Supreme Ruler 1936 – PC Game Review
Passed Inspection: Battalion-level simulation of world conflict, starting in 1936, with no set end-date. Upgraded graphics, GUI and other cosmetic changes from previous Supreme Ruler games. Ability to play as any major or minor power, with thousands of possible unit designs to select from. Complex economic system and technology tree. Extensive replay value.
Failed Basic: Scripted events result in odd ahistorical situations. Many historical events ignored entirely. Weak AI, especially in naval and strategic air warfare, and in amphibious operations.
I will fully admit it. I am a bit of a Supreme Ruler fanboy. I’ve played the games since Supreme Ruler 2010 (SR2010) and have been addicted ever since (SR2020 and SR-Cold War). I even do some modding of these extremely flexible games and have posted more than a few mods on the very active BattleGoat Forums. Consequently, this review will be a bit more critical than some I’ve done. It is a game engine that I greatly enjoy, so I tend to be a bit of a stickler on the finer points of play!
Supreme Ruler: 1936 (SR36) is a global political-warfare simulation that begins in early 1936 and can be played into the 2070s. Yes, the 2070s. That is when the tech tree runs out. You can literally start the game with biplanes, and end up fighting with Mechs. This is both the strength, and one of the weaknesses of the game. Such an ambitious task means that many of the historical nuances and events that gamers expect from a World War II game, such as the Spanish Civil War, are ignored entirely (as of the release; BattleGoat has stated that more historical events will be added in later patches). However, when was the last time you could play a “World War II game” and end up fielding F-86 Saber jets by 1944? Or see what happens if the USA stayed out of the war entirely, or focused on defeating Japan instead of Germany first? SR36 allows players, in Sandbox mode, to literally re-draw the global map as they see fit. While there are four (and more to be released) campaign games and numerous scenarios, I honestly prefer the free-play of SR36’s Sandbox.
Gameplay is fairly simple; it is basically a RTS (Real Time Strategy) game on super-steroids. Factories produce a mixture of goods (Military, Industrial, Consumer) that are used to supply military forces, build other objects (airfields, ports, etc.), and provide for your population. The game runs on hourly turns, and can be fairly fast on the highest settings. Production of military units is provided by buildable naval, land and aircraft factories. Individual ships, aircraft squadrons and land battalions are the basic size of the units produced. Players have to keep track of military pay and benefits, which result in greater recruitment numbers, as well as keeping units in reserve or active mode. In addition, the game allows the selling of reserved units by human and AI players; while not selective, the AI will often offer up to human players excess or outmoded equipment. This is key to someone playing a smaller nation, such as Colombia, that lacks a military production capability.
Controls are standard for most RTS games—the ability to select large numbers of units at once, and other basic RTS controls. Furthermore, selections can be screened for specific unit types (air, naval or land) allowing for mass movement of forces. The game lacks the ability to “bucket” forces into larger units, such as brigades, divisions, corps, etc. Effectively, players fight World War II with groups of battalion-sized units, and not divisions or armies. This takes a bit of getting used to for an old grognard like me, but is an acceptable trade-off for the overall system the game uses. Other features include the ability to put aircraft on aircraft carriers, load amphibious warfare ships (LSTs, etc.) with troops, and load / drop airborne units.
Land units are further divided in general categories—artillery, infantry, transport, armor, etc., that are further divided by specific designs (example: there are literally hundreds of tank designs in the game). Within those groups, players can research new designs or buy designs from AI countries. This is one of the more fun aspects of the game. In one test game as Japan, before 1941 I bought the plans to top-tier German, Italian and Soviet equipment and produced them instead of some of the lesser capable Japanese ground units. As the USA, I have sold plans to advanced aircraft, land units and ships to the Allies, allowing the AI to build better units than it usually would. Again, the flexibility of the game allows for such interactions, but be warned: Selling plans to AI Brazil may end up backfiring, if they sell them to AI Italy, or you decide later to fight Brazil and face your own technology on the battlefield.
