Having been born in the late 1980s and growing up in the 1990s, I ended up missing the Cold War for the most part. Despite the fact that the United States and the Soviet Union never fought one another, tensions were high for decades as either country could have brought the world into a nuclear war at any time. Instead of directly attacking one another, the United States and the Soviet Union mostly focused on using more subtle approaches to gaining power and asserting it. While the Cold War is generally not a theme that a lot of video games utilize, due to the fact that there wasn’t any actual conflict, the theme has been used in some strategy games in the past. Precipice has some good ideas that lead to an interesting strategy game but it has some issues when it comes to stubborn players and games taking too long.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank LRDGames, Inc. for the review copy of Precipice used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
In Precipice you play as either the United States or the Soviet Union during the cold war. The goal of both nations is to have influence over the majority of the world. As the game takes place in the Cold War you can’t outright attack your opponent as they have access to a nuclear arsenal just like you. Instead you need to be sneakier in your approach to acquire more influence over the world. You can go the peaceful route and use diplomacy or trade agreements to try and gain influence over other countries. Otherwise you could try more nefarious actions like creating civil unrest and coups, or even get into a war to install a leader loyal to you. You need to be careful as your enemy is always watching as you don’t want to bring the world to the brink of destruction. Will you be able to secure enough influence over the world to claim victory over your opponent without bringing it to nuclear destruction?
Precipice is not your typical video game. It is never going to be confused for an action game. Instead of focusing on high speed action and combat, the game is based around manipulating the world to support your side in the ongoing power struggle. The game has a more laid back pace as you are mostly just interacting with different menus as you choose which actions to take each turn. You can take as much time as you want to complete one of your turns. The gameplay mostly comes from outwitting your opponent instead of shooting them or defeating them in combat. I think you could make a good argument that Precipice is basically an interactive board game. Being a big fan of strategy board games, this is not a bad thing. I wanted to point it out right away though as Precipice is not going to be for everyone.
The goal in Precipice is to acquire influence points as you win by either reaching a certain number of points or having the most points at the end of the game. You can acquire points in a couple different ways. First you can invest in your space program and be the first to land on the moon. Various objectives also pop up throughout the game and if you are able to complete them you will score some points. Where you will acquire most of your points though is through exerting influence over countries. You acquire points for maintaining control over different parts of the world. For example you will score points by having influence over a majority of the countries in South America. If you are able to maintain control over all of the countries in a region you will score even more points. Your opponent can always sway these countries to side with them though so players will continuously battle for influence over countries.
Players can assert their influence over countries in a couple different ways. You are given five action points that you can use to take actions each turn. Different actions utilize different amounts of action points. Each turn you need to choose which actions you want to perform. A lot of the strategy in Precipice comes from figuring out how you want to approach gaining influence over countries. Your first option is to take things slow. You can use diplomacy and trade deals in order to gain influence without your opponent having any way to stop you. These options are slow though and may fail to gain influence.
If you want to take a more aggressive approach you have a couple actions. First you can use your agents in order to sow discord in a country. Each country has a stability rating which determines how strong a country’s government is. By taking actions to create more instability, you are weakening the strength of the country’s government. When a country’s stability reaches a low enough rating, you have the ability to launch a coup attempt. If the coup attempt succeeds you can install a leader loyal to you. A more direct approach is to just invade a country with your army. This involves sending troops to the country and hoping to wipe them out so you can take control over the country. Starting wars creates instability back at home though. You don’t want too much instability at home or you could lose your job/the game.
The reason you have to be careful with aggressive actions is that your opponent is always watching you. If your opponent detects you taking an aggressive action, they can decide to challenge you on it. At this point you can either back down or escalate the issue. Issues can be escalated a couple times before the whole world is put in danger. You need to pick your battles as challenging an action puts the world at risk. During a challenge if one player backs down, they will lose support in countries that are loyal to them. If neither player backs down though, everyone will lose as the world will be plunged into nuclear war. This part of Precipice is critical as you can’t always back down, but you also can’t always put the world at the brink of annihilation.
Being a fan of board games there is a lot that I liked about Precipice. I like the whole premise behind the game. Instead of open conflict, the players have to mess with each other’s strategies without resorting to all out war. The game gives you several different ways to do this including safer and riskier options. Mixing and matching these choices give you quite a few strategic options to implement each turn. When you factor in several different paths to victory, Precipice gives players a lot of options to craft their own strategies. This leads to quite a bit of replay value in the game.
