I’ve been a fan of strategy games since I began playing them as a kid. It is incredibly fun
to analyze your enemy, plan your strategy, manage resources, plot your moves, and
then see all your hard work pay off when you successfully attack your opponent. Over
the course of my game development career I’ve been fortunate enough to work on some
of the biggest strategy franchises in gaming, which is why it was really painful to watch
the genre fall, going from being one of the biggest in gaming to almost a footnote.
There have been many attempts to revive the genre by bringing strategy games onto
different formats such as consoles, mobile devices, and the massively multiplayer online
space, but so far none of these attempts have produced a breakout hit. In this article, I’ll
examine the roots of the most successful strategy sub-genre, real-time strategy, to find
out why such games are so fun to play, and why they can work well on mobile platforms.
» Let’s start out by discussing the three core elements that make a strategy game work. Resource
management (money or raw materials for production), production (base building, unit creation,
technology upgrades), and combat are the fundamental components of most strategy games. Modern
games also require a multiplayer mode because no matter how much time you spend building an AI
system, it will always be more challenging and fun to play against a real player. It’s also critical to offer the
player multiple ways to accomplish a particular goal since, by definition, there are no strategic choices to
be made if there is only one viable option. Finally, strategy games should prioritize and reward long-term
strategic thinking over immediate actions or tactical gameplay.
Turn-based strategy games have their roots in board game design. They made the leap onto PCs in the
early 1980s, and over time, there have been several innovations in the strategy genre that have spawned
new types of gameplay and, in some cases, birthed new sub-genres.
The first big evolutionary step was the implementation of real-time play in Westwood Studios’ 1992 title,
Dune II. My business partner at Jet Set Games, Brett Sperry (who was also Westwood Studios' co-founder),
was an avid player of turn-based strategy games and postulated that you could reach a much broader
audience of gamers if you streamlined gameplay to the point where it would be possible to play in real time
using a mouse and keyboard interface. The success of Dune II ushered in a brand new genre and its follow-up, CommanD & Conquer, became one of the best selling franchises in video game history.
Another evolution took place when Nintendo released the hit title aDvanCe Wars on the Game Boy
Advance in 2001. Although not the first turn-based strategy game on a handheld, it was one of the
best selling, and numerous strategy games for mobile devices followed in its wake. aDvanCe Wars’
innovation was to simplify player interactions with the user interface in order to make it more playable