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2010 End of Year Strategy Wrap Up

December 29th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 15 Comments · Awards

In general, it was a good year for strategy gamers. A lot of variety. If you are reading this expecting to see Starcraft 2 or Civilization 5 win strategy game of the year, sorry. When the year started, I expected one of them to be the odds on favorite. In fact, I bet every other website will pick one of those games as their strategy game of the year. And they might be right.

But not for me. Read on to see how 2010 stacked up for me.

I Wish I Had Played This When It Came Out and Had More Time: Greed Corp: You could really put any console strategy game here, but Greed Corp was also on the PC. It has a central strategy gaming mechanic going for it – short term gain vs long term costs – and sounds like just my type of light gaming experience. But life and other things, etc.

Best Trend: Board Games and their influence: From the introduction of exclusive bonuses and hard victory counters to the city builder Settlers 7 to the very obviously board gamey Bronze to the rise of the iPad as a board game device, the influence of cardboard and plastic on strategy game design is testimony to how a new generation of game devs and programmers are looking at how to keep things simple but challenging. The one great advantage of board games is that your status is often obvious and transparent. Though I love my fog of war and trying to determine how strong my opponent is, transparency and simplicity are good. Throw in a clever card based system like RUSE that uses fog of war, though and you can still see how measure/countermeasure work like in any good card game.

Worst Trend: More DLC: The new way to keep a franchise profitable is to sell add-ons, be they unimportant tweaks like sprite packs for Hearts of Iron 3, interesting chrome like unique units and troops for Napoleon: Total War, or truly important game things like new nations for Civilization 5. I get why publishers want to do it, but how far can we be from a world where publishers make you mix and match from an a la carte menu of factions and designs and options? Strategy games are the one genre that is both easiest to break into component parts and the one most easily undermined by having so many different core experiences based on who owns what.

Most Disappointing Game: Elemental: War of Magic: Is there anything really left to say here? Elemental was anticipated as a pseudo-sequel to Simtex classic Master of Magic and ended up being nothing of the sort. Stardock’s reputation for quality products took another kick the teeth after 2009’s Demigod multiplayer debacle. To their credit, Stardock has worked overtime to fix it, but Elemental is still – even after a big patch – a dull and uninteresting place to visit with less magic than the name implies. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and Elemental turned off many buyers. They are making progress – for their sake I hope it helps.

Worst Strategy Game: Command and Conquer 4: I don’t care how amazing and World in Conflict-esque your skirmish game becomes once you have unlocked every unit and power and ability. It’s an RTS and I shouldn’t have to play your game for dozens of hours before I see the cool stuff. That’s just not how it is done. Does the game get interesting once you have more to play with and you can assume different roles online, just like an MMO? Absolutely. But it is not an MMO and most RTS players don’t have the patience or interest in slogging away with crap units so they can earn experience to build a tank. Stop it.

Biggest Surprise: Supreme Commander 2: My admiration for Supreme Commander 2 grows with every day. The patches made the skirmish AI more interesting, but even in its original version SupCom 2 was a very good game. In some ways it is the anti-Starcraft 2. Like that other good RTS, SupCom 2 had a poorly written story based campaign that was filled with unique puzzle maps and challenges. Game journalists who love zombies were naturally thrilled about the Outbreak mission in StarcraftSupCom 2 has missions equally interesting with naval invasions, robots gone crazy, and platform sieges. But unlike Starcraft, it turned its back on what the first game was to make a more modern and streamlined RTS. The research trees let you plan how you will focus your economy, the giant robots get out faster and the army management is easier. A lot of the core Total Annihilation/SupCom 1 fan base felt betrayed, and I understand that – the original games were grand and obtuse and had a certain majesty because of that. I prefer the new one. A lot.

Best Independent Game: Distant Worlds: In a year full of good and great sci-fi games, Distant Worlds stands out with both its immense size and its innovative approach to virtual viceroys and AI governors. I wish I had more time to visit this game before the expansion, but Code Force and Matrix deserve credit for making science fiction 4x a little more interesting for me.

