The Year in Strategy Games 201824 Dec 2018 2
Who would've guessed at the beginning of 2018 that it would be awesome for strategy games and strategy gaming? I'm going to tell you how good we've had this year, not just in the new games that have been released, but the expansions, the game ideas, and even new places to buy games.
2018 was a great year for strategy gamers.
Remember when turn-based strategy was a dead end, with game journalists telling us there was nothing fresh left to bring and developers all wanted to do something else? I was going to dig up some specific articles to point to as sort of a gentle mocking of the field but that's been such a common statement since the first days of the Internet that it's become its own joke.
And what a joke! Early in the year we had Into the Breach, a tight little turn based puzzler/strategy game which has spent the whole year earning applause and prizes as one of the best designed games running. We had an expansion for Galactic Civilizations III – Intrigue, a three-year old game in a six-year-old franchise which still pulls a significant fan base. Battletech, the latest turn-based incarnation of the old faithful tabletop game significantly changed a lot of expected mechanics, looked really pretty, and has moved a lot of units.
That's just up through May 2018. And only turn based.
Go wider and you can get a cavalcade of games which have been reviewed well and often play even better: The Banner Saga 3, Phantom Doctrine (which is one of my favorites for the mix of spy thriller and XCOM tension). RimWorld, if we count leaving early access as publishing. Even Exorder, for those times you miss Advance Wars and love that J-strat feel no matter what kind of judgement comes your way.
Speaking of XCOM, if we look at expansions (and I don't just mean some cosmetic DLC), XCOM 2 had another win this year in the form of the Tactical Legacy Pack, which despite the understated name essentially brought classic standalone scenarios and mini-campaigns to a well-established core for free to people who owned the original game for several months. It's not often that a serious strategy game will see that level of support years after release, but it's becoming more common and even better appreciated. Even Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion received the Minor Factions DLC this month, six years after the game saw the light of day.
Is it really strange to have this much good news in the genre, though? I don't think so. There has never really been a year in which there weren't good strategy games being created and released on a regular basis. There have been some years in which AAA strategy releases may have been a little lackluster but those days are long past. Today, if you're willing to poke around and check out some out-of-the-way corners, you can find all sorts of different approaches to strategy. In these times of proliferation in digital storefronts, your access to strategy gaming has never been better.
A solid example requires simply looking at the review index for 2018 from right here on Strategy Gamer. We started the year with Post Human W.A.R.. At midyear, we took up Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach: Horrors of the Warp (a game which probably consumed the available supply of Games Workshop colons). In December, we've talked all about Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. In all, 50 reviews – and while there are a good chunk of DLC and sequels in there, we've brought new, fresh ideas for your pleasure. And for ours!
If you've a mind to think about the future, there will be more strategy games available in more places than ever. Consider the number of announcements of games from indie developers porting to the Xbox and the Switch. It seems like every week brings five or six. If you lean more toward the PC side of things, the expansion of competing digital storefronts may spoil you for choice when it comes to continuing to indulge our shared affection.
Let's take a hike over to a couple of the places you might normally not stroll and see what's available in the strategy game arena.
Itch.io is probably not a place you go wandering on a regular basis – but if you're interested in seeing people in the very midst of expanding the borders of strategy gaming and what is traditionally thought of as strategy gaming, it's a good place to start.
Just looking at the most popular games in the strategy section right now, I see both Domina, a surprisingly detailed Roman gladiator "management simulation" which is very popular on Twitch thanks to some of the crowd integration built in, and Overland, which in actual play is sort of like Oregon Trail if you had to defend your wagon in isometric turn-based strategy from terrible burrowing nightmare bugs every time you stopped to take a bite. Down on the page is Mini Metro, bringing an abstract presentation of a puzzle game along with strategic resource allocation mechanics. Next to that is KeeperRL, a Dungeon Keeper-like that has grown beyond the source material in many ways and now plays very much like a Rogue-like city-builder.
If you're really feeling bold and experimental – you can even filter to show you only games which are free. That's right, a site where you can sample a mix of the work of professional independent game creators and those who are putting out work for the love of the game and the genre.
Prefer to indulge in exploration which isn't quite so far out? Check out IndieGala, which has a little less diverse selection on hand, but often runs the sales and bundles which compete with any other digital sales front.
The big savings right now are on AAA titles, some of which we've already mentioned. Look outside the circle of the big boys and you'll find some great gems. For the King is a year old now, but being able to pick up three copies of a game which focuses on a really nice three player co-op RPG/strategy hybrid for cheap means that getting your friends on board is even easier. The three free content DLC released over the last year don't hurt, either. Northgard lets you go a-Viking in a survival/RTS mashup with stylized graphics and your choice of exploring a narrative alone or punching upwards on the competitive ladder.
Looking for the new guy on the block? Epic Games wants to go head-to-head with Steam, and they've got their own lineup of games ready to rollout distributed only on their platform. Of particular interest to the strategy games crowd are Genesis Alpha One and Satisfactory, both of which go in for the builder/survival/engineering motif. In the former, it's your job to explore and exploit alien planets while building up your roster of crew and your ship to defend against biological samples who don't enjoy being sampled. In the latter, you're stuck on a planet and have to build a truly staggeringly-scaled network of construction and machinery, including automated vehicles, to free yourself from your gravitational shackles. Both games are Epic exclusive, at least for now.
Where Do We Run From Here?
The really amazing thing about looking back at a whole year, focusing on the experiences that you've had in those 12 months and the opportunities that you had right up to the end, is that if you're honest with yourself you can embrace the racing stream of cool things that you've seen and more that are just waiting for you. You can be thankful and excited, all at once.
Isn't that the ideal experience at Christmas?
You are living in one of the most exciting times in the history of strategy genre gaming. 2018 was full of new games crammed with new things. Games with strong histories of providing good times saw updates and content expansions, often at no cost.
Find a game. Love it openly. Tell your friends. Be the engine that drives strategy gaming into the next year.