A Brief History Of Strategy Games<!-- --> | Starborne

A Brief History Of Strategy Games

Mon Dec 07 2020 (Updated: Fri Aug 20 2021)


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From the ancient game of Senet to modern games like Starborne, strategy games have played an important role in human society. They have been tools to sharpen our minds, ways to pass long nights, and to bond with our friends. Our journey from simple board games to sprawling digital battles involving thousands of competitors is a long one, often entwined with important events of the past. In order to understand how we got to the modern hits of the day, let’s take a short journey through the history of strategy games.

What Is a Strategy Game?

Strategy games are games that emphasize long term planning, analytics, and skillful thinking in order to achieve victory. A player's decisions are important in determining the outcome of the game, and players are required to weigh the potential impact of multiple decisions in order to win.

There are many different kinds of strategy games but they broadly fall into one of two categories:

Abstract Strategy Games

Abstract strategy games are typically considered to be games where the “theme” does not change the way the game is played. For example you can apply a number of themes to chess; a medieval battle, dynastic politics, or managing a Kingdom, but this does not change the way the game is played. Whether you believe your Knight is charging into battle, or being used to disrupt enemy supply lines it does not change the way the piece moves.

Additionally abstract strategy games will tend to have perfect information with the elimination of chance or randomness. The majority of two player board games can be considered to be abstract strategy games.

Simulation Strategy Games

Are typically designed to accurately depict a scenario as closely as possible. These are games where theme matters, and decisions are made to make the experience as true to life as possible. This does not mean that a simulation strategy game will always seek to make a game mimic real life, simply that it will attempt to be as true to life as possible.

A large number of modern video games, such as Hearts of Iron IV, could be considered to be simulation strategy games. There are also some board games, such as Kriegsspiel, which will fit into this category.

There Are Countless Sub-Categories of Strategy Games

A lot of games won’t fall perfectly into either the category of simulation or abstract. Some abstract games, like Junta, will have a specific theme which is important to the gameplay, and even seek to build the “feel” of that theme. Many simulation strategy games will be forced to make concessions to reality in order to be playable.

In this context we should view abstract and simulation strategy games as a statement of intent, as opposed to a hard and fast rule and many of the games we will explore will fall somewhere on the spectrum between an ambiguous strategy game and a simulation strategy game.

Within these categories strategy games there are two important, but very different, subcategories:

Tactics Games

Where strategy games tend to focus on long term planning tactics games focus on shorter smaller scale engagements. A good example of a tactics game is the squad combat of the X-Com series. It certainly requires long term planning, but not on a grand scale.

Tactics games tend to be shorter and focus on more intimate scenarios. This often makes them more focused upon managing small groups, rather than empires or economies.

Grand Strategy Games

Grand Strategy Games are the antithesis of tactics games. They focus on the sweeping strategies and intrigues of running an entire empire. The player is rarely given direct control of their people, or even their economies, but instead acts as a guiding spirit for the nation.

The best examples of these games are the Paradox Interactive series of games or Starborne. Paradox’s Victoria II takes the genre to a particular extreme and it is possible for the player to lose almost all direct control over their economy if certain political parties come into power.

How Did Strategy Games Evolve

In the beginning strategy games were turn based and typically pitched two players against each other. This format has proven to be long lasting and many of the most popular strategy games today, such as go or chess are played like this. These games could last anywhere from minutes, to hours, with play time becoming longer as complexity increased.

In general as time went on games became more complicated as they sought to better reflect the realities of command. Many games were informed by the thinkers of their time, with Carl Von Clauswitz being amongst the most influential.

For example while Kriegsspiel still pitted two players against each other, the game was designed to accurately recreate the stresses of command faced by a general in the field. This led to the introduction of systems such as a rudimentary fog of war, later improved by the board game Stratego, and perfected by video games such as Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm.

However over time strategy games become more complex. Certain board games, such as Diplomacy and Risk began to set multiple players against each other. The addition of multiple opponents added a new layer of complexity and unpredictability to the strategy game genre. It also enabled more “social” gameplay, with alliance and deceit. Diplomacy in particular played with the idea of unequal power distribution between players. Nations like Austria and Italy often find themselves squeezed between more powerful enemies, and are forced to make aggressive and unpredictable plays as a result.

The truly startling thing for a modern strategy game enthusiast is the sheer amount of innovation that happened before computers allowed us to make strategy simulations. Kriegsspiel, Chess, Risk and others all provided nuanced, if limited, representations of the stresses of command. However video games empowered game designers to make ever more complicated and nuanced decisions.

It suddenly became possible to simulate entire battlefields and time periods over the course of hours or days. This also allowed the player to see more accurately how their decisions impacted the game via enhanced graphics. Most importantly it enabled the creation of the real time strategy genre, which added a layer of stress to play.

Eventually MMORTS games like Starborne connected hundreds, or even thousands, of players together in grand strategy games. These games could take days or months and pitted players against each other in challenging scenarios and bought us another step closer to simulating the realities of taking command.

To understand the journey from abstract small-scale strategy games, to grand battles amongst the stars, let’s take a deeper dive into the history of strategy games:

Senet:The Earliest Known Strategy Game

Senet at a Glance:

  • Senet originated in ancient Egypt as early as 3,500 BCE.
  • Senet gained religious significance and is referenced in the Book of the Dead.
  • The original rules are lost to time but a modern version of the game has been reconstructed.
  • Senet is important because it is one of the earliest surviving examples of a board game that encouraged long term thinking in order to succeed, rather than relying on random chance.

Most historians would agree that the first board game was Senet. The game originated in ancient Egypt as early as 3,500 BCE. Senet was in many ways an educational board game and was considered to be a representation of the journey of the ka (the rough Egyptian equivalent of a soul) to the afterlife. This theory is backed up by religious markings on senate boards themselves and a reference in the famous Book of the Dead.

What are the rules of Senet?

The original rules of Senet have been lost to time senet historians have done their best to reconstruct the game. They have based their rules on snippets of text that are sometimes thousands of years apart, so the modern game of Senet also known as Senet-Modern. is at best a rough approximation of what ancient Egyptians would play.

Overtime Senet would gain a religious significance (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In this version 2 players play on a 10 by 3 board. Each player has 5 pieces each market with a different number of dots that move in a reversed s pattern. Players roll 2 dice to determine moves and are able to either move 1 piece with the sum of the dice, or move 2 pieces based on each individual dice roll. There are a number of “special effect” squares which force a player to take specific actions. The aim of the game is for a player to get as many high scoring pieces to the finish line as possible.

