No Sense of Strategy in Strategy Games

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Real-Time Strategy is a bit of a misnomer. Most, if not all, of these games are actually about tactics and not strategy.

When you play Risk you don't play 1v1, you play a free for all with a group of soon to be lost friends.
Same idea applies to RTS, I can only speak for Starcraft but when you play an 8 person race war, Free for all, or one of my favorites 2v2v2v2 you're using everything from psychology to underhanded guerrilla warfare tactics to get the job done.

Tanis:
I kind of wish Stardock would combine GalCiv with Sins of a Solar Empire.

My pants would need changing if that was announced.

wookiee777:
snip

I would say Sins of a Solar Empire or Supreme Commander

Using a smaller force but scary looking launch an assault on a periphery enemy defense area, make it look good and like a full attack to draw heavy enemy defenses to one side, then slash in with a faster or more heavily armed group into the less defended flank to savage the enemy, have a third force to reinforce either attack, if they pull back from the decoys, use reserve to reinforce decoy group to make them pay, if your main force starts to get hammered you reinforce that one while pushing the decoys forward to catch them in a pincer.

EDIT: Also, homeworld 1/cata and homeworld 2 can use very heavy strategy when playing in a 3 dimensional battlefield.

If you're looking for some games that require deep, meaningful strategies that are turn-based, then Fire Emblem (GBA) and Advance Wars 2 are pretty good choices. For RTS I would pick Rome: Total War.

Quick note:

Tactics (n): The art of disposing armed forces in order of battle and of organizing operations, esp. during contact with an enemy.

Strategy (n): The art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle.

Basically, strategy is on paper, and usually created before conflict. Tactics are the actually execution of the strategy and changing it based on changing conditions on the battlefield. The old adage, "No plan survives contact with the enemy" refers to the need to be able to deviate from a preconceived strategy and rely on tactics if necessary.

Anyway, got that out of my system.

My personal favorite RTS games are the Total War games (particularly rome) and Company of Heroes.

TheCommanders:
Quick note:

Tactics (n): The art of disposing armed forces in order of battle and of organizing operations, esp. during contact with an enemy.

Strategy (n): The art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle.

Basically, strategy is on paper, and usually created before conflict. Tactics are the actually execution of the strategy and changing it based on changing conditions on the battlefield. The old adage, "No plan survives contact with the enemy" refers to the need to be able to deviate from a preconceived strategy and rely on tactics if necessary.

I think when people say Real-Time Strategy, they probably mean Real-Time Tactics. But I don't think it matters so long as you understand what they mean. Maybe that's the problem with my OP. Am I not specific enough in what I'm looking for?

Advance Wars is definitely one of the most involved strategy games I've ever played, though it does feel like a puzzle game at times. Frozen Synapse definitely makes you think but it's got an uncomfortably high ratio of busywork to actual strategy (tactics really), you have too many options to hedge your bets on a single units move and too few units overall. Spectromancer is pretty much the deepest strategy game ever to hit a computer but it's very abstract. Total War has some strategy involved but it generally only comes out over massive campaigns.

If you have an iPad Small World definitely sounds like your kind of thing. In fact it might even be worth you buying an iPad just for that game. It's a wider, more streamlined and much more balanced variant of Risk.

Overall though most strategy games are either about an illusion of strategy or bury their strategy behind huge walls of busywork and rapid-fire reaction. You have to take what you can get, strategy isn't even all that popular amongst people who play strategy games.

wookiee777:

TheCommanders:
Quick note:

Tactics (n): The art of disposing armed forces in order of battle and of organizing operations, esp. during contact with an enemy.

Strategy (n): The art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle.

Basically, strategy is on paper, and usually created before conflict. Tactics are the actually execution of the strategy and changing it based on changing conditions on the battlefield. The old adage, "No plan survives contact with the enemy" refers to the need to be able to deviate from a preconceived strategy and rely on tactics if necessary.

I think when people say Real-Time Strategy, they probably mean Real-Time Tactics. But I don't think it matters so long as you understand what they mean. Maybe that's the problem with my OP. Am I not specific enough in what I'm looking for?

Maybe being a little more specific would help, but I just felt compelled to be anal. I kind of know what you mean though. There are good strategy/tactics games, but there are also a lot of Halo Wars.

DustyDrB:
Try Frozen Synapse. If you tell me there is no strategy in that then I'll...come up with something witty later.

..Oh! Oh! There's no strategy in your mom!

But seriously, Frozen Synapse might be my favorite strategy game. It is very chess-like, I think.

I second this game. If you want great tactical experience with great aesthetic choice and quite interesting premise, you won't be disappointed.

