Proliferation
for PC (Windows)

Mr Creosote:Popular Vote:
5/6
Company: Silicon Commander
Year: 1995
Genre: Strategy
Theme: Apocalypse / Board / Multiplayer / War
Language: English
Licence: Freeware
Views: 30915
Review by Mr Creosote (2023-07-22)
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If you've been reading a bit on this website, you won't be surprised that in my teenage years, I used to be quite a tabletop wargaming nerd. I spent countless afternoons, evenings and weekends staring at abstract maps, some detailed and highly tactical small battlefields, others representing the complete world, or large parts of it. The need to keep in mind so many different rulesets, so many specificities, didn't bother me. It was just great, trying out all those different approaches, knowing what great role real life psychology between the participants played. Even if, admittedly, we rarely played a game to the end. At some point, it was usually clear who would win, which was a good time to call it a day.

One relatively lightweight, but nevertheless enjoyable game of those times was Supremacy. Updated just enough from the basic Risk formula to be taken seriously by the hardcore nerds, this one remained accessible enough to always find people to play with. Its (physically) huge map made it impossible to keep playing in university days with its cramped living conditions. Ever since then, I had been looking for a computer game version. Which I sort of found in Proliferation. This shareware game – later released as freeware – did not have a licence, and it is not a straight adaptation, but it may very well have been inspired by the aforementioned tabletop. Just putting a bit more focus on the nuclear war aspect.

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The 1980s, the decade which had given birth to the Supremacy tabletop, had been a decade of nuclear fear. Glasnost and Perestroika lowered those fears and in the midst of the western enthusiasm of the Soviet Union falling apart, it was almost forgotten that this wasn't so much “the end of history”, but rather just the beginning of the next age in possible nuclear holocaust scenarios. All of sudden, a large number of smaller, newly independent and somewhat unstable states found themselves as owners of a atomic missile arsenal. Making the 1968 treaty of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons sort of obsolete.

In the world of Proliferation, nuclear weapons are everywhere. Each player starting out from one territory on the Risk style map, all neutral zones are soon conquered by one of the acting powers. Only to then turn against each other, until one rules supreme. Usually over a highly radiated wasteland.

The baseline of those military struggles is a simple economy system. Production of food and oil per province goes into the global national reserve. A surplus of food enabling population growth (if other conditions are met), oil being necessary to launch military operations. Trading these commodities on the world market is possible as well, to balance out shortages or earn additional funds to invest. The nice thing here is that Proliferation considers balancing factors. A strategy of controlled growth proves to be much more successful than simply trying to become the biggest fast.

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Investment largely goes into military means, roughly split into offensive and defensive capabilities. The latter always being more expensive than the former, audacity is generally rewarded by the game. Though, again, not in the one-dimensional Risk way of simply sending the biggest imaginable army.

That is because a so-called conventional army will not win this war alone. Nuclear weapons are a must. Split into two types, strategic missiles take a whole turn to get ready, do a large amount of damage, but also cause major increase in the global radiation level. Tactical nukes, on the other hand, mostly just kill enemy soldiers. At the minor cost of increasing regional radiation level temporarily. That local radiation dissipating fairly quickly. Just that part of it will also go into the global atmosphere. Which is where it all comes full circle: radiation kills people. It is therefore the counteracting force of the nicely planned population growth through food surplus.

Further details enhance this big system where one gear wheel interlocks with another. The designers managed to keep everything in a great balance so that strategic and tactical decisions never become obvious, never easy. There are trade-offs to be considered, constantly. Which is why Proliferation has stood the test of time on my harddrive. Even if usually, admittedly, I don't play to the end. At some point, I reach the stage where it is clear whether I will win or lose and from that point on, it would be simple busywork. So I stop, just like in the old days. Just that now, I keep it running to listen to the amazing music. Just three different tracks, one of them a lovely MIDI rendition of Jean-Michel Jarre's Equinoxe 4, but those fit the scenario perfectly, with missile launch sounds becoming part of the melody and spelling doom. Even if you “win”.

Archived Review(s) ↓

Review by Mr Creosote (2001-05-31)
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The “Treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons” was signed in 1968. It was the attempt to stop all the small countries from gaining access to nuclear weapons. Only the five major 'official' powers were allowed to own atomics: the USA, Great Britain, France, the USSR and China. So this treaty secured the monopoly of these countries to nuclear weapons.