To the modern eye Senet is not a traditional strategy game. It relies heavily on chance, although players must make shrewd decisions about how to use their dice rolls. In order to find the longest running modern style strategy game we need to look to Asia.

Go: The Longest Running Strategy Game In Human History

Go at a glance:

  • Go originated in China around 2356 BCE and is one of the longest running strategy games in history.
  • Go gained real popularity in Japan, where four go schools were set up to refine the strategy of the game.
  • Go has influenced Chinese geopolitics and its influence can be seen in the nation’s “salami slicing” political and diplomatic strategy.
  • Go is one of the first examples of a strategy game where specific competing schools of strategy have been born, the game is still not solved, and new strategies are still being created to this day.

While Senet is as much a precursor to board games generally as strategy games, go is the longest continuously played strategy game. According to legend, go originated in ancient China around 2356-2255 BCE when the Emperor Yao wanted to create a game to help enlighten his son.

In reality the origins of the go are a mystery. There are references to Confucius enjoying the game and we know that it was played across Asia for most of recorded history. The game found the most traction in Japan, where the Imperial Court enthusiastically embraced it for its complicated strategic challenge.

Similarly to Chess in the West, go players were awarded something of a celebrity status. In Japan there were four main go schools: Honinbo, Hayashi, Inoue, and Yasue. Members of these schools dedicated their lives to finding better ways to play the game, and a ranking system was set up in order to determine the best Go players.

What Are The Rules Of Go?

Go is a deceptively complicated game. Each game starts with an empty board and players holding an unlimited supply of white or black stones. The object of the game is to use your stones to form “territories” by surrounding vacant areas of the board. It is also possible to capture opponents stones by completely surrounding them.

Go is easy to learn but hard to master (Image via Pixabay)

To play the game each player takes turns placing stones on a vacant point of the board. Each stone is placed on the intersections of the lines. At the end of the game each player counts a point for every vacant point inside their own territory, and one point for every stone they capture. The player with the largest number of points wins.

Behind these simple rules there are near countless outcomes. It is possible for sufficiently skilled players to weave complicated strategies that can throw their opponents off balance. These often involve building capturing “strings” designed to encircle and trap enemy stones and take them prisoner. Go has a low skill floor but a very high skill ceiling and can take decades to master. You can find some examples of simple go Strategies here.

Go Has Even Helped To Define Geopolitics

It is easy to see why go is considered to be one of the most complex strategy games played today and it has had some surprising points of influence. For example China’s famous “Salami Slicing” strategy on the geopolitical stage is believed to have been influenced by go. The strategy involves using a combination of soft and hard power to strategically “slice” its neighbors’ independence, by targeting key areas of the economy, sovereignty, or territory.

Tafl: The Birth Of Asymmetric Strategy Games

Tafl at a glance:

  • Tafl is believed to have originated in 400 AD and is based on a Roman game ludus latruncolorum.
  • Tafl is amongst the earliest games to feature asymmetric play with a defender and an attacker.
  • The game has multiple variants and is still played today.

Tafl doesn’t refer to a single game but rather a family of strategy games played across the Germanic and Celtic world. The game originated in 400 AD and is believed to have been based on a Roman game, ludus latrunculorum, and was popular throughout the Scandinavian and Germanic world until it was supplanted by chess in the 12th century. However the Sami variant, tablut persisted until the 18th century.

The rules for tablut were recorded by the Swedish naturalist Linnaeus in 1732, and were translated from Latin to English in 1811. All modern games are based on the 1811 translation, with corrections for the error in new rules.

The modern game has a small but dedicated following and is mostly played using the Fetlar Hnefatafl version.

What Are The Rules of Tafl?

Image via wikimedia commons

There are a number of Tafl variants each with their own rules:

  • Fetlar Hnefatafl - Was the most popular version of Tafl for a long time and was typically played at tournaments, this version features a stronger king who can take part in capturing enemy pieces on an 11 by 11 board.
  • York Hnefatfl - is a version of Hnefatafl published in 198- by the York Archaeological Trust. Like Fetlar Hnefatfl it is played on a 11 by 11 board. Unlike Fetlar Hnefatafl the King cannot take part in capturing opposing pieces.
  • Tablut - Was played in Lapland until the 18th century, this version has the most complete ruleset. The king must reach the edge of the 9 by 9 board.
  • Brandub - Is the Irish variant of Hnefatafl and uses the smallest board of 7 by 7. The rules of this version have not been recorded but the game is mentioned in various legends and poems. Archaeologists have attempted to piece together the rules of this version.
  • Tawlbwrdd - Is the welsh version of the game. It is played on two different kinds of boards, one of 11 by 11 squares, and another of 9 by 9. The rules were taken from an incomplete account of the game by Robert ap Ifan and the gaps were filled in by using Tablut rules.
  • Alea Evangelii - Is the Anglo-Saxon variant of the game. It features a board of 19 by 19 playing spaces with 24 defenders and 48 attackers. The rules are based on a manuscript from 1140 and it has proven difficult to balance them, so no one ruleset has yet prevailed.

Regardless of the version there are certain constants. The game is always played on a square board. The centre of the board is occupied by a small force of defenders and the King. On the edges of the board a larger force of attackers awaits. The King must escape to the board, and the attackers must capture him. All the pieces move like rooks in chess, along the squares of the board. to capture a piece they must surround it on two sides.

The main difference between the variants is in how pieces move, and how they are captured. The board may also be larger or smaller depending upon the variant chosen.

Aside from these rules there are a number of Hnefatafl puzzles that can be played. These resemble chess puzzles and the player is forced to figure out how to beat a small set scenario. These scenarios will not necessarily help the player improve their strategy, but can provide a mental challenge.

Why Is Tafl Important?

Tafl is unique not just because of how far it spread across Europe, but because of its asymmetrical gameplay. A strategy game where both sides have opposing objectives is a staple theme of many modern strategy games, and changes the competitive play significantly. It also increases the replayability of the game.
However despite its importance it isn’t tafl that defined the direction of modern strategy games, but a classic from India: chess.

Chess: The Father of Modern Strategy Games

Chess at a glance

  • Chess is believed to have originated in India around 720 AD, with the modern game emerging in Spain between 1475 and 1500.
  • The first modern chess tournament was held in London and won by master Adolf Anderssen. Chess tournaments remain a source of competition and national pride to this day.
  • Chess can now be played by computers and in 1997 the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue defeated Grandmaster Gary Kasperov.
  • Like Go, Chess is important because it laid the foundations for a deep game with significant strategic options that still remains to be “solved” with a perfect strategy for victory

Originating around 720 AD in India chess has probably had a bigger impact on our collective consciousness than any other strategy game. It is challenging to estimate the exact number of modern chess players, with claims ranging from millions to half a billion but it is safe to say that chess remains popular throughout the world today.

