Survival endless FAQ by clickfest ================================= I've been playing Plants vs Zombies Survival Endless in Game of the year edition for around 4 years now, mainly refining my play with the setup I call Elegant Cob Sun Saver (ECSS). This has two cobs and will be described later. A lot of FAQs have been written about this game mode. I'd like to emphasize some of the less well-known points, and deal briefly with the more familiar ones. First I should acknowledge Draco and evilbob for their systems which I combined into ECSS. Details of ECSS and variants are given at the end, where I give a lot of detail about playing this system. Survival Endless is a challenging game at high levels for two main reasons. It's an Arcade mode, and shows rare random events, the most damaging being jack accidents (explosions of the jack-in-a-box zombie which destroy 1 or more important plants like pool glooms). These two features are closely related. By Arcade mode, I mean that, although the game saves your progress in each session and allows you to continue next session from where you left off, it doesn't allow you to load an earlier saved game, so you can't repeat the same level. That means you are at the mercy of the random events like jack accidents and dolphins eating pool glooms. You can practice your play but each moment of a game is played once only. Note that it is possible to cheat by backing up game files so you can repeat levels. If you do this, all the challenge of this mode quickly disappears. Since the dangerous "Black Swan" random events are rare, just by repeating a level several times you can avoid them, thus being able to play without jack accidents, for instance. There are then many setups which can be played forever. I don't advocate cheating this way, as for myself there is then no sense of achievement. I only mention it to get across what makes the game mode such a challenge, for those who don't cheat. I have tested over 50 setups up to 100 flags, and beyond if they are robust enough to survive that far more than half the time. None of them can survive indefinitely without cheating. Only a handful can regularly (not always, because of the randomness) survive beyond 100 flags. Of these, only two variants of my Elegant Cob Sun Saver setup can regularly survive many hundreds of flags in my experience. Other people's experience may differ, but I'd like to explain why I think this is so, without getting into a tedious slanging match about the best setup and playing style. If you don't agree, that's fine. Take my suggestions with a pinch of salt. But you might save yourself some time investigating setups that aren't viable by reading further. Many cob cannons or few? ======================== Firstly, I divide setups into two main types, those with few or no cobs, and those with many. My dividing line is a bit vague, for reasons I'll go into later, but let us say four or less cobs for the "few-cob" setup. Cob cannons are everyone's favourite attack plant, because of the huge and full 3 by 3 tile area effect damage, perhaps 80, to kill football zombies outright (assuming Draco's stats on zombie health are correct), and the 35 second shot-recharge. The first point I'd make is that it isn't as simple as to say, the more cobs the better because you can inflict more area damage per second on the zombies. [Whilst on the subject, I've checked the health of most types of zombie from Survival Day Hard videos and I agree with Draco's table in his FAQ. Highlights: jack 17 football 80 garg 150 giga 225 (not checked) zomboni 60. From my Survival Endless videos, I estimate bungee 23 (killed by two attacks from 3 glooms + freeze 1 point in 25 damage, see later for plant damage, but not killed by mistimed freeze + 2 attacks of 2 glooms for 17 damage), giga 225 (rough estimate: cob + squash + 17 gloom shots + 3 direct winter melon shots at 260+ damage killed an inner giga, but the same giga had not died after cob + squash + 7 gloom shots + 2 direct winter melon shots at 216+ damage. This assumes cob and squash do 90 damage. I've checked in Survival Day Hard with gatlings that cob, squash, cherry, jalapeno, doom all do 90 damage (against gargs). It would be reasonable for giga to have 50% more health than garg.] Why not? Because with any setup there are Black Swan events, especially jack accidents but not only those. Sure, the jack accidents are going to be quite rare with an 8 or 10 cob setup, at least whilst you have all of those cobs. But they will still happen. With a many-cob setup, you have to deal with multiple threats almost entirely with the cobs. So if you mess up any single cob shot, or get the timing wrong so you don't fire in time, you generally don't have any other attack to fill the gap. That lets in a host of Black Swan events. There are too many to list them all. But they include a greater frequency of jack accident, and gigas or zomboni squashing column 7 plants. Of course, if a column 7 plant is destroyed, it is then possible to lose a column 5 and 6 land cob. A key feature of many-cob setups is that a lot of space on the lawn is, unavoidably, given over to the cobs which occupy 2 lawn spots each. There is then less space for other plant defences. A particular consequence of this is that every level with zomboni has to be defended with near-perfect cob shots and timing, to stop the column 7 plants being squashed, even if there are no jacks or gigas (I shorten giga-gargantuar to giga and gargantuar to garg for brevity). So only a few rare levels with no zomboni, jack or giga (about 21%) don't require constant use of the cobs. That is why I make the distinction between many-cob and few-cob setups. With few-cobs, any level without jack or giga (about 34%) requires many fewer attack seeds and is an opportunity to save sun, provided at least the setup can deal with zomboni without use of any seeds or even cobs. Those are the only few-cob setups I consider. Thus, few-cob setups have more "easy" levels and sun-saving opportunities. Also, I will argue later that, of all many-cob setups I've tried, only some setups with exactly 8 cobs, four at the very back of the pool and the others on land in columns 5 and 6 are viable to 100 flags. I suspect this is true in general, but your experience may differ. I couldn't find a viable to 100 flags setup of this kind which had more than 4 twin sunflowers. Some people apparently try to survive with only two twins. Some try to ladder their setup to save on sun by not having to replace so many pumpkins. I will argue that neither option is viable beyond 100 flags. For now, just be aware that the large size of cob cannons means you have to cut down on twin sunflowers as well as defensive plants. So long as there are no Black Swan events, that is no problem. But the long-term viability of setups is tied to surviving Black Swans. Even if they are rare, you need to be able to afford the sun to replace the losses. And I would argue that Black Swans where you lose a cob are not rare enough in many-cob setups. Zombie frequency ================ Where did I get those percentages from? I recorded every zombie roster and level in a game that went beyond 1000 flags and in 5 games after that, overall averaging above 700 flags per game, though my playing style changed a lot in the process. That showed that about 44% of levels have jacks (4/9) so there are about 22 jack levels per 100 flags (2 flags per level). With my basic ECSS setup I had usually between 3 and 5 jack accident levels per 100 flags, which worked out at 20% of the jack levels, or about 9% of all levels if you prefer. With the variant I had slightly fewer, 18% of the jack levels or 8% of all levels, but with less data so far. Giga, zomboni and bungee each occur on about 39% of levels independently. That seems enough information for basic strategy. The crucial point is the difference between the frequency of easy levels with few-cob (34% or (1-.44) x (1-.39) as probabilities) and many-cob (21% or (1-.39) x (1-.44) x (1-.39) as probabilities), which is statistically significant. Whilst we're on the subject of saving sun, note that levels with giga, but no jack, though difficult, still often allow for saving a little sun during the lull near the end of the second part when the gigas usually stop coming. That is another 22% of levels on which a little sun can be clawed back, provided the setup can deal with zomboni (and all zombies except jack and giga) without using so many seeds. Only gargs need the occasional use of freeze in addition to a single pair of cobs with a viable few-cob setup like ECSS. At higher levels, you tend to break even on some of these levels, lose a little sun on some and gain quite a bit on others with a big lull without gigas. Even though you lose sun with ECSS on many, but not all, jack levels, overall you gain sun on the majority. Of course, you can regain huge amounts of sun, between 1000 and 3000, on easy levels if you are sparing with pumpkins and attack seeds with ECSS. Area effect damage ================== To explain about many-cob setups, I need to talk more generally about area-effect damage. In Survival Endless, a lot of the plants without any area-effect damage are not effective in a viable setup. That is why you will mainly see only winter melon, cob, fume and gloom as the basic attack plants in viable setups. Obviously, the instants (squash, jalapeno, cherry), cobs, doom and freeze (ice-shroom activated by coffee) are all pure area-effect attacks. By pure, I mean all the damage done effects all the zombies in the area of effect, not just one target. You may be surprised that winter melon is not described as pure area-effect. I believe that melon-pult deals 3 damage to the single target zombie, and only 1 damage to the 3 by 3 area centred on the target. Winter melon does the same, but each shot slows affected zombies by 50% for a few seconds except those zombies that are immune, which in practice is zomboni and dolphin and in-air balloon zombies. If you don't believe that melon and winter damage works this way, investigate by making and watching videos. I'll mention evidence later on. You can test this by playing one of the other Survival modes like Survival Day, and restrict yourself to just melon and winter melon attacks (after digging up any peas you started with). I only mention this because a number of guides give different amounts of damage for plants, so they can't all be right and you may have to test it for yourself. It's also just possible that the damage or zombie health stats are different in the original game (with Michael Jackson dancer) and the Game of the year edition version. I only have Game of the year. On Survival Day, you get just zombie and conehead to start. Use pea and repeater to work out that zombie takes 10 damage (a pea hit I'll call 1 damage) and conehead about 27 or 28. Then have a melon in one row with peas above and below to see both direct melon damage (likely 4 per shot as conehead dies in 7 shots) and indirect damage when you have zombies in a column in 2 adjacent rows, one getting hit by repeater and indirect melon shots, the other by melon direct. You can then see the conehead with repeater and indirect melon dies in about 22 peas and 5 indirect melon shots. That's consistent with conehead having 27 health and indirect melon splash damage of 1 point per shot. So at least you can see that the splash damage area includes a square above or below the target, and is a lot less than the direct damage. Testing the same way with winter melon, you can see it takes the same number of shots so does the same direct damage, the only difference being the slowing effect. Testing with a clump of 2 zombies approaching a winter melon, you can see that the lead one dies in 3 hits, but the 2nd one survives 2 more hits, consistent with the winter melon only doing 4 damage to the single target and 1 point splash in the same square (or near it). So it's at least clear that melon and winter melon are not pure area-effect attacks and the splash damage includes the target square and squares above and below. You get the idea and can do your own experiments. Freeze does 1 point of damage to all affected zombies on the screen (as well as slowing affected zombies to half speed for 5 seconds), as can be seen with freeze and pea attacks. Melon and winter both fire a shot about every 3 seconds to give 1 damage per second (dps) to the single target plus only 1/3 dps to the 3 by 3 splash (area-effect). In terms of single shots, the 4 damage of melon or winter is 3 points direct and 1 point splash. The same test for fume and gloom is more difficult to interpret precisely. The exact values and timing could vary quite a bit, perhaps because of the random wake-up time before a plant starts attacking or just the imprecision of my timings. But in my test the results are consistent with a fume dps of 2/3 (one shot of 1 damage per 1.5 seconds) and a pure area-effect range of 4 tiles, and a gloom dps of 2 (one shot of 4 damage per 2 seconds) in a 3 by 3 tile pure area-effect. Since the gloom damage is so crucial I'll spell out my evidence. A gloom killed an ordinary zombie in 3 shots (bursts), not 2, so it's damage per shot has to be less than 5. It killed a buckethead in 17 shots and a football in 20 shots. That is consistent with 4 damage per shot, given a bucket took 65 peas and a football 80 to kill. Also, of course, each gloom burst (shot) consists of 4 clouds in rapid succession in each of the 8 directions, so it's natural to assume each does 1 damage. Maybe I'm simplifying too much to get round numbers (or thirds and halves) and the fumes probably fire a little faster and do a bit more dps than this suggests (perhaps 0.7 dps is closer). At high levels the wake-up is less of an issue since the zombies come on continually and the plants almost always have multiple targets, unlike in these tests with only a few easy zombies. The main point is the relative differences, and whether the damage is pure area-effect, and notice that glooms do large, pure area-effect damage, which affects the inner row if they are placed in the pool. So that explains why multiple pool glooms is such a consistent feature of viable setups. If you really insist on using gatling pea, which has no area-effect, only single target damage, and some pea shots can be blocked by dead bodies of zombies, then you need to know that it does 4 dps to the single target, but I don't recommend using gatling because they're going to be less effective at high levels with huge clumps of zombies. The different area-effects and modes of attack make it difficult to compare fume and winter melon. But if you have both, so the winter does the slowing and the fume does the pure area-effect, it seems to work quite well in combination. You could say the fume is more powerful in a single row once the targets are in range, since its area-effect damage is greater. This combination is used in the outer rows