Choosing the best RTS and turn-based strategy games: Buyer’s Guide review

Understanding turn-based and real-time strategy games
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In crude terms, strategy games are the exact opposite to 3D action titles. This is a sphere of gaming in which cogitation is required, not reflexes, and decision-making skills win the day, not hand-eye coordination. There may still be blood and guts involved, but you’ll barely be able to make them out from your vantage point outside your hilltop tent, sipping a glass of Chardonnay, high above the battlefield. Read on, as IT Reviews explains the merits of the genre and picks a few of its favourites.

Strategy games are generally lengthy pursuits, with campaigns that span years or even centuries – and, indeed, weeks in real life. They also tend to be highly replayable, with scenarios having vastly different outcomes depending on your tactical approach. As a result, this genre has more longevity than a vampire Oil of Olay salesman, and often just as much in the way of bite.

Turn-based strategy
Strategy war and world domination games come in two main flavours – turn-based and real-time. Turn-based strategy games are the deep thinker’s preference, where the player can spend many minutes tinkering in menus and setting orders for each turn, taking as long as they want before watching their commands play out in the game world.

Civilisation 5
Hit strategy game Civilization, now in its fifth incarnation, is a hit with deep thinkers.

Civilization is a sterling example, with the latest fifth incarnation of the game – reviewed here – simplifying itself nicely to become considerably more accessible. There’s still a wealth of detail on offer, mind, but with some excellently integrated help so you don’t ever feel too lost.

Real-time strategy (RTS)
For those liable to nod off rather than develop their technology tree towards industrialisation over the centuries, real-time strategy (RTS) is a better bet. As the name suggests, this involves real-time direction of the conflict, with quick thinking required, along with some swift mouse scrolling and clicking at times. Designing bases to build your army is often a major piece of the puzzle, too.

Publisher Blizzard is the RTS king with its fantasy themed Warcraft (not to be confused with World of Warcraft), and sci-fi twin Starcraft. The company’s latest offering, Starcraft II, is a breathtaking slice of RTS, with a thoroughly engaging overarching campaign story, quality presentation, and some of the most well designed battle scenarios we’ve ever come across. It’s an absolute must, and boasts hugely competitive online play ladders for veteran strategists, although even beginners will be able to enjoy the game on easier skill settings.

StarCraft II by Blizzard
Sci-fi RTS StarCraft II offers some of the most well designed combat we’ve ever seen.

Some games straddle both these strategy concepts, such as Sega’s Total War series. This plays out via turn-based map manoeuvring – but when forces clash, the game switches to a real-time battlefield to resolve the outcome (although those battles can be simulated, should you wish). Shogun 2: Total War is the latest in the series, and it’s well worth a fistful of your hard-earned pounds.

Management sims
The strategy games label also applies to simulation and management titles, where the player must use his or her noggin to run a hotel, Formula 1 team, or somebody’s life. The last of these is the subject of hit series The Sims, one of the best-selling franchises of all time. It’s a vastly open-ended game of life involving raising a family, buying and decorating a house, and dealing with disasters such as burglars and getting fired. Again, this is another title people can spend months or years playing.

The Sims 3
Strategy gaming meets family business in The Sims, now in its third incarnation.