When I was elected president of Sordland, a mid-sized Cold War republic in Suzerain‘s pastiche of Eastern Europe, my goals were simple. I wanted to rewrite the country’s undemocratic constitution, revolutionize education and healthcare, prevent a war with our northern neighbors, and break the power of the fat cat oligarchs profiting from the suffering of my people. And I was going to do it all with no corruption, no dishonesty, and no authoritarian violence.
I died several decades later in a maximum security prison off the coast of Antel, having been impeached and framed for high crimes against the state before my first term ended.
As Anton Rayne, the fourth president of Sordland, Suzerain puts a lot on your plate. Through a combination of a choose-your-own-adventure-style visual novel and a Paradox-esque, map-based resource management game, you have to pull the young republic out of a terrible recession while dealing with entrenched, corrupt political factions and a looming border conflict. Along the way, you’ll need to choose between spending more time with your family or spending more time with your work, and deciding to align yourself with the capitalist West or the socialist East—unless you give them both the cold shoulder.
There is a lot going on, but the way it frames decisions as scripted cabinet meetings and ritzy state dinners ensures things never feel too overwhelming. Setting my military budget includes a lengthy debrief from the commander of the armed forces and my defense minister on what to prioritize. Building a new road means hearing bids—and maybe being offered outright bribes—by different firms that want the job. It’s truly unique, and I loved just about every minute I spent with it, even though my presidency ended in personal disaster.
Note: The following will contain spoilers for one of the twenty or so possible endings for Suzerain, including details of a major side plot. You may want to come back later if you plan to play it without any pre-existing knowledge that might influence your decisions.
The backstory I established for my Rayne during the in-depth prologue was of a middle class kid who became a human rights activist and joined the socialist youth during his university years, which were interrupted by a military coup that established the current constitution. Taking the oath of office decades later, I set to work spending state funds on health and infrastructure generously, while defunding the military and department of justice and handing out contracts to state-owned companies rather than the private capital favored by my predecessor.
I grinned triumphantly when I not only refused a large bribe from a slimy fat cat angling for my government contracts, but told him to his face that we would never be friends and I’d as soon see him boiled in oil. I was not only a crusader for workers’, women’s, and ethnic minority rights, I was an unflinching, uncompromising, incorruptibly principled ideologue with a complete absence of guile. I refused to work with anyone I considered selfish or misguided, and I would tell them as much to their faces. I wouldn’t even lie to a child murderer to get a confession out of him. This earned me a lot of enemies—many of which I would not even know about until it was too late, since I kind of effectively abolished the police. In retrospect, that was an oopsie.
I did a lot in four years. I kept all of my campaign promises, completely nationalizing the largest companies (to the furor of their former owners), investing heavily in healthcare, funding huge infrastructure projects, and getting rid of gender segregation in schools to give young women the same career opportunities as men. Maternal and infant mortality plummeted. Worker productivity basically doubled. And, OK, we did end up in a debt crisis as I was utterly unafraid of deficit spending (something I think Suzerain is a bit too harsh on you for) and caused private capital to flee due to my iron-fisted communist approach to the economy. But, you know what they say about making omelettes.
As my first term neared its end, I was planning on fending off a military coup. I had never given them a single red cent in any situation where I was prompted to do so. In fact, I gutted their entire budget to pay for social programs and removed their jurisdiction over internal policing, giving it to the civilian department of the interior. They hated me, and I knew they did. But the coup I saw coming never came, because the enemies I didn’t know about were already ten steps ahead of me.
The Old Guard, representing those loyal to the retired dictator Tarquin Soll, and the conservative wing of my own United Sordland Party, had been hard at work in the shadows while my underfunded secret service twiddled their thumbs. Despite the fact I had never shown anything other than outstanding moral character, they manufactured a case against me that not only led to my impeachment, semi-truthfully blaming me for the current debt crisis, but had me sentenced to life in prison for mostly manufactured and trumped-up crimes against the state.
In the epilogue, I rotted away in the island prison of Antel Rock, feeling I had failed the family I left behind. A family I had gone to great lengths to reconcile with and keep close to my heart was ultimately torn asunder by my idealistic ambitions and zealous pursuit of what I believed was best for the people. But in the final scene, with my children coming to visit me on my deathbed decades later, I chose to tell them that I regretted nothing.
I bless the Raynes
This could be seen as a “bad” ending, but it was my ending. Ned Stark lost his head for living his values in the face of any tribulations, and my Rayne was much the same. Did I do the most good I could have, though? If I had been willing to compromise with the conservatives, or kept the army loyal, or decided to split the shares in those big companies instead of nationalizing them fully, could I have won a second term? If I’d allowed myself to lie and mislead those I knew to be bad actors, could I have beaten them at their own game? With more time and more political capital, could my reforms have been even more comprehensive and successful?
Suzerain is a fascinating game in that it won’t allow a truly unerring paragon of virtue to succeed. You have to make some compromises. You have to pick a devil to do a deal with or they’ll all unite against you. You don’t have the budget to maintain a robust secret police that will shield you from your ruthless political enemies and fund every school and healthcare clinic in the country at the same time. You have to make sacrifices somewhere. I chose to sacrifice my freedom and ended my days in prison, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.