Strategy games, whether they are turn-based or real-time, occupy a unique niche within gaming. While there is not always the thrill of the fight, there is often a deep satisfaction achieved from outsmarting both other players and particularly AI. Here are some of the most favored titles in recent years, in no particular order.
New Notable Releases
Total War: Shogun 2
Shogun 2 brings the Total War series back to its roots. Set in feudal Japan, players take on the roles of one of the many Daimyo vying for the title of Shogun as they take to the battlefield and subjugate their neighbors.
Players must also contend with the rise of Christianity in Japan and the influence of foreign powers which threaten not only to take over the country, but also its culture. It's up to the players to decide how history itself unfolds by making decisions both on the field and over the map board.
Civilization 5 isn't the best game in the Civilization series, but it's the newest, and arguably the one with the best combat thanks to the implementation of a hexagonal board. The game is even further improved by its expansion packs, which alter—if not improve—the game in fundamental ways from culture and religion to diplomacy.
If you're searching for kindness in the latest Civilization, you'll have to set the game's difficulty down to the lowest setting because it's easily the most challenging game of the bunch. Regardless of whatever shortcomings it might have with long-time fans of the series, Civilization 5 is by far one of the best strategy games around.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a worthy successor to the turn-based strategy game series by Microprose—classics from almost two decades ago. Revived by Civilization developer Firaxis, the new XCOM streamlines everything that made the original title a little annoying to play through and improves upon all of its best qualities for a modern, turn-based strategy game that's like no other.
The game's popularity and success stands as a testament to the strength of turn-based strategy games, which have stood the test of time despite being declared 'dead' a million times over.
This classic real-time strategy game, released in 1998 is still one of the most popular releases of all time. Three species duke it out in the 26th century to gain control of a faraway chunk of the Milky Way. Terrans are humans who've been exiled from Earth. Another humanoid species, the Protoss, who are fairly advanced and possess various psychic abilities, are trying to keep their culture safe from the insectoid Zerg, who are bent on assimilating everyone else.
Starcraft is largely considered a game that revolutionized real-time strategy gameplay, as well as providing a deeply engaging story. There is still a thriving community of professional competitors, particularly in Asia, complete with sponsorships and televised events. Zerg Rush!
It also featured in our Top 10 Space Strategy Games list.
Age of Empires III
This real-time strategy game, released in 2005, takes place largely during the colonial era, from the late 1400s to the 1850s. Players must choose to develop a colony of Europe, Asia, or North America from an initial settlement to a thriving empire. Development of the colony goes through various technological ages, but unlike other games about territorial conquest, such as the Civilization series, where it is technically possible to play an entire game without fighting, this game requires the player to destroy the enemy's colony. Emphasis is placed on the production of civilian units to collect resources to stimulate the economy, and the development of the military to defend against rival colonies.
Another feature unique to this game is the use of a "Politician System", where players must choose from among several politicians upon successful completion of each level, which grant various bonuses. Difficulty level is assigned to specific colonies, as opposed to a more customized method, which often serves as motivation to keep playing.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
This title, a sequel and marked improvement to the first Dawn of War is unique in that the multiplayer option involves co-op, as opposed to pitting players against one another. The campaigns, unlike those found in this game's predecessors are non-linear, and do not have base building elements. Units must be selected before a missions beings, and no new units are issued once it is progress.
Players are faced with decisions regarding the missions and locations chosen in which to fight, and consequences are based on these choices. Even after choices are made, missions can have multiple objectives which may be mutually exclusive depending on the further unfolding of events.
This game can be appealing to those who normally prefer RPGs, as players to level up, and some units can be equipped with scavenged weaponry and armor. This is a good crossover game for any die-hard RPG fans who are interested in experiencing a strategy game without completely unfamiliar elements.
World in Conflict
Many strategy games take place either in the distant past or future, but this title, released in 2007, is set in more recent times, during the collapse of the Soviet Union, but speculates as to what would have happened if Soviet forces had attempted to remain in power through aggressive action.
There is no resource collection or base building in this game, but rather reinforcement units are bought with a pre-determined amount of in-game points, and dropped into the battlefield. When units are dead, the points gradually return to the player's balance, so that new units can be acquired.
In multi-player games, players choose a specific role from among four preset roles, Air, Armor, Infantry, and Support. These have various abilities, such as unusually effective long ranged attacks, and the ability to hide easily, but are usually balanced with a weakness of some sort, like being vulnerable to attack on open ground, or being useless in short-range skirmishes.
Players will enjoy the small user interface, as it provides a more open view of the battlefield and the ability to manage individual units more effectively.
Like the other titles in this series, Civilization IV is a turn-based game in which the player takes on the role of the leader of an empire that must be built from scratch from a single city, built by a settler in 4000 B.C. As the building expands, so do the options for infrastructure, military fortification and training, study of science and art, religion, and all the other stuff that empires have. Build "wonders" around the empire, and experience the birth of historical figures who can enhance various aspects of cities within the empire.
This game, like many turn-based strategy games can feel slow for the first few turns, but things get interesting once contact is made with neighboring cultures, and the potential for trade, aid, and war arises. Bonus: Leonard Nimoy congratulates the you overtime you attain a new technology or hit a milestone within your empire.