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2007 End of Year Strategy Wrap-Up

December 29th, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 16 Comments · Awards

2007 may be one of the greatest years ever for the gaming industry in general, and specifically for shooters and traditional RPGs, but the strategy gaming world seemed a little less surprising or interesting for some reason. Release calendars were dominated by expansion packs, very good games were immediately forgotten and everyone seems to be, as usual, waiting for the next big thing to come along – usually Spore or Sins of a Solar Empire.

Still, there was a lot of stuff released and a lot of things worth talking about.

Best Trend: Console strategy games – Nintendo’s DS has become the mini-strategy platform of choice, RTS games are now routinely ported to the Xbox 360, and XBLA has Settlers of Catan. Consoles will probably be the platform of the future for many turn-based strategy games, and there’s no reason not to celebrate that.

Worst Trend: Troublesome Expansions – OK, maybe it’s not a trend yet, but the fact I had to uninstall Medieval II to install the Kingdoms expansion and the seemingly endless trouble that the copy protection and online accounts are causing for Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts players is a little past annoying. These are standard QA things, OK? All it takes is one bad installation experience to prevent a casual PC gamer from buying another game that month. Stop it.

Worst Media Coverage of Strategy Games: Everyone Who Avoided Independents – As much as many gaming media types pay lip service to innovation and independent development, and worry about the growing power of corporate gaming monoliths, they don’t do a good job covering strategy games off the big retail highway. Eurogamer and Games for Windows are the only major outlets to review Armageddon Empires. Ageod’s brilliantly original wargames usually pass without mention. (Gamespot is now covering American Civil War since CDV is publishing it next year.) Larger independents like Stardock and Paradox can get their stuff covered. And talented self-promoters like Introversion have little trouble. And I’m not free of blame here, either.

And it can be difficult to stay on top of what is being developed in a Balkanized independent gaming scene, where people who know how to code don’t know how to market, and where Sturgeon’s Law is gospel. Independent developers must do more to solicit coverage. But when people who do go out and promote their work (whether through direct emails or hired PR) run into a Gamespot willing to review every arcade game on the Wii before they touch great strategy games, you have to wonder whether pointing readers to great new gaming experiences is really what many editors are interested in.

Least Timely Release: Universe at War: Earth Assault – If we ever needed a reminder as to why release dates matter, Petroglyph’s alien RTS will serve nicely. It missed a number of target dates and came out just when everyone was finishing their year end wrap ups. This played havoc with their marketing plan, I’m sure. So Universe at War is released to respectful reviews but no real buzz. What could have been one of the biggest multiplayer titles of the year lands with a yawn. I hope that January turns out OK for them.

Most Disappointing Game: Combat Mission Shock Force – This is an easy call. I won’t rehash all the stuff that happened when I made some accurate comments based on the initial review disk, though I will point out that Gamespot, PCGamer, GfW, Eurogamer and almost every other site of note said the same things based on the same material. The actual release candidate was noticeably better, but still not the great game we have come to expect from Battlefront. Maybe it’s all about having too high expectations, but that’s the thing with disappointment. It doesn’t have to be terrible for me to be let down; it just has to leave me a little sad.

Best Half Game: World in Conflict – I know. This is everyone’s pick for strategy game of the year, but not me. On the plus side, it is a beautiful game that’s a harbinger of the multiplayer only RTS world ahead of us. On the negative side, there is no real way to learn how to be good at the online game without actually doing it. Yes, this is par for the course in other genres, but it’s new for the RTS. If they had just released the MP game, I think I would like it more than I do, because none of the single player components do anything to prepare you for the online world. The bots aren’t very bright in the pseudo-skirmish game and the campaign is too scripted to teach the proper use of many military arms. Probably the best MP game of the year, but I think too many people bought into the Red Dawn connections. There’s the lesson for PR people – play on the nostalgia of your target audience.