Chess involves two players attempting to capture each others king in a checkmate (source: Pixabay)

What Are The Rules of Chess?

The rules of chess have changed significantly over time but for the purposes of this article we shall focus upon the origins of the modern game. The main difference between ancient and modern chess is the role of the queen and bishop, which were originally fairly weak pieces.

Between 1475 and 1500 a European version of the game appeared that saw the queen and bishop move in the modern form. The first reference to this kind of movement can be found in the Valencian poem Scachs d'amor. This version of chess was known as Queen’s Chess or Mad Queen Chess and significantly increased the importance of the pawn promotion tactic. These rules made it easier to achieve checkmate and spread rapidly across Western Europe and Spain.

In modern chess there are two sides, white and black. Each player controls a number of pieces as follows:

Some pieces also have specific rules that apply only to them. For example it is possible for a Pawn to reach the opposite side of the board and earn a promotion, typically to a queen, although players are free to “under promote” to any other piece apart from king or pawn. Another rule is castling, which sees the king move two squares towards a rook, where it then swaps places. Castling can only be done if both the rook and king have not moved.

The game is played until one player’s king can no longer move, or until a checkmate. There are a number of rules specific to tournaments that constrict how quickly a player must make decisions and there are other variants of chess, such as speed chess. In order to properly play chess most players need to understand the various openings and tactical writings on chess. You can find some beginner openings here.

How Did Chess Develop Into The Modern Game?

The first writings on chess theory began to appear in the 15th century and with it the first masters. Of particular note is the Spanish Bishop Ruy Lopez De Segura who developed the early forms of openings, and started to analyze simple endgames. However by the time the 18th century came around the center of the chess world was undoubtedly France, and with it the era of competitive chess dawned.

The first modern chess tournament was held in London and won by German master Adolf Anderssen. After this a number of other tournaments were played throughout the 19th and 21st century and chess became an arena of international competition. Indeed the recent netflix drama “The Queen’s Gambit” helps to capture the spirit of international chess and goes some way to explaining the romantic drama associated with the game. Chess is still popular today and many players play the game against AI or online using digital chess boards.

In 1997 an IBM supercomputer defeated Chess Grandmaster Gary Kasperov in a match that lasted 19 moves. Kasperov’s defeat has been put down to him abandoning his usually unpredictable style in favor of a wait and see approach. Computers remain skilled at chess but are vulnerable to sudden changes in strategy, which can make games difficult for the AI to predict.

In many ways competitive chess is similar to modern e-tournaments and the fundamentals of the game, long term planning, competitive strategy, and “resource” management can be seen in modern games today. The fundamental focus on long term strategy and planning forms the core of almost every modern strategy game.

Kriegsspiel: The First True Wargame

Kriegsspiel at a glance

  • Kriegsspiel was created by George Leopold Von Reisswitz and presented to the Prussian royal family in 1812, his son built upon the game and bought it to its best known state
  • A form of Kriegsspiel without a specific rule set was created by Julius Von Verdy du Vernois in 1876, this version allowed the umpire more freedom to apply their own experience to the game.
  • Kriegsspiel was widely credited for Prussia’s surprise victory in the Franco-Prussian war and many other European nations adopted it, or similar wargames, to train their own officers.
  • Kriegsspiel introduced many of the features we see in modern strategy games, such as fog of war, freedom of movement, and even rudimentary AI in the form of referees.

While chess has been the inspiration for countless strategy games there is another game that better simulates war. The Prussian table-top game of Kriegsspiel, literally “wargame” would not look out of place to anybody familiar with the Warhammer tabletop or other miniature war games today.

Precursors To Kriegsspiel

Kriegsspiel was designed to build upon earlier wargames which were essentially derivatives of chess. The most well known of these was “Hellwig’s Wargame” or “Braunschweiger Kriegsspiel” was invented in Prussia in 1780 by Johann Christian Ludwig Hellwig. Hellwig’s wargame is considered to be one of the first attempts at a true wargame because it was designed to be accurate.

In order to make the game accessible he chose to base his game on chess. The game board was split into a large grid with color-coded squares designed to represent different kinds of terrain. The layout wasn’t fixed which enabled players to create different kinds of terrain for their own custom battlefields.

There were different pieces, each representing a different kind of unit. They had their own unique characteristics. For example infantry and artillery pieces could fire at enemy pieces for a range of two to three squares. Cavalry was also able to move significantly further than infantry units in a single turn. Unlike chess pieces also had orientation so were able to flank enemy pieces.

One of the more interesting features of Hellwig’s Wargame was that it included rules to simulate fog of war. While players were arranging their pieces they could place a screen across the board so that they could not observe how their opponent was deploying their pieces. However once the game started it was possible for players to see all of their opponent’s pieces.

The game was a commercial success and inspired other Prussians to create their own, increasingly complicated, board games. One example is Johann Georg Julius Venturini’s game, which added rules governing logistics, creating what might be the first operational-level war strategy game.

Despite their success, these earlier versions were considered to be too simple to accurately depict combat. The main complaints were that the pieces were constricted to moving across a grid, as in chess. This also limited the terrain on the map and forced it to take unnatural forms, such as rivers flowing at right angles.

Kriegsspiel helped to solve this by completely moving away from Chess and creating a freeform environment where troops could move without being forced to follow artificial limitations, like grids.  The further addition of randomness and imperfect orders in the form of the Umpire meant that Kriegsspiel was arguably the first game to create a close approximation of the challenges faced by commanders in a real conflict scenario.

Kriegsspiel was the first game to accurately depict the chaos of battle (source Wikimedia Commons)

What Are The Rules of Kriegsspiel?

At least two teams of players and one umpire gather around a map, which represents a battlefield. Each team is given command of an army which is represented on the map using painted blocks which each represent a variety of troop formation, such as artillery, infantry or cavalry.

The players write their orders on paper and hand them to the umpire who then moves the pieces according to how he judges the “troops” would interpret and execute the orders.

The blocks are moved in a freeform manner using rulers and combat outcomes are then determined by mathematical calculations or dice, depending on the version played.

Who Invented Kriegsspiel?

