Become the thing your crazy co-worker who spends too much time on youtube fears the most.
Type: Singleplayer, Multiplayer
Genre: Strategy, Roguelite
Publisher: 1C Entertainment
Release date: 22 Jun, 2020
The idea that powerful organizations rule the world from the shadows is nothing new. Be it the Illuminati, freemasons or lizard people, the idea is the same, that the true power in the world does not lie in the hands of the governments, the people, rich corporations or anything of that nature, but rather a small group of extremely influential individuals, who are able to dictate all the major events of the world (and also what’s said on the Simpsons, and by Lady Gaga but let’s not go down that rabbit hole).
This game assumes that these conspiracy theories are true, that the world is in fact ruled from the shadows, and you’re the one pulling the strings. You’re the one who makes nations go to war with each other, who make the lower classes rise up against the ruling elite, and who allows new ideas to flourish (or prevent them from spreading).
Story & Setting
It’s the late 17th century, and England is in turmoil. James II and VII (it’s complicated), a Catholic, has taken the crown in England, and the protestant church fears that England might once more turn into a Catholic country.
While this is going on, you have other problems. Your organization, your brotherhood, as been found, and most of its members have been killed. Only you and two other members have managed to make it out. The three of you need to re-build the brotherhood and once more become the true power in Europe, but doing so will take time. You will need to start from scratch, recruit new members, build up support, and finally take on your rivals.
Most of the game will be spent looking at the map of the region you’re playing in, which at the moment is just Europe, and it’s a perfectly fine looking map. Europe looks like you would expect, although maybe with somewhat fewer trees than in the real world. Mountains and a few large lakes dot the landscape, and from the distance, you’ll usually view things, they look fine. Apart from the permanent features of the map, there are also the people you’ve sent to different countries, who are represented as a robed figure, as well as any lodges you or your opponent have founded, represented by a small building. Particularly the lodges don’t look great.
You’ll probably not be looking to carefully at these things though, but instead switch between the different map modes, which views things like relationships between nations, dominant religions, and so on. These paint the map in different colours, depending on what you’re viewing. In the relationship map mode for an example, the map will be shades of red and green, red meaning that the nation doesn’t get along with the one you’ve selected, with darker red being worse, and on the flip side, green means friendly. Some of the map modes can have pretty bad contrast, which makes it a bit harder to read than it should be, but other than that, it works fine.
The interface looks a bit daunting at first, but it’s too hard to work with, and it even manages to look quite good, marrying both form and function, which is not too common for strategy games. Some of the art also looks great.
The game also sounds pretty good. The soundtrack not only fits, but it’s quite good and does not feel intrusive. Other sound effects also do the job well.
You’re the leader of a secret organization that wants to rule the world from the shadows, and thus this is not a game where you control armies, and try to invade other nations. Instead, your influence is far more subtle.
Most of the actions you can undertake are done through other members of your brotherhood. At most, you can have 6 actives, and these can be spread out over all of Europe if you want to, or focused around a specific area. With these, you can do a whole slew of actions, like trying to infiltrate the government, “encourage” the people to revolt, spread disease, try to facilitate royal marriages between nations, change the laws, siphon resources to you, start wars and so on. The more actions you undertake, the higher the risk is that someone will catch on to what you’re doing though. This creates a delicate balance, on the one hand you need to get things done, on the other hand you need to be careful so that there are no more incidents where the authorities try to bring you down.
Most of your actions won’t have an immediate effect, instead, the changes you cause are far more subtle. Some of your actions might improve the production of specific goods, which in turn makes the clergy more content, another action improves the relationship with another country and makes the country you’re influencing more likely to step in if the other country is attacked. It is important to keep in mind that you’re not playing as a specific country, the changes you make are means to an end, and sometimes crashing the economy of a nation you’re heavily invested in will be the right thing to do.
You’re not alone in your ambitions though, there’s another group with similar ambitions, and you’ll soon come into conflict with them. At first, you might see some weird red-robed men show up in your areas, but after a while their visits will start to become more frequent, and they’ll try and hinder you, and steer the world in the direction they want. You can try to undo the changes they make, and destabilize their power base, or move more directly on them, and kidnap or assassinate their members. They’ll do the same to you of course.
In order to give the game some direction, you have a bunch of objectives that you can try and accomplish. These vary, but doing them will give you a boost of some kind. You always have options here, you can not only choose category, but you can also choose between different competing sets of objectives. Want to help Brandenburg and the Protestants against Austria, or do you want Austria and the Catholics to move on Brandenburg and bring down those upstarts? Depending on which route you take, you’ll push the path your secret organization takes in one direction or another.
State of Early Access
Secret Government is still very much in early access. Most of the core mechanics seem to be implemented, although there are plans for more scenarios than just the European one. There are also some balance tweaks that need to be done, as you can easily end up in a situation where all you’re doing is un-doing what the AI is doing, and it can turn into a bit of a death spiral. The tutorial could use some work, because while what’s there does a pretty good job at explaining the basic mechanics, once you’re done with it, you’ll just be dumped into the main game and you get a lot more things to do, many of which are not very well explained. And in a game like this you really need to understand what the effect of your actions are. The game is still fully playable, but it is rough around the edges, which is to be expected for an early access title.
Secret Government is not for everyone. In fact, it won’t be a game for most people. You’re slowly building up power, and don’t get a lot of immediate feedback on your actions, which can make it feel like what you’re doing does not matter. So this is a game for the patient.
If I were to compare this to any other games, it would be a mix between Paradox’s Victoria series, and Elixir Studio’s Republic: The Revolution, two other games that have you take a more indirect approach. These games are also games that were mostly rejected by the mainstream but found their diehard fans, and Secret Government is, once polished and ready for its full release, will probably end up in a similar position. It will likely be rejected by the masses, but there’s going to be a small group who will love the unique gameplay and feel of this game, and for whom the slower pace will be a good thing.