This was originally housed on a side page of my Nowhere Band site; I realized recently that it makes a lot more sense for it to live here.
THE RULES OF ESCHATON LITE
rev 1.4, 2.9.23
The purpose of this document is to produce a playable version of the game Eschaton as presented in Infinite Jest. As we’re making several departures/simplifications from the version laid out by David Foster Wallace, we’ll call this version Eschaton Lite.
Eschaton Lite simulates a Cold War nuclear exchange, using tennis balls thrown around on a large gamespace representing a polar-projection map of the Northern Hemisphere. Blocs made up of nation-states and treaty groups will flex their nuclear muscles at each other over a strategic prize, and all hell will inevitably break loose.
(for those who care, the departures from the full Wallace version of Eschaton are as follows: Wallace Eschaton is played on a space consisting of 6 tennis courts, arranged 3×2, and missile launches are conducted by lobbing the balls with tennis racquets; Lite’s space will generally be smaller, and balls can be thrown rather than racquet-lobbed. Additionally, Wallace Eschaton calls for heavy use of computers both before and during play; Eschaton Lite will put pre-game decisions at the Ump’s discretion and use a combination of Ump discretion and pencil-and-paper for in-game computing).
For purpose of example, this document will refer to a game scenario set in 1984, wherein the US, NATO, USSR, Warsaw Pact, and Israel will deal with a crisis in East Berlin.
Eschaton Lite is a competition between Blocs. These, of course, will generally be the standard Cold War Eastern Commies versus Western Democracies. Blocs, in turn, are made up of teams. Each team has its own command structure and nuclear arsenal (we’re giving arms to the client states to make things more fun here).
For our example game, the Western bloc consists of two teams: the United States and NATO (defined here as “all of the non-US NATO members”). The Eastern bloc similarly consists of the USSR and remaining Warsaw Pact nations. Additionally, Israel exists as a free-agent team, free to join either bloc as best it sees fit.
Ideally, Teams have 3 players on board: a Head of State (so, President, Premier, etc), a Military Advisor (Secretary/Minister of Defense), and a Military (address this person as General/Admiral/Marshal Whatever, and they’re the one who does the actual ball-throwing). This can be streamlined if you’re short on people , but 3 are recommended for maximum Tense Conversational Fun (note, by the way, that all conversations are encouraged to be carried out in high-flown Cold War dialog. The more you can say things like, “I concur, and will inform the Admiral,” the better you’re doing) (note 2: the person playing the Military represents the entire officer corps of their team’s military and, as such, gets to take full part in conversations).
Roles within teams are as follows: The team’s Head of State issues orders and makes final decisions; It’s up to players how much they want to communicate (or even work) with their allied teams. The Military Advisor, ideally, will be the most conversant in the rules of Eschaton Lite and will provide guidance on both game-rules and broader strategic matters (if you know in advance that you’ll be playing a Military Advisor role in an upcoming game, it’s a good idea to hit the Wikipedia entry on Game Theory). The Military participates in decisions and carries out the actual ball-launching.
(quick philosophical note: it’s certainly possible to play with just one person per team, uniting the Head of State, Military Advisor, and Military roles into one person. However, it’s my belief that human interaction and tense differences of strategic opinion are the big draw of Eschaton Lite, so the more people you’ve got to argue things out, the better).
Communication among team members can happen freely at all times. Communication among allies can happen freely if all teams’ command structures are either in an undestroyed capitol or aboard their Looking Glass aircraft (more on this later).
Each team starts the game with an arsenal of H-bombs, represented by tennis balls. Except for very specific special cases (see SPECIAL WEAPONS), the bombs are assumed to be mounted on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), both ground- and submarine- based. The exact mix of forces depends on the scenario, and is assigned by the Umpire as he or she builds the scenario.
Ground-based missiles are placed on the gamespace map in silos, and can be destroyed if an enemy (or friendly!) warhead falls within their target radius (see below about the target radius).
Sea-based missiles are placed on the gamespace map in submarines (if you want to be all Cold War-cool, call them “boomers”). In a nod to Wallace, boomers should be represented by shoes. Each boomer can launch two warheads. Boomers have no target radius, and can not be destroyed by enemy warheads. However, if the enemy bloc has commanded its attack submarines to destroy enemy boomers, each boomer has a chance of being destroyed every round (this is determined by dice roll on the part of the Umpire).
