Indie designer Seth Alter’s Neocolonialism is a PC strategy game about taking over the world. But don’t start training an army or building a barracks, this serious game invites players to take on their friends, or the AI, though financial soft power and economic control.
Players assume the roles of greedy capitalists, that is, investors, and try to control the world. Straight violence isn’t the answer, but funding puppet governments is totally acceptable! So is insider trading, manipulating votes, and skimming money into your private account. By using game mechanics to represent the relationship between the investor’s financial choices and the worldwide consequences, Alter creates a simulation that’s playable as a strategy game and informative on other levels.
I’ve played Sid Meier’s Civ a few times with a non-violent house role, battling friends and the jerk Montezuma to control the globe by dominating trade routes, controlling resources, and spreading culture. Players who enjoy that sort of strategic challenge will enjoy the gameplay involved in Neocolonialism. Alter has aligned gameplay goals with economic exploitation, which uses both the moral thoughtfulness players have making virtual political decisions in Positech’s Democracy or Max Barry’s NationStates, and our desires to succeed in multiplayer games, and he creates a strategy sim that’s serious, moral and still engaging.
The Neocolonialism game map puts north on the bottom, and south on top. Alter hopes an upside-down worldmap will provoke discomfort, and draw attention to economic inequality between regions. The reoriented map isn’t so usual that it brings social discomfort for me. As veteran boardgamers know, playing a game set on a world map, like Pandemic or Axis&Allies, means that someone at the table’s going to be sitting with the map upside-down. But it does require more thought and inconvenience to navigate on the upside-down map, and it works well with Neocolonialism’s disruptive themes and ideas of privilege.
The game is currently in alpha. The alpha version can be downloaded here from Subaltern Games, and there’s a Greenlight for Neocolonialism for distribution through Steam.
There’s a Kickstarter for the game too. Backers at the top tier receive a re-oriented play map, and a credit as an “Orthodox Cartographer”, a delightful bit of Orwellian phrasing. With enough money, Alter is saying, and you can have things your way! Pay enough, and you have have it the easy way, where you don’t have to think too much.