This review is intended for the old gaurd – veterans of classic Supremacy. Much has changed since the 1980s, both in the board game industry and the state of global affairs. Command Post Games have ushered Supremacy into the modern world.
Gone are the dubious and fictional super powers such as the Confederacy of South America and the Federation of Australasia. Instead we get real nations like Japan and Brazil. Even cold war dated USSR is replaced with Russia. This is an updated game for a new era.
Today’s gamers will also appreciate the pace of play. No more twelve plus hour marathon sessions. No more turn-after-turn of grinding out an edge until you finally have enough to attack! Supremacy 2020 is action from the get-go. Most games will end in two to four hours, depending on the number of players and their pace, with optional rules for even faster play.
How was this accomplished? How did the Command Post Games team convert a (somewhat broken) turtle fest into a few short hours of non-stop action; all the while preserving the game’s unique style and feel? The answer lies in an elegant set of subtle but significant rules tweaks. Keep reading!
The Starting Gun
Things heat up right away in Supremacy 2020! In the 80s classic, each player started with 6 whole companies. Depending on the specific rule set, 3 to 6 of these would be in your own homeland, the rest being in neutral nations you would automatically occupy. In addition, you hit the ground running with resources already loaded on your card! There was no need to fight when you could supply your industrial military machine entirely from your own country.
In Supremacy 2020 you start with zero produced resources and only three cards. What’s worse, those cards are 100% random – they might be (unprotected) half way around the world, or they might be right in your opponents home territory. You get one “do over” if you have bad cards, but it can still leave you fairly desperate. Desperate to expand (3 cards aren’t a lot), and desperate to protect what you have (if you can). Of course desperation will lead to war right away…
Supremacy 2020 literally gives you better mileage, in that your oil can drive more armies or navies across greater distances. But in fact all resources now power your forces more efficiently.
In battle one set of resources allows three attacks instead of one! You can trade your second or third attack to enhance your first attack with extra rounds of battle and/or to team up with your forces from another zone (or for special operations like a naval invasion). You also can move navies (up to their full range of three spaces) before they attack, without any extra oil.
All movement is now cheaper. During the movement phase (as well as reinforcement mid battle), navies move 3 spaces per oil, and armies by rail move through any number of controlled areas. Not only that, but each resource unit spent moves not one, but an entire group of armies or navies!
So in the old game, if you wanted to take a fleet of 4 navies to a sea zone 3 areas away, this would cost 12 oil! Apart from needing a fully loaded card, for the rest of that round you could not build any troops, nor wage any war. You couldn’t sell any oil either – not a drop.
Now you can move all 4 navies for a single oil. Yes – one single unit of oil. If those navies are attacking, the move comes free with the cost of attack – along with two whole other battles! In the old game conventional warfare was so costly that most of the game nobody could afford to fight at all. Now players can, and will!
An interesting mechanic in the parent game put an special opportunity cost on almost anything a player did. Of five phases (sell, attack, move, build, and buy), a player was limited to participating in 3 per round. Buying and selling resources, along with building new forces and weapons, are essential to sustaining an ecconomy and an arms race. So in order to attack, or even make a strategic redeployment, it was necessary to skip an essential phase.
While this made for interesting dilemmas, the unfortunate result was to further deter an attack process which was already prohibitively overpriced and too easily ignored altogether. In Supremacy 2020 each player participates in every phase; players are no longer punished for attacking.
Players are punished for relying too heavily on Nukes. When a player is nuked out, they can record VPs based on their net worth at the time they are destroyed. If their score is high enough, they can end up as the winner when the game is done. This deters untempered nuking for two reasons:
- Once a player is nuked out, it can be a little harder to win. Now instead of needing only to eliminate the others, it’s also necessary to finish up in better shape than the opponent who was destroyed! Generally we nuke players out because they are too strong to easily beat on the ground, and/or they haven’t spent a lot of money on their own nuclear counterattack. In other words, the players we’d most like to nuke into oblivion are apt to have the highest net worth, so destroying them the easy way makes victory harder later on. Being the last person standing just in time to stave off interest-incurred bankruptcy is no longer a guaranteed success.
