In the farthest reaches of the galaxy, dark volatile rocks orbit unstable stars. Nobody would even care if it weren’t for the Crystal, the ultimate natural resource.
Extracting Crystal is hard enough given the hostile aliens and the volcanic storms, but it’s the rival miners that make life really difficult. Every hothead and tweaker this side of Polaris is looking to strike it rich.
Be the first to meet your quota, earn your bonus and live happily ever after. That or fight just to stay alive.
They call it Jupiter’s Folly.
And that’s all the plot you need to know.
Iron Helmet, developers of Neptune’s Pride and Blight of the Immortals, debuted their latest browser-based real time strategy game Jupiter’s Folly a couple of months ago. Like their previous games it remains an ongoing project and its rules will continue to be tweaked and balanced based on player feedback, but having now played a trio of matches I’ve got a few thoughts to share about the game.
Like Neptune’s Pride and Blight of the Immortals, Jupiter’s Folly is constructed around a map that sees you vying to control points on a map, many of which contain deposits of the crystal which you must mine both to finance your growth and defences and to work toward ultimate victory. Unlike its predecessors it utilises a card-based system that offers you a wide range of tactical possibilities. Cards range from abilities like deploying security teams of varying strength to buffs and debuffs for your and opposing security teams, plus others that can enhance the size and aggressiveness of the AI-controlled alien swarms, use orbital strikes to cut swarms or security teams in half, or simply increase the crystal output of your mines. The cards available to you are randomly allocated; each day players can select a card to add into their hand, although there is a maximum hand size that requires you to acquire and discard cards based on the strategy you’re pursuing or pure opportunism.
First up I’ll mention that the game has a single-player mode which serves as a reasonable introduction to the game’s basic mechanics; it throws you in at the shallow end with no AI opponents beyond the swarms of roving aliens that, if left unchecked, can prove either an annoyance or a genuine threat. It’s almost impossible to lose in this environment but does mean that your grasp of the game’s workings is sufficient to survive a multiplayer match long enough to really understand how the game plays.
My first real match began with disillusionment, I will admit. I’ve previously spent about six weeks with assorted Iron Helmet games and am a little burned out on the investment of time and energy that their titles demand. Sure, you’re not required to be always-on (although you can be – The Aspiration is proof enough of that) but it’s a core requirement that you check in regularly to issue orders at specific intervals. Your armies cannot be contacted when between nodes on the map, which from a gameplay perspective ensures that, as in Neptune’s Pride, players must be fully committed to any given action. On the other hand, it’s a genuine pain in the arse when you need to issue a vital order at 4am. For some players this will pose little problem, but for those with other demands on their time it’s inevitable that opportunities and pivotal moments will simply be missed, leading to setbacks or even defeat.
Alas, this is how my first game played out: after acquiring a few new nodes, constructing new mines and building up my security teams, I failed to pay attention to the game for a couple of days. (I play in a punk rock band, a hobby that demands both time and the excessive consumption of alcohol, and following a day at work, a sound check, a headline gig and the inevitable hangover, I was in no mood to take care of my business elsewhere in the solar system.) I should add that this is no way a fault of the game, but it is an unavoidable prerequisite of the game that players not lose touch for long. It’s a prerequisite that almost inevitably leads to up to half of the players in any given match dropping out a few days in, with luckily-positioned opponents able to gobble up their territory and quickly establish themselves as a dominant force. Therefore I feel that it’s a worthwhile comment to level against the game, even if it is one that demands I reveal my somewhat pathetic excuse for losing focus.
What was interesting, though, was that although my neighbour did annex much of my territory, they also messaged me to say that they’d taken about as much from me as they wanted to. “You’re of more use to me alive,” they said, and offered me a peace treaty. I accepted, recognising that I no longer had a chance at victory, but I did have an opportunity to explore a dynamic unique to multiplayer strategy games like this: playing a minor, supporting role to another human player. And this I did, using my meagre forces to capture some low-level crystal nodes and push my forces northwards against a now mutual foe.
