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Strategy games are more than a portal to another world.
They’re a place where you can play hero, savior, and master of the universe. Hours of gameplay lets you rule over everything in the virtual world, and you can do almost anything your heart desires. Being a benevolent ruler or a tyrant is entirely up to you.
Strategy games offer a world where you can test and apply your vision/ strategies to politics, society, economy, and the military. The game is a chance to create your ideal world. For all this to happen, you need to play games that act as a canvas to paint your ideas.
Welcome to the world of strategy games: The Evolution from boards to pixels.
To think that this world dates back over 2.000 years is quite astonishing. The early players started with nothing more than simple stones on wooden boards. Fast forward to today’s games using 4K graphics on ultra HD monitors with worldwide multiplayer battles happening every second, and the contrast couldn’t be any sharper.
Modern PC and pixels today enable total immersion into a video game’s maps, characters, and interactive gameplay. And gaming has come a long way, from Koji Sumii’s Bokosuka Wars in1983 to Firaxis Games’ Civilisation VI.
Strategy v. Tactics
All strategy games today either revolve around strategy (long term) or tactics (short term):
- Some games focus on the military and need great tactics (Phoenix Point, Xenonauts)
- Others are more strategy based and demand a superior strategy (Spore, StarCraft).
So, today’s strategy game world divides into two large factions:
Forget what the politicians, economists, and scholars tell you. Strategy employs meticulous planning to achieve your goals.
Tactics are more for the short term. You prepare your troops for a campaign to weaken, undermine, and ultimately destroy your foe.
For instance, if you want to lay siege to an enemy’s castle, strategy dictates that you cut off supply and trade to starve the population and soldiers to weaken their defenses.
Remember: Planning all elements of your long-term campaign is strategy while deciding to lay siege to a castle is tactics.
Think of strategy as a well-oiled machine, and tactics as the gears that make the machine work.
Real-Time v. Turn-based
The world of strategy games is either real-time (i.e., Age of Mythology, Re-Legion), which means all the actions for both the human player and the AI, or human opponent happen simultaneously.
This game-mode is also called “Real-time-Strategy” or RTS in short.
Turn-based strategy games, on the other hand (i.e., XCOM, Age of Wonders) play in turns, pausing for an opponent to make a move. Got the basics nailed down?
Great! Let’s get right into that list of best strategy games out there now in my humble (experienced) opinion.
My Favorite Strategy Games
GO is most likely the oldest strategy game still in existence, aged more than over 2,500 years!
Still, Go makes this list because it is a highly enjoyable game, and for students/lovers of strategy and mental effort, this is a real “must.” The main goal of the game is simple; occupy more space (territory) on the board than your opponent.
Go is like chess and requires an excellent strategist and an eye for the larger picture. Being able to read an opponent’s play, reacting quickly to surprises and most of all, seizing any opportunity is what you need to win.
Go requires a certain “cerebral cleverness” and can truly be understood as one makes advances in the game. Go is way more complex than chess, but much less restrictive. Chess, for example, has a complexity of 10120 and 20 possible opening moves. Go, on the other hand, is in the 10760 range of complexity, with no less than 361 possible opening moves.
Go on your PC: There is an electronic version which lets you learn the basics of the game as a kyu player.
Age of Empires
I am not ashamed to say that I have stunned a few people with my historical knowledge about the Crusades and the rise of Mamelukes.
What they don’t know is I got all that from a game.
Age of Empires 2 was the very first RTS game I ever played, and I enjoyed a game where I could control, explore, and learn. The Conquerors Expansion Pack was the most exciting history class ever, and the gameplay itself didn’t disappoint.
The beauty of a game is in its details:
From the preachers covered only by the placards they carried, to the little introductions which detailed the history of any of the conquerors you chose.
A word of advice, if you please: never underestimate Saladin.
Sequels That Didn’t Disappoint.
Age of Empires III, by Ensemble Studios, was the cherry on top of the beautiful series. It took over from where Age of Empires II ended with the discovery of the New World.
Some fans of the game missed the Koreans and Persians, who were both omitted from this sequel. However, they were more than happy to be able to play formidable Native Americans (Warchiefs expansion pack) and the taste of the Oriental History (Asian Dynasties expansion pack).
