Several years ago some friends and I held little get together at a bar in downtown Montreal. The idea was to hook up an Xbox 360 to one of the establishmentâ€™s 40 inch TVs and play a string of 4-player games. The original gathering consisted of myself, a guy called Pasztor, another weâ€™ll call Ciocan, and Arcadian Rhythms regular Guillaume.
After tucking into pizza, or in some cases shrimp, and setting up a tab for several pitchers’ worth of beer, we sat down and started playing Protect Me Knight,Â an excellent 16-bit tower defence game with RPG elements, followed byÂ â€˜Splosion Man, mechanically one of Twisted Pixelâ€™s best games (and one which resulted in much drunken cursing and laughter) and, eventually,Â Greed Corp.
Iâ€™d been eager to showcase this game as it was one of those titles that did not have a good trial version. All the trial does is bully the player through a tutorial which fails to provide any context for why they should be performing those actions. If I hadnâ€™t pushed through that section and got into the campaign I would never have grown to appreciate the simple to grasp turn-based mechanics that have enough depth for players to develop their own style and approach to conquest.
The campaign itself tells the story of world that is falling apart, on which four warring factions are scrabbling for the remaining resources, destroying everything in their path to get to them. It’s a theme that’s been used a million times before in games, but with Greed CorpÂ it’s built into the mechanics and reinforces the main point of the game: politics and greed.
To summon resources the player needs to place towers called ‘Harvesters’ on the hexagonal plots of land that they own. At the beginning of that playerâ€™s turn all the Harvesters in their possession will generate credits, but in doing so they lower the physical height of the plot of land they reside on, as well as any adjacent pieces of land. Each segment of land only has so much purchase before it will completely collapse and take down anything residing on it. Therefore, resource management is both essential and potentially fatal, with it often leading to points in the game where bases and essential military units are literally crumbling away.
I could go on about the symbolic nature of a money machine ultimately being an instrument of destruction but I think you, the reader, already get the idea.
Anyway, the four of us in the bar started playing a normal game of Greed CorpÂ with me trying to ad-lib the entire tutorial and training section for three people who had no idea what they were doing, all while on a 45-second timer for each playerâ€™s turn.Â With such simple concepts and game mechanics, I was sure they’d pick everything up with no problems.
The walkers (attacking units) donâ€™t involve any complicated mechanics. They can only move one space each turn, or three if all spaces are owned by the player. In combat there are no dice rolls; whoever has the most units wins. If both players have the same number of units then the attacking player â€˜winsâ€™ but loses all of their units. The rest of the units in the game are as easy to use, but my co-players were simply being overwhelmed. Within about 4 turns I’d stomped through all three of them even though I was trying to help. Honest.
After such a humiliating defeat I thought that’d be the end of our Greed CorpÂ session.Â To my relief, they all wanted to play again. I went to the bathroom and came back, and immediately jumped into another game. I couldnâ€™t place my finger on it but the atmosphere in our booth had changed; talking had almost completely stopped and I noticed that everyone was more intent on the game. Within 5 minutes (about 3 turns for each player) it became clear what was going on: my units had been corralled into the lower portion of the map, Guillaume had got himself stuck on an island with a turret, and both Ciocan and Pasztor were heading towards me and ignoring each other.
I looked around at my compatriots.Â â€œYou fuckers are gunning for me, arenâ€™t you?â€
Ciocan and Pasztor burst out laughing, then confessed to having formulated the plan to gang up on me while I was in the bathroom.Â As if to confirm this, Guillaume turned his turret on a group of my units and blew them to pieces.
I still had a fairlyÂ sizeableÂ army but with three players purely out to ruin me, my odds were looking pretty slim. My only hope was to cordon off a section and then just keep building an army alongside some flying Carriers to dodge my antagonists – by ferrying my units away from them – until they’d exhausted all their revenue.
It was then, as Ciocan and Pasztor were verbally high fiving each other, that Guillaume leaned over and said:
â€œDude, I’m sorry about shooting at you. How about we team up and defeat them?â€
That token gesture filled me with relief; having an ally in the face of certain annihilation made the whole thing bearable.
This is what makes Greed CorpÂ a great game. It isnâ€™t what’s happening on-screen; it’s the powerplays that occur within the room when playing against other human participants.
That olive branch extended by Guillaume resulted in an alliance between us that would extend through every game of Greed CorpÂ we’ve ever played since. OverÂ the next few months of these get-togethers,Â I noticed a fair few inward groans whenever Guillaume and I would both be holding controllers. Guillaumeâ€™s technique was to hole up with a turret while I would usually, sometimes unintentionally, make myself the biggest target possible. Normally, this would result in us being the last two on the board. That, or Guillaume would accidentally take himself out by dumping a Harvester on his only base and sinking into the clouds below.
Yet these weren’t the only clear personalities that emerged from our games.
Seeing our friend Ronnie start up an alliance with Pasztor and then betray him two turns later was priceless. He did it simply because it was easier to take territory from his associate than fight the other two people in the game. This was a mistake, because his actions all tied into what this game is about – that and human nature. When one player sticks their head out and declares themselves in any wayÂ to be an easy target, itÂ inevitably means that everyone else will work to bring them down.
Another interesting moment was watching another Arcadian Rhythms contributor, Â Kevin, change. He spent most of his first game trying to placate others, remaining neutral whenever possible, to the point where he had only two plots of land left but sufficient armies to protect himself. The tide turned when he bought a flying Carrier and turned himself from amiable neighbour to a potential threat. Secluded on his island of hexes he hadn’t really been a problem, but as soon as he purchased that Carrier it meant that he could dump his troops anywhere on the remaining areas of the board and quickly lay claim to someone else’s property.
Both I and my adversary immediately turned on Kevin and, though I am not proud to say it, I was the one who snuffed his corporation out.
â€œWhy did you do that? I wasnâ€™t doing anything!â€ Kevin exclaimed.
â€œWelcome to Greed Corp,â€ I replied. I didnâ€™t mean this in a â€˜fuck youâ€™ kind of way, but that’s the way it was received.
Kevin was ruthless in the next game, working on a scorched-earth policy that involved moving like a nomadic tribe during the birth of modern civilisation, from one plot to the next, destroying everything as he went. Timid, likeable Kevin had become Hannibal the Carthaginian in the space of just twenty-five minutes.
Greed Corp’s developer, W! Games, created a world around Greed Corp:Â one that explored the idea of a planet being destroyed by corruption. The meta-commentary – seeing the greedÂ and politics spread out to the players themselves – was even more interesting, and for that I thank them.Â The months and weeks of drama, the douchebaggery (mostly on my part, but Pasztor could also be a right bastard), the negotiations, the backstabbing and the drinking were all worth it, all brilliant.
My only regret is not having finished the campaign. With all the unlockable multiplayer maps being linked to finishing campaign missions, there was one really good map we all missed out on due to my not completing the final two legs of the Empire faction’s story line.
If you get the chance you should definitely give Greed CorpÂ a go, especially if you can find three friends who are like-minded and ruthless enough.
[This is part of a long running series with AJ trying to beat a bunch of games. If you were entertained then read more here (just donâ€™t bother with the Trine 2 article; the game kind of sucks.]