When you’re playing, it’s a good idea to reserve a good half-hour for setup, just to be sure.
As mentioned above, the gamespace consists of a polar-projection map of the Northern Hemisphere laid out on the ground (ideally a parking lot or tennis court, although grass or even a basketball court or something could work) with either tape or rope. The exact scale is up to the Umpire and players; I recommend going outside and tossing some tennis balls to get a feel for what sort of scale will allow for enough accuracy for the game to be playable.
Don’t worry so much about map accuracy; close enough is fine.
After laying out the map with tape or rope (and note that you only really care about land masses), mark each team’s 10 major cities with loops of rope and a table-tent sign reading the name of the city. The loop of rope indicates the target radius of the city; IE, a tennis ball landing inside the loop means a warhead has hit the city (more on this below). Once again, loop size is at the Umpire’s discretion, but you want them to be big enough to reflect the fact that cities are pretty much sitting ducks for ICBMs.
(Development note: on further reflection, you might not even need the land-mass markings, really, if you just want to best-guess your cities and then work silos and subs from there; that’d be entirely playable, but wouldn’t look as rad. See Appendix 2: Thoughts on Setup for more info)
After cities are laid out, teams can place their silos and boomers. As mentioned above, silos also go inside a loop of rope to indicate their target radius. Silo loops should be much smaller, to indicate the fact that silos are small, hardened, hard-to-hit targets. Boomers can be placed in the water, keeping in mind that they’re more likely to be destroyed each turn if they’re closer to enemy-bloc lands.
ROUND AND TURN STRUCTURE
A game of Eschaton Lite proceeds in rounds; each round is subdivided into turns. Each team gets one turn in a round. Turn order within a round changes each round, and is determined by 20-sided dice rolled by the Heads of State at the beginning of each turn (rerolling in case of ties).
A round is structured as follows:
1. If any teams have ordered their attack subs to destroy enemy boomers, the Umpire rolls dice to see if any are destroyed. If destroyed, they are removed from the map (ALTHOUGH IF A LAUNCH WAS DETECTED FROM A BOOMER THE PREVIOUS ROUND, THAT BALL IS STILL THROWN AFTER THE BOOMER’S REMOVAL FROM THE MAP). Boomers have a base chance of 1 in 20 per round of being destroyed. If they are within 5* paces of an enemy city, this chance rises to 5 in 20.
*Umpire may change this radius to suit differently-scaled games, of course.
2. Heads of State roll 20-sided dice for their turn order. Lowest goes first. If two players tie, they reroll to break their deadlock.
3. Execution Phase: The team with the lowest die roll throws balls for their launches detected the previous turn, and the Umpire adjudicates damage (see LAUNCH! below). Other orders issued previously are considered to be carried out (DEFCON changes, for instance)
4. Decision Phase: After these launches, further decisions and Hot Line communications can happen. This is when one would order new launches, declare that they are heading to their Looking Glass aircraft, or change their DEFCON status, or order their navies to attack enemy boomers. Note that while Hot Line communications can only be initiated now, non-Hot Line communication can happen any time. Depending on whether a team has access to Special Weapons, their use might be ordered at this point as well.
5. Action then moves on to the team with the next-lowest dice roll.
As noted above, a missile launch is commanded and detected at least a round before it actually happens. This represents the real-world fact that (except for some Special Weapons cases) an ICBM launch would be detected with enough time to react.
The launching nation must have their armed forces at DEFCON 1 (depending on scenario, teams generally begin at DEFCON 5; changing your DEFCON takes a round, although there’s no restriction on how much you can change it. It’s fine to go from 5 to 1 within a round if you want to skip the slow-escalation, sending-a-message stuff. On the other hand, going straight from 5 to 1 would be pretty provocative).
Launch authority rests with the Head of State. During his or her Decision Phase, he or she can order missile launches by telling the Umpire. The number of warheads being launched needs to be specified, and the HoS must tell the Umpire which silos or subs they are being launched from.
