Skip to main content

2nd December 2015

Review: Subterfuge

Forget about conquering on land, Subterfuge is all about conquering the sea, and you can do it all from the comfort of your phone. But is it worth the time?

Subterfuge is a mobile game. It’s also probably my game of the year. Blasphemy, right? It turns out that this might be the best format for strategy games that I never knew existed.

Co-created by one of the minds behind World of Goo, Subterfuge is a multiplayer strategy game supporting up to 10 players at a time. Upon joining or creating a game, you will start off with an underwater base of a few Factories and Generators. Factories periodically make drillers and Generators increase the amount of drillers that you can have under your control at any one point. Nearby, there might be some unoccupied buildings just waiting for you to colonise in order to expand your empire. However, the only way to get your drillers to other outposts is by venturing into the murky depths of the ocean in fragile little submarines.

This is where the first twist of Subterfuge presents itself: Everything happens in real-time. A submarine might take seventeen hours to get to an adjacent outpost, and once you’ve sent it off, it can’t change course. This might sound tedious, but it’s the foundation of what makes this game so amazing. Each game takes a week, but you’re never looking at your screen for more than five minutes at a time, since most of your units will be in transit. This is helped further by the ability to queue orders up for the future, which means I don’t need to be at my phone exactly when my sub arrives, because I made my next move four hours ago.

Winning a game of Subterfuge is simple: Mine 200 Neptunium. This most precious of minerals is extracted from the ocean floor by building Mines amongst your other outposts. Of course, you could just conquer your neighbour’s Mine, but that might make somebody upset. Underneath all of these mechanics, the real game of Subterfuge exists in the in-game chat function. You can send any number of other players messages whenever you feel the need to communicate something about the game. Want that outpost that somebody’s already claimed? You could just ask him, maybe even offer some drillers in compensation. Though it’s only your word against theirs, so whether you keep up your end of the deal is down to how much you trust them. Alliances form quickly in Subterfuge and break explosively, twice as fast.

The best way to play Subterfuge is just like any other game: With friends. In my first game I was in alliances with three different people, all of whom were bitter rivals and wanted each other eliminated. One was also my housemate and another my best friend. For a whole week, I was gripped with paranoia that every time somebody went to the bathroom or was speaking to another player in real life, they were conspiring against me. Adopting my best Machiavellian mask, I just assumed that anything that anybody told me was a lie, and ruthlessly played people against each other by using our real-life relationships to my advantage. At the end of the week, my empire lay in tatters, yet I came in third place thanks to my merciless expansionism earlier in the week. The war was hard-fought and the victory well-deserved, though tensions definitely rose to near-dangerous levels near the end. I may have almost damaged a few friendships along the way, but I had a great time, so it was probably worth it.

The base game is free, though the full version (costing £7.87) is required to host games. Available on iOS and Android.

More Coverage

Dredge: Euphoric short excitement

Deep, dark and dreadful. Black Salt Games’ debut, Dredge, delivers a delightful dunk, with some short lacking narratives.

Eight exciting games this year

Are you struggling to decide what to play? Check out this list to find out more about some of the games coming out in 2023

God of War: Ragnarök fails its female characters

Disappointingly, the latest installment in the God of War series continues its tradition of side-lining female characters

Sonic Frontiers: Sega Genesis Evangelion

Sonic Frontiers is the latest hurdle in the marathon that the blue hedgehog must finish before starring in a good game