Tag Archives: strategy

2016 Was A Great Year!

In the field of video games, and absolutely nowhere else, 2016 was actually a tremendous year. One of the best in a long time, and arguably one of the best ever. It seems that no matter what your platform or preferred genre, whether you play casually or consider Dark Souls too easy, this year didn’t have something for you, it had loads for you. Let’s take a real quick look at some of the many, many areas in which gaming excelled in the past twelve months.

Strategy. We at Every Video Games like strategy and tactics games a great deal. If you do too, boy howdy was this a year for you. XCOM 2. The Banner Saga 2. Hearts of Iron IV. Stellaris. Total War: Warhammer. Civilization VI. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun. Ultimate General: Civil War. Offworld Trading Company. Hugely consequential expansions for EU4 and CK2. Just about every sub-genre, and just about every setting, was covered, from sci-fi to historical, 4X to real-time tactics. And understand, this wasn’t just a year with a good selection for grogs, this was a year of games ranging from merely very good, to classics that are popular well beyond the genre’s core base.

Overwatch. Overwatch kind of came out of nowhere and suddenly demonstrated that Blizzard still has it. It’s a seminal team shooter, fast, frenetic, fun, packed with colorful locations and even more colorful characters, and it has resonated with vast numbers of people for an uncommonly inclusive cast of characters. The woman on the box art was just confirmed to be a lesbian. There are characters from China, India, Egypt, Brazil. There are old people, kicking ass and taking names.

"Maybe it's just how British people act?" - an actual thing I have heard. It isn't.
Suuuuuper gay!

Legion. Okay, heads up, I’ve not spent nearly as much time with Legion as I’d like so far. The same RL stuff that disrupted blogging for the last few months also interfered with some of my gaming; but the time I did spend in Legion, and the reports I’m hearing from many other people, is that it is a superlative expansion. I’ve heard some say it’s the best the game has ever been. I’ve heard many say it’s at least a worthy effort at matching the golden age of TBC/Wrath. I look forward to spending the time it deserves on the Broken Isles in the new year – but quite aside from myself, it’s amazing and refreshing to see an MMO over a decade old still getting fresh new content that brings in players.

Tom Clancy’s The Division. Well, I haven’t listed this because it’s an earthshaking game or anything, but for another important reason. When it was released, The Division had okay reception, but it didn’t really inspire people and had a lot of issues in endgame, as well as more than a few bugs. So what did they do? They delayed their planned DLC so they could improve the core game experience, iron out the bugs, and make sure players ended up getting their money’s worth. I played The Division during a free weekend recently and had a great time, and I’m probably going to pick it up at some point fairly soon. It’s great to see even major publishers working hard to bring a game up to where the players want it, and hopefully it’s a trend that will only grow.

"What if becoming a cyborg removes that which makes us human?" Like I sincerely do not care. Give me the robot powers. Make me strong.
It’s true I never asked for this, but only because I never dared hope for a gaming year this good.

Watch_Dogs 2. Wait, what? Watch_Dogs 2? Really? Well, it’s here for a similar reason to The Division. WD2 isn’t a timeless classic, and it doesn’t succeed at everything it tries. But it’s orders of magnitude beyond the original game; the second one makes a sincere effort at crafting likeable characters, at giving players a stake, and worked well to improve almost every aspect of the somewhat underwhelming original. In short, it’s solid, honest work from a dev who accepted the criticism of their game and did a praiseworthy amount of work to make the next one much better, and more enjoyable, to play.

So much more. DooM. Dishonored 2. FFXV. Uncharted 4. Stardew Valley. Pokemon Sun and Moon. Battlefield 1. Blood and Wine. Forza 3. Rise of the Tomb Raider. Dark Souls III. Crypt of the Necrodancer. Titanfall 2. The Last Guardian. Dying Light: The Following. Firewatch. Hitman. Planet Coaster. Owlboy. This was a year of new games, of long-awaited games, of franchises rejuvenated, of fascinating new ideas, of sequels that make an effort, a year with games in every genre, on every platform, for every gamer. It was a year we desperately needed in gaming because everything else seemed to be terrible, and maybe, if we’re very very lucky, 2016 will prove to be a 1998, the first year of a golden age.

