Accepted entry for the “Article” category.
Author: Nick Barrett
Word Count: 3,309
THE FOURTH WAR, OR HOW DECISIVE ACTION CHANGED THE WORLD.
Conventional wisdom would have it that we have borne two world wars, and that the third will take but 20 minutes or so.
Gentle reader, I am here to tell you that this is not so. You see, I was there. I, with many others; friends and foes still bear the scars. Memories grow dim, records of our exploits are sporadic at best, and what I can tell you is but one perspective among many but know this – there was a brief shining moment during its long decline in which MocPages came alive.
And we lived it. Oh sure, some called it a game, but we the players knew better.
An explanation is in order. Sometime in… 2013 was it ? Messrs Rutherford and Goldman of this parish decided to try out an online war game, a fiendish game that grabbed your attention and wouldn’t let go until you’d won it or were dead. Probably dead. This was the first Decisive Action (henceforth to be referred to as DA). It was where Commandants Rutherford and Goldman honed their diabolical skills while the denizens of MocPages annihilated each other. rowntRee won it, as I recall with no bitterness. No bitterness at all. Really, I’m fine… It was also where he won his oddly capitalised name, but that’s another story for another time.
DA was played across a world map, somewhat analogous to a game of Diplomacy; or Risk for younger readers. A third World War that served merely as a prelude to the planet-defining conflagration that was the Fourth.
I refer of course to DA2. This is the reason so many of you suffer under the yoke of Communism. Confession time; it’s my fault. But I cannot take all the blame – enough time has passed for this wizened old veteran to name names and expose the guilty.
I’ll start with one of the less guilty leaders. General Remy, Tom to his friends, of which there were many. His nation was one of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. A West African paradise of pavement cafes, joyous people and killer guitar riffs. Until the CCCP came knocking, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. It’s important to understand that DA2 was primarily a creative outlet, at least in the beginning, including the creation of brick-built figures to represent each nation’s leader. Most were workmanlike, some were serviceable. One was a work of art.
Jimi Hendrix by Tom Remy
It was fitting that Jimi Hendrix be appointed the first Magistrate. This was a new power, not present in the first DA, that gave its holder political influence and the ability to manipulate his friends or strike his foes. Being a democratic and benevolent leader, General Remy did neither. It would be his downfall.
Big beasts were patrolling the savannah. Beasts who knew the threat a talented and popular builder like Tom could pose in this game. Simply, it was him or me. In the first DA, it was me. Not this time. But I needed help.
Lords of All They Survey by David Roberts
Help came in the form of a jolly, tea-drinking red spaceman. General Roberts. David was a gentle soul who led a peaceful but powerful nation of Endearingly Republican Royalists to the South of my darker, more oppressive locale. An ally who I’d helped in the past and who owed me; or at least I had him think he did. Y’see, DA2 was all about the numbers. And the rules but we’ll get to that. It was mostly the numbers. The power of your weapons was decided by their popularity as mocs, thus favouring the more established, talented and/or productive builders. I at least managed to fulfil two of those criteria, and thus my numbers were good and growing with my territory. But Tom’s numbers were stellar. General Roberts would be persuaded to attack him alongside me, thus dividing his forces. We could take him down.
David was queasy about this, his peaceful nature in conflict with the brutality of this game. Or at least the brutality of it as it was played by the CCCP. They were exactly as communist as that sounds. They were my loyal attack dogs.
One thing Tom had in his favour was quick fingers. Eh? I’ll explain. There was a weekly 24 hour attack window, in which all battles were fought and calculated in the order that they happened. For example, if you were attempting to attack from a territory that was taken before your attack occurred, it was null. The attack window would open at midnight on a Friday EST. That’s five in the morning for us Brits. Five in the freaking morning. Every single Saturday for five months. A game’s gotta be something special to drag this night owl of bed like that…
Being French, Tom had the same problem. But he was always there and for week after week he’d beat us to it, clinging to life as I’d curse these arthritic fingers. Until one day he wasn’t. Suddenly the world needed a new Magistrate, and Tom had unwittingly handed me the tools to wrest that power. Another of his benevolent decisions, this time that fostered creativity like so much in this game but it was a challenge in which few players had the time to participate.
