The Dwarf Fortress devs once made a comedy revolution simulator, and it's time for heads to roll once more

A newspaper rendered in ASCII art, bearing the headline "Liberal Crime Squad Strikes".
(Image credit: Bay 12)

Yanping Fulsome died a martyr. I met him in the park, just after I'd finished beating an amateur magician to death for his position on electoral reform, and our comradeship was immediate and firm. His talents as a locksmith were invaluable, and together we were the voice and hands of the liberal revolution: One silver tongue and ten deft fingers, capable of winning almost anyone to our side and robbing the rest in the night. 

But we got sloppy. Yanping took one to the left arm while robbing an apartment block downtown (liberally). An arch-conservative construction worker had stayed home that day, and took issue when he noticed Yanping filling his pockets with jewellery and iPads. It was a matter of minutes before DethSquad officers showed up.

The intro screen of Liberal Crime Squad, bearing a Malcolm X quote that reads, ""You don't have a peaceful revolution. You don't have a turn-the-other-cheek revolution. There's no such thing as a nonviolent revolution".

(Image credit: Bay 12 / King Drake)

Neither Yanping's 9mm pistol nor his bodyguard Rane (a black belt martial artist I'd flirted with so hard he committed to a life of terrorism) could stand up to them. Rane went down first, and Yanping—soft, sentimental Yanping—wasted time dragging his body to the elevator before he succumbed to his wounds, one button-push away from escape. I replaced him with a 46-year-old football coach named Donovan. Donovan sells pot brownies to further the cause rather than dying in an elevator shaft. We're actually making more money now.

We need a slogan!

This is Liberal Crime Squad (LCS), the under-discussed predecessor game from the devs behind Dwarf Fortress. A revolutionary cadre simulator that tasks you with implementing The Liberal Agenda through murder, sabotage, kidnapping and theft, LCS differs from Dwarf Fortress in that it actually has a goal in mind. Your task is, essentially, to make all of Glenn Beck's nightmares come true at once. 

By any means necessary, you have to construct a vast liberal conspiracy, building a nation-spanning spider web of activists who will stop at nothing to make sure gay people can marry and flags can be burnt, undermining tradition through means both subtle and overt. Sometimes, that means kidnapping a judge and breaking them to your will. At other times, it means, uh, making and selling tie-dye t-shirts. Hey, the Bolsheviks sold postcards. Sometimes the revolution is about arts and crafts.

The status screen for Yanping Fulsome, showing that he's been shot in the left arm and is surrounded by DethSquad officers.

(Image credit: Bay 12 / King Drake)

You won't do it alone, of course. You're aided in this by your recruits, acquired by seduction and persuasion, who are divided into "active" liberals and sleeper agents embedded at the crucial interstices of conservative society, ready to wreak havoc whenever you send word. 

You're opposed by, well, pretty much the entire rest of the world. The police, the state, even public radio are all standing athwart history and yelling "Stop," which means you have to be clever. By placing your sleepers within those institutions (and others), you can receive advance warning of police raids, get bailed out of a jam in the courts, even begin subtly spreading liberal ideology on the airwaves, if you dare.

You can end up in a situation where John Q. Public is willing to burn down an animal testing facility but thinks executing human beings for minor infractions is A-okay.

It's satire, of course, heralding from a political era—the early 2000s—when the most radical left-of-centre voice in the American public eye was Jon Stewart. The idea of people as milquetoast as the mainstream liberals of 2004 forming some kind of New York Times Baader-Meinhof Group was patently absurd back in the day, even if the idea of radical and impolite political action from the left is easier to imagine in 2023.

A scene from Liberal Crime Squad, showing a liberal activist proselytising to an intrigued trucker.

(Image credit: Bay 12 / King Drake)

It's a complex simulation, and it models various layers of public opinion and political power. You're not just pushing a 'liberal popularity' meter one way or the other, you're impacting what people think about a range of issues individually. There's the presidential approval rating, naturally, which you'll want to either keep buoyed up or send crashing to Earth depending on the ideology of the person in power, but people have their stances on the issues, too. 

Focus strictly on acts of sabotage and activism around animal rights, for instance, and you can end up in a situation where John Q. Public is willing to burn down an animal testing facility but thinks executing human beings for minor infractions is A-okay. So it's pretty realistic, is what I'm saying.

Wither liberalism?

LCS is a coarse and finite thing in comparison to the wild sprawl of Dwarf Fortress, but that's not necessarily bad. Once upon a time, LCS was the go-to recommendation for newcomers looking to get into Tarn and Zach Adams' beloved dwarf-management game: A way of dipping your toe into the strange waters of a systems-heavy, barely-navigable ASCII game without having to monitor systems of a 'my chicken's left knee is wet' level of granularity.

But Dwarf Fortress has a graphical Steam version with (something resembling a) tutorial now, which means learning that game is probably best accomplished by playing it. But does that mean The Liberal Agenda will be left to languish?

A scene from Liberal Crime Squad, detailing the ascension to power of an arch-conservative president named Donald Duke.

(Image credit: Bay 12 / King Drake)

Bay 12 stopped working on LCS almost immediately after its first public release in 2004, so you might say it's already been languishing for a while, but the cause has been taken up by a dedicated corps of fans. The version I've been playing is King Drake's Liberal Crime Squad (which adds an opposing Conservative Crime Squad that uses your own tactics against you), but there are others you can find over on the LCS wiki, including a fan-made graphical remake if you just can't stand the charm of the ASCII version. 

I suspect the game still has some life left in it yet, and might even see a surge of interest after the incredible success of Dwarf Fortress' Steam version, but I'd hate to see it wither now that it no longer functions as a set of training wheels for its successor game. I guess what I'm saying is, Kitfox, you've done it once and you can do it again. Let's get a prettied-up version of LCS on Steam, ideally with input from the open-source devs who have been keeping it going all this time. Do it for the revolution, comrades.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.