of ECSS (and many few-cobs) with a winter melon and two fumes (3 fumes in ECSS variant). It's particularly vital against zomboni since they are immune to slowing, but take good damage from the fumes, and clumps take the same fume damage. It's clearly better to have several fumes than several winters because of clumping, at least in terms of area-effect dps. For zomboni and dolphin, I believe the effect of winter melon is the same as melon-pult. In particular, dolphins and zomboni are not slowed by winter melon attacks, as it's easy to see in actual play. However, note that in-air balloon zombies are always slowed by freeze, and dolphins are only immune when they are not eating and in the pool. They can be frozen either whilst eating or before entering the pool. Zomboni, of course, are completely unaffected by freeze and winter melon slow effect. Another good way to see that winter melon attack is not pure area-effect without the hassle of video testing is to see how clumps of zombies die in a few-cob setup. By a clump I mean several zombies in roughly the same column, like a couple of gigas on land. You will notice that these land clumps don't all die together, but one by one with a gap of seconds in between. If all damage were pure area-effect, they would all die at virtually the same time. Also, note whilst on this example, that the slowing effect of winter melon makes successive clumps of gigas, and other zombies that survive, bunch up so you can get four or more gigas in a clump at high levels, even if they only appear in 2s. This effect is much less visible in many-cob setups, since almost all the damage is dealt by cobs, but it is still present. There are still gaps between cob shots during which winter melons may be attacking. Other useful plants in Survival Endless ======================================= The only other plants you might see in a viable setup are those with unique attacks. That is why you see winter melon, not for the partial area-effect damage, since that is relatively little dps, but for the slowing effect. That is crucial to slow down jacks, gigas and footballs, for instance. Other special plants you may see are umbrella (protection from catapult and bungee), twin sunflower for sun, cattails for the ability to shoot down balloons (so you don't need to keep a slot for blover on a difficult level). Cattails also have the ability to attack anywhere on the screen, which is nice, but less useful at high levels since their damage has no area-effect, just hitting a single target. But popping balloons and hitting imps and diggers behind the front lines are such handy special attacks (only jalapeno can do this also, but not so frequently) that a pair of cattails feature in many viable setups. I don't recommend using "fire-pea", gatling plus torchwood, because not only is it not area-effect, but the fire cancels the winter melon slowing effect. So gigas will squash everything at high levels, because they are not slowed consistently and they come in clumps, so you can kill one or two but the remaining ones in the clump will start squashing. In this game it is never simple, you have to consider how different attacks work in combination, not in isolation. All attacks have different strengths and weaknesses. Video timing will show that a cattail does about 1 damage per second. Melon or winter melon fire about every 3 seconds. So the single-target dps of winter melon is slightly more than cattail at about 4/3 but the splash dps is a measly 1/3. However, note that cattails fire at targets anywhere on the screen, whichever target is furthest forward, so they contribute damage continually where it is most needed. If you have no more room for land winter melons, an extra cattail can contribute damage to land targets (especially outer rows in few-cob setups). Is it worth sacrificing that spot for a pool winter melon? You see what I mean about how you have to consider how attacks work in combination. It all depends on the particular features of your setup. The pool winter melon is a safer bet because of its splash damage and slowing effect which could also affect an inner row. But you'd have to experiment to be sure. Some setups, even viable ones, use spikerocks. I don't recommend them near the front because they are only pure area-effect against land zombies other than garg, giga and zomboni. That is not ideal since giga and zomboni are two of the most dangerous four zombies with jack and football. And of course, a jack accident could destroy two spikerock and they are expensive in sun to replace. Just be aware that giga or zomboni destroy a spikerock in 9 hits. At high levels, there are so many giga and zomboni that the spikerocks near the front won't survive long in few-cobs, because you have to use a lot of freeze attacks which don't affect zomboni. They survive a bit longer with many-cob setups, whilst all the cobs survive, but I will explain later that because of seed recharge times they still need to be replaced quite frequently at high levels. Some people put spikerocks at the back. I also don't recommend that because it is an inefficient use of lawn space (compared to having a pair of column 2 glooms in pumpkin which deal with the digger and imp threats adequately), which cuts down on your passive plant attack damage or number of twins. It is nice to have immunity from diggers, but not at the cost of passive attacks against other zombies or less sun generation. Some people also "ladder" their setups, by which I mean cleverly allow ladder zombies to place ladders on their land plants at relatively low levels. It's a nice idea, because you don't need to replace pumpkins on laddered plants and imps can do no damage with laddering and back spikerock. But it means you can't use jalapeno which destroys the ladders in that row. I'll explain later how you can't do without jalapeno in a superviable setup (one that regularly survives many hundred flags), even if it is used in some setups which are viable to 100 flags. Some many-cob setups use pool tallnut to keep dolphins from jumping forward. This cuts down your defenses against all other zombies. I would prefer to have pool glooms, but with 10 cobs you may have no choice to protect the column 5 and 6 pool cobs from dolphins jumping on to them and eating them. Otherwise, I would try to avoid it since pool glooms affect the inner land rows with their area-effect, where some of the most dangerous attacks appear, like giga and jack. Many-cob cycles =============== Back to many-cob setups. The crucial point here is the shot recharge time of 35 seconds. To cover both sides, you need to use pairs of cobs, firing them as close together as you can manage. Since new columns of zombies come on with a gap varying between about 6 and 10 seconds, it's the average that's important. The average varies between just over 7 seconds for levels without giga and over 8.5 seconds for levels with giga, from my Survival Endless videos. Let's say 7 seconds to be sure of hitting zomboni, then to hit them regularly without a break you would need 10 cobs (5 x 7 = 35). So the first point is that setups with less than 10 cobs have to use other attack seeds, like the instants, freeze or doom, because the cobs will run out for at least one 7 second attack slot. Check these timings with your own video evidence or a timer, if you wish. It's crucial to know about timings to plan and optimise play. You can put 4 cobs at the very back of the pool in columns 1 to 4 and they are safe from all attacks, whilst most of your front of pool defences survive, since land zombies can't reach them and pool ambush zombies pop up further forward. You can also put land cobs in columns 5 and 6 since imps will be thrown over them, though there are lots of Black Swan threats to these exposed cobs and zomboni and giga are a constant threat if you don't maintain near-perfect timing or miss a single shot. But that only allows you to place 8 cobs more or less safely (in practice those land cobs will need replacing in the long term, as I'll explain later). The only other place I've seen cobs go is in columns 5 and 6 of the pool. There they are in range of pool ambush zombies, who appear at the beginning of the second and third parts. To keep them alive necessitates hitting the spot in between them with one cob at least, with near-perfect timing just as the ambush zombies are about to surface. Note that they do damage as they surface, so they need to be hit underwater, and the window of attack is very small. If you can hit that window consistently in Arcade mode without cheating and/or repeating levels, congratulations. Otherwise this placement is not viable as these cobs get destroyed by the ambush zombies. Even if you can manage the 10 cob timing and hit the ambush zombies regularly, you have used at least one cob not fired at the front, so you will still run out of cob attacks and have to supplement with instants, doom or freeze. There's a similar problem with bungees. With 8 or 10 cobs, your land plants nearer the front won't all be covered by the 2 glooms that is the minimum to protect them (freeze is also needed to be safe but the attack window is pretty wide and can be managed regularly, provided freeze and coffee are recharged. On few-cob setups I recommend freezing bungees every time. I count to 3 after the targets land before activating the ice-shroom or imitator with coffee. That is about 2 or 3 seconds delay. A common beginner mistake which I made myself long ago is not to delay long enough. The window is more than a second wide and presents no problem with a little practice). If you don't want plants stolen (not the cobs, they're too large to be taken by bungees) you'll have to use more cob shots, probably two more, or have four umbrellas to cover everything. Having four umbrellas is important for many-cobs, because you can deal with bungees automatically without needing freeze, so you can just concentrate on the cob shots at the front. But it does mean that you don't have guaranted gloom protection for column 4 land plants against imps whose front section lands in this column, assuming you have the obligatory winter melon in each land row. Pumpkin replacement costs are pretty high with many-cob setups, because with even 4 cobs at the back of the pool, the cattails (if you have them) have to be in column 5 or higher. That's because otherwise pool ambush zombies could eat cobs further forward than the back 4 columns. That makes their shots at imps have to bend round and travel a long way, which delays them so they don't help against imps much, unlike with 2-cob setups with cattails in column 1 or 2. They help less with diggers, too, though even column 1 cattails have to bend their shots around to hit the back column. Just notice that having to supplement cobs means having to spend more sun. With 10 cobs, or even just 8, you'll generally have at most 4 twin sunflowers, unless you sacrifice needed defensive plants and make the setup unviable that way. So there is a difficulty in avoiding running out of sun unless all significant plant losses are sufficiently rare. In my experience, jack accidents are very rare with many-cobs, but loss of cob is not nearly rare enough and quite expensive to replace with at least 8 cobs. Your experience may differ. However, it's fair to say that running out of sun is much less of a threat than a catastrophic loss of more than two cobs at a time making the setup unviable with a moderately difficult zombie roster (giga or zomboni). It is clearly not possible to replace both cob and pool gloom losses on the same level if you have to supplement the cob cycle with all 3 instants and doom, because you only have 10 slots maximum. Whichever you leave out you will be creating Black Swan events that could lead to losses of both in the same level after one is lost and not replaced. This is in contrast to few-cob setups such as ECSS where the setup is still (super)viable after a jack accident and the 7 second attacks can still be maintained, though with more difficulty and occasionally missing one attack or using a single instant. With a lot of many-cobs, if you lose a cob you can't maintain your attack cycle since you are already using the instants to maintain it and doom for the bungees or the lost cob shots to deal with them. But there is one more viable 8-cob system where you may be able to supplement attacks even after losing one or two cobs (no more), which I'll describe next. 8-cob setup of David Pearlman [t][G][M][W] CCCC S . . Symbol Legend [u][G][W][u] CCCC . . . . land G gloom-shroom b [W] CCCC [t][G][G][G][G] t twin sunflower F fume-shroom b [i] CCCC [t][G][G][G][G] b cattail W winter melon [u][G][W][u] CCCC . . . CC cob cannon [ ] pumpkin [t][G][M][W] CCCC S . . u umbrella leaf i freeze spot M gatling pea (ice-shroom) S spikerock Supplementing the cob cycle =========================== There is a viable possibility with 8-cobs I should mention (credit goes to David Pearlman for this setup). If the setup has four land umbrellas and 6 glooms at the front of the pool with two cattails in column 5 and twins in column 6, then bungees can be dealt with automatically. In the back 5 columns the umbrellas protect all plants. In column 6 of the pool the nearest 4 glooms kill bungees because bungees are wider than 1 tile. There are more twin sunflowers in column 1 of the inner row and land glooms in column 2. Bungees can't steal cobs because they're too large. Any plants in column 7 (such as spikerock) will not be stolen because the first two cob attacks will kill bungees. That means doom or freeze are not required to deal with bungees. Then you have doom and instants to supplement cobs. In odd cycles, you can use doom and cherry and that's as good as cobs. In the even cycles, if your cobs haven't recharged, you can use inner squash and jalapeno. Often, against gigas, the greater average gap between columns of zombie types means your cobs may recharge in time without needing the supplementary attack. The even cycle supplements, with inner attacks only, mean that gigas and zomboni will squash the outer column 7 plant unless it is an empty tile or spikerock. Either way, the next cob attacks (or doom and cherry) will kill the gigas and zomboni in column 7 or 6. If we have around 5 cycles in the 1st two parts with no giga, that would mean zomboni get in only 2 chances to hit outer spikerock. There are between 1 and 4 zomboni in a row. So they inflict between 2 and 8 hits on the outer spikerocks, which will mean that new spikerocks will survive more than one such level. With giga, there are perhaps 7 cycles of columns in the 1st two parts and perhaps 3 chances for outer gigas and zomboni to hit the spikerocks. With giga, but no zomboni, the spikerocks might take 3 to 6 hits and still survive more than one level. With both giga and zomboni, the spikerocks might be destroyed in one level. I'm deliberately being pessimistic here to cover worst case