PC Strategy Games – A Personal Top10

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Let me introduce myself, my name is Neal and I’ve been a PC gamer since 1981 when I bought an Atari 800. In the following 30+ years I progressed to Atari ST, Tandy 1000, then Pentiums, Opterons, Core 2 Duos, and now, i5-based PCs.  I’ve held an A+ PC technician certification enabling me to build and upgrade my own computers with various game hardware; graphics cards, power supplies, headphones, keyboards, mice, head-trackers, heck, I could stock a small store.  All of this computer nerdness was done for one thing – to play games.  So, when PCGamerHub asked me to talk about some of my favorite strategy games, how could I resist? So here is PC Strategy Games – A Personal Top-10

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PC Strategy Games
PC Strategy Games

My fondness for strategy games stems directly from my fascination with military history; a fascination that eventually led to two degrees in American military history.  And if you love military history, there are three ways to slake your thirst for knowledge: reading about it, visiting battlefields, and playing a game about it.

Is PC gaming dying?

Strategy games fill a unique niche in the gaming market, especially on the PC side.  Like it or not, the gaming market is being taken over by consoles. According to the Electronic Entertainment Association, the PC’s share of the market has declined from 28.9 million units sold in 2009, to 15.8 million units in 2011.

But here is where the PC maintains dominance: Strategy games. In 2011, strategy games comprised only 2.8% of all console sales.  On the PC, however, strategy games grabbed 27.6% of total sales; the most of any genre.  The reason is simple; console developers simply cannot replicate very well (yet) the mouse/keyboard command interface with only a controller. In fact, no strategy games were listed in the 2011 ESA top-20 video game charts.  On the PC charts, however, there were three strategy games in the top 20: StarCraft 2, Civilization 5, and Shogun 2: Total War; made the top-20.  But my idea of a “strategy” doesn’t always fit today’s common definition of a “strategy” game.

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StarCraft is NOT a strategy game

Of those three PC games above, I would class only Civ 5 and Shogun 2 as “strategy” games.  StarCraft 2 (along with Age of Empires, Command and Conquer, Wargame: European Escalation, R.U.S.E., etc.), in spite of its being classified as a “real-time-strategy” game, should really a classified as a “real-time-tactical” game. Look up the definition of the word strategy in the dictionary.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

See where I’m coming from? My dictionary says strategy is: “the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation.”  StarCraft, Command and Conquer, Company of Heroes; all of your traditional “real-time strategy” games only contain military forces created with a ridiculously simplistic economic system; that of gathering “resources” that can be converted into complex equipment in a matter of minutes.

So, you see that a true strategy game should encompass all four of those traits. Problem is most of those games will not attract a very large audience as they tend to very complex, very deep, and very hard to manage (which is why real nations have bureaucracies).  Paradox Interactive’ s Hearts of Iron and Europa Universalis series come to mind as true strategy games as well as Firaxis’s Civilization series.  Civilization is that rare strategy game that not only models all four of requirements of a strategy game, politics, economics, psychology, and military, but does so in a way that is accessible to anyone.

A Personal Top-10 Strategy game list

But look, I’m not fooling myself that I’m going to change anyone’s mind, and a couple of decades of gaming culture, so let’s have some fun instead!  Here is my selection of the five best games, in no particular order and no particular time-period that I’ve played in the various strategy genres (your mileage may vary).

Real-Time Tactical

  1. Dune II.  Westwood Studios practically invented the genre with this game in 1992.
  2. StarCraft.  Blizzard set the standard that others have been following for over a decade.
  3. Company of Heroes Relic replaced ‘resource gathering’ with ‘objective gathering’ to garner reinforcements.  Doesn’t make any more sense than gathering Spice, but still fun.
  4. World in Conflict.  Massive Entertainment borrowed Relic’s objective gathering style, but the Red Dawn WW3 storyline gave WiC style.
  5. Scourge of War: Gettysburg/Chancellorsville. Has to be experienced.  A real-time tactical Civil War game.  Descendent of the Take Command: Bull Run games.  No resource gathering, no reinforcements that was not historically available (excepting the alternative history scenarios).  If you want to know how to fight a civil war battle, this is it.  Did I mention I have two degrees in military history?

Turn Based Strategy

  1. Total War – all of them.  This series successfully bridges the gap between turn-based strategy and real-time tactics.  Incredible historic depth with its uniform and weapons modeling.
  2. Panzer General/Panzercorps.  Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI) popularized the “beer and pretzels” war game with Panzer General and its sequels in the mid-nineties.  Matrix/Slitherine revamped the original into Panzercorps: Wehrmacht and numerous sequels.  Brutal AI at the higher difficulty levels.
  3. Civilization 5.  Sid Meier is a God of game design.  The epitome of a true strategy game that balances playability with depth.  In a genre where military victory is usually the means and the end, in Civ 5, victory doesn’t always have to be done militarily.
  4. Second Front: Germany Turns East/Western Front.  These two Gary Grigsby designed games turned me off “grognard” games (look it up, you’ll learn something!).  I enjoyed them both, but took so long to finish.  I’m middle-aged now, don’t have the time.
  5. Forge of Freedom: The American Civil War.  Covers all the factors to classify it as a strategy game, but not as deep (or time consuming) as Grigsby or AGEOD’s strategic CW games.

There are my top 10 choices.  Do you have one to add?  We’d love to hear your top ten and why!

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