The Umpire will announce the detection of a (or several) launch(es).
Note that once a launch has been ordered or detected, the missile is considered “in the air,” so even if the sub or solo from which is coming is destroyed, the ball still flies.
If the Head of State is in an undamaged Capitol or their Looking Glass aircraft, the execution of the launch will happen on that teams next Execution phase (IE, next round). If the HoS is in a bunker underneath a bombed Capitol (COMM status COMPROMISED), there is a one-round delay in carrying out the launch. In this case, DETECTION happens during the next Decision phase, and actual launch during the Execution phase after that (IE, there’s a two-round delay, and during that first round the missile isn’t in the air, so could be destroyed with its silo or sub).
During the execution phase following launch detection, the Military player for the launching team will walk to the sub/silo, pick up the ball(s) being launched, and toss them at the intended target. Warheads landing cleanly within the Target Radius loop (direct hits) are considered to have completely destroyed the target; warheads hitting the loop itself (indirect hits) do 50% damage (with a second hit finishing the target off). IN DISPUTES AS TO WHETHER A WARHEAD HIT THE LOOP, IT’S THE UMPIRE’S CALL.
Note: if the location of your game allows for it, balls could be coated in carpenter’s chalk before the game to make for easier judgement of exactly where they land; the resulting puff of smoke on impact might also look pretty rad.
If the target is a city, damage takes the form of civilian death; direct hits mean they’re all gone. Indirect hits mean half of them are gone. The Umpire has a chart listing all cities and their populations, and will mark the damage accordingly.
WHEN ALL OF A TEAM’S CITIES HAVE BEEN COMPLETELY DESTROYED, THAT TEAM IS OUT OF THE GAME, EVEN IF THEY HAVE SILOS OR SUBS LEFT.
If the target is a silo, damage takes the form of destruction of unlaunched missiles within the silo. Direct hits remove them all; indirect hits remove half of them (although always removing at least one missile, so an indirect hit on a silo holding 1 missile still wipes it out.
Each team has a capitol city, and that team’s command structure is assumed to start the game in the capitol. If the capitol is bombed and the command structure hasn’t moved to their Looking Glass aircraft, the command structure is assumed to be hiding in a bombproof bunker underneath the city. Their COMM status is COMPROMISED, meaning that they have an additional 1-round delay on launch orders and can only communicate with their allies (and their enemies, of course) through Hot Line messages. Additionally, since all runways in the city have been blown to hell, it takes an additional round (so, COMM status of INCOMMUNICADO for 2 rounds as opposed to 1) for the leaders to crawl out of their bunkers and get into a Looking Glass plane if they want to.
NOTE 1: As another nod to Wallace, it’s crucial that we point out here that the players themselves are not objects within the game. IE, if the person playing the Soviet military beans the US Military in the head, that warhead is wasted. The map is not the territory, and forgetting this could land you in the hospital with a broken computer monitor on your head.
NOTE 2: Warheads detonate where they land initially; if a ball bounces, it only does damage on the initial impact. Also, if a ball lands on friendly territory (even if the military just accidentally drops it), friendly-fire casualties are possible.
It’s probably best if the Umpire maintains a whiteboard (or something similar) listing each team’s COMM status, just to keep things easy. There are several different COMM status values:
CAPITOL– the team’s command structure is in an unbombed capitol city. Orders go out with no delay, and communication with allies is unrestricted and can happen at any time.
COMPROMISED– the team’s command structure is holed up in a bunker underneath the glassy ruins of a capitol which has received a direct hit (note that an indirect hit doesn’t move the COMM status to compromised, although a second one would). Communication with allies can only happen through Hot Line messages. Launch and other orders are subject to a 1-round penalty, and an additional INCOMMUNICADO round must be suffered to transfer to the Looking Glass aircraft.
INCOMMUNICADO– the command structure is in jeeps or helicopters or whatever on their way to an airbase to get onto the Looking Glass aircraft, and can not issue orders or communications of any kind (although they can receive, but not send, Hot Line messages).
