Suzerain is a text based political role-playing game. It throws you at the deep end of political machinations and pits you abruptly against multiple social and economic trade-offs. How will you lead? What will your legacy be? What will you sacrifice? Who will you trust? I rarely wonder whether I can do better than the elected or unelected leaders of the world. It doesn’t take a global pandemic to convince me that I can. Suzerain will test your political acumen. So without further ado let the angry mobs or adoring crowds clamour for the Old Video Gamer’s review of Suzerain.
In 1954, the country of Sordland, emerges from two decades of dictator ship and civil war. Time to pick up the pieces! Suzerain puts you in the role of newly elected President Anton Rayne, as he navigates through strife, turmoil, civil war, international conflicts, family issues and the ever tense conversation with political adversaries. Create jobs, repair infrastructure, quell opponents or simply pilfer public coffers for an extra yacht.
Playability: Constrained IF THEN expert system loops
Suzerain starts slow, and remains at a reliably slowish pace, if not even slower. The main screen consists of a political map of Sordland and its neighbours. Habitually, text notifications pop up in cities around the country. Infrastructure in disrepair here, demonstrations there, starvation elsewhere, the usual run of the mill incidents (no alien or zombie invasions in my playthrough). Occasionally, you’ll have some lengthy key events which consist of text based conversations with members of your cabinet (crush the opposition, defend the motherland), text based conversations with family and friends (another whisky or another piece of pie?), and mundane chit chat whose objectives in the grander political scheme remain obscure. No matter what, you will face the well-trodden tropes and ropes of the infamous IF PLAYER CHOSES OPTION 1 THEN EVENT Z. The problem is that the IF THEN conditions are not clear at all. Suzerain quickly offers you the archetypal choices of 100% taxation communism vs. free market capitalism development paths, cosy bribes from oligarchs vs. self-righteousness, affair with secretary vs. faithfulness, teenager scowl vs. young adult talk etc. Anyhow, your choices seem inconsequential and anecdotic, at least in the short term. After a few hours, I began clicking the most outrageous decisions, just to make the characters and the game react. I started prodding with a stick, and I ended with a ram just to start the party!
Annoyance: Endless lists of forgettable names
You average Hollywood script writer displays treasures of imagination to come up with will captivating fictitious names for countries from Absurdistan or Azmenistan, to Equatorial Kundu or Lichtenslava. You don’t want to ruffle any feather and antagonise potentially lucrative audiences. In the days of old, China and Russia could be merrily portrayed as evil empires. Today? With millions of paying customers? Not a chance! Suzerain presumably takes place on earth in the 1950s. It’s not an alternate reality, for as far as I can tell giant steam powered mechs or hordes of marauding goblins are not roaming the streets. You’ve never heard of the Republic of Arcasia or United Contana, which respectively take up the roles of the US and the USSR. Nor are you likely to be familiar with Sordland’s neighbours: Agnolia, Lespia, Rumburg, Valgsland and Wehlen. Now that we’ve established that you have absolutely no prior knowledge of Suzerain’s geography, let’s introduce a long list of antagonists and protagonists: your beloved wife Monica, your daughter Deana, your son Franc, your Vice President Petr Vectern, your Minister of Interior Lileas Graf, your Minister of Defense, Iosef Lancea, your Minister of Economics Symon Holl… Lost yet? Don’t forget Ciara Walda and Paskal Beniwoll! You’ll also have to contend with a host of local organisations from the People’s Freedom and Justice Party to the Bludish Freedom Front. Suzerain throws buckets of forgettable names. You’ll need to keep notes while playing, not because there’ll be a pop quiz, but simply to make sense of the jumbled lore that the game attempts to create. It would have been a little gentler on players to keep some modicum of geographic and historical veracity. After hours of gameplay, I’m still not entirely sure I can recall all the names of my ministers. Yes, despite my addled brain, I do remember the names of my country, my wife and children.
Beauty: Drab and dreary anticlimax
How did I get elected? I look as charismatic as a parliamentary broadcast on a Friday afternoon before the birth of on-demand streaming. My wife is really unexcited, wait that’s my Minister of Justice, or is it Interior? You mean, you’re not my secretary? There’s a multitude of characters in Suzerain, and they all have an official photo style vignette: front facing, or three quarters front facing, drab darkish backdrop. There’s a copious amount of biography to digest as well. The amount of reading seriously slows down the tempo of the gameplay. Often, you’ll hear the suspenseful music leading to the climax for hours (not quite, but for way too long). Suspense building up… yet again… don’t hold your breath… hear the suspenseful music? Luckily Suzerain is not entirely driven by text. Hand painted sceneries lighten the mood but are far too occasional.
The Old Video Gamer’s Prattle: East Wing of Sordid Land 5/10
Suzerain might have been better called President or even Autocrat. After all, a suzerain is a feudal lord. Suzerain is more of a text based multiple choice adventure than it is a political or management simulation. Despite generally smooth sailing prose, Suzerain is not a page turner. It is a slow game with copious amounts of reading to build local lore. Don’t expect a political thriller but do expect your choices to be limited by somewhat stereotypical black and white IF THEN conditions, harking back to 1990s expert systems. The dubious capitalism vs. communism oversimplification would make Thomas Piketty raise both eyebrows. The mechanics of the game are marked by far too many and far too lengthy cabinet meetings, as well as meandering side conversations. Unlike in Suzerain, real world banana republic dictators and our inept elected leaders rarely face their comeupance.
If you’re into light hearted kingdom simulation, try Reigns, a tinder style, swipe left or right, medieval ruler.