The game was first developed by George Leopold Von Reisswitz to solve what he perceived as limitations of existing chess based wargames. He first experimented with a table covered in layers of damp sand, sculpted to create a three-dimensional battlefield. In 1812 Reisswitz had the chance to demonstrate the game to King Wilhelm III of Prussia. He created a cabinet and folding board with a battlefield made of folding tiles.

The royal family loved the game and frequently played it, however it would not become mainstream until Reisswitz’s son, Georg Heinrich Rudolf Johann von Reisswitz, took the reins. Reisswitz Jr. significantly increased the complexity of the game, making Kriegsspiel the first game to include variable damage and unit hitpoints, a key component of many modern strategy games.

He also designed the game to be played on accurate, large-scale (1:8,000) topographical maps, which the Prussian army had recently begun to use as standard. These enabled the game to be played simulating real locations. Reisswitz also introduced the umpire for the first time, which added an element of unpredictability to the game as troop orders depended upon the umpire’s interpretation.

It could be argued that this is the first example of randomness, or a proto-artificial intelligence, being introduced to a strategy game in this way. The game also included other important features such as fog of war, which are now commonplace in modern real time strategy (RTS) or turn based strategy (TBS) games.

The game eventually matured into two schools, the “free” school and the “rigid” school. The rigid school was true to Riesswitz’s traditional version, but many believed it to be too inflexible to realistically model all possible outcomes of a battle and too difficult to learn. In 1876 general Julius Von Verdy du Vernois proposed a version of the game which dispensed with rules entirely and allowed the umpire to arbitrate the game as he saw fit. This was well received by officers as it was far easier to learn, and allowed experienced umpires to apply their military expertise.

Was Kriegsspiel used to train military officers?

The game proved wildly popular with the Prussian army with General von Müffling declaring it “schooling for war.” The king even demanded that every Prussian regiment receive a Kriegsspiel set. However despite Prussia’s embrace of the game it was not taken seriously by other European nations until 1870 when Prussia soundly defeated France in the Franco-Prussian war. As Prussia had no significant military advantage beyond its war gaming tradition and some have credited the nation’s victory to its war gaming tradition.

After the Franco-Prussian war many countries that had previously dismissed Kriegsspiel as a game took it more seriously. In 1872 the English translation of Kriegsspiel received royal endorsement and was given to the British army. By 1873 a group of students and teachers at Oxford University founded the first Kriegsspiel club which is regarded as the first recreational wargaming club in the world. A number of Kriegsspiel variants, such as the American Strategos also appeared in the following decades.

In more recent times the game has experienced a revival thanks to a translation of the original rules by British wargaming enthusiast Bill Leeson. The impacts of Kriegsspiel can also be seen in most modern strategy games like Starborne. However Kriegsspiel is focused on single engagements and lacks the social competitive components that are a key component of modern multiplayer strategy games.

Stratego - Introducing intransitive Mechanics

Stratego At A Glance -

  • The earliest version of Stratego was released in 1910, but there were many variants.
  • Stratego helped to popularize the gameplay mechanic of imperfect information and introduced one of the first examples of intransitive mechanics.
  • Stratego.com was once one of the most popular Stratego communities, but its online competitive variant was discontinued when Adobe ended support for its flash player.

While some versions of Kriegsspiel masked how players were deploying units, they were still able to see all the units on the battlefield. This meant that they had perfect information, which is a significant advantage. Stratego was one of the first major games in the west to popularize this idea.

In all variants of Stratego The aim of the game is to capture your opponent’s flag. To do this you need to cleverly maneuver your opponents but certain pieces have an advantage over others. For example a spy has a significant advantage over the powerful marshal piece. This is one of the earliest examples of intransitive mechanics, or a rock paper scissors relationship between units. This helps to balance the game and minimize perfect play.

Stratego is based on Japanese Military Chess and the French game L’attaque, the latter of which was released in 1910. However it wasn’t until 1942 that the modern version of Stratego would appear. The game was registered as a trademark by the judge company which produced the first edition of monopoly: Van Perlstein & Roeper Bosch N.V.

The game pieces were originally made of printed cardboard but eventually became wood and then plastic. In 1962 an electronic stratego was released. It overhauled the game and changed many features. Each piece had a unique series of bumps on the bottom that allowed the board to read its rank and type. The computer was able to calculate the outcome of combat, but would never know for certain the rank of the piece that won the attack.

Eventually Stratego found its way to PC and in 1990 the first PC version of Stratego was released. This would eventually culminate in the launch of stratego.com which was one of the largest stratego player bases in the world, however this version has been discontinued since Adobe dropped flash support.

How Is Stratego Played?

Imagine via wikimedia commmons

The game is played by two opposing players on a board of 10 X 10 squares. The aim of the game is to capture your opponent’s flag.  Each player controls 40 pieces, representing individual officer and soldier ranks:

Movable Pieces

  • 1 Marshal - 10 points
  • 1 General - 9 points
  • 2 Colonels - 8 points
  • 3 Majors -  7 points
  • 4 Captains - 6 points
  • 4 Lieutenants - 5 points
  • 5 Sergeants - 4 points
  • 5 Miners -3 points
  • 6 Scouts - 2 points
  • 1 Spy - 0 points

Non-movable pieces

  • 6 bombs
  • 1 flag

Each player secretly places their units, so that their opponent doesn’t know their army composition, the middle two squares of the board are left unoccupied at the start of the game.

Once deployment is complete each player alternates turns, with the red player moving first. Each turn is broken up into a move phase, and an attacking phase.

During the movement phase all pieces can move one square at a time, forward, backwards or sideways. They cannot enter a square occupied by another piece unless attacking. Scouts are able to move any number of open squares in any direction, but this will reveal the piece as a scout. Additionally a scout piece is the only piece that can move and attack in the same turn.

When attacking both players must declare the value of their pieces. The lower value piece is removed from the board, if they are the same rank then both pieces are removed from the game. If any piece apart from a miner hits a bomb they are removed from the game, a miner can diffuse the bomb and remove it from the board. Additionally, while Spy’s are the lowest value piece, they are the only piece that can destroy a marshal, assuming they attack first.

The game ends when either all your pieces cannot be moved, or a flag is captured.

Why Is Stratego Important

Stratego is important because it helped to popularize the idea of imperfect information. When you don’t know the position of your opponent’s pieces it forces you to make best guess moves based on the information you have, rather than optimal moves. This is further enhanced with the introduction of the spy and the marshal, introducing an early example of intransitive mechanics.