scenarios. In practice, most new columns of gigas only contain 2 or 3 gigas, with only 1 in a row and some row(s) having none. And some new columns of zombies, even in the first part, will have no gigas at all. And in the second part, there is often a lull without any gigas (but there will still be gargs if they are in the zombie roster). Zomboni are more frequent, but occasionally a row has no new ones. Most often, there is 1 or 2 to a row, 1 being the average, but sometimes what looks like one zomboni, but survives to be killed by the outer fume and gloom damage in 2-cob, is shown to be 2. With gigas and gargs obscuring the view, the count of zomboni is only approximate. Replacement of the outer spikerocks can often be done on levels without jacks, but with jacks there is a choice between pool gloom replacements in case of jack accidents, or cob replacements, or spikerock replacements. You'd generally leave out the spikerock and bring pool gloom replacements, or leave out the pool gloom replacements and bring cob replacements. Clearly, you may have to play levels with no outer spikerocks, but you also may have to play some jack levels without pool gloom replacements if you need to replace lost cob(s). Levels without gigas usually have around 9 or 10 columns in each of the 1st two parts and the new columns continue for about a minute to a minute 30 s. Despite the average gap being only a little over 7 s, there are only going to be two full cob cycles in each part, and part of a third cycle, perhaps occasionally a full 3rd cycle. So the cob cycles can be supplemented with the use of a doom or two in each of the 1st two parts. With gigas, there may be 12 to 14 columns in each of the 1st two parts and the columns last between 1:30 and 2:00. The greater average gap of 8.5 seconds means you'll not need to supplement in every cycle. In any case, you can maintain attacks against all new columns and use only two doom in each of the 1st two parts unless a part has four complete cob cycles of columns (lasting 2:20). It's reasonable to expect that with the extra delay you will get all cobs recharged in time for the 4th cycle. After hitting the last new column of gigas, you'll have no more zomboni so can use a freeze attack. Then, you can maintain powerful attacks provided you can place up to 4 doom and still place all the instants needed to supplement the cobs. You have two inner tiles in column 7 (if you leave them empty of permanent plants) and four land tiles in column 8 which you can use to plant doom and instants, which should allow you to keep 2 of the slots for instants and freeze and the other 4 for doom. But it means you can't have inner spikerock and maintain the most powerful attacks. Even if you lose one cob, you can still supplement cobs with slightly weaker attacks. In the odd cycles, use single cob and squash, along with cherry and doom as before. In the even cycles, use single cob and freeze, along with jalapeno and squash as before. Losing two cobs seems a big problem, but you can supplement with some even weaker attacks. In the odd cycles, a single squash in one inner row, along with cherry and doom as before. In the even cycles, freeze, along with jalapeno and squash as before. Obviously, there are going to be more rows without an effective attack against zomboni, but at least you can avoid two columns in a row without using a cob pair. This arrangement, which I've only seen in one setup, which also has outer gatling (I wonder about replacing the gatling with fume so you have pure area-effect damage and only one seed slot to replace instead of 2) to deter minor zombies from getting forward to eat the outer land cobs during the weak supplementary attacks, has at least the possibility of being viable with 4 twin sunflowers. There will be greater pressure on pumpkins but it's possible to bring pumpkin and imitator on each level. Whether this will let you gain sun on levels without cob or pool gloom losses, I'm not sure. But some estimates can be made. Twins produce 50 sun about every 23 s. 25 sun falls from the sky about every 10 s. With an average 6 minute level and 4 twin sunflowers, that's about 4000 sun gained. If we assume the use of 4 doom, 4 cherry, 3 jalapeno, 3 squash, that is 1925 sun spent at worst. With 30 s to recharge pumpkin, that is 12 chances to use both pumpkin and imitator in the level at most, for 1500 sun spent. So we should gain at least 500 sun in the worst case without plant losses, quite a bit more with a more realistically lower use of pumpkins or on levels without giga. 500 sun gained is about the minimum for viability. To avoid running out of sun, it then depends on the frequency of lost pool glooms and cobs and spikerocks. The outer spikerocks aren't a huge expense at 500 sun for both, and they have to be replaced less than once a level on average. The first cob cannon costs 700 for the two kernel pults and the 500 sun cob, then it's 50 more sun for each additional one. The 8th one costs 1050 to replace. So it might take about 2 levels to regain the sun spent on replacing a single lost cob. Similarly, it's 450 to replace the first pool gloom, 50 more for each additional one. So with 10 glooms, it costs 1750 sun to replace two lost pool glooms after a jack accident. That might take about 4 levels to make up. Jack accidents are going to be very rare with 8 cobs, so the cost of gloom replacement is probably manageable. But loss of cobs may be less rare, depending on the skill of the player in maintaining the attack sequence and coping with cob losses. But provided you can reach a point where you lose a cob in less than every 3 levels you have a chance. Superviability is a different matter. Not only do you have to be able to play on with one lost cob and replace it, but you could lose two or more. You can maintain some kind of weak supplementary attacks with 6 cobs, but with less than that you'll get overrun on a moderately difficult level, with zomboni or giga, losing all of the land cobs. If the next level has zomboni or giga you'll likely not finish it with even 6 cobs, and take more losses of the land cobs you do replace. I suppose it's possible you could limp through a couple of such levels and restock on an easy level without jack, giga or zomboni, but you can't rely on it, and you'll have spent a lot of sun on cobs and supplementary attacks with few cobs. There are other Black Swan events effecting the land cobs in 8 cob setups: balloons dropping on them (unless you use blover and no cattails, which loses you a seed slot to blover), pole-vaulters jumping onto them. And there are many more once you've lost one or two. Also, even with no losses you will likely lose two inner cobs if you miss two consecutive 7 s attacks, putting you in danger of losing with any further losses. Pumpkin damage on land in the columns where imps land is a big problem with 8-cobs, as mentioned earlier. If you have no cattails it's worse. A big problem with imps and pumpkin damage is that the imps will be being thrown with virtually every 7 s attack and that doesn't give you much time to use imitator pumpkin, with its 4 s delay, in the imp territory, without the imitator being chewed on before it has deployed, which makes it as weak as most plants in that time and able to be destroyed by the big clumps of imps at high levels. But at least you can use imitator pumpkin further back on land in column 1 or in the pool. A significant difficulty with 8-cobs is with the variation in the gaps between new columns of zombies. You can fire your first 4 cob pairs timed to coincide with the new columns appearing. But in the next cycle, you have to wait for the cobs to recharge in pairs, and the gaps between columns may be of different length so that the shots are not precisely timed as the new columns appear. Only with the occasional supplementary attack do you have leeway to fire earlier or later to synchronise with the columns. You also don't see the progress of the cob shot recharging, only seeing the cobs pop out moments before you have to fire. That means, if your reactions are not very fast, you will build in slight delays in each cob cycle after the first in the first and second parts of a level. This problem still exists for 2-cob, but for most attacks you can see from the seed roster how close to recharging the seeds are and so you can prepare for the next attack. Also, with freeze, you can plant but delay using coffee until after a non-freeze attack which creates greater efficiency in overlapping attacks. Plus, a freeze attack in 2-cob is sufficient, even against zomboni, since zomboni are killed by passive fume and gloom damage with a full setup, and so gives you time for maintenance, especially as imitator freeze is brought on tough levels. With 8-cob, there will only rarely be freeze attacks as supplements when a cob or two is lost. If there are no pool gloom losses or spikerocks lost, then the outer zomboni will be killed by outer spikerock, at the cost of some hits, and the inner zomboni will comfortably be killed by the average 80 gloom damage crossing columns 9, 8 and 7. Zomboni have 60 health. But if there is a jack accident, and two pool glooms are lost, then inner zomboni will not be killed by the remaining single gloom damage of 20 before squashing the inner land cob on that side. You can only possibly replace one gloom at once, with 50 second recharge on the gloom seed. Even if you could do this instantly, with two glooms the inner zomboni will only take 50 gloom damage crossing columns 9, 8 and 7, not enough to kill them. The average splash damage from both the inner and outer winter melons on that side will be 10, just enough to kill them. But if the winter melons are distracted or the zomboni are out of range of any splash shots, or they take below-average damage, then they'll still survive. So it then comes down to whether the next cob pair will hit them in time. Zomboni will take 15 seconds to cross columns 9, 8 and 7 before squashing the inner land cob in columns 5 and 6 on the weakened side. Because of the variation in the gaps between columns and cob attacks not being in synch with columns, it can't be guaranteed that the next cob pair will arrive in time to kill the zomboni which get forward, probably into column 7, as well as the new column appearing in column 9, however perfect your timing and reactions. For example, you could have one column gap of 6 seconds and the next of 10 seconds. If you fire cobs, then freeze, then cobs, it could be 16 seconds between the last attack and the first, though I admit this is unlikely. Perhaps the column gaps have been chosen to just avoid this if your timing and reactions are very good. Also, note that if an outer spikerock is lost, during the freeze attack zomboni in that row will get forward with little damage (just an average 20 from splash), so again unless the spikerock is instantly replaced you are dependent on the next cob pair hitting in time. It is possible for both spikerock to be lost within a few seconds of each other. With the 50 second recharge on spikerock, you can only replace one of them. And, of course, if you brought cob replacements or pool gloom replacements you probably won't have spikerock replacements also. After all this criticism of many-cobs, I should at least point out some of their advantages over few-cobs. Land zombies are generally restricted to columns 8 and 9 by the cob attacks and winter melon shots (sometimes referred to as the "winter box"). That means each winter melon shot slows all the affected zombies on land. There will rarely be winter melon distraction (except when imps land in column 3 and winter melons hit an imp instead of firing further forward and when a shot at column 7 zombies doesn't slow zombies in column 9). All this greatly reduces the frequency of jack accidents, but doesn't eliminate them. Loss of cobs is probably a bigger danger. Other slight advantages of 8-cobs are being able to bring pumpkin and imitator pumpkin on each level (though the imitator may be tricky to deploy against imps, as mentioned earlier) and being able to bring pool gloom replacements on many (but not all, with cob losses) jack levels. However, replacing a pool gloom whilst maintaining the cob cycle is a challenge, you'd need very fast reactions, or have to delay the replacement, perhaps between huge waves. Another advantage of having mostly cob attacks is that they can be targeted precisely near the front of the lawn (column 9 usually) whereas with few-cob the non-cob, non-freeze attacks may have to be targeted in column 8 because of zomboni ice blocking column 9 planting. Also, of course, the 3 by 3 area-effect of cobs is superior to that of jalapeno and squash which only affect one row. However, as noted, in 8-cobs the cobs will need supplementary attacks which still have these drawbacks, but the supplements will still be a smaller proportion of all attacks than with few-cob, even after losing 2 cobs. I'll admit that if you have incredible reaction time, theoretically 8-cob setups of the viable kind I described above could be more superviable than ECSS or ECSS variant, because you can usually replace pool gloom losses on the same level as they happen and the superior winter box makes for much reduced chances of multiple jack accidents on one level. With ECSS and ECSS variant, you can't usually replace the pool gloom losses on the level where they happen, leaving you at the mercy of multiple jack accidents with very little you can do about it. But this may be less significant than the threat caused by lost cobs in 8-cobs, (since you never lose cobs in ECSS) which also can't usually be replaced (without sacrificing the outer spikerocks) on the level where they happen and put you at risk of multiple cob losses ending your game. I'm not sure how superviable such an 8-cob would be if the spikerock are only replaced on the very easy levels without jack, giga or zomboni so that cobs can always be replaced on more difficult levels. Note that with viable few-cobs like ECSS, one lost pool gloom is replaced at the start of the next level, with cobs used as the first attack and the next up to fume in pumpkin during a freeze attack, with the coffee added when you have a non-freeze attack and the gloom when it recharges. so it's much easier to manage. Of course, the biggest risk is of further losses on the jack accident level since no pool gloom replacements are brought. I won't discuss 6 cob setups in detail, because they are clearly less viable. Whatever you add in the extra 4 tiles isn't going to be worth having 2 more cobs. That is why my dividing line for few-cob is 4 cobs, placed at the back of the pool where they are as safe as they can be. Pearlman 8-cob playtest ----------------------- After losing my ECSS variant game at 2665 flags (killed by 2 balloon and giga the level after a jack accident. I should have brought blover and not replaced the glooms), I've tested out the