War Strategy Games
Age of Empires was the first war strategy game I was exposed to. It was a trial version that had come free with my Windows 98 CD. The whole experience was so fascinating. It was the first time I was playing that kind of a game and I found the experience completely out of the world. The game required me to build various buildings, develop various technologies, and train different kinds of war units and wage war against enemy units controlled by the game’s artificial intelligence. The key to the game was something always faced in any kind of enterprise – resource optimization. The game had 4 kinds of resources – food, wood, stone and gold. Different activities required different quantities of these resources. One had to be in control of land having these resources and create worker units to forage, hunt, mine or cut wood. If there is an imbalance of resources, one could correct it through trade.
Well – that is the basic game concept. The interesting part is that the game is based on actual history. As part of the progress in the game, the players have to progress the nation they control from stone age to tool age, then to bronze age and finally to iron age. In the later version of the game, the nation progresses from Dark Age to Feudal age and then to Castle age. Various civilizations are available which are based on the actual civilizations and the units, the technologies etc. are consistent with actual history. The fiction part comes in to play in single player campaigns. These campaigns have a thin storyline sometimes based on real historic events such as conquests of Alexander the great, Genghis Khan, Saladin etc. Of course the player does not have much choice other than either living through the entire story to win or lose at some point and letting the story end mid-way. A game, I feel, engages one much more than a movie and I generally tend to remember historical events from a game than from a film.
This is just one of the war strategy games I have played. Age of Wonders, Seven Kingdoms, Age of Mythology, World of Warcraft, Doom, Settlers and Alpha Centauri are some of the others I have played. The basic game concept is same – but the background story changes from game to game and the different units and their capabilities. For example, Doom and Alpha Centauri have a science fiction theme. Age of Wonders and Warcraft are fantasy themed. Seven Kingdoms and Settlers are kind of pseudo history themed with elements of magic. Age of Mythology as the name suggests is based on mythology.
Some of the distinguishing features are the beautiful sceneries and background music score. Many of the units are also artistically designed. Also some games get inventive with the powers the unit have. The priest unit is one interesting unit in age of empires – he can heal wounded units and convert enemy units to your own. Spies are interesting units in Seven Kingdoms. They can infiltrate enemy kingdoms and foster revolts and even end up becoming the king handing over an enemy fort to you on a platter. Battles generally tend to be of two types – real time or turn based. While real time requires good reflexes – turn based is like a game of chess, where only strategy matters. While turn based is more intellectually stimulating, real time gives a rush of blood and excitement.
I generally find games that straddle two classes more interesting. Age of Wonders and Age of Mythology are for instance a combination of role playing and war strategy. While pure play war strategy does not give much scope for characterization, introducing role play element gives room for characters. Settlers is a combination of world building and war strategy. Instead of the simple resource gathering, the game has a more complex economic cycle going. One has to grow trees, cut wood and saw it in a saw mill to get wood for construction. One has to mine iron and gold and then process them in smelters, then send the iron for use by weapon smiths and jewelers.
Even for traditional novel writers who are writing epic fantasy, these games can be helpful. Playing these games help one think through various elements of the world, such as Warcraft, troop training, buildings, technology, economy etc. The games gives good hands on insight on how these aspects work in a toy model scale.
I definitely recommend anyone with interest in science fiction and fantasy genres to try some of these games. You won’t be disappointed.
Coming up next week - Role Playing Games