I pondered what I wanted my first Weekly Obsession post to be for awhile. I had a few drafts put together about my upcoming trip to WWDC this year in San Jose and how excited I was about that, but it definitely felt forced (the writing, not my excitement - hit me up @ajkueterman if you’re headed out there this year).
What turned out to consume my attention this week was Subterfuge, a mobile game introduced to me by a friend and one that has since consumed my entire group of friends. War has been raging on the open seas since Monday morning.
What is it?
Subterfuge is a classic military style strategy game that is played over the course of days. The basic premise is that you are a submarine commander with control over outposts at sea and the drillers who work on them, and you command submarines between outposts to produce more resources and take over more territory.
The goal: produce the most Neptonium - the in game valued resource - or to be the last one standing.
There are three types of outposts, each of which give you different in game advantages. Factories produce drillers, generators speed up how fast factories churn out drillers, and mines - which have to be built by drillers - produce the valuable Neptonium.
In addition, there are ‘Specialist’ characters to give you different in-game bonues. Each player controls a Queen, who in turn generates new specialists - one or two per day. The Queen is the most important character in the game, and if another player captures your queen - you’re out.
What is it really?
It’s really all about diplomacy - alliances, trade, and betrayal. One of the major aspects of Subterfuge is that you’re all anonymous. This is a critical aspect of the game when playing with a group of your friends, and something that is unique to an online mobile game versus a standard board game.
So every game you are a new face, in a new starting position with potentially different goals or survival strategy, and you have to build new relationships. That’s a huge part of actually winning this game - building relationships with the other players. Any army, no matter how powerful, can easily be stretched too thin and dismantled by an alliance of other players across the map.
The in-game chat is crucial. There’s a public chat stream where you can have an open forum, but private chats between nations is where the real game is played.
The Rise and Fall of Teal
I’m currently in the throughs of my first game right now, as the powers that be are descending on my humble camp. I want to take a moment to reflect on my campaign, and highlight some of the best and worst parts about Subterfuge.
It’s been a dramatic few days.
Early in the week, I was a little late in claiming nearby open outposts. I quickly did, and experienced my first small scale skirmishes with Orange and Beige. I was quick to drill my first mine, using up 40 of my eager drillers in the closest outpost to my Queen. This quickly grabbed the attention of Beige, who attempted to take it in a multi-sub fight that I was luckily victorious in.
Most of this early work was done blindly, without much coordination with any allies or communication with the enemy. My battle with Beige actually brought us a little closer together, especially after his defenses shifted to a new mutual enemy to the north.
Currently in the game, I’ve made a successful expansion to the east, where I have some productive factories and have begun to fortify a new stronghold. However, my south-western expansion to capture a new mine has created a powerful enemy in Red, who has begun to bombard my nation’s initial outposts with hordes of drillers.
Smelling blood in the water, more players are attacking my eastern reaches in an attempt to engulf me. Communication has grown sparse, and my only true allies are my northern neighbor Beige and a distant player Sky who shares no borders with my outposts.
My fear of Subterfuge is that it would be a chore to check and to passively keep up with. I was expecting the week-long nature of the game to get exhausting and not offer that awarding feedback loop. Scheduling sub departures and watching your lemmings mine didn’t seem like it would offer much reward to the player.
I was very wrong. Subterfuge is great because it injects just the right amount of tension. Like any good board game, the mechanics are relatively simple on their face, but with a huge amount of variety and depth. Everyone starts as relative equals, and your early strategy and diplomacy can rocket you to victory.
Each move is a trade-off, and after the initial expansion, each move is an attack. Meaning, if you want any chance at building an army or becoming a game-winning drilling operation you need to break some trust. This is when the diplomacy comes into play.
Can you convince someone that they don’t need that generator and that you’ll send them the drillers it would have cost you to wear down their shields? Can your newest specialist enable your ally to take down your sworn nemesis? Will a double-cross put you on the path to victory? You better be sure.
And while subs take hours to reach their destination, I was surprised by the amount of times I needed to make a split-second decision. The tension couldn’t have been higher when I saw an enemy sub launching towards my base only 12 hours away, and my decision to launch at the same time saved me half of an outpost worth of drillers. This means - while I wasn’t a slave to notifications - you’ll definitely want to be reactive when you get an alert of an imminent attack.
Overall, I’m having a blast playing the game. This weekend, me and the group of friends who are playing are meeting up and will have a big prediction reveal to see who we think each anonymous player is. I’m so excited to recap the events of the game with them from each perspective.
Update - The war still rages between me and Red! We continue to hurl assaults at each other, meanwhile the other players circle us like vultures, ready to prey on the weakened victor. I can’t wait to see how the battle is resolved.
Join the Subterfuge
So, yeah, Subterfuge is what I was obsessed with this past week. I’m really looking forward to playing more matches and bringing more people into the game. I highly recommend you guys check it out, and let me know what you think!