Ok, I’m a bit hyped up on coffee, so apologies in advance…
But I’ve been thinking about strategy games and what makes them good, or not. I’m not able to put this very well into words, hence this post, hoping some folks out there will be more coherent and expressive.
Thing is, I find some strategy games a real chore. They just aren’t interesting. For example, the Total War series has, in my opinion, a fairly dull strategy game. There aren’t many interesting development decisions to make and the diplomatic decisions tend to be either pretty obvious or entirely irrelevant.
For example, usually in TW you grab a town off NPCs and then build a series of buildings, proceeding to upgrade the buildings as you go. If I could queue up 100 years of construction I would happily do so as there’s not much point in deviating from the production possible.
Ignoring town building, large choices tend to be simple. Is this a front-line unit producing town, or a money producing town? That’s about it.
Diplomacy? Well, you try to ally with a good number of people until you pick a victim and spank them with your uber-stack. You may need to involve allies, but often you don’t.
Challenge in the TW series comes from being small at the start or facing random stacks of bad guys (mongols).
At this point I should offer some other examples of bad strategy games, but I don’t want to labour the point. Perhaps it’s best to summarise bad strategy games as saying they feature:
- No interesting decisions
- …or meaningless decisions
- No difficult decisions
- No sense of balancing demands
- Meaningless interaction with AI/NPCs
- Mid-game “unbeatable” stacks
- End-game “I’m rich and rocking, time to destruct you” boredom.
So what about good strategy games? Can we learn any lessons? I’d tend to argue that good strategy board games really understand how to make a game nail biting. But perhaps that’s because they have very constrained time frames (say, 12 turns) and rules environments. Puerto Rico, Tempus, Caylus, Shogun/Wallenstein are just a few I can think of which require constant nail biting decision making.
In the realm of PC games I’m tending to suggest that Paradox tends to offer interesting strategy games with real choice, but I’m not sure they do. Increasing complexity does not necessarily make for a better game, to a degree it can just mask how few and far between the interesting decisions are. That being said, they do have a following for a reason.
KODP comes to mind as an interesting strategy game. Because of the randomness thrown at the player there seems to be a constant balancing act required. At the same time, decisions players make (who to help or not) come back to haunt them, making decisions even more important (ie, there are immediate and long term outcomes).
Other than that I’m kinda drawing a blank.
If you’ve lasted this far, you’ve done well. Stream of conscious posting FTW. I had to get this niggle off my chest though. Ta.