I’m only actually going to talk about three games here. I’ve played more than three this year, but I figure for this I might as well only talk about games that I spent absolutely ages in playing. And due to my preferences, that would be three strategy games for PC. I’ve always been a PC gamer, it just makes sense as I’ve always had a PC and my favourite genre has always been strategy and those games are made best for PC. I think I’ve only ever owned a console for Mario Kart. Anyway, it’s also a low number because while I was still doing my masters course I was limiting the time I could play games, and while I was doing my masters course I had an older laptop that wouldn’t run games as well. Upon completing my dissertation I bought a new computer to celebrate and started installing all of the games I had ever loved. And played a few of those. I spent a couple of weeks nostalgia-obsessing over Rome and Medieval 2 Total War (and got a couple of the newer ones that may show up in future years if I ever get obsessed with one of those again, but not today), I think I literally owe my obsession with history to my original obsession with Rome Total War, I remember loading it up for the first time and thinking ‘who are the Dacians and the Seleucid Empire, I must research this’. And then I did my degree on it. I’ve also been going back through the story of Assassin’s Creed, on a decent computer, but it’s 1 and 2 and while those are amazing, I don’t know if I have anything new to say about them, it’s fun jumping around Crusader Kingdoms and Renaissance Italy murderizing everyone you see and surviving huge falls by lying in bales of hay. That’s all.
But you do notice something in common with this, right? History. I love games set in the past of our world – as I often love shows that are set in the past of our world, there’s so many interesting things they can do with it. And that’s why the three games I’m really talking about here are all to do with history. Or playing as nations to conquer the world with.
3. Civilization V
I talked about this last year, but I’ve played it more this year than I did last year so why not include it again. Also I really want VI, the new game, but it’s a bit pricey for me at this point in time so I’m waiting a year or two for that to drop. V is going cheap at this point though, so invest in that if you have a computer that can run it. It was the first thing I played after completing my dissertation and I had such a beautiful session on it with a game that’s probably, although it was on a fairly easy setting, my favourite game of Civ I’ve had. I was the Celts, who take their city names from all of the modern Celtic nations, so I created areas of my empire (on a huge forested planet) for Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and Manx names, got a challenging Steam Achievement to have a city named Llanfairgwochwyll-longwelshnamecity in my empire, and just peacefully expanded while sending insults to the Romans across the sea from me and eventually culturally victorying through mead halls and building the CN Tower – that has the effect of giving you free radio towers in every city you own. Other games I’ve had include a multiplayer with my brothers where I was Japan and started on an isolated continent, building up my bushido power and eventually launching via the Divine Wind a huge fleet to sail around the world bombing the unsuspecting harbours of the AI (sadly we abandoned the game before I was able to sail into Jacob’s Stockholm and wreck that too). And one as Egypt where I restricted myself to one city and just built, with Egypt’s increase to wonder building, basically every important building in the game in my desert paradise capital of Thebes, winning a cultural victory. Civ V is not the most complicated strategy game, which is why I haven’t played it for a couple of months as I’ve found more complex and challenging ones, but it’s an incredibly enjoyable journey through the history of a world on another planet and it can get you lost for hours. There’s also so many interesting Steam Achievements I do want to pick up in my next bout of playing before I move on to VI but that will get overshadowed by my #1.
2. Crusader Kings II
This is what I mean by Paradox Interactive dominating my life this year. Crusader Kings I picked up at the beginning of the year and got obsessed with it WHILE I was doing my masters, so had to sneak in games where I thought I could get away with doing it – and when I did I played for far too long. There was one session where I just started it up at the beginning of the afternoon, kept going and before I knew it, without even EATING, it was 1am. I’m certainly not doing that again but that’s how into this game I got. Unfortunately I wrote an incredibly detailed story that I don’t have with me (I’ll edit the full thing into this post later) of one of my latest playthroughs with a young beautiful Empress of Cornwall who would sleep with anything, particularly her red-faced bishops, and was a master of court intrigue and surviving the plagues ravaging the countrysides of the British Isles that she was master over.
