Real Talk By: Rickayyyyy
I’ve always been a huge fan of strategy games. Real Time Strategies are certainly the most prevalent kind of strategy game right now, but I have always loved turn based games above all else. It started with chess in school, and turned into some absolute insanity throughout my life. Nothing is more enjoyable than the act of revealing some ridiculous strategy you’ve been building up for 30+ turns. All the planning that goes into a perfectly executed plan makes you feel like freakin’ Alexander the Great.
Today I’ll count down my personal Top 5 Turn Based Strategies of all time. It was very challenging trying to pick a Top 5, but I’m confident in my picks.
5. Total War: Shogun II
Nothing makes you feel more like the aforementioned Alexander the Great than the Total War series. I may have chosen Shogun II, but really this spot belongs to all Total War games, because they are all amazing. This is really one of the few Turn Based games I ever play single player. Commanding your troops on the battlefield is the most intriguing part of potentially any Turn Based game. Mastering combat in this game can be quite in-depth, knowing when to send in your infantry, spearmen, cavalry, archers, and naval units can really make you think. Nothing is quite like winning a battle that you were greatly outnumbered in.
Another part of this game I love is how hard it can be at higher difficulties. Your faction matters a lot difficulty wise, and of course there is a difficulty level you can adjust to make the AI better. Granted, the difficulty level just effects how hard the AI cheats, but that’s something that’s a problem in pretty much every turn based game with AI. Taking over the Shogunate is always super fun, because it’s pretty much you versus everyone else at that point. Naval combat is also super interesting in this game; a good victory can be elating when you’ve stolen their ships.
The reason this isn’t higher is because the AI really isn’t very good. The AI is a heavily cheating AI, meaning cheaper/practically free troops, bonuses to their troops, and various other bonuses, all of which are determined by difficulty level. It is hard to make a good AI that doesn’t cheat, though.
Honestly I was torn between Rome II and Shogun II, and the reason I had to choose Shogun wasn’t because the game was better, it was because the multiplayer actually works. I’ve never had a multiplayer Rome II game that was actually played to completion; the game invariably will error out while the computers are playing their turn and you won’t be able to continue. Granted, I haven’t played Rome II in probably a year, so they may have fixed it, and if they have, Rome is probably better. There’s just more you can do in it. This whole series is fantastic; I highly recommend you play some of them.
4. Sid Meier’s Civilization V
It’s hard to have a list of top turn based games and not mention Civ. Civilization is easily the most well know Turn Based Strategy, and has been great for a long time. The only problems I ever had with the games were the AI and stacks of death, which are no longer in Civ V! This is why I have ranked Civ V instead of the other ones, because having an unassailable stack of units was just no fun. In Civ 5, they have switched to a hex grid, and there can only be 1 offensive unit per tile. This leads to more positioning based combat rather than just who has more units. It really is much better.
Probably my favorite part of Civ is the town building. Early on you keep your eye out for good places to colonize, and you’re constantly looking for ways to make your cities more and more useful. There are many ways to build up a town, often affected by your choice of nation and religion. You usually aim for as many resources as you can, because they help your nation as a whole. Trading resources is also a great mechanic. The only real problem with the town building is the MASSIVE amount of turns it takes to build at the beginning. I’ve always wished Civ took less turns, but that’s just its nature.
A great thing about this game is the abundance of choices you have while playing the game. You have a big choice as you start the game when you choose your nation. There are lots of interesting nations, all of which will greatly affect your play style throughout the whole game. Also another big choice you get is religion. You can customize your religion to suit your needs (assuming you unlock a religion before 7 other players do), and there is a lot of thought that can go into your religion. The number of choices you get is great, especially considering the bulk of them are excellent choices.
My only real beef with this game is the AI is just plain terrible. The AI cheats a LOT in this game to make up for their poor intelligence. I remember pre-ordering the game, playing a few hours the day it came out, and discovering the AI would never, ever shoot at your boats. It made no sense, that’s something that should have been caught in testing immediately. Literally one of your boats could take out a whole fleet because they would never fire back. I believe this has been fixed recently, but the fact it was ever a problem is terrible. I’m sure the AI still makes many equally stupid mistakes. It is super annoying when you have to kill tons of enemies that clearly the AI cheated into play. This game is great for multiplayer, but if you’re anticipating a good fight against AI, you’ll be quite displeased with it. So the gist of this game: play it with friends.
3. Age of Wonders III
Age of Wonders is one of the greatest turn based series ever, and the third installment of the series is simply fantastic. It was also extremely unexpected; Notch just decided one day that he wanted to fund another installment. While there are way less races than the previous 2 series, they made up for it by also making a class component when you create your leader. Honestly, they both pretty much affect your play style about equally. The races and classes are both extremely interesting, and they all seem to be pretty solid choices, though I could see certain combinations being better than others.
The great thing about this series has always been the combat. You can have a certain number of units on each hex, and whenever you attack a hex all the adjacent hexes with units on them are pulled in as well. This makes positioning your units on the world map very important, and means you can only really have a certain size of army on defense, because if you just have a bunch of armies nearby, the attacking player can choose which stacks to have in the combat. In combat, you have to position your units to do as much damage as they can while also not being as susceptible to your enemy’s counterattack. There are a number of factors in positioning, like nearby ranged units, resistances to certain types of attacks, availability of healing, and obstacles. The strategies involved can be very though-provoking.
Unlike the last 2 games I’ve listed, the AI in this game is actually pretty good. I’m sure it cheats a little, because pretty much all the AI in games like this do, but it isn’t noticeable if it does. I would still play with friends, but that’s because I’m a social gamer; playing with sufficiently difficult AIs is still enjoyable. You have a lot of good options for playing this multiplayer: hotseat, play by email, and I believe there is a simultaneous online mode, but I’ve never actually used it (I’m sure it works great, this game has been super stable whenever I’ve played it). Hotseat and play by email both work fantastic.