- It should follow from the above that having a low net worth is dangerous. A player carrying high debt and not much stuff has a pitiful VP count and can be blown up more freely. Spending trillions on ICBMs only to burn them all up can leave the aggressor precisely with “a high debt and not much stuff”.
- ABMs are now considered ground based, not satellite based. As such they can no longer be shot down. The old tactic of blowing up the enemy L-Stars to clear the path for your nukes is no longer available. It’s worth noting that ABMs now must target specific ICBMs before dice are rolled. This makes them a little less effective defensively, but not nearly as ineffective as they’ve been blown out of orbit!
This all makes it harder to win via nuclear conquest, but its also been made harder to use nukes to force a draw. Yes, that dreaded coup de finale which is nuclear winter. Simply put, a nuclear winter no longer a draw – players score VPs just as they would if their cities were destroyed directly. What’s more, the player who places the last mushroom cloud doesn’t count VPs, instead scoring dead last.
The old rule was well intended. The option to attempt a stalemate when behind can add strategic depth to a game. It also captured the spirit of mutual assured destruction (MAD). The problem was that over half of every game seemed to end that way. Some groups actually boasted a 100% Armageddon rate! Those days are over.
At this point you might be wondering if our beloved nukes see the light of day at all. Have no fear! Nukes abound, and those gorgeous plastic plastic mushroom clouds will not gather dust in your game box. There are other great uses for Nukes besides the total destruction of your opponents’ nations:
- Use nukes tactically to eliminate your opponents’ armies, navies, and shipyards.
- Use nukes to destroy your opponents’ company cards, crippling their economies.
- Use nukes to destroy all but one of an opponents cities, leaving them ripe for an easy conquest.
- A new stratagem – usually late game. Purposely flood the board with mushroom clouds so that your opponents cannot launch without risk of triggering nuclear winter (and hence losing).
- Related, since nuclear roulette is in play, you will still see nuclear winters as the unintended consequence of a gamble gone bad.
The result is a game where nuclear combat is entwined with conventional warfare (instead of simply overshadowing it), and armageddon happens only as a result of careless greed, never by design. Surely that sounds more about interesting and dynamic!
Speaking of things more interesting and dynamic, I couldn’t finish this article without acknowledging the improvements on the stock market. In the 80s, all selling was done at the start of the round and all buying was done at the end. Invariably after one or maybe two players had a chance to sell, the prices would drop too low for anybody else to bother. Similarly the first buyer would leave the prices too high for anybody else to profit.
In Supremacy 2020 all the trading is done in one phase, and players can buy or sell. If the first player sinks the prices on oil, the second player can capitialise by buying it cheaply. In turn, the third player can sell at the freshly raised prices.
This doesn’t mean the market will always work for everyone. Sometimes the prices are low when you are desperate for cash – other times the prices are too high when you need to stock up for a big campaign. But it does make for more lively commerce and a generally less broken system – with minimal changes and a preserved simplicity.
Classic Supremacy offered eleven expansions (plus the blitz packs and extra rulebooks) for players to enhance and customise their gaming experience. Some where quite good, but most of them introduced rules or game play issues and ultimately turned an elegant system into a convoluted nightmare.
Supremacy 2020 offers the equivalent of Resource Deck 2, The Middle Powers, as well as improved versions of Warlords & Pirates and The Mega Map either included with the game or available as an add on. All new expansions offering WWIII and American Civil War 2 scenarios as well as an optional Terrorist player are also available, with more on the horizon including Cyber Warfare, Fortuna, Miniatures, International Law, Biological & Chemical Warfare, and Political Tactics, in varying stage of design or consideration.
Command Post Games have preserved almost everything that was good about Supremacy and fixed or eliminated everything that was wrong with it. It’s fast, interactive, uncomplicated, modernised, and with any luck growing.
If you liked Supremacy in the 20th century, you’ll probably like it a lot more today. Stay tuned for more reviews and strategy tips!