For the past two years, I've had the joy of covering the best Strategy and Simulation games of both 2016 (Strategy - Simulation) and 2017 (Strategy - Simulation). Naturally, I also looked at the most anticipated games of 2017 (Strategy) and 2018 (Strategy - Simulation) too. Often, the problem was finding games in what are essentially niche genres.
To save me having to stretch the word 'best', for the foreseeable future both Strategy and Simulation will be linked together. Why? It just works. Both genres typically rely on a more in-depth approach from the player, sometimes requiring more planning and long-term thinking than your average game. Also, when it comes to the site I'm the site's appointed General and Foreman - amongst other roles.
It's time to jump into the trenches and dugouts and look at the best Strategy and Simulation titles of 2018. As always, only new and actually released titles are counted, meaning no Early Access games or re-releases (sorry, Civilization VI). Also, only games that we have actually played are included, though we may not have actually reviewed the title.
Genre: Simulation. Platforms: PC (Core Game). Nintendo Switch & Mobile (Mobile Version).
One way to truly see if I enjoy a game, or series, is how much I play them following my review. In the case of Football Manager, I've spent over 3,000 hours managing both the best and worst in the world. These include the real and the fictional. It includes times where I genuinely felt I achieved something, where I would swear on all that is holy to me (Scotch) that my decisions actually made a difference.
Football Manager 2019 is the game in the series where I've felt this more than ever before. Whether it's my taking of FC United from the very bottom of English football in my main game or my other save which is plainly the inspiration behind Man Utd hiring Ole Gunnar Solskjær and moving to a more attacking form of football. This playing with style and verve is what football and football manager is all about. The highs, lows and unpredictability of football all captured in the series best and closest to perfect entry yet.
If you don't believe me, listen to the undeniably wise Chris Wray from two months ago:
Football Manager 2019, much like Football itself, isn’t a perfect game. However, in the case of this, it’s as close to perfect as it’s ever been. All of this through further refinements of the match engine, the revamping of tactical and training controls, all with an incredibly sleek and easy to use user interface. All I can say is that if this is the end of the current sequence of Football Manager or the start of a new one – they did get rid of manager man from the box, after all – then it’s a fantastic sign of things to come.
Genre (Subgenre): Strategy (Turn-Based Strategy). Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One & Nintendo Switch.
Valkyria Chronicles 4, despite not having been given the highest rating of games I've reviewed, is my personal favourite game of the year. Partly this is because it's a return to outstanding form for a series that started fantastically and then seemingly plummeted off of a cliff. Mostly, it's because Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a charming, touching and life-affirming trip through a world of war.
This is a story where some genuinely charming characters have actual arcs, that act and have relationships like you can imagine real people would, particularly when compared to the poor character building and writing that can mar many other titles. All of this is backed up by some excellent tactical action in a game with an aesthetic quality that truly is beautiful and timeless. Much like the first of the series, released ten years ago and still looks fantastic, this is sure to stand the test of time.
In September, the aforementioned ruggedly handsome chap Chris Wray wrote this about Valkyria Chronicles 4:
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the true sequel to Valkyria Chronicles, released ten years ago, and has learned from some of the failings of the original. Expanded upon, the strategy elements have never been better, with utterly fantastic storytelling and characterisation to be found within the RPG aspect. This isn't to say the game is perfect, with it still having flaws in the strategy by focusing too much on speed, rather than tactics, as well as having poor balancing issues later on in the game. In addition to this, there are some quality of life issues as it makes you drop back to the menu after every scene, some of which are only thirty seconds long, as well as requiring too many button clicks in the headquarters where you upgrade units and weaponry. Outside of these minor issues, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is undoubtedly the best game I've played so far in 2018.
Genre (Subgenre): Strategy (Turn-Based Tactics). Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One.
Ever since the reimagining and reboot of X-COM, now XCOM, Turn Based Tactics as a sub-genre seems to be in vogue. From the excellent Shadow Tactics, the reboot of Jagged Alliance, BATTLETECH, the upcoming Desperados sequel and of course XCOM 2 - just to name a few. Adding onto this list is the pretty damn good Mutant Year Zero: Revenge of the Killer Quack.
What this game does so well is merging RPG mechanics into a Turn-Based Tactics title. The story, while not exactly revolutionary, is raised by entertaining and compelling characters. It doesn't help that they're part-animal, part-human hybrids either. Who doesn't love a sassy, talking Duck? Plus at the end of every battle, you're going to find yourself with ways to enhance your motley crew of hybrids, from abilities to improved weaponry and stat-boosting items.
The real strength comes with the fantastical tactical action found within. This includes an excellent stealth system, far better than even most stealth games can't get right. It adds a further dimension to the action, action that always requires you to think about your actions and plan ahead. Rarely, if ever, will you find yourself overpowered and able to simply walk through enemies. It's a game of challenge, characters and a fairly decent story with great worldbuilding.
Our very own part-human part-Mario hybrid, Francesco De Meo, had this to say about Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden:
Everything considered Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden is an excellent tactical game that tries, and largely succeeds, in making things different and moving the genre forward. The story may have been developed better, but if you’re in for the gameplay experience, you will not be disappointed.
Genre: Simulation. Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One.
Farming Simulator is a stalwart veteran of the Simulation genre. It's also an annual release, it has been since 2010's release of Farming Simulator 2011. However, it's annualised in a different way. Every odd year, a core game is released. Ever even year, a mobile game. This extra time goes to improving the core game, which then later improves the mobile game. Never has the time been used so well in the series history.
Farming Simulator 19, as we have previously reported, has had the most successful launch in the series history, selling 1 million copies in ten days. Why? Because it's the best of the series so far. It's not the best looking game out there and to be fair, it's far from the most fun. But, like Euro Truck Simulator 2, Farming Simulator 19 has that potential to be a niche title with wide acclaim. There's something genuinely cathartic about it, something relaxing.
