear holocaust, and I find this distasteful."

Actually, that's not it at all. The point of this rule is that the entire world is destroyed but for game purposes, the person who starts the nuclear war loses the GAME.

The reason for this rule is because many cold war games have a rule which states that if a nuclear war starts EVERYONE loses, i.e. the GAME ends in a tie...this results in gamey situations where one person is obviously losing so intentionally starts a nuclear war to at least get a "tie" (usually on the last turn where it's obvious who's going to win and who's going to lose).


I understand your point, but I don't think it's all that different from my point.

In my head there's an abstract scoring system that gives three points for a win, one for a tie, and zero for a loss (or something of that nature).

A tie, to me, is distinctly different from a loss.

A tie, in this game, would presumably result from ending the game on turns and having the scoring chit on the "0" spot.

A loss on the other hand happens when (a) the other person wins, or even worse (b) when you blow up the planet.

I realize that many people equate "everyone loses" with "we have tied", but I don't. "We have tied" equates to "we share a win". Everyone loses is worse than that and equates to "nobody wins".

Thanks for your feedback, just the same!
 
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castiglione
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viktor_haag wrote:
I realize that many people equate "everyone loses" with "we have tied", but I don't. "We have tied" equates to "we share a win". Everyone loses is worse than that and equates to "nobody wins".


I understand what you are saying but the attitudes of most people belies your statement. There are some people who would rather BOTH players lose rather than to have the other fellow win. And since both players lose and since they prevented the other fellow from winning, in their mind, they have "won" and at least secured a "tie".

It's even worse in a game situation since in real life, there are a lot of things standing in the way of giving the orders to launch (stuff like, oh, what'll happen to my family, my friends, civilization in general, etc.) whereas in a game, it boils down to "how do I prevent this other guy from winning."

However, I do agree with you that the mechanism of having the person who started the war losing the game is also gamey as well. I've been wrestling with a similar problem in my mind in a design I'm working on of how to do this without play degenerating into "the guy who's losing declares war" while keeping a realistic attitude of "once the missiles launch, everyone's done for" attitude in the game.

I stand by my assertion that the only impediment to nuclear war being that everyone loses is not a real impediment (in game terms) at all because at the very least, the losing player who does this will at least have prevented the other player from winning. Once people realize this, the game will be broken.
 
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Greg Forster
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Let me just second Roland's point by saying this: if you really think there could be no winner in a nuclear war (I have doubts myself, but never mind), shouldn't you prefer a scoring system that imposes the maximum punishment on a player who starts a nuclear war?

I mean, it sounds very pious to say "the US shouldn't win when the USSR starts a nuclear war, becasue no one wins a nuclear war." But the result of that sentiment is that the USSR is better off blowing up the world than peacefully ceding hegemony to the US.
 
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Jason Matthews
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castiglione wrote:
Just one thing:

"Thematically, this implies that there would be a winner after a nuclear holocaust, and I find this distasteful."

Actually, that's not it at all. The point of this rule is that the entire world is destroyed but for game purposes, the person who starts the nuclear war loses the GAME.

The reason for this rule is because many cold war games have a rule which states that if a nuclear war starts EVERYONE loses, i.e. the GAME ends in a tie...this results in gamey situations where one person is obviously losing so intentionally starts a nuclear war to at least get a "tie" (usually on the last turn where it's obvious who's going to win and who's going to lose).

The purpose of this rule in Twilight Struggle is to prevent this from happening. It doesn't imply that someone wins the nuclear exchange. If anything, it implies that when the super-race of cockroaches climbs out of the ashes and builds their own civilization, their history books place the blame for the destruction of the previous great civilization on the side that started the war.


First I would like to thank Viktor for the very kind review. Ananda and I both appreciate the time you took in writing it. I just wanted to amplify on Roland's point for a second. Roland is correct, we tried to take great pains to avoid rewarding players for nuclear war.

In this, we took our inspiration from Chris Crawford's classic computer game Balance of Power. The objectives of the Superpowers were to obtain their objective WITHOUT triggering a war between the Soviets and the United States. Unfortunately, the genre of Cold War games has been dominated by games concerned with the failure of this objective. In other words, most "Cold War Games" were not about the Cold War at all, but rather about the Third World War that would result if the geopolitical balance of power failed to keep the peace.

Well, you can't make a game about that and not include nuclear weapons. But as Roland notes, the "everyone losses" player objective has a perverse logic that actually encourages players to initiate nuclear war. If a player's choices are lose or draw, they will chose draw. Interestingly, this same perversion is evident in US deterrence of a Soviet conventional attack in Europe. The US placed nuclear weapons in Europe to ensure a "draw" if the Soviets should be winning a conventional war. Ironically, these days, its the Russians who rely on a similar form of deterrence against the West.

