Nintendo Switch won Strategy Games in 2019, but next year is going to be amazing

By Joe Robinson 30 Dec 2019 0

Echoing some of the themes from Jack’s retrospective last week, this has been a year that defied expectations in more ways than one. It’s also been a bit of a safe year, but to be fair the gaming industry at large is going through a period of uncertainty - a new console hardware generation looms, the PC Storefront wars have started, and then there’s no ignoring the effect that mega-games like Fortnite, and Auto Chess, are having on player behaviours.

Strategy gaming may be a niche, but it’s not ignorant and also is not immune to wider tidal forces - sticking with what you know can be prudent in such times, but there’s still been a few surprises.

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We’ve seen the Nintendo Switch emerge from left-field to be a ‘home-away-from-home’ platform for strategy games, as well as consoles in general getting more strategy releases than we’d have predicted. Companies like Paradox -who’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching recently- have found themselves perfectly poised to get involved in subscription offerings like Xbox Games Pass, and there have been remarkable successes and surprising failures to top it all off.

There’s no one core tends you could point to to define strategy gaming in 2019. Out of the 54 titles we reviewed this year, 19 are for DLC and Expansions (and those are just the ones we chose to cover), 15 were for what I would personally call ‘indie’ games, and the rest were AA or AAA fare. Applying the ‘live service’ mentality to strategy games is becoming more and more common, so we’re starting to see a new trend where less games are getting released, but are being supported with DLC for longer.

BattleTech Heavy Metal Bullshark mech

There have also been far, far more indie strategy game releases than we’ve been able to cover, suggesting a healthy grass-roots development scene but one that’s going to struggle to get attention at times. The number of specialist mid-tier publishers hasn’t really changed, but they’ve not put as many strategy releases as they might have done in year’s past.

Strength of Schedule

I’m not so sure I would call it a ‘banner’ year for strategy games, but there’s certainly been many highlights:

Total War: Three Kingdoms seems to have managed to marry the seriousness of their historical strategy titles with some of the innovations that emerged from the Warhammer Fantasy titles to great success, although I’d be interested in learning just how much of the games’ sales are from China vs. their traditional territories. Phoenix Point also finally emerged, giving us the X-COM successor many had longed-for.

Total War 3K best strategy games

Indie titles have also stood out, such as Pathway, Wargroove and Crying Suns… there’s a lot of passion and creativity at the other end of the development spectrum. I’m not 100% sure what my personal highlight of the year has been - according to my Steam library I’ve played 35 strategy games this year, roughly two-thirds of which are games (or expansions/new content for games) that have been released in 2019.

Imperator: Rome is without a doubt the game I’ve played the most, but it’s difficult to call it a ‘highlight’. The game’s in a much better state than it was, and covers a topic I personally really enjoy, but it’s also got a long way to go before it can stand shoulder to shoulder with, say, Europa Universalis 4. Interesting enough, I haven’t touched EU4 since May, despite it being my most played game.

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One thing I can definitely say is that 2019 has served up plenty of distractions from my usual ‘go-to’ games, that’s for sure.

To 2020, and Beyond!

If you look at our master guide to strategy games in 2019, you’ll see there’s already been lots of really cool titles announced for next year. The calibre and frequency of releases is going to be much higher (not counting the DLC and indie releases we don’t know about), but also big-publisher interest in strategy games is going to return. 2K are trying their hand with Knights of Honor 2, as are Microsoft with Gears Tactics: you never know who else might decide the strategy genre is their final frontier.

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If we’re not careful, this site might have to re-brand as ‘Nintendo Switch Strategy Gamer’ - it will be interesting to see what other games decide to cross-over and push the handheld-hybrid to its limits. Phoenix Point Switch port by the end of 2020?

I think I’d personally love to see the Auto Chess craze continue and expand - apart from the recently released Hearthstone Battlegrounds, we’re essentially seeing everyone releasing the same, slightly tweaked version of the original Auto Chess mod. Riot Games' Teamfight Tactics expresses a bit more creativity, but Valve's own DOTA Underlords is more of an imitation, and that's not to mention all the mobile stuff. I’d love to see more creative interpretations, as well as more IP tie-ins just for fun.

That’s all from me this year - see you all in 2020!



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