Episode 40: Board Game at the End of the Universe

40: Board Game at the End of the Universe

Release Date: October 15, 2007

Running Time: 117 min.

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ep 40

Don't Panic. But get comfortable. Grab a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster from the bar settle in for our take on Twilight Imperium, a game of galactic conquest whose play time could be measured in light years.

News & Notes: Star Craft Swag, Game Prices, Utopia, Adam Spielt Closes
The List: Twilight Imperium
Name That Game: Win a copy of Ricochet Robots from Time Well Spent
Backshelf Spotlight:
Master Labyrinth, Ricochet Robots
Truckloads of Goober:
Abbey of the Wandering Books
Game Sommelier:
Five game reprints to try or avoid
Mail Bag:
World's Greatest Dice Roll

Complete Show Notes continue after the break.

Game News & Notes

Starcraft Swag Available at Local Game Stores Link

(Thanks to listener David Schuth for the info) When you pre-order StarCraft: the Board Game before Monday, October 22, 2007 through your Friendly Local Game Store or on the FFG Online Store, you can receive three high-quality art prints featuring images from the upcoming StarCraft 2 videogame: One 24" x 36" poster depicting a Terran Marine, and two 8-1/2" x 11" prints—one a Dark Templar, and the other showcasing scenery from the StarCraft universe.

Court Decision Influences Game Price Policies?

Listener Edmund Hack and I started a dicsussion along these lines after the last episode.What do you think? Read more in the forum.

Utopia Link

The rich king of Utopia invites princes from the greatest known civilizations (Persia, China, Maya, Greece and Egypt) to come to live in his city. Princes bring all the diversity of the architectural style of their civilization. As the King’s intendant, you are mandated to welcome and look after the princes who arrived at gates of the city. Each step of city construction gives you notoriety. The first player to reach 50 prestige points, ends the game and the player with the most points wins.

Adam Spielt Closing At the End of the Year Link

Adamspielt.de has been a great source for online game orders for those of us not lucky enough to live in Germany. The sad news is they have decided to discontinue the mail-order portion of their business at the end of 2007. They have been known for their excellent customer service and obsessive attention to packing every game with care. They are having a close-out sales to clear out their inventory, so you might want to check out adamspiel.de for some deals.

The List

Twilight Imperium BGG entry | Official Site

An epic empire-building game of intersteller conflict, trade, and struggle for power. Players take the roles of ancient galactic civilizations, each seeking to sieze the imperial throne via warfare, diplomacy, and technological progression.

Backshelf Spotlight

Mystery Connection Contest
Can you find a connection between these two games? We find a mystery connection each episode and challenge you, the listener, to hunt for it! Post your guesses to the Forum . Find the connection and you could win a pair of coveted custom Spiel Dice!

spiel dice

Congratulations AGAIN to Scooterb23 our winner for episode 39 ! Most creative guess also earns a set of dice this week, so congrats go to Splusmer, too!

Master Labyrinth Link

Navigate your pawn to collect various spell ingedients in a shifting maze made of tiles.

Ricochet Robots Link

It's a puzzle... it's a game... it's both! Use four robots and walls on a factory floor to find the shortest path to guide a 'bot to its target.

Truckloads of Goober

Abbey of the Wandering Books BGG Entry | Official site

The most expensive goober game ever featured. There are only 200 copies of the game in existence and each goes for 2,600 Euros or $3,100! Hand carved pieces, hand painted board, gold inlaid wooden letter holders. Thanks to Christof von Zadel from Dresden for bringing this game to our attention!


Game Sommelier

The Challenge: find five reprints of classic games that are either greatly improved by being updated or totally ruined by unnecessary changes.

Dave's List

Stephen's Vote

Winner's Circle (improved) Thumbs Up
Robo Rally (ruined) Thumbs Up
Titan: The Arena (improved) Thumbs Up
Cosmic Encounter (ruined) Thumbs Up
Acquire (improved) Thumbs Up

Next Challenge: A reprise of the last challenge! A do/don't list for game expansions. Make a list of five game expansions that are worthy additions or ruin the original.

Mail Bag

New donor to The Spiel!

"Five Card " Nancy Pogel

Listener Hans Van der Drift (Brisbane Australia) brought this to our attention:

The World's Greatest dice roll ! Helicopters, dice the size of a truck and a mountain in Greenland. Check out the Forum post with the video!

