Tobold's Blog
Friday, December 23, 2011
Strategy games

The Oxford English Dictionary defines strategy as "a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim; the art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle." Note the complete absence of the need for a high number of clicks per second in that definition. So once you realize that by definition the so-called "real time strategy games" aren't really about strategy, you'll see that there are very few strategy games on the market.

I was thinking about that when browsing the Steam holiday sales, and found very few games that I would call strategy games. The closest this year was Heroes VI, and even that is half a role-playing game these days. The only company I saw on Steam making lots of strategy games is Paradox, but they don't make games that are accessible to the general public.

The best strategy game with units on a hex-map I played this year was Memoir '44 Online, and that works mostly because it is an adaptation of a board game. And it has an interesting business model, Free2Play with an added "pay per game" if you want to play on different maps. I skipped Panzer Corps, because it looked very much like a Paradox game, with 400 unit types to remember. I am not looking for games targeted at grognards, I am looking for strategy games that are easy to pick up and play. Like the old Fantasy Wars and its successor Elven Legacy.

I am wondering where the next generation of strategy gamers is supposed to come from, if the only games available are those for fast clickers or veterans. People don't start playing hyper-complex strategy games if they haven't played and enjoyed somewhat more accessible games before. And even people who have played strategy games before often don't want a game that takes hours to learn, given typical time constraints.
I just honestly don't think you can make a good, easily accesible, very deep actual strategy game. Paradox games I love and can do, but even having said that...uh...every new one I STILL feel lost a while, and a couple I couldn't play because I never made it to the fun parts.
I've never understood why strategy games (both RTSes and "real" strategy games) tend to focus on tactical-level micromanaging. I really don't need a blow-by-blow commentary, I just want to know whether my troops took the town or not and whether they can withstand the counterattack.
Gosh, SWTOR didn't keep you long.
You might want to look into the Company of Heroes series. It's not grognard-like as in Hearts of Iron, nor actions-per-minute like in StarCraft.

The first few times I played Hearts of Iron, I had to have pdf of NATO Warfighting Symbols opened.
Wasn't Ruse a pretty good take on easily-accessible strategy? Have to admit, though, that I didn't buy it...

Also, bite-size strategy can also be strategy. The best example I can think of is Greed Corp, a Dutch game released for PSN last year. I think it is on Steam now, too. Sort of a tic-tac-toe on steroids. With hexes. And units. Erm... not at all like tic-tac-toe, in fact. :)

Merry Christmas, Tobold!
Gosh, SWTOR didn't keep you long.

Why would I not be allowed to play anything else besides SWTOR? I'm still playing, for at least some more months.
As an unrepentant grognard (I cut my teeth on SPI stuff and was playing ASL and War in Europe as late as the early 2000s,) I like the Paradox games. It seems to me that they are one of the rather few heirs of tabletop wargaming, and the only one on Steam, although part of that is surely just that their games tend to hang on to an interface that recalls the old hex-and-counter games.

I should note that Stardock's stuff is slowly showing up on Steam as well now; both Sins of a Solar Empire and GalCiv II are now available and both are relatively easy to pick up. Certainly compared to something like Hearts of Iron.
Your argument is unsound, Tobold. Just because the implementation of a strategy requires "clicks per second", as you put it, does not mean that the game also requires strategy. Even a turn based strategy game such as Civ requires clicks of the mouse to implement the strategy that is formed in the mind of the player.

And anyway, you don't need to be a hyper clicker to play an RTS like Starcraft 2. I do quite nicely in Gold league (the middle league of the five) with an APM of about 30 - one click every two seconds. When I was in the lower leagues I still had lots of fun and was clicking once every three seconds or so.

I should also say that I've enjoyed your blog very much this year. Merry Christmas to you.

> a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim


> I am looking for strategy games that are easy to pick up and play

do not go together. Unless you consider "learning the game rule" as strategy.

The solution is probably something like Civilizations 10 difficulty level.
OK Tobold, fair enough.
Hey Tobold, have you ever played either of the Kohan games? They strike me as the closest RTSes to being actually about strategy more than tactics.
I just picked up Greed Corp. at its current Steam holiday sale of 75% off. It's early going yet as I have just finished the pretty long tutorial and the first map but I have a feeling this game and I will get along just fine.

It's a hex-based strategy game with unique twists that could realistically only be easily conveyed in electronic form. The ambiance conveyed by the unique look and music doesn't hurt either.