Company of Heroes. Why has nobody mentioned that?

Not every unit can kill everything. You need specialist anti-tank infantry to kill tanks, and then they don't do as well against anti-infantry infantry. The cover mechanic also creates major things to consider, including figuring out natural choke points and places to hold.

Limited resources as well as resource-points means you have to hold ground, and the way bases are built, I've never seen a "zerg rush" nor a "tank rush" because any player worth their salt has invested in landmines and tank traps. Oh sure, you can invest in mine-detectors, but a sniper can ruin those plans rather easily.

Some real life tactical things come into play, like delay doctrines. I've had scenarios where one or two squads of Grenadiers has had to hold out against enemy armored cars, w/o AT weapons, so that I had time to get the resources I needed to either hit another area or counter-attack directly.

This game needs more love dammnit.

So if strategy is the plan and tactics is the execution, how can you play one without the other?

Unless you're simply just adapting to what the opponent does, but even then that's kind of a strategy.

Sins of a Solar Empire is a good example of a RTS where you do need strategy, every move you make can be countered and no matter how big and powerful you think your fleet is it can still lose if the enemy has the right units.

I remember one game where things went horribly wrong, I outnumbered the enemy with superior ships and numbers, but heavy cruisers were taken out by carriers, carriers were taken out by flak ships, and capitol ships were taken out by heavy cruisers.

Even when things go horribly wrong for you, you can still turn out on top, get the enemy carriers away from the battle while your carriers attack the heavy cruisers, lead your enemy to an exceptionally powerful pirate base, put out wanted notices then attack the other planets when the enemy is divided between the pirates and you, if you use this right, you can section off planets that are then yours to conquer, and the expansion packs added a pretty decent diplomacy system.

wookiee777:

NightHawk21:
I second Shogun 2, or really any of the Total War games (I can only personally recommend Shogun 2, since that's the only one I finished but I heard ROME and Medival are good). The battles are great and I think you'll like it. Also if you head to steamtrades you can probably get ROME for like nothing.

Shogun 2 doesn't require Steam does it? I like Valve and Steam does have great deals (really great deals), but I don't agree with their license policy thingy, I know there's an offline mode, but when I get a game off Steam, I want to own it, not own the permission to play it.

I think that Shogun 2 requires steam (has steam workshop), in fact a lot of your big RTS titles are being absorbed into steam. Also your painfully ill informed argument about steam some how being different than having a physical copy of the game in terms of licensing (and you'll be hard pressed to find a title now a days that isn't on steam with out some sort of draconian DRM) You don't actually "own" the game whether or not you buy it off of amazon or you download it off of steam, you can't, it simply isn't how items bought in an information economy work. If your talking about how they have the ability to simply take away all your games at a whim or if they shut down, well that would be a semi plausible argument, however every digital distribution system has that problem. Steam does have significant problems, but what the common escapist user complains about are largely misinformed and false(offline mode [google it people], monopolies [valve is not a publicly traded company, doesn't have to plead to investors, its domination of the market doesn't equate to bad consumer treatment]

Benpasko:
The problem is controls. It's hard to do strategy in real time with a mouse or a controller because you're just one person who's only able to do one thing at a time. You can't give orders to different groups in different places at the same time with the finesse required for actual strategy, so it ends up being about building a better army than the other guy and then steamrolling as hard as you can.

dune 2000 never really had this issue as you could sync troop groups to the number keys and send them in different directions quite quickly

PieBrotherTB:
So if strategy is the plan and tactics is the execution, how can you play one without the other?

Unless you're simply just adapting to what the opponent does, but even then that's kind of a strategy.

Strategy is the long term, large scale plan, and tactics are the short term, smal scale execution.

Strategy is when you are playing as Germany in in a WWII game, and you are allying with the Soviet Union while planning to attack them when they are more exahusted.

Tactics is driving around your tanks on the battlefield in a way that won't get them shot.

Most turn-based, world-map based games are mostly strategic, while most games where individual units are visible on the screen are mostly tactical.

Total War games (Medieval 2 especially)
Company of Heroes
XCOM (the new one and the original; yes, it's turn based, still great)
Homeworld series
Mech Commander (the first one, the second one blows)
Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat
Warhammer: Dark Omen
Supreme Commander (not the second one, it blows)

And so on and so forth. Plenty of games with solid tactical systems that require a bit more thought than just zerging with a mix of units.

Benpasko:
The problem is controls. It's hard to do strategy in real time with a mouse or a controller because you're just one person who's only able to do one thing at a time. You can't give orders to different groups in different places at the same time with the finesse required for actual strategy, so it ends up being about building a better army than the other guy and then steamrolling as hard as you can.