Since a double draw via gloabal holocaust seems to be an incentive to brinksmanship and thinking the unthinkable, we went the other way. The DEFCON status is a bit more like a game of CAN'T STOP. You can keep DEFCON at 2 perennially, but you need to know it WILL come back and bite you during some games. Both players can be trapped into causing nuclear war and losing the game. So, the built in game incentive is to avoid it.

I always return to the wisdom of the WHOPPER computer of Wargames fame when it comes to this subject -- "GLOBAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR, A strange game. The only way to win is not to play."

Jason
 
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Viktor Haag
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Greg Forster wrote:
Let me just second Roland's point by saying this: if you really think there could be no winner in a nuclear war (I have doubts myself, but never mind), shouldn't you prefer a scoring system that imposes the maximum punishment on a player who starts a nuclear war?


I take your point, and I think it would depend on the situation in which the game is being played to determine what "maximum punishment" might mean.

In a system where you hand out 3 points for a win, 1 for a tie, and 0 for a loss, then the maximum punishment is to hand out a 0, and I'd really be tempted to hand it out to both players.

I understand your point (and Roland's) that this may hand a certain amount of meta-game leverage to players willing to cut off their noses to spite their faces, but I believe the meta-game counter to that is this: the player (let's call the player 'A') who allows their opponent ('B') to push the game into a war, and a joint-loss, has also failed.

A's job, to secure the win, is to both (a) get more points than B, and (b) prevent B from cutting off his nose to spite his face, and force both A & B to draw a 0 for the joint loss.

If you put B's spite tactic on the table as fair play, then you have to admit that it's A's responsibility (should he wish to win) to meta-game in such a way that this doesn't happen.

Personally, I think meta-gaming can provide for considerable trickiness for many folks, because the line that's drawn between your "player" persona and your own identity then gets muddied, and it's harder for folks not to take things personally.

The problem here is that I'm not all that sure that Twilight Struggle provides a decent mechanical framework to allow in-game activity that support's A's strategic problem (to win, I must do better than B, but also prevent B from blowing up the world). I know that there are cards in the deck that boost the Defcon level, but I haven't played the game enough to know how much support the game lends to A in the furtherance of the second part of his goal.
 
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Viktor Haag
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JasonMatthews wrote:

First I would like to thank Viktor for the very kind review. Ananda and I both appreciate the time you took in writing it.


You're quite welcome, Jason -- thank-you to you and Ananda for providing us with this wonderful game!

Quote:
... But as Roland notes, the "everyone losses" player objective has a perverse logic that actually encourages players to initiate nuclear war. If a player's choices are lose or draw, they will chose draw ...
You can keep DEFCON at 2 perennially, but you need to know it WILL come back and bite you during some games. Both players can be trapped into causing nuclear war and losing the game. So, the built in game incentive is to avoid it.


I think this "in game incentive" is probably only apparent after playing the games a few times.

I also note that you, and Roland, seem to be equating "both lose" with "a draw", and as I say I don't equate the two at all. And I don't think I'm the only person who feels that way (but my assumption is based only on anecdotal experience).

Perhaps, in the end, these kinds of feelings are things that all good players should come to learn and understand about the various folks they play with on a regular basis, so they can be sensitive to the meta-game behaviours that their friends exhibit.

 
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marc lecours
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the vast majority of players would equate both lose with a tie.

The only way around it is if you keep scores in a group of several people. 3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie, 0 points for a normal loss. And -4 points to both players for a nuclear war loss. This way the incentive would be large to avoid nuclear war.

One game that I have played where players really believed that all players losing was not a tie was Republic of Rome. Because the players invest so much effort into surviving and playing together against the game that there is a certain satisfaction in having Rome survive even if another player actually wins the game.
 
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castiglione
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Rome IS the LIGHT!!!!
 
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Two things about triggering a nuking-type war:

1. As my friend Danny was quick to point out (and demonstrate), if you're not doing too well in the game, ending it with nuclear war is a nice little "Okay you won, but screw you!!" (Well, it was funny when he did it.)

2. I get a kick out of the fact that if you're on Defcom 2, the USA player can lose very easily by a poorly played "Lone Gunman" card.
 
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Colin Sykes
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It's not so much that everyone losing is the same as a tie, but that to many people everyone losing is better than just you losing. In that sense, I guess it is a tie in the sense that everyone gets the same result and there is no winner.

I am still waiting for my copy to arrive (stupidly paid for surface mail rather than air! ), but I like the mechanic - there should be a disincentive to start nuclear war and a punishment for the player that does so. And in a gaming environemnt, this needs to be part of the mechanic of the game because the real life disincentives are not present.