I know you are also partial to cardboard crack type gameplay so I'll mention Shadow Era which I also just tried thanks to a TB video:
Do the Civilisation games count? I tend to think of those games as being the natural inheritors of strategy games. I know they take in broader issues than just battles, but so does true strategy in the game of nations sense (a lot of the Britain's strategy in WW1 essentially boiled down to the economic might of empire and controlling sea routes).
@Mika Hirvonen That comment is spot on. I propose re-classifying most current "strategy" games to "tactical" games. Someone must have looked up the wrong entry in the dictionary at some point when deciding on game genres.
I think the Total War games come pretty close to the definition. They can be played as a regular RTS, but also give the option to pause combat to make decisions and give new commands.
I'm kind of amazed that no one has done anything like Panzer General recently. Fantastic game from the 1990s, easy to get into, yet it still had its depth. I spent hours playing it.
by definition the so-called "real time strategy games" aren't really about strategy

That statement is just flat-out wrong and ignorant. You seem to assume that because all the professional players have insanely high APM that it's necessary and that it's the only thing that matters. Well, it's neither.

Unless you intend to "go pro", having higher APM does not magically make you better at the game any more than DPS makes you better at WoW. APM measurements can be (and often are) artificially inflated.

Of course you still have to multitask and click around fairly quickly, but generally once your decision-making improves your APM will also improve in response. It also adds another type of decisions to the game - having to decide how to divide your attention between everything you have to do.

Granted, there's a big difference between the strategy in Chess and in Starcraft, but that doesn't mean that there's no strategy involved.
I think it is possible to produce a dumbed down version of the kinds of games Paradox makes (I am a big fan). However, either the market isn't there or the critics complain it is too simple.

Memoir is quite fun but very luck dependant (what we used to call a beer & pretzel game).

I for one would welcome more 'strategy' games that stop short of requiring a spreadsheet to remember what everything is for. Sid Meir's Colonization was a good example of this style of game play.
The Civilisation games remain popular. They have too much micromanagement, but it's kind of inherent in their plan of giving the player lots of control, combined with the fact that those who like this kind of game tend to be a bit obsessive about detail. The devs actually do their best to make it playable without the micromanagement, but the current state of strategy game AI is such that you can always play better with it.

There are other FTP games out there. For example, I played for a while a Risk clone that you could pay to play extra games and avoid an occasional 15-second pause. At the end of the day, Risk versus humans is more fun than Risk against AIs, so long as they are serious about playing the game. And that is probably true of strategy games in general - the single player strategy game never worked all that well, except with games where we know how to make good AIs, such as Chess.

Lots of HOMM players are mildly interested in HOMM6 but may stay playing with HOMM3, because while the AI was not phenomenal, it was good enough to give you a decent play experience. HOMM4 shipped without a working AI, and while HOMM5 was closer to HOMM3, for many the high-powered graphics just got in the way.

I agree that RTS games should be relabelled RTT for real time tactics. They don't generally fit what strategy gamers are looking for. But then again, arguments about labels and genres tend to get a bit silly. They are what they are.

It's just that there's a big hole in "strategy games" that one might expect computer games to fill somewhat well, and they fail for the most part.
For those who like 'bite-size strategy', check out Oasis - it's like Civ crossed with Minesweeper. Their are campaigns, but you can play a level of each campaign in a few minutes.
Strategy First have a few titles on Steam as well. I am no expert but they seem to be even more hardcore than the Paradox games.

Hardcore strategy is a genre that I would love to be able to play but every time I try I fail and eventually give up in despair.

My compromise is single player RTS games. I know most of these are really designed as multilayer games but some of them have very enjoyable single player campaigns.
Tobold, board-game inspired, computer strategy games are thriving, if in their own niche.

Check out (among others) -
Matrix Games -
The Wargamer -
HPS Simulations -

And for ports of boardgames, the geek has a ton of info -
Isn't the term "Real-Time Strategy" somewhat of an oxymoron? Strategy refers to long term decision making with a broad scope. In terms of vocabulary, tactics, I think, would be a more accurate term to use for a real-time game. The term Tactics tends to refer more to short term decisions with a much narrower scope.