Gentle reader, I found the time.
And so a communist enclave, with a contradictory Queen at its head, came to call the shots in the largest alliance.
It wasn’t the largest by much, and we had to be careful. Organised. We knew our outcomes before the battle was fought. We fought well, and together. There were early casualties. Generals Brown and VAkkron, talented builders both, tried and ultimately failed to gain a footing in South America. Leading the other side, entrenched in SA was our potential nemesis.
M & M Attack Interceptor by VAkkron
General Revanchist, LukeClarenceVan the, was the force to be reckoned with here. I’d fought alongside him in DA1 and knew his strengths. He played us all like chess pieces, sitting quietly in his (for a while, anyway) safe corner of the world while orchestrating his minions to wound us. And wound us they did. Luke’s right hand man, the brave, belligerent, bold General Bacca made regular incursions across the Atlantic from his Northern Imperial stronghold, wiping out our ally General Ian and his enlightened new Roman Empire. Should I be amused that one as warlike as Bacca was in charge of Canada ? Those mounties were fierce.
And what of us ? Half way there and we were five; Barrett and Roberts controlled Africa. General Lucas held sway in central Asia educating the natives until the end. Stuart was a good teacher, by all accounts, and it seemed his pupils were well versed in the Art of War. General Van Grootveld’s Tequila-soaked mob sobered up enough occasionally to keep Eastern Europe and Northern Asia a fetching shade of lime green. Pico’s gang may have looked unruly, but man, they were equipped. The most stylish, homogenous and slick fleet of deadly weapons on this Earth, and above it. Stalking the Steppe like a flotilla of shiny, deadly Tigers.
Mayahuel Gunship by Pico van Grootveld
And then there was General Creatori. Commander Rutherford was right – behind her fun and whimsical builds lay a steely determination, and it was there at every planning discussion. Topsy always had a way forward for all of us. She played for the team, and the team thanked her for it.
Barrett’s CCCP played for the team when it suited them.
To understand the complexity of what we were doing, perhaps it’d be helpful to look at a chart:
..and this is the compact version with the last five players. Earlier in the game there were all 30 or so players on here, all their numbers updated and ready for us to crunch. Every week. There was a long way to scroll right to get to the smaller fry. This is exactly the sort of thing that hits right at your nerd-centre. How we loved it.
How did Comptroller Goldman love it though ? He it was who processed the calculations for every attack, every week for five months. Always producing the results within a day or at most, two. Mistakes were rare; and usually our mistakes. The man was a machine, but even machines need a rest. Goldman didn’t take one; he just took endless questions from those who would not deign to read the rules.
The rules were there, clear as day and in black and white. There was no circumventing them, they had been refined to such perfection it would have been a crime to try. Complex yes, but completely logical and understandable to those who read them. These are the people who would destroy the players that did not. There were of course traps therein, carefully laid to ensnare the stupid and unwary.
General Douglas was nothing if not unwary. Here was the single greatest reason to post a security guard at the door with a ruler and a sign that says
YOU MUST BE AT LEAST THIS TALL TO ENTER.
Six feet two seems about right…
But MocPages is for the kids, right ? Sure it is, the ones that can read and comprehend will do just fine. Douglas did neither. Just questions, questions, questions; answered always promptly by the staff as they tried (and failed) to hide their exasperation. Whereupon the dear boy would enquire whether he is being annoying and apologise. Before doing it all over again. I’m sure he’s older and hope he’s wiser now, so wish him no ill. Mainly because he fell head first into the biggest trap those confounded rules had laid.