This just feels right.

Pike wrote extensive about XCOM: Enemy Unknown yesterday and I’m going to follow up on her post now that I’ve had the chance to spend a few hours with it. Through methods. As you can infer from the title, I’m a big fan. I’m a HUGE fan.

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with classic PC games will probably be aware of X-Com even if they’ve never played it; it’s regularly highlighted as one of the best games ever made and this is not a reputation attained without sound reasons. It is an absolutely masterful blend of strategic and tactical thinking, it crafts an atmosphere of extraordinary tension, and it somehow manages to combine a very strong attachment to your troops with a massive rate of attrition among them. It also featured the torture of watching your brilliant tactical maneuvers getting completely undone and everything going to hell.

This game masterfully recaptures that. The mechanics are different in a lot of ways, such as the removal of Time Units (Something that caused a sudden intake of breath among X-Com vets when it was revealed) and the smaller squad sizes. But it’s an isometric tactical game with a strategic layer on top, and it’s all about tension and everything going downhill and your desperate efforts to pull it off despite all your best laid plans going the way of George and Lennie’s.

Moreno, Okamoto, and Mack were good soldiers, and good people. Their sacrifice won’t be forgotten. Also despite this loss the mission had a good outcome, because Classic Ironman is hardcore and this is XCOM.

Indeed, most of the changes are very sensible and nice ones and it’s patently clear that the team at Firaxis put a huge amount of work into figuring out what worked and what didn’t and then polished the thing nicely. Which isn’t to say it’s not buggy as heck, because many reports suggest it is, but the underlying design decisions and mechanics all seem to be very, very solid. One nice touch I’d especially like to point out is the addition of three characters in your base, your chief scientist, engineer, and your right-hand man. It adds a lot to hear their commentary on various matters, but their suggestions are never more than that. They’re a wonderful little addition that add a lot to playing.

What this game does though is it takes me back. Like an old war vet, playing this game reminds me of the original, and it pulls me back to when I was a kid playing that game all summer long, getting destroyed by Cyberdiscs and Mutons (Not to mention Tentaculats and Lobstermen oh god), and this just feels like a game from a bygone era, when they were unforgiving bastards that made you incredibly angry but were far, far too damn good and addictive to actually put down for more than five minutes.

If you were worried about this not being true to the original, you can rest assured that all the changes I’ve seen so far have allayed that fear completely. The mechanics and look may have changed but the spirit absolutely has not.

(It should be noted that Pike and I are both playing the PC version of the game, and indeed one of the few genuine criticisms I have is that the UI is clearly intended to allow consoles to play the thing. I’m all for a game this relentlessly ballcrushing on a console but I hope Firaxis patch in a few tweaks for the PC side of things.)

Grand Strategy and 4X

We got a question yesterday via twitter from reader Fuggle/Math asking how we would describe the difference between 4X games and Grand Strat games. Well, the reply would take longer than 140 characters so here we are~

Now, these two genres are pretty closely linked for obvious reasons. Both tend to involve the control of countries on a quest for dominance, be it local, global, or galactic. Both tend to involve building up your infrastructure and military and pushing large groups of units around. And if you play both then it’s hardly surprising that you’d end up trying to figure out what the difference is supposed to be. But let’s dig into it a little deeper and see if we can tease some answers out.

Let’s define 4X first, for anyone not sure of what it means. It should be 4E actually, because it stands for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate. But X is the coolest letter, so there we are. Anyway the idea of a 4X game is to do exactly that; to begin from a single settlement (be it a city or a planet) and first discover everything around you, then move in to occupy and make use of it, and then to annihilate everything else you meet.

