I’ve spent the week messaging strangers, and in a weird way, as the clock ticks down to my bronze medal, I’m going to miss them.
The past 15 months of having an hour commute by train bookending either side of my working day has left me with time to think, work, and grow an interest in mobile gaming; it’s not the only thing I do with the train-ride each day (this blog for instance comes from those hours) but it is in the mix. Prior to this, I had a certain disdain for mobile games, which I would defend as not entirely unfounded. I dislike intensely the concept of heavily monetised and ‘pay to win’ games which at first glance does seem to have infected the Google-play store to an almost suffocating level; as a side note, I’ve only ever seen one article supporting this type of monetisation which as written by someone employed to show developers how to best monetise their apps. Dig a little deeper however, and there are some titles worthy of the time and well suited to the, usually short, gaming injections that we can grab in those moments on the move. The ‘Go’ games (Hitman and Lara Craft), various mobile editions of popular boardgames, and ‘Star Realms’ (based on a physical card game) provide a swatch of the colours of things I’ve been enjoying.
‘Subterfuge’ caught my eye a little while ago in a review article and last week I dove in to this word of mines, submarines and diplomacy. At its core, it is a simple strategy title played by several players (ten, in the case of my first game) via mobile. You are presented with a diagrammatic radar view of a waterlogged world dotted with facilities, some owned by you, some owned by your opponents and some as-yet unclaimed. Your key resource type are ‘drillers’ and the aim is to mine 200 (erm… units?) of Neptunium in order to win. Drillers can be loaded into submarines to claim facilities, attack opponent’s facilities or ‘spent’ to dig the Neptunium mines. Factories produce drillers at a set rate and generators are required to power your drillers. The final piece of the puzzle is provided by specialists, who can be hired periodically, and bestow special abilities such as faster travel speed, improved combat, improved defence etc.
The twist in the game is that it takes about a week to play, even travelling short distances in submarines takes many hours, with a series of moves taking days to play out (the handy time-scrubbing feature allows you to set up a series of moves to happen one after another). Additionally, recharging shields equipped on the facilities make it much easier to defend than to attack… all out war is often costly for the attackers…
… as the game manual keeps reminding you, this is a game about diplomacy and most of it takes place in the chat window; furtive secret messages, misleading public comments and a whole string of suspicious alliances kept me engaged for the week that it took to play through.
… so what happened…
(Given the submarine theme, I like to think of ‘us’ all sat behind our desks in the oak panelled executive offices of our underwater fortress, being handed the latest scan data and barking orders through a room thick with cigar smoke… rather than on a noisy commuter train, or sleepily sat in bed)
Day One: Nervous chatter in the public room, 7 of the 10 players (myself included) admit to being first time submariners. A couple of glances at the stats of the other three show that they have accrued between them a sizeable handful of ‘backstabber’ and ‘toxic’ medals in previous engagements.
… our first casualty is early, a chipper sailor known as ‘Frosty’. He was a good chap – merrily chatting away, giving out a few pre-emptive gifts of drillers, maybe to soften us up for a later betrayal… we’ll never know… he was eliminated in the first few hours of play… fell victim to an accidental tap of the resign button…
Day Two: A web of submarine trails scatter out in all directions, all players eager to get their fair share of the unclaimed facilities. ‘Red’ and ‘Green’ contact me with the offer of an alliance – I’m inexperienced and don’t want to be alone at these depths, so I agree wholeheartedly and we each relay the information we have on the positions of the other players and our own movements. It is agreed that we should try to claim as much of Frosty’s territory as possible.
Day Three: In my scramble for Frosty’s property I run up against another doing the same; Shun, one of the aforementioned backstabbers… a tricky spot to be in… he’s already got tight defences against that border. We casually exchange some pleasantries and he offers a non-attack pact – I’m dubious, but the principle seems legitimate, neither of us attack without giving prior warning.
Day Four: I’m up against a wall now; nobody is attacking me, but I need factories to increase my output. I look for weaknesses to spread my domain without breaking alliances and making myself a target. To the South-West lies Lloyd, we havn’t spoken yet and I’m wary as he’s played a few times before, but there is a factory under his control poorly defended and lying close to me. I plan and cancel attack order several times before committing but finally I send in my troops. Lloyd vacates the factory, but sends a barrage of subs from his outposts toward the facility neighbouring where I launched my volley; his counter-attack is fierce. My options are limited, so I employ a savvy smuggler with a devilishly fast sub to ferry my drillers in the defence and manage to hold both ports.
Day Five: An ally on my eastern border has been idle for twenty four hours… should I attack?…
Day Six: … I should have attacked; ‘Jackal’ from the North easily takes them, that land could have been mine. To make matters worse, my allies are calling me to move against Shun with whom I have no quarrel – he’s held up his end of the non-attack pact. I stammer and mumble excuses, but they sound hollow. Several players have been eliminated now, the drive to win has been replaced by the drive to survive.
Day Seven: ‘Jackal’ grows stronger daily, he’s mining at an alarming rate. All things being equal he’ll win, Shun second and myself in third. I contact them both and offer them an alliance. I’m satisfied with third and it’ll stop me being the next victim to their growing forces. My original allies send frantic messages calling me into action… I ignore… It’s cold…
Day Eight: The battle is done; Jackal’s numbers steadily tick up to the goal, my original allies lie in ruins, but I hold a respectable third place for my last minute allegiance
‘Subterfuge’ has distinct echoes of the PC title ‘DEFCON’ from the minimalist interface & ‘real-time’ play aspect to the principle of fragile alliances & suspicion. It’s not groundbreaking in the gameplay department, but is novel for a mobile title and solidly put together. The free version restricts you to playing public, unranked games, a four ‘future-command’ limit, and one game at a time, but is enough for you to evaluate the experience. I wanted more planning freedom so sprung for the full version early on in the game. I’d wager a shiny penny that the experience is highly dependent on who you’re playing with; I was lucky enough to find a group who were fun and chatty.
‘Subterfuge’ is available for Android and iPhone; you can find out more details here.