Best Wargame: Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943: OK, it’s not Combat Mission. But Graviteam’s WW2 real time wargame stands out in a year with very few really great new wargames. I still haven’t decided how I feel about War in the East, but it would have to be really special to trump the sight of my troops trudging behind their tanks, slowly executing a strategy that I had made in the turn based planning phases. It makes great use of sound and tactics to create a world that I have absolutely no interest in ever visiting because it almost feels like a war.

Strategy Game of the Year: R.U.S.E: I’m as surprised as your are, since I was not at all excited about the game when the year started. RUSE is that careful blend of familiar and unique that just calls out to me. I wrote before that the fact it is World War 2 is almost irrelevant, and I stand by that. This design of cards and seizing supply points could really be set anywhere. World War 2 was chosen for its shorthand signal to strategy gamers that they won’t have to learn much new stuff – just like Memoir 44‘s card play system can be stuck anywhere in history. RUSE encourages lying and deceit as military tactics in a way that no strategy game has in a long time. It’s not just about gaining intelligence, but about undermining your opponents. And it works as well on the 360 as it does on the PC. I am not very good at RUSE, and it does have pacing problems, but the game is fast and exciting and never really fails to surprise you in multiplayer. The campaign isn’t half bad either, which is more than I can say for just about any RTS story based campaign in history.


15 Comments so far ↓

  • Wolfox

    Great picks, good article.

    Interestingly enough, Greed Corp is available for $2.50 from Steam today only (and for that price, I’ll definitely pick it up), and I do hope RUSE shows up in the sales sometime in the next few days.

  • Gormongous

    RUSE is 25% off with the rest of the Ubisoft catalog, but I’ve been waiting for a more profound markdown, with the private knowledge that I’ll probably end up buying it anyway January 2nd if none comes.

    I think Steam is winning this waiting game, because I love how this game looks and the recommendations on Three Moves Ahead are hard to ignore.

  • Tim McDonald

    I concur, Troy. For me, it was all about the two pleasant surprises: SupCom 2 and RUSE. SupCom2 was astonishingly streamlined, as opposed to its bulky and awkward predecessor, and RUSE – which I expected to be average at best – was a very clever and very unique RTS that really ran with its central theme.

    I’m not as sold on Greed Corp as I’d like to be, but I imagine it’s going to be much more enjoyable in multiplayer than by myself. It’s certainly worth more than its current price on Steam, though.

  • Otagan

    Another recommendation for Greed Corp (especially today for $2.50). Also, RUSE was $25 on Direct2Drive (with a Steam activation key) a few days ago, and that was by far the best deal I’ve seen on it to date.

    RUSE is a game that I know I should love, but its pace and flow are so fundamentally different from any other strategy game I’ve ever played that I feel like I’m in foreign territory every time I try playing it. I almost get more enjoyment from watching the replays of people who know what they’re doing than when I try to struggle along on my own, but I’m committed to figuring it out one day. It’s really a brilliant design that thinks outside the box of convention that so many RTS games chain themselves to as of late.

  • Prof. Loewy-Brueller

    Great choices, I just wish you had elected the “most consistent strategy game of the year” as well to ensure StarCraft II gets a nod. It is very much consistent with its predecessor in intent, depth and gameplay. That must be good for something! Civilization V could have been the “most presentable strategy game of the year”. It’s so colorful and so not immature. Something to show to skeptical girlfriends and wives.

    Thanks for a great year of insight, commentary, podcasts and good nature, Troy.

    Happy new year.

  • Mauricio

    Troy, did you do a formal review of Distant Worlds? If not, I guess you would be giving it an “A” on the GameShark scale? It’s one of the titles I am considering while Matrix has their annual sale ($27); normally I find their prices a bit high. Tom was going to do a series on it at Fidgit, but it looks like it fizzled after one post.

    It’s been a great year of content here (and TMA), and Happy New Year!

  • Jorune

    Happy New Year Troy and to all the gang at TMA!

    First, I agree with your assesment of Starcraft2. Halfway through the campaign, I found myself slogging on to see the end, realizing the missions were more of a been there, done that kind of thing, new units being trickled out. I attempted MP, but I just don’t have the required time investment to compete, and the matchmaking isn’t as great as they claim.

