I joined in the first Covert Operations game because I wanted to test out a few things. For instance I deliberately decided to play the entire game without contacting any of the other players. We assumed that there would be a lot of talk between the players, since it is an entirely email game. Players might even sign up together with the intention of helping each other and I wanted to see whether a lone player stood a chance.
Right away I got to test "putting orders in advance" because when Chuck intended to start the game, I was going to be out of town at a convention. So before the game even started I did my first five turns, mostly sending $1 in bribes to as many countries as possible. When I got back, I actually controlled a respectable number of countries, One country I controlled for the entire game, even though my index there was never over 6. Also by this time I had accumulated a nice pile of cash, since I had only spent my minimum income on the advance turns. I got to test this several more times during the game, as I went out of town for various business trips and conventions over the almost two months of the game. I also got to test out what happens when a player misses a turn accidentally, as several times I forgot to input my orders the night before, and Chuck ran the game the next morning before I came in.
In spite of all these handicaps, I actually managed to win the game. I probably caught a couple lucky breaks, but I think it's mostly because I figured out a winning strategy before the other players figured out a counter. I'm going to describe that strategy here, and also the way to stop it. I learned very quickly that it's almost impossible to capture a country from another player using armies. Since you cannot kill more than 3 armies per turn, all a player has to do is make sure all his countries have at least 4 armies, and if someone attacks them, build 3 armies per turn until the attacker gives up. And taking a country away with bribery has it's problems. If you have a popularity of 40, and I send $45, I'll own it for a turn, but you'll just send another $15 next turn and take it back. We can keep taking it back and forth as long as both of us are willing to continue the battle. At least one other player came up with the strategy of bribing someone else's country away for a turn, and selling off all the industry (an old Illuminati move). Chuck thought this made the game too "quick" and limited industry buying and selling to one per country per turn. (One of the design intentions was a game that you could play every day, but you didn't HAVE to do a turn every day, and I think I've proved that's feasible.)
At any rate I quickly noticed two things. One is that if you conquer another country with armies, everyone else's index in that country goes to zero, while yours becomes 3 times the number of armies you conquered with. The other is that those armies all belong to the conquered country now, along with any armies it had out "defending" other countries.
Example: I gained control of all of Africa (low income but nice and compact.) Let's say I've built up all 5 countries to 5 armies each. I have East Africa send it's five armies out to "defend" Central Africa, and have South Africa conquer East Africa with all 5 of its armies. Now my popularity in East Africa is 15, and I *know* noone else has any popularity there. And East Africa now has 10 armies. (5 defending home country, 5 in Central Africa.) I withdraw those 5 in Central Africa and next turn I have all ten conquer Central Africa while Central Africa's 5 are ordered to defend South Africa. Now my popularity in Central Africa is 30, and Central Africa owns 15 armies. So I do the same to West Africa, and then to North Africa. Now I have 25 armies in North Africa, and my popularity in North Africa is 60, all without spending any money, and I have eliminated any other players' popularities on the way. So we come to Southern Europe and I am competing with someone there. Someone else had 40 popularity. I sent $45 and captured it for one turn. He sent $15 more and took it back with 55. I send $20 and take it back with 65. Now this turn, he is sending $30 and will surely get it back. However, I sent it's 8 armies off to defend Spain (thus finding out how many armies spain has by the way) and conquer the undefended Southern Europe with the 25 armies in North Africa. Now my index in Southern Europe is 75, and my pesky rival's index is back down to ZERO!
In the test game, by the end I had 100 armies in Germany (with 300 popularity). As I neared victory, however, I feared that my opponents would figure out what I was doing, and do the obvious and simple preventative. If someone is doing the "bribe and then conquer" move, all you have to do when you lose a country for one turn, is DEFEND that country from one of it's neighbors the next turn while you are trying to bribe it back. The attacker will LOSE popularity in the country where he is coming from, and he won't conquer your country and wipe out your popularity. And since he had to move the armies out of your country in order to try this maneuver, he LOSES one popularity point for every army he moved out. So you'll probably get it back.