Antarctica was one large territory. Other landmasses were divided into many territories, but not Penguinland. It was intended as somewhat of a shortcut along the bottom of the map from South America to Australia and, if you were really brave, up to Africa. This was fine, and indeed dandy if you’re a Revanchist, but it’s not a good place to start from. You cannot go anywhere. In order to attack across water, you must hold at least three coastal territories. It was there in black and white, waiting to be interpreted. Or not.
Now where do you think General Douglas pitched his tent ?
You guessed correctly. To be fair, he took it on the chin. No over-entitled whining about his lot; he was growing up. He’d learned A Lesson.
We left him there in the snowy wasteland. There were bigger fish to fry.
Sea Raven Submarine by LukeClarenceVan the Revanchist
It wasn’t all frying fish. The main group was a lively gathering, rife with braggadocio and smack talk yes, but also tangential discussions with fellow players, friend and foe, who were happy to pass the time in each others’ company. To commiserate and to celebrate. To be serenaded by the Bard of Oz.
General Werewolff was his name, wherefore the second ‘f’ no one knows, but we did know he had a rare talent. If Goldman was the engine of DA2, Remy its pure heart, Bacca and van Grootveld its fists, then Werewolff was its soul. There was a place in this blood-soaked world for poetry, lyric splendour that favoured no one and yet favoured us all. Did more powerful players leave him be because of the strategic insignificance of Australia, or because we couldn’t bear to be the one that snuffed the poet ?
General Revanchist thought twice about using the shortcut available to him to deal with those vagabonds in the Far East. They were a thorn in our side as well. Ever the audacious gambler, he took Madagascar instead.
Our alliance had a problem. This could be the beginning of the end for us, with Bacca’s cavalry pinning Topsy’s cultural re-flowering of Europe to a handful of territories, Pico under attack from men in suits in the East and Stuart feeling the heat from a minor alliance who’d suddenly got quite major. There was a typhoon brewing in Japan. General Typhoon and he was not going away without a fight.
I still had the power of the Magistrate, and I would never get to use it to such devastating effect. I took the nuclear option. One territory – just one – would be summarily wiped from the map; blackened for all time, habitable to no one. Now, I couldn’t just point it at Madagascar. There had to be a worldwide poll choosing between three possible outcomes, selected by me and all deleterious to my opponents. One much more so than the other two. One problem remained; in our weakened state we didn’t hold half the available votes or even close to it.
Here came the triumph of diplomacy. Every lone wolf, and indeed Wolff was cajoled / bribed with offers of protection and co-operation (which we followed through on for the most part, to my own surprise…) in order to swing the vote our way. It was an exhausting week. Just minutes before the polls closed, it was clear this would go down to the wire.
We won with 51% of the vote. Madagascar was rendered a nuclear wasteland, an island Chernobyl off the coast of Africa, just to protect some communists and tea-drinking spacemen from a Revanchist. We were safe for a bit but at what cost ? All those unique and wonderful island species, gone. I still feel the pain. It was the turning point of the game.
Meteors of Madagascar poster by VAkkron
We haven’t mentioned General Burns. Leader of a very orderly society, quietly going about their business, and that business was kicking van Grootveld whenever the opportunity arose on behalf of Luke and company. A polite bunch, they always fought in their business suits. You just know the trains ran on time. It didn’t help them when the reckoning came.
Most of this, the real action / bloodshed took place in the game’s second phase. The first was a kind of phoney war; players too far apart to attack until they’d built up their lands and arsenals. Sabres rattling across empty deserts with no-one to hear them. It didn’t last long. I’d set sail for Remystan as soon as I was able, and they knew that I was coming.
Little Victory by Nick Barrett
That battle marked the start of the real action, the point at which the big beasts started taking bites out of each other. It was a battle between two factions although others were involved; sometimes for one side, sometimes for the other – anything to stay alive just a little longer. But there was no holding back the ravenous beasts. After enveloping Africa, Roberts and Barrett turned to the Middle East, knocking over the surprisingly resilient General X in doing so.
