Internet Island Wars

OK, here’s a slightly embarrassing admission: For the last three years I’ve been playing an online war game called Inselkampf.

I got into Inselkampf, which means ‘island wars’ in German, in 2008 when I was on a business trip to New York which sounds glamorous and kind of cool but was actually miserable and tedious. You try spending an undefined amount of time in another country alone immediately after you’ve moved house back home. There’s only so many times you can look at Times Square or Saks Fifth Avenue, especially when you’re doing the whole trip on expenses which means you have to pay for it yourself (even if you did work for a huge investment bank) upfront then claim the money back. My credit card positively squeaked, I can tell you.

Anyway, on the nth afternoon/evening – the lack of daylight in my hotel room made it hard to tell – I came across Inselkampf via a forum I used to frequent. It looked laughably basic but it was kind of a Big Thing and one of the reasons the forum had been set up in the first place. Having nothing else to do I signed up.

You get one single solitary island which is completely empty. You start by building your main house which is the backbone of the island. The thing about this game which probably removes all but the most bored and/or determined players is that it takes hours to build your island into an even slightly productive entity. Once you’ve built the house, you then get the option to build other things such as a gold mine, a lumber mill, a stone quarry, barracks, harbour, wall, watchtower and store house.

Once you’ve done that, you have to train pixellated troops to defend it. You start with stone throwers which are basically cannon-fodder, then move up to spear fighters and archers. You also build ships and catapaults as well as researching weapons and sails. Seriously, it takes literally months to get a single island into operational death star format.And that’s not even counting colonisation ships, which I’ll get to in a bit if you haven’t died of boredom or gone off for a snack.

Just to put this into some kind of perspective, you start with ONE island. The big players have up to 1200 islands. Yes, that’s twelve whole hundred, folks. I now have 806 islands. So how did I get them? Well, you get new islands in two ways: the easy way and the hard way. The easy way is when someone has a spare island and lets you take it. The hard way is when you’re having a war with someone. Both ways require a colonisation ship which is hugely expensive to build but can only be used once. The difference between the two ways is that with the former they will ‘fleetsave’ (which means they will send all the island’s troops off somewhere else so you have a free run as well as knocking down the main house and can recall the troops once you’ve taken the island). The latter means you have to send your hard-built troops to wipe out theirs which invariably means you lose yours in the process.

Now for the politics. Players are organised into alliances which you can choose (or not) to join. Needless to say, competition between alliances is fierce. Accusations of cheating, either by ‘scripting’ (creating scripts to scrape data, which is banned) or ‘multi-ing’ (having multiple accounts, also banned), are rife. Squabbles such as this can and have resulted in war. War means spending hours in front of a screen trying to deflect attacks on your islands or bringing the entire server to a standstill by launching microfleets, which are thousands of single-ship attacks and more destructive than one big attack. Alliances create pacts with other alliances and all kinds of machinations and skulduggery are poured into those pacts. It’s positively Machiavellian and a lot of the players take it all extremely seriously. Grudges are painstakingly nurtured and revenge attacks on someone for something they did to someone else at some point in the distant past are not uncommon.

Still, it was strangely addictive and kind of fun in an obsessive-compulsive sort of way. Once you got more than a handful of islands, you could elect to pay $20 to a shadowy German called Sven for XXL, the ability to automate your ship and troop building. It was worth every penny because, trust me on this one, manually setting build schedules on 800-odd islands is not a good use of anyone’s time. Sven invented Inselkampf but was notoriously laissezfaire in his approach to administrating it. As far as most players could determine, he trousered the $20 fees and rebooted the server now and again if he noticed some red flashing lights.

Have you fallen asleep yet? Have a cushion, I’ve nearly finished.

Anyway, over the last year and a half or so, players have dropped off, or in IK parlance, gone inactive. A couple of large alliances dominated the game and people simply couldn’t be bothered to go to all that effort. Wars were devastating massive events rather than a series of small skirmishes which meant only the really big players could afford to be involved. Real life intervened. Other games came along. Island wars became island maintenance.

Then at the start of this year, the ability to schedule was removed at the same time as the game was closed to new players. Despite a deafening lack of information from Sven, the few of us left playing deduced that this meant the game would be pulled once the final few XXLs expired. My XXL expired just a couple of days after this and not being a particularly committed gamer, I’ve logged in a few times, gone ‘ugh’ at the prospect of building things on 800 islands and gone off to find something more interesting and hopefully with better graphics.

So, there you have it. I’m a geek.

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