Wccftech’s Best Strategy and Simulation Games of the Decade
In the realm of gaming, a decade is such a huge amount of time. You can see massive leaps and bounds across ten years. You can see the rise and fall of franchises. Whole sub-genres of games come into prominence and be abused to all-hell in just a few mere years. The most interesting aspect is where you see the turning point of a particular series or even genre. Both Strategy and Simulation games have seen this very turning point over the previous ten years, with long-running stalwarts being joined by fantastic newcomers with more than a few surprise entrants.
Compiling such a huge list is never easy and, frankly, I could write for the best part of a week and still barely cover the games that deserve mentioning. Keeping this in mind, I'm going to limit the featured games to six strategy games and four simulation games. Large series, such as Total War, will be represented by one title. As always, only games that we have played will be featured.
It's always worth checking out our best strategy and simulation lists from previous years, there are a wealth of games that feature on those lists that sadly won't be featured here due to limitations.
Total War - Represented by Total War: Three Kingdoms (10/10)
Genre: Strategy (Grand Strategy). Platform: PC. Year: 2019.
Creative Assembly has proven themselves time and time again with the Total War series. From their very first release in June 2000, Shogun: Total War, the developers have released games of an excellent quality almost without fail. The few times games didn't meet their excellent standards, they were worked on and brought up to the standard expected of the series, Total War: Rome II is the prime example, with the free Emperor Edition update for all players.
The game that best represents this series, the game that is the pinnacle of the series and also my first and only 10/10 score so far is Total War: Three Kingdoms. Offering one of the most polished, versatile and engaging experiences to ever be found in video games, never mind just strategy games, Total War: Three Kingdoms never fails to draw me in whenever I launch it. For my earlier summary of Total War: Three Kingdoms, just read below:
Total War: Three Kingdoms is as close to flawless as you'll find, with a fantastic balance of 4X strategy and character-focused development and emergent storytelling. The battles are frantic, with increased tactical opportunities through duelling. City development is more intuitive and less restrictive, though still requires thought and all of this takes place on a China that looks downright fantastic, where even the UI and menus look great. This is the Total War experience and a new high for the series.
Football Manager - Represented by Football Manager 2020 (9.5/10)
Genre: Simulation. Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch & Mobile. Year: 2019.
Football Manager has been a staple for fans of the beautiful game for sixteen years now, with Sports Interactive, then developers of Championship Manager, having parted ways with Eidos following Championship Manager 03/04 to then release Football Manager 2005 in November 2004. The series has had its ups and downs during the previous decade, though recent iterations have simply been better and better, now having released by far the best of the series.
The control over every aspect of your football club has been enhanced by an increasingly accessible user interface, accessible mechanics that are consistently refined and polished to make the game all the more responsive to every decision you make. As the game has improved over the years, so has its userbase, with the games selling better than ever. Football Manager 2020 also went eco-friendly - something all games should do - by removing plastic packaging completely.
Here's what I had to say about Football Manager 2020 when I reviewed it.
Football Manager 2020 is the purest, most engrossing and also the most accessible football management game yet and marks yet another high point for the series. From improved accessibility and usability to improved AI and long-term gameplay functions in new features like the development centre & club vision, this is a game that takes a longer more realistic look at the beautiful game than any before it. Slight issues still prevail, but this is the closest to perfect the series has ever been.
Sid Meier's Civilization - Represented by Civilization VI (9.5/10)
Genre: Strategy (4X). Platform: PC. Year: 2016.
Out of all of Firaxis' titles, Civilization remains their most prominent. It is the grandfather of 4X and arguably the strategy genre in general. Released in 2016, Civilization VI launched as one of the most complete games in the franchise, thanks to increased control for the player over the areas around their city, the huge importance placed on terrain, and the multiple systems that work together with almost perfect synergy.
When it launched, I had nothing but praise for Civilization VI which was then and remains the pinnacle of the series. More than that, expansions to the game as well as regular patches have refined what was already excellent into what is arguably a flawless gem off a game. Here are my glowing words about Civilization VI from back in 2016:
Civilization VI is the pinnacle of the series. It's featured huge, sweeping changes, and nothing was left out. Everything has found a purpose, they all work together in tandem but also have a reason to stand alone. Only slight AI issues can be found here, but nothing every other 4X or Grand Strategy game hasn't encountered on a worse level. Civilization VI is, frankly, the best 4X strategy game in the world.
