Supremacy 1914: A Fascinatingly Flawed Game
Supremacy 1914 is a free constant real time strategy game developed by Bytro labs which is set in a WW1 era environment. Players take command of nations in a match—with all starting nations being equal in size and number of troops— and use the troops and resources at their disposal to lead their nation to conquer others, form coalitions, and fight enemies. Eventually, when one nation reaches a dominant level, generally around 1,000 points, the game ends with that nation emerging victorious.
It is a simple concept, but one that is highly addictive in Supremacy. Games can last from weeks for smaller ones, to the better part of a year for larger ones upon 500 player maps, as nations grow from 8 regions to vast empires spanning hundreds of provinces, and as they industrialize and develop from foot soldier armies to huge collections of artillery, cavalry, armored cars, tanks, aircraft, bombers, cruisers, submarines, battleships, and railroad guns. Tensions build and excitement predominates, as nations try to out-maneuver others to gain advantages, build temporary friendships that might last until the end of the game in a coalition victory, or that might end with a dagger in the back.
While the basic unit in Supremacy is the humble soldier who is produced by recruiting centers which are generally built in every province, it is industrial warfare with workshops producing armored cars, and barracks producing cavalry, and eventually factories producing navies, aircraft, tanks, and artillery, that define the game. It takes careful usage of resources to undergo an industrialization to expand one's resource base and enable production of the vast apparatus of warfare needed in the game. Each province has resources, these being food (grain and fish), material (iron and wood), and energy (coal, oil, and gas), all of which are used to build different units and buildings (with iron and oil generally being the most important). A variety of buildings are built, including fortresses which grant defensive and morale advantages, harbors which increase resource production, enable faster embarking and debarking, and more resource collection, factories which produce more resources and build industrial armies, airfields to operate aircraft, railroads to enable faster movement speed and more resource production (but at the expense of coal consumed), and a capitol as the center of an empire, the further away from which the lower morale (which dictates resource gain, and if it drops below a certain level, leads to rebellions) is. Even spies, to gain information and sabotage enemy economies and armies, enter the game.
As with many other free games, there is a pay aspect for Supremacy 1914, in this case goldmark, which enables one to buy high command (granting options not available to regular users), hurry production, buy additional resources, raise morale, and engage in various premium espionage mission. Some goldmark is earned through completing various tasks online, some is earned in winning matches, but by far the largest amount of goldmark is purchased for money.
Since Supremacy 1914 lasts for such a long time in every game, plenty of time is available to analyze and make decisions about what is passing, and to formulate strategies. It is refreshingly based purely upon hard statistics, without the random chance so often used in games, which makes combat something which can be reliably estimated and analyzed, although never reliably predicted as canny players manipulate their armies to maximum advantage. The length of games also gives it something of a feel of WW1, the war that the game tries to emulate; it is a slow and dragging game often, with attempts to push troops forward being countered by artillery and fortresses, with wars of attrition pressing all sides to near-collapse. Sometimes engaging with other players by the in-game communal messaging system, the newspaper the Daily European, can provide for a splendid opportunity for roleplaying and fun.
All in all, in its basic form, and on a good day, Supremacy 1914 can be an extremely fun and enjoyable game. Unfortunately, Supremacy 1914 marries this to a host of extremely negative aspects.
So after all of this high praise, why is Supremacy 1914 so "flawed"? There are three problems associated with Supremacy 1914 that make it an intensely annoying and unfair game.
The first is both a blessing and a curse of Supremacy 1914 : because it is constant, it incentivizes always being on and always playing it. This is the addictive part of Supremacy 1914, because one can devote all of one's time to it easily. What happens when one has to sleep, to work, to go offline? One's armies might be destroyed, one's nation conquered. This constant need to be involved makes it extremely hard to play if there isn anything else that one has to do, such as work or school. This is part and parcel of any constant real time strategy game, so can't be really dealt with.
