Talk about a trial by fire. It's my first day on the job and I've been put in charge of a country that's been brutally destabilised by decades of war and political upheaval. A randomiser decides my mission is called Operation Colossal Liberty, which sounds like a straight-to-video action movie, probably starring Tom Berenger. I don't know if I can live up to such a metal name.
I'm playing as a lowly civil servant with no particular special skills, although in later campaigns I'll be able to take on the role of more capable characters including a military-minded general or a banker. Then I set to work turning this war-battered landscape into something like a functioning country.
The early stages of a game are peaceful. I use this time to fund initiatives including healthcare, education, clean water, and other civic-minded projects that'll both contribute towards stabilising the country and increase my reputation. If my reputation drops to zero, it's game over. I can't just spam initiatives either, because the more I launch, the more that inflation and corruption rise, which can rapidly spiral out of control.
Then the bad guys (well, depending on your perspective) join the party. After that initial period of calm, the rest of your time in Rebel Inc will be spent fighting insurgents. Represented by red triangles on the map, these enemy fighters will charge into your borders in an attempt to wrestle control from you. You combat this by sending in troops, although gun-toting foreign soldiers aren't exactly ideal when you're trying to stabilise a country.
One of my favourite systems in Rebel Inc is how you can, through soldier placement and, later, building garrisons, cut off the insurgents' escape route, boxing them in and defeating them decisively. There's something satisfying about pushing them back and watching the colour green, which represents a stable region, creeping over the map until the red triangles are gone.
I actually found it slightly unsettling how Rebel Inc gamifies something as politically sensitive as a country suffering the hangover of a brutal war. But it also makes for a brilliantly tense strategy game, constantly making you feel like you're on the verge of losing control. It's the best kind of plate-spinning, helped by a slick, accessible interface that is easy to use.(opens in new tab)
The game also doesn't shy away from the cruel reality of this kind of political turmoil, such as soldiers being called away to fight in other wars, leaving parts of the country poorly defended. You'll also enter into talks with insurgency leaders, and how you handle this kind of delicate diplomacy can negatively impact your reputation and stability. The pressure is immense.
You can make battles easier by spending money on drones and airstrikes, but this will increase the likelihood of civilian casualties and, as a result, seriously damage your reputation. Rebel Inc acknowledges the uncomfortable truth about these kinds of military campaigns, and it's a good thing it does, because otherwise it might feel slightly gratuitous. Winning hearts and minds is as important here as building a large, formidable army.
My first victory was a mess. I managed to negotiate a peace treaty with the insurgents, but my reputation was comically low. "My operation, Colossal Liberty, defeated the insurgency and stabilised the region," my hapless civil servant said in the end-of-mission screen. "Unfortunately, everyone hates me and I've been arrested!" A bittersweet ending, but I'm looking forward to trying again and seeing if I can win a game with my reputation intact.