Supreme Ruler: Cold War
BattleGoat Studios/Paradox Interactive (PC)
— Incredibly in-depth economic model
— One of the few strategy games (serious ones, that is) to cover the Cold War
— Absolutely incredible replay value
— One of the steepest learning curves I’ve ever seen
— Game runs a bit slowly at times
— Documentation is sparse
Recommendation: SR: CW is a niche game. If you want Cold War strategy that’s not Red Alert 1, 2, or 3, this is your game. You have to put a lot of time in to get some benefit out of it, but it will pay off if you give it time.
If you’re too young to remember the Cold War, it was when the US beat the Soviet Union because USA USA USA USA! (Note: Author’s recollection may be spotty at best.)
SR: CW has three modes. Scenario mode, in which you start at a specific point with specific goals; Sandbox mode, where you can pick any country and see how things turn out; or Campaign mode, where you pick US or USSR and go from there. You set your own victory conditions, which can range from “score-based” to “own the planet!” You can mod lots of other things too, including how much the rest of the world will handle your nuke-tacular destruction.
I’ve reviewed a whole bunch of Paradox games on this site. SR:CW is published by PI but developed by BattleGoat (I really want one of those) Studios. So, as you might expect, it’s superficially quite similar to some PI games, but it’s got more of an RTS feel to it. You’re mostly researching new units, building new units, and then going squish on whichever country you’d like to squish. You don’t have to play that way if you don’t want to, but most people tend to. For some, it’s a challenge just to make a workable economy.
The economy is very detailed. Vicky 2 includes more goods, but the model is a little more under-the-hood. Not so with SR:CW. There are only 11 goods — Agriculture, Water, Ore, Coal, Uranium, Oil, Electricity, Timber, Consumer Goods, Industrial Goods, and Military Goods. Supply and demand on all of them are quite robust, and you can set prices, change capacity, buy from a specific country, etc. No tariffs or subsidies (at least not overt ones), but that’s the only really absent good. Most are interrelated. Making your economy work can actually be quite challenging. The three “Goods” are usually in very short supply without some very careful guiding hands. Clever buying and selling can be a great way to earn some extra cash, and watching markets almost always pays off.
Once you have the cash, it’s up to you to use it properly. You get cash from everything to loaning money to taxing your people to selling technologies. You spend cash on research, buying goods, and social spending. You get some pretty solid control on taxing and spending as well; each one has 6-10 categories of refinement.
Diplomacy is pretty robust too; the world is divided into five categories — US sphere, US leaning, Non-Aligned, USSR leaning, USSR sphere. Every country can have relations with (most) other countries. This ranges from extradition treaties to formal alliances. The more “important” your country is, the more the superpowers will pay attention to you. As South Africa, neither the US nor the Soviets really bother me much.
The supply model is a little less complicated than HOI 3; hexes are supplied to a certain percentage and your soldiers take a certain percentage with them. The faster you go, the faster you run out. Simple as that. You can do things like supply drops to keep your fronts moving, but that’s a lot of micromanagement. Actual combat is kind of Civilization-esque — you point your troops at a city or at a unit and tell them to shoot. It’s a little more complex than that, but again, HOI 3 is far more so.
Everything in the game can either be managed by you directly or set to AI control, and there’s some fine control. Do you trust the AI with Water but not Industrial Goods? Lock them out of the former. Do you not really care about diplomacy, and would rather just give vague priorities? That works too. Big decisions — like wars — will never be done without your permission, regardless of the level of control.
If all of this sounds great, it comes with two catches. First of all, the game speed is kind of slow, even with a robust PC. In a game like Vicky 2 or EU 3, a day will go by in a second or less at the highest speed setting. In SR: CW, it’s more like 20-30 seconds a day. Part of this is the massive number of units you have to work with, but part of it is because a lot of your more important calculations are done every day.
Second, the documentation is really sparse and assumes some familiarity with the Supreme Ruler series. 78 pages sounds like a lot for a manual, but a lot of it is very vague. There’s no tutorial (although there are a handful of videos online). The Battle Goat Forums, particularly for AARs, are kind of sub-par. PI has a forum for the game, but no AARs.
That makes the learning curve pretty steep. The temptation will be to dive right in and play the USA or USSR. I cannot stress how foolish that would be. There’s a lot to absorb. If you can’t make a smallish country run smoothly, you have virtually no hope of doing much with a larger country. Expect at least to put 5 to 10 hours in learning the game with a smaller country before touching even a medium sized one like France or the UK.