This seems like a faux pas in semantics of how we are labeling these games.
@Degrin .. no RTS is not an oxymoron. It's mean to distinguish itself from Turn-based Strategy games. Both involve strategy but at different pacing.
While not as accessible as they could be (a tutorial would help), Armageddon Empires, Solium Infernum, and Six Gun Saga by Vic Davis are excellent strategy games. SI is vs AI or Humans, the other two are vs AI only. I've been through several months-long SI games, averaging about 10 minutes each day on turns.
Another good game for daydream-strategising between turns is now-quashed TripleA, a free version of Axis & Allies.
Magic the Gathering? The Steam version is a mix of strategy and luck imo.
@Black Cuillin You should read the whole comment before replying to it. Either that or my comment went way over your head.
Panzer Corps isnt really targeted at "grognards". Its basically a Panzer General remake (almost at scenario level), originally a "beer-and-pretzel" wargame..If you liked PG you probably like Panzer Corps.
I know you've heard of the game before and keep putting it off but you need to check out Battle for Wesnoth
Tobold Said:
I am wondering where the next generation of strategy gamers is supposed to come from"

Who says strategy gamers have to "come from" anywhere?

I remember tabletop 1000 counter hex games o'hell too well. You spent 1 hour setting up the game with all these counters everywhere deathly afraid that someone would bump the table. AND then you spent 1+ hours explaining the rules and concepts to your victim er... opponent.

After 2 1/2 hours you then got to play about 30 minutes.

Imagine my delight when not too long after sampling counter setup hell at a game store I played Sid's Civilization for the first time.

Whoa you mean the computer sets it up for you?
The computer plays all the other opponents?


Lamenting about where Strategy players are going to learn their skills is equivalent to asking an accountant how is their manual paper ledger balancing.

Huh? we haven't used paper accounting since the 70s why would anyone go through that drudgery again?

Exactly, The reason why the current gaming experience IS the best of times not the worst of times is BECAUSE of modern computer technology.

No game setup, no group game night planning, no clean up, no mom yelling into the basement.

Just fun... delivered to you ever more efficiently.
You were definitely playing the wrong games if it took you hours to set them up. I always preferred more accessible games, even as board games. For example Titan is much faster to set up, and has huge strategic depth.
During that 'Golden Age' of strategic board games there was a much wider range of complexity available. 'Board' games companies (anyone remember SPI) produce games with 100 pieces (or less) as well as the thousand of piece monster games. There doesn't seem to be such a range when it comes to video games unfortunately.

I agree the Total War series is probably the most accessable at the moment.

Titan was a good one but could take sometime to complete.

More recommendations please, I will see if Oasis runs on a modern OS.

For those into board games played on their computers there is a site that does this
I have used this in the past good fun but PBM format of course.
I second the Kohan games. Some of my favourite all time strategy games along Company of Heroes.
If you haven't, i'd recomend trying out Frozen Synapse. It's on steam. It's a mix between strategy/shooting. If you're not sure if you'd like it, there are some fantastic trailers (or gameplay videos, you can upload clips to youtube). I normally play without time limits, but you can set a time limit of say,30sec-5minutes per turn, or what not. It's best against other players (there's online multiplayer), but the AI is passable. There's no micromanagement like most fantasy games, like food/gold or whatever. But getting a set up just right (there are tons of options, letting your unit pause,duck,etc) that you can spend 30minutes on one turn, if you're inclined.
"Titan was a good one but could take sometime to complete."

Titan was just released on iPad.

Regarding boardgames of course the leading site is with full manuals, translations, pictures, play sessions, user reviews and more.
Strategy/tactics games have shifted their focus on enthusiasts (for the most part). While they are fairly niche, they have become better and better over time (processing power allowing more complex simulations, more troops in tactical battles, better AIs, better visuals, better UIs) to compensate. Besides, they don't age nearly as quickly as some other types of games (Heroes of Might and Magic 2 and 3 are still the best in the series by far, for example), and a lot of strategy games aimed at enthusiasts aren't available on Steam.

As for accessible games, there are a lot of them. Something like Heroes of Might and Magic can be picked up by anyone. StarCraft 2 is very newbie-friendly in its mechanics and good matchmaking gives you a proper challenge no matter how bad you are (not to mention that it has very good single player campaign, although the story wasn't good and it doesn't prepare you for multiplayer). An intelligent person shouldn't have trouble jumping into Total War or Civilization series: they might fumble a bit in the beginning, but they shouldn't hit a rock wall at any point. And given some advice from peers, even the simpler enthusiast-strategy games (like Europa Universalis 3) shouldn't be overwhelming.

I don't really see a problem. Besides, by the dictionary definition, most games have strategical and tactical elements.
It really depends on what you are trying to define as a strategy game anymore. The older games like axis and allies, panzer general and some turn based games are true strategy. Today a strategy game is defined as who can run around and shoot who more.
Panzer Corps is a very easy game to get into. It is much like the easy accessible Panzer General of the 1990:s which got huge attention from players that normally didnĀ“t play strategy games. It is easy to learn and the manual only about 30 pages or so.

Saintus from
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