So far, so strategic. How does this differ from Grand Strategy? Well, a Grand Strategy game has a couple of key differences. You still Expand and Exploit, but the Exploration and Extermination aspects tend to play second fiddle. This is not to say that they are absent or that no GS game cares for them – EU3 has a strong exploration aspect for example, whilst almost all of them involve SOME degree of Extermination. But you tend to be able to win without needing to conquer everyone. Indeed that may be perfectly possible, as in Hearts of Iron, but it may also be fairly tricky, as in Victoria 2.

And in some cases it is the categorical imperative of those workers who have already set themselves free.

Perhaps the other big difference is that 4X games are almost invariably turn-based, whilst Grand Strategy tend to be Real Time With Pause. Both encourage you to take your time and think about things, but GS still leans towards being a bit more fast-paced thanks to this. GS generally tries to implement the diplomacy side of things with more rigor and depth than 4X, as well – though the extent to which any given game succeeds in this is, of course, up for debate.

The much, much quicker way to tell is by asking “Was this game made by Paradox Interactive?” If yes, it’s a Grand Strategy. If no, it’s not. Unless it is, but who buys anything made by Matrix Games at those prices?

Victory is Possible

If you keep up with what Paradox talk about you may be aware that they just recently announced a new project, first codenamed Project Reagan and since revealed to be a Cold War-era game by the team who made HoI2 offshoot Arsenal of Democracy. Now, as long-time readers may be aware I have a particular interest in the Cold War or more specifically the aspect of nuclear warfare and policy within it. To this end I’m going to write up a nice long post detailing my thoughts on this development!

At the core of the Cold War, and thus things that need to be executed well in this game, are two concepts. The first is the whole espionage, diplomacy, proxy war side of things. The second is nuclear policy, strategy, brinkmanship, and potentially, war. Neither of these are things that have been tremendously well-implemented in the main so it will be interesting to see whether the AoD team can live up to this challenge.

If the consequences of nukes are only “GAME OVER, and no you don’t get an animation of a mushroom cloud, we don’t reward failure.” then it’s not actually going to be very much fun. It was a valid design choice for Balance of Power, but I’ve got both academic and gamer objections to the idea of ending the game the moment someone presses the red button. Just because nuclear brinkmanship worked out the way it did in our world does not mean it always had to do so, and this needs to be reflected if the game is going to be anything except a history show.

The problem (And this is something that Pox as well as other games always fall down on) is that you really need to model negotiations, both formal ones like the SALT talks and “Comrade Premier, there’s a single American nuclear weapon flying in. It will detonate in the remote Urals. What do we do?” red-phone hotline business. There needs to be the opportunity for deceit – there needs to be the opportunity for back-and-forth – and there needs to be an intensely personal element to it. When you talk to the President about said incoming nuke it matters enormously what you, as the Russian Premier, think of him. If the two of you have good relations and you believe him sufficiently honest, that’s going to demand a much different reaction from thinking he’s a gung-ho senile old capitalist snake who has been itching to wipe out Moscow. As it stands of course the system is Send an Offer -> Other Guys reject it -> Two weeks later bribe Other Guys -> Two weeks later Send the Offer again. That barely cuts it for any of their existing games, it sure as shit won’t cut it in a conflict which should very often play out without full-scale war and where the outbreak of full-scale war itself should provide a massive imperative for emergency negotiations to stop it, because everyone knows where it could very quickly lead.

Also, what’s a Cold War game without storing up trouble for the future?

The question of nuclear targeting policy, and nuclear use policy, is of vital importance. In real history the USA’s policy was to keep European forces relatively weak, weak enough that they couldn’t really hope to stop a full-scale Soviet invasion (this changed as time passed and NATO technology developed much faster than Soviet tech did, and by the 80’s this would have just led to a lot of ruined Red tanks). They also made explicit that they would not rule out first-use of nuclear weapons. The whole thing was a bluff, brinkmanship of the highest order. Perception is more important than knowledge, and your leader’s personal beliefs on the Other Guys is vital. Another issue in the targeting policy side of things is that targeting policy occupied a huge amount of thought on both side. What do you aim at? How much do you devote towards everything? Is your policy to try and wipe out the other guy’s ability to nuke you? To simply ensure your own second-strike capability, so even if every last person in Russia is dead you can still destroy the West? Do you target population centers, or only warfighting centers, and does the distinction even matter? So on and so forth, and nothing about the outcome was predetermined, of course.

