I found an interesting combination of custom settings today that provides a bit more "realism" to the game -- or at least, so it seems, after checking the gameplay. Essentially, you run the game in big world mode (200%), max out the cities, and crank the population as high as it will go. You then play survivor scoring and diplomacy. This works best with 1 vs 1 and 2 territories assigned to each player, for a classic Russia/China vs. NATO arrangement.
The diplomacy mode ensures that all silos and airbases are visible to both players upon game beginning, as it is in reality. The subs are, of course, not shown, which is also realistic. In big world mode, you get double units, so you end up with waaay more silos; 24 in total, if you play with 2 territories. And you can place the silos anywhere; you could put all 24 in Europe if you felt like it (though that would leave the U.S. wide open, and doesn't make a ton of sense, as you want some of your silos to be geographically far from anything that can kill it.) You also end up with double the subs, carriers, and airbases for each territory -- in short, you'll have a ton of nukes to pump out. This, combined with the half-range of the radar units (though, of course, you get double the dishes) means that incoming nukes are much harder to shoot down. Essentially, the "first strike" strategy is no longer retarded, as it is in normal play -- it's favored, as it is in reality. Silos are much easier to kill and cities are harder to defend, so it makes sense to start launching ASAP (the computer actually kicked my ass when I decided to play the "normal" way on the first game and go for the retaliatory strikes). SRBMs also have more limited range in big world mode, and so you're safe to launch from silos well away from the coast and the only way to kill them is with other ICBMs or with bomber strikes (which take forever to get to target).
How is this more realistic? Well, in reality, in a full nuclear exchange, neither the U.S. nor Russia would "wait out the first strike" before retaliating; they'd either be commencing the first strike themselves or hammering on the launch button while cursing themselves for not having thought of it first. ICBMs are pretty much impossible to shoot down, so this makes sense. The best way to stop them is by destroying the silos and airbases, which is what the first strike is all about -- eliminating their warfighting capability as much as possible. Nuke the silos, nuke the airbases, etc. You don't rely on the idea that you're going to be able to shoot down missiles in flight. It also sets up the classic first strike/second strike strategy -- meaning that, assuming you flush your bombers the moment you go to Defcon 3 and start flying them to their targets across the ocean, you end up with a second wave of bomber nukes coming in after the ICBMs. After the first strike is over, you spend all your time micromanaging naval warfare, trying to find those pesky subs so your coasts aren't pummeled, and trying to sneak your own fleet of 48 subs up on the coast of the enemy. And, in the end, while both sides employ strategy and are attempting to find an advantage, both sides are also always going to suffer massive, unacceptable losses, no matter how well you play. This mode pretty much ensures that -- when you win, it doesn't feel like a win, because most of your cities are still glowing.
This is a terribly fun game mode, if you ask me -- it's quite amusing watching 28 of your silos or your 40 or so subs all launching simultainiously while your nearly 200 bombers make a run for their targets as your fleet of 100+ naval ships duke it out in the ocean. The only downside is that it is very processor intensive. I haven't tried it multiplayer yet, which is where it would really be fun (the CPU tends to play like a retard in this mode) -- but unless everyone had fast machines, lag could be a real problem. My 1GHZ PIII (not a speed demon by any stretch) was having a really hard time just playing against the CPU. If everyone DID have fast computers, it'd be interesting to see a game of 3 players, each with 2 territories.
General discussion about Defcon
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I like this idea, although I expect it would take more time in one sitting than I'm likely to ever have (IV: please can we have a save game option? Please?). I wonder if modding the game so that you could launch from your silos, oh, every 10 seconds or so and switch from air defense to ICBM launch near instantaneously might also add to the effect, although the downside to this is that "everybody dies" might actually mean that - whoever wins would become more of a roll of the dice than anything else, the casualty count would be so high.
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