This encourages a different kind of strategic play that can help to add more depth to games, and generate new strategies based on bluffing or deceit.

Diplomacy: Popularized Betrayal In Gaming

Diplomacy at a glance

  • Diplomacy was created by Allan B. Calhamer in 1954 and released commercially in 1959.
  • The game was reportedly a favorite of the Kennedys and Henry Kissinger
  • Diplomacy was one of the first games designed to be played by mail apart from chess.
  • Diplomacy is important because it is an early example of a competitive strategy game with a focus on social play, where players are encouraged to trick and make deals amongst themselves, improving replayability.

Alliances, dealmaking, betrayal, Diplomacy has it all and more. The first version of Diplomacy was created by Allan B. Calhamer in 1954 before a commercial release in the United States in 1959. Diplomacy was unique because of its heavy focus on negotiation and simultaneous turns that eliminate the vagaries of chance.

What Are The Rules of Diplomacy?

There are a number of variants but the base game is played by two to seven players who each assume control of a major European power. The aim of the game is to take control of enough “supply centers” on the map to force a victory for yourself, or to force a draw in order to gain a partial victory.

The starting positions in a classic game of diplomacy (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Diplomacy is played across seasons, beginning in 1901, with years divided into Spring and Fall moves. There is also a winter phase when new units can be built or disbanded depending on the number of supply centers each power controls. Each year is split into three phases.

The First is the negotiation phase, where each player discusses strategy and makes deals. This is arguably the most important moment of the game and players are not bound to follow through on their agreements and may freely betray their “allies” as they see fit.

Once negotiations are complete all players secretly write their orders on paper, like Kriegsspiel, and wait for every order to be submitted. Players can move units, or order them to support another unit's moves, including an enemy or allies. Orders cannot be changed once they are submitted.

The final phase of play sees all orders enacted simultaneously. There are no dice rolls or hit points, only numerical advantage can win a fight. Coordinating your moves with your allies is essential to success in the game. Diplomacy is a notoriously tricky game and aside from chess one of the first games to ever be played by post. Victory is difficult to achieve and around 50% of all Diplomacy games will end in a negotiated draw. You can find a beginners guide to Diplomacy openings here.

Diplomacy Was The First Play By Post Strategy Game After Chess

A single Diplomacy game played in real-time can take hours, or even days, and the game is often played asynchronously. Apart from chess, Diplomacy was one of the first multiplayer games to be designed to be played by post. The game attracted many famous politicians and newspapers reported that the game was a favorite of both Henry Kissinger and the Kennedys, although there are no primary sources for the claim. Diplomacy is still played to this day and there is a thriving web-based community that offers both live games and long term games.

The impacts of diplomacy on strategy gaming history can still be felt today. The concepts of social negotiations, alliances, and well timed betrays can be seen in many modern MMORTS games.

Risk: Building New Strategy Game Genres

Risk at a glance:

  • Risk was created in France in 1957 under the name: La Conquête du Monde (the conquest of the world) before it was released in 1957 by the Parker Brothers.
  • Risk created a new genre of strategy board games, called Legacy board games, where players actions have consequences that persist across play sessions.
  • Risk has over 17 officially licensed variants in English alone, with a number of official variants in French and Portuguese.

Another landmark strategy board game was Risk. The first version of risk was released in France by French director Albert Lamorisse in 1957 under the name La Conquête du Monde (the conquest of the world). It was later bought by the Parker Brothers, a major American toy manufacturer, who released the game in 1959 with some minor modifications as Risk: The Continental Game. What makes Risk especially interesting is that over the course of the IPs lifetime the game would evolve and develop into a large number of variations, however the core of the gameplay remained the same.

What Are The Rules of Risk?

In the traditional variant of risk there are 6 armies each containing 40 infantry, 12 cavalry and 8 artillery. These units are each worth a different value:

  1. Infantry - worth 1
  2. Cavalry - worth 5 infantry
  3. Artillery - worth 10 infantry or 2 cavalry

Additionally there is a deck of 42 cards, each containing a unit symbol and territory, as well as two wild cards marked with all three units. If you are playing the secret mission variant of risk there are also 12 mission cards.

In order to set up the game each player needs to count out the number of armies they need to start:

  • 2 players - Must follow special rules
  • 3 players - 35 infantry
  • 4 players - 30 infantry
  • 5 players - 25 infantry
  • 6 players - 20 infantry

Players then roll a dice, whoever has the highest numbers gets to place their infantry on any territory on the board, claiming that territory. Then each player, starting to the left of the first player, places one army onto any unoccupied territory, this continues until all 42 territories have been claimed. Players then reinforce territories in the same turn order until there are no armies left.

Players also need to shuffle the pack of Risk cards (removing the mission cards) and place them face down by the side of the board. Whenever a player conquers at least one territory in their first round they will be able to draw these territory cards. They can turn in a set of three cards in order to obtain new units, with two bonus units for each territory they occupy that matches a card.

When playing each player must define an adjacent territory to attack. The attacker and defender then roll dice. The player with the lowest rolls (defenders win on a tie) must discard a unit. If an attacker removes all defending units they take the territory. The aim of the game is either to complete your secret mission, or conquer the whole world. Capturing continents provides players with bonus units.

There are no rules specifically allowing or forbidding alliances or agreements. This means that players often make informal agreements in order to achieve a specific goal, and social gameplay is an important part of Risk.

What is a Risk variant?

There are a large number of Risk variants, often drawing upon specific film or book franchises. These variants all bring a specific twist to the game. For example the Lord Of The Rings risk variant includes the path of the Fellowship of The Ring. “evil” players need to control this territory in order to stop Frodo and win the game, while “good” players need to work to protect the fellowship and keep evil players out of its pathway.  You can find a full list of variants here.

One of the most interesting developments in Risk was the release of Risk Legacy in 2011. This was the first attempt at creating a board game which would persist across sessions. At a glance, Risk Legacy plays similarly to normal risk, where players either try to eliminate their opponents or take control of victory points.

However the difference becomes apparent when players pick factions. At the beginning of a game players must choose one of their faction’s two powers, and then destroy the card that has the other rule. These kinds of long term permanent choices define Risk Legacy, and often persist throughout multiple games. For example a continent may permanently provide more troops, or a territory may become inaccessible. Even the rule book itself is designed to be changed or updated.

The winner of each of the first 15 games gained a “major bonus” such as founding a city that only they can start in, or destroying a country card. Even players who did not win can make minor changes to the world. This creates a completely unique, customizable, game of Risk created organically as the game is played. Risk Legacy has spawned a series of other board games based on the concept of a persistent board, and in essence created a new genre of strategy game.

