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Slow but steady

Over the past year, the Strategic Command column has focused mostly on the real-time side of the strategy spectrum, since that’s generally my personal preference (except for X-COM, of course). But, having visited Firaxis this month, I decided the time was right to check in on the state of turn-based strategy games. They don’t get as much attention as they used to, but even excluding Colonization, there are several promising turn-based strategy games in development—and I’m not talking about the constant stream of low-budget European imports published by Matrix Games. Not that Matrix doesn’t occasionally have its gems, but those games do tend to lack the polish needed for mainstream appeal.

Sid Meier isn’t the only one visiting the 18th century as a setting for a turn-based strategy game. While Creative Assembly’s Total War games are generally considered to be RTSes, they also feature a turn-based component strong enough that some players like to hit the auto-resolve button on the real-time battles in order to focus entirely on the big picture. Empire: Total War is shaping up to deepen that strategy with additions like different win conditions (besides simply conquering a big enough chunk of the map) based on what country you’re controlling. It should be interesting to see two radically different takes on strategy in the colonial era.


Above: PM08 replaces fantasy monsters with political operatives.  You might not even notice

Meanwhile, even as the epic Galactic Civilizations II saga comes to an end with the new Twilight of the Arnor expansion (reviewed on page 67), publisher/developer Stardock is hard at work behind closed doors on a yet-to-be-titled turn-based-strategy game with tactical combat in a fantasy setting—and with the ambitious high-quality projects the developer has been undertaking lately (Sins of a Solar Empire and Demigod), I’m looking forward to seeing more on this one. CEO Brad Wardell says the game will not be a clone of either Master of Magic or Civilization, but something in between that’s unique. The team is also nearing completion on Political Machine 2008, which we previewed last issue. It isn’t likely to be the deepest strategy game, but the light-hearted approach and social relevance make it a must-play in my book.

And then there’s the inevitable next installment in the Sid Meier’s Civilization series. The Civ games have been around since 1991, and while there’s no word yet on the next one, the series will probably keep going forever (or as long as 2K Games continues to make gobs of money from it). Those games are so popular and so difficult to stop playing, I predict that in a future Civ game, when your culture reaches the 1990s, you’ll be able to research and build the Civilization games, which will cause all productivity across the globe to drop to 0.5% and leave it ripe for conquest.

It’s not as long a list as I’d like to see, but with Stardock’s rising fortunes and the social and multiplayer components of its new Impulse online store being designed specifically with strategy gamers in mind, I’m confident that turn-based fans will have something to play for some time to come.

Jun 16, 2008

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