What's an RTS game for me?
January 17, 2008 7:00 AM   Subscribe

Is there an RTS game out there for me?

I've played my fair share of RTS (real time strategy - although if I have to tell you that, this may not be the thread for you) games - starting back in the day with Warcraft 2 and working my way up through, most recently, Supreme Commander.

Recently, I was reading an interview with Chris Taylor (who developed Supreme Commander, along with another favorite of mine, Total Annihilation) about two distinct sub-genres of the RTS category - mainly, games that focus on tactics and games that focus on strategy.

This was kind of a subtle distinction for me - one I didn't really understand at first - but I get it now. I think. Warcraft 3, which I love to death, is a prime example of a tactics-based RTS game - it has a relatively small scope, and the focus of the game is on the tactics you employ in the heat of a few key skirmishes that usually decide victory.

Supreme Commander seems much more like a true strategy game, in that you can win the battle and still lose the war - it's much more about a "big" picture view of conflict that can encompass thousands of units (as opposed to 50 or 60, like in Warcraft). Of course, it still has a tactical element - in the skirmishes and battles that flair up, it's still critical important to manage your soldiers effectively to achieve victory.

Ok, fine, so what's my question?

Well, I guess what I'm looking for is a game that's all strategy - one that has both no tactical elements and no elements of micromanagement.

I don't want to have to deal with orchestrating the formation of my troops in battle. I don't want to have to deal with managing the minutia of building an economy, or queuing build orders for every single factory or shield generator or missile tower.

I mean, look, having that level of control is a blast sometimes, but sometimes, when playing at war, you just want to be the general, you dig?

I want to find a game that is pure strategy - that is about the broad brush strokes, and eschews the nitty-gritty.

Is there an RTS game out there that fits the bill?

And if not, what about in the realm of turn-based games? I've never really played any of these at all - is there a game in that genre that might work?

posted by kbanas to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
In online Myth:The Fallen Lords, you could play as a team. Often one team would pick a 'captain' who was not responsible for moving any troops, but who was responsible for barking out orders at his teammates to keep them aligned with the global strategy.

That was a lot of fun. Maybe you could search for a more modern, team-based online RTS game and see if there are any grunts in need of captains.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:10 AM on January 17, 2008

Have you considered something like Hearts of Iron II? It's based, I believe, on Europa Universalis. (HoI is WWII, EU is earlier)
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:18 AM on January 17, 2008

There are a ton of WWII and other real-world conflict sim games like that, but they're almost always turn-based. There's a mountain out there, but they're often niche and don't have the flashiness that AAA titles do.

I've heard Hearts of Iron is pretty popular, so you might want to check that out.
posted by Nelsormensch at 7:28 AM on January 17, 2008

Out of any Paradox game (which seem to be generally up your alley here, except you often end up having to do a lot of work to build up economies), I'd recommend the Hearts of Iron series. Resources are there but extremely simplified, the research is straightforward, and the diplomacy can be fun but can take care of itself if you want it to - mostly, it's designed around getting your troops and putting them into action.

I'd assume HoI2 has a fix for the issue of world economies, but as a caveat: the one failing of the original Hearts of Iron was that the world economy could easily collapse, leaving you in need of vital supplies and forcing lots of economic micromanagement.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 7:36 AM on January 17, 2008

Maybe EndWar will fit the bill when it comes out... All tactics are done through voice control, so you can literally bark orders at your troops.
posted by lubujackson at 7:52 AM on January 17, 2008

Civilization IV, while turn-based, is "big-picture" strategy. The vanilla game is all about resource management, research, diplomacy, etc, in addition to warfare, but there are many custom scenarios that ship with the game (and its two expansion packs) that are all about straightforward war. There's also a sizeable player community that creates scenarios, and you can create them yourself relatively easily. These can range from WWII to the American Revolution to the Peloponnesian War. The Civ series has always had a relatively simplified warfare system, although I think they've done a great job in Civ IV in encouraging mixed-unit manoeuvres and in the experience system for individual units.
posted by good in a vacuum at 7:57 AM on January 17, 2008

Well, Risk is the canonical example. There are dozens of subtly-different-to-avoid-copyright-infringement imitations floating around online.