There are several design features in this game. First of all, no one starts with a country, so all positions are completely and perfectly fair. You have a fixed minimum income and number of orders, no matter what happens during the game, so you cannot be eliminated, unless you just give up. And if you miss a turn, all your cash and orders are saved up. Over the next several turns you can "catch up" to the other players by spending that cash and those orders. We didn't want you to be able to deliberately do two turns at once, (too destabilizing) so we limited the number of "extra orders" you could give on a turn. Thus although you get 7 new "orders available' each turn, you can only give 10 orders per turn. So if you miss a turn, you can give 3 extra orders each turn for the next three and one third turns until you are "caught up". So in effect, you cannot be eliminated and you cannot miss a turn! Beautiful.
We also don't have to charge much for this game. It is completely automated. You type your orders, you put your security code on them, you send them to the "CO" mailbox. When we read our morning mail, all the CO turns are automatically put in the CO mailbox. When we run the program, it takes all the turns out of the mailbox, runs all the games, and puts the results back in outgoing mail. Then next time we "send mail" the turns go out in the email. No typing, no checking to see whose turn is in, no correcting of orders, no addressing results, no printouts, no stuffing envelopes. All we have to do is set up the games, and answer questions. (Unfortunately I am sure there will be lots of questions to answer.) One problem is that in our regular games, if you are obviously giving completely wrong orders, we can correct them for you, and/or tell you what you are doing wrong, but if you give the wrong orders in COVERT OPERATIONS, all that will happen will be that you'll get back a turn that says "No orders received". We won't even notice that you've missed the turn. (Of course we'll be happy to tell you what you did wrong if you ask us.) Also if you start missing all your turns, we will have no way to notice. If you don't get your daily turn, you'd better contact us and ask. If we have to have a hiatus for some reason, we will EMAIL everyone about it. (And we have 4 different email accounts, so even if our email is down we ought to have SOME way to send out emails to let people know what's happening.)
Now in order to completely automate the game like that, we felt we had to make it a simple game. So COVERT OPERATIONS is a simple game. But I really enjoyed it, and looked forward to my turns every morning. Did I still control Spain? Did I finally manage to get control of France? Did Mongolia pull his armies out of Siberia yet, since I obviously wasn't going to let him conquer it? Did anyone send $2 to SE Asia and take it away from me? We realize that it won't be to the liking of all our pbm players, but we are in hopes that many of you will like it, and that lots of internet people who aren't willing to wait two weeks between turns will want to try it.
Do keep in mind that you must keep your "security code" secret. You get a new one for each game you join (although you can change it if you like, to one easier to remember, or the same one for all your games). But like a "PIN" number, if a thief gets hold of it, he can trash your games. You can give your security code to a friend and let him submit a couple turns for you while you are on vacation, but you are advised to change it when you get back. VERY IMPORTANT: we are going to charge you 50 cents per turn until you send in a RESIGN order. You don't drop out of this game like you do our other games. You keep getting printouts, and keep getting charged, until you send in the official resign order as spelled out in the rules. (However, if your email account is down, we can do that for you if you phone us.) For that matter, you can go "on hiatus". You can give a bunch of advance orders for your position (the computer will take up to 100 per day, even though only 10 per day will be processed), and then give the RESIGN order. Your position will continue to execute those orders, and accumulate cash and new orders as long as the game lasts. When you come back from your vacation or whatever, call us and have us reinstate you in the game, and you can start playing again. No position is ever "wiped out".
That brings us to pricing. Our first thought is $5 setup fee, and 50 cents per turn (probably charged weekly. We'll charge everyone's account once a week for however many turns they played that week). However, there appears to be no reason we can't just charge a flat fee for this game. So for now we will offer a complete game of Covert Operations for $25. For this fee, you get to play the game until it is over. If the game goes for less than 40 turns, you overpaid, but if the game goes for 100 turns, you saved a bundle. The first playtest game went 55 turns. If you want to join a game, tell us whether you want to pay $5 now and 50 cents per turn, or $25 now, and give us a code name (up to 40 letters). Do NOT pick a country to play.
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Scottsdale, AZ 85252
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email to rick at flying buffalo dot com
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