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Unsung games of 2015: Subterfuge

Sub rosa.

I found Subterfuge to be a strange and sometimes uncomfortable game to play with friends. We've already talked about that a little, but perhaps we didn't talk enough about why it was able to have such an impact in the first place. Subterfuge is, more than anything else, a game of mutual deception, in which a group of players must work together whilst deftly avoiding the awkward truth that only one of them can emerge victorious.

Now that's a wonderful concept, but it's not unique to Subterfuge: board games have been playing around with the idea since the birth of Diplomacy in the late '50s, and there's an even clearer inspiration to be found with browser-based, actual video game, Neptune's Pride. Just like the latter, a full game of Subterfuge is going to take you days to complete and this added time investment plays a huge role in ensuring that you can't really help but care about the game's outcome by the end. It's quite a bit more difficult to laugh off a last minute betrayal when you've been nurturing that relationship for more than a week.

But as I've already said, Neptune's Pride did all of this first. What makes Subterfuge one of the unsung games of 2015 then? At first glance the two games do look very similar - they both involve capturing territory with very slow moving fleets (spaceships and submarines don't look so different when represented as numbers). But whereas Neptune's Pride tasks its players with controlling more than half of the map to be declared the winner, Subterfuge offers a couple of different routes to victory. You can take the more traditional military path and look to capture the leaders of your opposition, or you can mine for Neptunium. I still can't quite believe that's the real name of a real chemical element, but there we are.

Cover image for YouTube videoSUBTERFUGE - surfacing on iOS and Android October 15!

If you do choose to mine for Neptunium, it's technically possible to do so without engaging in combat, in fact that's likely to be the preferable option. You'll need quite a lot of the stuff to win, so you'll want to be digging as many Neptunium mines as possible, right? Just keep your head down and keep drilling? Not quite, because this is where Subterfuge shows some real flair. Not only does each mine require increased resources to create, but the resources that you'll be spending are actually the same driller submarines that act as your military. So with every mine that you dig, the weaker your defences become and the juicier the target you'll appear to your competition. Not only that, but Subterfuge likes to make the winning player (at least in terms of Neptunium production) very, very obvious, with a banner at the top of the screen that displays how many days/hours/minutes remain until they reach their goal. That often proves to be a death sentence.

So Subterfuge encourages different playstyles, which is appreciated, and there's room for players to expand upon that with certain 'specialists' that can be hired to improve their offensive/defensive capabilities, economy, or just to screw around with another player. But the other thing that's really worth knowing about Subterfuge is that it's an absolute pleasure to play something like this when it's been designed specifically for iOS/Android devices. This is a game that's meant to be endured over the course of a week or so, but as almost every action takes hours to complete, you only really need to check in a few times per day (it will likely be six or seven times, let me warn you). It's a genuine relief to be able to do that whilst using a bespoke app, rather than wrestling with some godawful mobile browser. The in-built messenger is superb, showing you when other players are online, and allowing you to plot and conspire in as many different chat windows as you require. When something important does kick off, you'll receive a notification and can quickly respond. And when the game isn't going your way and you're a bit upset, you can quite literally chuck it across the room in a pathetic show of defiance. It's a perfect fit for mobile and well worth a go if you fancy yourself the underwater equivalent of say, Littlefinger, or that wizard in Lord of the Rings that convinces everyone that he's on their team, when in reality he's breeding an army of Urak-hai to destroy all of their castles. God, I need better points of reference.

I may not recommend that you play Subterfuge with friends, but I do recommend that you play it. And hey, it's free until you want to set up your own custom games!