Game Reviews

Subterfuge - A beautifully designed life ruiner

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| Subterfuge
Subterfuge - A beautifully designed life ruiner
| Subterfuge

Sayam Ahmed, Nick Capozzoli, Pocket Gamer's esteemed reviews editor Harry Slater, and staff writer Glen Fox.

I don't usually start every review with the names of those that I played the game with. It's largely impractical and I don't like to reveal how much time I spend with my cat.

I'm telling you here, because these are the names of those that, combined with mobile game Subterfuge, broke me.

Sub on sub combat

On the surface it's a game about real-time submarine wars - use the clean user interface and slick touch controls to send submarines around your undersea kingdom while hiring specialists and trying to mine 200 kilos of Neptunium, a rare undersea metal that everyone seems to be clamouring over for some reason.

You can direct subs around with a single swipe, while setting orders in the future is as simple as bringing up the clock and rotating it to the time you want your attack to go off - negating the need to wake up at 1am to pull out a decisive move.

You're doing this while protecting your Queen. She's the head of your operation and her death results in your organisation being decapitated, dumping you out of the game. So you expand slowly while trying to acquire and defend numerous outposts.

These outposts come in three flavours - factories produce the drillers that make up your army, generators produce the power to sustain them, and mines produce Neptunium. More outposts are usually better, but it means you have more to defend.

Go beyond the beautiful map and delicious art and it's actually a game about diplomacy, deception, and other words starting with D. What depths will you go to to claim victory?

Social engineering

No undersea kingdom is an island, and by standing alone you run the risk of getting tag-teamed and taken out by the other hungry players, who are always plotting behind the scenes.

You can't refuse to play the social game as the dance will go on with or without you. You'll have to beg, borrow, and bargain to survive the week, and the barrage of private messages firing around is enough to put the fear into anyone.

It's an undersea Neptune's Pride then, developed by a team consisting of Ron Carmel (World of Goo), Noel Llopis (Amazing Alex), and artist Shane Nakamura (Zombie Gunship).

What this gaming supergroup has delivered is equal parts joy and panic, a game that walks that fine line between feeling like a high powered executive and a whimpering nervous wreck.

This game will ruin your life. I set an alarm for 2am to wake up and see the results of a devastating attack and lied about the timing of a recent flight so that I wouldn't be caught out while I was in the air.


The paranoia that everyone else in the game is gathering arms against you will slowly seep into every aspect of your life.

Oftentimes, it's unfounded, but other times you sign in just in time to see a sub full of angry drillers speeding towards your outpost.

The well honed mechanics work, the map is beautiful, and the assortment of randomly appearing specialists you can hire do a great job of throwing even the best plan into disarray. The app itself is nigh on flawless.

Hell can be other people

But there are several weaknesses with the soft and fleshy humans necessary to enjoy the game. The social aspect really is the key part of the game.

Subterfuge requires full buy in from those that play it - a busy 12 hours or a player losing interest can totally ruin your game.

One player maintaining an isolationist stance or refusing to negotiate creates a roadblock, two players holding back can force an entire game to fall apart.

You can play with up to nine future enemies, but the game doesn't seem balanced for players that aren't playing to win.

There's also the pressure aspect - games generally run for seven days, and the stress during that time is high.

I flew internationally during my game which lead to a nervous nine hour blackout, and one social outing saw a corner full of people desperately sending orders with their heads in their hands.

Is Subterfuge an excellent game? Yes. Would I recommend it? Maybe not.

But if the wheeling and dealing sounds like it might work for you, grab a bunch of friends, play Subterfuge together and prepare to irreparably damage those friendships forever.

Subterfuge - A beautifully designed life ruiner

A beautifully designed game that'll turn your life inside out for a week
Jake Tucker
Jake Tucker
Jake's love of games was kindled by his PlayStation. Games like Metal Gear Solid and Streets of Rage ignited a passion that has lasted nearly 20 years. When he's not writing about games, he's fruitlessly trying to explain Dota 2 to anyone that will listen.