By Bob Collins, 9/18/2017
Before getting into this, I will admit upfront that I initially returned this title after playing the tutorial, then trying a game on my own. I felt utterly lost at how to play.
But, after getting curious again about it, and putting in some effort into understanding what’s going on by watching some tutorials on YouTube, and reading through (conflicting) information on how the systems worked, it’s easily become one of my favorite strategy games.
Supreme Ruler is a series that has technically been running for a long time, with the first release being back in 1982 on the TRS-80 as a text based game, with Supreme Ruler Plus releasing a year later in 1983. It wasn’t until June 2005 that we saw a new release of the series, Supreme Ruler 2010, with a graphical user interface. It wasn’t the prettiest thing to look at, but it did the job for a game with the scope of Supreme Ruler. Since then, the game has had a handful of starting dates and scenarios added, ranging from World War I, to the near future of 2020.
No, it’s not MU-TH-UR 6000
For those that aren’t aware, Supreme Ruler places you in control of a country (or region as it’s termed in the game) to, well, do whatever you want. Victory conditions are available for those that are looking for a determined set of win parameters, but there’s no penalty for pursuing your own goals within the game as you see fit. Want to bring back some semblance of the Soviet Union? Go for it. Looking to do nothing but be a commodities broker? Systems for that are available. It’s this freedom of choice that has me so in love with this game.
The sound and music of the game isn’t super diverse. Anyone that’s played the game, or watched a Let’s Play of it, will tell you that there will be one music track for your country that will play on loop. Some countries will have a different track. The Soviet Union Cold War start will have what sounds like something you’d find in Eastern Europe, while World War I Germany has a track that will evoke an image of the Kaiser looking over a parade.
Notification alerts do their job well enough, letting you know that a new item on your bar has come up for a trade offer, war declaration, construction has completed, or a research item has finished. If your troops are experiencing heavy combat, you will be alerted with “We need reinforcements.”, as well as a radio communication letting you know if your armed forces had successfully taken an enemy capital, or if yours has been taken.
Easily the most memorable moment for a notification is when you decide to launch your nuclear arsenal at another country. A very distinctly 1950’s announcement of “This is not a drill, this is not a drill. General Quarters, all hands man your battle stations!” will assault your ears, which should soon be followed by the sound of cities being leveled in nuclear fire.
Combat sounds are also pulled from a limited library, but still give you an idea of what kind of weaponry is being fired. You’ll be able to determine whether combat is between ground units or naval units by the sound of the weapons fire.
Along the Japanese/Indian Border
Supreme Ruler may not be one of the prettiest things to look at by today’s standards. The current look of the map and units came from Supreme Ruler 2020, released in 2008. Though measured up against releases of the same year, it’s clear Supreme Ruler’s focus wasn’t on delivering a ton of eye candy, so much as giving us a functional game that has representations on the map that we’ll be able to recognize.
One thing you don’t see often is developers including community made content in their games as a part of an official release. BattleGoat Studios has been doing that, putting unit models into the game that are created by the modding community. Certainly a stark difference between that and what we see from Bethesda and Valve with their attempts at creating paid mods, something that has been met with harsh criticism.
The map itself is a series of satellite shots that are put together, divided into hexes. Zoomed out it looks fantastic, but you loose definition as you get closer to the ground where the action takes place. You may also notice some lag when you zoom in and out, especially as you get further into the game with many more units running around on the map. Again, it’s not pretty. But it’s functional.
There are several options for starting a game within Supreme Ruler that consist of playing a campaign, playing a sandbox game, or doing a scenario.
Campaigns give you the option of playing a particular country in a certain period of time, such as Germany during World War II, or the Soviet Union during the Cold War from 1949. Sandbox allows you to choose any nation during any available start, assuming you have Ultimate or the appropriate Supreme Ruler title. Scenarios are intended as short encounters that have some sort of story hook to them.
If you’re like me and prefer having the widest array of options available to you, Sandbox will likely be your first choice. From there you can set a variety of options from general difficulties for your military, economy, and diplomacy, if other nations will have an opinion on international actions, as well as some particular options that have more application within particular starts. For example, Battle of the Atlantic doesn’t seem to have much play outside of World War II, as the premise of the setting is to stick it to the United Kingdom. Unless you have it out for the UK, there’s little reason to enable this particular option. Campaigns and Scenarios will also give you the option of playing with settings as well, but with the absence of being able to select a nation of your choosing.