LOOKING GLASS– the command structure is airborne, flying circles above their country in a fully-equipped command plane. Orders go out with no delay, and communication with allies is unrestricted. Looking Glass planes are considered invulnerable, although that’d be a hell of a SPECIAL WEAPON to give someone if you were putting a scenario together…
Unless they’re INCOMMUNICADO on their way to the airbase, teams can always send Hot Line messages to their enemies (or, if necessary, their friends). To recreate the real-world cold war teletype system, these are to be written messages. The Umpire will keep paper and pen handy; during the decision phase of their turn, a Head of State can tell the Umpire they wish to send a Hot Line message, and the Umpire will give them pen and paper. After the HoS (or their underling) writes out the message, the Umpire will deliver it to the addressee.
Note that Hot Line messages can be broadly or narrowly targeted. In our example game, the Soviet Premier could send a Hot Line message viewable by the entire Western Bloc. Or, if she wanted, she could send one specifically addressed to the NATO Defense Minister, who would then be free to decide whether or not to share the message with the rest of his team (and his allied teams).
Even more than normal communications, Hot Line Messages really ought to be in the Cold Wariest Cold War dialect you can muster. Come on, people, get in the spirit.
READINESS POSTURE (DEFCON)
DEFCON indicates the alert level (DEFense CONdition) of your forces. DEFCON 5 is normal peacetime status. DEFCON 1 is war. The middle states indicate various alert levels.
For Eschaton Lite game purposes, DEFCON 1 and 5 are the only ones that really matter; teams start the game at DEFCON 5 and must declare DEFCON 1 before launching missiles. However, DEFCONs 2-4 could be used to send a message; if NATO doesn’t like where things are heading, but don’t want to commit to all-out war yet, they could always raise their alert level from DEFCON 5 to 3 to tell the Russkies they’re serious.
As mentioned above, changes to DEFCON status are ordered during a turn’s Decision phase, and considered complete during the next round’s Execution Phase.
For clarity and atmosphere, it is recommended that the Umpire post everyone’s DEFCON along with their COMM Status on a whiteboard or something similar.
To spice things up, when an Umpire is putting together a scenario, he or she can assign special weapons to a given team, allowing short-circuiting of a game rule. Ideally (although not necessarily) they will have some historical basis. Note, also, that it’s important to balance special weapons between blocs.
For instance, for our 1984 Berlin Crisis example, we could assign these special weapons:
USA: Stealth Fighter (nerd note: the F-117 isn’t really a fighter; it’s more of a small-payload tactical bomber, and we’re treating it as such here). Based out of a silo in Europe (and subject to the usual risk of destruction), the US can order one warhead per turn to be precision-dropped by stealth fighters. In practice, the President orders (by telling the Umpire quietly) the strike, and the Umpire does not declare a launch. Next Execution Phase, the US Military picks up the warhead and walks it over to the target, dropping it from directly above. Soviet destruction of the silo/airbase from which the Stealth Bomber is operating removes the Stealth Fighter from play (since the Russians will go all out to kill this thing once they see what’s happening, it might be best to give the US two Stealth Fighter attacks, and, thus, two silos that have to be destroyed).
USSR: Akula-class subs. The Soviets have a new breed of attack sub, and it’s bad news. Once the Premier gives the order for his Navy to start killing boomers, American and NATO boomers have 2 out of 20 additional chances for destruction each turn. IE, most boomers are destroyed if the Umpire rolls 1,2, or 3 on a 20-sided die; subs within 5 paces of Eastern Bloc cities die on a roll of 1-7.
Israel: Mossad teams. Subject to the usual 1-round delay, the Prime Minister of Israel can order Mossad teams to infiltrate enemy launch sites and detonate one of Israel’s warheads in them. This happens without warning, as with Stealth Fighter attacks. Note each warhead used by the Mossad comes out of Israel’s total bomb allotment (IE, if they start with 5 and give one to the Mossad, they only have 4 to launch).
Note that in this scenario, the NATO and Warsaw Pact teams don’t get Special Weapons. Sorry, guys, sucks to be client states.
Another possible special weapon you could use: SDI/Star Wars. Any tea with SDI can have their military stand on the territory with a tennis racket and try to swat incoming missiles away. Pretty powerful, so you’d want to be careful with balance.