Kevin Rohrer wanted us to know about LAGcon in Louisville, KY November 9-11 details are available on our forums .

Marrku Jaatinen from Finland weighs in with some good advice for Dave's romantic Game Sommelier pics from way back in February: Summer Time and Flowerpower .

Andrew Rustleund writes in to say we are messing with his head. "Every time I heard the Truckloads of Goober intro, when I hear "you can't judge a book by its...", instead of filling it in with "cover", I always hear "goober". You can't judge a book by its goober. (If you listen past the end music you'll hear Dave saying it, too! It took Dave six tries NOT to say it. Heh!)

Tim Phelps writes: "I noticed a rules goof you guys made when playing Fire and Axe. When you raid a town, you can only make up to 3 attempts. If those all fail, then you have to wait until your next turn to try again with any remaining crew members you may have."


Could we say "without further ado" more times in this show? I don't think so...

Here's a recipe for a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster.

I'm sure there are some other goofs in there somewhere. Let us know if (when?) you find one!


I've played 4 full games now, and TI3 is a really solid game. Especially with people who know what they're doing, it is an absolute blast. Play time doesn't necessarily drop with more experience, however, because the more you understand about the game the more time it takes to evaluate and plan your actions. Oh, and there's also a lot more time dedicated to "diplomacy" as well. The thing I like most is that the game really builds a story (like all good "epic" games should). Unlike many ry, themeless eurogames, a good session of TI3 leaves behind memories and stories that can be remembered and discussed for months and years. It's like watching a good movie or reading a good book, except that the players are all partially responsible for the action! As far as the "Imperial" strategy card debacle, that's all fixed with the Shattered Empires expansion. For me, however, the endgame is still the game's one primary weak spot. The nature of the whole objectives/victory point winning condition drives the game to feel very artificial (where the races are all scrambling to accomplish these goals that may have nothing to do with what the race "should" really want to do), and it promotes strategies where races exhaust all their resources to push for the final few points, only to be left with a terrible board position but winning the game. There's just something wrong when a person wins a big space opera game but only controls a few systems and has only a few surviving ships left...

Thanks for the feedback from some Twilight Imperium fans' perspectives. We strive not to preach from on high and try not to tell anyone whether they should like a game or not. We'll certainly give you our opinions, but they're just that two dorks' opinions. We always want to err on the side of giving you a very good sense of the game and from there you can make your own judgements about whether it appeals to you or not.

That said, I think we gave ample warning that our rundown of TI would not be for the faint of heart. Even though we can be big windbags on almost any subject, this was certainly not our typical List sgement! At least with the enhanced version's chapter breaks, you can skip past any segment that induces slumber. I never thought of The Spiel as a sleep aid! The Spiel.. it's a desert topping AND an instant nap all in one!

It is precisely because there are so many things to keep track of that I think Twilight Imperium would be much better suited as a turn based computer game. Face to face trying to sift through all the different options and decisions can be very daunting even for someone who has played a few times. Having a computer version that can spell out all your given options in a very concise interface would really streamline the experience. For this reason, I could see play by email games being a sort of compromise. You have plenty of time to figure out and weigh your options in a pbem game.

I also get what you're saying, GamerChris, about the narrative aspect of the game being the most compelling part about TI. The problem for me is that the story of each game happens despite many of the rules and mechanics and not because of them. In each game I have played I always find myself wanting the politics and diplomacy to have a larger real impact on the outcome of the game and they rarely have. The interesting and memorable stories always seem like asides while the main action of the game takes a very predictable and anti-climactic path. It would be fun to see a space opera type game where the politics and diplomacy actually trump military conquest.

What do you all think?

I just love the fact that this discussion will almost certainly be continued on the Dice Tower. It is already taking place in their guild forum.


As I mention there, you guys also find yourselves at odds with the Little Wooden Cubist's take on Winner's Circle this month.

For those of us who listen to a variety of gaming podcasts, it is fun to have this type of cross-cast interaction. By the way, I think I've coined a new term that refers to the act of listening to a discussion on one podcast within the context of previous discussions from other podcasts. The term is "Meta-Casting". I do it all the time. Welcome to my world, people.