Empires in Arms - Building A True Grand Strategy Simulation

Released by the Australian Design Group in 1983, Empires in Arms wasn’t the first grand strategy game, but it was undoubtedly one of the most engrossing. A single game of Empires in Arms can take more than 300 hours and playing a single game often takes months of time.

Like diplomacy and risk the game encourages, even requires, diplomacy and deceit, but it also takes its simulation far more seriously. The game is designed to simulate warfare, governance, and economics in the Napoleon period, between 1805–1815.

How is Empires in Arms Played?

As one might inspect Empires in Arms is a complicated affair. 6 players must take control of one of the major powers: England, France, Austria, Russia, Prussia, Spain, and Turkey. These nation’s all have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as unique victory conditions.

Gameplay is highly asymmetrical. It is entirely possible for France to dominate early play, and even eliminate players, but to counteract this they have the highest victory requirements. The opposite is true for smaller powers like Turkey, who have an easier path to victory, but a tough time getting there.

The full game lasts 132 turns, with each turn representing a month. These months are split into four separate phases:

  • The Diplomatic phase: where players negotiate (and break) deals with each other and make alliances.
  • The Reinforcement phase: where each player adds any reinforcements.
  • The Naval phase: where each player conducts their naval moves.
  • The Land phase: where each player moves and fights with their armies

Every third turn/month there is the Economic phase: where players collect resources and purchase future upgrades. Scoring of victory points is conducted during this phase.

The game’s map is enormously detailed. It  is littered with minor nations, all with their own garrisons and militaries and cities all have their own defense ratings, and maximum numbers of troops they can garrison there. Each area has a manpower and economic rating. If you are able to take a territory, and hold it until the next territorial phase, you will get money and manpower which can be utilized to make new units.

The game also simulates the logistics of Napoleonic warfare. If a player is unable to maintain their supply lines their units have to forage, and it is possible that soldiers can die. This forces players to carefully plan their expansion, lest they find their supply lines cut and they experience the dangers of the Russian winter. Players are also able to use their navies to break enemy supply lines by blockading ports

There are a wide variety of units, each with their own specialities. For example Russian Cossacks do not need supplies.  There are also special units such as guerillas, which ignore certain territorial rules. Even the terrain of the map will affect the outcome of a battle. If a player wins a battle with certain kinds of units, they gain political points, they also lose political points for a defeat.

The game relies upon players spending all their resources wisely, including political points, which are necessary to win. For example if a player wishes to declare war on a minor nation, such as Sicily, they must expend 2 political points to do so. The same applies to making or breaking alliances with other players.

Political points are interesting because they are essentially liquid until the next economic phase, where they are converted to victory points. This means that risky actions on an economic phase can reduce your chance at victory. It also means that players can attempt to force a surrender or defeat during an economic year to really hurt their opponents.

Different nations also have special conditions during the economic phase. For example Great Britain has the ability to deduct 1/3rd of its political points to do the same to another power. Russia is also unable to collect money if St Petersburg or Moscow are occupied.

The game ends when either one nation has reached its required numbers of victory points, or at the end of the 132nd term. A player is not obliged to declare victory if they reach the victory points they need, as there is a risk other players can obtain a co-victory if they collect enough points due to controlled territory. Interestingly, Great Britain automatically wins if nobody else does, encouraging the player to follow Britain’s real-world strategy of ensuring a balance of power on the continent during the time period.

The nuts and bolts of the rules for Empires at Wars are very complicated, but you can find a fairly good simplified guide here (account required).

What Makes Empires At Arms Important?

Even looking at modern video games it is exceedingly difficult to find a game that makes such a strong attempt to simulate the realities of command, while understanding its chosen era. The game mechanics shine because they force the players to take historical political and geographic realities into account in a way that few other games do.

For example, as Great Britain all you really want is for France and Russia to remain tied down in Europe. In order to do this you are forced to play endless politics, and even sacrifice allies if they appear to be becoming too strong. A clever Prussia or Turkish player can take advantage of this, by seeking British aid to slow down Russian expansion, but they need to carefully manage the British players expectations to avoid becoming the next target of their mechaniations.

While the game is long, and sadly out of print, it is still considered to be one of the most rewarding strategy gaming experiences to this day.

Settlers of Catan - Popularizing Resource Gathering Mechanics

Settlers of Catan At a Glance -

  • Settlers of Catan was first released in German in 1995 as Die Siedler Von Catan.
  • It was the first German boardgame to achieve mainstream success outside of Europe.
  • It was one of the earliest games to focus upon resource gathering as a main mechanic.

To a certain extent all strategy games are about managing resources but Settlers of Catan is all about the resources. The game was first published in german in 1995 as Die Siedler Von Catan. The players take on the role of settlers attempting to build and develop their settlers while competing for resources.

Settlers of Catan is notable as it was the first German board game to achieve mainstream success outside of Europe. The game has spawned countless variants and has been praised for its simple gameplay and surprising depth. The game has also spawned a number of video game releases. Culminating in Pokemon Go’s Niantic announcing an AR version of the game.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

How Is Settlers of Catan Played

A game of Settlers of Catan is designed for 2-4 players and played using a modular board, which enables players to create a variety of scenarios. The aim of the game is to collect 10 victory points. Each player receives a building cost card that reminds them what resources they will need to expand.

Each player receives resources from each of the tiles next to their second settlement. They can either use these resources to build their own building or trade them amongst themselves.
Each turn is split into three phases:

  • Resource Production - The player rolls two dice and if the number corresponds with a resource on a hex next to any player’s settlement, they can take one of that resource. A roll of 7 activates the robber, which forces all players with more than 7 resource cards to return their resources. The robber then moves to a hex and can steal resources from players neighboring his location.
  • Trading - The player whose turn it is announces what they want, and what they are willing to trade for it. Other players can make counter offers and proposals. If this fails players can use maritime trading to trade 4 of one good for another. Players with settlements or cities on a harbor can sometimes get a rebate on this trade, making it a more attractive option.
  • Building - Players can build roads, which are necessary for expansion, settlements, which enable them to gather more resources, and cities, which are worth two victory points and provide double resources.

Players can also purchase development cards, which provide knights, random benefits, or victory points. If a player can gather 3 knights they gain the largest army card, which counts for two victory points. The game ends when a player gathers 10 victory points.

Why Is Settlers of Catan Important?

