Multiplayer Game of the Year 2015: Subterfuge

By Tof Eklund 22 Dec 2015 0
In Subterfuge, you never trust the Gorton's fisherman. Or anyone else, for that matter. In Subterfuge, you never trust the Gorton's fisherman. Or anyone else, for that matter.

There’s an easy way to explain why Subterfuge is Pocket Tactics’ Multiplayer game of the year: it reminds us in the best ways of Allan Calhamer's classic tabletop game Diplomacy. Subterfuge only shares a few mechanics with Henry Kissinger’s favorite game, but it creates a remarkably similar metagame, one in which politics and politics by other means are inextricably intertwined.

The basic mechanics of Subterfuge are refreshingly simple: generators power factories, factories create drillers, and drillers are used to fight battles and create mines, which collect Neptunium (victory points). Complexity comes in the form of specialists whose simple, potent abilities can turn a scenario upside down. It’s the precise opposite of the endless small modifiers and separate, nearly-redundant systems of social “strategy” games.

It’s easy, and completely misleading, to describe Subterfuge as an extremely slow-paced RTS. Sure, subs move in real time, for long hours at a time, but you won’t be frantically queuing new production while micromanaging fire orders and activating special abilities. There’s none of that undignified haste here.

No, while your fleet is on it’s way, you’ll be engaged in negotiations, perhaps trying to hack out a deal with your target to turn your invasion fleet into a gift in exchange for other considerations. Maybe you’ll also be coordinating with another player to hit your target in two places at once. You might even be angling for the best deal with both of your rivals, ready to stab either one (or both) in the back. Just don’t forget the tea and cucumber sandwiches--this isn't some back-alley scuffle, this is war.

Subterfuge sets the player up above trifles. It’s all high-level strategy, enabled by strictly deterministic combat resolution and the ability to scrub forward and back again in time. The ability to play out every battle a hundred times before it happens makes one feel like the Kwisatz Haderach.

Subterfuge isn’t the first game to use long travel times instead of turns for asynchronous multiplayer, but it does so with minimalist panache. Subterfuge is extremely clean and lucid in it’s visual design, with a subtle and pervasive sense of style. There’s also the generous and clever pricing scheme, with a fully-playable novice experience available for free, and a set of features that all serious players will want (unlimited order scheduling, multiple simultaneous games, and ranked play) available with a single unlock, the game’s only IAP.

In the end, however, it is a narrow focus on strategic planning and diplomacy that makes Subterfuge our Multiplayer Game of the Year. Diplomacy would not have been improved by adding 37 different combat unit types and a deck of spell cards, nor would Subterfuge.

To see all of the games recognized in the Pocket Tactics Best of 2015 Awards, visit the 2015 Awards Index page.
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