Otherwise you might look into mods for TA/Supcom/Spring. There are mods to remove the economy (everyone gets fixed income) ease lots of the annoying micromanagement things like upgrading SCUs and managing metal makers, things like that. RTS Community (mod db seems to be down now actually, hopefully it'll come back) has plenty to choose from.
posted by Skorgu at 8:07 AM on January 17, 2008

DEFCON? Caveat: never played it myself, suggestion of a friend
posted by edd at 8:07 AM on January 17, 2008

GalCiv2 seems like fun but I've never played it. Only read this blog on playing the game on a massive scale. It apparently took weeks.
posted by uandt at 8:37 AM on January 17, 2008

Galactic Civ is turn-based.

I'd like to add to the pile of Hearts of Iron recommendations. Also, the Europa Universalis series is the same engine applied to colonial Europe, so the focus is on civ-building as much as warfare.

There's also X3: Reunion, which is real-time but much more heavily weighed towards economy, exploration, and trade. There is combat, mind you, but the "tactical warfare" element is practically nil.
posted by mkultra at 8:43 AM on January 17, 2008

While most people hate it for the very reason you may like it, you might want to give Masters of Orion 3 a try. It's turn based, and almost all strategy. You can even have the computer just calculate who wins the giant space battles if you don't want to watch or control them.

And since it's a few years old, it will run on just about anything and is really cheap.
posted by jaded at 9:11 AM on January 17, 2008

Defcon is pretty good strategy, but requires a great deal of micromanagement to win naval engagements and also to time disparate nuke delivery systems into a simultaneous bombardment. Even if you've got a great strategy, it's always too much of a pain to execute it to your satisfaction.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:24 AM on January 17, 2008

Well, I guess what I'm looking for is a game that's all strategy - one that has both no tactical elements and no elements of micromanagement.

I'd love to play that game too. I can't think of any real time games that are like that. Turn based has options - Civilization, MOO, etc. But almost all of them end up having you make units and tactically move them around.

DEFCON's an interesting suggestion, but that game is as much art project as it is game. But check it out, it's cool.

My recommendation for the RTS that most matches what you say is Rise of Nations. It's a fine RTS, my favourite of all that I've played. It brings in some territory, tech, and economy ideas from Civilization that give it more strategic gravity. And while the game does boil down to tactical battles of your little guys vs the enemy's, there's enough little guys and enough other things to do that you can be reasonably successful just sending a whole army in without micromanaging them. Against the AI, that is; against other people it comes back to battle tactics again.
posted by Nelson at 9:29 AM on January 17, 2008

It has been a long time since I played it, but the old Close Combat could be played in Campaign mode. The troops you had left from one mission often was all you started out with on the next (often a counterattack). And I seem to remember that whether you won or lost affected which mission you had next.

I also recommend Hearts of Iron, though turn based and not an RTS.

I also have been on a similar quest. I prefer more squad based type games, like Company of Heros, but I am attracted to the bigger campaign games. Thats why I liked Close Combat.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 9:32 AM on January 17, 2008

Best answer: At last, an AskMe I am qualified for!

There is another scale to consider; light vs. heavy games. You said you liked Supreme Commander, so I am going to assume you don’t mind heft to your games.

Paradox games are a neutron star.

I don’t think I can stress this enough. I have played these games, I have loved these games, and they feel heavier than old SPI games like Campaign for North Africa (Fun fact: Italian troops use one more water resource a turn to boil pasta! Keep track of individual pilots! Micromanaging FUN!)

HoI 2 (not based on EU at all, btw, and EU3 is more recent) is an hour by hour divisional level simulation of World War 2 from 1936 to 1953 (with the Doomsday expansion which I think fixes a few vital balance issues). It has a representative interface, in that units are not shown as little people, but as squares with NATO symbols and numbers, LOTS of numbers. If you like THOUSANDS of little chits moving around tick by tick and having to decide between making Standard Oil or DuPont research vulcanized rubber, this is your game. But it is not an RTS, even if it is real time. You will play it paused, and then run it for a little while, then pause it again. If you play it online you are crazy, but there are other crazies out there just like you.