Settlers of Catan is important because it introduced players to a different kind of strategy game, one about resources and friendly competition. While players are competing with each other, Settlers of Catan forces a degree of co-operation to reach a specific goal. The game is also unique for its easy to learn, hard to master mechanics.

How Computers Changed Digital Strategy Gaming Forever

Digital strategy gaming at a glance:

  • The first commercially successful digital strategy game was Eastern Front (1941) released on the Atari video game console in 1981.
  • The first successful real time strategy game was Dune II released in 1992.
  • Computers empowered game designers to create a number of new strategy game genres, such as 4X, Artillery games, and turn based tactics games.

Prior to the creation of digital computer games strategy fans were forced to purchase boards and find friends willing to play. This all changed with the invention of computer games. It was suddenly possible to create boards that could be set up instantly. You could replace the umpires in Kriegsspiel with artificial intelligence and the internet meant that players could see each other's moves in real time, instead of waiting days or weeks for a reply in the post.

The invention of personal computers has made it possible to produce increasingly complicated games (Source: Pexels)

As developers tested the limitations of existing hardware a number of distinct strategy game genres began to appear, each drawing from previous games, but with unique features in their own right. Freed from the constraints of reality developers were able to create a number of new genres and a strategy gaming renaissance was sparked.

As a result of this new technology two main kinds of strategy games developed:

What is Turn Based Strategy (TBS)?

Early digital strategy games drew much inspiration from board gaming and thus it shouldn’t be surprising that the first commercially successful strategy game was a turn based strategy (TBS). Eastern Front (1941) was a turn based recreation of the Eastern Front in WW2 which was released for the Atari video game console in 1981.

Eastern Front (1941) Chris Crawford (source Wikimedia Commons)

There are a vast number of games that fall into this genre but they all share the same feature of separate “turns” either happening simultaneously, or in sequence. This approach is popular and allows players time to think through complicated problems in their own time. This enables more “perfect” play and arguably more complicated games to be created.

What Is Real Time Strategy (RTS)?

In contrast real time strategy (RTS) requires players to make difficult decisions on the fly. This requires split second decision making which makes “perfect” play significantly more challenging. The first commercially successful RTS was Dune II, based on the film version of the cult science fiction novel dune.

The game created many of the mechanics that we take for granted in modern RTS games. Players were able to select and control multiple units with their mouse for the first time. This is the foundation for the interface of most modern RTS games, such as Command & Conquer, Warcraft, and Starborne.

Are There Strategy Video Games That Combine RTS and TBS?

There are a handful of games that have opted to build a hybrid system. The most well known of these are the Total War series. These games include a turn based tabletop where long term strategic decisions are made alongside a real-time battle mechanic. This enables players to experience the long term careful planning of Empire building as well as the chaotic challenge of dealing with a rapidly changing battlefield as a general.

What Genres of Strategy Video Games Are There?

Among the earliest strategy games were “artillery” games. These are named after the classic game known simply as “Artillery” written and published in the Creative Computing Magazine in 1976. Artillery games typically involve 2-4 players, or AI, taking turns to fire shells at each other. The most well known examples would be Hogs of War or Worms. These games are interesting because they mimic the earliest uses of computers: calculating the trajectory of artillery shells for the military.

While the overwhelming majority of Artillery games are TBS games the father of the RTS genre was undoubtedly Utopia. Released in 1981 Utopia was a two player game where each player assumed control of an island. The players decided how many rounds to play, and how long each would last, and would compete to have the most points at the end of the game.

Utopia involved resource management as players had to use gold bars to construct different buildings, or fund rebel activities on their opponent’s island. As their island grew they had to find ways to keep their people happy, or risk losing score due to rebels. The game was considered groundbreaking at the time and has been inducted into the Smithsonian Institution's "The Art of Video Games" exhibition.

An interesting distinction began to emerge in the early 2000s between a strategy game and tactics game. Typically a real time strategy game requires some level of resource collection and management in order to incentivize long term planning. However as Chris Taylor, the designer of total annihilation and supreme commander, pointed out in an interview with GameSpy in 2005, the genre was often more about tactics than strategy. This was largely due to a focus on smaller individual engagements, rather than a larger theatre of war and it was a problem he attempted to address with the popular supreme commander game.

Eventually, turn based tactics and real time tactics would become a distinct sub-genre of their own. These games, such as Xcom or Dawn of War, centre more upon managing resources like people, rather than gold or steel. Their focus tends to be tighter and centered upon smaller groups of individuals, rather than colder matters of state and empire building.

On the opposite end of the spectrum we there was the development of the 4X genre. The name refers to the four key components of the game “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate.” The term was coined by Alan Emrich when he described the father of 4X games, Master of Orion.

4X games are unique in the strategy genre thanks to their deep, often complicated gameplay. Unlike other strategy games there are a number of non-military routes to supremacy and the games require skillful use of resources in order to succeed. The earliest examples were the Sid Meier’s civilization and Total War series, however there are many very successful modern iterations, including Starborne and Stellaris.

There are also a variety of other strategy genres, including tower defence games, grand strategy games, and war games. However they all share common features of planning and resources management in one form or another.

Fog Of War - How Games Simulate The Difficulty Of Command

War Simulators At a Glance

  • The term fog of war is often incorrectly attributed to Carl Von Clauswitz and the focus on the word “fog” has led to an overly simplified interpretation of warfare in some games.
  • The first game to implement fog of war was Empire in 1977.
  • Unlike many strategy games Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm focuses on the difficulty of commanding a force of men and getting them to correctly obey orders and creates a form of advanced fog of war.
  • Fog of War is important because it forces players to make imperfect decisions, increasing replayability and adding significant depth to a strategy game.

One of the big challenges for strategy games is adding the element of the unknown. It is easier for players to react when they have perfect information. If the game is able to hide key information it forces players to make the best decisions possible utilizing imperfect information. This mechanic has come to be known as fog of war.

The first game to introduce fog of war was Empire in 1977 and it was implemented in a number of other games, often to help give limited AIs a crutch. However fog of war did not prove universally popular with some developers, like Chris Crawfard, claiming that Fog of War frustrated players and when it was “too realistic” many players enjoyed gaming less. However others such as Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons believed it held potentia to add significant depth to a game.

The majority of modern strategy games utilize fog of war in some form or another, but in most it is simple. The Age of Empires and Civilization series both use fog of war to hide the AIs actions, and provide uncertainty to players, but it amounts to having a unit “watching” what happens.

Where Does The Term Fog Of War Come From?

