In Crisis in the Kremlin, you take control of a new dictator of the Soviet Union entering office in 1985, in the midst of economic and political turmoil. You must manage the finances and various factions of the USSR so that the empire doesn't collapse. As you do so, crises will pop up which require you to make decisions. The first of these are historical (such as the chernobyl nuclear disaster), but after 1991 the developers created fictional events.
When you start a new game, you get a choice of three character types to start as. These affect your starting disposition to the game's factions.
The reformist candidate is the moderate starting position and stands in for Mikhail Gorbachev, the historical leader of the USSR in this time. Choosing this position will give you neutral standing with all of the factions. Since having good relations with a faction is very rarely helpful, and having negative relations with a faction can get you ousted from office, this is probably the easiest starting choice.
The nationalist candidate is the radical starting position and stands in for Boris Yeltsin, the man who led the opposition to the Soviet communist party in the 1980s and would become the first president of the Russian Federation. Choosing this position will give you high popularity with the people and strong relations with the radical faction, but poor relations with the hardliners, the military and the KGB. In addition, choosing the nationalist options in events will often lead to a quicker dissolution of the eastern bloc alliance as well as problems with republics splitting off. If you wish, the nationalist player does have the option of changing from USSR general secretary to Russian president mid-game. Since the hardliners start the game with more influence than the radicals, and the military and the KGB can both easily oust you from office, this is probably the hardest starting choice.
The Hardliner candidate is the reactionary starting position and stands in for Yegor Ligachev, a historical leader in the conservative elements of the Soviet communist party. Choosing this option will start you with good relations with the hardline faction and the KGB. Although this might be the easiest choice in the beginning, over time choosing the hardline communist options in events will harm the Soviet economy, and events occur to weaken the influence of the hardliner faction and increase the power of the radical faction and people, possibly leading to you getting ousted.
At the end of every calendar year, you must modify the Soviet Budget. The amount you have to spend depends on the health of the Soviet economy, but from the beginning of the game you will be forced to take out increasingly large loans to continue to run all of your departments. Your popularity with the people, which can potentially prevent one of the other factions from being able to oust you, is dependent on your responding to crises in employment, food and comfort with increased budget for construction, farming, transportation etc. To find the room for these increases, you must take money away from other programs, which will have negative effects on your game. Decreased budget for aid to the Warsaw Pact countries, for instance, will lead to those countries seceding earlier in the game. Decreased material goods production will lead to a lower gross domestic product, which will hurt your economy more later, and decreased military budget will lead to a military coup.
Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster
In this event, a nuclear accident has happened in one of the USSR's nuclear power plants. You have the option to keep it a secret, disclose some information to the countries surrounding you, or take the full details of the event public and ask the international community for help.
In this event, you have the options of lifting the bans on criticizing the Soviet government. You can choose to lift the ban completely, allow criticism of only past administrations, or to change nothing.
In this event, you have the option of allowing private farming in the USSR. You can open up private farming, allow for a test group to see if it increases production, or not allow it.
In this event, a devestating earthquake has occurred in one of the USSR's distant republics. You have the option of asking the international community for help, or of trying to handle it internally.
War in Afghanistan
In this event, you have the option of continuing to occupy Afghanistan, reducing troop commitments, or pulling out completely.
In this event, a young German pilot has flown a small civilian plane past the military defenses of the USSR, landing undetected in downtown Moscow. You have the options of promising to increase the military budget, or of publicly criticizing the military.
Border conflict with China
In this event, Chinese soldiers have incurred on the border, pushing Soviet forces back several miles. You have the options of pushing them back or of backing off.
Japan demands Sakhalin
In this event, Japan demands that the USSR give the northern islands back to the Japanese. You can choose to either surrender them or keep them.
Second Bay of Pigs
In this event, American forces have again tried to invade the communist island of Cuba. You can choose to either send military support to Castro, or to allow Cuba to be invaded.