I get a lot of email from people that want to play strategy games – that are attracted to particular strategy games because they like the subject matter or because they listen to our podcast and everything sounds so amazing that they have to get into this system cracking nutbar hobby of ours.
It’s one reason I recorded myself playing a teaching game of Crusader Kings 2 that ended up getting deleted because I had the settings wrong somehow. (I promise I’ll do another one later.) And, though I am hesitant to keep giving the same advice to people that want to know how to become games journalists or podcasters or PR people (like I knew a damn thing when I started any of those), I will never tire of giving people advice on how to get into strategy games.
An acquaintance recently asked me if he should just jump into Victoria 2 or start with a simpler Paradox game. Since he was really interested in the Victorian Age and the Paradox grand strategy titles are all quite distinct from each other despite any similarity in appearance, the answer was easy: If you want to play these games, you just play them. Start with Victoria and come back to me with any questions.
Yes, sometimes I think we make too much about difficult any of this really is. A grown up that is patient can figure out pretty much any reflex=independent game that has transparent inputs and a decent UI.
The harder thing to find is time. Time to learn new things. This is one of my great barriers in learning new strategy games. I used to be able to just sample anything for five to ten hours at a time before deciding whether I would make the commitment (Knights of Honor no, World in Conflict yes), and time is the great enemy of adults. Let’s face it, Netflix makes it very easy for me to pretend I am being productive by catching up on Parks & Rec.
And don’t get me started on board games.
For a strategy game designer, this must pose a serious problem. You need to hook players early enough for them to commit to seeing more of the game, but all the best strategy games BUILD towards something. Yes, Civilization is great because it starts asking you to make important choices immediately. But Imperialism is great in spite of the fact you can really do nothing but look for resources for the first dozen or so turns. Master of Orion is the Civ model of exploration and building from the start, Starflight is a brilliant but slow moving trading sim gussied up like an adventure game. If old X-Com came out today would we have even noticed its genius? The new XCom has a tutorial with tension and casualties.
That opening hook…
So many of the best games out there are slow burns, including some of my comfort games like Europa Universalis; yeah you can do a lot immediately if you play France, but what if you are Denmark? And I played many more slow-burning games when I was a) paid to do so, and b) my work and play schedule were more flexible than they are now.
This is my challenge in getting more people into strategy games. I play fewer than I have in the past, and the ones I do play I can only say a few things about because, if they are not clients, I don’t have the base of experience of other recent titles for a good comparison. I am not as great a guide as I used to be. So I can’t justify the slow burns or “Just wait” since the base of comparison is fading.
Now a part of me would rather stick to Netflix and start a Tumblr about historical movies and go into why they are almost all terrible, and maybe I will do that someday. I also need to get this video thing straightened out, go back to my collaborative work that’s been put aside and if I had enough money to do nothing for a year, I’d stop and write a book while catching up on all that I’ve missed lately.
But I have a platform and people will keep asking me about where to begin in learning strategy games in general or whether they should dip a toe into a certain title in particular. And I will keep giving advice. I am the evangelist that never knocks on your door. Have to spread the word.