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What Went Right (For Me) With Suzerain

NOPE! We’re not done yet!

Suzerain from Torpor Games is fantastic. It is a fantastic drama, solid alternative history and a great character study of people in power. Oh, and there is the fact that understands how government and politics works. That’s a plus because it allows for a solid narrative mechanic throughout the game, but it also serves as probably the best video game case study in how power is actually administered in a state. Today I want to explore that how the government of Suzerain operates and how it helped the plot feel more realistic, as well as creating a satisfying political drama. Yes, this is incredibly nerdy. Yes, the doors are already locked. Trust me though, it’s fun!

Governing structures vary in this depending on how power is divided, or even if it is divided. But, essentially, all governments make decisions and those decisions are dependent on who controls the flow of information. Suzerain captures this early by making the audience familiar with the history of Sordland, then introducing us to the core members of the Reyne Government: Petr Vectern and Lucian Galade . Petr is an old friend and while his title in the game is Vice-President, he functions more like a  Prime Minister: chairing the meetings of the cabinet and overseeing the large-scale goals of the administration. Galade is the government’s Chief of Staff and Strategist. His job is to map out the strategies for the larger goals and to manage the different factions of the government. Both of these men are primarily responsible for getting information to Anton Rayne and are usually present throughout, which is fantastic because this allows you to get familiar with them and understand better what make them tick and how they view the world.

This is less of a lesson in trust and more of a test of your judgment playing Rayne. Your success on the political path you want to take will depend on this more than keeping one faction or another happy. In my initial run, I decided to be a free-market reformist: fitting in perfectly with my Capitalist Pig ways IRL. Petr and Lucian’s advice was important, but it turns out they were not the key members to listen to in order to make it happen. That was Symon Holl (the Finance Minister), Nia Morgna (the Justice Minister), Gus Manger (the Agriculture Minister), and Deivid Wisci (the Foreign Affairs Minister). They are the centrist/Neoliberal/Capitalist Pig faction of the government. You will also have preferred media for this route in the Geopolitical, Ekonomist and Lachaven Times newspapers. If all of these players and outlets are in your corner during your term, you’ve on the right track.

While these are your key members, there are plenty of opportunities to convince other ministers to put aside their personal ideologies in favor of Rayne’s agenda. A great example of this is Ciara Walda: the Education Minister. She is a devout socialist, feminist, hardcore anti-capitalist and laser-focused on reforming the education system by requiring boys and girls to be given the same lessons, removing the nationalist bent in public education, supporting women’s rights in the nation and anything else she can think of to tick off the conservative Old Guard in Sordland. She even wears (gasp) PANTS. Her inclusion in the Cabinet is clearly necessary to blunt the growth of Independent and Liberal factions in the country, but supporting her too directly could be a problem beyond just knocking the Right. Remember, I went for a Capitalist/Reformist run the first time around and Ciara (as previously noted) is not a capitalist.

Horse-trading with her was interesting. I supported legislation to increase labor and women’s rights which kept her loyal. She, in turn, swallowed my plan to allow for private schools and the millions of Ren it provided the Treasury. This give-and-take flows throughout the rest of the cabinet as well as you have to do your best to keep them on your side by finding areas of agreement and what situations you can manipulate lead to those agreements. After all, the only way to get her to accept private schools is to refuse to increasing her budget first. These sort of machinations are the small moments missing from more political games where you can, by your decision making, create the moments necessary for long-term victories. While I think this sort of subtle manipulation will fly over the heads of some players, using the player’s level of acceptance with this sort of Machiavellianism as the key to winning and losing was a masterstroke.

One final thing I’ll note is that, in many ways, how you manage your cabinet is a introduction to how you manage Sordish foreign affairs. As a regional power, Anton Rayne’s internal decisions will inform a lot of his international ones thanks to several factors. How you handle sectarian issues in your country, your political ideology and how you position Sordland in the Cold War. This is complicated and where a lot of the frustration and bad endings come from in the game. But it goes back to the game’s attempt at realism. There no ideal solutions and it is vanity to assume you won’t morally bend in politics. You have to choose where to bend and I’m willing to bet many players just…didn’t. They were looking for the ideal end or to come out of the game with clean hands at least. Suzerain doesn’t allow that. Even in the best possible ending, you walk away with a lot of questionable decisions and a future secured by sometimes being a son of a bitch and foreign policy is usually where that comes into play.

There are other moments in the game that elevate the narrative in ways I touched on my review: your beer with your son Franz, reminiscing in your old campaign officers with Petr, sneaking in a kiss with your wife Monica, et al. But, what I most appreciate and where the game truly gets its punch is that it captured governing so well and never let the audience forget that for all of the optimism and even for all of the power fantasy that came before Suzerain, you still have to govern a country. In the United States, a very recent trend is that our Presidents tend to leave office aged fast. Barack Obama has a full head of grey hair, stark lines on his face and harsh shadows under his eyes…he’s not even sixty yet. George W. Bush was the same, as was Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Reagan (although to be fair, he went in fairly old). In a forty year span, nearly everyone who went into the office came out old men because that’s the price of the job. Suzerain, in an interesting idea, follows your turns but rarely tells you how much time has passed in the game in terms of days or years. By the end, I get a tiny taste of the aging that comes with a job like this. You don’t feel it: you just keep going until you wake up and your youth is gone. This as well as it its political nuances, its Machiavellian tactics and its frequent demands on the players to make an up or down decision,  elevates it so much more as political fiction in my humble opinion.

I feel I will be bringing up Suzerain again in the near future. If you haven’t played it yet, it is still high on my recommended list. It is one of the best games of 2020 and, God willing, will be a trend-setter for its genre in the years to come. JP3: OUT.