While having your opinions compared/contrasted with those expressed on other podcasts might be uncomfortable for you guys, it sure is a lot of fun for us. Keep up the great work.

I ain't no freakin monument to justice!

Yeah, otscotty, that's something that I use my blog ([shameless plug]www.gamerchris.com[/shameless plug]) for a sometimes as well.

It's really cool that we can have a big, collective conversation about so many different aspects of our hobby through podcasts, forums, BGG, blogs, and maybe even occasionally in person (gasp!).

I Think the Starcraft pre-order idea is pretty interesting. It gives the publisher (and the individual retailers) a better idea of how much demand the product is generating, and where best to support that demand.

Also, it gives an obvious reason for a consumer to GO to a retail shop in the first place... something which I've personally found less and less appealing since online retail took off.

I like the preorder idea. With all the worry and uproar about the potential "price fixing" from game companies, this (like the promos that DoW gave when BattleLore was released) is a cool way for them to support brick and mortar stores without necessarily hurting the online retailers' ability to still make money.

Give the FLGS some love, people!

Good to hear from you, Gavin. Hope things at Robot Martini are going well.

I can see how providing promo material that is useable in the actual game can certainly be a good way to bring out some extra support to local brick and mortar game stores. Just as Gamer Chris said, the extra figs for BattleLore definitely added value to the game and could easily make it worth the trip to the store. A few posters for a related computer game (StarCraft), doesn't really seem like incentive to me.

My main point is I don't think promo incentives should or need to be coupled with preferential price treatment. In other words, there are ways for game publishers to show Friendly Local Game Stores (FLGS) some love that don't end up raising game prices for consumers across the board.

There are two issues at play here.

1. Local game stores have to find new ways of doing business to stay in business because competition from online ventures is not going to go away.

2. Some game publishers are inching toward a two-tiered pricing system prejudicing brick and mortar business over online ones.

I don't think issue #2 is the salvation or solution to issue #1.

As for pre-orders giving a publisher a better idea of demand, that information is only accurate (and therefore useful) if you allow pre-orders from all forms of business (onlilne AND brick and mortar). There are many places without a local game store and gamers in those areas would be excluded if pre-orders are only allowed or counted from brick and mortar stores.

I have quite a few years experience working in a local brick and mortar game store, so I definitely understand how great a resource they can be in supporting interest in games. I just think the whole price fixing issue could very well be a boondoggle for local stores and will take time and energy away from coming up with other ways to branch out and find new ways to serve people.

Since the GS forum seems to be for suggesting new topics, I'll follow the last guy's example and post this here- hope that's okay...
Thumbs up all round, and congratulations on some surprising selections. I'll go ahead and follow the same pattern- two bad, three (mostly) good, and a couple of honorable mentions. I'll ignore "super" versions of games where the original remains available.
COSMIC ENCOUNTER (BAD)- I would have put money on Dave picking this one for all of the reasons he described. I'd still have it if the art hadn't so completely failed to grasp the original's character. Cosmic was never a dark and serious science fiction epic and the rorshach blot sub-Giger aliens lack the humor that defined the game. Worse, though, is the sacrifice of the elegant warp cone, one of my favorite bits ever, for a tacky plastic monstrosity and its clumsy little rockets. There's where your fifth and sixth player budget went. Not everything has to be a miniatures game and here it merely boosts the game's price (and carbon footprint, come to that) while making it more awkward to actually play. My nightmare for any future Avalon Hill upgrades in the age of plastic.
KILL DR. LUCKY (GOOD) - As much as I appreciate James Ernest's work, I've never understood why this is his most popular title. Still, I have to acknowledge the improvements in the "Director's Cut" edition with Spite tokens and the dog-when I saw "rule variants" in your poll, this is what I thought of. Irritatingly, some of this was made an expansion for the ritzy version- from the creator of Cheapass games, 8 bucks for a small wooden dog and three rules variants is just flat out wrong. Fortunately, the B&W version is fine by me.
CAR WARS (BAD) - Well thought-out, undeniably needed and nicely executed, the revival of the 1980's classic was still DOA, killed out of the gate by its own company with a bizarre marketing strategy that involved spreading the game material over a series of what looked like flimsy comic books, each of which contained the same basic rules and stats and counters for only two cars. Which you had to cut out yourself. Apparently waiting for the CCG bug to bite, Steve Jackson games delayed the release of the rules for building and customizing new cars for so long that by the time they were released (if indeed they ever were) nobody cared anymore. One of the most famous games of its time was rendered irrelevant within a year.
ARKHAM HORROR (GOOD?) - Ironically within a week someone across the electric street had posted a comment that the FFG version had ruined the charm of the original, saying that the combination of the simple gameplay combined with the horrible theme had given the game its humor. The sentiment was quickly seconded. I still love the new game for what it is. The errata quickly fixed the early stalemate problem upon its first release. The expansions have been cleverly created to feel like new stories. It's the best marriage of the feel of an RPG to the more manageable gameplay of a traditional board game and I've never regretted the purchase of any of it. But it did admittedly leave its predecessor far in its wake so I can guess how the other guy feels.
GAVITT'S STOCK EXCHANGE (GOOD) -As I said in the poll thread, the dual rulebook and the historical information (from which I learned the true provenance of Pit) make this a pretty good model for the "replica" style of reprint, for those who enjoy pretending to be somewhen else.
Two honorable mentions since Dave took 'em. Duell is great by the way, but it should have kept a couple of rules from the original- best to play a mashup of both. And for pure goober improvement the most recent reissue of Clue- having the suspects there in the "flesh" does a lot for the mood as does a board that finally looks like a murder scene. A rare case for me where the plastic really does make a difference.