Technology is fairly straightforward. Some can be traded or bought from other countries, while some have to be researched by each country individually and are non-tradable. BattleGoat is constantly updating the game and fleshing out the Tech Tree; as of release, there are some technologies that have no effect and/or are unneeded for later technologies.
Diplomacy is fairly detailed, with a wide variety of agreements possible, but given the scope of the game can be somewhat odd at times. For example, in one of my many USA games, I happily bought unit designs and technology from Germany from 1936 to 1941. Consequently, my diplomatic relations with Germany were fairly high. Due to the lock-step event system, however, Germany still declared war on the USA on December 11, 1941 … and then offered peace a few days later. Hopefully, BattleGoat will improve on the Diplomatic and Event systems and alleviate the often-disjointed connection between historical events and player interaction.
The combat system in SR36 is really the shining achievement of the game. “Chaos” perhaps describes it best—explosions, units advancing and retreating, the roar of naval gunfire, strafing aircraft, often at the same time. Units have detailed statistics outlining everything from their defense rating to weapons ranges. The extremely well researched historical database BattleGoat uses is clearly reflected in the game. An artillery piece, or naval gun, that outranges its opponents wins on the field, unless the enemy can quickly close the distance. This allows for defense in depth by players, and can quickly defeat any “tank rush” strategy. As technology advances, players can get designs for land, air and naval delivered missiles, including nuclear weapons, which quickly changes the scope and feel of the game. In one test game as the USA, I stayed out of World War II entirely, with the goal of conquering all of the Americas. By the early 1950s, I had technology and production facilities for effective sea and air launched anti-ship missiles; when I attacked the British and French colonies in the region, the AI responded by sending its fleets to stop me. How many times can anyone say in a game, “I sank HMS Rodney with a volley of missiles from the USS Long Beach”?
While fun, that example does show one of the glaring weaknesses in the game: the AI. The AI in SR36, while fairly challenging on land and in the air, severely lacks at sea. It will send single warships out to fight fleets or attempt to land unescorted amphibious troops in the face of overwhelming enemy naval power. While BattleGoat has mitigated some of the worst effects in their extended Beta test, the AI will occasionally throw most of its land forces away trying to break through two dozen US warships sitting off Gibraltar or a handful of German submarines in the North Sea. To their credit, BattleGoat has announced on its forums that naval AI is one of the priority projects for the upcoming patches.
I have over 500 hours in the game. Thanks, Steam, for reminding me. It is a fairly addictive game, once you adapt to the mechanics. I’m still learning more about how to manipulate economies, research and other factors. Plus, BattleGoat’s well-deserved reputation for continually improving their games with each successive patch means I will have more than a few months of play out of the game.
SR36 is a unique game; no other World War II—or any global war strategy game—can match the excitement of the series, and SR36 continues the legacy of its ancestors. It is the bane of anyone wanting to play “for just a bit.” Lacking even a turn system, players can easily lose track of hours building up economies, forming alliances, advancing in new technologies, and building that perfect military machine for world conquest. While the AI does lack the nuances of human-vs.-human play (available in Multiplayer / Internet mode), it does often surprise you. While I was happily landing the US Army in the UK, I glanced back at the USA. The Italians had landed in Miami and were driving north. The Japanese sent an air armada to crush my defenses in the Philippines, while my South African and Australian allies were bogged down in Thailand. All at the same time.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have to stop Mussolini’s hordes rampaging near Orlando. I think Il Duce will be surprised by the first M26 Pershings and F6F Hellcats off the assembly line ….
Armchair General rating: 85%, with the potential to go much higher as patches come out
About the Author
Dr. Robert Mackey, LTC, USA (Ret) teaches at the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and is a former assistant professor of military history at the United States Military Academy. He is the author of The UnCivil War: Irregular Warfare in the Upper South, 1861-1865, and is a consultant for a several computer game companies, in addition to his day job as a historian for the Department of Defense.