Fate of the World

Review

posted 6/15/2011 by Tom Bitterman
other articles by Tom Bitterman
Platforms: PC

Any game that deals with enough of the world will end up having a political angle. Strategy games are about using limited resources to implement decisions made with incomplete information. Dealing with limited resources is economics, while making decisions lies at the heart of politics. It is an explosive combination but one gamers tend not to think too much about. 

I say this to prepare the reader for the premise of “Fate of the World” - you are the head of a transnational semi-governmental organization (the GEO – Global Environmental Organization) tasked with solving global warming and other systemic problems. This 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. Which areas are in play and what the problems are will change from mission to mission so there is plenty of variety. The problems themselves are socio-ecological in nature. For example, you will often be called upon to raise the HDI (Human Development Index) of an area to a certain value. The HDI is used in real life as a measure of the quality of life in an area much like a country's 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.

In order to take actions in an area you are provided with a set of 6 slots into which you can play cards. 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 are not free, however. They are paid for by taxes paid by each region. 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.

 

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 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 “Fate of the World” is educational in so many ways. After playing for a while 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” is a card-based strategy game centered around current socio-ecological issues. Game mechanics are simple while game difficulty is high. 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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