X, as befits his name, was something of an enigma. Ostensibly a lone wolf, he would side with whomever was in his interests, which works fine until you’re surrounded by one faction. Goodnight X.
A Night To Remember by Werewolff
And so began the game’s third phase. The point at which the five remaining members of the winning alliance, having carved up the world must decide; with keyboard or sword, which individual would win. There can be only one.
Imperator Goldman wanted blood, and who could blame him ? To level the playing field, the Magistrate was discontinued for the last part. Fair enough, but as the tallest poppy at this point I was vulnerable. We spoke freely as a group and decided to have at it. Attack! as one might say. The crowds deserve an encore.
General Roberts was queasy again. A brave fighter but a gentle soul, he had no stomach for turning on his former allies; he decided to rule himself out of the fight and watch the fireworks. General Creatori was weaker than the others, having been in the frontline against Bacca for most of the game – her role would be a supporting one. That left van Grootveld, Lucas and Barrett to duke it out to the bitter end.
We were not without encouragement. Vanquished players stuck around to see the result; even as former teammates we cheered each other on as we knocked seven bells out of each other, but there was a problem.
That 5 a.m. thing. Fast fingers. The fastest fingers all game had belonged to Pico. Whatever they put in his Tequila worked wonders for his powers of prestidigitation. I needed an ace in the hole.
Meet Captain Alex. Not a computer-game construct this time, but a real person; a person who’d watched his normally titanically lazy father rouse himself at stupid o’clock on a Saturday for months now. The more I told him about it, the more he wanted to know. This from somebody who has a real Army to fight in. I told you the game was good… Too young to be a Captain of course, but he earned that rank here. By the third phase, even a night on the tiles didn’t prevent him from getting up with me to watch the action, and his tactical advice was invaluable. He would squint at the map for minutes on end, eyes darting across every permutation before he’d find the One True Path.
Being young, he’s got faster fingers too.
It was his idea to engineer events to ensure that I took my biggest hit in the penultimate round. Be the tall poppy. Let them fire at will. We’re big enough to survive, and fight again.
Let the other two fight each other in the last round. The wounded CCCP can’t recover on its own and is no threat now.
Is that General Creatori on the line ?
Topsy was scrupulously fair. She had the ability to mount three attacks. She’d make one against each. The rest was up to me.
I could have a lie in for once, do some leisurely maths and if it was possible, win.
It was close. So very close. I crunched the numbers and fired my salvos and waited. Near the end, General Lucas had gained more power than I’d allowed for. Just a little bit. My numbers were wrong; I would need one more attack but my guns were silent.
Colonialism 101 by Stuart Lucas
My pleas to Topsy to use her one remaining attack went unheeded. Fair to the end, she had done her part.
There was not one winner. There were two, or there was none depending on how you looked at it. Brigadier Goldman believed it was a stitch up, that friendship is magic when resistance should be futile but let me set the record straight. We did not arrange to tie. I arranged to win but screwed up the maths. Lucas and Barrett tied at the top, van Grootveld held one territory less.
The world settled into its new order. Half of it living comfortably in a classroom being taught at and the other half subsisting on a diet of gruel, driving to work in their shoddily built cars.
Communism had triumphed, kinda.
Keith Goldman, who gave everything of himself to provide this game and keep it running. The players salute you, sir.
Mike Rutherford, who invented the thing and was there to encourage, explain, excoriate as appropriate.
matt rowntRee, an able assistant to Keith and the only one to keep Luke in check on the smack thread.
Ron L. Mitchell, Chief Officer of the Department for General Douglas Containment.
MocPages, which could have been designed for crazy shit like this. Except when it wasn’t working. Bonk Smash Thud! Is even less amusing at 5am…
All of the Players. Every single one of them. But mostly Werewolff.
I found a map from the original Decisive Action and added it to the article for clarity.