Pearlman 8-cob, up to 482 flags with 9890 sun and full setup so far. Since this is my first game with this system, it definitely seems superviable. From actual play, I see that you don't need to use more than 2 dooms on any level (which can be placed in the inner rows in columns 7 or 8). That's because there's no more than 14 columns of zombies in a huge wave, even with gigas. In fact, without gigas you have 9 columns in the 1st part so you only need one supplementary attack (doom and cherry is strongest), and 10 in the 2nd part so you need two supplementary attacks. On levels without jack you can bring doom and freeze, and beef up the weak supplementary attack by using freeze, jalapeno and squash. The benefit of this is that it stops affected outer zombies getting too far forward before you can use cobs again, especially balloons which can move very fast sometimes. I sometimes bring freeze and sunflower (not doom) when there's no zomboni and I've lost significant sun, and plant the sunflowers in inner rows in column 7. I've found that using imitator pumpkin immediately after firing a cob pair is usually the right timing to avoid the imitator being eaten by imps whilst it is transforming. If I'm in any doubt I cancel the imitator with a right click and wait for a better chance. Since practising this timing I've not had the imitator pumpkin eaten by imps up to 482 flags. Since pumpkin and imitator pumpkin are brought on every level, it's not been too difficult to keep up with pumpkin replacement so far, with just the occasional ragged pumpkin and none eaten through up to 482 flags. Just as with my 2-cob setup ECSS, I concentrate on the column 3 land pumpkins and the pool gloom pumpkins in column 7 for most repairs, and then repair all others which are under less pressure. The setup is good at maintaining high levels of sun. You usually will gain a few hundred sun on a level, not counting replacement costs. I find that gigas rarely bash the spikerock because they are slowed so effectively by winter melons and the cob barrage. So I only have to replace spikerocks (usually when they have only 1 white spike left) on less than 30% of levels up to 482 flags. And jack accidents only happen on between 4 and 10% of levels up to 482 flags. Finally, once I'd practised the timing and aiming of cobs and use of supplementary attacks, cob losses only happened singly most of the time, on about 6% of all levels. But occasionally I'd make a bad mistake and lose 2 or 3 cobs. But, despite having to improvise, it didn't seem an impossible situation to recover from, which I did, but I don't have enough experience to know whether such situations are always survivable with more difficult zombie rosters than I had. These levels of losses are simple to replace and regain lost sun, especially if you can add sunflowers on levels without zomboni. My lowest sun after 100 flags up to 482 flags was 4065 sun, after a sequence of levels where I had 3 jack accidents (losing a total of 5 pool glooms) and 2 single cob losses. Most of the time my level of sun was between 8000 and 9990. I also found that jack accidents weren't a significant threat to the inner land cobs. It was not too difficult to maintain the cob cycle and keep destroying inner zomboni (and all other zombies) after jack accidents. I usually would replace the pool glooms bit by bit so I had time to keep firing cobs. There were definitely a few Black Swan events threatening land cobs, but they were fairly rare and not much threat up to 482 flags. I found that the gatling were very effective in gaining you time at the end of a huge wave, by killing off the outer zombies whilst you recharge your cobs. It's necessary to start each huge wave with a pair of cobs recharged, or about to recharge, but that isn't too difficult to do consistently. With gigas, in the 3rd part I'd fire 3 pairs of cobs and attempt to keep the same gap between them as during the cob cycles in the earlier parts. Without gigas, I'd just fire one pair, wait, and then maybe fire another to stop gargs bashing spikerock once I had 2 pairs recharged. The gatling are also quite effective in killing off single pogos and single balloon drops which move over the outer cobs, though they don't work so well against groups and the main safeguards for the land cobs are maintaining your cob cycle and using freeze in a supplementary attack when possible. Some problems I could see which might threaten viability at higher levels are as follows. Sometimes the cobs don't recharge in sync with the new columns of zombies, leaving a delay of a second or several. This could be a problem with increased frequency of jack accidents at higher levels on occasion. It could also mean more threats to the land cobs. There may be ways around this with more practice. Freeze seems the best way to gain time for cob recharging. On levels with jack and bungee, you want to replace the pool glooms after a jack accident before the bungee drops, because otherwise there could be bungee thefts of pool twins or column 7 pool glooms. That means you're pretty much forced to bring lily, fume and gloom on these levels and so you have to miss out either freeze or doom. Against zomboni you need doom, and there is a greater threat to the outer cobs without freeze during the weak supplementary attack. I haven't tried hitting the bungees with cobs and this would create more problems with the cob cycle so I don't think it's the answer, at least not for me. Using both doom and freeze seems best for guarding the outer land cobs. With just freeze and no doom, there is a small risk that the outer squash attack won't stop everything, especially not balloons in the air, which could drop on the outer cob there. I use the more powerful jalapeno in the inner row to keep the inner cobs safe. As ever, the worst problems are likely to be a combination of rare events, so I'll have to keep playing the setup to see how it performs. Now I've played the setup to 900 flags with full setup and 8090 sun. I've learned to take bungees more seriously. If you don't use a freeze or cob, very rarely bungees can get lucky with the timing of gloom bursts and survive to steal a column 6 pool twin sunflower, even without any lost pool glooms. With lost pool glooms, they can also steal a column 7 pool gloom if you don't use freeze or cob. My solution is to always have freeze ready for the first bungee drop and freeze the bungees with the usual timing (count to 3 after the targets drop). This means the usual 5th attack of doom and cherry on levels without giga. But with giga, the 5th attack has to be freeze (and squash and jalapeno in the inner rows). That's because there are at least 10 columns in the 1st part with gigas so a second supplementary attack is needed, which is doom and cherry in the 10th attack. For the second bungee drop, at the start of the 3rd part, freeze is not usually available and I always use a single cob aimed in the centre of the square of 4 tiles containing the pool twins and the column 7 pool glooms, followed by a separate cob pair with the usual aim and timing. With correct timing this will always destroy bungees in this little square, and has the handy bonus of destroying pool ambush zombies in the same square. Even though the bungee thefts are very rare, and so easily replaced and recovered from, I prefer to completely eliminate them this way to avoid any extra risk where multiple losses of different types occur together. I've practiced my timing, aiming and sequencing of cob attacks and supplementary attacks enough in this one game to have no cob losses between 600 and 800 flags. But this requires constant attention. A minor mistake in firing a cob, or missing the aim, can result in a lost cob, and a major mistake can result in a loss of multiple cobs. I lost 3 cobs in one level at 884 flags when I made several bad mistakes. The next level had giga, zomboni, balloon, dolphin, pole, catapult, bucket. I replaced all 3 cobs in the 1st part and had no further losses and dropped to 5065 sun at the lowest point after replacing all the losses on following levels before recovering to 8090 sun at 900 flags. On this level I also had a jack accident destroy two pool glooms. I don't know if a loss of 3 cobs on one level, with or without jack accidents, is always going to be survivable, or if you can then always recover to a full setup and peak sun. And I haven't experienced a loss of 4 cobs, which might well be fatal. Few-cob setups ============== I don't have much experience of playing 4-cobs, though I have tested several and some are viable to 100 flags. I find that they play a lot like 2-cobs, but with weaker passive plant damage because of the extra cobs, which means more Black Swan events which can be more costly. Having the extra cob attacks every 35 seconds or so doesn't seem to me to make up for this, and the timing varies continually making it difficult to practice. Your experience may vary, and I don't rule out that such a system could be superviable with correct play. Just that for me two-cob is easier to play and I already have superviable setups. Back to two-cob setups. First, I'll restrict myself to ones in which zombonis can be dealt with without significant plant damage whilst there are no lost glooms, and more generally any level without jack or giga can be dealt with using fewer seeds than normal, so saving sun. In practice, that means having 8 pumpkinned glooms in the front of the pool and two more inner row glooms in columns 5 and 6, and two outer fumes in columns 4 and 5. The only fume in danger from zomboni is the column 5 one if in pumpkin. This assumes also that each land row has at least one winter melon. In case you don't think you need all 8 pool glooms, I'd point out that the setup has to remain viable after a jack accident destroys a couple of them. At high levels, if you don't have this redundancy, zombonis will, on rare occasions, unpredictably, squash the inner gloom or whatever inner plant you have in column 6 even without a jack accident. That means more danger from outer gigas and zomboni which are not being damaged by the lost gloom. Similarly, I don't recommend leaving out the second inner gloom in column 5 because of this crucial redundancy. In fact, at very high levels this no longer seems redundant, but necessary, to me. Your experience may differ. Consider also that your system has fewer glooms covering each other after a jack accident. If you had less than 8, dolphin and other pool zombie attacks would no longer be killed quickly enough at high levels to stop them munching right through pumpkins and pool glooms. I know this since, even with 8 pool glooms, and even without a jack accident, it is sometimes quite challenging to keep up with pumpkin replacement at high levels. You can very rarely get 2 crucial ragged pumpkins at the same time and have to choose only one you can replace with basic ECSS. This is much rarer with ECSS variant. Of course, if a jack accident does destroy two pool glooms and you have zomboni, even with the original 8 pool glooms it's very likely that one inner gloom will be destroyed on the weakened side. This rare situation is obviously quite dangerous and a big test of the viability of a few-cob setup. That my ECSS setup is superviable despite such events is the biggest testament to it. Few-cob setups which aspire to be superviable must survive this test several times in a long game. Note that I don't consider fume losses significant with 6 twin sunflowers as fumes can be replaced with cost only 150 sun for the fume and coffee. That, plus two cobs and a freeze spot in the back of the pool, is the core of my recommended superviable setup ECSS. The cobs and freeze spot are needed to deal with gargs on easy levels (no jack or giga) without significant losses and few seeds used beside freeze and cob shots. I use puff-shroom to delay footballs and gargs where possible to try to protect those outer fumes. Note that placing puff-shroom in column 8 works well since they won't be squashed by catapults or otherwise wasted too early by huge clumps of minor zombies. I consider a single winter melon in the pool to be useful but maybe not essential. Even though dolphins aren't slowed, at least the other pool zombies besides balloons are generally affected by the area-effect part of the damage and slowing effect of the winter melon and one inner row will be slightly strengthened by the area-effect damage and slowing. Balloon zombies over the pool are shot down by 2 cattails at the back of the pool -- they then disappear (can't swim?) so are no threat, provided blover is brought and used sparingly on easy levels. Watch out for 2 balloon easy levels, where blover is essential even with 2 cattails. I don't recommend having too many more cattails than that because you're sacrificing area-effect attacks unnecessarily. But one or two more may work out if your pool is still secure, and you have to weigh up the merits of cattail versus winter melon. I recommend the cattails in column 1 or 2 because they make a big difference to imps, who will otherwise do too much pumpkin damage. Your experience may differ. Land balloons, footballs and gargs can all threaten the leading fumes, but these can be replaced and aren't a significant loss on easy levels. I bring imitator pumpkin and pumpkin on easy levels as I need only occasional freeze (ice-shroom without imitator) to deal with bungee, garg and dolphin. On an easy level it's possible to freeze dolphins as they start eating after their forward jump. This isn't guaranted to stop all dolphins in a clump but stops enough to be useful. It's obviously not cost-effective in sun because the freeze attack with coffee costs 150 sun, more than a pumpkin, so it should be used only rarely. But it can be helpful not to have too many crucial damaged pumpkins all at the same time, with the risk of several going ragged at the same time, so that's why I do it. I cut down the frequency when I'm low on sun and replace less pumpkins. Freeze is also needed sparingly to avoid gargs squashing anything. Loss of leading outer fumes on a tough level may seem difficult. It is another minor test of viability of a few-cob that has them. But several of the 7 second attacks don't involve coffee and with practice the fume can usually be reactivated at the next one of these without compromising the timing of attacks. An exception may be if seed recharging is not at its usual level, perhaps because of multiple zomboni and jack levels. Then it may be necessary to wait until the second 7 second attack which doesn't involve coffee. But this situation is sufficiently rare to not affect superviability of ECSS. My basic ECSS setup is then completed with back inner umbrella to protect from catapults and some bungees, plus two column 2 glooms in pumpkin to defend against diggers and most imps. My variant setup simply has 2 more outer fumes in column 7 which are replaced at the end of each level when