It is 1928, and it is time for the glorious Soviet State to crush the Kulaks and bring the CCCP dragging and kicking into the Century of the Fruitbat, I mean, the 20th century. We must collectivize, industrialize, and electrify, Comrade, lest the forces of capitalist reaction overwhelm us in the inevitable world-struggle to come!
Created by Ed Bever, one of the original Microprose developers and now a history professor, Stalin's Dilemma is a little economic simulation -- little more than a spreadsheet, really -- in which you design three five year plans, spanning the period from 1928 to 1943. Your objective is to increase Industrial Capacity to 48, Military Effectiveness to 66, and Political Stability to 1.0 while suffering fewer than 10 million deaths due to unrest and starvation. The structure is simple, but 'winning' is not -- I've yet to do so, in fact.
Your peasants and tractors produce food, and you have a choice of how to extract it from them in order to feed the rest of the populace -- voluntarily, that is, bribing them with consumer goods, or forcibly, that is, by collectivizing agriculture and setting quotas. The former is basically a no-go -- you don't have enough industry to produce sufficient goods (though you might try expanding oil production enough to export and purchase goods). Thus, the peasants will suffer for the greater glory of the Soviet state, but what of that? The future belongs to the industrial proletariat, surely.
You use your surplus food production to feed your industrial workers, miners, and oil workers, as well as your soldiers, of course. Oil and metals are transformed by factories into production, which you can use to build more factories, as well as tractors, oil rigs, mining equipment, and weapons. The game tracks "Standard of Living" (SoL) for each sector of the economy -- you can improve it by making sure everyone gets enough to eat, and perhaps reluctantly allocating some small quantity of consumer goods -- and the worse the SoL, the more people die.
Despite the sparse--well, non-existent--graphics, this is a bleakly humorous game, a sort of noir version of Hammurabi in which your only hope of victory lies in fervent imposition of stringent tyranny. But we have no choice, Comrade. If you fail to play, the terrorists, I mean the Nazis, will already have won.