Fate of the World - Tipping Point

Review

posted 11/15/2011 by Tom Bitterman
other articles by Tom Bitterman
Platforms: PC
Fate of the World: Tipping Point is a sort-of expansion pack for the original Fate of the World.  By “sort-of expansion pack” I mean that the basic premise of the game, the core mechanics and pretty much the entire experience are unchanged from the original.  In fact the entire original game is in here, plus some interface improvements, new cards, an “easy” mode, and the DLC that has been issued since the original version came out.

The tag line for this version is “Revised, rebalanced and expanded, Tipping Point is Fate of the World as its meant to be played.”  Other than the poor grammar, one might wonder why the game was not released as it was meant to be played in the first place.    Still, when the original is a 10 dollar release by an indie developer, one should probably overlook the strange pricing/release model.  This review will treat the game primarily as if it were a new release, rather than an expansion, since that is what the actual product resembles.

The premise of “Fate of the World: Tipping Point” is the same as the original - you are the head of a transnational semi-governmental organization (the GEO – Global Environmental Organization) tasked with solving global warming and other systemic problems.  The game is set on Earth, or a planet just like it, using real countries and addressing problems that some people vehemently deny exist.  You may need to use questionable or wildly unethical methods to meet your goals.  Every once in a while (say, after depopulating Europe) it is a good thing to remember it is just a card game after all.


The basic mechanics of the game are simple enough.  The world is divided up into large areas (e.g. North America, Oceania, India) each of which has problems, generally socio-ecological in nature.  For example, India might be suffering from high pollution and drought, while North Africa will be having problems with flooding and political instability.  Play then proceeds via a series of missions, where each mission consists of a series of turns.  Which areas are in play, the problems encountered and the goal(s) will change from mission to mission so there is plenty of variety.

For example, a mission might include North and South Africa, the Middle East and India, and you will be called upon to raise the HDI (Human Development Index) of these areas to a certain value.  The HDI is used in real life as a measure of the quality in the same way GDP is a measure of economic activity.  It takes into account life expectancy, education levels and per-capita income in order to estimate how “developed” an area is - the more developed the better.

You have two ways to effect change in an area: agents and cards.  Agents are simple: for each agent you have in an area that is not currently employing a card, you can play a card in that area.  If I have, say, 3 agents in Northern Africa, and one is working on “Commit To Renewables”, then I can only play two cards there until that agent frees up.  At the beginning of your mission you will generally have no agents on the ground in any area.  The first order of business is to decide how many agents to buy (you have limited money) and where to place them.  It is always an option to buy more agents, but every agent bought means less cards to play.


In order to take direct action in an area you can play one card for each free agent.  Each card has one of two types of effect: an action, or a research effect.  Research cards simply unlock access to more cards while action cards have some effect on the game itself.  For example, playing the “Enhanced Water Infrastructure” card in a region helps the region deal with a lack of water (perhaps caused by a drought, population expansion or pollution of an aquifer).

Cards and agents are not free, however.  They are paid for by taxes paid by each region (sort of like X-Com).  There never seems to be enough cash to buy all the cards that are needed so an important part of the strategy is to decide which cards are the most important.  As a bonus, taking unpopular actions in an area will reduce that area's support for you, thus lowering your income.  This is true even if the action you took was necessary for that area's very survival.

Just to throw in some extra challenge each area is subject to random (and not-so-random) events.  For example, an area that is badly enough off can fall into war.  War is generally bad in that it causes famine and lowers support for the GEO.  This means that any big plans you had for the area will have to be put on hold while you play cards that will stop the war.


After an initial familiarization period gameplay falls into a steady pattern: check out the global situation, visit each region, read the news there, decide what cards to play, play them, press the “end turn” button.  Don't let this steady repetition fool you.  This is a hard game.

The first source of difficulty is the people themselves.  A lot of the cards that need to be played are going to lower GEO's support.  This is where the morally questionable activities mentioned earlier come in.  There is a whole family of cards (the Political) whose job is to either implement a police state or commit genocide.  Yes, you can kill off everybody in North America if you want.  But at least they won't hate you anymore.

The other source of difficulty is in knowing what the cards are doing.  This is definitely a game that you will want to play with the wiki (http://fateoftheworld.wikia.com) open.  For example, the card “Commit to Renewables” expands development of renewable power sources in an area.  This sounds great, but how much effect on the world does this actually have?  How much does it slow global warming?  Will it provide enough power to this area so that I can ban coal?  One needs this information in order to make good decisions but it is either nowhere to be found or buried deep in a graph somewhere.


This is too bad as this game is educational in so many ways.  After playing for awhile the gamer will learn a lot about the various factors that drive public policy and affect ecological situations across the world.  This is definitely a game in the mold of “Oregon Trail” or SimCity” -  to play well one must come to understand the underlying concepts.

In summary, “Fate of the World: Tipping Point” is a card-based strategy game centered around current socio-ecological issues.  Game mechanics are simple while game difficulty is high, even with the “easy” mode.  Given its (mostly) deterministic nature replay value should be low, but there is room for plenty of expansion packs and user-generated content.  It falls further over on the “casual” end of things, but requires some serious thought nonetheless.
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