sumeria: Those were the days, my friend

I’ve found a game that not only has a considerable history, but is proving to be a considerable challenge to me. Here’s sumeria, a C port of an ancient game:


Meaning two things: one, that it dates back 30 years if the home page is to be believed, and two, that it draws upon an ancient culture as its pretext. Clever, aren’t I? πŸ˜€ πŸ™„

For those among the audience who remember the very early days of computer games, this will be a nice, brief, nostalgic interlude. For those who don’t, it will be a horrific realization that a long time ago, games like sumeria were cutting edge.

The game puts you at the helm of a prehistoric culture, with a starting stockpile of grain and a fixed acreage of arable land. The game sets a starting price per bushel, and depredation by rats is announced.

Your job is to divvy up the available stockpile, allocating food for your citizens, grain for sowing, and land for sale with the value paid in grain. Get it wrong, and too many people will starve, and you’ll be summarily dispatched to the afterlife. Get it right, and your rule will extend for another turn.

sumeria itself is a rewrite of hamurabi, supposedly one of the earliest computer games. The home page suggests a small twist, in that leaving too much food in stockpile will encourage rats to breed, which will of course have an effect on depredation rates.

It’s easy to see where modern nation-building or civilization games may have had their roots in games like sumeria, but it’s not much help to have played those newer games, when backtracking to this one.

sumeria either assumes you already know how to play (or maybe assumes you’ve played hamurabi), because even if you say you need tips, it scoffs and throws you into the first round of play. I don’t see rules or an option for help anywhere in the game, and it’s never really clear what the internal formulas are — like how much grain a citizen will consume in a turn, or what determines immigration rates.

Which means a lot of it must be “felt out” on the fly, as you play a few turns. I can tell you that buying 50 acres at the start, allocating 1200 to the citizenry, and seeding 450 got me into the second turn with enough resources to make it to the third. Consider that your primer on managing an ancient world power.

(Oh, and don’t think that extinguishing your entire population will somehow ensure your personal survival. Even when your entire nation is slain through your gross mismanagement, apparently one or two well-fed souls are still around, and are strong enough to wield the axe.)

On the whole, sumeria is certainly playable, although I would like more info on the rules that balance the action (without digging in the code, that is). Then again, perhaps part of the fun in a game of this caliber is figuring out what makes it tick — how to game the game, so to speak.

Source code is a meager 12Kb but wouldn’t compile in Arch (I have a feeling the error is very easy to solve though); the author has a precompiled binary that works fine, if you can’t get it running or you’re just lazy. πŸ˜‰

Now get out there and manage your ancient kingdom. And may Ashtaroth preserve your Ka.

2 thoughts on “sumeria: Those were the days, my friend

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