All We Want for Christmas is the Perfect Strategy Game

By Charles Ellis 23 Dec 2019 3

Ah, Christmas, the time for imagining the perfect present – and being returning firmly to reality when it doesn’t arrive. What better time than now to whip around the Chateau de Strategy Gamer and find out what everyone wishes was being developed? No limits, no budget – just the perfect game for them.

Inevitably, in pitching this article, our heroic editor Joe was the first to have his say. He envisioned something dangerously unpopular: namely a persistent, single player experience. The horror!

I think it would be something in the region of Men of War and Company of Heroes. Not necessarily a historical setting, but tactical, relatively small unit count and very interactable environments. Persistence as well, so you could capture that XCOM magic of taking a unit through a narrative defined by the battles they fight.

I've had lots of fun playing games where you're a small part of a larger campaign as well, so some kind of top level meta element where we're all fighting each other, or the game, or whatever, to make it really feel like you're part of a dynamic conflict.

Dangerously unpopular things appear to be the order of the day. Our very own Marcello Perricone dreams of something a little more grandiose:

I have a few Award Winning Ideas™️ in my head on the occasion I get a chance of making them myself, but one idea I am completely okay with putting out in the world for other people is Total War: Lord of the Rings. Creative Assembly's flagship franchise has long proved itself, combining a unique mix of strategy and tactics in small/medium/large scale that no other game comes close to matching. With the success of Total Warhammer and the character-driven Three Kingdoms, it is time SEGA turned their focus to the granddaddy of all fantasy settings: JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

A huge map of Middle-Earth, thousands upon thousands of Men and Elves fighting alongside against Orcs and Uruk-hais, and Rohan cavalry charges slamming headfirst into Mumakils as Great Eagles tangle with flying Nazgul overhead, all while Aragorn or Sauron or Gandalf slay dozens upon dozens of foes in the thickest of battles like unstoppable fulcrums in a charge -- that has been my dream since Battle for Middle-Earth in 2004, and it remains so as the years move inexorably on. Throw in the amazing sieges of Minas Tirith, Peter Jackson's uniquely awesome aesthetic, and Howard Shore's brilliant soundtrack, and I dare that game to not triple what Three Kingdoms sold.

New and unusual settings appear to be a popular theme in this year’s Christmas wishlist. Joe Fonseca dreams that someday the untapped potential of the Asia’s fraught 19th Century will receive the treatment it deserves:

Where do I start? I really, really, want to see more games dealing with 19th and early 20th century conflict in East Asia. There are so many interesting and historically significant conflicts that have been completely ignored by developers. I understand that nothing will sell quite like WWII or the American Civil War, but damn it I want to see a full strategic level Taiping Civil War, with European diplomacy, dealing with the landed gentry, commanding those interesting formations, and of course, getting the word out there so people will do some research and learn something new. Also - there are so few Russo-Japanese War games, and that too touches upon a lot of interesting strategic and tactical decisions … I'd love something a little more serious than Total War dealing with the Boshin War, or an operational look at the Sino-Japanese War, or the Opium Wars. There is so much to explore.

It’s almost a crime that the deadliest civil war in history has not received greater coverage. So many settings with tremendous potential remain unexplored.

Talking of tremendous potential, Jack Trumbull wants it all:

With an unlimited budget I'd like to see a game that's a mix of Civilization and Total War through the ages. You take your cities, plop them down on the map on a turn-based structure, but when you send units into the tile the game zooms in and it turns into an RTS. I'd like to see a game work with mechanics that make sense over the course over the entirety of history, or maybe add or subtract mechanics as time goes on, such as a tendency for revolution as absolutism mingles with well-read populations. Couple the combat mechanics with the unit experience model from Ultimate General/ Admiral as they gain stats from completing actions, it could be the game you play forever.

Or I'd just make Victoria 3. Paradox. Get to it.

Having spent more time than I should these past months playing 2,500 turn games of Civilisation IV, the scale of Jack’s creation is more than a little appealing. Though I do fear in making this monster he would use up every bit of his unlimited budget.

christmas pic 4

As for me, well, my dream game is hardly less ambitious. It’s an RTS Jim, but not as we know it. Think of the sprawl and scale of Factorio, the economic and social details of something like Victoria II along with the combat of something like a zoomed-out Company of Heroes. We’d start before 1500 with pikes and end around 2000 with ICBMs with MIRVs. All the time the game would accelerate as things industrialised, culminating in the all-out slaughter of the World Wars, if not outright nuclear Armageddon.

As times changed, so would the game – with the hands-on control of an absolutist monarch being slowly replaced by more and more AI control as the job of governing became bigger. To top it all off, the game would need to be over in a few hours, would have generous comeback mechanics and randomly generated globe with appropriate winds, currents and other fun. The game’s timelessness would be assured by graphics like one of those classic old prints.

christmas pic 1

And you thought Jack’s idea was ambitious!

So there we have it – four gamers, four games. The theme I see with them all is the focus upon single player. Not that any of these ideas preclude multiplayer, but longer experiences tend to be more single player focussed. Similarly, we all appear to want complete coverage of our chosen area, whether it’s the experiences of one group over a long campaign, or the history of an entire people. Will any of these ideas become reality? Probably not. The ideas of Joe2 are probably the most manageable. There is, sadly, only so much room in the market for history spanning strategy games of any kind. Still, there is always room for Christmas miracles.

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