On anotehr point, Jason, I had not realised that Balance of Power had played a part in your inspiration for this game. I loved that game, but thought I might be the only one. I'll never forget that feeling of helplessness when war broke out and you could only sit and watch the mushroom clouds. If only I had noticed the increased tensions between India and Australia in time...
 
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Greg Forster
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Everyone losing is preferable to just you losing. That's not just the result of people having a spiteful attitude, it's an objective fact. When you score three points, that's indistinguishable from everyone else scoring -3 points. If we both score zero, we remain the same relative to one another, but if you score and I don't, I'm worse off.

In nuclear war as in everything else, if you punish everyone you really punish no one.
 
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Mark Crane
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Greg Forster wrote:
Everyone losing is preferable to just you losing. That's not just the result of people having a spiteful attitude, it's an objective fact. When you score three points, that's indistinguishable from everyone else scoring -3 points. If we both score zero, we remain the same relative to one another, but if you score and I don't, I'm worse off.

In nuclear war as in everything else, if you punish everyone you really punish no one.


That only applies if the punishment is equally distributed. There would be, however, a handful of rag-tag survivors after any such conflict, forced to survive by their wits, and giving rise to a new generation of mutants forced to question their own humanity. Figure that into your win/lose formula, mr. smartypants.
 
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Viktor Haag
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craniac wrote:
There would be, however, a handful of rag-tag survivors after any such conflict, forced to survive by their wits, and giving rise to a new generation of mutants forced to question their own humanity. Figure that into your win/lose formula, mr. smartypants.


Well, that's when you pull out your copy of T2000, Aftermath, Morrow Project, or Gamma World (depending on your desired level of whackiness) and have at it. 8)
 
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craniac wrote:
Greg Forster wrote:
Everyone losing is preferable to just you losing. That's not just the result of people having a spiteful attitude, it's an objective fact. When you score three points, that's indistinguishable from everyone else scoring -3 points. If we both score zero, we remain the same relative to one another, but if you score and I don't, I'm worse off.

In nuclear war as in everything else, if you punish everyone you really punish no one.


That only applies if the punishment is equally distributed. There would be, however, a handful of rag-tag survivors after any such conflict, forced to survive by their wits, and giving rise to a new generation of mutants forced to question their own humanity. Figure that into your win/lose formula, mr. smartypants.


This question can be answered quite objectively by the following criterion:

How many cockroaches live in the US? How many cockroaches live in the USSR? The side with the most cockroaches obviously have an advantage in the ensuing great war between mutant cockroach civilizations. This is weighted by the following factors:

a) How large will the cockroaches on each side grow due to the radiation flying around? If we can surmise that more radiation equals bigger cockroachs, then getting hit with more nukes is actually a good thing. So, the side with the most nukes will be penalized. Size is important since bigger cockroaches can beat up smaller cockroaches and bigger cockroaches (assuming they get big enough) can use all those tools left behind by the now long dead humans, i.e. guns, and, oh, nukes.

b) Radiation can also be a BAD thing in that it may increase the rate of sterility in the cockroach population. This is actually a good balancing mechanism. More radiation equals bigger roaches but a slower rate of population growth.

Use a) and b) to weight the cockroach population and you arrive at an objective, scientific means of measuring which side won the nuclear exchange based on the relative chance of their cockroach proxies of crushing the other guy's cockroach proxies.
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Thomas Wilson
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castiglione wrote:
craniac wrote:
Greg Forster wrote:
Everyone losing is preferable to just you losing. That's not just the result of people having a spiteful attitude, it's an objective fact. When you score three points, that's indistinguishable from everyone else scoring -3 points. If we both score zero, we remain the same relative to one another, but if you score and I don't, I'm worse off.

In nuclear war as in everything else, if you punish everyone you really punish no one.


That only applies if the punishment is equally distributed. There would be, however, a handful of rag-tag survivors after any such conflict, forced to survive by their wits, and giving rise to a new generation of mutants forced to question their own humanity. Figure that into your win/lose formula, mr. smartypants.


This question can be answered quite objectively by the following criterion:

How many cockroaches live in the US? How many cockroaches live in the USSR? The side with the most cockroaches obviously have an advantage in the ensuing great war between mutant cockroach civilizations. This is weighted by the following factors: ...


Excellent post game concept. I would totally love the cockroach game! Add me to the Pro-Twilight camp AND sign me up for a copy of "After Twilight: Rise of Roach."

It seems to me like a point system which penalized the player who starts the war more than the one who endures it, yet rewards the players who win and remains neutral to players who tie makes the most sense. It would really work best though if done in tournament play where you are playing for a running total score acrosss mutilple games with various players.

I can't wait to play this game and brainstorm about how to adapt it to a "second cold war" with the Chinese in a post oil-crash world.
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