It would be prudent to begin this with a disclaimer: I do not play many strategy games. Not anymore anyway.I peaked with a longstanding reign of fear and terror in StarCraft and never desired a repeat performance. My opinion of Neocolonialism is virginal.
Developed by Seth Alter and Subaltern Games, and successfully funded by Kickstarter, Neocolonialism was displayed at PAX and has gotten a bit of a make over, —the matchmaking has improved in quality and the game has become slightly more balanced. Neocolonialism, which has the ominous tagline of “ruin everything” is a game of financial conquest, where you play a heartless suit of the Man who is seeking to take power from the people and be the best 1% you can be! The player who controls the most untouchable money (represented by Swiss Bank Accounts) within twelve turns wins.
Now this would be a fun board game, and is much less infuriating than Catan, but as a video game the concept runs into some difficulties. There is no way to measure the reaction that you are having with your opponent other than by how they respond; there is no shouting or diplomatic deals. It exists in a vacuum, and so it is never the social game that it sets out to be. If there was some way to engage the other players in a more meaningful way than a chat bar, then maybe the game could be fun. The game is quiet and bleak, with a rather dim map serving as the board which the game takes place upon. The music is slow and doesn’t pick up and so the overall experience remains the same unless something particularly spectacular takes place in the game.
The news is not all bad though, and there are some aspects of the game which I did enjoy, even as a novice to the genre. The concept of using finance as a political weapon is very fun and clever, —properly implemented, it could create an engaging strategy game. The core of the game is solid, with votes being bought and sold through player interaction while you steadily grow your power-base through factories. As well, Neocolonialism features one of my favorite mechanics, where the base currency of the game is the goal as well. However, the trick of this game is to take what is essentially a board game and make it into an interesting computer game, and to be fair, this is a difficult task. However, creating a more enthusiastic playing environment might change the game for the better. More interaction with the players and the “board” may change something. Perhaps short animations to show the votes taking place and the clandestine rise of your power into the secret ruler of the globe. As I said though, this is not the sort of game I play very often. But, I do know theme and aesthetic, and parts of this game’s aesthetic needs to be reworked.
I look forward to seeing what Seth Alter does with the game in the future. Neocolonialism is an interesting concept for a game and one which I have not seen before, and it intrigues me. Neocolonialism clearly has had a lot of love and effort put into it, and it definitely can be something wonderful to play. Hopefully the beta process will work out some of the more bland elements of the game’s design and engage the player more. Until then, it’s a strategy game about finance and commercial conquest which is fun for people who enjoy that sort of thing. I think Subaltern Games can work this game into something cool and fun though, and I look forward to seeing what they do with it and future titles. Neocolonialism makes being the bad guy fun, and that is always worth exploring.