Will I ever get to review for Farming Simulator 19 out? Who knows. Do I and will I still keep playing it? Yes. Managing your own farm, actually being able to make huge decisions in the path you're going to take is a great thing. With the inclusion of a whole new way to earn a living by rearing, training and selling horses for a profit, plus new and improved ways to actually do this whole farming lark, Farming Simulator 19 has a lot to offer and has given me more than enough reason to don my flat cap.
Genre: Simulation. Platform: PC.
Two Point Hospital is a game I've got a lot of time for. There's no doubt it was heavily leaning towards the nostalgia for games like Theme Hospital, it manages to bring this in while being a genuinely great game at the same time. During my hands-on impressions - and further after release - at building my very own hospitals, I encountered the ghosts of deceased patients following their year-long waits to see a medical professional.
Not only are the waits highly realistic, so are the ailments. From psychological issues that lead people into believing they are rock stars, to others with buckets stuck on their heads - the need for a fully functioning hospital is dire. All of this is glued together with a high-functioning hospital building and administrative game, where you will find yourself taking care of even the smallest details - such as the temperature in a room and the prices of food and drink at your shops and vending machines.
While I didn't get the chance to review this, I've got no qualms in saying how much I've enjoyed playing it. Two Point Hospital is one of the best management games to have been released and a fantastic spiritual successor to the legendary Theme Hospital.
Genre: Simulation. Platform: PC.
Frostpunk is a game that featured prominently on my most anticipated Simulation games of 2018, and with good reason. The pedigree of the developers, 11 bit studios, was without question. All eyes were on for the followup of This War is Mine and Frostpunk doesn't disappoint. The setting is intriguing, a post-apocalyptic city builder acting more like a stationary version of Snowpiercer, with the Korean-Czech film being a clear inspiration.
This inspiration also leads into more than the setting and aesthetic choices. Frostpunk also features something found in every city builder but taken to a new level - decisions. Here, you're forced to make decisions that not only affect the happiness but the actual lifespan of your people. Balancing resources, ensuring there's enough heat to prevent death from exposure and food to prevent starvation, all while trying to keep the remnants of the human race intact. It's an unenviable job that's remarkably well presented in this hard-hitting Sim.
Due to his expertise in dystopian cities centralised around a single power source, New Yorker Jorge Jimenez was fortunate to review Frostpunk and had this to say about the game:
Frostpunk is unforgiving and punishing but that’s why you’ll invest more and more time into it. It takes what you know about city builders and turns it on heads. It’s bleak, and the beautiful design brings life to an otherwise frozen hellscape. The race against the clock is stressful as you try to make sure everyone is alive while the weather gets colder and colder and materials become more and more scarce. Frostpunk is a pleasant surprise that is definitely worth your time if you’re looking for something different and brutally challenging.
Into The Breach (9.5/10)
Genre (Subgenre): Strategy (Turn-Based Tactics). Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch.
Into The Breach is illogically brilliant. Generally speaking, strategy games usually work on a scale of bigger is better. Even real-time tactics games feature areas of a larger scale, even though the units you control are limited in number. You then need to work with limited resources to achieve your objectives, while trying to plan your way around enemies and predict their response to your actions. 'pish' say developers Subset Games.
Into The Breach places you on a small map with just three units. You can see all of your opponent's upcoming moves, what could be the issue? Well, it's predicting your impacts on your opponents and the world around you. You can push back an enemy into the attack path of another, thus protecting a civilian building. However, doing so means you've forgotten to prevent a forest fire - causing the loss of a battle. Fortunately, you can breach back in time and give it all another go.
Some random bloke called Rosh Kelly had this to say about Into The Breach:
There are so many little things that make up Into the Breach and honestly, it’s hard to pick a fault with anything. Overcoming challenges feels really good when they looked impossible to begin with. The learning curve is beautiful in that it lets you go from just barely surviving to completely whole islands unscarred. The graphics are lovely, little pixel sprites that can be read at a glance and just look pretty. When you first drop into a level you’ll see little speech bubbles praising the Riftwalkers and it’s just these little touches that emphasize how good the game is. The soundtrack might not be as iconic as FTL, but it doesn’t harm the experience in any way.
Strategy and Simulation Games 2018 - A Year in Review
All things considered, the year has been good for both the Strategy and Simulation genres. Each and every year strategy features fantastic titles, more and more often from smaller developers. On occasion, the big names come out and blow all competition away.
This year has certainly been more in favour of the smaller developers, though SEGA certainly has had a strong showing with the outstanding Valkyria Chronicles, well-worthy Total War: Thrones of Britannia (mentioned below) and also publishing the great Two Point Hospital. If recent years have taught us anything, it's that SEGA (with competition from Paradox Interactive) are the masters of Strategy, also consistently high in Simulation thanks to Football Manager.
- Total War: Thrones of Britannia (7.5/10)
- Not Tonight (8/10)
- Rimworld (Official Site)
- The Banner Saga 3 (8/10)
- Surviving Mars (Official Site)
- Megaquarium (Official Site)
- Frozen Synapse 2 (8.5/10)
- Battletech (Official Site)
Naturally, there are going to be games missing from this list. Hell, I know for a fact there's a few I still want to play, but there's only so much time. That's the thing, these genres seem to be a hotbed for quality titles from smaller developers. it's certainly something I'm looking forward to over the coming year.
On that note, I'll leave you with Wccftech's best Strategy and Simulation Games of 2018 and do make sure to check out our upcoming most anticipated Strategy and Simulation games for 2019.