If you are more interested in a sim, the best game Paradox ever made is Victoria. It is not as war heavy as HoI, but feels like a more whole game. Its economy makes sense, its political structure makes Civ IV look like child’s play, and you could base an entire thesis solely on its production and civilian implementation model. I cannot stress Viki’s superiority over every other game in it’s genre enough.

But, once again, it is not an RTS.

An honest to go RTS that sounds like what you want has already been mentioned, DEFCON, and it is a duzy of a game. It is on the light side, and game play at the higher levels gets kinda repetitive, hey, it has a free demo, and is well worth buying. Almost every order you give has a couple minutes delay, so micro is not as important as your grand strategy. The micro kiddies might beat you at the naval engagements, but the victory timer is counting down, and you have already devastated their cities with your perfectly executed nuclear salvos. DEFCON has strategy in spades. It is, of course, based on TOTAL GLOBAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR.

There are several classics that everyone has to play in the genre. It always makes me warm inside to hear Total Annihilation as a favorite game. Homeworld (1 and 2, but if you ask me 1 is better) from Relic is a cinematic experience that ever gamer should participate in. It’s micro is restricted to keeping hot groups up to date, the general pace of the game is rather slow. The Total War series has some of the best ‘Tactics’ of any game I have played. While yes, it is still tactics, because of the periods they represent, micromanagement is almost impossible (you try telling ten thousand screaming Galatians to move just a bit to the right), and the games have broad brush strokes.

Play more board games. Diplomacy face to face is the vilest, most exhilarating, and addictive gaming experience in my life, and all it IS is game theory and strategy.

Good Gameing!
posted by Faux Real at 9:42 AM on January 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Company of Heroes is something you should definitely consider.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:54 AM on January 17, 2008

Wait, wait, scratch that last suggestion. Not what you want at all.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:54 AM on January 17, 2008

It seems like the whole point of an RTS is that you have the ability to control things as they happen, so it lends itself very easily to a tactical type of game.

Turn based games lend themselves more to strategy. In Civilization, you don't see every footstep of your units, and furthermore, each "unit" actually represents multiple units. Each time you move a unit, it takes up a large chunk of time, typically an entire month. In an RTS, when you move a unit, it takes as long to get there as it does on your screen, hence "real time." The time-lapse effect in a turn-based game allows you to step back and see the big picture, frees you up to pay attention to other things while your troops take 3 months to get over that mountain.

I guess I'm trying to say that a strategy-based RTS seems slightly contradictory, and that's why most of your answers are ending up to be turn-based games.

On the other hand, though, if there is a game like you're talking about, it would be very very cool. I would certainly be interested in playing it.
posted by kpmcguire at 10:23 AM on January 17, 2008

Response by poster: I have played Diplomacy a *few* times face to face, and I agree, it was a blast, but the logistics of getting people together has just got so damned difficult as I get older.

Thanks so much guys for your suggestions!
posted by kbanas at 10:24 AM on January 17, 2008

Advance Wars DS for the Nintendo DS is largely turn based, but has an RTS mode. Can be found on eBay for between $30 - $100. he sequel ships this month. I lucked out and landed two copies at $30 each for me and my oldest boy, aged 7½. We're having a ball with it via DS wireless, it's worth buying a DS Lite solely for the purpose of playing this game. The sequel, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, comes out this month on the 23rd.
posted by Scoo at 10:35 AM on January 17, 2008

To piggyback, since this is exactly outlining games that I'd want to play—any of these available on macs?
posted by klangklangston at 12:37 PM on January 17, 2008

All of the Paradox titles (Hearts of Iron, Europa Universalis, Victoria), Rise of Nations, Civ, Homeworld 2, DEFCON, and MOO3 are all available for Mac.
posted by mkultra at 2:14 PM on January 17, 2008

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