Blocs score points primarily through achievement of goals laid out by the Umpire in the scenario description. These point totals are then adjusted based on penalties for civilian losses.
For instance, in our example scenario, let’s say that the Umpire has written things up like this: it’s laid out that the Western Bloc’s strategic goal is to welcome a reunified Germany into NATO (meaning that the Head of State of the Warsaw Pact team agrees to let Germany go). The scenario specifies that this is worth 5,000 points to the Western Bloc.
Eastern Bloc has two levels of strategic goal: 2000 points if they merely keep Germany partitioned (lower point total for this, since it’s the status quo at the start of the game).
They receive a 3000-point bonus if they somehow extort the NATO HoS into ceding West Germany over to Warsaw.
Should Germany’s cities (let’s say the scenario lays them out to be Berlin and Bonn) both be completely destroyed, then neither side can claim strategic points, and victory will come down to which side loses the least from Civilian Death penalties.
Civilian Death penalties are as follows: for each city completely destroyed, the team incurs a 250-point penalty (125 points if a city is half-destroyed from a near-miss). Team penalties are pooled for the entire bloc.
Really, though, nobody wins in Eschaton Lite. Or everybody wins, depending on how you look at it.
APPENDIX 1: SAMPLE SCENARIO
(ideally, this would go out to all players a day or two before the game)
USA (Washington). 10 cities, 20 warheads (3 boomers). Stealth fighter.
NATO (Bonn), 10 cities, 20 warheads (2 boomers).
USSR (Moscow). 10 cities, 20 warheads, (4 boomers). Akula-class attack subs.
Warsaw Pact (Warsaw). 10 cities, 20 warheads.
Israel (Jersualem). 2 cities, 5 warheads. Mossad infiltration teams. Can join Bloc as desired.
SITUATION: It’s 1984, and a CIA op in East Berlin is about to go horribly awry. Assigned to commit basic low-level sabotage, a gang of CIA infiltrators led by Raoul Birkenstock instead somehow traps the entire leadership of Communist East Germany in a movie theater and blows it up; they then declare themselves the heads of East German government and announce an immediate reunification with the West.
Gameplay starts with all teams at DEFCON 5 and word of the Birkenstock crew’s actions reach all capitols in the first round.
WEST: receive a reunified Germany into NATO (at HoS Warsaw’s discretion) for 5000 points.
EAST: maintain partitioned Germany (at HoS NATO’s discretion) for 2000 points, receive reunified Germany into Warsaw Pact for 5000.
Destruction of Berlin and Bonn renders strategic goals moot.
CITY ROSTER BY TEAM
Washington (38°53′ N 77°02′ W)
New York (40°43′ N 74°0′ W)
Los Angeles (34°03′ N 118°15′ W)
Seattle (47°36′ N 122°19′ W)
Omaha (SAC, dude!) (41°15′ N 96°0′ W)
Houston (29°45′ N 95°22′ W)
Miami (25°47′ N 80°13′ W)
Chicago (41°50′ N 87°41′ W)
Denver (39°44′ N 104°59′ W)
Minneapolis (44°58′ N 93°15′ W)
Bonn (50°44′ N 7°5′ E)
Paris (48°51′ N 2°21′ E)
London (51°30′ N 0°7′ W)
Rome (41°54′ N 12°30′ E)
Athens (37°58′ N 23°43′ E)
Ottowa (45°25′ N 75°41′ W)
Madrid (40°23′ N 3°43′ W)
Brussels (50°51′ N 4°21′ E)
Oslo (59°56′ N 10°45′ E)
Reykjavik (64°08′ N 21°56′ W)
Moscow (55°45′ N 37°37′ E)
Leningrad (59°57′ N 30°19′ E)
Kiev (50°27′ N 30°31′ E)
Kharkov (49°55′ N 36°19′ E)
Sverdlovsk (56°50′ N 60°35′ E)
Novosobirsk (55°01′ N 82°56′ E)
Odessa (46°28′ N 30°44′ E)
Baku (40°23′ N 49°52′ E)
Tashkent (41°16′ N 69°13′ E)
Novgorod/Gorky (56°20′ N 44°00′ E)
Warsaw (52°13′ N 21°02′ E)
Berlin (52°30′ N 13°23′ E)
Budapest (47°28′ N 19°03′ E)
Prague (50°05′ N 14°25′ E)
Bucharest (44°25′ N 26°6′ E)
Sofia (42°41′ N 23°19′ E)
Krakow (50°3′ N 19°56′ E)
Liepzig (51°20′ N 12°23′ E)
Dresden (51°2′ N 13°44′ E)
Lodz (51°47′ N 19°28′ E)
Jersusalem (31°47′ N 35°13′ E )
Tel Aviv (32°4′ N 34°47′ E )
APPENDIX 2: THOUGHTS ON SETUP
The ideal Eschaton Lite gamespace would be a big, flat open space with all of the northern hemisphere’s landmasses marked out in tape or rope, and then game elements laid out on top. I think we can agree that this would look awesome. Unfortunately, it’d also take forever to lay out the landmasses, and they don’t really contribute much to gameplay other than atmosphere.