    R.U.S.E., played the demo and bought the game. They are rolling out a free DLC pack (may have been released already, need to boot it up). I love NOT having to micro my troops. The game wants you to play general and does a good job of doing that.

    Just bought Greed Corp on sale and will gift a copy to some buds.

    I played the Bronze demo and really enjoyed it, since I am a boardgamegeek fanatic. But for me, the price point was a touch too high for what I get on my plate. Perhaps the podcast will make me change my mind.

    I’m preparing to dive into Distant Worlds. I actually picked up the expansion before playing the base because (besides the 2 week sale on it), I’ve heard the much improved interface will help a newb like me.

    SupCom2 is also in the Que for gaming. I actually bought there DLC sight unseen simply because of the AI work they did post release on the game.

    As an Elemental early adopter and semi-stardock fanboi, I was very disappointed in the timing of it’s release. We all knew it was being released too early. I always thought February should have been the date (they had 2 choices, August of February). So I plan on booting it up than, in Febraury, when a couple more major patches and expansion 1 will have been released also. I hope the game is in a good state. With the addition of Kael, I hope the world gets more interesting also.


  • Wolfox

    Just a heads-up: RUSE is now on sale for 33% off on Steam for the day. I guess I’ll just stop waiting for a bigger discount and finally buy it. :-)

  • Blunt Force

    I dont really play RTS games so I cant agree with whats on this list. But if I did I would have to check out RUSE…maybe. Couldn’t stand Kharkov 43.

  • JonathanStrange

    Troy, it seems you were mostly underwhelmed by strategy games this year.

    2010 had a “lot of variety”? Wow! Stop, 2010’s blushing! Greed Corp’s so great but time just can’t be found to play it? That sounds like my “I didn’t play this game much but people whose opinion I respect tell me it’s great” response.

    The “Best Trend” has more substance to it though why it’s a trend when the influence (or as I like to put it “the appropriation of other people’s ideas”) of board games is years old is odd. “Transparency and simplicity are good” because? Because one is sampling so many games at the all-you-can-play buffet that one doesn’t have the time for games where the rules and relationships take too long to become clear? I’m not judging; I too often play a game in large part because I already know how it
    The Worst Trend of 2010 is DLC? If only. The worst trend is the continuing “Abysmal AI in Strategy Games” trend. Games get better looking and still Civilization V’s AI fights like Ramses II at Kadesh and most strategy AIs still cheat worse than my 5-year-old niece at Dora the Explorer Memory game.

    Elemental was the Most Disappointing Game but more because of Stardock’s outright deceptions with their misleading AARs wherein the game worked well, along with the lack of a heads up from gamers very familiar with the pre-release game. I read their posts and just didn’t get the sense that the game was far from ready. I would look at the game’s screenshots and think “What a drab unattractive looking world and how dull everything from magic to combat to city management seems” but everyone involved seem enthusiastic so I thought they had access to something they couldn’t tell us about.

    The Worst Strategy game is the worst strategy game because one can’t play with all the toys in the toybox right away? No really, that’s the reason? It’s a bit annoying but I suspect the need to play everything and have an opinion on everything, leads reviewers to resent not getting the good stuff right. “Time’s wasting! Gotta move on! Hey, here’s a simple game where you get the right stuff right away. Biggest. Surprise. Supreme Commander 2.”

    Distant Worlds may be the Best Independent Game of 2010 – I don’t know – but I get the feeling from your words you didn’t play the game much at all. “Making science fiction 4x a little more interesting for me” is kind of a lame endorsement, along with “immense size” and “innovative approach” as reasons to play. Man, the feeling of “I hardly did more than install the game, fooled around with it a couple of hours and then never touched it again but heard good things about it” is strong here.

    Achtung Panzer Kharkov’s so good at creating a virtual world “that I have absolutely no interest in ever visiting.” Wow, I’ve got to get this one and not play it too! No? That’s not what you meant? Again, I get the feeling of a reviewer who’s got to nominate something and then say something about it. I mean besides “It’s not Combat Mission.”