One of the joys of this game is the introduction of “home cities,” which can become real lifesavers. Personally though, one of the sweetest innovations of AoE for me was the included scenario editor which allows players the ability to create custom maps, scripts, and cinematics.
How Well Do You Know the Enemy?
One of the keys to the game is knowing which strategy the AI is using and then quickly adapting to a suitable counter-strategy.
Depending on the civilization, the AI has three main strategies, the same number human players have. However, do not mistake knowledge for implementation and success. Knowing what approach to use is one thing and very much far from guaranteeing victory.
Rise of Nations
Just when you thought Microsoft couldn’t get any better, they pull a rabbit out of the hat. In my opinion, Rise of Nations is one of those “must-have” strategy games.
Developed by Big Huge Studios (not Ensemble), Rise of Nations continued with Microsoft’s love for RTS, and boy, did they deliver a literal Armageddon.
The game was developed by Brian Reynolds, the brain behind Civilizations II. The game upped the ante by introducing the idea of territories. Building a city gave the player a designated region in which s/he could exploit resources and build units. Certain types of buildings can expand the territory, and the player can even switch capitals out of desperation when attacked by an opponent.
Because losing your capital city equals defeat.
The game features over 15 civilizations, and eight different ages, starting from the Ancient Age and ending in the Information Age which features advanced warfare.
University of Illinois professor Arthur Kramer and a team of researchers carried out a study in 2008 on adults over 60 years of age who played Rise of Nations. The researchers discovered that the game boosted cognitive abilities such as memory and multitasking.
Rise of Nations won four awards, including the Game Of The Year (GOTY) in GameSpy. The game also won Best PC Game of 2003 (GameSpot), and best Strategy Game of 2003 (GameSpot). Rise of Nations was also a nominee in the “Strategy Game of the Year” by Computer Gaming World.
Total War: Attila
The Total War series has rarely disappointed.
Don’t play the turtle!
The high-octane, never-ending action in the game is because the other civilizations don’t wait in launching offensives. The reason? Winter is coming.
Attila is an “in-between” of the two significant genres of strategy games. The campaign part is turn-based, as you recruit armies, workout diplomacy, and international relations. But the battles are happening in real-time.
Man vs. Nature
The game puts you in charge of the mighty Roman empire on the brink of collapse.
A victim of its grandeur.
You choose between the Western and Eastern Roman empire. Not only do you have to worry about imminent implosion, because that would be too easy. The geniuses at Creative Assembly also added climate change (yes, that’s older than “Fridays for Future”) to the mix, as well as other mindblowing details such as epidemics.
The barbaric Huns are coming for you. So too is winter, which gets longer each year in the game, pushing in from the frozen north. Enemies constantly threaten your borders, looking for food and shelter. Total War: Attila is an outstanding member of the Total War franchise.
Allow me to leave you with a piece of advice: protect your general at all cost.
Iceberg Interactive has been part of the gaming industry since 2009.
Successes like Conarium, Starpoint Gemini, and the very addictive Tiny Troopers are all part of their incredible creative portfolio. For me, Oriental Empires is the pinnacle of the company’s gaming efforts. The game’s attention to detail is a testament to how much creative juices the developers poured into the game.
In terms of cultural accuracy, emotion, and gameplay, Oriental Empires is up there with the best titles in the genre. Comparisons have been drawn between this game, Total War and Civilizations. However, I think the game is in a class of its own. Oriental Empires is a turn-based 4x (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) game which takes players to the Warring States Era of China in 475 BC.
Machiavelli, Meet Sun Tzu.
The people won’t follow a leader without authority. Disease and natural disasters can cripple your economy (Hint: build a granary). Use edicts wisely, keep your allies close, and your enemies even closer, because you can bet the farm that a dagger in the back will come for you.
Troops have battle plans and are a joy to watch when commanded by a master.
This game will brush up on your knowledge in classical works such as The Art of War or The Prince. In many ways, Oriental Empires is both these masterpieces redone as a video game. You always have to find your balance between being Sun Tzu’s disciple and Machiavelli’s prince.
War is more than just a battlefield.
