By the Numbers: A 2017 Strategy Gaming Year in Review02 Jan 2018 0
The one thing you can lament about being in a position like mine is that it can be hard to really stick with a game. Depending on your remit, so many titles can pass across your desk that no sooner have you delved into one enough for an article, you end up moving on to something else. As Editor-in-Chief, the problem is compounded by the fact that I have duties beyond gaming, and when you throw in the fact that I like to relax via other means (Battlefield 1 on PS4, or board gaming for example) you end up with a very “drive-by” view of the year.
Still, that’s not to say I’ve been idle - considering we launched this website back in April, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to both review games myself, as well as test things that the others were reviewing so I could keep up with current events. Below is a snapshot of what my strategy gaming has looked like this year, told through the medium of numbers. Hat’s off to Pocket Tactics writer Nick Vigdahl for inspiring the idea.
Note: Play times have been taken from my own personal Steam account information and represent the total time.
Wartile – 2.8 Hours
Wartile has been on our radar for a while, even so far as to feature on our "2017 Game Guides" at the start of the year for both Pocket Tactics and The Wargamer. I’ve only dabbled myself since it hit Steam in March, but it still shows some promise.
With more and more physical board games entering the digital space via ports, there’s some real potential for some natively digital experiences. Warbands: Bushido, which Martynas mentioned in his own Year in Review, is a more traditional take on a digital board/miniatures game. Wartile’s more ambitious ‘real-time’ approach gave it an immediacy that’s counter-intuitive to a miniatures game, but also brought with it a lot of powerful visuals.
To be honest, I stopped playing this not long after my original article, mainly because I felt that once you get into melee with your opponent the game stopped being interesting and just turned into a slug fest. I’ve kept an eye on the updates since then, and while I’ve not been blown away diving back in to this game is definitely on the list.
Afghanistan ’11 – 4.8 Hours
Our partner company, Slitherine/Matrix Games, has been expanding more and more into the general strategy space this year and Afghanistan ’11 is probably one of the most innovative of the bunch (although not strictly speaking “the best” – I think BSG Deadlock comfortably holds that honour.)
This wasn’t one I reviewed myself, although you should definitely check out Ian’s thoughts as someone with real military background. Still, it’s a very good take on the idea of COIN warfare in a digital strategy game. It has all of the pacing and consideration that one would get from a IGO/UGO turn based game, but it throws in a lot of tension and non-standard styles of play. Imagine playing chess where your opponents pieces are invisible to you.
My relatively low play-time is no indication of quality – I’ve enjoyed visiting it in bite-sized junks and do intend to play more as my whims and schedule dictate, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone else who’s looking for something different from their strategy gaming.
Warbanners – 5.8 Hours
This was an interesting one - releasing at a similar time as Battle Brothers; that grim, relentless turn-based tactical RPG that’s all about running a mercenary company, Warbanners was similar enough to be mentioned in the same breath but differed in a lot of key ways that made it both inferior and superior to it's grumpier cousin. Overhype's low-fantasy tactical RPG has already made waves, but as we look forward to the year ahead it's Crasleen's rougher, more 'old-school' offering that sticks in my mind.
For starters, the tactical layer is far more involved and in-depth. From straight up skirmishes, to full on battles and sieges, you’re thrown into a lot of different tactical scenarios as the player, most of which involves semi-unique mechanics or interactions. The siege matches are especially quite fun. It's also fairly linear as an experience, and at the time of my review it had fairly relentless RNG swings.
I do feel a small pang of guilt for not playing it a bit longer before rendering judgement, but at the time there was nothing else to do but the campaign. If you got stuck (which you often did), there was nothing else for you to do. You couldn't go away and train up, couldn't try something else... I understand it's received a lot of updates since lunch, one of which is an 'Arena' mode where you can do random skirmish matches for XP and gold, which is great.
Expeditions: Vikings – 14.1 Hours
This is the game that made me realise how much I hate making uninformed choices in RPGs. Interestingly enough it looks like I played this game’s predecessor, Expeditions: Conquistador, for slightly longer at 14. 9 hours. Expeditions: Vikings was an attempt to take all of the cool bits from the first game, make them better, and package it in a way that more people could get behind.
I certainly preferred the theme of this game, although I must admit I felt Conquistador’s strategic/open-world map was a better system. Still, the tactical combat is great and there’s some engaging RPG design… what really bummed me out was that I hadn’t specced my character properly. Not really knowing how the progression system worked, he was a bit of a jack of all trades while the rest of the party specialised in something. Even then, at times I wasn't really sure what I was doing with my party in terms of abilities, and many of the choices felt soulless and arbitrary.
It's a good game, but one with enough annoyances and grind to it that it was inevitable I'd fall off the wagon and move on to something else. I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to circle back and try and do more of the campaign, but it's on the list. Don't forget to check out our review!