    R.U.S.E. Strategy Game of the Year? I’ve not played it, not even a little. Other than not really being a WW2 game with a not half bad campaign with multiplayer surprises, I’m not sure what it does to deserve the award but whatever.

    Man, this year failed to impress!

  • Jorune

    @Jonathan – I totally get that you’re attempting a dialogue with Troy, but you’re post is full of critisism based on assumptions and the idea that Troy’s blog’s are to be read in isolation of themselves without reading his other posts and/or listening to the podcast (in otherwords, Troy writes here with the idea that you are familiar with these other sources, most blogs are like that);
    And I want to be clear this is just a friendly dialogue, you very well may have been around here longer than I have:

    Greed Corp – yeah, I was confused by the intent of the entry also. So I’m gonna agree with you there.

    Best Trend – you say the influence of boardgames is years old, but I disagree. I feel like more and more videogame makers are coming from videogame backgrounds, which is world’s apart from boardgames. As an avid boardgamegeeker, I love the simplicity of the games and transparency of my opponents moves. It makes games less luck dependent and more about skill. It also leads to better AI, as a game like Bronze can attest to. The idea of adding a computer to the mix is that you can now make the game more complicated since the computer can do the number crunching. But what we end up with is feature bloat and an AI that is too difficult to program. And the ‘buffet’ you talk about, well do we need EVERYGAME to have rules and relationships that take awhile to become clear? I’m not judging, but I don’t think playing a game should be about ‘learning’ how the game plays, but instead about using the tools available to achieve the ‘highest score’ possible.

    Worst trend, I agree with you, AI. But games like Supreme Commander 2, where they had some AI guru come in to work on it AFTER the game was released shows that some companies still care. But as CIV V atests to, more complex games leads to worse and worse AI, we need to go back to simplicity for a great SP AI challenge.

    Elemental – the beta testers thought the game wasn’t ready for release. But whenever this was brought up in the forums, they were informed that there was an internal build that was alot further along than the one currently being played by the testers. Here’s a link: http://forums.elementalgame.com/390176/page/1/#replies read the second post from Frogboy (Brad Wardell) where he states beta 4 (the one currently in beta testers hands) will not be anywhere near what the release version will be. And he posted that on August 4th, 20 days (I believe) before release day.

    I reread your thoughts on worst strategy game, and I see where you’re coming from and I agree. Perhaps what C&C 4 did could be posted as Worst Strategy Idea or something, but yeah, I guess Worst Strategy game should go to something that just plays poorly like, oh, I don’t know, Civ V.

    Distant Worlds – they actually had a podcast on this one, episode 59. I know Troy had mentioned that they wanted to do a second podcast to see if the automated AI had improved over the patch cycle, but for when it came out, it seems he did play it enough to fully understand it’s strengths and weakness’.

    You wrote:” Achtung Panzer Kharkov’s so good at creating a virtual world “that I have absolutely no interest in ever visiting.”” That’s taking a quote out of context. Actually, you should have added ellispes instead of a period. When he states, “It makes great use of sound and tactics to create a world that I have absolutely no interest in ever visiting because it almost feels like a war.”, I understand that what he’s saying is that we play these romanticized and/or abstract wargames that take out the horror and humanity of real warfare, and we have a game here that puts that back in which can be unsettling. I don’t really think he needed to be clearer on that, but it seems it sailed over your head.

    R.U.S.E. Troy states: “RUSE encourages lying and deceit as military tactics in a way that no strategy game has in a long time. It’s not just about gaining intelligence, but about undermining your opponents.” Now, if you need MORE than that, just go listen to podcast 83 where they spend an entire episode talking it up. But I thought that sentence was clear enough. You come off as if you have haven’t ready ANYTHING about R.U.S.E., so therefore have no idea about the R.U.S.E. card mechanic that makes the game unique. Troy’s BLOG post, however, again assumes you’re fans of the site and therefore have already heard him talk this up. If this was on a paid site (gameshark, etc), I could understand your critisism of needing more info, but a Blog post? No, a blog post on a blog is more about continuing conversations instead of isolated articles.

    Happy New Year, stay positive,


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