It will be interesting to see how East vs. West tackles these issues, if indeed it tries to at all. It’s been a long time since there was a real Cold War game, and longer still since one that took a shot at tackling these sorts of issues. A good Cold War game could be the most tense gameplay experience since the original Silent Hill made us shit our britches. We’ll have to wait and see.

(PS for one view on what nuclear policy should be, you could do worse than to read Colin Gray’s paper Victory is Possible.)


No, not the Lady Gaga song, as great as it is. No I’m talking about Jihad Sultans 2 Crusader Kings 2. Let me set the scene for you guys.

Using the Character Creator I began as a German-culture Christian in Gao, and quickly expanded to take the surrounding lands and form the Kingdom of Songhai. So far so good, but then my male line seems to just end and I have nothing but daughters for like 50 years, and despite the continuation of expansion at first I’ve been struggling to keep things together. Why? Because my country is full of FAITHLESS BACKSTABBING MENDACIOUS FRAUDULENT TWO-FACED DOUBLE-CROSSING PERFIDIOUS RECREANT TRAITORS, THAT’S FUCKING WHY!

I’m so mad. I try and be a nice, benevolent ruler. But people keep rebelling and that necessitates tyranny to keep the land together – which of course makes people dislike me further. There should probably be a fear modifier for a consistently victorious tyrant because I always manage to find a way to win, whether it’s by attriting the other guys to death in the horrendously bleak deserts of Africa, taking loans until I can afford the mercenaries needed to win, or through the sheer luck of capturing the leader of a rebellion in battle.

My current Queen, Queen Luna I of Songhai and Ghana, is only 35 years old and she just put down the “Third War to Depose Queen Luna”, the “Second War against the tyranny of Queen Luna” (Caused by people who you try to arrest or revoke the titles of saying “Nah bro” and revolting instead; but I only tried to imprison them because they were involved with other revolts!), and some random attempt at independence by some podunk no-account count of Povertania, West Africa. Oh and then my still-pagan neighbors in Tarkur took a shot at me and I had to cede some territory because it was in the middle of one of those other wars.

Why is there never a vassal swarm in my DEFENSE?

Twenty-two years on the throne and already in this mess. And furthermore thanks to not having ANY SONS EVER ARGH I don’t have people I can hand landed titles out to any more; so here I am sitting pretty with a ton more provinces than I can administer and nobody loyal to give the damned things to. Mom tried that with Duke Valerian II and he got outmaneuvered by Dukes Emich I and II, the latter of whom ended up with ALL THE DUCHIES. Which meant I had to fight 3/4 of my country simultaneously because Emich II was all “Oh ho ho ho I’m not going to settle for that oh no I’m Petyr Fucking Baelish, Littlefinger big ambitions, time to betray the daughter of the woman who gave me power in the first place!” So now my country is a ruined hellhole, going from the most prosperous and powerful Christian state outside Europe to an impoverished, contracting realm with no money, no manpower, and no loyal vassals in the space of twenty years.

I love this game.

e; Oh also there’s Rome 2 announced.

Magna Mundi

So there’s a pretty big mod for EU3 known as Magna Mundi, whose objective was among other things to make handling your country internally a trickier, more involved affair that required attention and thought, rather than mere afterthought. Well, so successful was this mod that they set out to license what they needed from Paradox in order to make it as a standalone game. Now this has worked well before, as we can see in Arsenal of Democracy and Darkest Hour (The latter of which I consider the definitive version of HoI2, in fact), and Magna Mundi the Game (MMtG) aroused plenty of excitement on the Paradox forums.

And then it was cancelled. And they didn’t beat around the bush when they announced it, either. Take a look at this;

“We have seen this project drag on and the code we have gotten has not shown significant improvement for many months. Some old and known problems persists and new ones appear with each delivery.”