Second however, and specific to Supremacy 1914, is the terrible and deeply annoying ability and tendency for nations to launch full-scale attacks in the first few days. Most normal players do not do this, but instead there are a small number of players - perhaps they are bots - who launch all of their armies against another nation as soon as they join a game. Because Supremacy 1914 gives nations large armies to start out with, and there is almost always another nation reachable, it is possible for a nation to launch attacks in a way they simply can't in other strategy games. If these attacks were ones which were intended to actually succeed, they would be fine : most of they time however, they are launched by players who launch them, and then go inactive immediately thereafter, the only effect being to both destroy their nation (which is defeated by the nation they are attacking) and the defending nation (which is defeated by their neighbors). In most games, there is a selection process in which players must spend some time playing before they can attack other players : due to the nation of Supremacy 1914, an attack can happen instantly, and because every match is separate, beyond a player's service record, there is absolutely no incentive to not do so. Thankfully, since this happens at first, one can go and join another game easily, but it effectively destroys many games before they start. It too, is unfortunately something which is difficult to combat, as launching attacks immediately is at times a valid strategy, even if more often it is used by what can only be compared to bots.
Thirdly, and the far the most problematic issue in Supremacy 1914 is that of goldmark. Goldmark, is as mentioned above, the in-game premium currency. Many games have such a feature, and most often this gives certain advantages to players who use it, buying the currency and then being able to use it to make the game easier in various ways. Supremacy 1914 is no different : what makes it unique is the scale that goldmark can be used upon.
As a comparison, in the game of World of Tanks, the in-game premium currency is labeled gold. Gold gives a host of benefits : it enables one to buy premium tanks, which earn more credits, enable crew training, and are increasingly competitive vehicles in their own right. It enables premium account, with which one earns more money and experience. It enables one to purchase premium ammunition (which can also be purchased with regular credits in the game, albeit at very expensive prices,), garage slots for more vehicles, free experience, money, to demount equipment, to buy buy permanent camouflage, and retrain crews. All of this is a tremendous bonus, but in a fight between a player using gold and one not using gold in equivalent vehicles, the gold player has no real advantage over the non-gold user, and even in the increasingly overpowered premium tanks, a non-gold player can still win with appropriate experience and skill.
Not so in Supremacy 1914. In Supremacy 1914, the only limits to the benefits of goldmarks is however much money one has available. It is entirely theoretically possible than any player, given enough money, can defeat any possible coalition : he could say, win a battle on a 100 player map against every other player simply by hurrying construction of vast armies of units and taking over the map. Of course, this would be hideously expensive, but just the ability to buy enough units to defeat and hold the surrounding nations can easily make a goldmark using nation dramatically overpowered compared to its rivals.
Hard examples proliferated. In one game, Mcklenberg fought an Italian nation, on a 500 player map. Both were roughly equal in score, but Mcklenberg's action was to take a province near Italy, hurry a factory, hurry 4 battleships, and destroy Italy which had nothing at all that they could do to react. One of the biggest nations in the game was destroyed in only a few dozen hours. Mcklenberg destroyed all of their opposition : the price they told me, had been $500 throughout the game (which doubtless continued to increase, as I left before it finished). In another, Belgium, on day 11, had 225 territories : the next biggest nation had 40. There is no cap on goldmark, and hence if one has the pockets, any enemy can be crushed. Even on smaller scales, the ability to spawn more than a dozen troops instantly in response to an attack removes any strategy involved.
In my opinion, the best way to fix this would be some sort of cap upon how much gold can be spent, perhaps graduated by nation size (with a base level for smaller nations that they can't go beneath). The ability for players to overwhelm their enemies regardless of strategy or skill by cash is one which makes Supremacy 1914 an incredibly unfair and biased game, and until something is done to fix it, one which can never be as good as it otherwise might be.
Personally, I still play Supremacy 1914, generally playing for a while then taking breaks of months and then trying it again. I wish that I didn't however, for every time that I play I am confronted by the same issue : that the only way to play Supremacy 1914 is to either get lucky, or to have hundreds of dollars to spend on the game. As much as I may want to love Supremacy 1914, the truth is that Supremacy 1914 is a bad game, one which unscrupulously exploits its players, which brings pay-to-win strategies to their highest level, which does nothing to discourage behavior actively destructive to the game. A game with much promise, it is one which is ultimately fatally flawed.