Here’s a suggestion for a simplified setup: since we’re basing everything on a polar projection map of the northern hemisphere, all you really need is a “north pole” in the center of your gamespace and an arbitrary “prime meridian.” Given the lat/long coordinates of your cities, everything else can flow from there.
First, define your north pole. Ideally, you’d want to actually measure out the gamespace and locate it in the mathematical center. When doing this, you’ll want to keep note of distance R, the distance from the north pole to the equator. For our example, and to make for easy math, let’s say R= 70 feet, so we’re talking about a gamespace consisting of a circle with a diameter of 140 feet.
You’ll then use R to figure out how far from the north pole to put your cities, based on their lattitude. Originally, I was thinking that you’d want the Equator to be R feet away from the north pole, but this is overkill; a standard game won’t have any cities further south than, say 20° south (Havana, for instance, is at about 23°).
So let’s say that the out boundary of the gamespace is 20° north, meaning that R represents a distance of 70° from the north pole. So you can use this to convert degrees into feet:
(R feet)/70° = the number of degrees represented by one foot of distance from the north pole.
So, for our example of R = 70, each foot of distance from the north pole = a degree
There’s another step here; Lattitude is expressed in degrees north of the equator. So we need to do sort of a fliparound to make this useful, and subtract the city’s lattitutde from 90 to get the degrees from the pole.
Ferinstance: Warsaw is at 52°13′N. I propose rounding to the nearest half-degree, so we’ll call it 52°. 90- 52 = 38, so Warsaw is 38 degrees south of the pole. Since our division above gives us one foot per degree, Warsaw is 38 feet away from the pole.
OK, that’s great, we know how far out, but where is it? Here’s where you need your protractor and your arbitrary prime meridian. Warsaw’s Longitude is 21°02′E. So we round down to 21°. Standing on the pole, E longitudes would be to the Left of the Prime Meridian, and W ones to the right. So we stand at the pole, measure 21 degrees to the left of the Prime Meridian. Warsaw’s 38 feet out on that line.
As far as silos and subs, then: I’d recommend that you first set up your cities, to give things some shape. Then players should set out their silos and subs, using the cities as landmarks to guess where the landmasses would be. The Ump, as always would have final say on whether a given location was ok or not; the Ump would probably want a printed-out map handy (polar projection, if possible) to help with this.
APPENDIX 3: JARTS VARIANT
If you are lucky enough to have a (now illegal) set of lawn darts or “Jarts,” you could always add a little flair to your game by tossing those for missile launches. You’d probably still want to use tennis balls or something to mark silo locations and keep track of your arsenal.
You’d also probably want to give people hard hats, be very careful about who’s standing where on the gamespace, and avoid using the SDI special weapon.
APPENDIX 4: ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The concept, name, and basic game elements of Eschaton are the work of David Foster Wallace, appearing in the novel Infinite Jest. It’s great, you should go buy it if you haven’t.
The Eschaton Lite adaptation is the work of Keith Pille, with significant advice and input from Rebecca Collins, Chad Cook, Matt Waite, and Reggie Spanier.
Feel free to distribute/share these rules, but please include proper attribution or we will find you and perform a jarts variant on your house.
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