The Production Spiral

by Aaron Curtis

First posted: December 24, 1996

The major topic of discussion for several weeks was the degenerate deck used in the German INWO Championships. In case you don't already know, it used Oil Spill to destroy its own places on turn one, giving California and Canada tokens, which were then used to take over new places with Back to the Salt Mines or to power Savings and Loan Scam. Repeat as necessary until 8 groups have been destroyed, then declare victory at the end of the first player's second turn. Because other players can't interfere on the first turn, and he has no power structure to attack, it's nearly impossible to stop him, even if you know exactly what's in his deck.

Fortunately, this deck is very expensive to build, as it uses multiple Oil Spill (rare) and Flesh-Eating Bacteria (ultra-rare). Unfortunately, the fact such a deck exists means you will see it or something similar whenever you go to a major INWO tournament. The consensus on the INWO-list seems to be: Something must be done!

The truth is, this is not the first deck built that produces this kind of suprise win, only the most effective (and earliest). The "trick" used can be generalized to what I call The Production Spiral. In its simplist form, it goes like this:

  1. Use action tokens to get plots.
  2. Use plots to get action tokens.

If you do this in such a way as to complete one cycle with more than you started with, you can do it indefinitely, or at least until your plot deck runs out.

The first part is easy: Savings and Loan Scam costs one action token (and S&L Scam itself), and provides three plots. If one of those plots is another S&L Scam, and another provides an action token, you've come out one plot ahead.

So, what plots can provide action tokens? The aforementioned Oil Spill is most effective, as it give tokens to all or most Green groups if sucessful, an easy task when attacking your own groups. Blitzkrieg gives an action token to a newly controlled group, and Beach Party gives an action token (and relief) to a devastated coastal place. Finally, World War Three provides an action token and a plot to a Nation which successfully destroys another.

Not included in this list is March on Washington, which provides an action to power another plot. Why? The designers wisely limited its use to once per turn, most likely after a playtest revealed than unlimited use of MoW combined with S&L Scam is a recipe for a one-turn win almost every time.

This small difference is the key. You can't have a production spiral when the card forces you to stop after one cycle.

We can include controlling groups in this, since you have to be able to repeatedly control new groups in a single turn in order to win this way. Power Grab is extremely effective, providing a new group and an action token for it, but ends your turn immediately. There's no chance for a production spiral with this card. In contrast, Alien Abduction gives you a free ATO of a Personality, at no cost. It is repeatable, and therefore a likely ingredient in a production spiral. Also on the list of repeatability for controlling groups is Back to the Salt Mines, which allows you to control places from you hand for the cost of a single action token, often on a 10 or less. Finally, The Stars Are Right could be used repeatedly by Hermes if they can find lots of power four Magic action tokens (difficult, not impossible). These last two are not as bad as Alien Abduction, because you still have to pay action tokens, but still repeatable.

Since repeatability is the key, are there groups with "repeatable" special abilities? Certainly. The Servants of Cthulhu get a plot whenever they destroy a group. Fiendish Fluoridators give you a plot whenever you destroy a Conservative or Straight group. Gun Lobby gives you a plot whenever one of your Violent or Conservative groups is attacked. Church of Violentology gives you a plot whenever an attempt to destroy it fails (as well as killing its weakest attacker). Finally, the Ninjas get an action token whenever an attack on them fails.

Students of the INWO Deck of the Week should recognize these, and realize that decks centered around Production Spirals already exist. Rudi Gross' "Lambs to the Slaughter" makes use of Gun Lobby and Ninjas: each weak group attacks the Ninjas and fails, giving them a (power 12) action token and a plot to their master. Both "The Invaders' Plan" and "Valley of the Shadow of Death" use the Church of Violentology to wipe out their own power structures, drawing plots all the while. Even "Fusion Sepukku" (the first INWO deck published on the web, and the inspiration for the DotW) uses WW3 to destroy eight Nations in a single turn.

As you might guess, there are many ways to mix-n-match the above cards to produce a deck designed to win in one turn. The German player used Oil Spill, Back to the Salt Mines, lots of S&L Scams, and Cthulhu's special ability. Another deck could use Alien Abduction, Servants of Cthulhu, Gun Lobby, Fiendish Fluoridators, several Conservative personalities and some assassinations to repeatedly bring someone into play and then kill him and draw three plots. A third deck could use Beach Party, Hurricane (a disaster than can only devastate), Gun Lobby and a host of Violent and Conservative coastal places to repeatedly attack and party, gaining an action token an a plot each time. Note that this third deck doesn't even use lots of rare cards.

Now that we know what the problem is, and (more importantly) that there IS a problem, what can be done? My suggestion: see March on Washington and Power Grab. They explicitly cut the Production Spiral off at the knees. Something similar should be done for every plot that gives an extra ATO or provides action tokens. This wouldn't affect most games, as most casual gamers won't play Alien Abduction followed by Blitzkrieg followed by S&L Scam multiple times in the same turn.

More specifically, I would add to end of the text of the following cards:

Oil Spill: No group may gain more than one action token from Oil Spill in a single turn.

Back to the Salt Mines: You may not use this card to attack on your first turn.

Alien Abduction, Blitzkrieg, Beach Party, The Stars Are Right: You may only use this card once per turn.

This criteria, that plots that give ATO's or action tokens should not be repeatable, should be used in the design of future expansion sets as well. If it is not, we are almost guarenteed to see more Production Spiral decks in the future.

As a final word, I know that some INWO gods read the list. I urge you to share this will the other gods and discuss it, as I'm sure the list denizens will be.

Back to Ralph's INWO Page.


Last Modified: June 2, 1997
Ralph Melton <>