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t fit the spirit of fog of war. The term is often (wrongly) attributed to Carl Von Clauswitz and his book Von Kriege (On War). While the term fog of war has become ubiquitous Clauswitz himself never specifically used it. Instead he focused on the “friction” of war, a term which covers four key elements: physical exertion, intelligence, friction and danger.

it's clear that Clauswitz is primarily referring to the friction of command, rather than logistics. This means the difficulty that a commander has dealing with poor information, getting commands to the front line, dealing with mental exhaustion, and being willing to follow through with a plan despite uncertainty about its chances of success.

The prevalence of the term “fog” has unfortunately led some game designers to focus purely on the information aspect. While important, it ignores the other stresses of command which a game is perfectly capable of emulating.

There are only a handful of games designed to accurately recreate the frustrating reality of command, and one of the most interesting is Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm.

Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm - Recreating The Frustrations of Command

Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm released in 2014, was created in an attempt to answer a question: What would have happened if the Soviet Union had invaded Western Germany 1989?

It gives players, and military enthusiasts, a chance to see how the competing superpowers would have dealt with each other. The game specifically places the player in the shoes of a commander of these forces, and attempts to simulate the frustrations of command.

The game is broken up into a series of scenarios that typically pitch a larger Soviet force against a smaller NATO one. This asymmetry is further enhanced by forcing players to time their decisions. At the beginning of a game both players plot their moves secretly and the game executes them simultaneously. However after orders have been issued there is a period of time where the unit cannot accept new commands.

NATO units have a shorter cool-down period, which allows the NATO commander more flexibility to act to a changing situation. Soviet players are instead forced to create a longer-term plan and hope that superior firepower will carry them through.

This might not be such a huge constraint if you could see your enemy, and this is where fog of war comes in. You need to work to uncover enemy units, either by intercepting radio signals, or by using recon units.

This is a major problem for NATO players, who will issue more commands than their Soviet opponents. Each radioed command will make their units more visible, and increases the chance that the Soviet player will identify the NATO headquarters. If the Soviet player is able to take out NATO headquarters, or seperate NATO units, then the NATO commander will find it more difficult to issue orders, ceding advantage to the Soviet player’s superior numbers.

This is made more interesting by the fact that a unit is not revealed when it fires upon you. It is impossible for a commander to know how their tank battalion was destroyed, only that it was. This forces players to risk sacrificing a recon unit, or close in on the position to eliminate an unknown threat. In other words, to make a plan with bad information.

Part of the reason this works so well is the setting. Cold war weaponry was deadly and even a heavily armoured Abrams tank will be rapidly destroyed if it is out in the open. This encourages a cautious playstyle where the aim is to position your units in the least dangerous position possible.

Massive Multiplayer Strategy Games: Connecting Countless Players

Massive Multiplayer Online Strategy Games At a Glance

  • The earliest MMO games were multi-user dungeons (MUDS) played on the precursor to the internet, ARPANET.
  • There are two main kinds of MMO strategy games, MMORTS games and MOBAs like League Of Legends.
  • MMORTS games can be very profitable and Clash of Clans grossed $727 million in 2019.

Aside from the computer itself the most important advance for strategy games is undoubtedly the internet. While before it was difficult for strategy gamers to connect it was suddenly possible for communities around the world to communicate in real time. It wasn’t long until people realized that it was possible for large numbers of players to connect to a game simultaneously.

The earliest examples of multiplayer online games were played on ARPANET, the precursor to the internet. These were typically multi user dungeons (MUDS) which form the foundation for many modern MMOs today like World of Warcraft. There are few examples of networked strategy games, aside from an unverified reference to STAR and OCEAN being played on the University of New Hampshire network, but it wasn’t long until this changed.

The popularity of these early games showed the appeal of multiplayer games and since then there have been a number of different examples of strategy focused MMOs. These have split into two primary categories, MMORTS and MOBAs. The latter includes games like League of Legends which fuses strategy and RPG elements to create games that can be played in shorter matches.

MMORTS games remain faithful to the core features of a strategy game. They involve significant resources management and often require competing with hundreds or thousands of players. The unpredictable human component adds a significant layer of challenge and this has proven popular with gamers. The well known MMORTS Clash of Clans grossed $727 million in 2019 which is a strong indicator that gamers have an appetite for such experiences.

Despite the success of MMORTS games like Clash of Clans there is a challenge. By their nature most MMORTS games are designed to last forever in order to keep players hooked. This means that the strategy element of the game is often lost in favor of short-term decision making, or the lack of a long term goal beyond growing. This is a difficult obstacle to overcome for many developers but the answer lies in looking back to what made classic strategy games so great, and that is what Starborne has done.

Starborne: Building On A Long Tradition of Strategy Games

Starborne at a glance

  • Starborne went into open beta on April 1st 2020 and is an MMORTS in the 4x genre.
  • Players are able to find victory in a variety of ways and must work together towards a common goal in order to win.

With an Open Beta released on April 1st 2020 Starborne is a unique example of modern strategy games. Like Clash of Kings, Starborne is an MMORTS in the 4X genre but the creators of Starborne have taken stock of the rich history of strategy games and produced something unique that neatly solves many of the challenges of building a compelling MMORTS.

One of the ways the team achieves this is by ensuring that there is an actual victory condition. Rather than using perpetual maps, each game is played over a set period of time ranging from four hours until around 10 weeks, depending on game mode. During this time players compete to achieve one of three distinct victory conditions, which all require their own approach.

The game has been compared to Neptune’s Pride for its Diplomacy-esque social features. Alliances and social gameplay form a core part of Starborne’s appeal. In order to be successful players need to join Alliances that are working towards a specific goal. Additionally these alliances will often form informal coalitions (or alliances of alliances) that become an integral component of the end-game. This helps to maintain a broader social strategy that is lacking in many MMORTS games.

Additionally the game has created a logical framework in which players can find ways to thrive. Much like chess or go there are a number of different strategies and openings that a new player can use in order to succeed. There are a wide variety of ships and stations, with different specialities, that help players succeed in their plans. Players have to carefully balance how to spend resources, and decide whether to support their own personal projects or those of their alliance.

Players are able to specialize in military, espionage, or industrial approaches, which adds extra depth to the game and encourages specialization and co-operation. This means that there are a wide variety of strategies and counter-strategies. This adds significant depth to each session and these skills can be passed down from experienced players and novice players.

The strategy genre is as old as history itself, and it is continuing to grow and evolve. Games like Starborne are the next step in that evolution and will help to refine and revolutionize the genre long into the future.

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