That's because you suck at RTS games. I don't mean that as an insult, but rather as an objective fact. Look at some of the more skilled Starcraft 2 players (using SC2 as an example since it's the most played RTS at the moment), they can simultaneously coordinate a frontline attack, a tactical drop behind enemy lines and unit production. It's called multitasking. Granted, I suck at it too, but that doesn't mean it can't be done.

wookiee777:

MammothBlade:
I'd say Shogun II Total War would be a good place to start, with highly challenging battles. Then there's the Paradox games series - Victoria, Hearts of Iron, etc, which focus on grand strategy and really go in-depth with world-sized maps and a fluid world. It's not just your faction which is fighting for dominance or basic survival. There are hundreds of factions and potential factions. Each paradox game is a mix between an alternate history sandbox and grand strategy.

Wow, seems like you've given me a lot to look into (as well as the other people who posted here). The Paradox games sound particularly interesting. Thanks!

EDIT: Which Paradox game should I start with? There seems to be quite a few...

Upon reading your #10 about how you found Civ's fighting boring, I'm less sure about Europa Universalis III.

Their battles are just as stylized as in Civ, it's just that the planning and building up is so complex, that this makes it clear that the fighting isn't even the point of the game, it's just the ultimate demonstration of your strength.

It's not just a world conquest game. Sure, you can play as France, England, or Spain, and colonize a large chunk of the world, but you can also play as Bavaria, trying to increase your authority in the Holy Roman Empire, or as Serbia, trying not to get eaten by the Ottoman Empire.

Crusader Kings II is even less of a tactical game, and it's not even a traditional Grand Strategy game, but it's definitely my GOTY of this year. It's all about feudal dynastic relationships. You increase your power with dynastic marriages, with assassinating those in line before you, with succesfully rebelling against your liege, with imprisoning and executiing those who try to rebel against you (or so you claim), with strangling potential future usurpers in their cradle, and occasionally with attacking enemy countries when you can lay a legal claim to their territories.

It's more of a feudal Sims, that happens to take place on a world map with colorful territories and marching soldiers, than a war game.

you sound like you want more tactics and there is a shitload of games for that
frozen synapse is absolutely great for that
any game in the total war series(and if you dislike steam everything up to the medival 2 expansion does not require steam)
jagged alliance 2
dark omen
ground control
and if you like really old and shitty looking games try battle isle and incubation(which is basically a glorious aliens ripoff)
and most of those should be easy to grab on gog
and if you would like to try something with extensive military strategy but little tactics i would recommend
supreme commander (not supcom 2, that is an abomination)
hearts of iron

wookiee777:
Upon re-reading my OP, I think I was a bit hard on Civ, but I don't have any other Turn-based comparisons to make. I was referring less to the planning stage of a Civ game and more the action itself. It's certainly strategic (I love building up my culture and swallowing up enemy cities without ever having fired one shot), but when the fight begins I don't find it as interesting as the rest of the game.

And thanks for the recs!

Now, which Civ have you been playing? The battles were definitely uninteresting in the older Civ games, just stacks of doom vs stacks of doom really. But I thought the new hexagon-tiles and one-unit-per-tile limit really made Civ V a lot more interesting. Now your archers and siege weapons will actually shot at other units from a range, which means you have to protect them with your infantry, for example.

Of course, the AI is completely borked when it comes to war and does the darnedest things, but I'm sure there are mods to fix that.

NiPah:
When you play Risk you don't play 1v1, you play a free for all with a group of soon to be lost friends.

Pffft. We used to break out Risk when things got too heated (see: punches thrown) playing Diplomacy.

I've noticed this with a few of my favorite RTS's as well, mainly Red Alert 1 and 2.

I can however recommend an RTS that works around this issue by only giving you a squadron of units and no real base you have to build; End of Nations. It's in beta for now and it has a few balancing issues, but it does force you to try and outwit your opponent by working together with other players and their units.

Entitled:
Crusader Kings II is even less of a tactical game, and it's not even a traditional Grand Strategy game, but it's definitely my GOTY of this year. It's all about feudal dynastic relationships.

That's what I love about CK2 and Sengoku... they actually work more along the lines of von Clauswitz' axiom of war being diplomacy carried out via 'other' methods... not to mention having a much better fit to how 'power' was seen in the respective periods/locations the games cover.

wookiee777:
I'm going to start off by saying this is not a thread bashing RTS's or TBS's as a whole, this is coming off of my experience. I'm looking for answers, not complaining.