But as many treaties of the United Nations, this one of course represents the world's situation after the Second World War. Even when it was signed, it wasn't really fair to the new-grown powers anymore. So more and more countries just developed a nuclear arsenal 'illegally' – sometimes with the approval of one of the major powers (e.g. Israel), sometimes without (e.g. Pakistan).

In 1991 the USSR fell apart. Suddenly, a lot new founded nations found themselves owning nukes! The treaty became more or less completely obsolete…

So much for the historical facts. This is where the ficitional background story of Proliferation starts: being in urgent need of money, some states of the former Soviet Union sell their nuclear weapons to rich third-world countries. The 'official' powers panicked and tried to occupy those. But they found tough defenders! The new powers used tactical nukes, the others responded with ICBMs. After that, all former alliances fell apart, everyone just tried to get a good basis for the upcoming world war…

And here the game begins. Each player starts with a selectable number of regions under his control. At first, the map reminds a bit of Risk. And the basic concept is of course the same: send armies to adjacent regions and occupy them. But in fact there's a lot more in Proliferation.

First, there are the normal armies. But those already existed for millenii before. In this time, nukes dominate the battlefields. This type of weapon is split into tactical nukes (for kind of 'everyday use') and Intercontinental Missiles (ICBMs). Tactical nukes can kill normal armies. But the defender can shoot them down before they can do any harm with stationary devices. ICBMs take one whole turn to get ready (and it costs money to have them ready). They can also be shot down by defense satellites. But in both cases, the offensive weapons are a lot cheaper than the defense against them.

But it's of course clear that all kinds of nukes cause radiation. Tactical ones less (and limited to the region they're used in at first), strategical more (directly into the atmosphere). The local level of radiation influences the living standards in the regions. At the end of each turn, part of the local radiation is blown into the planets atmosphere. And this global radiation level influences the circumstances on the whole earth.

So much for the military aspect. But where do the soldiers come from? Who constructs all those nukes? The population in the regions does. Each region has a specific, but not static amount of inhabitants. The more people, the more they can build each turn.

But people need food to survive of course. To satisfy the demand, each region produces food. Some more, some less. And by investment, you can also try to increase this amount. Another thing which is produced in the countries is oil. Oil is needed to move armies, to shoot nukes and so on. Both food and oil can also be bought and sold on the world market.

I could talk on for some hours now and still all I could cover was only a fragment of the game's complete dynamics. Everything is perfectly balanced, one action causes the other – everything is cross-linked. And that's what makes this game so great: it's a perfectly thought out system which takes a whole lot of different things into consideration without anything being 'outside' or useless. You need a overall strategy to win. Small victories on the battlefield prove to be only temporary very often if you didn't consider the rest of the world and other components' influence.

If you know the tabletop Supremacy, you'll encounter a striking resemblance here. But Proliferation offers even more than the already complex tabletop. It uses the opportunities of the computer intelligently to make the game less static. Nothing remains the same for more than one or two turns. Panta rei – this is the perfect description of what happens in Proliferation.

Another remarkable aspect is that the game is freeware. At first, it was shareware, the trial version was limited to three players and there wasn't a save option. But later, Silicon Commander Games decided to release it into public domain. That's a great step, I wished more companies would do that. In fact Silicon Commander released all their older games, and they have some really interesting new shareware titles in developement – so be sure to check their site out. It's really one of my favourite companies. Almost all of their games are of extremely high quality. Proliferation is their masterpiece though. And if only the AI would be a bit more challenging, it would have deserved the perfect rating.

Comments (3) [Post comment]

Sidsayian:
the game is good and old style and hard to get on the pc version now but i will try it out once again
Enzel:

One of my all time favorites, with a clean and simple interface. It's a tricky balancing act.

With enough food, your population may outgrow the food supply and you'll face famine. Without enough food, they'll starve and you won't be able to afford more.

All modified by radiation deaths, of course. Defend your territory with tacnukes and although you may save it, you'll lose your people with the radiation.

Build up a big conventional military, and the cost of maintaining it can become a problem (as your income can be reduced by the global radiation increases from other factions fighting). Use it or lose it.

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