What Characterizes a Successful Strategy Game?
Strategy games have a long history in video games, and they have certainly developed over time. With the success of games like Armello, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and Xcom 2, it’s evident that the strategy game genre is still alive and well today. But what distinguishes a drab strategy game from a classic? And where do you begin to turn your gaming concept into a reality?
In this post, we’ll go over some of the common mistakes game creators make while trying to create the next great Age of Empire or Command and Conquer and some critical steps to follow to make it happen.
Let’s start with the fundamentals. What is a strategy game, exactly? In its most basic form, strategy game design entails creating a decision-making competition in which one player’s use of available resources, placement, and planning is placed against another player or AI.
This entails more than simply selecting from a menu of dialogue options or switching equipment occasionally. The possibilities are more complex, and they necessitate careful consideration. Is it safe to move my archer into the forest to protect them now, or is that too close to the enemy? Should I spend my resources building a second town or upgrading my town’s fortifications now while I still have the opportunity?
Every decision you make in a strategic game determines your success. They usually (but not always) played on a grid, and they might be turn-based or real-time. They do, however, have one thing in common. Your wits are the most powerful weapon you have.
So, what makes a strategy game effective, you might be wondering? What are the criteria used to evaluate them? It comes down to three things, in my opinion.
High Reward vs. High Risk
First, there’s the high-risk vs. high-reward decision. For example, after you build your first settlement in Civilization VI, you are presented with several vital choices right away. There are ores to acquire, regions to unearth, and much to create if you wish to get an advantage over your opponents.
You will nearly never have enough time or resources to complete all of your goals. It would help if you made a decision. Getting the ore first could give you an advantage over your opponents in riches, but it could also leave you vulnerable. This type of choice may be found in any successful strategy game that has endured the test of time.
Loop of the Gameplay
Second, there’s a never-ending gameplay loop. Even if you are a seasoned player, two rounds of a decent strategy game should seem radically different. Having certain random components, such as a shifting map or changing the beginning places, is sometimes necessary.
Even though the maps are the same, the behavior of the players’ opponents should be diverse enough to make each game feel completely distinct. It’s only a matter of time before the player loses interest in your game if the rounds become too identical.
The third category is schemes. Nothing beats seeing a strategy plan come together in a strategy game. It’s immensely satisfying to watch your opponent draw their army into firing range or eventually take over a territory you’ve been eyeing.
Of course, it wouldn’t be enjoyable if it were simple, and learning the game’s fundamentals and mastering them to the point that you can defeat your opponents is what makes it enjoyable. You couldn’t do this in a great strategy game by being lucky, and you could only achieve dominance by carefully arranging your armies. This sensation is not replicated in any other video game genre.
Now that we’ve established what a strategy game is and why they’re so popular, here are some pointers to start creating your own.
First, make a board game.
Game design is a time-consuming and costly process. However, unlike a platformer or a role-playing game (RPG), a strategy game can have a lot of preparation work before writing a single line of code. Both strategy board games and strategy video games require players to make decisions, and many strategy video games started as board games.
You can develop a rudimentary version of the video game you want to make for absolutely no money using simple equipment like pencils and paper, cardboard cutouts, and a little imagination.
So gather a group and put it through its paces. Make a list of what works and what doesn’t work for you. Playtest again with the factions or troops that appear to be unbalanced. Make several maps and keep track of which ones you and the other players remember. Above all, try to determine how much pleasure everyone is having.
If your group isn’t bugging you about the next gaming session, there’s something wrong. The goal is to save time and money in this situation. It will be easier to develop your strategy game prototype into a functional video game later if you have a strong understanding of how it operates as a prototype.
Accept the Reality That Things Will Change
The planning will aid you, but no amount of preparation will protect you from the realities of game creation. Even if you completed the previous stage and created an unquestionably enjoyable board game, video games are a different medium. Not everything entertaining during the prototype stage will translate well to a videogame.
In addition, expect to have to eliminate material and prioritize developing the most vital and enjoyable components of your game first. Once that’s done, it’ll be much easier to estimate how much effort it’ll take to do the rest.
The Act of Balancing
Balancing a strategy game is significantly more difficult than it appears, and it is a challenge that any creator will encounter. However, balance does not imply that every game vs. every side or player must be evenly matched. It will never happen, no matter how hard you try, and it probably shouldn’t.
Take, for example, the Starcraft series, which was a forerunner in real-time strategy games. The Rush, Boom, and Turtle methods pioneered in this game are still used in most Real-Time Strategy (RTS) plays today.
To recap, Rushers develop armies and attack swiftly, posing a difficulty for Booms, who place a higher priority on building their economy and winning late in the game. Turtles, on the other hand, who focus half of their attention on the construction and have a small army, can defeat Rush players but suffer against Booms.
Starcraft would be reduced to a game of rock, paper, scissors if the system were perfectly balanced. What makes Starcraft intriguing is that a skilled player may turn the tide and still win, even when facing an opponent who employs a strategy against which they are weak.
It’s fine that the game isn’t perfectly balanced. Smaller maps assist Rush players because they can get to their opponents faster, but it also makes defeating them more enjoyable. In other words, don’t aim for perfection when balancing. Could you make an effort to keep it interesting?
If the chances are stacked against you at times, it’s not a problem as long as the odds are stacked against you at other times, and success is still achievable. This is the key to balancing a game and making it memorable for generations: too much balancing and the game becomes uninteresting. It’s annoying and unjust when there isn’t enough. Keep this in mind while creating your game and striving for the perfect balance.
In addition to this advice, there are a few frequent errors that game designers make when creating these games.