Crusader Kings is a strategy game, based in the Middle Ages, with tons of possible countries and kingdoms and empires that can form (and a lot of DLCs you really feel the need to buy, which I did as cheap as I could because I got really into it), but the focus is not necessarily on conquering the world like it is in Total War. Each of these games is like the campaign map side of Total War, which was always the best part, but far more nuanced and complex. But for Crusader Kings, the focus is not on making the country great. It’s making you great. You. And you can be whoever you want to be, the noble head of a family, but you don’t have to be the king. You can be the conniving duke, whispering words of loyalty in your king’s ear before stabbing him in the back right at the most opportune time. You can be a marcher count, on the edge of a vast empire defending your personal holdings from hordes at the gates. You can of course be an independent ruler, but you can also play below. And either is fun, in different ways. Events come up throughout the game asking for choices and you can go on huge event chains that make each character seem like a real person. Also there’s a ton of really really shady shit you can do. I’m talking banishing your son to seize his money, murdering your grandson because he’s an inbred drooling imbecile, torturing your enemies, marrying your sisters and cousins because one of them’s a genius and you can’t risk those genes getting outside the family. This game is a wonderful one for no context lines. When you die, you become your heir, and it’s of paramount importance to make sure that your titles pass onto your heir in a manner that’s appropriate. It’s also of paramount importance to make everyone else in your realm like you, be the right religion (religion is a huge part of the game, each religion, Catholic, Orthodox, Sunni, Shia, Pagan, Hindu, Buddhism, Judaism, plays so differently that it’s a completely different experience. It also takes a lot of explaining to figure out how everything works, I was lost for my first session and I’m still not entirely sure how to play the game effectively. Which is probably the only reason why CK2 has lost to the winner of this mini-rank:
1. Europa Universalis IV
A fanart for this game has been one of my favourite images lately and I’ve put it in the title image. It’s a personified map of Europe in 1444 and if you look at a bigger version of it you can see tons of little in-jokes related to this game. Like Castile/Spain firing a comet into the sky, an infamous bad event and it saying ‘Adios Enrique’, a reference to Henry IV of Spain, the starting Spanish heir and an awful ruler who you can now get rid of. Or Theodoro, the last Gothic nation in history over in Crimea. Or Aragon looking like Aragorn, or Albania hiding in ‘mountains’ with their three star generals. That’s another thing with this game, this image is good because you literally want to give countries personalities. Like I loathe Muscovy and the Teutonic Order because they’ll always end up siding against you while I’m starting to view France as a protective big brother and always want to suck up to the Ottomans for similar reasons. The Pope is also one for being a notable bastard but he is in basically every game of this sort.
Europa Universalis is like Crusader Kings, but with countries, and it’s now 1444-1821, so colonisation and clashes of nations come into this, no longer are you controlling a character as such, but the destiny of a nation. In that, it is the ultimate grand strategy game/campaign map mode game and the huge layers of complexity and the challenge that’s inherent in the game is why it’s my favourite game of this year and if things stay as they are, is looking like a very good contender for my favourite game of all time. I’ve been playing it as much as I get time to lately and I still feel like I’m not a master at the game but I really know how to get things done. It wasn’t always like this, I took ages to get into it, it took me watching an entire tutorial series on Youtube by quill18 to learn how to do anything right and even though I have many hours on it now I still have things I’m learning, for example I’m only about 50% sure on how the trade system works. That’s another thing, I’ve also been watching so many EU4 let’s plays by Arumba/quill18 that I’ve started using them to send me to sleep as I just listen to them talking about the game as they are playing it. It’s logical reasoning so it really works well for me.
My goal with EU4, and I’ve written about some of my adventures with these on my blog, is to get as many Steam Achievements as possible. Unlike with many games, they aren’t silly things to see how many people are playing the game with a couple of impossible boring achievements you can get if you really are obsessed. Because there’s no set goal in EU4, you can do whatever you want, my goal is often to try and historically replicate what the nation did in history. Or better it, depending upon the nation. But the Steam achievements give you specific things you can aim for for each country, like own parts of Brazil and Africa as Portugal (which I’ve done), own pretty much all of Asia as a Mongol Horde remnant (which I’ve tried and failed at), form Italy out of the warring city states (which I’ve done), conquer the entire world as the nation Ryukyu, starting with merely the tiny Okinawa islands of Japan (which I want to have a go at at some point but it looks and sounds nigh on impossible). Unlike in many games, you can’t just world conquest and that’s that, I could only imagine a couple of the strongest nations under player control would have an easy time of it. I’m going to spend ages on these achievements and I don’t think I’d get bored.
Because that’s another thing, this game has so many aspects to balance to keep your nation stable that it’s actually quite hard, you’re always managing a different aspect of your nation so it rarely gets boring and there’s always the chance that your bigger and more powerful neighbour could stomp you in a war and take half your land, setting you back about 40 years, if you don’t play your political cards right and stomp your less powerful neighbours in wars demanding their land and money and women and wine from them. I’ve finished one game as Portugal, where I tried to go for traditional Portuguese colonisation targets like Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, all of the Caribbean, Florida, all of Australia, you know, all those traditional Portuguese places, and eventually conquered my way across the Iberian peninsula that I could change country to Spain and went and conquered half of Africa before the game ended. I’ve played as Songhai where I conquered Timbuktu and most of West Africa. I’ve played as the Ottomans where I tried to conquer Russia and Italy for an achievement but kept getting beaten back by the former – don’t invade Russia, just don’t. I’ve most recently started as Florence and dealt with a lot of political wrangling and timed conquests to avoid alliance networks to scramble up a united Italy by 1600. This game is so GOOD. Everything I ever wanted in a game, pretty much right here. Religion, abstract army management, trade, political intrigue, espionage, it’s all here, it’s all very complicated and I love it. Easily my #1 game of the year, if not of all time.