Once you hit start, you’ll then be in control of your country’s diplomatic, economic, and military matters. These systems however, especially the economic ones, are not straightforward matters like you would find in other strategy games.
Italy prepares to ship out to Ethiopia
It’s not an instance of just harvesting enough ore to turn it into resources to build a bigger military to conquer your neighbors. You’ll have a budget to balance, where taxes and the opinion of your populace is important to your continued tenure in office. You’ll need to provide jobs, but not too many, lest inflation get out of control. But damn, keeping inflation down is causing domestic prices to go up, and people are unhappy about it.
Oh hey, China declared war on India. Should we condemn or support China’s invasion? We’ll condemn it since we don’t like warmongers. What, China doesn’t want to trade with me anymore cause I condemned their invasion? Okay, well, where else can we get those resources we were trading for…
Supreme Ruler forces the player to confront changing geopolitical situations, as well as giving the player the agency to manifest those situations themselves through diplomatic, economic, and military actions. The sword can be super tempting to use, but you could also get the same outcome you desire through diplomacy. Your neighbor might have some ore you want to get into your goods factories. You look at your arsenal and see that you could probably pull off a conquest of your neighbor’s ore mines. But, the rest of the world would likely be displeased with your decision to invade your neighbor.
You could support opposing political parties within the target country, later invading under the guise of liberating the people from the tyranny of the current administration. You could perhaps fly some aircraft over the nation’s airspace,and if they get shot down, that can give you some justification for retaliation. Sending your spies into the country to cause chaos is also an option, where if they get caught, you have some basis for hostilities.
Or, you could pursue a more diplomatic track with your neighbor. You reach out with an offer of a free trade agreement, to which they agree. They come back next month, offering you payments for some of your resources that they need. You accept, the trade agreement between your countries strengthening relations. Before you know it, your neighbor has become one of your most stalwart allies, offering you resources from their country at a low price.
I have to say, really enjoy the Cold War start
If war is a path you pursue, be prepared for an absolute mess on the screen.
If you have your defense minister set to control your military to some degree, they will start maneuvering your units to take enemy territory, and engage enemy units. I personally don’t play with minister control set to ‘none’, as I prefer precise control over my military and the operations they engage in. However, you can allow your defense minister to control your military if you don’t want to deal with handling your military. How successful they will be can be a mixed bag, as automation doesn’t guarantee success.
Same goes for the rest of your nation. You can give your various ministers directives to carry out, as well as lock them out from particular actions. It is possible to have your country mostly automated by your ministers. Though this won’t give you any advantage, as ministers will just react to circumstances and attempt to return things to the status quo you have set for them. It’s not possible to have the entire country automated and be wholly successful, but the minister AI does a great job of serving as a tool for the player to hand-off certain things so they can concentrate on other aspects.
One part of the game that I feel needs some love is internal politics. Currently, there’s little representation of this beyond a DAR, or Domestic Approval Rating, that indicates how happy your citizens are with your administration. This is affected through a variety of things like taxes, social spending, military actions (declaring war), how expensive things are to buy, etc. Which keeping the populace happy is it’s own game I enjoy, but that’s about the extent of it. If the populace is unhappy when the next election comes around, you lose the election and are presented with a choice. You can either quit and start a new game, or become a dictatorship.
Having some sort of ‘Social Issues’ debate, with a chance for political parties to affect the internal workings of your country, would add another layer to this already complex game for sure. But I don’t think current players, or prospective players, would necessarily be put off by the inclusion of such a system. As it stands, unless you’re playing Cold War, you’ll be stuck with your chosen leader for the duration of the game, where if you’re like me, you’ll always have “Hail the god-emperor!” in the back of your mind every time you see your leader portrait come up. Especially when you’re one-hundred plus years into your particular game.
Greece takes a look at supply, and nearby coal deposits
Function over form would be the best way to describe this game. Supreme Ruler does a great job of giving players the opportunity to sift through a geopolitical sandbox in a variety of time periods. It may not be the prettiest thing to look at, nor have the most dynamic soundtrack, but the game systems are solid. If you’ve been playing strategy games of late and want something with more depth or complication, Supreme Ruler is worth a look. You will likely need to look up some tutorials on YouTube and read a wiki or two, but the payoff is worth it.
You can find out more about Supreme Ruler and BattleGoat Studios at http://battlegoat.com/