AFTER THE HOLOCAUST is a hypothetical (and highly abstracted) economic, military, and political simulation of events in the fragmented former United States, twenty years after a large-scale thermonuclear exchange with the (then) Soviet Union. The game is ten (seemingly interminable) turns long, and is designed for four players, each of whom controls a different region of North America and part of Canada. These regions are the Northeast, the Midwest, the Southwest, and the Far West.
AFTER THE HOLOCAUST, in so far as it is actually a game at all, is primarily an economic struggle. It is a contest — apparently designed to tease out the secret Stalinist “central planner” lurking in all of us — in which each player attempts to increase his population, productivity, wealth, and territory until one player becomes economically, militarily, and politically powerful enough to become the "Dear Leader" and unite all of the regions under his personal and (of course) utterly benign control. There can be, and usually is, military conflict, but players will quickly find that wars are an expensive and surprisingly ineffective way to settle territorial disputes. Trade, diplomacy, farming, industrial production, and settlement of unoccupied territories will play a much more crucial role in most players’ plans than military operations. In spite of this mix of what should be interesting design elements, however, this is a strategic game in the worst, most unsatisfying sense of the term; even worse, it is neither simple to learn nor enjoyable to play once it is learned. For those deeply-disturbed individuals who actually want to win, the path to their success will depend on their planning several turns ahead, forging advantageous diplomatic and trade relationships (this is actually surprisingly easy as the other players will do almost anything to move the game along), avoiding the waste or misallocation of resources, and, of course, they must prevail militarily if they get embroiled in an armed conflict. One friend of mine, who was the only fan of this game that I ever met (and, not surprisingly, was and is an economist), pithily described AFTER THE HOLOCAUST as follows: “It is a bit like starting with EMPEROR OF CHINA and having Joseph Stalin, J.P Morgan, Pancho Villa, and an audit officer from the IRS all take an equal role in redesigning it.” He thought he was being complimentary; but complimentary or not, I think that his description describes comrade Simonsen’s little creation only too well.
A game turn begins with the random determination of the first player. Play then proceeds clockwise around the table. Each game turn of AFTER THE HOLOCAUST consists of five distinct rounds. The first is the Production Round, which includes a basic production phase, a secondary production phase, and a mobilization phase. Second is the Trade Round. Third is the Consumption Round, during which a player expends food points, expends consumer points, calculates and declares social status, and provides military supply for any combat units under his control. Fourth is the Military/Political Round, which begins with the political placement phase, followed by initial military movement, secondary military movement, combat, and (appropriately) elections. The last segment of the game turn is the Finance Round, which includes the political disassociation phase, the stockpile/labor reallocation phase, industrial investment phase, taxation, the industrial capacity adjustment phase, the industrial labor reallocation phase, and finally, the — this is for real — depreciation and shrinkage phase. In addition, immediately before the fourth and eighth game turns, the Population Growth Cycle occurs during which the labor population of each region increases by 10%. The game’s designer, Redmond Simonsen (may his flocks sicken and die!), observed that his goal was to create a multi-player game in which the players were forced to seriously deal with each other in order to survive and win. What he ended up with, so far as I am concerned, was a complex, mechanically tedious, and mind-numbingly dull economic game that — for those of us who don’t actually harbor authoritarian survivalist fantasies — is neither informative nor even marginally enjoyable. Moreover, AFTER THE HOLOCAUST is that true rarity among economically-driven games: an abstract economic simulation that, for reasons known only the designer, completely dispenses with the use of markets. In fact, so complete is this gap in the game that even instructions on organizing simple exchange/barter arrangements between players are completely missing from the otherwise lengthy game rules. I could go on, but I think that you get the idea.
What is particularly painful about all this is that I personally hold much of Redmond Simonsen's work in high esteem — when it comes to his graphics design work, that is; when it comes to his game designs, these are something else entirely. It is, of course, possible that my admiration for Mr. Simonsen’s talent as a graphic designer may have moderated this review of his game. Therefore, I leave it to others to decide if I have been too restrained in my criticism.
AFTER THE HOLOCAUST offers one alternative to the standard game: the Pre-Deployment or Recovery game, which begins fifteen game turns (years) before the regular game start. The game also presents several optional rules sets that can significantly affect the trajectory and flow of play: the Federal Reserve Bank rules set — really, I kid you not — which brings banking (an optional fifth player and yet more heart-pounding excitement) into the game system; and the Technological Improvement rules set, which introduces research, development and technological advancement into play. Although the standard game of AFTER THE HOLOCAUST is designed as a (3-4) multi-player game, the design also offers a solitaire, two-player, and five-player variant (like that's ever going to happen!); as well as instructions — Heaven forbid — for postal play.
- Time Scale: 1 year per game turn
- Map Scale: 190 kilometers per hex
- Unit Size: cadre/division (but personally, I prefer mob/band of coolies)
- Unit Types: armor, militia, supply, industrial plant, political control marker, good/poor control markers, social state indicators, unemployment/starvation indicators, farm sector indicators, metal/fuel sector indictors, industrial sector indictors, transport and trade sector indicators, game sequence of play indicator, and game turn indicator
- Number of Players: 3 or 4 (based on my own experience, you should assume that once the game breaks up you will never see any of the other players again, ever!)
- Complexity: above average
- Solitaire Suitability: surely you must be joking!
- Average Playing Time: 3-4 hours (but it seems longer; a whole lot longer)
- Two 17” x 22” hard-backed hexagonal grid Map Boards (with Turn Record Track, Terrain Key, Four Regional Sets of Six Economic Sector Tracks, and Abbreviated Turn Sequence incorporated)
- 400 ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions included)
- Four 11” x 17” back-printed, folded combined Charts and Tables Sheets (each with an Initial Resources Chart, Food Table, Secondary Production Costs Table, Trade Transport Movement Point Cost Chart, Strike Table, Political Control Table, Subversion Table (my personal favorite), Terrain Effects Chart, Combat Results Table, Unemployment Table, Starvation Table, Stockpiling Cost Chart, Investment Chart, Corruption Table, Depreciation Table, Shrinkage Table, R&D Table, Tax Table, and photocopy masters for — I swear, you can’t make this stuff up — “Form 1040” and “Schedule D” Tax Forms
- Eight 8½” x 11” perforated, back-printed sheets of Game Money (144 pieces)
- Two small six-sided Dice
- One SPI Game Catalog (1977)
- One 20 compartment plastic counter tray
- One 9” x 12” x 2” bookcase-style Game Box