On the subject of Twilight Imperium, I could not agree with your assessment more. Well, that's not entirely true - I bought the game, read the rules, saw it being played at BGG.Con 2006 and I decided to put it up for trade. I like some complex games. I enjoy some long games. TI3 just did not work for me in so many ways. I can't imagine the agony of sitting through five full games of it - especially if one or more of the players was prone to analysis paralysis.

The Games Sommelier segment was very interesting. I agree generally with your suggestions, but I have a couple of comments...

Acquire: Others have mentioned the checkered edition history, but I thought I would add a couple of cents to the discussion. The final pre-Hasbro Avalon Hill edition was a mixed bag - it had horrible components, but added some interesting (albeit, not necessarily good) variants to play. The Hasbro/Avalon Hill edition is a great edition, but I really wish that they had included the original chain names at least as an option for play. I mixed the parts from both of these into a very decent set.

Cosmic Encounter: The original Eon edition (pre-expansions) was about as restricted as the Hasbro Avalon Hill edition. Of course, the artwork in the Avalon Hill edition did not suit the game nearly as well. The great sin of the Hasbro Avalon Hill edition was that no expansions were ever offered. Sadly, the limited options were offered at a pretty hefty price.

Grand National Derby: The funny thing is that Grand National Derby has actually been subject to both good and bad reworking in its reissuings. Titan, the Arena (aka Colossal Arena) was an incredible improvement and has continued to improve in each reissuing. However, people tend to forget the further development of the game done by Don Greenwood that resulted in Galaxy: the Dark Ages. In this, I think that the system was pushed a bit too far and given a setting that just did not work as well as the fantasy theme did.

Finally, I'm glad that you did not choose to include Arkham Horror in the discussion. For me, Fantasy Flight's Arkham Horror is the poster child for a game that had incredible promise and failed to deliver. The original game and the remake are so far apart that they really only share the theme and title. I had hoped for the charm of the original game with beautiful new components. What I got was the beautiful goober but also a ponderous game system that completely lacks the fun that the original game gave. I tried and tried to like it, but I have finally given up on it and moved on.

Again, thanks for the really good list and episode. Please keep up the good work!

I will admit that I have only played one game of TI:3, but I enjoyed it a great deal and look forward to playing it again. I will also admit that I am a wargamer, so game length is not so much a deterrent for me as it might be for some.

True, the game's biggest flaw is its endgame. Shattered Empires is essential and tries to address the Imperial card problem. It also focuses the action more on battles. If you ever do find yourself in another game, give this a try.

