What is the first thing you think when you look at a map or globe? Is it a fantastic story rushing through your head of world conquest? I hope you said yes but if you didn’t then allow me to explain to you why it should. “Grand Strategy” games sometimes just called “Strategy” games, or “Map games ” to one of my non-gaming friends, are a genre of video game that may bring up images restricted almost entirely to the PC. Why? Well imagine a game with an interface that looks like this:
If you have no idea what is happening in that screenshot, don’t worry, that’s perfectly normal. Map games are incredibly intimidating at first glance, with menus that have sub-menus, and menus for those menus that have popups, whose options might have more menus. Tons of menus are not exactly the forte of most game controllers however the keyboard & mouse combo do alright with them. Not only that, but the audience willing to sit down and learn what all of the menus and options mean is rather small. Most of the studios that make “Grand Strategy” games simply could not afford to make these types of games for any of today’s consoles. The fees required for development kits for multiple consoles is too much when the demand just is not there; however, even the little old lady down the street who does not know how to use her DVD player owns a computer. With the largest potential market these studios can hope to gather as much of their niche audience as possible and hopefully profit from their endeavor.
So I keep talking about “Map games” and “Grand Strategy” but what does that mean exactly? I mean, what IS a Map game? A Map game is a video game in which the player is in control of things on a grand scale be it a large town or an entire empire. These games are usually not known for their cutting edge graphics instead focusing on adding additional features such as managing in-depth taxes and dealing with an angry population. (You excited yet?) The player’s perspective is focused almost exclusively on a MAP of the game world surrounded by many menus. The map’s purpose is often for giving a visual representation of what the player controls and allows them to move their armies/resources/pet duck around the map. The menus, however, cover….everything else. Allow me to list a few games as examples.
Of all of the games above, you will have more than likely heard of a few, if not all of them. Romance of the Three Kingdoms is an exception to the rule about “Map games” being PC focused as it was originally for console and early PC systems but then diverged towards consoles only. It is also the only of the above games developed in Asia, whereas Risk, Total War, and Civilization are American made. Paradox stands out as well, as a European developer, but the sheer number of different game series (all very different in game play) they produce has practically put Europe above the United States in terms of “Strategy games” made. You can see that “Grand Strategy” or “Map games” are not exactly overflowing with alternatives, but that mainly comes down to the number of players interested in such games. So where do you finally come into this? Well I would like you to try out some of these games.
Watch as France fights off an American invasion in the year 1590AD!
In my effort to get more people interested in these games, I will be covering some of these games in depth, as well as documenting one of my playthroughs of such a game, complete with written backstory. (Games are always more fun with a bit of imagination thrown into the mix.) So allow me to start right here with a more recent example released early last year that has already made “Strategy” fans out of many a gamer who thought they would never find the genre interesting. I present to you, for your judgment, Crusader Kings II.
Below is the recommendation I made for the game on my Steam account,
For fans of character based drama and strategy games you need to check this out. My sister-in-law plotted against me, so I had her executed. Her daughter did the same thing, left to rot in jail. This continued down that line of women for a good 4-5 generations before they all died off. Sometimes your relatives are a pain, or sometimes they are your most loyal duke who improves your reputation with all of your neighbors. The goal isn’t to paint the map in your color (though it is a fun side goal) but to ensure your family dynasty survives and prospers by whatever means necessary.
Think Game of Thrones the video game, now go try the demo.
Crusader Kings II, as I described above, is literally a tale of treachery, war, sex, and murder every single time you play the game. It is the closest thing I have ever played to a game that made me feel like I was in the Game of Thrones setting (one of the largest mods also happens to be A Song of Ice and Fire total conversion mod), though I was instead in medieval Europe. Through playing I got interested in learning more about these historical figures, and what would you know? That is exactly how history went at times back then. A jealous Prince assassinates his brother to gain the crown and throws a once prosperous kingdom to ruin as he is incapable of managing anything. This opportunity is perfect for the jealous Dukes of the realm to rise up and attempt to grab more power for themselves. After a bloody civil war, the Dukes have managed to divide the King’s lands among themselves, but their once strong unity is shattered leaving them as weak, yet appetizing, targets for their neighbors across the sea. That all happened in one of my campaigns within the first 3 hours, and all non-scripted at that, as the game’s campaign relies on the player’s decisions and the AI’s attempts to change the outcome of history. There is no winning in Crusader Kings II only surviving better than your enemies. Of course no amount of power can prevent your mighty king from falling victim to the plague, and only the Church can preserve your soul so that your king goes to heaven. It is a shame you were excommunicated for invading the Italian city-states under the Pope’s control, I’m sure that wouldn’t stop the Pope from speaking kindly of you, right? …Right?
Are you actually getting interested in the genre, yet? If you said yes, I couldn’t hear you through the monitor, but nonetheless I am going to assume it was a yes and leap into the shallow end of the pool next week where I will assume the role of a Duke somewhere in Europe and slowly make my way up to the top (or as far as I can get before my Dynasty is wiped off the face of the Earth) with a step by step explanation of any new events in an effort to not only entertain, but teach you the rules of Crusader Kings II. Your journey into the wonderful world of “Map games” begins now!