I had more mixed feelings about the escalation mechanics. In theory I really like the idea. The idea that the game can end at any moment with both players losing will impact your decision making in the game. You don’t want to be too passive or you will fall behind. At the same time you don’t want to be too aggressive or you will encourage the other player to fight back. The same dilemma comes up when responding to the other player’s actions. If you challenge every action the other player takes, you will constantly be in conflict with them. At the same time you can’t let the other player walk all over you. You need to be wise when picking your fights in the game. What I liked about this mechanic is that it gives you some interesting choices while also making you carefully consider every action you decide to take.
The problem with the mechanic is that it can lead to some serious issues if both players are really stubborn. If both players are unwilling to budge, the game will likely end with both players losing. This seems to favor the players that are bolder. If you aren’t afraid to end the game in a draw, you are in a much stronger position in the game. This is especially true when one player is close to winning the game as the other player doesn’t have much to lose. Losing or the game ending in a draw is not much different to the player about to lose. The player that is losing can then become pretty bold trying to steal key countries from the other player. They really have no reason to back down either. The player in the lead either has to give up a key country or face the possibility of the game ending in a draw.
Maybe it was just because the computer and I never wanted to back down, but too many games seem to end with both players losing in a draw. I wouldn’t mind the occasional draw but it becomes a problem for Precipice. If you play against another player/computer that refuses to back down, you basically have to always back down or the game will end in a draw. I don’t know how Precipice could have fixed this, but it does become an issue for the game.
I wouldn’t really consider this a positive or a negative, but Precipice does have a learning curve. The game itself is not that difficult as the mechanics are pretty straightforward. The game does throw a lot at you in the tutorial though. You will be left with a general idea of what you are supposed to do with no idea on how you are supposed to make it happen. This leads to your first couple games being more of a learning experience as you try to figure out how to utilize the different mechanics together in order implement a good strategy. Once you figure out how to play the game though, you shouldn’t really have any issues trying to implement your strategy.
One of the first things that attracted my attention to Precipice was the game’s trailer. The trailer basically shows people wearing animal heads in a tense negotiation. When I first saw the trailer it looked really silly as if felt like it was made as a gimmick to attract you attention. While the trailer’s silliness does not translate to Precipice at all (the game is quite serious), the animal “leaders” actually apply to the game’s theme. Instead of using real life people or proxies to represent different countries, Precipice decided to go a little out of the box. Each country in the game is represented by an animal native to the country. While this might look a little silly at first and kind of conflicts with the seriousness of the game, I actually kind of liked it. The artwork is well done and brings some style to the game. It is a welcome addition to a game that mostly has you choosing options from menus.
Other than too many games ending in stalemates, I think the biggest problem comes from games of Precipice taking too long. Maybe it was just the fact that I have to over analyze everything, but games of Precipice are not short. It is not a game that you can finish in a half hour. Most games will take at least an hour with many taking quite a bit longer. The problem with the length is that Precipice has no way of saving the game so you have to play it all in one sitting. I can understand this decision for the multiplayer as it probably wouldn’t be possible to continue a game against another player at a later time. For single player games though I think the game could have included a save game feature. Since you can’t save in the middle of a game, you have to either play the entire game or end the game early. While Precipice is a fun game, after an hour or so you will probably want to move onto something else and come back to the game on another day. Being allowed to save would prevent players from being rushed as they could come back to their game on another day.
Ultimately there are things that I like about Precipice and other things that I think could have been better. As a fan of strategy board games, the premise behind Precipice is really good as you need to defeat your opponent without ever directly fighting them. This mostly involves using diplomacy and more nefarious options to turn countries to your side. What I really liked about Precipice is that the game gives players a lot of choices which allows them to craft their own strategy. While I liked the idea of players having to navigate escalating tensions, it does lead to issues if players are too stubborn as the games will likely end in draws. Precipice can also be a little long and with no way to save a game you are stuck with playing a game to its conclusion.
While I had fun with Precipice, it is obvious to me that the game is not going to be for everyone. If you generally only like action packed games, Precipice is not going to be for you. Instead of shooting/jumping/etc, you are mostly just navigating menus as you make choices on how to implement your strategy. Basically the game is a global politics simulator. If this doesn’t sound that interesting to you, you will probably find Precipice to be pretty boring. If the game’s concept interests you though I think you will enjoy Precipice and should consider picking it up.