My only real problem with this game is the random map generator isn’t as good as it could be. Normally in games like this you want a good distribution of loot/dwellings for you to conquer as you grow, but occasionally you get maps where it’s not as evenly distributed as you would like it. Even still, it’s usually alright; it can just be frustrating when you move for 2 turns and don’t see anything you can conquer. This is still a very minor complaint.
2. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
No, this is not Beyond Earth. This is the game Beyond Earth wanted to be. Don’t compare this to Beyond Earth; they tried making Alpha Centauri 2 and failed miserably. Alpha Centauri is, in my opinion, Sid Meier’s best game. This game was supposed to be the spiritual sequel to Civilization. I’m counting both this and its expansion pack as one game, because you’d be crazy not to play without the expansion pack. The game came out with 7 factions, and the expansion pack added 7 more. All the factions are great, and all they all feel quite different (though there are a few similarities between a couple factions). The 2 alien races are a bit weird, but still great.
The combat in this game is better than it initially appears. Sure, you can have stacks of death, but there are ways to deal with it, unlike Civ. You can customize your units like crazy, and you always have to have some military power, because if you don’t Planet’s wildlife will crush you. Planet will constantly be sending mindworms and various opponents at you, so if you aren’t prepared, you might be conquered by Planet, and not even the other factions. There are a bunch of different modifications you can research to improve your troops, and various other roles they can play. I think the most memorable moment I’ve had in this game was when I was playing 2 of my friends, and I pretty much won at the end in a war that lasted a single turn. I had been building planes armed with nerve gas for 30+ turns, and pretty much killed at least half of both of their populations the turn I declared war on them. Sure, I lost all my trade, but who needs trade when both of your opponents are completely crippled. You can do a lot of strategies like that in this game.
There is also a lot of thought that goes into your towns. It’s Civ-esque, as in initially everything takes forever to build. Later on everything ramps up in speed, but it always is a bit slow. There are enough buildings you can research that it’s unlikely you’ll build every building in every town, but that’s really a good thing because it’s fun to specialize. I remember making one of my towns into a super-soldier manufactory, as in all the units it recruited were elites. This component of the game is much deeper than it first appears.
The AI in this game is pretty solid too. They do cheat a bit, but not anywhere near the extent in most Civilization games. Honestly, it’s kind of like there are 2 separate types of AI: the faction AI, and then Planet’s AI. The planet you land on (called simply Planet) has a bunch of wildlife, and there appears to be a mind at work behind them. They will send more enemies at you if you pollute or treat the world badly. The faction AI will be diplomatic with you, and are intelligent enough to make alliances with your enemies if you aren’t nice to them. You will pretty much always be trying to talk with them to trade technology and money, and forging alliances so that all the factions won’t team up on you. The AI in this game is simply fantastic. Play this game with or without friends, because it’s great either way.
1. Dominions 4: Thrones of Ascension
Finally, my favorite Turn Based Strategy of all time, Dominions. I’ve been playing since Dominions 2, and it’s truly the only game that I’ve constantly been learning new tricks the whole time. Each installation of Dominions is essentially the same game with more content, and this is actually a very good thing. They’ve been perfecting this game a long time. There are some imbalanced races in this game, but for most intents and purposes, it doesn’t matter that much if you have a good strategy. Everyone online says Agartha is terrible, but I have a strategy with them that has always worked great for me. You can have unique strategies with virtually any race in this game.
At first glance, the combat may seem strange. You don’t get any direct control in the combat, but only get to place your units and give standard troops 1 order for the whole combat, and commanders get an order and 5 actions. This mechanic actually works great, placing your troops is very important, and giving them commands can get them to do pretty useful things. You can actually do a lot of strategy with this, like sending in flying commanders behind the troops to target their commanders, or target them at large monsters if they have powerful large enemies. You can also tell your mages to cast spells in a specific order that could greatly change the combat, like calling up a storm to prevent flying/projectiles or hitting your enemies with powerful damaging spells.
This game is easily the deepest game you will ever play. There are literally thousands of units, hundreds of spells, hundreds of items, and though some of them you wouldn’t use except in rare cases, most of them are usable in many situations. The depth of this game allows you to make truly unique strategies. My best friend and I have been constantly playing since Dominions 2, and we both have greatly different play styles now, but are pretty much evenly matched. We have almost entirely different mindsets in the game, but neither has proven to be superior. The game has so much depth to offer, I feel like it would be impossible to ever conceive of it all.
The strategies you can create in this game can be really crazy. Here’s a few examples: Giving your army some magic mirrors to make it look much bigger than it actually is, gearing out a powerful commander to take out a whole army (also known as a supercombatant), linking up tons of mages into a communion to greatly increase some of their magic powers while the rest take on their fatigue, summoning 4 armed commanders and giving them 2 bows that each shoot 13 projectiles per round, creating commanders that can summon massive armies of vine men, summoning a fairy queen who will give your whole army mistform and regeneration, sending stealthy commanders that spread disease to kill off population in your enemy’s provinces. I could go on for so long, this is only a fraction of the strategies that have occurred in our games.
The AI in this game is pretty good now. The AI used to suck, but they greatly improved it in Dominions 4. I’m pretty sure it does cheat, but not nearly as bad as some other games. The difficulty levels are pretty major, they can be real challenging now. The AI actually knows how to use magic properly now, which is pretty impressive considering how complex magic is.
This game may not have the greatest graphics in the world, but it has everything you want in a turn based strategy. It is absolutely deserving of its position in first place, and in all honesty, it is by a large margin. I recommend you play it, and I would also recommend you play it with friends. The AI is good, but I feel like it’s always way more enjoyable to play someone else.