I will never forget the day I found my estranged father’s business card which carried the infamous Eye of Providence symbol. As a young, inquisitive lad I asked what this meant and was met with nothing more than a deafening silence as my father left the room. To say this was a pivotal moment in my life would be an understatement, as I to this day find the notion of secretive societies equal parts intriguing as terrifying. As a result, it is hardly surprising that Deep State: New World Order, the board game of secrecy and manipulation of power designed by author Konstantin Seleznev and published by CrowD Games, caught my interest and one that I was eager to experience from a solitaire perspective.
Full disclosure: a review copy of Deep State: New World Order was kindly provided by publisher CrowD Games.
In terms of overall component quality, I have to say I am really impressed with Deep State: New World Order particularly the artwork. The highly stylised, comic-book art style that artist Alexander Khromov is known for lends itself so well to this world of espionage and global power struggle. It is also the case that this particular game features perhaps one of the most impressive first player tokens, only rivalled by the gigantic wooden dinosaur from Evolution: Climate at least in my book. But above all else Deep State: New World Order includes some of the best rules documents I have read. Now, what constitutes a “good” graphical layout for presenting rules is fertile ground for disagreement and I was not expecting a rather small-sized game like today’s review subject to feature not only a rulebook but also a reference guide each spanning more than 20 pages. Thankfully, the rules are presented in such a clear and concise way which made learning Deep State: New World Order a joy which is high praise coming from someone who really, really is not that keen on ploughing through rulebooks.
PLAYING DEEP STATE: NEW WORLD ORDER SOLO
“From political parties and financial groups to research centres and power structures, they are all just puppets operated by masterful hands. One must know how to pull the right strings. Even the Committee itself is just a steppingstone on your path. However, there are other subdivisions in the Committee, and their leaders are equally capable and ambitious as you. Remember: there can be only one puppet master in the puppet world!
All your activities are enveloped in secrecy. The world has no idea of your existence, and it will never know. Even as you become its ruler.”
Deep State: New World Order is game of set collection and worker placement, where you are trying to assert your influence within the illusive organisation simply known as the ‘Committee’ with the goal of becoming the one true puppet master pulling all the strings thus achieving world dominance. Over the course of the game you will deploy your Agents i.e. workers to infiltrate key objectives like research facilities, financial institutions, and government agencies in order to achieve and expand your influence within this shadowy realm which is represented by end-of-game victory points. On the surface Deep State: New World Order is a remarkably straightforward game design, given the fact that players only perform a single action on their turn. At the centre of the play area is a row of Objective cards. The leftmost three cards are known as the Infiltration Zone where players can choose to deploy their Agents attempting to claim said card at the end of the action phase to their growing tableau. In addition to providing end-of-game victory points there are several different categories of Objective cards that influence your overall strategy. For example, the green cards known as the Supreme Power Group generate influence based on other cards in your tableau, whereas the purple Key Connection Group provide emblems that allows the player to advance in World Domination Projects. These areas of interest are far more labour intensive in terms of worker allocation but also generate powerful advantages, like the ability to add Ghost Agents which serve as persistent workers when deployed or being able to infiltrate cards further down the line of the Objective row.
But as we all know looks can be deceiving and even though Deep State: New World Order might appear as a bog-standard game of set collection once you scratch the surface the game reveals itself as being a far more intricate and engaging solitaire game experience. When playing Deep State: New World Order solo you will be competing against the head of another sub-division within the Committee organisation, a mysterious individual simply known as the ‘Head of CLASSIFIED’ or HOC. Like their human counterpart, HOC will deploy agents to infiltrate objective cards prioritizing high-value targets like purple or green cards all of which is clearly presented on the handy cheat sheet for the neutral opponent. This level of interactivity and competition for the objective cards in the infiltration zone is one aspect that makes Deep State: New World Order such an enjoyable solo game experience. Even though you have allocated your agents to an objective card it is possible for another player or in this case HOC to essentially outbid you if they are in possession of enough agents, think of it like a literal hostile takeover where the ousted player returns their agents to their active pool whilst also receiving a new treaty card. This mechanism is fascinating because you can choose to send more agents than required to essentially drain HOC on precious human resources, allowing you to snatch a valuable card in the next turn leaving your adversary slowly recuperating.
That being said, it is a ‘dog eat dog world’ and HOC is not going to sit idly by while you play mind games. Whenever the automated opponent is unable to recruit agents, they will play an Action card from their individual deck in addition to their normal action for the turn. These cards are designed to either free up agents currently allocated on objective cards or granting HOC a bit more leverage like advancing on a project or temporarily gaining the coveted Ghost Agents allowing to infiltrate high-value cards. One would think that this is a huge disadvantage for the solo player and you would be right, except for the fact that you also have an ace up your sleeve. Included in Deep State: New World Order is a mini expansion titled Men of Action that similar to HOC contains one-shot cards that can be played instead of recruiting agents on your turn. In fact, it is recommended in the solo rules to include the expansion and I cannot tell you how happy it makes me when a solo mode makes use of the core game system rather than feeling like a watered-down version (I am looking at you Tang Garden).
The one downside to playing Deep State: New World Order solo, and this may very well be due to my somewhat lacking intellectual capacity rather than an actual fault of the actual game design, is that HOC requires a non-trivial amount of upkeep especially during the later stages of the game. This is especially true for the projects, where the HOC receives the same rewards as the solo player for advancing. As a result, I found myself occasionally overlooking rewarding the neutral player with a new Ghost Agent or being able to target cards further down the objective row. Again, these are minor and highly subjective quibbles as playing Deep State: New World Order solo is an overall excellent experience.
I must admit that Deep State: New World Order managed to not only surprise me but also subvert my expectations, as I went into this review anticipating a somewhat ‘simplistic’ solo experience. Thankfully, I am more than happy to be proven wrong as this is a game design that features far more depth and nuance than one might assume given a cursory glance. Rather than being a pared-down version, the included solo mode in Deep State: New World Order preserves the essence of what makes the game interesting in the first place and that is something I appreciate and applaud.
Now if you will excuse me I have urgent matters to attend to, as I have been handed intel from a reliable source warning me about the ‘Reptiloids Project’…