Posts Tagged ‘RTS’

  When I was young, I found a book in a library bargain bin from the late 70s. It listed and rated a large number of strategy board games based on strategic factors, replayability, and how easy they were to master.  It had listings for games ranging from WW2 miniature games to Chainmail, to Steve Jackson classics such as Ogre.  I read through the book several times, and though most of these games were past their prime, the book helped me form many of the opinions about strategy I have today.  It also gave me the vocabulary to use when describing strategy, such as deterministic outcomes, resource management, double blind movement, or tactical vs. strategic elements. 

 Since that time, I have become somewhat of a connoisseur of strategy based games, always on the lookout for a new game or system that would meet my primal desire to outwit an opponent with a surprise attack, maneuver them into making a mistake, or learn from a significant defeat.   I went through a series of addictions with various games in my quest, finding a few gems here and there.  My quest led me through Lord of the Realms, Dune, Command & Conquer, and Warcraft II in the early days.  Many evenings found me pouring over role playing books, playing Axis & Allies, or Magic: The Gathering. 

 I followed the progression from Turn-Based-Strategy to Real Time Strategy games, throwing in tactics-based role playing games along the way (Final Fantasy: Tactics was the diamond in the rough there, with the more recent Fire Emblem titles following in its wake).  Starcraft brought a whole new addiction to the table with its impressive storyline and endless multiplayer value, while Age of Empires established a new era in historical games.

 There was a time where my definition of strategy was all about lots of options to choose from, rules for every possible situation.  A game did not seem perfect until it explored all facets of the experience, and random play just added replayability.  This was all put on its head by a game I discovered in college however, an online game called Stellar Crisis.  It was here where I learned that a well-balanced game with just a few options could be simple to master, yet extremely deep in strategic choice.  In this game, you served as the commander of a space fleet, exploring a grid of planets, colonizing them, and searching out opponents.  It included diplomacy, a few select types of ships, and a simple resource system that made you choose between a large low tech fleet or a small high tech fleet.

 It was here that I discovered what I was looking for all along.  Elegant simplicity.  A game with simple and understandable options, but which got out of your way so you could use these options in innovative ways, misdirect your opponents, or escape from an opponent’s well planned trap.  This was what soured me on the path the gaming industry was taking, which was diverging in my mind from the core of strategy.  Skill at following a pre-set tech tree path as quick as possible replaced feints and small skirmishes over field control.  Individual tactical control became meaningless as the speed of your micro-management became more and more skill based.   A lot of unit choice was dictated by what the opponent used, as you memorized what units counter which opponent units.  Long term games were defined by a massive swarm at the end or ended early by a skillful player’s rush.  In other games, the plethora of options available made balance nearly impossible, forcing the designers to gimp one broken combo or another to keep things in check.   

Don’t get me wrong, I continued to cater to the strategy genre, enjoying the continuation of RTSs, establishment of the tower defense genre, and delving into the online flash/casual market.  But I missed the thoughtful strategy of the past.  The generation of wargamers had been replaced by a new generation of gamers seeking fast action and “leet skillz”, and the gaming industry followed the money.  Is the era of elegant simplicity gone?  Or is it just dormant, waiting for a new platform to emerge in which its shortcomings can be neutralized?

 I have high hopes that it is the latter.  Fortunately, the fact that indie games, flash game sites, and iPhone/Android (and soon Windows Phone) apps are on the rise have begun to set the stage.  Though games that provoke deep thought may at times be poorly rated by those that don’t get it, they can be found if you know where to look.  Mobile platforms are perfect for a new generation of games that are constantly connected and allow quick play at odd times.

 I say, bring on the apps.  And may elegant simplicity make a comeback.

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