Paradox’s executive produce Mattias Lilja then added this;

“Lack of trust; the leadership of [Magna Mundi developers] Universo Virtual has given a sunshine version of the project to Paradox and reacted with irritation and anger when we have pointed out obvious problems with the deliveries. It has come to a point where they claim the project is done, and the game is ready for release – despite the many critical issues found and reported on our end.

Internal strife within the MM team; we have gotten information from members within the MM team desperate to save the project whom report to us that the project lacks active leadership. Key personnel in the project see what Paradox sees but instead gets silenced by the UV leadership.

All in all, these are not circumstances under which we can work with a team and it will now stop. At this point we have no more news than the above.”

Wow! That’s pretty uncompromising stuff there, and there seems to be little reason to doubt them. What do they stand to gain by cancelled, after all? Ubik – the lead developer of the MMtG project – is meanwhile infamous for his hardheadedness and refusal to consider when he’s making a mistake. He is now threatening legal action against Pox, and nobody can quite see what leg he thinks he has to stand on. But he provides much entertainment!

Oh also the UI looked like this.

What, is it vaporware from 1997?

More here and here!


As you know we are unofficial GoG.com mouthpieces because they sell loads of great games, but this is a particularly special one.


Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. $2.99 USD. You know what you do.

Pike keeps this picture handy.

Endless Space

Fillies and gentlecolts, we’ve got something we need to talk about. There’s a game on the horizon known as Endless Space, a 4X game that I had previously heard of but only kept half an eye on. Well as it turns out it was very recently put up on Steam and pre-ordering, as is becoming something of a norm for games from non-major publishers, gives you alpha access.

To bluntly not put too fine a point upon it, the alpha is as good as most gold iterations of other games. It is incredibly smooth, clean, and lovely to use. It obviously still needs work, but even as a late alpha game it seems to be entirely playable and thoroughly enjoyable so far, and I’ve been playing it for a couple of hours solidly now. As regular readers will know by now both Pike and myself are ardent fans of the 4X genre, playing stupid amounts of Civilization for example. Pike rates Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri as the single best game ever, and I rate it in my top three. And on the SMAC note, Endless Space has a very pleasing quasi-homage to SMAC in the tech tree icons.

There is ONE game Pike would consider better...

Endless Space hits the usual list of items that a 4X should, the whole 4X part of it that is, but it’s doing so in a way that is clear and making a lot of sense, providing a sense of rapid, but controllable buildup as you discover new technologies, unlock new buildings, and acquire new resources. In many ways it also takes after MoO2, for example in letting you colonize planets within a system once you’ve got one colony in it, without the need for new colony ships. Building your infrastructure is also a curious affair; you choose an area for each individual planet to focus on, like enhancing farming or being a trading hub, whilst you build your more typical improvements on a system-wide basis. It’s an interesting hybrid as a solution to the problem of the appropriate scale on which to handle this side of the 4X genre and so far I have to say it’s a fairly effective one; systems are the main basis of your empire, but your planets are still more than just completely interchangeable or indeed entirely invisible subunits; they have their own character and you can influence this.

Combat is the part of the game I’m not yet 100% sold on, though I’m not sure how much remains to be done there I hope there’s a little tweaking. It plays out as a video, rather like GalCiv 2’s combat scenes, but in ES you have the ability to choose actions for each of the three phases of combat; for example you can choose to deploy nanobots to repair your ships, to divert all spare power to weapons for a risky offensive, and the like. It’s a sound idea and could be a great halfway point between the full control of, say, Homeworld and the completely hands-off nature of GC2, but I think a few more options are needed in the early game to really ensure this works, and combat needs to be a bit more… I’m not sure exactly, visceral? It feels a bit like it lacks in impact. Still, it’s a commendable effort that is, as with everything in this game, very well presented.

Yayyy overviews of space!

There is also the standard 4X element of ship design, and this seems like a very good effort with a wide and increasing array of options as you progress through the tech trees; there’s not a huge amount to say except that there are no complaints whatsoever from me.

