Grand Strategy

01:12 by akylas. Filed under: Games

Grand Strategy games seem like some of the most interesting genre in the video gaming market. But why do I think I would enjoy the genre so much?

I always liked playing the early simple strategy games (e.g. Warcraft series). These real-time strategies eventually evolved into a competition predominantly surrounding how high your CPM (clicks per minute) was–at least in the online multiplayer (and let’s just say I wasn’t very good.)

Warcraft 2

The single player series were still decent, but if I can easily beat the game by waiting and spawning a ton of units and storming my objective all the time, it’s boring. Many real-time strategy games today have weak story lines, which quickly diminish their appeal to me. I’m more of a tactics guy. I enjoy finding the best mix of a limited number of units and determining the best way to tackle an objective. It’s efficient. I get much more of sense of accomplishment. Granted, there are tactics involved in these RTS games, but playing a game involving unrealistically mass-spawning units is just not fun.

After my stint with Warcraft, I dabbled in some of the other more modern RTS games, such as Command and Conquer, but I lost interest–until I discovered the real-time tactics video game genre. Rome: Total War was one of the first games I played in the genre, and I quickly fell in love with it. Why? Not only was the game broken up into two differenct experiences (game-board style overworld and tactical battles), but it was based on an historical premise. Imagine the board game Risk with realistic encounters.

Rome: Total War

Two years later Medieval II: Total War hit the scene. Same type of game but new background, new units, new graphics, some new features. Same experience. Enjoyed it even more. World in Conflict came out the year after, a real-time tactics game with an alternative history story line with the USSR invading USA. Who cannot like such a game? While the game did not let me create my own story-line within this background, the story itself was satisfying.

World in Conflict was the last real-time tactics game I played in years (and even some people consider that game a mix between real-time strategy and real-time tactics), until I was introduced by Steam to Hearts of Iron III. The first time I saw the game, I took a quick glance at it and was quite confused by it. I ended up buying a game from one of its sister series, Europa Universalis in late December of 2008. I first played this game with the idea of the Total War series’ overworld play style; Bad idea. I was quickly turned off by the pace and complexity of the game. I was used to creating an army and in under a few turns (10 minutes game play time), take over a city and promptly move on. I used almost my entire army to take a nearby city of another enemy, only to have them flank and cut off my supplies, quickly knocking me out. It’s the only time I played that game.

I revisited Hearts of Iron III a few times over the course of the next year. Reading the feature list on the Steam page made me think, “Damn, this sounds like an awesome game.”, only to then think about my experience in Europa Universalis and being discouraged. However, one evening during Steam’s 2009/2010 Christmas sales, Hearts of Iron III decided to go on sale. “$5? Might as well pick it up at this point.” Purchased. One problem, I didn’t have a computer to play the game at this point in time. My desktop recently started acting up two months prior, never allowing me to log into or reinstall Windows (the power supply eventually blew out, so it was probably due to a drop in the 5V). I had the game, but I couldn’t play it. Six months later, Valve released Steam on Mac. At the time, I didn’t really care. There weren’t many games that were supported on Mac. It took me two additional months to realize that Hearts of Iron III was one of the few games. I quickly busted out my Macbook Pro, installed Steam, and started to download the game.

Hearts of Iron III

This time I had different expectations. I knew this was going to be a complicated game. I downloaded the game manual and starting reading the game — something I should’ve done for Europa Universalis. Ten hours later, I finally knew what was going on. The fact that I could load up the game, play as any country I wanted in this epic alternative history / dynamic version of World War II, made it even more appealing. It was like an alternative history book playing out in real time. I could play as a core player, or I could sit on the sidelines and watch as the Nazi Empire defeats the British Empire and takes over Europe.

Hearts of Iron III isn’t the only grand strategy wargame out there. The genre was not born with that game, there are plenty of others. I have to say that HOI3 is the only game within this genre that I have played. I decided that I need to go back to the roots to enjoy this genre more. Many say that Storm Across Europe set the stage for the genre, and I intend to play it.

Storm Across Europe

There is another reason why these wargames, and even those real-time tactics games appealed to me. History interests me. Always has. I could also say I have a nostalgic way of thinking and what I enjoy. Alternative history interests me even more. I am fascinated by ancient history, and I’m just as fascinated about the two World Wars of the 20th century. I spent two weeks in France in 2009 just exploring World War II memorial sites and museums. When you take these grand strategy wargames, they are based on a specific situation / event / environment of the past, and the game lets you decide how it ends. A perfect alternative history game — especially when I get to choose how the game’s story evolve, and not based from some pre-defined script.

If you have a game based on history, is a wargame, involves tactics, operates at a grand scale (or at least appears to), and has a great story line, it is one I will buy and enjoy it. If you let me write the story line while playing it — even better.