A Guide to Strategy Games
What Are Strategy Games?
Strategy games are some of the most difficult games on the market, but they’re also some of the most fun and rewarding. There are three basic types of strategy games: real-time, turn-based, and casual.
Real-time strategy games are mostly combat oriented, meaning that the object of the game is usually to destroy an opponent by any means the player has available. Combat is simultaneous, meaning that all the players currently engaged in the game, including any computer players, are making their decisions and acting at the same time.
Most RTS games include five basic components: mining resources, building a base, researching technology, training units (raising an army), and attacking the enemy. Researching technology allows a player to gain special abilities and upgrade units and buildings.
Resource mining allows players to make buildings and train units. Sometimes there are several different resources to mine, like in the Age of Empires games. Other times, there is only one resource to mine, like in the Starcraft series. No matter the game, building up a large store of resources is critically important to winning, because most units and buildings cost resources to create.
In order to research technology, build units, and repel enemy attacks, a player must build a base, usually consisting of buildings and defensive structures. Various technologies and units may be researched and built at different buildings. Defensive structures usually include some form of barrier and some form of turret or tower.
Once a player has built a base, he or she may begin researching technologies and building units. Researching a technology allows a player to upgrade his or her units, gain special abilities, and gain access to more advanced research options. This research progression is known as a “tech tree,” because of the way the research options branch out.
Building units is the most crucial part of playing an RTS. Building too few units or the wrong kind of units can lose the game for a player. Usually the units have different strengths and weaknesses, allowing the player to choose from a range of tactics in order to best combat his or her enemy’s units.
Real Time Tactics (RTT) is a sub-genre of RTS which attempts to accurately simulate war, including all the subtle nuances of commanding an army. Most RTT games downplay economic mechanics like resource mining in favor of concentrating on large-scale battles. The Total War games represent a good example of this sub-genre.
Turn-based strategy games differ from RTS games in one major respect. Instead of players making decisions and acting simultaneously, players act in turns. For this reason, turn-based strategy games are usually wider in scope than RTS games, often requiring more long-term strategy. Also for this reason, a player’s actions during his turn are somewhat limited. For instance, a player’s units generally have a pre-assigned movement rate, and can only move so many squares, spaces, or hexagons per turn.
Some turn-based strategy games are very similar to RTS games, in that they mostly emphasize the building of structures, training of units, and require some measure of combat. Both also often use research as a mechanic for upgrading units and buildings. However, there are other turn-based games that are much more involved. These are commonly known as “4X” games. The 4X stands for “Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate,” describing the main gameplay mechanics.
Sid Meier’s Civilization games provide some of the best examples of this type of turn-based strategy. Players can win through various means, including using diplomacy, fostering an impressive culture, building a spaceship to reach Alpha Centauri, and having the most points when time runs out. In order to achieve these goals, players can build and upgrade cities and units, research new technologies, explore the world map with their units, harvest resources, trade with or attack enemy cities and units, and make deals with other nations. The Civilization games are very complex, and often take a great deal of time.
Casual strategy games have elements of RTS and turn-based games, but don’t take nearly as much time and planning. Often these types of games are flash-based, 2D and downloadable from the internet. Plants vs. Zombies, released by Popcap Games, is an example of this genre./
The History of Strategy Games
People have played and enjoyed strategy games for thousands of years, though only recently on computers. With the enduring popularity of games like Chess, the evolution of wargaming in the 1970’s, and the advent of personal computing, it was only a matter of time before strategy games transitioned to the computer medium.
The first computer strategy game was a naval combat simulator called “Computer Bismarck,” released by Strategic Simulations in 1980. The game was developed by Joel Billings and John Lyons, and modeled after the German battleship Bismarck’s last battle in World War II. “Computer Bismarck” was turn-based, since the necessary technology for RTS games did not yet exist.
“Herzog Zwei,” a Sega Genesis title released in 1989, was the first true RTS, though other earlier games incorporated elements of RTS gameplay.
SimCity, a city management strategy game, was also released in 1989 by Broderbund and distributed by Maxis. SimCity was a forerunner of the management subgenre, laying the foundation for many future tycoon and simulation games.
Computer strategy games came into their own during the 90’s.
1990 saw the release of “Populous,” an early RTS and the first so-called “god game.” In Populous, the player played the part of a god, taking care of his civilization and helping it grow while defending it from an opposing god’s nation. It was developed by Peter Molyneux for Bullfrog games.
In 1991, Sid Meier released “Civilization,” a turn-based strategy game that redefined the genre. The game was immensely popular, spawning a slew of sequels, all of which sold well to varying degrees. Civilization was epic in scope, spanning thousands of in-game years. The object of the game was for the player to guide his or her nation to dominance over the other nations, using a combination of industry, combat, and diplomacy.
In 1992, Brett Sperry created “Dune II,” the first game to bear the title “real time strategy game.” Sperry coined the term to describe the game, realizing that Dune II didn’t fit in any of the currently existing genres.
“Warcraft: Orcs and Humans,” and “UFO: Enemy Unknown” were both released in 1994, the former by Blizzard Entertainment and the latter by Mythos Games, a now defunct company.
“Command and Conquer,” was developed as an MS-DOS game by Westwood Studios in 1995. The title and its sequels quickly became some of the best loved and most influential RTS games of the 1990’s and 2000’s. The most important thing that the Command and Conquer series contributed to the genre was the addition of cut-scenes to lend the game a more epic and cinematic feel. “Heroes of Might and Magic: A Strategic Quest,” a turn-based fantasy game, was also released in 1995.
Microsoft released “Age of Empires” in 1997, an RTS where play is divided into ages based on the technology the player has currently researched. After each age, all of a player’s buildings upgrade, and new units and technologies become available. The game and its sequels are notable for their historically-based campaigns.
“Starcraft,” a science fiction strategy game by Blizzard Entertainment, was released in 1998. It quickly drew a strong following, especially in South Korea, where it is viewed as a professional sport.
Production of strategy games has continued into the 2000’s. Several examples of recently produced strategy titles include the “Total War” games by Creative Assembly, the “Empire Earth” trilogy by Stainless Steel and Mad Doc, “Sins of a Solar Empire,” by Ironclad Games, “Civilization V” by Firaxis, and “Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty,” by Blizzard.
Who Would Like These Games
Strategy games are for gamers who play because they like completing challenges and competing against other people. Gamers who like stories will usually be disappointed by playing strategy games, because most of them don’t emphasize plot as a primary focus.
If you like playing board games, especially games like Chess and Settlers of Catan, you’ll probably enjoy computer strategy games.
Remember, the best way to find out whether or not you like something is to try it yourself, so go play something!