Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Subterfuge reminds me of happy days playing Risk

Subterfuge is a multi-player game marketed as an exercise in strategy and diplomacy that is available as an app on, I believe, both the iOS and Android. The game feels a bit like a mash up between Mission Red Planet and Diplomacy, set on an ocean floor populated by a steampunk civilization reminiscent of that in BioShock.

Players control bases on the sea floor, and mine for the mineral Neptunium. Victory, it seems, goes to the player who is first to achieve a pre-set Neptunium score. Submarines carry drillers, the grunts of this universe, between factories and bases. They do all the digging and the fighting.

Who's Queen?

Specialists bring crunch to the game.
A queen rules over each faction and she is responsible for recruiting and promoting specialists. These are experts similar to those in Mission Red Planet. Their skills bring extra crunch to the game; they include smugglers, pirates, thieves and admirals. Some of them have scope for promotion, although I'm still getting my head around this. Like in Chess, if you lose your queen, you're out of the game.

Subterfuge is played in real-time. That means that production and the movement of submarines between bases takes place over a period of hours or days. It is designed to be played on mobile devices. Players can therefore dip into it as and when it suits them over a period of 24 hours or so. The game will, however, disqualify players if they are inactive for more than 48 hours.

There is an element of limited intelligence here: each base has a maximum sonar range. You can monitor activity at other players' bases if they are within sonar range, and receive alerts on your phone when new submarines crop up inside your sonar network. I quite like this - the use of a software platform means that you cannot possess godlike intelligence on your foes.

Subterfuge is designed to fit the long strategy game into the schedule of a busy modern lifestyle, and it does this very well. When there is no longer time to get people around a table for a day to play Supremacy or Twilight Imperium, Subterfuge is able to offer a strategy game along similar lines for a much smaller commitment in terms of time. A fast forward dial allows you to order units that will only become available in the future, when you are asleep for example!

I'm still playing in my first game. I had to solve a number of mission problems using the game before I could sign up, but these are really designed to help you to learn the basics before you get involved. In my new game there have been several other major revelations that have jeopardised my ability to win, but I'm treating this largely as a learning exercise.

An example of part of a game in action.

The developers stress using diplomacy as vital to winning, but I've seen very little of this so far. Strangely, many of the players in this first game seem keen to avoid ending the game by mining too much Neptunium too quickly, and my decision to establish a mine early in the game was treated with some shock. I've since lost the mine to another player who has promised not to upgrade production! I've consulted another player and he thinks they are trying to prolong the game.

While there is little danger of me winning, I'm not about to drop out either, as this is a valuable opportunity to test out many of the specialists and other functionality in the game. I've always been of the view that there is fun and entertainment to be derived from hanging onto a losing position just to make the lives of others more challenging, rather than simply walking away from the table. We'll see how I progress with this.

I should also mention that the aesthetics are lovely, from the undersea landscape to the portraits of specialists to the sound effects. Try typing out a message in-game to another player and it sounds like a typewriter!

Subterfuge is free to play once you have achieved Level 1 status. You can then join online games. For a fee of $10 you can upgrade, which will give you other functionality - I'm not precisely sure what yet - but also more importantly it seems you can also then set up and participate in private games with friends, rather than just in public sessions, which somehow seems even more fun.

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