Worst Strategy Game: Ancient Wars: SpartaSparta had some neat ideas (customizing units, horses for everyone) but was otherwise pretty bad. The AI cheated on land and was impotent at sea. It was too expensive to make any reasonably sized army, and the pathfinding meant your army might not get there in any case. Fortunately it came out six weeks after 300, so few people in America were tricked into buying it.

Best Life Sim: Kudos: Rock Legend – I didn’t like the original Kudos game from Positech. It played like The Sims with nothing to do but wait for all your friends to leave you. I’ve been a grad student, thanks. I don’t need to be told by a game that I have three bucks in the bank and only one friend who will return your call. Rock Legend is pretty much the same game, but with a much better sense of interesting trade-offs, challenges and minigames. It also got next to no coverage, even when everyone and their dog wants to be a pretend rock star. One man band Cliff Harris added enough spark to the Kudos formula to keep me trying to land bigger gigs with a more improbable band chemistry.

Best Independent Game: Armageddon Empires – Tom Chick calls it “the best non-Civ turn-based game since Imperialism II” which overstates a little. Maybe he considers Galactic Civilizations a Civ game, or maybe he’s not including the turn-based parts of Rome: Total War. No matter; there’s something special in this game. Yes, it is difficult to learn. Yes, it is unpolished. Yes, it breaks every rule about interface and tutorial design that I’ve been raving about for three years. But it’s got style, it’s got challenge, it’s got a unique aesthetic at a time when aesthetics are really starting to matter.

Best Wargame: Punic Wars – Paul Bruffel’s Punic Wars just calls to me. Part of it is my temporal bias (swords and pikes for the win) but it is also one of the best titles to come from HPS Sims in a long time. The scale of the HPS system works best for battles this size, and it avoids tacking on a campaign that no one will ever finish. It also captures the ebb and flow of ancient warfare, has simultaneous movement and tons of scenarios. (If I had played more of Napoleonic Campaigns, there’s a good chance it would have won here. But I haven’t. Sorry, guys.)

Best Expansion: Kingdoms – I go back and forth on this between Opposing Fronts and Kingdoms, but today I think it’s Creative Assembly’s huge reworking of the campaigns. Ask me tomorrow and it might be something different.

Best Strategy Game: Command and Conquer 3 – C&C 3 is being forgotten. It came out months ago and most people have stopped playing it. But it gave me more thrills and more fun than any new game this year. The single player campaigns were well paced learning missions, the single player skirmish matches and wide variety of maps made it a pleasant 15 minute diversion and the multiplayer game proved to be well-balanced and exciting, even when my allies are worse than me. I am already excited for next year’s expansion.


16 Comments so far ↓

  • Natus

    Thanks for nothing, Troy! Now five more games to buy oh and a computer upgrade. But a fascinating and refreshingly novel list all the same.

  • jonathanstrange

    I loved Armageddon Empires and anyone reading this, should immediately dl the demo and play some mutant battles. Thanks for the headsup on Punic Wars – an great turn-based recreation of ancient command&control, morale, fog-of-war and tactical decision making. Loved it.

    I recall Ancient Wars Spartas’ rep (can’t recall what his title was) saying that Sparta was not going to be like “all those other silly RTS unhistorical games” and what did he come up with? You guessed it. Funny – if you didn’t buy it.

    M2 Total War Kingdoms was riveting for me – but still I wish HPS Sims could incorporate some of that killer visuals into its Punic Wars: we really need some feedback as to missile fire, casualties, unit sizes, weapons effects. Ironic that a wargame which generally pride themselves on allowing the wargamer more detailed knowledge of why stuff happens, makes it difficult to predict so much. In the old boardgame days, at least you could look at a counter and say “Well, that 12-5-13 Heavy Cavalry units a heavy hitter. I’ll send that in.” Now, with all the modifiers you’re practically a noob deciding “Cool. Send in the Cav.”

    Combat Mission Shock Force is playing relatively well – and I bought it for (iirc) $20. Whatever strange things happened in your review copy have since been patched, as far as I can tell. Good game, not great.

