Last December, Grimes released a new song from her upcoming album “Book 1.” The track, called “Player of Games,” was speculated to be inspired by her relationship with Elon Musk. One of the lyrics, “I’m in love with the greatest gamer,” got me thinking: what kind of video games does Musk play when he’s not reinventing public transit or allegedly abusing his employees?
A recent Vanity Fair interview with Grimes revealed that Musk’s latest obsession is The Battle of Polytopia, which he describes as a “much more complex version of chess.” Apparently, he’s even beaten the creator at his own game at least once, which he’s very proud of. While he’s obviously boasting about his big brain for his fawning fans, I wouldn’t be a video game journalist if I didn’t check out the game for myself. So, I downloaded Polytopia and played a single game.
The Battle of Polytopia is a civilization simulator in which you control one of twelve different “tribes.” You try to expand the territory of your empire by collecting resources, exploring uncharted territory, and destroying rival civilizations. In short, it’s the exact sort of game that might appeal to a white billionaire who benefitted from apartheid in South Africa. He loves it so much that at one point, Polytopia was added as a playable game to Tesla cars—you know, before the government started asking questions about a feature that might take your attention away from driving.
I played one game, which lasted twenty-five rounds. Every round, I could move my military units one space across the map, and I would be rewarded with stars each turn. These resources could be invested into extractive technologies for things like forestry or fishing, or they could be put into new kinds of soldiers. The goal was to wipe out as many enemy factions as possible before the turn limit.
Polytopia is not as complex as Musk described. If anything, winning against the computer-controlled enemies was easier than any chess game I’ve ever played. There were more opponents than in a chess game, but its difficulty was inherently constrained by the number of possible actions per turn. Polytopia is an approachable game for newcomers to the civilization builder genre, but it’s definitely not what I expected from the so-called “Player of Games.”