lost. Quite a number of few-cob setups exist which can deal with easy levels with sparing use of sun. Not many others have 6 twin sunflowers in safe positions. Some setups, like Fuming Arrowhead, have 4 twin sunflowers and the outer rows set back a column. This is perhaps easier to play, with the fumes safe, and more time before the outer gigas squash things, but there is more danger from both inner and outer jacks, and more danger of outer gigas getting a long way forward, which is dangerous because the next lot of outer gigas may avoid being slowed for too long. I found this setup barely viable but not superviable, because of these problems. Currently the basic ECSS has a jack accident rate of 20% of levels with jacks, tested over more than 2000 levels past 100 flags over 6 games and the variant setup with extra fumes, which is somewhat different to play, has jack accident rate of 18% of levels with jacks but only tested over one game of over 1500 flags so far. My hope is that the most dangerous Black Swan events, where 3 pool glooms on one side are destroyed, are significantly reduced in frequency with the variant, without significantly increasing new or old risks. Only time will tell. The seed roster on difficult levels with ECSS is: Jalapeno, cherry, squash, coffee, ice, imitator ice, doom, puff, fume, pumpkin. Each level finishes with at least one doom planted and another almost always nearly recharged. The first 4 of the 7 second attacks are outer doom and cherry, cobs, jalapeno and squash, inner doom. That makes for a powerful start and very rarely any jack accident during these attacks. After that, freeze is planted in the outer row behind the outer doom crater in the basic setup, or sometimes in the inner row in the variant. A 3rd doom is used as soon as possible on any level with gigas, but not otherwise. That is because the outer gigas in the first part may otherwise get too far forward and squash too often. Without gigas, the first part is usually too short to have doom recharged to use at the start of the second part if you use a 3rd doom in the 1st part. A single outer doom is generally used on tough levels at the start of the second part, and no other dooms. The gigas usually (but not always) run out before the end of the second part so further doom is not needed, and is available to plant without being activated at the end of the second part. On levels without giga, especially if there are no buckets, the first part may end too soon for the outer doom to be ready if a 3rd doom is used. With gigas, inner doom is planted and not used at the end of the second part, and outer doom is ready in time for the next level. Without gigas, jalapeno is generally used to clear the way for outer doom at the end of the 2nd part and then freeze and 2 cobs on the same side as the doom are used to spin out the 3rd part as long as possible. Doom may only be about 2/3 recharged at the end of the level, but will be ready for the inner doom 4th attack on the next level. There is generally no difficulty with having jalapeno ready on easy levels, and I bring squash usually as a backup, but on levels with jack, but no giga, there is no guarantee that jalapeno will be available at the end of the 2nd part. Improvisation may be needed, but most often the two doom attacks are still available on time on the next level. There are too many different situations for me to describe all improvisations, and on rare occasions I start the next level without both doom attacks available. This is rare enough to be superviable at present. I use cobs when available and squash with one of the other instants when available. I try to avoid using jalapeno and cherry together unless improvisation is forced, it seems to be less flexible. I try to plant imitator ice in the freeze spot after using the freeze spot freeze, since this gives more time for the imitator without missing the next attack. But improvisation or mistake can force planting and using imitator ice further forward and risk delaying an attack. Zomboni on difficult levels can put more pressure on seed recharging and often lead me to improvise a little. My favoured solution is to use squash on its own as an attack on whichever side seems to have most jacks. But the zombies sometimes don't play fair and maintain attacks every 7 seconds -- if jacks come on any faster improvisation may be needed. Another problem with zomboni on tough levels that I should mention is the potential loss of a spot to plant in the inner row in column 8 due to zomboni ice. That is another reason why I strive to start each tough level with two doom attacks and cobs and two instants. It makes this loss fairly rare with good play. Obviously, loss of planting on one side will still occur sometimes, and may force some single instant 7 second attacks on the other side. I always try to supplement with freeze attacks from the freeze spot when possible. It is up to your judgement whether it is worth using outer jalapeno as an attack. I would say, only if there are gigas. There may be an issue with jalapeno cancelling the slowing effect of winter melon or ice-shroom, but if you have puff-shroom you can delay the damaged gigas until they are hit by winter melon. On giga levels, at the end of the 2nd part I plant but don't use inner doom. The sequence I use for the 3rd part in ECSS basic or variant is to quickly fire both cobs (both sides) and then use inner squash and outer jalapeno on one side and cherry on the other side. Then I use puff-shroom if available to repeatedly delay the gigas that got hit with jalapeno. If no puff-shroom and no jalapeno, I use a couple of freeze. Of course, if there are bungees I start off by freezing the bungees. If no bungees, I often use a freeze as the gigas get closer to the glooms, just to make sure my inner doom doesn't get squashed if there are a lot of gigas on that row. Also, as the outer gigas on the side hit with cherry get close to column 6 and squash recharges I use that on them. Generally the outer gigas on the other side will die after repeated puff-shroom delays and I usually place the outer doom when they do, just before the level ends. In ECSS variant, at the start of part 3 I plant a column 6 outer fume on the side where I want to put outer doom in column 7 and activate it when coffee is available after freezing bungees. I wait until the zomboni are dead before planting the other outer column 6 fume and activating. Sometimes you need to be quick to do this before the level ends, so that coffee is ready to be used in the first attack on the next level. Coffee recharges in 7 seconds and there are 5 or 6 seconds before the first column of zombies appears on the next level. I don't have enough data to reliably estimate the frequency of jack accidents on tough levels with zomboni, but I assume it must be higher than average. The trick is to try to avoid entirely missing out a 7 second attack, which invites a jack accident, but not to use any more seeds more frequently than usual, so you can still maintain the 7 second attacks when possible. Because of the good start with 2 dooms, the loss of planting doesn't usually occur until late in the first part and so it's usually possible to ride it out without jack accidents. Then the problem is usually fixed by the second part because of the delay between parts. For some reason, the loss of planting occurs even more rarely in the second part, and it is so rare to occur on both sides that I haven't had an example in the last 6 games. That's not to say this isn't a dangerous situation, with a few Black Swan events that could be very problemmatic. It's also why I now restrict my use of doom so much, so that there are not too many inner craters. Planting an instant in column 7 may be possible if there's no crater. However, this situation doesn't affect superviability of ECSS tested over 7 games, and is another good potential test for other few-cob setups. In other words, I can't guarantee maintaining 7 second attacks without fail all the way through every difficult level, so don't expect it. What I can do is improvise when that fails well enough for the setup to be superviable. If that seems unsatisfactory, all I can say is that I don't know of anything better. Your experience may differ. When I say "improvise", I really only mean depart from regular repetitive play. I've played so much now that I know what decisions to make and don't have to make up play on the spot. But for those with less experience of any setup, I'd recommend trying to find a repetitive sequence of play to avoid seat-of-the-pants improvisation as much as possible. That includes having as few different seed rosters as you can. Another good test of a superviable setup, able to survive many hundreds of flags regularly, is that you don't run out of sun on those rare occasions when you get many tough levels in a row, which can happen due to randomness. For instance, the chance of one tough level (jack and giga) is about 66% and so the probability of 10 tough levels in a row is about (.66)^10 or around 2%. With ECSS you still lose relatively little sun during such a sequence. 15 tough levels in a row is already more than 500 to 1 against, so no problem for surviving many hundred flags. The fact that you can actually gain a little sun on some of the levels with giga, but no jack helps you through such sequences. You'd expect about 4 or 5 jack levels in 10 tough ones, maybe 6. So you'd only have about 1 or 2 jack accidents to deal with in such a sequence with ECSS played correctly. If an average jack accident costs 2500 sun (lets say 2 1/2 glooms lost to factor in zomboni squashes of inner glooms pessimistically) that means between 2500 and 5000 sun lost on average to jack accidents, and so if we lose less than 500 sun on average per tough level not counting jack accidents it should be survivable, as is certainly the case with basic ECSS. With the variant I use with 2 extra fumes, it can cost up to 300 more sun per level if they are, pessimistically, assumed to be always lost and have to be replaced at the end. So I would expect to have to revert to basic ECSS without extra fumes once I drop below 5000 sun, which rarely happens in practice. So both setups pass this test. On the subject of the variant setup and lost extra fumes, if a level has jack and zomboni I try to replace one of the extra fumes at the end of the 1st part if I can activate it with coffee safely. If there are bungees, I freeze them first and then use the outer doom to protect the extra fume, and try to activate it when I have a non-freeze attack. This may not always be feasible to do depending on zomboni ice, whether jalapeno is recharged and if gigas are threatening column 6, but it's important to do when possible to counter outer jacks in case of a jack accident on that side and loss of the inner gloom to zomboni. Note that many-cob setups tend to have long strings of "tough" levels in a row frequently, since any level with zomboni is difficult, as well as those with jack or giga. Bungees may be a problem, too. So these may have even more difficulty passing this test. I haven't touched on the really rare Black Swan events yet. One is when 3 pool glooms are lost on one side. That is a very dangerous situation. With zomboni and giga as well as jack, it is likely to lead to a lost game in the near future, with a catastrophic domino effect of further losses to jacks, gigas and zomboni. If you have only gigas, no zomboni, it can still be survivable in my experience, though maybe not with bungees, and a lot of improvisation is needed. This bad, but very rare, situation is the main reason for the variant ECSS setup with extra fumes, to try to reduce or eliminate this Black Swan. This loss of 3 pool glooms on one side can occur in a single jack accident if the jack has survived to get further forward than usual, perhaps by not being hit with a distracted winter melon. Or, it can be that the jack got just a little further forward and blew up just the pumpkin on the 3rd pool gloom, but just as dolphins were jumping forward, so they ate the unprotected pool gloom. Another way it can happen is with multiple jack accidents, the first destroying two pool glooms only, but the next destroying the 3rd pool gloom as that jack gets further forward in the absence of two pool glooms to attack it. All these situations are thankfully pretty rare, so don't affect superviability, but they do prevent an "immortal" setup. Other Black Swans include jack accidents losing two pool glooms on both sides of the pool. This is slightly less rare and generally survivable if you have enough sun to replace all or most losses. Even with zomboni and giga, though that is very difficult and costs even more sun because of zomboni squashing inner glooms. If you're unlucky enough to get zomboni, giga and jack again on the next level that might not be survivable as you have up to 6 glooms to replace, too many to have a viable setup for the first part, but it still doesn't affect superviability because that is so rare, only affecting "immortality" which no setup has in my experience. Every setup has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and its own Black Swan events, of varying frequency and cost, to deal with. I'm here trying to explain some of the most important that I know of which affect the viability of setups with whatever number of cobs. I hope my explanations have value and show that many interrelated factors have to be considered. It is not enough to maximize damage without having the sun generation to replace losses and catastrophic Black Swans sufficiently rare. Frequency of adverse events needs to be carefully weighed to inform the most effective playing style for any setup. I've tested over 50 different setups to as near to 100 flags as I can. Most don't usually make it that far, because their Black Swan events are too costly and too frequent. A final requirement of a setup to be superviable is that running out of sun is a Black Swan event whose odds are at least several hundred to 1 against. So I would dismiss setups which lose significant sun (more than 500) on most levels at high numbers of flags -- even if viable, they will not be superviable. Again, the frequency of "easy" levels where expensive seeds can be used more sparingly to save sun without substantial risk is important here, as is the number of twin sunflowers in safe positions. That's another reason why I favour few-cob setups that can deal with zomboni with only passive damage over many-cob setups which may have fewer opportunities to save sun to recoup losses over the long term. Basic ECSS has taken me to over 2600 flags without cheating and I hope to get further with the extra fume variant of ECSS. Timechart of zombie columns and attacks ======================================= The zombie columns come on at varying times between 6 s and about 10 s. On the first part of levels with jack but no giga they average