Truck Simulator - Represented by Euro Truck Simulator 2 (Official Site)
Genre: Simulation. Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PS Vita, Mobile. Year: 2012.
I don't think anybody could argue that Euro Truck Simulator 2 is, in any shape or form, the best simulation game around. Even me, a massive fan of the game and follow-up title, American Truck Simulator, has to admit the faults in the series. However, Euro Truck Simulator is a game that drove simulation games back into the limelight and boosted the developer and publisher, SCS Software, beyond any level they ever expected.
Taking a style of game that was designed for a niche audience but managed, through excellent and compelling gameplay, a huge and varied world based on a large portion of Europe - that has since been expanded far beyond original intentions due to the overwhelming popularity of the game. The draw of the game comes from simplicity but also just how engaging driving your truck and managing your own company becomes. Also, like taking a long drive on the road yourself, there's an almost meditative quality in a long drive, taking in the scenery, while listening to music, a podcast, audiobook or whatever else takes your fancy.
DOTA 2 (Official Site)
Genre: Strategy (MOBA). Platform: PC. Year: 2013.
If League of Legends had been launched just four months later, there's no doubt that it would be the MOBA featured in this list. However, having launched in October 2019, it just misses the cut-off. A MOBA does have to feature in the list, however, and while League of Legends is the leader of the genre, the game that made the genre popular, there is one other that's worth mentioning and that is DOTA 2. Originating from a mod, it was inevitable that this would result in another type of game made as a mod, that being DOTA 2 - Auto Chess.
Designed by IceFrog, Abdul Ismail, the person who took over lead development at DotA Allstars in 2005, there's little doubt that DOTA 2 is the closest to League of Legends. While the learning curve can be a little steeper than some of its competitors, there's an enduring popularity in DOTA 2 that keeps it with an average of 13 million players per month. With an excellent amount of tactical nuance in the game, character development and personalisation and one of the largest eSports scenes in the world, this is one that has cemented itself as a leader of the sub-genre.
XCOM - Represented by XCOM 2 (8/10)
Genre: Strategy (Turn-based Tactics). Platform: PC. Year: 2016.
Released just two years after the excellent Civilization V, XCOM: Enemy Unknown was further proof that Firaxis were masters of anything turn-based, reviving a series long-believed dead. A belief that was cemented when The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was announced, then quashed with the outstanding release that was XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Following this success, Firaxis and 2K went on to expand the series, incorporate more tactical elements while having a story that puts you right on the back foot.
Using guerilla warfare against an overwhelming alien threat, there's a constant tension, a feeling that your back is perpetually against the wall. Even more important is the superb functionality with controllers, making XCOM 2 one of the best console strategy games ever. The War of the Chosen expansion added a great narrative, interesting characters, and bosses, making XCOM 2 one of the best games of the decade.
Stardew Valley (Official Site)
Genre: Simulation. Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PS Vita, Mobile. Year: 2016.
There are so many games that could be pointed to as being stalwarts of the indie revolution, ones that prove that indie games can and will offer more than their big-budget and big-company counterparts. Stardew Valley is one such game, taking on and supplanting titles like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing. Having been developed over four years by one person (Eric Barone), a tale featured in the novel Blood, Sweat and Pixels, Stardew Valley is a game that is as inspiring as it is excellent.
As a game, there's little more meditative than living the simple life on a farm, enjoying the fruits of your labour as plants start to grow and your chickens lay their eggs. Throughout this, you are slowly building your relationships with the people around your farm. You slowly expand and explore at your own pace. While not revolutionary, Stardew Valley is an exceptional life simulation and management game that has drawn in millions and will draw in millions more.
Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty (Official Site)
Genre: Strategy (Real-time Strategy). Platform: PC. Year: 2010.
Starcraft II is one game that I honestly didn't expect being placed on this list, having undeniably bad writing in the single-player with campaigns that far from gave a satisfactory conclusion to the story set up in 1999. However, despite this, there's an undeniable influence that StarCraft II has had on gaming, it remaining one of the most popular multiplayer games in the world today and even being involved in tests such as with Google's DeepMind AI software.