I love real-time strategy games, though I haven't played a ton of them, the ones I have played I like. My only problem is that I never get a sense of using much of any actual strategy. The only real thing to do is to make a big army that consists of some dudes that fight ground stuff and some dudes that fight air or faraway stuff and send them off in a big clump to the enemy base. Once there, all you do is smash stuff, you don't really capture or take anything from it, just reduce it to rubble. My brain never goes to work while playing, it's on automatic (or panic mode if I'm under attack.)

One of my favorite RTS games, Age of Empires 2, tries to create an environment where players have to think, but it really only boils down to catapults kill guys with swords, guys on horse kill catapults, so you send in some guys with spears to kill the guys on horse, so your catapults can kill the guys with swords who kill the guys with spears. Basically the strategy is the same, a cluster of guys of slight diversity. I'm not saying the mindlessness of it breaks the genre for me, but I want to find a game that gives me what I'm looking for.

I mentioned Turn-based strategy games before because I expected someone to bring up Civilization, but that game is still the same for me. Sure your guys get bonuses based on the terrain and buildings in the city, but I still just clump them all together, making sure I have a couple archers or catapults just for diversity's sake.

Basically: Anyone else have this problem? Know any games that could really make me think and give me a sense of strategy while playing?

EDIT: Oh, and I know there are other genres in strategy gaming outside of the usual RTS and TBS, so it's fine to recommend those too.

You sound like you'd really enjoy Company of Heroes. The strategy in the game is less about build orders and unit compositions than it is about unit usage, and the most important thing is always to control the map. This means that even though there are only a limited amount of builds available(the game has very little macro compared to other games in the genre), the strategical and tactical diversity is still great. Being smart about your units and understanding what situations are favorable and unfavorable for you is what wins you the game, not primarily your build or unit compositions.

It's available for 10$ on Steam, and the sequel is coming out next year, so it's definitely worth checking out.

I agree, the key element of this failure in many modern strategy games boils down to resource collection.

That said, all you have to do is wait (some might say that survival is a strategy in itself, but I disagree) until you can collect x resources to build up said army.

A better design are the games where you start with finite resources to accomplish a goal (which could well be reducing the objective to rubble). And be judged on the 'costs' of doing so.

Here's a thought. Give a player 100 units, they can collect resources as normal to use on upgrades and repair. BUT... they cannot make or buy more units.

In Company of Heroes you really have to think which units to use in different situtations and how to use them. Steamrolling with über tanks will fail miserably against anti-tank guns and a huge army of soldiers can be wiped out by a well timed air strike or a few tactically thrown grenades. I have completely decimated my friend who had a bigger army multiple times thanks to actually thinking what I'm doing. He's more of the "build a huge army and try to steamroll across the map" kind of guy and this game really shits on him for that.

SL33TBL1ND:
Real-Time Strategy is a bit of a misnomer. Most, if not all, of these games are actually about tactics and not strategy.

I disagree. Most of the RTSes I've played don't involve tactics at all before you've reached a fairly high level, and before that the most important part is the build the player picks, and the execution of said build. Games are usually decided by which order you make the units in and how many of said units you manage to build and how well you control those units(strategy and execution) rather than making tactically solid decisions in your engagements.

wookiee777:
snip

Sir, I freaking LOVE you. I have the game you're looking for right here. It's called "Men of War: Assault Squad." It's got more strategy than all the AoE games combined and it doesn't even have construction.

Here's the run down. Ok scratch that, I just wrote a paragraph and it explained nothing. I suck at explaining games. Just think of it as a realistic WW2 RTS with the ranges toned down for the maps. One soldier can take out an entire squad if you use him properly, and no he's not a super soldier, he's just some conscript who picks up an enemy's Machine gun.

Basically, anything soldiers can do in real life, can be done in that game. And each soldier has their own inventory which you can go through, so you can pilfer dead corpses etc.

Also, 1 rocket to side of a Tiger Tank will take it out in one hit depending on the angle. Like I said, it's realistic. You bum rush the enemy, you're most likely going to get fucked.

depending how good you are at being able to learn from losing, HOI3 with all the expansion (get the HOI3 Collectors editon + their finiset hour) from gmaersgate, with no steam (all the paradox games are steam free there), might be for you.

you will be horriable confused for some time, but there is a really good AAR on the forums that guides a new player, and on member made a awesome YT tutorial as well

For me, SC II's campaign mode helped me build my basics. Attacking by day and holding out by night, there are a ton of missions to try. I felt pretty strategic the second time around.

BUT.

The best kind of challenge and test comes when up against somebody else. NOT against the CPU. This is not true only for the strategy genre. Find a friend of yours who can afford a game you can afford and play together.