a little over 7 s. But with giga, they average over 8.5 s. There are also varying numbers of columns. With jack, but no giga there may be 9 columns in the first part and 10 in the second part, but with giga there are more total columns, maybe 23 to 25, but big variations between the number of columns in each part. Perhaps this is related to the random distribution of gigas, I don't know. The second part is generally longer but there is a bigger average gap between columns, up to a little over 8 s for jack, but no giga. It can stay at about 8.5 s or increase to 9 s with giga -- it's tough to give a precise figure as the gigas block the view. Few-cob setup ------------- This variation seems designed to make it just about possible (if no zomboni) to maintain attacks against each column of minor zombies through a tough level, if you can save a little time by planting and delaying the use of freeze and imitator freeze. You can't speed up the use of non-freeze attacks but by overlapping the freezes with non-freezes and delaying you can use the non-freeze attacks as often as possible but not waste too much time with unused freeze. The point is to be more efficient when you have both a freeze and non-freeze attack recharged. By planting the freeze, but using the non-freeze, then using the freeze for the next attack, you gain about 7 s of recharge on the freeze. However, with bungees there's a little more pressure since you can't use freeze at the very end of the 1st or 2nd part because you must keep it for the bungee drop. And with zomboni, there is a lot more pressure on timing because there are few chances to plant and delay use of outer freeze because the zomboni can squash them. Footballs can also eat outer freeze though much less frequently as you can often delay them with puff-shroom and freeze. It needs practice to know when you can plant the delayed freeze and when you have to use the freeze spot instead. Many-cob setup -------------- Note that the average gap between columns is usually well below 9 s, so you can't quite get away with having 8 cobs and using no other attacks. On giga and zomboni levels, there will be around 12 columns in each of the first two parts. That takes around 95 s. That is over 2 full 35 s cycles of cobs but less than 3. So you'll probably have to supplement the cobs with other attacks twice in each part. You can use doom and cherry the first time to affect all the rows but they won't be recharged in the second cycle (50 s recharge). If you then use squash and jalapeno in the 2nd cycle, you don't hit the outer land rows. Zomboni will definitely squash the column 7 plant unless it's spikerock. If spikerock, the zombonis (up to 4 in a clump at high levels) will hit the spikerock, doing an average of 2 hits damage. Gigas also come on in clumps of 2 at high levels, and since the outer ones will take 3 cob shots to kill, when you use inner jalapeno and squash (in case of jacks) they will have an extra 6 to 9 seconds, which may be enough for them to attack the spikerock. So the outer spikerock will take maybe 4 shots in the first part and 4 in the second, and so both need replacing after a couple of such levels. There's also an issue with bungees. If you don't freeze them those in the middle could steal an important plant if you only have 2 umbrellas. If you freeze them, it's tough to also hit the front ones and the first column of zombies with cobs on time. But if you have 4 umbrellas, you don't need freeze and they can't steal anything in the first 5 columns and you can cob the start on time and get bungees who try to steal spikerocks. But they can still steal any non-gloom in the pool column 6 (which could be twin sunflowers), which you can only prevent with 8 pool glooms. You want the front of the pool filled with glooms to help against jacks. ECSS Setup details ================== ECSS basic [t][G][W][F] F . . . . Symbol Legend [u][G][W][t][G][G] . . . . land G gloom-shroom b [W] CCCC [t][G][G][G][G] t twin sunflower F fume-shroom b [i] CCCC [t][G][G][G][G] b cattail W winter melon [u][G][W][t][G][G] . . . CC cob cannon [ ] pumpkin [t][G][W][F] F . . . . u umbrella leaf i freeze spot (ice-shroom) ECSS variant [t][G][W][F] F . . . . Symbol Legend [u][G][W][t][G][G] . . . . land G gloom-shroom b [i] CCCC [t][G][G][G][G] t twin sunflower F fume-shroom b [W] CCCC [t][G][G][G][G] b cattail W winter melon [u][G][W][t][G][G] . . . CC cob cannon [ ] pumpkin [t][G][W][F] F . . . . u umbrella leaf i freeze spot (ice-shroom) I haven't mentioned pumpkin replacement. Of course, I assume that you have Walnut First Aid so you can replaced damaged pumpkins without digging them up. It is a bit of an art-form, replacing pumpkins whilst collecting sun from 6 twin sunflowers and maintaining 7 second attacks regularly. It takes a lot of practice to get right. I focus on the land winter melon pumpkins as top priority as they are under regular attack from imps, which is not funny at high levels. You seriously don't want to lose any winter melons because you didn't replace the pumpkin in time. Unslowed gigas are scary. Next priority is the column 7 pool gloom pumpkins. These come under regular attack from dolphins. Part of the skill is switching these priorities correctly when you have both dolphins and gigas. Of course, the giga imps are 50% tougher than garg imps. The other pumpkins I don't replace on tough levels until they are ragged. On the subject of imps, garg imps have 3 health so giga imps most likely have 4.5 or 5 health. That means you'd best hit giga imps with two glooms since one burst from one gloom is only 4 damage. This is managed by ECSS bearing in mind that imps are wider than 1 tile. On easy levels, with imitator pumpkin, it all depends on how much sun I have. If I have nearly peak sun (9990 sun), then I replace the priority pumpkins with even slight damage, then the others with slight damage, but I still replace ragged pumpkins first unless they are not under immediate pressure on the level. With lower sun, I am very sparing with pumpkin replacement just as I am on tough levels. I only replace a slightly damaged land winter melon pumpkin if there are 3 of them damaged in that column, favouring the outer ones. With the column 7 pumpkins, only if two are slightly damaged, favouring the one not protected by a pool winter melon in the same row. I use freeze quite a bit on easy levels to freeze dolphins if I have lots of sun, but only rarely otherwise. The timing for coffee is when they're in the pool and dipping before their big jump forward, or just before. That protects the column 7 pumpkins fairly well, but isn't worthwhile if you're low on sun. I aim to finish an easy level with all damaged pumpkins replaced if I have near peak sun. I'm careful not to use freeze too near the end of a part when there are bungees. A reminder about bungee width: they are wider than 1 tile so those which try to steal the column 3 land winter melons are in range of 3 glooms, not just two. You should still always freeze them because if you're particularly unlucky without freeze and the 2 seconds between gloom shots and wake-up time the bungee might only take one blast from 3 glooms for only 12 damage and survive to steal the winter melon. It's also theoretically possible for bungees to steal the column 5 fume even with freeze if it only gets 2 blasts from the 2 glooms (total 17 damage with freeze) but this doesn't seem to occur with good freeze timing. But with poor freeze timing bungees can even steal inner glooms, despite having 3-5 glooms in range. Note that tactics vary depending on the zombie roster towards the end of each part, so I usually pause the game at that point to check the zombie roster I've recorded at the start. In particular, you need to check if there are bungees so you don't accidentally use freeze and not have it available for the bungees. But you also need to know if there are gigas or not, so you know if you have to use jalapeno and plant outer doom, or just plant inner doom against gigas. And without gigas, you need to know if there are zomboni or buckets and to check if jalapeno is ready before deciding how to play it, improvising if necessary. I don't record the whole zombie roster, mainly just jack, giga, garg, football, zomboni, bungee. But you may find it useful to also record balloon, dolphin, digger, dancer, buckets as I do, which can show the extra pressure on pumpkins besides imps. Buckets can make the 3rd part last longer, useful if there are no gigas. Also, I record catapults if it's an easy level to remind myself not to forget and replace umbrellas with sunflowers and have my back twin sunflowers destroyed by catapults. It's easier to avoid mistakes with a checklist you refer to at the right time. Then you can focus on your timing without distractions, as long as you remember to pause the game when needed. The seed roster on easy levels without balloon is: Jalapeno, cherry, squash, coffee, ice, doom, puff, fume, pumpkin, imitator pumpkin. On an easy level with balloon (or 2 balloon) replace squash with blover. Note that the instants are usually not used, except for jalapeno at the end of the second part to clear space for outer doom. Squash may be needed to defend the outer doom if cobs aren't ready. The idea is to make sure they are all (except maybe squash) fully recharged at the end. Failing that, cherry should be if not used. Blover is used to stop balloonists dropping on pumpkins and damaging them. Freeze and cobs on the same side as the outer doom is a way to delay the 3rd part when there are no gigas so that inner doom is 2/3 recharged by the end of the level, which should be enough for it to be ready for the 4th attack on the next level (and for the 3rd doom next level against gigas and outer doom at the start of the 2nd part to be available in time). The freeze is necessary against jacks and also helps the level last longer. The cobs on the same side protect the outer doom from even garg and bucket and let the zombies on the other side survive longer. You can use squash if the cobs aren't ready, but they usually will be with practice. Sometimes there is a danger of the 3rd part ending too soon with only weak zombies, so then you can miss out the cobs. With jacks, jalapeno may not be ready and you may not be able to plant outer doom because of zomboni ice. Pause the game, check the zombie roster, and decide whether to wait for the ice to clear or plant inner doom. Sometimes buckets can make the 3rd part last long enough. It's important to start most levels with outer doom and later inner doom, but if you can do it most of the time that's good enough. Don't expect to do it every time, I know I can't. If you're low on sun and there is no bungee or catapult, you can bring sunflower and umbrella, and replace the back umbrellas with sunflowers for the level, but it's important to replace the umbrellas at the end of the level. If there's no zomboni, you can just bring sunflower and plant them in inner rows and defend with puff-shroom if you have it, or maybe pumpkin them. Bear in mind that with football or garg these sunflowers may not last the whole level, even in pumpkin, so you may not gain much sun from them. But it's usually worth doing. Of course, you can be very sparing with pumpkin replacement and attack seeds to save sun, but be aware that gargs require the odd freeze as well as cobs to stop them squashing plants at higher levels. It's up to your judgement how tricky the level is based on the zombie roster and whether you want to bring sunflower or not and what to leave behind. Just don't forget blover against balloons. It can be very bad if there is bungee and balloon, or even 2 balloon, and you don't have blover. To stop the balloons you might over-use freeze and not have it available for the bungees, which might steal an important plant. So always bring blover if needed and only bring sunflower if you're confident the level won't put you under pressure. I recommend always bringing imitator pumpkin, also. I tend to take less risks with sunflower at higher levels, when many "easy" levels are actually quite demanding. After a jack accident, the lost pool glooms have to be replaced on the next level. Make sure to finish the level with the jack accident with coffee, fume, pumpkin all recharged. If it's a tough level (jack or giga, 66% chance) the seed roster is: Cherry, squash, coffee, ice, imitator ice, doom, lily, fume, gloom, pumpkin. Start by using lily, fume, gloom, coffee, pumpkin in that order to replace one pool gloom and use cobs for the first attack (since coffee is recharging). Then replace the second pool gloom up to sleeping fume when you use a freeze attack and the pumpkin is recharged. Wait for an attack not requiring coffee to activate the fume, and take care to promote it to gloom as soon as gloom recharges, to avoid losing an inner gloom to zomboni or giga if you can avoid it. There's more pressure on seed recharging and plants because of the missing instant, jalapeno, and missing free delay, puff-shroom. It seems better to have cherry, with its 3 by 3 area-effect affecting both land rows as well as a pool row, rather than jalapeno, which only affects the inner row. Of course, if you have gigas cherry is valuable against the outer ones. If you don't, it's up to you whether you'd bring jalapeno in place of cherry to use it to place outer doom if there are zomboni, but no giga, but there is not that good a chance it will be recharged, and so it may be necessary to plant just inner doom, and not be able to start the next level with outer doom. My current practice is to bring cherry in all cases. These situations don't occur often enough to get reliable frequency estimates of adverse events. If the level after the jack accident is easy (no jack or giga, 34% chance), bring imitator pumpkin and blover if there are balloons, and jalapeno, lily, fume, gloom. It's up to your judgement what else to bring depending on the remaining number of seed slots and the zombie roster. An exception to the tough level roster: If you have 2 balloon and either giga or jack, bring: Cherry, squash, coffee, ice, imitator ice, doom, blover, puff-shroom, fume, pumpkin. I found in one level with giga and 2 balloon and bungee, without blover the balloons used up one of my lawnmowers. It's an incredibly rare Black Swan that's only happened once to me, but better safe than sorry. ECSS damage and zombie movement speed ===================================== I'll deal with the key zombie types separately, to calculate passive plant area-effect damage (mainly glooms and fumes, but some from winter melon splash) in different situations in addition to the damage you should inflict with your seeds in 7 second attacks. This is important so that you know how well your setup can survive in normal play and which plants are going to survive anything but a jack accident. If you know where the passive damage plus 7 second attacks is always enough to hold