Have You Played... Neptune's Pride?
Fall Out With Friends Simulator
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[The header image is technically from Neptune's Pride 2, which has superseded the original entirely.]