Our noggin functions faster when faced with unpredictability.

Nope, no recommendations out of my hat for now, as I don't quite understand your problem.

Let's drop the tanks and the modern stuff for a moment and let's go back to, say, Warcraft III.

If the strat of your enemy turns out to be to fast tech to mass flyers, you have to adapt your strat to contain the risk of being pummelled from above with no means of actually damaging the flying things. If your enemy comes tower or tree rushing at you, you better find a way to counter that, and fast. Every strategy needs to be identified and must be countered with a proper, viable strategy. A fast expansion is cool as more income boosts your game all around, but the resources you just put into said expansion are bound to leave a gaping hole in your army/defenses for a moment. If your enemy is aware of that, he/she better switches to offensive mode to even things out a bit again. Players that stick to their on-rails strat without adapting to current, real threats are bound to get their asses and egoes handed to them. Also, actual battlefield tactics tend to be quite fast-click dependent in RTS games - remove units from combat before the enemy kills them (and gains XP), kill your own weak units (to prevent enemy from getting XP), go all-in with your best/strongest/hero units or keep them safe? Pretty much everything is valid depending on the situation. Turn-based strategy takes away a lot of the quick response time clicking, moving and cursing, but if it's proper done, it's all about numbers - stats and probabilities. High probability = low risk, low probability = high risk. I don't get why your example of Age of Empires is 'bad', it's actually close enough to reality to make sense as far as I'm concerned.

If neither old nor new RTS suits your fancy, I think you need to check out any and all turn-based strategy games or games with turn-based mechanics.

Currently my favourite of those would have to be X-COM. If you don't like that either, I really have no clue as to what exactly it is you're looking for.

wookiee777:
Anyone else have this problem? Know any games that could really make me think and give me a sense of strategy while playing?

Starcraft II. I have never seen a game as deep in strategy as this one.

The problem being that you must be really, REALLY good to use strategy. That is, your mechanics and tactics should be polished to a degree where you don't worry at all about them, just about the strats.

There are tons of examples of this, from the crazy compositions that Ghost King Prime uses, to the amazing engagements just in the right second that Stephano does. But the one that I'll never forget will be the final of the GSL S3 where SEED beat MC with just strategy and mindgames. Heres a recap https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ed-pJKCIDYM , but if you really want to see the real beauty of it, try finding the replay commented by Arthosis.

Honestly SC 2 strategy is amazing... but i will never be good enough to be more than a decent player following the mechanics.

As others have said RTS games are more of a tactics or economy game rather than Strategies but on to the important stuff. First off Age of games are really terrible at this as in those games you are only supposed to build 2 types of units to counter your opponents 2 types of units. Otherwise it takes too long to tech up and you get the raw end of the deal.

RTS games are all about area control and unit usage and CoH plus DoW are great examples of this. In fact those games are also a good example where unit diversity is important. If you just want to build tanks I'll just build AT guns, Rangers/Grenadiers/Stormtropers/etc and mines and then laugh maniacally as you run back to engineers and I cap all your stuff. If you just want to build Infantry I'll take some Shermans/Ostwinds instead of ATs then put down my mine flail and laugh manically while shouting "Yes" ala Bison.

oliver.begg:

you will be horriable confused for some time, but there is a really good AAR on the forums that guides a new player, and on member made a awesome YT tutorial as well

That is, by the way, a good advice for every game. You can't really learn whether the gameplay mechanics of any game are really what you are iterested in, just from a description.

Look up some of those let's play videos where players are explaining what they are dooing, and see them for yourselves.

Strategy games, the genre that died many years ago.

The Panzer General and Fantasy General series were very good strategic and tactical games. PG2 is available on GoG:
http://www.gog.com/en/gamecard/panzer_general_2

Most Paradox games are not really strategic in nature, but more economic and political. The Hearts of Iron series being the exception. HoI3 is available on Gamer's Gate without DRM as with all Paradox games:
http://www.gamersgate.com/DD-HOI3C/hearts-of-iron-3-collection

You may also want to check out Matrix Games a company specializing in old style strategic and tactical games. Especially the close combat series is one I used to like:
http://matrixgames.com/

Unity of Command is a new game that may be worth looking into, it got very good reviews:
http://unityofcommand.net/

Sorry but I think your out of luck. I play Starcraft 2 as my RTS of choice. And when you watch the pros play you can see this deep stragity in play. How you move your armies what build you open with how to engage his army if death and so fourth. The problem is when I play it cons down to who has the bigger army and has the better economy. I believe most RT games have stragity but its all hidden at the highest levels of play. So good luck in your search.

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