StarCraft II is undeniably Blizzard at its finest when it comes to a multiplayer experience, offering three fully-fleshed factions that duke it out across the galaxy, where the quality of the player rather than an imbalance of factions being the deciding factor in the outcome. Despite any misgivings with the campaign, the story, there is still a genuinely good experience if simply playing through a wide variety of missions offering multiple gameplay types, from traditional RTS to MOBA style gameplay.
Papers, Please (Official Site)
Genre: Simulation. Platform: PC, Playstation Vita. Year: 2013.
Few games that become more significant and important as they get older, ones that become almost prophetic in a terrible twist to world politics. Papers, Please certainly stretches this by placing you as a border control guard for a totalitarian regime. Throughout your time playing Papers, Please, you'll come across moral quandaries, corruption and more.
The decisions you make most certainly place you in the role as the face of the bad. You are the one, by all accounts, making the decisions that can make or break a person's life. Papers, Please is an interesting look at the other side of this as you also have to worry about mounting pressure from above as well as costs to keep yourself and your family alive. Papers, Please is a truly impactful game that can also make you reflect on yourself as a person.
Crusader Kings II (Official Site)
Genre: Strategy (Grand Strategy). Platform: PC. Year: 2010.
Long before the political intrigue of Game of Thrones captured the attention of the world, there was Crusader Kings. One year after Game of Thrones took the world by storm in its first season came Crusader Kings II, the game that closest resembles the political, familial, religious and global intrigue of Westeros and Earth itself. Crusader Kings II does this with incredible scale and one that will always tell a story personal to you.
You, in Crusader Kings II, lead a family, not a nation. You make personal connections, marriages, alliances, and enemies. The head of your family will die, their heir will take over. Throughout the years, the decades and the centuries you will increase your influence, your position and your holdings. You may even take over the throne of the kingdom you were once part of, that or as the leader, face internal threats far and above those external.
It's impossible not to include at least one Paradox Interactive games in the best games of the decade. Europa Universalis IV, Hearts of Iron IV and Stellaris all deserve massive acclaim, with Paradox Interactive supporting their titles for decades in their own right. It's the personal and the timeline that lets Crusader Kings II stand apart from others and makes it one of the best strategy games ever.
Strategy and Simulation Games - A Decade of Success
There's little doubt that certain companies and franchises have dominated the decade for the two genres. SEGA, with Total War, Football Manager, Dawn of War, the Endless series of games and even more beyond that. Paradox Interactive has cornered the grand strategy sub-genre while also publishing titles like Cities: Skylines, BattleTech and Steel Division: Normandy 44.
What has stood out is the return of both certain sub-genres, like the Commando's style real-time tactics (Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun) and certain series (XCOM) have been brought back from the brink. Another thing is just how popular the genres, long seen as niche, have become. With some exceptional output from indie developers as well as great console ports, a whole new audience has been reached.
Here are just a small selection of other excellent strategy and simulation games from the previous decade:
Honourable Mentions - Strategy
- Valkyria Chronicles 4 (9/10)
- Company of Heroes 2 (official site)
- Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War III (8/10)
- Anno 1800 (8/10)
- FTL: Faster Than Light (official site)
- This War of Mine (official site)
- Into The Breach (9.5/10)
- They Are Billions (8.5/10)
- Hearts of Iron IV (9.2/10)
- Europa Universalis IV (official site)
- Stellaris (official site)
- Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (8.5/10)
- Endless Space 2 (8.5/10)
- Unity of Command II (official site)
Honourable Mentions - Simulation
- Motorsport Manager (8.5/10)
- Cities: Skylines (official site)
- Not Tonight (8/10)
- Frostpunk (8.5/10)
- Planet Coaster (9.5/10)
- Planet Zoo (8.5/10)
- Goat Simulator (our review)
- Everything (official site)
So that's it. We're in a new year with a host of strategy and simulation games to look forward to. There'll be so many down the road that we aren't even aware of yet too. The ones we do know, however, will soon be listed here in our most anticipated strategy and simulation games of 2020. Until then, have a go at any of these that you haven't had the chance to play yet.