This article originally appeared in Pyramid #14
Published by Sudden Asylum
Designed by Mike Childress
$5.00 set-up, $5.00/turn ($3.00 for e-mail only)After countless hours of being smiled at and told to have a nice day by total strangers, or plodding through a day at your retail job, dealing with slack-jawed troglodyte members of the public, you may feel . . . disturbed. Perhaps you feel like taking over the world and crushing the mindless peasants in your iron grip of tyranny. If this is the case, or if you just enjoy a well-designed game, consider SpyKor.
SpyKor takes place in the reasonably near future. The one-world government has dissolved, replaced by a de facto government of eight Korporati, incredibly vast mega-corporations, each of which totally controls one aspect of life as we know it (telecommunications, energy, transportation, etc.). Each player assumes the role of CEO of one of the Korporati, with the goal of total world domination. The only things standing in the way are the other Kors, and the aforementioned mindless peasants, who can prove to be rather troublesome. If the needs of the citizens are not met (food, jobs, low taxes, etc.) the sector in which the troubled population resides will begin accumulating Disruption, which can curtail production and eventually lead to a revolt. Tossing a few credits at the disgruntled populace will help reduce Disruption, however.
Each Kor has a number of forces at its disposal. First (and perhaps foremost) is money, called "credits" (CR). Additionally, resources (called, oddly enough, "resources") are required to build armies and to fund Tek research. A Kor's Tek rating is a measure of how much cutting-edge technology it has at its disposal. A higher Tek will lead to increased success in almost all aspects of the game. Some military units and orders require a minimum Tek level before they can be utilized for example, a Tek level of 2 is required before a Kor can unleash a plague.
A strong company requires strong personnel, and a Kor is no exception. The people in the public eye are called Reps, and they are responsible for everything from propaganda to treaties to stock deals. Each Rep is rated in Awareness, Leadership, and Charisma, each of which is important for various offensive actions, and in defending against offensive actions. For example, a Rep's Leadership score will determine how successful he is in persuading a city sector to swear allegiance to his Kor, as well as how successful he will be in resisting attempts by enemy Reps to convert him to their Kor. Each skill has a rating from 0 to 200, with a maximum value of 80 when the Rep is created. Skills can be increased through training, but only by 20 points per turn, making a Rep with a 200 rating a truly fearsome force. Reps are allowed two actions per turn.
Spies are the undercover equivalent of Reps. They are responsible for covert missions and intelligence gathering, assassinations and sabotage. Each Spy is rated in Assassin, Mole, and Tekno skills. Unlike Reps, spies are only allowed one action per turn.
Last but not least is the military. There are eleven units available four ground units, four air units, and three defensive units. Each unit of a given type is progressively deadlier for example, of the four ground units, a Guard is superior to a Veteran, which is better than a Drone, which is preferable to a Militia. Deadlier units require advanced Tek and cost more in terms of credits, resources, and maintenance. One ground unit may be levied for every five units of population in a given sector, making city sectors (and their Loyalty ratings) very important to military players. After the first five turns, however, most players will find that they lack sufficient material resources to levy troops from all their population.
In order to conquer a sector, a player must send in at least one ground unit, although that unit need not remain on subsequent turns; a defensive or air unit may replace it. However, attacking with military units will cause a Kor's PR to drop by 25. PR is a measure of the Kor's public relations how it is viewed by the world's populace, and it starts at 1000. When the Kor's PR reaches zero, it is out of the game. A low PR will impact negatively on Disruption, and may reduce or preclude a Kor's ability to purchase food and resources on the open market (think of it as a boycott). Being caught red-handed in unsavory activities, such as assassinations, insider trading, and especially biowarfare, can also reduce PR. Kors that wish to maintain a respectable PR score may direct their Reps to invest in charities. For every 10 CR invested in charities, the Kor's PR rating goes up by one ("Geez, we feel terrible about unleashing that horrid flesh eating virus . . . here's some money for a new baseball field.")
Vice is the measure of how involved the Kor is in underworld activities. For every 500 credits (CR) invested in Vice, the Kor's Vice rating increases by one. Each turn, there is a chance that the Kor's underworld ties will be discovered and exploited, resulting in a loss of PR, as well as Vice itself. The chance of such discovery, and the attendant PR losses, increase with larger Vice ratings. If the Kor avoids discovery, it receives 500 CR for every level of Vice, making the underworld very, very lucrative. In addition, if the Kor is caught at any other illicit deeds, it will automatically attempt to frame another Kor for its wicked deeds. The chance of success increases with a higher Vice rating, but is reduced by the Security rating of the target Kor.
There are 238 sectors on the map, and each sector in the game may contain food production, resource production, population, or none of the above, depending on its terrain. City sectors are the only sectors which contain population, and their production varies widely from city to city. A sector's production may change due to chance factors, as well as through direct intervention by Kors.
In the event that you are some sort of organizational genius, thinking perhaps that this game might be too simple, there is one more wrinkle to consider: the exciting special power. Each Kor has a special power that allows it to bend or break the rules in some way. Available powers include Increased Spy Actions (each Spy is allotted two actions instead of one), +50% Credits (all incoming credits are increased by 50%), Double Resource Production (self-explanatory), Superior Infantry (each ground unit can move two sectors instead of one, and one unit may be recruited for every two points of population, instead of five), and more.
Balancing all of the different elements of SpyKor is far from a headache; it is a pleasure. Designing a plan of action and executing it is like solving a finely-crafted puzzle: there is a definite sense of satisfaction both in the work and the accomplishment. It doesn't take a Ph.D. to play the game, either; the elements are very straightforward. There are many paths to victory in SpyKor; perhaps the only "wrong" path is attempting to do everything. There are too many ways to spend money and resources in SpyKor for a player to do everything right. Pick an area or two and specialize killer spies, a massive army, tons of money, etc.
Just as there are many ways to play SpyKor, there are a number of ways to win it. First of all, a player can win by eliminating the seven other Kors. Also, a player may win an economic victory by accruing 250,000 CR, while still owning half of his own Kor's stocks. Finally, a player may win by fulfilling his secret victory conditions, which require him to own at least 51% of another Kor's stocks, and to control five specific sectors, three of which are the well-defended headquarters of other Kors. There are many elements and aspects of SpyKor that simply won't fit in a short review (like the stock market, and the Industry system, just to name two). SpyKor is an excellent game for beginners, and truly offers challenging play for veteran gamers as well. Suffice it to say that there is substantial breadth to the game, and enough depth to make it interesting without making it too complicated. In short, players can do quite well wading in the SpyKor pool, and will enjoy swimming in the deep end when they feel ready for it.
SpyKor costs $5 per turn, and turns are run biweekly. E-mail-only games are available, with a cost of $3 per turn; turns are run every ten days. Rules are available free on the Internet and CompuServe's PBMGAMES forum, or for $5.00 postally. Setup in the game costs $5.00 ($3.00 for e-mail games), and includes a free setup, and turns #4, #5, and #6 free of charge. To join, write to Sudden Asylum, 1401 Gatlinburg Drive, Pflugerville, TX 78660. Electronically, post to 76066,2230 on CompuServe's PBMGAMES forum, or send e-mail to email@example.com.
Patrick M. Rodgers
Article publication date: August 1, 1995
Copyright © 1995 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.