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Subterfuge: Diplomacy and Deception in the Depths

Subterfuge: Diplomacy and Deception in the Depths

History time Kiddies!

Okay, so you may remember when a history teacher tried in vain to teach your fledgling mind about World War I. It was a time of technological revolution, alliances and the full realization of mankind’s destructive nature crystallized into global conquest in a new way.

One of the most striking concepts in this conflict was the complex network of alliances that began to trigger that fateful day when an Austrian Archduke, named Franz Ferdinand (No, not the band) was gunned down in the streets. Basically, every major world power had a dog in, by all means, fight that probably didn’t need to be escalated to a global scale. Each minor country had at least one major world power backing them up and thus began a chain reaction. Everyone had their middle fingers so strongly pointed upward that none could bear to back down, or look like a wimp who doesn’t support their allies.

This sequenced combustion of civilized world, blueprinted by deals brokered in clandestine, came to mind when I was playing the game I’d like to share with you: Subterfuge.

Subterfuge is a multiplayer strategy game available for iOS and Android devices. You may say: “Phil, mobile games are dumb and are for people who can’t afford PC’s or Consoles. I have a 4-year-old cousin who loves that sh*t and he eats dirt.”

Well, my friend, I would typically agree that mobile games are often ridiculously colorful, pandering to the lower common denominator and are laden with micro transactions, intending to bleed you dry of all your capital.  I’d also like to remind you that mobile gaming is still really in it’s infancy (in my opinion, there’s much more we can do and we are seeing some elegant strides. Looking at you, Pokemon Go) and picking on an infant isn’t nice. You wouldn’t call a baby dumb to its face, would you?!?!

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way.

Subterfuge is unique because you and 7 other players are pitted against each other as you scramble to claim resources, train powerful units, attack other players and forge alliances in secret. Even though I played with friends, the game masked our identities as colors. I was brown.

I’d like to point out my favorite aspects of the game.

Real Time

One thing that really made Subterfuge stand out above your average, strategy game is that it is truly real time.  That is, submarines take forever to get to the outpost you have designated and often moves can take more than 10 hours to complete, which creates a pressure to make the wisest decisions possible. You don’t want to hate yourself hours later when you completely made a bonehead move. Also, it’s a race to gather a resource called “neptunium” and the first to 200 units is the winner. Our game took about 9 days. Yes, you heard me 9 days.

The downside to this is that your mobile notifications can be going off all times of the night. I remember more than once, waking up to a notification. My girlfriend was visibly concerned why I reached out for my phone in such a hurry. Her eyes rolled when I exclaimed: “Baby! Beige is being a total butt right now!”

Hidden chat

So all 3 of your neighbors are attacking and you need help quick. Luckily you can get help in secret using the unique chat that allows you to step out of the public chat and have a secret meeting with any number of players in game, obscuring your intent from others.

This is where it gets tricky, even the most stand up and righteous among us leaves this game with more than a little to confess. You can broker deals in the shadows, with no one watching you. Will you hold up your end? Are your allies doing the same? Maybe all 7 opponents are conspiring and sending a fleet of subs to crush you.


I like heroes, special units or any shiny toy leading you to feel special. Nothing makes you feel more special in this game like a Specialist. They are unique units with one-time use, or static special abilities that can change the game completely. They are randomized and there are 30 in total, meaning we didn’t even see all of them on the field in our first play through.

You will get a new Specialist every 18 hours and can forgo the new Specialist to promote an existing unit. These have dramatic effects on the game, are very diverse and very numerous, adding that next level appeal to the game.


I explained to a cousin about the long standing mobile game of cunning, triumph and grief that I was experiencing about midway through my 9 day struggle. His eyes glazed over and he asked “Why would you do that?”

It was in a word: Brutal. I think that is the allure of something like this. A walnut which shell is so hard to crack that the satisfaction comes through in a slow trickle of triumphs dotting the ordeal, rather than a grand blow out.

I originally was going to titled this post: Subterfuge, the Best Game I Will Never Play again. But that would do a dis-service to the readers who may glance over this review and the development team and publisher that worked hard to make it happen.

Maybe, I’m still a little sore about ending in 4th after days at the top of the scoreboard… I’ll need to get over that. I can’t think of a better way than to redeem myself! I will probably be shipping off back to sea shortly and I think you should get some friends (more like frenemies) to come along. 

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