One of the more exciting attributes of the game is the many ways you can win in campaign mode. There are four ways to defeat the enemy in Oriental Empires, instead of the mundane victory in battle.
You can win by Conquest, which requires controlling 65% of the total population.
The “Son of Heaven” victory is triumphed by diplomacy, which requires at least 75% of the AI-controlled civilizations to recognize you as their emperor. Good luck in trying to pull one that off!
If you’re more of a lone wolf type of ruler, the cultural victory path would be right up your alley. All you need to do is drive the advancement of your people’s culture to win.
The final path to winning the game is by achieving more victory points through the following:
- Building level.
However, once you advance into the “Warring States” era, all bets are off, and you either need to handle diplomacy with finesse, or throw it out completely.
So, do you have what it takes to be the emperor?
Klei Entertainment is a highly underrated company located in Canada and has some of the coolest games ever.
You’ve probably never heard of them since they tend to fly under the radar a lot. Shank 1 and 2 are outstanding, and Mark of the Ninja is even better. Don’t Starve and Don’t Stave are massive hits on Steam, and Invisible Inc. is no different.
Every Move Counts.
Invisible Inc. is a highly addictive, turn-based tactics game. It demands you to make calculated and precise moves to infiltrate Incognita, the precious AI of the agency, in a world ruled by megacorporations.
Set in 2074, you start to play as Brian Dekker, a classic suit-wearing agent. As you play along, you’ll be able to free other captured agents whom you can team-up with. The team you decide to use will determine
how hard each mission is, and ultimately, your success in beating the game.
The gameplay itself is fantastic and exciting. The challenge in being precise, decisive, and playing with foresight makes this little gem worth the many hours or so you’ll spend playing.
Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War
Given that WarCraft the movie came out not long ago, seeing any Orcs reminds me of that movie.
However, there was a time when all I knew about Orcs was what I saw in Dawn of War, and read in the Warhammer novels (yes, I love Warhammer that much, lol). From the minds at Relic Entertainment, Dawn of War is an RTS and is a series on its own, with two more chapters in Dawn of War II and Dawn of War III.
The game features the superhuman Space Marines, the technologically advanced Eldars, the primitive and ever restless Orcs, and the demonic Chaos Space Marines. Each army has its strengths and weaknesses. Gathering resources, advancement, and way of life are also different for each class.
In the game, knowing how to fight is as crucial as knowing when to fight. There’s an old saying that says you need to choose your battles. In Dawn of War, your success or failure will depend on your crisis management skills.
Who needs food, when you’ve got power?
The developers saved us the trouble of resources or basic needs such as food, wood, gold, etc. They simplified it to power and requisition. Generators are in-charge of handling the production of these resources in the player’s headquarters. You have to build and maintain these generators for power.
Virtual life is a breeze when you don’t have to worry about quarries and granaries! However, all this bliss won’t last because you still have to worry about your enemy. You always have to be ready with initiative and proactive responses to any strategy your rival comes uses.
Hint: The Orcs are always ready for battle, even when they are not.
Preparation is Everything.
The impressive campaign mode takes place on the world Tartarus, with you playing the Imperial Space Marines, led by the haunted Gabriel Angelos and the Anakin-turn-Sith traitor, Isador Askios.
The game does away with unnecessary distractions such as civilians, diplomacy, and society itself, so the player can focus on what is most important; Military supremacy and later victory.
The battles are a tightrope-tactical affair, and when the business end of war is near, you can feel the increased engagement and the push of the fighters. It’s the little details like these that make the game gripping and awesome.
If I were to round up this list, I would throw in Empire Earth, for its pioneering role and how much it was a gamechanger during its heyday.
Also, Madruga Works recently released Dawn of Man, which takes you to prehistoric times as an upstart settlement in the early Stone Age, looking to make it into the Iron Age.
I based this list on the ability of the games to suck you into its world and elicit an authentic emotion. Not just as an avid fan of strategy games, but also as a well-functioning human being.
Did you like the picks? Do you have any names you feel should be on this list? Want to know more about the world of strategy games? Then leave a comment below and let’s get the ball rolling! My response could even be a whole new article!
Play the game, live the game.