  • Krupo

    I FINALLY found my C&C3 manual, so I can reinstall the game since the great hard drive melt down of last June (stupid CD key wasn’t in the case… I have since taken to recording a master list of all CD keys to avoid such problems in the future!). It’ll be nice to finally get around to finishing that game… when I finish up with M2TWK, WiC, Crysis and all the ripe fruit of the Orange Box!

    I picked up World in Conflict at a Boxing Day sale – for half price! To say I was pleased was an understatement. Even if I never touch the MP, the SP is awesome, crazy-nostalgia-fun-wise. Now if only we could slow down time for more gaming or something.

  • Alan Au

    So many games, so little hard drive space! That’s my pick for the worst trend of 2007: games that take more than 4 Gb to install. I’ve got Civ 4 BtS and TF2 installed right now, plus a nice 5 Gb chunk of free space. Unfortunately, that means I can’t install any other modern games on my machine, because that’s not enough space. What’s up with that?!

  • Bruce

    “Eurogamer and Games for Windows are the only major outlets to review Armageddon Empires.”

    Actually, there is no formal GFW review of Armageddon Empires – just the mentions of it in various columns – although I agree that there has been conspicuously little coverage.

    “Gamespot is now covering American Civil War since CDV is publishing it next year.”

    Yeah, they are covering it because CDV sent out press kits recently. Often the only way to get an outlet to cover a game is to have PR send them a nice package.

  • Scott R. Krol

    Regarding #3, I just saw that Darren Gladstone is leaving GFW. The shame is he’s very indie sympathetic.

  • Troy

    Actually, Scott, I’d consider a lot of the GfW guys indie sympathetic. But when it comes to devoting page space, something has to give. The magazine covers fewer games in general than the CGW name did, with even some major titles getting thumbnail reviews. And with more space justifiably going to features and interviews, I understand the pressures.

    But there’s no reason 1up can’t do it. Not that hiding indie coverage on a terribly designed flash-heavy site is a better idea.

  • rod humble

    Good list. with great points.

    The only quibble I would have is the HPS comment. For me Defending The Reich is the better game than Punic Wars (actually DTR is my game of the year across all formats) . Either way HPS had a good year as they are both worthy titles.

  • Troy

    Defending the Reich was late 2006, and I gave it a positive mention last December. Great, great game. Probably better than Punic Wars, the more I think about it.

  • Scott R. Krol

    Anyone ever up for some DTR PBEM just look up my contact info and drop me a line. Be forewarned though that it will be a slow game, like 1 turn/day.

  • rod humble

    troy: “Defending the Reich was late 2006”

    It was? Eeesh thanks for the correction. Time is really zipping by. But yeah, great game (Punic wars too).

    Scott: In my dreams I would love to. In reality having a newborn around the house I just know I dont get time to do pbem anymore, I feel really guilty when I keep other folks waiting.

    Something else to look forward to once these nippers become less of a time sink :)

  • Bruce

    “a slow game, like 1 turn/day.”

    I love comments like that. A super gamer comment!

  • Dave Long

    The death of Computer Games Magazine means less coverage for games like Armageddon Empires. You could always count on Bauman to let us put those games up on a pedestal so people would pay attention just a little bit.

    That’s probably the biggest reason that magazine will end up being missed.

  • Vic Davis

    A part of the reason for a lack of coverage on AE is also attributable to me. Marketing is just not very fun and not my forte. I chose to self publish for a bunch of reasons mostly because I like the challenge. I’ve also had some bad experiences with publishers in the past and knew that right now as a total unproven and unkown my power in the relationship was going to be zero. That said I still just like the idea of being completely independent. I also am curious how much truth there is to this Long Tail thing and the ability of a small guy like me to find a niche.

    I’ve gotten some great coverage from GFW, Eurogamer, and blogs like Troy’s here. The great thing about being indie is that I don’t feel any time pressure. If I just keep plugging away at getting my game in front of people eventually I’m going to connect. And the more word of mouth grows, the easier it gets….momentum builds until all that I desire is within my grasp….Muwhaaa haaaa haaaa!

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