the line without losses, barring jack accidents, even after a jack accident, and where it isn't always, then you know where to concentrate your attention. Giga and garg ------------- Slowed gigas or gargs take about 10 seconds to cross 1 tile, half as long if not slowed. In the inner row, provided there have been no gloom losses, gigas will be confined to columns 7, 8 and 9 unless one survives to squash the inner column 6 gloom. That means every inner winter melon shot in that row (assuming the winter melon is not distracted by imps or dropped balloons) will splash the gigas if they are in column 7 or 8. The gap between winter melon shots is 3 seconds. So inner gigas should be slowed within 3 seconds of entering column 8 if not before. So we can expect the inner gigas to spend at least 5 seconds (unslowed) in column 9, at least 7 seconds (part slowed after 3 seconds) in column 8 and at least 10 seconds (slowed) in column 7. The average gloom damage over that time they take will then be 5 x 4 + 7 x 6 + 10 x 10 = 162. Note that gigas are wider than 1 tile so whilst their front is in column 7, part is in column 8, so they're in range of all 5 glooms. Gargs will be killed (150 health). Gigas will be killed by any non-freeze 7 second attack they're in range of (cob, doom, squash, jalapeno, cherry). If not killed, gigas will be made to throw their imps and take at least 2 more seconds. If they took two non-freeze attacks whilst in column 9 (if slowed earlier) they could throw it then and take only 2 x 4 = 8 average gloom damage. But they'd take over 100 more damage and be killed in column 7, if they get that far. Otherwise, they'll take at least 2 x 6 = 12 average gloom damage if they throw the imp in column 8, for 174 total. If they throw the imp in column 7, that's 2 x 10 = 20 average gloom damage, for 182 total. In the at least 24 seconds gigas spend in columns 7 to 9 there will be at least 2 of the 7 second attacks (which can vary between 6 s and 10 s) if you manage them on schedule. If both these were non-freeze, only one could fail to hit the gigas (squash can't cover all 3 tiles) and the gigas will take 90 damage from the other and be killed. If they're still alive, it means the squash missed them and the other attack was freeze. In the 5 seconds frozen, they receive at least an average 5 x 4 = 20 extra gloom damage, bringing the total passive damage to 194. If frozen in column 7, the gloom damage is 5 x 10 = 50 for 224 total. Since their health is 225, they will be hit with at least one winter melon splash damage and die. Otherwise, with a total of at least 29 seconds in those columns, in that time there will have been at least 3 of the 7 second attacks in almost all cases (except if 3 in a row are 10 s apart). So, either they are hit with a non-freeze, non-squash and killed, or another freeze. If another freeze, this adds at least another 5 x 4 = 20 average gloom damage. The total is now up to 214 damage. This time, if the second freeze hits in column 8 or 9 the giga dies, with a winter splash. A surviving giga which stops to squash the inner column 6 gloom will take another 3 seconds of column 7 gloom damage (3 x 10 = 30), before they are able to squash it (which takes 5 seconds), and be killed. Another threat to the gigas about to squash the inner column 6 gloom is that they have been in columns 7 to 9 for 33 seconds. Since the shot recharge time of the cobs is 35 seconds they should be killed by a cob shot most of the time, though in practice the cobs are often not used until about 5-10 seconds after they recharge. It should be more damage, also, because of winter melon direct and indirect shots and because zombie types take some damage even when off the lawn (especially the inner rows because of the column 9 pool glooms). Given all the assumptions, despite this calculation inner gigas can't be assumed to be always killed without squashing the inner column 6 gloom, but the damage numbers do suggest that this will happen most of the time with good play. In practice, they never squash the inner gloom with good play, and even with mistakes made it's extremely rare. Also, any gigas that do spend 5 seconds squashing the column 6 inner gloom will take enough gloom damage, with winter splash, to be killed. The lost gloom can be replaced with fume when there is a non-freeze attack to wake it with coffee, and the extra range on the fume makes it almost as good in that row as the gloom was (but the damage to the outer row is lost). This calculation rests on many assumptions. I assumed that zomboni ice didn't block planting in inner column 8. The gigas and gargs may receive less than average damage depending on the timing of the gloom and fume shots. Some gargs on easy levels may not be slowed early enough so that freeze is necessary to kill them, because they may be out of range of winter melon shots that hit a column 7 garg or giga (or football, etc.) when they are in column 9. And there is the problem of winter melons being distracted by imps or dropped balloon zombies or shooting zombies in column 7 and the splash missing those in column 9 and their random wake-up time and long gap of 3 seconds between shots creating Black Swan events where gargs and gigas don't take as much damage. Also, your timing might not be ideal or the zombies might come on a little faster than every 7 seconds at times. Inner gigas need to be in range of 2 non-freeze 7 second attacks to be sure of killing them. On very rare occasions if they are in range of only one non-freeze attack they might survive to squash an inner gloom. This is so rare that I don't have a reliable frequency estimate. The calculation for outer gargs and gigas is much more complex. But if we make the same assumption that they are slowed 3 seconds into column 8, they spend at least 32 seconds in outer columns 5 to 9. During that time there are at least 3 of the 7 second attacks. At least one must be a freeze (except at the start where there are 4 non-freeze attacks which will kill the first few columns of gigas) so adding another 5 seconds and often a further 7 second attack. Once again it is very likely that a cob attack will hit the gigas. It is also quite likely that they will be hit by two freeze attacks, and forced after the last doom in the first part and the first and only doom in the 2nd part. Outer gigas and gargs can cross columns 8 and 9 without gloom damage. But they take about 7 damage from 1 fume crossing column 9 if slowed and about 14 damage from 2 fumes crossing column 8 if slowed. In column 7 they take an average 20 damage from 1 gloom plus 14 damage from 2 fumes, if slowed, which they generally will be by column 7 if no walking zombie has got further than outer column 6, which is usually the case if the column 5 fume is still alive. This is your clue to replace a lost column 5 fume as soon as you have an attack which doesn't use coffee against gigas. Crossing column 6 they will take an average 40 damage from 2 glooms plus 14 damage from 2 fumes, if slowed. Let's suppose our gigas and gargs are slowed from 3 seconds into column 8 on. They take about 96 damage from glooms and fumes and about 8 damage from winter splash from the point they are slowed. Provided they are hit by one non-freeze attack, gargs will die, and in any case delay to throw their imp. Gigas will die if hit by 2 non-freeze attacks. But it can be seen that extra delays from puff-shroom are needed to contain the gigas otherwise. Also, gigas or gargs surviving to column 5 could help new gigas and gargs coming on to avoid being slowed for longer. That's why in ECSS variant I add outer column 6 fumes to keep the gigas pegged back for longer. Obviously, zomboni will squash these extra fumes shortly after the first 4 attacks in the level, but they will still have helped a little before that. The longer you can keep that winter box going the better. Having 3 fumes with ECSS variant means that outer gargs will take an average 56 damage from glooms and fumes crossing columns 7 to 9, and another 4+ damage from outer winter splash from the time they are slowed. So gargs die before squashing the column 6 fume if hit by a non-freeze 90 damage attack. And gigas die before squashing the column 6 fume if hit by 2 non-freeze 90 damage attacks. This shows that the column 6 fume can survive fairly well against gigas and gargs, if not zomboni. The analysis is too complex (for me) to show that outer gigas always are killed by column 5 without any losses other than the column 5 fume, but helps show that this will happen most of the time, barring jack accidents and missing 7 second attacks. You need to be wary of counting in average winter splash because imps, whether garg or giga, will usually land in column 3 and distract the winter melons so they hit imps and do not fire further forward. This is usually a small fraction of the total winter melon shots but could be significant if you have giga and garg, which can mean lots of imps being thrown without much break. Also, winter melon shots at targets in column 5 or column 6 won't splash zombies in columns 8 and 9. Dropping balloons can also distract winter melons. Cattails often fire at the outer rows as the zombies there get further forward but this is single-target, not area-effect, damage. The most challenging situation with gigas is after a jack accident. The analysis is quite complex, but I'll do my best. First, consider the most frequent situation of a jack accident destroying two pool glooms in columns 8 and 9 on one side. Whilst the column 6 inner gloom on the weakened side survives, there is no effect on outer gigas. Then consider inner gigas. Again, whilst the inner gloom survives, the inner gigas take 14 damage from 1 gloom crossing column 8, and 80 damage from 4 glooms crossing column 7. So, provided an inner giga is hit by two non-freeze attacks, it will die, taking 274+ damage. If hit by only one non-freeze attack, it will take only 184+ damage, with extra gloom damage whilst frozen. This shows that gargs are usually killed at this point. We are reduced to the case of a giga with a missed squash and hit freeze to still be alive, as before. But such a giga has only been in columns 6 to 9 for 27 seconds. Although very likely, it's not always the case that there will be another attack. And the giga may still not have taken enough damage to throw its imp. So there is a greater risk of the inner column 6 gloom being squashed by gigas. And of course, if there are zomboni it will almost certainly be squashed. Let's assume that the inner column 6 gloom is squashed. The remaining things to check are whether the gigas will be killed before squashing the column 5 backup inner gloom or the outer column 3 winter melon. This time the total gloom damage is only 74 crossing to inner column 7, and another 60 crossing column 6, taking at least 37 seconds including the freeze. There will certainly be another attack, though, and more gloom damage whilst frozen. And a cob is highly likely, though not certain to hit. Gargs will throw their imp and certainly be killed with gloom damage. In practice, the column 5 inner gloom is not squashed by giga without more jack accident losses or bad play, but this is not well supported by the damage analysis I've given. There is, of course, a little more single-target damage from direct winter melon shots. But the main factor, I think, is that many of the inner gigas will be hit by 2 (even 3, at the start) non-freeze attacks and so die much more quickly, probably in column 8. That means, with minor zombies in the inner row cleared out by these attacks, the next column of gigas (outer and inner) will be hit by inner winter melon splash much earlier, probably in column 9. Also, at the start of each level, the winter melon attacks slow the first columns of zombies much earlier, in column 9 or even off the lawn. The 3rd doom attack in the first part on a giga level also damages many columns of gigas at once. Thus, a lot of the time the gigas are slowed more, and the difficulty of the level in terms of gigas is more about the times when you only have freeze attacks. To allow for this factor, contrast the damage calculations above with the assumption that the gigas are slowed by 3 seconds into column 9. This adds 5 seconds to their progress time and increases the fume and gloom damage received in columns 8 and 9. In the case of inner gigas with no lost glooms, this extra damage shows why in practice the gigas don't generally start their squashing animation on the inner column 6 gloom before being killed, though this occasionally happens towards the end of the 1st or 2nd part. In the case of outer gigas with no lost glooms, the extra 5 seconds (total at least 37 with one freeze) means there are at least 4 of the 7 second attacks (I've never seen 4 columns in a row all 10 s apart, one will be only 5 to 7 s gap). After the starting 4 non-freeze attacks, and after the 3rd doom in the first part or doom in the second part, this means they're hit by at least two freeze attacks, making 42 seconds and virtually ensuring a cob shot. This explains why gargs don't usually threaten the column 5 fumes; since they threw their imp and have less health they will be hit by the cob shot and killed. Outer gigas that cross column 5 (after the fume there is lost) will take another 40 gloom damage. With the extra fume damage they will take over 237 damage if hit by the cob shot or another non-freeze attack in range and be killed. Even if not hit by non-freeze there should be an opportunity to delay them with puff-shroom or fume in emergencies, in columns 5 or 6, which will add enough gloom damage to kill gargs. Without zomboni, a puff-shroom delay in column 7, 8 or 9 will often mean they are in range of the non-freeze attacks that affect the outer row (doom on that side, cherry, cob and if no jack sometimes outer jalapeno). This helps explain why giga levels without zomboni are generally easier to manage. In the case of inner giga after a jack accident destroys two pool glooms on that side, without further losses, the extra 5 seconds, total 32 with freeze, guarantees another (3rd) attack. So even with a missed squash and freeze, there is either another freeze or a non-freeze hit. In the case of the non-freeze hit, the giga has taken 190+ damage and will delay to throw an imp in column 7, taking at least another 16 gloom damage. It will then take enough gloom damage during its squashing animation to be killed before it can squash the inner column 6 gloom. In the case of a second freeze, total 37 seconds, there is another attack, which can't be squash, so again the giga will die unless subject to 3 freeze and missed squash. This gives further support to survival of the inner column 6 gloom against giga without zomboni in most situations. Another factor is the pool winter melon splash slowing affecting the nearest inner row. For that inner row, excluding distraction by dolphins, column 9 will be slowed by each