Have You Played… Neptune’s Pride?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

If you have, you probably only played it once.

Neptune’s Pride [official site] is a simple multiplayer strategy game in which every player starts with a single planet somewhere in the system full of them. And then you expand, grabbing the unclaimed planets nearest to you until your borders begin to jut against those of the other players. You specialise each planet as you go, using them to produce points towards your economy, your military, or your scientific research, and advances in each aid you when it eventually comes time to build fleets of ships and attack your enemy.

The simplicity of the game means it’s easy to play and the strategy involved is clear, but it also means that much of what makes it special is outsourced instead to the interplay between players. The deals you strike up with one another, vowing to remain friends in order to strike against a stronger enemy. The deal you strike with that enemy, promising that you’ll betray your ally in return for a few days more protection. Everything in the game happens in real-time – ships take actual hours, sometimes days, to reach their destination – which means you’ll soon be waiting up till the wee hours of the morning in an attempt to launch your attack while your friend is fast asleep. It’s a game which takes politicking and backstabbing to win.

If this all sounds familiar, it might be because RPS wrote a vast diary of the game long ago, when we were still friends not yet damaged by each other’s betrayal. Or it might be because Subterfuge, a deeply similar take on the same idea by World of Goo co-developer Ron Carmel, has been breaking up friendships over the past few weeks.

[The header image is technically from Neptune’s Pride 2, which has superseded the original entirely.]


  1. tlwest says:

    If you have, you probably only played it once.

    That’s because it takes months to recover from a game.

    Plotting your attacks at 3:00am, and staying awake to 4:00am to ensure that no-one is doing the same thing to you. Even as you drift off to sleep, your last thought is “Right now, someone, probably who called himself ‘friend’, may be launching an attack to destroy you.

    Other games claim that “you never feel safe”. Ha! For those other games, that only applies while you’re actually playing!

    In Neptune’s Pride, your never safe until you are dead or you’ve won.

    This game is wonderful, even as it eats your soul.

    • Canazza says:

      This. This. A thousand times this.

      The only reason I did any kind of decent on my first game was because at that point I was sick and kept waking up in the middle of the night. Which gave me a natural advantage over my opponents.

      What’s that? 3AM sneak attack? You could send troops to help, but by that time I am the defender! You could launch a counter-attack on my systems, but I’ve already got backup heading to my border! haha!

      Having it open in work, checking it every hour, planning alliances. Deciding when to spend your hard earned income (spend it right away on production, wait until you can see an enemy incoming and blow it all on carriers to send to defend, or trade with another power for upgrades?)

      But yeah, we never played a second game. Too stressful.

      • Tutamun says:

        The realtime aspect killed this game for me. Going to bed late, getting up early and lunchbreak are simply not enough to compete with others…

        But it was fun the one time I played. :)

        • Kitsunin says:

          Yeah, the fact that human beings have to be in bed for 8 hours a day is such a shame. There’s just too much potential to get screwed over badly by an attack during that period of weakness, and playing online with randoms, they know and they exploit that nonsense to the fullest.

          If it weren’t for that, and if I didn’t already suffer from bloody insomnia, I’d love it. But when I played it I too-often found I was caught in a situation where I really needed to compromise in serious real-world areas in order to stand a fighting chance.

          • Kitsunin says:

            Which is an enormous shame because by god do I want a game which plays out exactly like this sans the life-sucking.

          • Big Murray says:

            I don’t understand why none of these games ever just implemented a downtime where nobody can move overnight. Matchmake for people in roughly the same timezone as you and you remove the life-sucking, setting-alarms-at-3am aspect.

          • Kitsunin says:

            So I was looking at the premium account features and, if one of the members of your group has a premium account, you can create private games which can be paused.

            Which means if you wanted to play with friends, you could decide that you’re going to pause the game every night from 9:00-9:00 to ensure you don’t impinge on people’s sleep. You could even make the game play out at double-speed during the day to make up for how that would slow things down.

            Of course, this isn’t exactly the sort of game you want to play with friends…

          • dontnormally says:

            I wish there was a way to run this game at 2x, 4x, 8x speed, etc. I’d love to play an entire game over the course of a day or a few hours.

          • Kitsunin says:

            If you have a premium account you can create a game which will run at x4 speed.

