Do you like the idea behind Paradox-esque grand strategy games, but are intimidated by all the details and mechanics? Generals & Rulers, developed and published by Hamsters Studio, is here to fill the gap and promises conquest from the Middle Ages to modern times.
Once the domain of wargamers and defined by opaque subsystems and demoralising spreadsheets, grand strategy games have become somewhat mainstream in recent years as more people discovered their desire to pain maps in single colours. Generals & Rulers attempts to purify that concept.
Generals & Rulers takes a casual approach to the concept and is way simpler than Gary Grigsby’s War in the East or even Europa Universalis, but keeps the basics: you take control of a nation, manage its economy and military, and try to take over the world turn after turn.
Initially, only two scenarios are accessible: Europe and Asia in the year 1207. A victory unlocks later starting dates as well as the option to struggle for all of Eurasia. Other continents are not available, as the developer decided to avoid areas with a high density of tribal nations.
Not all countries were created equal and some will have a significantly easier time than others. A star rating on the scenario select screen indicates how much of a challenge a given nation offers, be it the might Holy Roman Empire or plucky little Norway. Unfortunately, this is where things fall apart.
Genera’s & Rulers’s does not offer a whole of variety. Countries differ in size and geographical position, but function more or less the same. They sometimes start with different types of units, but a bit of research fixes that, and unit types don’t matter all that much anyway – unit quantity does.
Generals & Rulers doesn’t use counters or models. Instead, you simply select an enemy province you would like to conquer, send in a certain amount of troops and either win or lose after the game rolls the dice offscreen. This does give you the satisfaction of creeping over the map, conquering province by province, but gets dull quickly for a couple of reasons.
The first one is the classic snowball effect. Once your nation has reached a certain size, the AI will struggle to stop it. Even when you are years away from taking over Europe or Asia, victory is all but guaranteed. Oh, and Generals & Rulers doesn’t even let you take over the world. After conquering a certain amount of provinces, you simply win and the scenario ends. Whether those provinces are China’s wealthy northeast or some barren wasteland in Central Asia does not matter.
The second issue is the lack of choices and strategic depth. All you ever needs to do is research a couple new technologies (preferably the one that gives you free troops every round), pick your weakest neighbour, take them over and repeat the process. All the aspects that make similar strategy games interesting, like domestic stability, ruler characters or random events, are either absent or have no meaningful impact on the game.
Apart from conquering other nations, Generals & Rulers has little to offer. Diplomacy can be summed up as throwing money at a rival country until they give you what you want. The research tree isn’t exactly branching. The answer to economic issues is always to either conquer more land, which is what you will be doing anyway, or wait a bit until your coffers fill up.
The technical issues the game has don’t help either. Sometimes a battle is lost or won even when the loser had an overwhelming amount of troops. Unlocking scenarios doesn’t always work. Occasionally the AI invades provinces it shares no border with.
Generals & Rulers aims for a more casual experience, but fails to replicate what makes other strategy games interesting or challenging while at the same time stripping away any depth. What remains is a game that boils down to clicking through menus every turn, a process that goes stale after a few hours at the latest.
Generals & Rulers is now available for PC.