Remember Risk? You know "the game of global domination"? Now, imagine that instead of faceless, nameless armies of seeming mercenaries scattered across the world, you are a global superpower. With billions of dollars to finance your war chest and the ability to research nuclear technology in your quest to be the only superpower. This is Supremacy.
Supremacy is one of the most intense board games I have ever played. The rules can seem very complicated to a first-time player and are equally difficult to explain, so I'm only going to cover the absolute basics here. Each player has a supply center for resources (grain, oil and minerals) seven billion dollars, a few home territories with an army unit to defend them and six resource producing companies. On each turn, players must pay to fund their companies and military units and will receive resources from companies that they have funded. Then, all hell pretty much breaks loose.
The remainder of each turn is broken up into five segments, only three of which may be participated in by each player. Participation is determined by a blind bid, adding another little bit of strategy. Is that person going to research nuclear missiles or hold out in order to buy more resources?
- You may buy and sell resources on the global market, where the value of resources changes in accordance to how many units are being bought and sold. This is considered two seperate phases, with selling occurring at the start of the optional phases and buying being the last. If one player buys many units of oil, the price of oil on the market will become extremely high. If someone sells oil, it devalues on the market. Savvy players can earn billions of dollars by manipulating this market system (and their fellow players).
- You may attack another territory. This need not be one owned by an opponent, as conquering territories only guarded by weak, local militias is essential to acquiring more companies (and, therefore, resources) to fuel your efforts. The actual act of combat is handled simply, with an opposed dice roll where the number of dice rolled by each side is based on the overall strength of the armies involved. Where things get sticky is when two players are fighting each other, the defender then recieves a free counterattack in which they can make any attack from anywhere. Often, this tactic is employed to give an opportunity for attack to a player who chose not to participate in this phase. Example: Player A is allied with Player B. "B" decided not to enter the attack phase because they had other things they wanted to accomplish in the turn but "A" needs "B's" strength to overcome a particularly large army (Player C) about to mount an offensive. "A" attacks "B" using one pathetic army, then withdraws his forces. "B" now receives a counterattack which they use to decimate "C's" army.
- You may build new armies and navies, and move them. This is considered two separate phases in the game. Building new units requires resources and cash, while moving them only requires some resources.
It is while building forces that you can begin researching new technologies, such as nukes and laser satellite systems for defense against nukes. This is one of my favorite mechanics in the game. The "resource" deck is made up of the 65 assorted companies that you acquire for resources. It also contains three "nuke" cards and two "L-Star" cards. When you decide to research, the deck is shuffled, you declare what you're looking for and begin turning cards over until you either find what you were researching or give up. Each card costs $200 million, so it's easy to see how research and development can quickly drain a superpower of cash. Once you've researched it once, however, you can begin building as many of these items as you can afford. Plus, having nukes early on can provide a very useful bargaining chip with other players. "You should give me a billion dollars." "Why?" "I have a nuke. Did you really just ask that question?"
What makes the game really fun is in the diplomacy. Peace treaties and non-aggression pacts are constantly being agreed to and completely ignored. You never know when you're going to be stabbed in the back. Then, once someone is running out of options and it looks like they're completely screwed, the nukes start flying and all bets are off. As more and more territories receive black mushroom clouds, the likelihood of a nuclear winter in which all players lose increases. In the dozens of games of Supremacy I have played, I have never seen someone win.
And that's really the whole point of the game: Nobody wins in a nuclear war.
This is only the basic game, however. About a dozen distinct supplements were created, adding everything from pirates and warlords that you must keep under control to random global events, neutron bombs, ballistic missile submarines and special forces units. The sheer range of possible games is unimaginable, though adding more than a couple of expansions does tend to turn what would be a six-hour game into a ten or twelve-hour marathon session (which usually consists of about five turns). One expansion adds two additional players, making Canada a superpower. I'd have a joke about that but, now that their currency is on par with mine, it's just hard to make fun of them. No, wait, intercontinental ballistic moose.
Supremacy went out of production in the early nineties, after three editions and all the supplementary materials. It's still pretty easy to find, however, as there are almost always a few copies floating around eBay for around $60. Even the supplements are in pretty high abundance when you're ready to kick your game up a notch. Several attempts to make an online, multiplayer version of the game have come and gone with variable levels of success. While it's certainly not casual enough to be a success on a service like PSN or XBLA, it would be excellent to see a development house produce a solid online edition as the vast majority of the time taken to play the game comes from busywork involving resource management and such.
If you enjoy wargames, backstabbing and mutually assured destruction, definitely check out Supremacy.