The thing that’s really getting me into this game, however, is the sheer level of polish that is present. As I’ve said it’s an alpha, but it acts nothing like one in most regards. Everything is fast, clean, smooth, obvious, and I actually turned the tutorial off because the screens and their tooltips provide more than enough information anyway. The music is atmospheric and suitably grand as well. Never underestimate the power of a good interface and a solid atmosphere – it’s the difference between a good game and a classic one, and it can make even a mediocre game enjoyable.

The Endless Space site!

Bored Receptionists and Smelling Faintly Of Cabbage

It bears mentioning that Theme Hospital has very recently become available on Gog.com and I urge you all to purchase it at your earliest convenience. I did and have barely been able to put it down since, it is if anything even better than I remembered it being.

Theme Hospital is the sequel – after a fashion – to Theme Park, two of the games Bullfrog put out in the 1990s during their golden era, a short but incredible catalog that I’m not convinced any other developer has ever matched; Populous, Syndicate, Magic Carpet, Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper; it’s a truly illustrious list of games that are not only classics, but that in some cases defined and defied genre. In Theme Park your job was, as the title suggests, to construct a profitable Theme Park. Theme Hospital is obviously a preposterous notion, but that gives a good indicator of the humor at the game’s core. Your job as manager-god is to design, staff, and run a profitable hospital, dealing with such absurd conditions as Bloaty Head and Uncommon Cold, keeping your staff and patients happy (And alive), and coping with the sometimes rather restrictive layouts you are given.

The gentleman dressed as Elvis will die ON THE SPOT if his shrink gets it wrong.

It’s a management game of the kind that became so widespread in the years after Theme Park/Hospital and Railroad Tycoon were successful, but make no mistake, this is the genuine article. We are not talking about Waste Management Facility Tycoon here (though you do need to build toilets), we are talking about an exceedingly clever, enjoyable game that gets challenging fast, all with a strong streak of humor running through it, from the perfectly bored tannoy announcements to the amusing descriptions of staff.

In which Mister Adequate works for videogames!

A sentiment I’m sure many other gamers share is the belief that we could do it better. “If only I were in charge” we think “the latest installment of X would not have been so casual and dire!” Well, I’ve been bouncing around a videogame idea in my head for some time now, and I’m thinking that when I finish my current novel – not too far off now – I’m going to switch away from writing and begin learning how I might make this thing. I thought I would throw the idea out there to see if anyone has any ideas they might like to add to it, or general comments! Anything welcome!

My working name for this thing is An Ancient Evil Has Awoken. The twist is that said ancient evil is you – the objective of the game is to use your malevolent powers to wipe out the human race, evolving from newly-awoken small-timer to Eldritch Abomination. My design document at the moment proposes three main avenues of attack; the inducement of natural disasters, the use of psychic abilities to mess with human’s minds, and finally the use of supernatural events like Biblical plagues or creating zombies or things like that.

I envision the game to play as something between a cross of Pandemic and Populous. You would acquire your resource – tentatively called Terror – through things you do, as well as a slow trickle from the natural disasters (As in actual natural ones) and expend it on causing more death and mayhem. The world would be divided into a number of zones, and as the humans begin to grow aware that things are not right, they would develop more effective defenses against you and eventually could find a way to either destroy you, or to save themselves some other way. Of course the idea of a malevolent god out to destroy humanity is going to be a bit scarier than just bad things happening, so you’ve got a major decision to make; are you overt, increasing terror but making humans more able to resist you, or covert, which gives you a much more constrained ‘budget’ but lets you work in relative peace.

It should be possible though to do things in a variety of ways, and the player should fundamentally feel they are in control of how they are destroying the world. Ideally you would be able to cause an obscene amount of global mayhem without ever doing anything overtly recognizable as supernatural or weird. An economic crash here, a war there, and in the end you can just step in to finish off the survivors.

Pretty much a game where you play as this guy, yeah

What say you, fellow malevolent omnicidal lunatics? Any ideas, thoughts, comments?