On the Table: Fire and Axe, Winds of Plunder, Age of Steam, Combat Commander

Three comments about Arkham like this in a week fill me with the urge to see the original again in case my distant memory is clouding my judgement. Grabbing our coats, my girlfriend and I race to the game rental store before they close and we just make it as they're about to turn the sign.
"Do you have any copies of Arkham_Horror?"
"The original or the remake?"
"The original."
"Let's see, that'd be in our Cult section. Nope, checked out. Halloween, I guess. Due back Thursday. We've got a copy of the 2004 version left."
"Naw, that's okay. Damn."
"Well, we've come all this way now; we should get something."
"How long do we keep them?"
"5 days except for new releases and two days for those."
"New releases, eh? Any copies of 1960: The_Making_Of_The_President in?"
"No, that's been pretty popular."
"Have you seen it?"
"Yeah, I ended up buying a copy. But then I like documentaries."
"Look, honey; there's a copy of Taluva left."
"Let me see. Oh yeah, looks like its kind of a sequel to Attika and that was great. Okay. Ooh, they carry the Criterion editions. The extras on this Acquire game are amazing. A restored print of the original release with the original print advertising, a small biography of Sid Sackson, the Hasbro version on the other side of the game, an introductory essay by Donald Trump and a roll of Scotch tape!"
"Seen it. Come on, they're closing and I'm tired."
"Okay, okay; we're going. Just let me check the Cult section for a minute in case there's a mistake."
"Well, you never know what you'll find unless- oh wow, have you ever seen Wabbit Wampage?"
And then I woke up.

I am responding to the call for other opinions made by Stephen and Dave following their review of Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition (TI3). First, let me say from the start that I am not writing to you to try and convince anyone that his or her observations are wrong and that there is some here-to-fore unknown reason that one should really like TI3. Instead I just wanted to offer some insight to consider when thinking about the game. My long-time friend and gaming cohort, Rick, and I have had lengthy conversations on the subject of TI3 and I though I would share some of the salient points we have agreed upon.

Unlike many Euro games, TI3 is a self-regulating game; i.e., to say the balance of the game is maintained largely by the players as opposed to being regulated by elegant mechanics. This concept is clearly illustrated by older American games like Supremacy and Illuminati where players must constantly watch and react to the action of fellow players, particularly strong ones, or a player could very well run away with the game. Our group had, to some degree, forgotten this concept after several years of heavy Euro playing. We too were very critical of the Imperial Strategy card's 2 victory points in our early games. When it occurred to our collective conscience that TI3 was, in fact, a self-regulating game that Imperial Strategy card became like handicap stones in the game of Go or a catch up mechanic for less experienced players. Taking that card becomes something that players allow those who are way behind in victory points to take. Players who are in a leading or strong positions taking that card become instant targets to be ground down by the rest of the galaxy. This realization has resulted in very tight, highly competitive, challenging and interesting games. I must confess the time element gets worse. Our games are played over many sessions and run 12 to 20 hours in length. This becomes a cutthroat, ruthless style of game play that needs to be played by people that are both serious and can still be friends when they leave the table. Despite TI3's integration of some Euro-style mechanics, I think TI3's optimum playing environment is at best contrary to Euro-style games and might even be an anti-Euro game. We are convinced TI3 must be played with a different mindset and will most certainly not be everyone's cup of tea.

As a frequent visitor, I'll take this opportunity to recommend GamerChris' blog to other Meeps. He does a great job. Unlike many other blogs, he also adds new content on a fairly regular basis. Spiel fans are sure to find a lot to like at www.gamerchris.com.

I ain't no freakin monument to justice!

It's Scotty's Matrix and we're just livin' in it... I wonder who that makes Morpheus and Neo? And don't forget Trinity...

At the end of the day, we're just glad to be a part of the hive mind, two voices in the conversation. I suppose there is some saturation point, but in general I think a greater variety of opinions and insights out there is valuable.

Our motivation for doing the show is tied in part to the idea that we bring a different perspective to games than many others. The fact that the show can take its place in the hive mind as part of a greater conversation is cool.

But at the same time our main goal is simple: stay true to our own voice. We can't worry too much about the ebb and flow of the other great voices out there. It's a chorus not a competition. And we'll do our part to stay on key.

I, for one, appreciate the additional voices that you add to the 'hive-mind'.
I've heard the guys over at the DiceTower rave about TI3 on a number of occassions but I was keen to hear a different perspective.
"We will name you Cygnus, the god of balance you shall be"

Long live Meta-Casting !

We don't stop playing games when we get old...... We get old when we stop playing games

No need for shame, Chris. You've been on our list of blog links for some time and I certainly hope people who visit The Spiel meander over to many of the other great game related sites out there, including yours!