Steel Division: Normandy ’44 – 20 Hours
If I were partial to making a GOTY short-list, this game would definitely be on it. I’d imagine any strategy gamer worth their salt would feature this title quite favourably, and it’s been popular with many wargamers to boot. But if the rumours are to be believed, no one’s actually playing it, which is a shame but also deep-down not entirely unsurprising, given my own meagre 20 hours of playtime.
Eugen’s Wargame franchise suffered similar problems, and I’d always felt they’d shot themselves in the foot slightly by making one too many entries and fragmenting their player-base. Being set in World War 2, Steel Division shouldn’t have had that problem, but it’ll be interesting to see what the game’s future will be going into 2018.
Commercial questions aside, Steel Division: Normandy '44 is a cracking game, and you should read my review to find out why. It’s a tactical experience unlike any other, with a steep learning curve which will reward you immensely when you master the subtleties. You don’t even have to play online if you don’t want to – the AI is more than capable of kicking your butt if you’re not careful.
Polaris Sector – 32 Hours
This one’s a bit of a cheat, as the base game was released back in 2016, but the expansion, Lumens, was released a few months ago. The main reason I include it in this list is because every single minute of those 32 hours were played this year, which is remarkable in itself given how much I've played other games. When I learned of the expansion I decided to jump in early to see what the game was like, and I was surprised at how addictive it was.
That’s not to say it’s perfect; you’ll see in my review that I find Polaris Sector more of a collection of interesting mechanics, with long-stretches of dullness in-between genuine highs. Lumens does improve on quite a few things and represents the game as it should be played, although there’s no getting around the lack-lustre strategic layer.
Still, if you’re a fan of sci-fi 4X you should definitely check this game out – it’s got one of the best tactical combat experiences in the whole genre. Coupled with a cool science system, other games would do well to take note as to what’s been done here.
Europa Universalis IV – 410 Hours
This one’s also a bit of a cheat – Paradox’s flagship grand-strategy title was released back in 2013, although it has had its usual allotment of expansions this year in the form of Mandate of Heaven, Third Rome & Cradle of Civilization. EUIV has been in a great spot for a while now, with the mechanics and gameplay honed to such a point that you can’t help but be drawn back to it time and again, as my total play-time should indicate.
In terms of the time I’ve invested in it in 2017, other than testing the new updates I’ve mainly been playing multiplayer. For the first time in my life I’ve had a really good, dedicated group of people I’ve been able to have regular sessions with, although lately we’ve been testing out Stellaris more as we wait for the 2.0 update to drop. Incidentally, I’m at 85 hours with that game.
Crusader Kings 2 may have put Paradox’s brand of Grand-Strategy on the map, but it was Europa Universalis IV that ultimately defined it as a genre, from the way the games a presented and designed right down to the business model with the expansions. It doesn’t always get it perfect, but every release usually changes just enough of the game to make you want to start again to see the new stuff.
Ultimately, being able to make your mark on the world to the extent EUIV allows will never get old, even if you tire of specific playthroughs. It's the game's ultimate weapon, and it gets us every-time.
The Games We Play
The problem facing game companies at the moment is that as people’s time grows short, they tend to gravitate to fewer and fewer games. Strategy gaming is no exception. Europa Universalis IV has proven to be my go-to title for 2017, but as Stellaris and Hearts of Iron IV get better I see myself spending more time in these settings. But these are large, open-ended experiences that are specifically designed to be time-sinks. Really, you spend most of your time in Paradox grand-strategy games waiting for something to happen that you can react to, which makes them easy to jump in/jump out.
Looking over my most played list reveals an interesting personal story: My next three most played games are Sword of the Stars II, Civilization V and Kerbal Space Program. Games I haven’t touched at all in 2017, possibly not even for many years (in the case of SOTS2, at least). Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach is the 2017 game I’ve played the most of, sitting at 27 hours. Another one of my personal 2017 favourites, Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, sits just behind it at 26 hours. It’s worth noting that, for me, these kind of play times are indicative of good games I’ve wanted to keep playing, although inevitably I’ve fallen off the wagon as other games come in.
The landscape for strategy gaming in 2018 still remains to be seen – there are few anticipated new titles on the horizons; Battletech being the most obvious one. But there’s also a lot of sequels, add-ons or spin-offs – Throne of Britannia, Age of Empires IV, the Civilization VI expansions… I suspect we won’t see too many other new strategy games emerging outside of the Early Access/Indie scene, with the bigger publishers instead decided to double-down on games (or at least, IP’s) that their audience have already invested so much time in.
This concludes our series of 2017 Year in Review articles - come back on Thursday where we'll take a look at what game you guys thought was the year's 'most defining' strategy game. Thank you so much to everyone who’s supported the website to date. Let’s make 2018 the year of the Strategy Gamer!
This article discusses games developed and published by members of the Slitherine Group with which we share an affiliation with. For more information please see the About Us page.