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Strategy Games of the Half Year and 2008 so far

June 30th, 2008 by Troy Goodfellow · 6 Comments · Awards, Blogs, Me

It’s the end of June, so it’s time to look back at the first six months of 2008 and see how the genre is doing. Frankly, it hasn’t been a great six months. We’ve had a lot of expansions and a few original titles, but not much in the way of new games.

The good thing about that is that it makes my job that much easier.

3) Galactic Civilizations: Twilight of the Arnor: It wouldn’t be a summary list without a GalCiv game on it. This final expansion to Stardock’s 4x space game doesn’t really do the type of re-exploration that most of my favorite expansions have, but it does add a considerable about of polish and energy to the game. With unique techs and unique structures for every race, playing the Yor is now a very different experience from playing the Terrans. Though Stardock still has a way to go in making all the information available when and where you need it, Arnor is major upgrade in the GalCiv series in all respects. If you aren’t playing with this expansion, you’re not playing the game right.

2) Europa Universalis III: In Nomine: Another expansion, but one that takes the opposite approach, redoing a lot of core concepts and game play mechanics in a manner that finally fixes most of my complaints about the game. It is now harder for a couple of superstates to dominate the world. Decisions and missions add direction and distinctiveness to every major nation. Paradox does need to do something with rebels; even a short war can, with some bad luck, lead to decades of crippling revolts, keeping many AI rivals from being threats. But IN is a wonderful expansion and a promising sign from a company that delivered the very disappointing EU: Rome earlier this year. Here’s hoping that the first expansion for that game is a free apology that adds something special. Because, as much as I love ancient history, I haven’t touched Rome since In Nomine came out.

1) Sins of a Solar Empire: I haven’t written a lot about Sins of a Solar Empire, mostly because everyone else was writing what I wanted to say. Sins is an original title with an original take on both 4x and RTS mechanics. It moves at a stately pace, but forces you to be ready for action at a moment’s notice. The small differences between the three factions are enough to make playing each one a little different, but they are similar enough for you to just jump in. The multiplayer system is great. Ironclad decided to just let the game speak for itself, with no ludicrous back story or plot focused scenario campaign. Sins is the ultimate rejoinder to people who complain no one makes games like they used to, because I can easily imagine this coming out in 1992. Though it wouldn’t have looked so nice.

Civilization: Revolution is ineligible for these awards because UK releases don’t count in my world, but I’m hearing some great things about it. Same with Grigsby’s new Civil War game.

Blog wise, 2008 was a year of steady growth. The series I did on Roman themed games was picked up by Kotaku and Rock, Paper, Shotgun (those guys are very friendly about linking to here for some reason) and so was, by far, the most widely read thing from the first six months. I regret not getting the rest of my 1960 game with Bruce posted, but it’s been difficult to write up the AAR with so much other stuff going on. I’ll try to finish it all before E3, though. I like doing these AAR/post-mortems, and hope to do more in the future. Maybe with a proper computer wargame or something. Fraps can save me from forgetting to take screenshots. But there is something about boardgaming that makes this sort of thing different and appealing.

But FoS is my own brand, now, and it has opened quite a few doors to me. Without this platform, I doubt that John Keefer would have given me much of a chance to flex my brain power over at Crispy Gamer, which would be too bad, because I love writing Print Screen, my book and movie column. (And if you’ve been avoiding CG because of how terrible it looked in the first few months, give it another go. The site design is much better and the content is top notch.)

I am also in the middle of negotiating a new opportunity with a company I greatly respect, an opportunity that would probably not have presented itself had this place not kept my feet in certain circles. More on that once/if negotiations are settled and I can make a public statement. Suffice it to say, I am excited about the possibilities.

And much of the credit goes to the mostly civilized discussion of my readers. I try to avoid sensational headlines, because I think they encourage the wrong kinds of readers, but I doubt I would have that problem with you guys. I’ve felt no need to moderate comments because I haven’t had much insanity to moderate, even though I often disagree with some of you. A regular readership that I trust and respect has made me work hard to make Flash of Steel a quality site. So I don’t update every day, but only when I find something interesting or have something interesting to say. I don’t want to waste your time, after all.

Moving forward in the year, we have a lot of strategy gaming to look forward to. And lots of blogging. Please use the comments to throw out suggestions or ideas for regular content you’d like to see here. I’d like to see more guest blogging, and would like to do another series like the Roman one, but pipe up with how I can make this place better.


6 Comments so far ↓

  • Natus

    You may have done this already, but I’d love a rundown on all the games of Paradox. Why? Because you’re listing them all the time, and because I own EU2, Crusader Kings, HoI:Doomsday *and I have yet to get into them*. From all the reading I’ve done about them, I could have finished a game by now. I think the interface and the amount of rules you have to read to actually get started have kept me from really diving in. Which is a great pity, because I’m sure I’d love them. I just need a push…!

  • GotGame.com

    i’m actually still a little surprised at how well Sins of a Solar Empire has done considering how the game doesn’t have any DRM o_O

  • JonathanStrange

    I suggest: Continue playing to your strengths – analysis and extensive historical knowledge, among others. Daily updates are unnecessary unless you’re intending to attract people looking for the latest breaking news – but not infrequent updates with brief observations and links to interesting articles (even nongaming related) are great. Do retrospectives on older games. Reexamine failed games. Invite guests. Avoid “reviews” of games (which we can get anywhere) but caustic (if called for) micro-reviews could be fun. List your top favorites in games or gaming/historical books or whatever (similar to your sidebar now) – and revise it every so often according to changing criteria: my worst, my best, favorite historical, favorite ancients. Keep seeing the larger context beyond a particular game – for example, does this game add anything new to the genre? Does that game ‘s ambitions match its actual gameplay? Basically, I think you’re very analytical and your site reflects that, so I wasn’t recommending things out-of-character (you already do many of these suggestions) but to use (refine?) them even more. Other sites can do the reviews, current headlines, plenty of screenshots, etc. – there are many of them already – it’s rarer to find worthwhile analysis, worthwhile AARs, and worthwhile observations.

  • Dave

    I just picked up the Grigsby “War Between the States” game this weekend.

    Short version: it’s good, very good. But it doesn’t do much that’s unique.

    Personally, I’m a big fan of the AGEOD American Civil War game. The Grigsby effort does some things better (command structure is a bit easier/more intuitive than the AGEOD), but the AGEOD game is just so visually charming, it’s pleasant to play. The Grigsby game is functional but looks, well, ugly.

    Now, as a veteran hex wargamer I’m supposed to be the first to object to anyone complaining about graphics, but when you have two excellent games competently covering the same subject, the only tiebreaker left *is* chrome, i.e. the little things that add character to the experience.

    That said, I like the Grigsby game, and it does have some intereting mechanics to it (the cavalry rules are fun).

    Oh, one final thing in Grigsby’s favor: the game plays properly *right out of the box* (ummm, download). No patch needed. Sure, some things need to be tweaked here and there, and surely there are a few buried bugs that will pop up.

    But this is the first game in literally *years* that I’ve played without any major game-busting bugs upon release. No CTDs, no broken game mechanics, no memory hogs, nothing. Truly impressive, albeit because such release stability on a PC game is so sadly rare these days.

  • James Allen

    I also have not played Rome since IN came out. Probably shouldn’t have given Rome an 8…oh well.

  • Troy

    Hey man, there are lots of games you shouldn’t have given an 8. ;)