Better (in the) Red Than Dead: Managing Debt In Supremacy 2020

A Fact Of Life

Okay – nobody likes debt!  Not in real life, and not in games.  It costs money in the long term, and in the short term make you feel powerless and trapped.  But avoiding debt at all costs isn’t necessarily the best fiscal management.  Borrowing money can fund a fantastic enterprise – how many successful businesses have never once made use of credit?  On the other end, borrowing can save your butt from external pressures.  For most, debt is a fact of life.

Supremacy 2020 is no different.  The international banks can fund a glorious campaign – or save your nation against impending doom.  Personally I have never won a game of Supremacy without carrying a balance at one point or another – often a hefty balance.  Obviously it’s better if you can get rich on your own!  But you don’t always have that opportunity; and I’ve seen many new (and experienced) players choose to live meekly rather than take out a big loan.  If this is how you play, perhaps you should reconsider…

The Bull Market

At the start of the game, there are not enough resources in play.  The average production value is just a shave over 3 resources per company, so players are lucky to produce three full sets on the first turn.  Some players invariably will have less, but almost always you will actually need more!

Generally on the first turn you are hoping to seize a company or two.  At the very least you might need to protect the companies you own (since attacking comes before selling troops, you will need to protect your companies with your own military).  If you don’t have the capacity to fight a round or two of combat, you make yourself a juicy target for anybody who is looking to expand their economy.

You are going to want to build too – or else you will be looking very weak going into the second turn.  If you only have 2 or 3 sets of resources turn 1, your opponents might still target you because they know you can’t really afford to use those resources for battle.

So in practice, pretty much everybody wants to buy on turn 1.  Even if a player doesn’t need the resources (lucky them), the might still buy  because they know driving up prices will hit their opponents hard.  Resources can get very expensive on the first turn!

Basically, unless you draw early on the Trade phase, you either have to borrow or leave yourself vulnerable.  Maybe diplomacy can save you, but be careful – with a small enough army you could be worth more to plunder than as an ally.

It Takes Money To Make Money

Racking up debt can actually net you a profit.  Especially if other players are being more timid or fiscally conservative.  If you borrow money right away and use it to but lots of armies and navies (and extra resources), you will be in a very powerful position on the 2nd turn, seizing companies left and right.

Strategic weapons help too.  ABMs will give you a great edge in combat, and an ICBM can be a solid deterrent against opponents without ABMs.  These aren’t exactly free, and also come with a bit of debt.

It should go without saying not to become such a threat that the world unites against you. There is a real art to making yourself the 2nd most worrisome player in the game!  If you are the biggest, try not to overextend.  Take a smaller lead that is better defended rather than trying to hold an obscenely large empire.  This should still offer you plenty of chance for profit.

And profit you will!  With increased production from your stolen companies, you’ll have spare resources to sell.  If seizing these companies leaves some opponents a little short, they will be forced to indulge you by inflating the market (or you can sell directly to your enemy’s enemies).  You can also sell your extra armies to bolster your foreign companies.  There is a lot you can do when you stock up your card!

Points

But doesn’t debt comes at a steep VP cost?  Actually, no.  Paying interest costs money, and that certainly costs you points.  But the principle debt doesn’t come with an intrinsic points cost.  Yes, your debt does count against your score.  However this is neutralised by the fact that taking out debt means cash-money in hand, which earns you victory points.

So debt only really hurts your score if you spend it badly.  If you use that money for buying forces and weapons, those are VPs in the bank.  This is only a VP sink if you lose those forces and weapons by waging war!  Even then, waging wart should be earning you companies.  Especially if you have borrowed a lot, you should have a bigger army and be winning these wars.

Launching nukes can cost points – but this is true whether you are in debt or not.  Nuclear strikes should be wiping out your opponents forces and companies, and ideally this is a net gain for you.  If it’s not, why are you even launching?

Researching nukes (or ABMS) is expensive and can cost you points, so be aware of this.  If you are paying with just 1 deck there is an upper limit on the costs of research which shouldn’t be too crippling with all but the worst of luck.

Victory By Conquest

You might also be ascribing too much value to victory points.  Don’t these determine the winner?  Not always.  Players who are conquered with conventional forces do not score VPs – they just lose.  If you win by conquest, you can be $11 trillion in debt and you win just the same!  The only times you ever need VPs are if a player is eliminated via nukes.  (Also if you are playing with the Terrorist faction or stopping the game before its conclusion).

In my games, people don’t usually nuke anybody off the board – certainly not if that player has a positive score!  Nuclear strikes are very costly, and don’t directly yield any profit.  The only reason to nuke somebody out is that they are too strong to otherwise deal with.  In Supremacy 2020, it is usually much better to cripple that player with nukes instead.  Take out their best companies, their ports, their large stacks of armies and navies, etc.  This should leave them weakened, vulnerable, and destroy their point count to boot.  Problem solved.

The other danger is that if the debt does leave you struggling for points, you are vulnerable yourself to nuclear annihilation.  This shouldn’t be an issue though either.  Carrying debt should mean you can protect yourself with ABMs – or at least with the threat of an ICBM counter-strike.  Otherwise, what exactly have you been spending all that money on?

Rock & A Hard Place

Okay, maybe this is not as easy as I’m letting on.  You can’t always just borrow lots of money, win a bunch of battles, and be well on your way to global conquest!  You can’t always be winning every game all the time.  Is debt still okay when you are struggling and not profiting?

Sadly, yes it has to be.  Sometimes we borrow money to fund a project that will pay off in a big way.  Other times we are desperate and we borrow money because we have no choice.  This is not a good situation.  But sometimes there are no good alternatives and we have to find the least bad scenario – the one that gives us the biggest chance to turn things around.  Yes, you can lose to bankruptcy.  But you can also lose because you were not able to buy enough stuff to compete.  Sometimes debt is the lesser of 2 evils.

The Bottom Line

I’m not saying to always jump head first into the red!  If you can keep yourself stable and make a good profit from buying bonds, that is a good thing.  Just be sure you actually are keeping yourself stable!  And also don’t pass on a good opportunity just because you like go keep balanced books.  Missing a profit is as bad as losing money.

Here is a though experiment you can try:

Next time you are eliminated with less than $11 trillion in debt, ask yourself if there was anyway you could have stayed alive if you had only borrowed more money?

Similarly, when you lose a game and feel you drowned in your own debt, ask yourself what stuff you wouldn’t have had if you had not borrowed that money?  Would you have even had a chance?

When you lose to bankruptcy, sometimes you would have lost that game either way.  Other times you could have won despite your debt if you had simply played a little better.  So don’t be afraid of debt – credit is a terrific asset.

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