shot, giving even more slowing time to that inner row. This indirectly affects the nearest outer row because the inner gigas die earlier and so the inner winter melon splash affects the outer row a little further back. It's just a shame that ECSS doesn't have 2 pool winter melons to extend the effect to both sides. That can't be done without sacrificing a pool plant, the best choice being a twin sunflower, but that makes the setup less superviable because of the danger of running out of sun with a long sequence of tough levels. By the same token, the pressure of the gigas, mainly in the outer rows, tends to increase through the first part once you start using freeze attacks. But the gap before the second part, and the giga lull, helps you get back on track in the second part. The difficulty of dealing with gigas after jack accidents is also dependent on how soon in the level the accident occurs -- the later, the easier it is. As for the winter melon, there are all kinds of Black Swan events which make play difficult. Having the extra fumes in column 6 in ECSS variant, even though they're destroyed by this time, has impeded the gigas earlier on and makes things less difficult. The gigas also are delayed by squashing the column 5 and 4 fumes in turn (about 5 seconds for each squash). But there is no guarantee that you will have a jalapeno to save the day and the best you can do is use both puff-shroom and fume (not activated) as delays and keep up your 7 second attacks as normal. Only if the winter melon is about to be squashed should you risk an extra attack outside the usual 7 second attacks, because you could pay for this with a missed 7 second attack later; however, losing the winter melon threatens a quick loss so it would be worth trying if you have any kind of attack left. In practice, though the column 4 fumes are sometimes destroyed, there is very rarely a further threat with ECSS. And with ECSS variant, the loss of winter melon didn't happen at all up to 2000 flags. Jack ---- Jacks cross a tile in about 5 seconds if not slowed. Crossing inner column 9, they'll take on average 20 damage from 2 pool glooms, enough to kill them, so they won't normally reach column 8 even if they don't get slowed by winter melon. That's why jack accidents usually cost two pool glooms, and occur in column 9. The jack explosion area of effect is 3 by 3 tiles. But, because glooms take 2 seconds between attacks, it might be that in those 5 seconds they only get off 2 attacks and do 16 damage, not enough to kill the jack with 17 health. It's very unlikely that no other damage is done to the jack in that time, but it could happen, which accounts for the most dangerous Black Swan event where the jack survives to column 8 and explodes destroying 3 pool glooms. Freeze doesn't stop the explosion once the animation of the jack stopping to explode begins. So those first two pool glooms won't always save you. After a jack accident which destroys the usual two pool glooms, more jacks on that side could get forward because they don't take gloom damage until column 7. This leads to a similarly devastating but very rare Black Swan when a second jack explosion destroys the 3rd pool gloom. In ECSS variant, whilst the extra fumes survive and land winter melon shots affect inner column 8, the security provided by winter melon slowing is increased. But zomboni will eventually destroy these extra fumes and survive to outer column 6, thus making the outer winter melon shot less likely to affect inner column 8 or 9. Gigas will also, less frequently, squash them after a while. So the inner winter melon is the main safeguard. Its attack every 3 seconds should still slow jacks caught in the area-effect, so the problems arise only if the winter melon is distracted by imps or balloon drops or, more likely, by a zomboni, football, giga or garg in inner column 7. I can't give precise estimates of frequency of these most dangerous Black Swans, because of their very rarity meaning I don't have enough data. And the consistency of play obviously is important and the frequency could slowly increase at higher levels (there's no consistent evidence of this which can be seen above the noise of random variation, but you'd expect with more zombies and not all attacks pure area-effect this should happen). But both basic ECSS and ECSS variant are superviable in my play, with ECSS averaging over 700 flags a game over 6 games, likely more with improved play, and the variant surviving its first game to 1500 flags and counting. So these Black Swans may be assumed to be several 100s to 1 against from the existing scanty data. Zomboni ------- Zomboni also take about 5 seconds to cross 1 tile. So they average around 50 gloom damage crossing inner columns 8 and 9. They have 60 health so will comfortably be destroyed before crossing column 7 with another 50 gloom damage. In particular, they take on average 70 damage up to column 7 even if the column 9 gloom is destroyed in an off-lawn rare jack explosion and so still don't usually threaten the column 6 inner gloom. In particular, the level after a jack accident destroying two pool glooms in columns 8 and 9 on one side, you can replace one pool gloom immediately if you were careful to leave coffee, fume and pumpkin recharged at the end of the level with the jack accident. Zomboni will then not usually threaten the inner gloom in the time before gloom recharges and you can replace the second pool gloom. But there is the usual caveat about getting less than average damage, so on rare occasions they could squash the column 6 inner gloom. Again, with the extra fume variant this has never happened yet. Outer zomboni take 3 fume damage crossing column 9, 7 fume damage crossing column 8, 7 fume + 10 inner gloom damage crossing column 7 and 7 fume + 20 inner gloom damage crossing column 6 for 54 damage. Add to this the 4 average outer winter splash if they are hit 3 s into column 8 and the 2 average inner winter splash with the same assumptions whilst they are in column 7 and 8 (provided the inner row has targets and shots centre in column 8). Thus, with all these assumptions, we expect outer zomboni to usually die before squashing the outer column 5 fume if not in pumpkin and in practice they never do with a full setup. If this fume is in pumpkin, it can occasionally get squashed because the pumpkin is wider than 1 tile and when the pumpkin is squashed, so is the plant inside it. Even after the column 5 fume is lost, zomboni would take another 20 gloom damage crossing column 5 which more than makes up for the lost fume damage and kill them even before the column 5 fume is replaced. Nevertheless, it should be replaced as soon as there is a non-freeze attack to cover use of coffee on tough levels. Football -------- Slowed footballs are the same speed as zomboni, but have 80 health so they often chew the column 5 fume pumpkin until killed by the next pair of gloom attacks. They also may not be slowed until column 7 or 8, so can survive long enough to be a problem. Puff-shroom can be helpful to delay them if there aren't gigas to delay, and can even help column 6 fumes, in pumpkin or not, to survive for quite a while in ECSS variant. If the column 5 outer fume is lost against football, they can survive to chew the column 4 fume pumpkin if not slowed early, so this should always be replaced when there is a non-freeze attack to cover the use of coffee. Sometimes an outer jalapeno can help if there is no way to replace the fume without it being eaten, but that needs careful judgement if it's a level with jack and you risk not having the jalapeno available for a 7 second attack or at the end of the second part. Inner footballs, on the assumption they are slowed 1.5 s into column 8 with no glooms lost, will take 71 gloom damage in 11 s crossing columns 9, 8, and 7 before they start chewing. Those frozen or hit by a non-freeze attack will die. But this is with average damage and slowing. Sometimes they will get 3 s into column 8 (which is 1/2 s into column 7) before being slowed, and cross in 9 1/2 s taking 61 gloom damage. They will still take another at least 20 gloom damage if frozen and die before chewing. But any winter melon distraction could mean they survive to chew the inner column 6 gloom's pumpkin. Similarly if they take below-average gloom damage. Most often, the direct and splash winter melon damage will still kill them before they chew, but not always. In ECSS variant, inner footballs never survive to chew the column 6 gloom's pumpkin whilst the outer column 6 fume survives, virtually guaranteeing slowing in column 8. Other zombie types ------------------ All other land zombies (excluding balloons) are comfortably destroyed before they can do damage because of the fume and gloom damage mentioned, if no plants are lost. Even with the standard loss of two pool glooms to a jack accident, this remains true for all but garg, football and bucket. The analysis for gargs was given above in the section on gigas. Footballs and buckets may do a little more pumpkin damage but that's not particularly dangerous. Note that pool zombie types other than dolphin are hit by 4 pool glooms once they enter the pool and are generally slowed continually by the pool winter melon. In particular, they take 40 gloom damage if frozen, which only buckets can survive, but the gloom damage as they approach and enter the pool will usually still kill them combined with the freeze damage if they're already in the pool. With lost fumes or glooms, buckets can occasionally do significant chewing damage to pumpkins. With lost pool glooms, more pumpkin damage there will happen from dolphins and buckets, and careful pumpkin management will be required to avoid pumpkins lost to chewing. Variants ======== A viable, but not very superviable, variant is obtained by replacing the inner twin sunflowers with winter melons, and the pool winter melon with twin sunflowers. This variant has only 5 twin sunflowers, so will lose too much sun per level at high levels. But if you're not too unlucky it may make 100 flags a little more easily than ECSS. Having 2 winters in inner rows is helpful against jacks and gigas especially. I call this EWCSS (W for winter). Earlier I noted the probability of getting 10 tough levels (jack or giga) in a row. You might well avoid this up to 100 flags, but it becomes relatively frequent by 500. Such a sequence will likely mean a loss by running out of sun as you have only 5 twins. If you play enough times, you may make 500 flags if you're really lucky and skillful. But I wouldn't bet on making 1000 flags. I haven't tried modifying this variant further so you have one winter melon and one gatling pea in the inner rows. Gatling pea is 4 dps but only to a single target, and dead bodies block pea shots for a time. But with only one fume, at high levels zomboni will squash the gatling. You might wonder about playing without the two cattails. I don't advise this, though I haven't tried every variant. Firstly, you have to play every tough level with balloons by bringing blover and missing out an instant. That puts you under too much pressure with seed recharging, especially if you get 2 tough balloon levels in a row, unless you have more than 1 pool freeze spot. If you have more freeze spots and use more freeze attacks, outer gigas may not be contained as they take relatively little damage whilst frozen, being in range of between 0 and 2 inner glooms. I much prefer only using blover on easy levels. It is more pressure to do it on tough levels and maintain your timing of 7 second attacks. An even more frequent problem is that imps will now survive longer and chew the land winter melon pumpkins, to the extent that you may not be able to keep up with pumpkin replacement on levels with giga, or jack and garg. Back cattails do help with imps a lot. Perhaps the most dangerous situation is on levels after a jack accident. If you have balloons and choose to replace the lost pool glooms, you will have to miss out 2 instants. It doesn't seem like you can maintain 7 second attacks without, maybe, 3 or 4 freeze spots. Even then, outer gigas will probably go on a rampage, especially if you've lost an inner gloom to zomboni on the jack accident level. If you want to try this, I suggest 2 outer winters and two freeze spots (no pool winter). But I don't think 2 winters will hold the gigas. A further problem is that you may not be able to start every level with inner and outer doom because of the lack of instants, which means more frequent early jack accidents, more frequent loss of inner planting due to zomboni ice, and a problem with finding a repeatable sequence of play, so you have to improvise a lot. I've tested this to 100 flags, finding it (barely) viable. As expected, more seed recharging pressure, missed 7 second attacks, pumpkin damage, giga squashing, pressure on sun, and more frequent jack accidents than ECSS basic. On the positive side, you can replace one freeze spot with sunflower on any easy level and still freeze bungees easily from the other spot, even with zomboni, and without bungee you can have sunflowers in both freeze spots on easy levels. That won't make up for long sequences of tough levels in a row, though. One cattail just isn't enough at high levels to deal with all the balloons, in case you were wondering. In fact, on very rare occasions (one time ever in my play) two cattails isn't enough on tough levels with 2 balloons if you don't bring blover. At the time of writing, I'm at 1500 flags with my first game of ECSS variant, hoping to break 3000 flags for the first time. So I haven't tested a variant with the pool winter melon replaced by a 3rd cattail. I'm hopeful that this will have increased outer damage per second, and that the greater pressure on the column 9 pumpkins won't matter if it's as rare as off-lawn jack accidents in losing column 9 pool glooms. Maybe you can be the first to test this system. The 3rd cattail might also go in column 5 to be closer to the outer gigas and balloons. A small variation I'd been considering to ECSS variant was to switch the places of the inner twin sunflowers and inner winter melons. The idea is that most imps land in column 3 and the inner winter melons are sometimes distracted by imps. However, my game with ECSS variant is now at 2252 flags, and several times now I've had tough levels with jack and zomboni where I've had a Black Swan combination of jack accidents and lost two inner glooms on one side and then zomboni squashed the column 4 inner twin sunflowers and outer zomboni squashed the outer column 3 winter melon. This has happened with and without gigas and gargs, but though it's a very difficult situation it can often be survived. With the switch, it would probably not be survivable at all. So this switch doesn't seem worthwhile, especially as it puts the column 3 inner pumpkins at greater risk from imps.
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