Spheres of Influence: Struggle for Global Supremacy is a free-for-all area of control game that combines the thrill of global ambitions, cut-throat diplomacy, and the daring opportunism of classic war games with a fast-paced dynamic turn structure that keeps players constantly on their toes. Set on a modern world map, up to 8 players compete for the world's land, sea, and, perhaps most importantly, oil.
In Spheres of Influence: Struggle for Global Supremacy players command one of the games 8 mighty factions in this modern day contest of nations. Will a mighty caliphate rise to power? Will the communist curtain fall across the world? Or will western democracy at last triumph? In games with fewer than 5 players, each player will take control of additional factions, ensuring diverse arenas of action and conquest. Players can form their own coalitions - will they make pacts resembling the Allies or Axis of World War 2 - or wholly original groupings of their own design? This also ensures that games with only a few players still fill appropriately "full" and epic.
The board in Spheres is initially empty, with factions beginning the game with only a single, semi-randomly determined territory under their control. From this territory, mighty empires will expand, but players must be careful, as their opponents race for the same prizes they do. Players must decide if they'll gamble with early colonies on other continents, make made dashes for important strategic points, deny other factions key resources, focus on oil production or regional production, consolidate their spheres of influence all at once or gradually, and whether to become early warmongers or forge lasting peace agreements. The opening moves in this game are huge, and the taking of a single oil field can have a ripple effect that permeates through the whole game.
Gameplay is divided into rounds, split into 2 phases - the mobilization phase and the turn phase. During the mobilization phase, before any combat begins, each faction will take turns placing units, eliminating any undue advantage of arbitrarily going first - when the time comes to battle, all factions will meet at their full strength. Factions place their units in order of how strong they are, with the more powerful factions placing earlier while the weaker factions place last. This gives smaller empires a way to offset their weakness by reacting to the placement of their larger, but potentially overextended, foes.
The global turn deck is also formed during the mobilization phase. Each faction contributes its 2 base turn cards plus 1 additional turn card for every oil field it controls. These cards are shuffled into a shared turn deck, made up of every factions' turn cards, and placed face down on the table.
During the turn phase, one at a time the top card of the global turn deck is revealed. That card's owner is then allowed to take a turn, choosing units on only a single space to perform an action - making them move, attack or annex an adjacent space. This unique turn structure is the heart of the game and accomplishes several things:
- Turns are very short, often lasting only 5-15 seconds, giving Spheres a very brisk and engaging pace. Players are constantly getting to do stuff, and those painfully long turns that plague other war games are virtually eliminated.
- Developments in the game are more incremental. For instance, unlike other war games, if a player wants to betray an ally, on his turn he cannot just perform an unlimited number of attacks against his former ally. Instead, after the initial turn that the betrayal plays out, its up to the the number of turn cards left in the global turn deck, and their order, that determines when the other player can react and how much time the traitor has. It also means that players can't do totally unrealistic plays, like start in Australia and end up all the way in the UK as an uninterrupted sequence of actions.
- Since the the order of still unrevealed turn cards is a mystery, the game is marked by a constant sense of suspense and urgency, with players never precisely knowing how much time they'll have to pull off a strategy before their opponents can react. This forces players to race towards goals, or to gamble on a certain dispersion of turns to pull off complex strategies.
One of the most interesting features in Spheres is the use of special dice to confer strategic advantages to armies when resolving combat. Based on the situational difficulty the attacker faces when overcoming his opponent, the defender gets to roll bonus special dice to grant him a tactical edge (this simulates, for instance, the difficulty of taking a beachhead from an entrenched defender).
Throughout the course of the game, players will be able to play special cards, which allow them to bombard coastlines, deploy heavy armor, declare a ceasefire, build infrastructure or launch nukes to obliterate their enemies. With over 30 unique special cards (72 in total), players have a lot of room to implement unorthodox strategies based on what card they draw.
Spheres of Influence has a set number of rounds, defined at the start of each game, which means it has a definite end point (you'll never find yourself wondering, "When, dear Lord, is this game going to end?!") At the end of the final round, the faction who controls the most spheres of influence wins. This causes the game to build to an epic crescendo, as factions try to desperately stop opponents in distant parts of the globe, while simultaneously expanding and holding their own spheres. Player elimination is not required to win and has no bearing on victory - this means that if you begin a game, 99% of the time you'll get to finish.
By design, games typically last about an hour and a half. For us, it was that sweet spot of being appropriately long - that is, long enough to feel like you've had a chance to build a grand empire and get invested - but short enough that you could still play 2 games in the same night and not be fatigued.
In this first video I give you an overview of the game's rules, some examples of gameplay, and some general thoughts about what the game feels like and how it compares to other war games.
In this second video we actually show you a full game being played. We decided on playing with a smaller group (just 3 players) to illustrate how controlling multiple factions works (in larger games, each player controls just 1 faction). We also wanted to show how well the game holds up when playing with only a few people. This video has some limited "notes" at the bottom of the screen to introduce certain ideas, however, if you wanted a better understanding of the rules, you might consider watching the video above this first.
Whenever there is a war game set on a world map, I think its fair to say its going to immediately draw comparisons to Risk and/or Axis and Allies. As somebody who loves those games, I think I can fairly say that, if you like either of them (or like the idea of them) then you'll probably like Spheres of Influence. Conversely, if you absolutely hate everything about those games there's a decent chance my game is probably not for you. That said, while Spheres of Influence superficially shares some similarities with both games, its also very different in many respects. So I thought I'd draw some comparisons for you (my intention here is not to diminish either of these games, but instead to give you a sense of how Spheres relates to them):
People who like games like DUST, Supremacy, and Shogun might also find this game appealing.
Risks and challenges
We're working with Panda Game Manufacturing, who've manufactured plenty of well known games like Pandemic, Terra Mystica and Dead of Winter. They have a great track record of producing professional quality products, and are especially well suited at working with KickStarter projects (like Euphoria, Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Viticulture and many more). As far as production is concerned, I have very little concerns at this time, and have been in regular dialogue with their team concerning the materials, costs and components. In many ways, they've done a lot the heavy lifting for me.
That said, the biggest challenge we face concerns not the production itself, but the production and the shipping schedules. The present estimations provided by the manufacturer put the game's delivery sometime between December and February. Whenever you're dealing with a product of this complexity and scale, as well as the inherit difficulties involved with shipping freight, there's always the possibility for some unforeseen complications which could lead to slight delays. If other KickStarter board games offer any kind of yardstick, I'd say there's at least a 25% chance of some kind of delay. I'll do my best to keep everyone informed of the projects status along the way.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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