          • tlwest says:

            Of course, this isn’t exactly the sort of game you want to play with friends…

            Don’t worry, play this game with people you thought were your friends and become enlightened.

    • Gap Gen says:

      My favourite moment in Subterfuge was being gifted some subs by someone to help me in an all-out war against another player, only to have them go “oh actually I’m attacking you instead” and having a minor meltdown on the bus. (It turned out OK for me in the end, but I did start gifting a few of my subs and specialists to a third party in preparation for checking out)

  2. Pace says:

    That Neptune’s Pride diary remains my favorite RPS piece. Man, that was 5.5 years ago! Wow.

    • ashjxx says:

      Same!! It’s also the only time I’ve ever printed off an article so an internet-less friend could read it.

    • Havalynii says:

      It remains one of the finest examples of New Games Journalism, but wow, I can’t believe that it’s been that long!

    • SimianJim says:

      Yes! This and Solium Infernum were my favourite things. I really wish RPS would do some more of this type of stuff.

  3. Baf says:

    I’ve played it… once. It’s basically streamlined Master of Orion crossed with play-by-mail Diplomacy, except the realtime important-things-could-be-happening-at-any-moment gives it some extra oomph.

  4. Rack says:

    There’s a fairly huge problem in the title text. “Fall out with your friends simulator”. It doesn’t simulate falling out with your friends it causes it.

    • Gap Gen says:

      So realistic you can’t tell where the simulation ends and never talking to your friends again begins.

  5. The Godzilla Hunter says:

    If you enjoyed the RPS’ Neptune’s Pride Diary you should check out Cool Ghost’s (featuring Pip and former RPS contributor Quinns) Subterfuge video diary , a game that is very similar to Neptune’s pride. I think RPS linked to it for a Sunday’s Paper.

    link: link to youtu.be

  6. Robert Post's Child says:

    I’ve only played NP2, and that only once, but: You go in thinking ‘oh, the real time thing means I can just pop in every once in a while to fiddle with things and otherwise go about my day! Great!’

    But what it actually means is that the entire game takes over your every waking moment, so that you are worrying over things for hours while unable to actually do anything about them. I played with relative strangers, so the problem wasn’t destroying IRL relationships so much as losing weeks of my life to that damn thing. It was fun as hell, sure, but I wonder whether it’d be healthy for me to ever play it again.

  7. Sin Vega says:

    Possibly the best game I never want to play ever again. It taught me, among other things, that I am a loyal and steadfast ally against all reason, until the moment you accuse me of plotting against you, at which point I will IMMEDIATELY contact absolutely everyone else in the game and organise them all against you.


  8. Premium User Badge

    Solrax says:

    For the folks who like the game but don’t want the real-time, sleep depriving obsessiveness, Neptunes Pride 2 has turn-based games which many people prefer for those reasons. Most often there is a 24-hour timeout on taking your turn, so you don’t *have* to obsess. I never played the original, maybe it didn’t have turn-based.

    • Kitsunin says:

      I think most people haven’t tried that because you’ve gotta pay for it. It’s worth the price, I know, but we’re lazy bastards like that.

  9. DRoseDARs says:

    Played 4 rounds of this when the RPS diary came out. Won my first game handily because I was pinned in a corner by 2 other players and was able to convince them I wouldn’t stab them in the back if the 3 of us could mutually agree to non-aggression. They soaked up attacks from beyond our borders as long as they could because I kept supplying them with techs to prolong that, while at home focusing on my industry instead for the long-term rather than defense in the short-term. They both surrendered territories to me when they couldn’t fend off anymore, and I steamrolled my way across the galaxy. Second game I also won, but less memorable. 3rd and 4th games were losses. I enjoyed it, maybe will play again someday but if not, I certainly had fun.

  10. deanimate says:

    I don’t want to hijack the thread but just want to say it was the game before neptune that RPS did an AAR diary on that made me buy it. That game is Solium Infernum and goddamn it’s amazing. I still play it today and there’s still stuff you discover in a game like this. It’s so damn deep and strategic! Great thing is that it’s also turn based, we use dropbox, so there’s no emphasis on constantly checking in or anything like that. It really is worth giving this game a go if you never have or jumping back in for some games again. Solium Infernum along with Evolve take up 99% of my gaming time (mainly Evolve). Amazing game.

    • SimianJim says:

      Solium Infernum was incredible! I really wish it was available on Steam to make it more accessible