Of course we should not forget that Steerpike also has a blog over at www.beyondswelterskitchen.blogspot.com

Whilst it is not a games blog, per se, it often drifts off into the wonderful world of meeples and goober.
Shameless plugger ? Moi ?

We don't stop playing games when we get old...... We get old when we stop playing games

Forgot to enable comments for this post. Whoops!

They are enabled now, so post away!


First, I must agree with much of what you say about Twilight Imperium. There is so much going on and the Imperial card is sadly broken and quite frankly dull, so I am pleased that I have used ways to come around it. The good thing is that FFG seems to be better in prooftesting the games nowadays as I keep remember Runebound 1st edition, which the first and only time I played it got out last when everything in the way was taken.

So what is the good thing about Twilight Imperium? Well, I like that it is bloated and like the different phases. There seems to be many games within the game, which make it never making it dull for me. It's just so cool to see all set up and contrary to what you say, I think the command counter system works just good. There is a lot of strategy which reveals when playing it more (I haven't lost F2F yet), but some is with knowing what reveals behind primarily Action Cards and Objectives).

This is not a game for everyone and I am surpised that it is so high rated on the Geek, but it is my only 10 rated game.

After listening to the episode I looked on the FFG website. They've got variants that attempt to address use of the Imperial card and the Shattered Empire expansion includes a new Imperial card as well as a different card to completely replace it. I did hear that playing with the other card seems to make the game longer...

Not really changes much. If you would like you can reduce the number of victory points needed to achieve winning, but in both cases most of my games have ended with Imperium Rex if I have not played with Age of Empires variant (revealed objectives) which sometimes end with getting 10 points.

In the expansion there are other ways to get victory points (even though the points from Imperial Strategy Card is taken away), like eg. artifact planets. There is also more smaller skirmishes in the expansion since there are some objectives that you gain points for taking them.

I fell asleep about 10 minutes in to the TI3 discussion, and woke up right near the end...so if I can't even listen to people talking about the game for an hour...I guess I probably won't like playing it.

I have to agree with this. It's great that you review these kinds of games too, but keep it shorter because attention span when listening to a pad cast is not allways so long. I could follow the discussion, but it was because I know the game.

I liked the length of the TI:3 section.

I know that I am never going to play this game (7 hours out of my life is too much with so many other goodies still untried) but I keep hearing people raving about it. I now feel that I know the game enough to, at least, hold my own in a conversation with Tom Vasal :-)

[a bit like Stephen and Caylus]

One Question here though - how well would it lend itself to some kind of pbem approach ? Anyone implemented it yet ?

I enjoyed the Sommalier a lot - especially as Steerpike Jr has just received Collosus Arena for his birthday !
Acquire is, indeed, a game which has been well and truly gooberfied by Hasbro. However, its release history is somewhat patchy. Over various incarnations a few rule fiddles were introduced and, thankfully, dropped as they added nothing and detracted everything. It was perfect the day it was released and is goober perfect in the Hasbro version.

I am also fortunate to have the original RoboRally. I have not seen the rereleased version and am thankful for that. It sounds like anyone who has got the cheap cardboard version needs to drown their sorrows with the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.

Thanks for the Douglas Adams references. I can't help wondering how many times that Marvin the Paranoid Andriod could have played TI:3 in the 576,000,003,579 years he waited patiently for someone to build the "Restaurant at the End of The Universe" on the shattered remains of Magrathea.

We don't stop playing games when we get old...... We get old when we stop playing games

to be fair, I will go back and listen to it again, because I do want to know more about the game, and I do enjoy the descriptions of the games :)

And Steerpike...

"I can't help wondering how many times that Marvin the Paranoid Andriod could have played TI:3 in the 576,000,003,579 years he waited patiently for someone to build the "Restaurant at the End of The Universe" on the shattered remains of Magrathea."

The answer is 42.

From what I have heard, PBeM were better suited with the second edition. That said, I have played some PBeM with TI3 and it works fine. It is more like Play by Forum where you mainly use the forum on Fantasy Flight Games (if it works). It takes some time, but it is very fun (until I burnt out on it, but that is another story). The environment works especially good, since there is more room for diplomacy. It can get brutal and dirty though.