Review: Precipice13 May 2019 0
Released 01 May 2019
The Cold War was potential conflict that, if it ever came to blows, would likely end the world. As one of the two superpowers involved in this struggle (The US vs. the USSER), your goal is to weaken your opponent by building alliances and breaking theirs, beating them in the space race, and killing their spies. A typical confrontation could look like this:
USA: “Stay out of East Germany!”
USSR: “Make me!”
(France and Indonesia will think less of you if you back down to the USSR.)
This is the grim truth of Precipice. If I give in, I’ll look like a wimp in front of the other countries. The beauty of it is that with its somewhat simple mechanics, Precipice gives a great insight into the mentality of two competing superpowers.
Each round you have 5 action points, represented as stacks of money, to spend on things like conducting diplomacy with a country, organising a trade deal, invading a country with no enemy troops in it, inciting riots, funding rebels, assassinating enemy spies, and taking part in the space race. Mechanically, that’s about all. Where Precipice shines is in how all of these parts come together to make a deeply challenging, sometimes frustrating, and weirdly immersive experience.
The “Cold” part of the Cold War means that you and your opponent can never go head to head. Meaning, if you want to make sure your enemy doesn’t invade a country, you can station some of your troops there. However, playing too defensively means you may not have the troops needed to invade another country. Instead, to uproot your opponent from a defensive spot, you will have to use diplomacy or rebels to break their hold on the country.
But each action can be contested in front of the UN with each side facing the real consequence of losing favour with countries depending on their choice to ignore or escalate. And this is where Precipice grips me. The escalate/ignore mechanic is inspired by the prisoner’s dilemma, a great little piece of game theory where both parties win if they cooperate, one wins more if they cheat, and both lose if they both cheat. Except, instead of coins or candy, its nuclear war.
Playing with another human being makes this mechanic shine (as the AI is too cowardly to escalate all the way). Each game, the person on the other side will have had different experiences from you. They may be willing to push their luck and escalate all the way, believing your side will fail to push the button - a 1 - 20% chance - or they may be playing it safe and taking the little hit by capitulating early, lowering the amount of respect lost.
Playing as the US, I took to escalating every scenario until my enemy backed down but at a certain point I realised my tactics had changed and I hadn’t even realised it.
Every match lasts until either one side reaches the points needed for success, or 50 rounds have passed. Holding the majority of different geographic areas like South America, Sub-Sahara, or NATO, grants a points reward. Holding all of an area gives a substantial reward. On top of that, there are special high reward World Events; difficult missions that both sides are aware of and require careful planning to complete. For example, The Great Unifier, challenges the players to be the one to control both East and West Germany as well as North and South Korea.
While there are resources available and each country produces/needs a different resource, their main purpose seems to be to give to those in need to build favour with them. If a country is leaning towards your enemy but needs oil, make sure they get it and they’ll switch over.
Sadly, multiplayer seems to have a few issues and a rather small community at present so finding a multiplayer game can be difficult. Single player is still fun and the AI is thankfully quick with its turns but it does have a tendency to war itself to death. But with the multiple game modes, including the Risk like land grab mode, Precipice doesn’t disappoint.
Oh, and every leader is an animal iconic to their home country. USA gets the bald eagle, Russia gets a bear, Egypt is a Nile crocodile, and the UK gets a badger Thatcher. Personally I would have chosen something more fitting, like a tapeworm, but this minor error doesn’t detract from the fact that Precipice is one of the best strategy games I’ve played in years.