The possibility of betrayal did cross my mind, but I’m a peaceable sort at heart, and opted to play by the rules we’d agreed. The rest of the game played out in a predictable fashion: I finished in the bottom half of the 8-player scoreboard, with my merciful partner coming out on top.
I immediately began another game, having found the last’s human diplomacy interesting. My experiences with Neptune’s Pride taught me that space is cold and hard and merciless. My experiences with Blight of the Immortals taught me that co-operation was key to victory. I wondered if Jupiter’s Folly could be the game that finally struck a real balance between co-operation and self-interest.
This time around I was focused from the start. I shored up my defences and expanded as much as possible into neutral areas. To my east a player named Brimmer was expanding fast, and to my north a player named Quorth appeared to be turtling. Caught between these disparate strategies, I wondered how my game would play out.
Brimmer’s aggression soon became apparent; he struck at one of my more vulnerable and valuable mines, managing to capture it before I was able to merge my smaller security units present into a stronger, unified force. I dispatched a large and high-level army to take it back. At this point Brimmer messaged me, stating that he would not advance any further if I recalled the army. I responded that I’d lost a lot of men at that mine and would not rescind the order, confident that I could win.
I didn’t. Brimmer and Quorth had, unbeknownst to me, established an alliance of convenience, with their territories not bordering each other. They struck at my powerful army with abilities that weakened it enough that it was defeated on arrival. Brimmer advanced once more, and I retaliated in kind. I lost more often than I won, but I was bloodying his nose and was determined not to give up. Around this time Quorth advanced, presumably recognising that his strength and my perceived weakness were worth abandoning his protectionist strategy for.
At this point Brimmer messaged me again.
Ok we’re at each others throats, and it’s kinda fun. But I think we’ve proved that we’re both damn good, and we’re going to kill each other in the end. We should stop this.
I’ll stop advancing on your turf. No more. I’m not giving anything back, I won’t darken your borders.
Let’s call it peace and I’ll help you fight Quorth. Take his mines. I want to win this, but I think you’ve earnt second place – the others are benefitting from us fighting and are going to overtake us.
What do you say?
I liked this idea. For all my belligerence, I knew I couldn’t beat Brimmer – not with Quorth coming at me as well. But this? This was delicious betrayal, and to my favour. And, based on our prior communication, I felt I could trust Brimmer. Besides, a partnership between the two leading players seemed like an entertaining alliance. I accepted. I even let Brimmer know that I’d informed his northern enemies that he was focused upon me and probably vulnerable to the north (heh heh).
Throughout the remainder of the game I took only a little from Quorth, aware that he had built up some powerful armies and wary of over-extending myself, but I stopped his advances and demolished most of his armies. Brimmer refocused his attention to the north, where another player had built up substantial forces and was preparing to invade. Brimmer eventually cracked the line facing him and was advancing further north by the time the game was won.
The strategies used were entertaining gaming fodder, certainly, but they’re similar to what has been seen in Iron Helmet games before. But the shifting alliances and opportunistic partnerships? These were new to me; an experience that I gather others found in Neptune’s Pride, in games with dedicated players, but something I’d never found with Internet Randoms. Brimmer and Quorth allying against me, before Brimmer turned on his former ally – a decision I feel confident was motivated by the enemies amassing to his north, an enemy that I had invited to try their hand against my once enemy and now ally.
Jupiter’s Folly is, perhaps, the wrong name for this game. Jupiter’s Opportunism might be more suited, or perhaps Jupiter’s Treacherous Para-Military Corporations. Regardless, I was pleased to find an Iron Helmet game which offered me both their compelling strategic gameplay and the tangled web of diplomatic trust and lies that I’d always hoped for. Whether it’s a product of the game’s design – which I feel is a fair assertion but not one I can support with more than anecdotal evidence as yet – or merely a lucky coincidence of playing alongside communicative players, I’m happy to have experienced it.
If you’ve prevaricated about trying one of these complex and involving games before now, but are attracted by the rich possibilities of this kind of multiplayer environment, then allow me to suggest that Jupiter’s Shifting Webs of Alliance and Greed is the game that you should invest some time into.