The issue with Strategy and Simulation games has always been the niche nature of the genres. Even with this, I've always been able to find some downright outstanding examples from both when having covered the best titles over previous years. Be this separately, with strategy games in 2016 and 2017, Simulation games in 2016 and 2017 as well as both combined in 2018.
As before, to avoid having to stretch the word 'best' and include titles that wouldn't regularly be found on a best-of list, both Strategy and Simulation games will be combined. Only new and released titles will appear on the list, so no early access or remastered titles (Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition won't feature, despite being outstanding) and only those that we've actually played will make the cut, though we may not have necessarily reviewed them all.
So, without further ado, let's look at the best Strategy and Simulation games of 2019.
Total War: Three Kingdoms (10/10)
Genre: Strategy (Grand Strategy). Platform: PC.
Out of over seven years of reviewing games, Total War: Three Kingdoms is my first and only 10/10 score. That's a score I vowed not to give, though there was always the rare chance that such a game would come along to change that policy. Total War: Three Kingdoms was the game that came along and changed my mind completely. Featuring the most complete Total War launch experience, the game has only increased in quality following launch.
Did you want the traditional Total War experience, records mode, or possibly a new experience in romance mode, based on the stories from that period? Larger than life characters that you got to know and fought for you in a stunningly beautiful and colourful representation of China. All of this tied together with an intuitive city-development system that promoted tactical thinking, as well as a focused army system, where the personalities and abilities of characters all matter.
Seven months ago, the confoundingly classical Chris composed a classical check on Total War: Three Kingdoms, one that stated this:
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.
Planet Zoo (8.5/10)
Genre: Simulation. Platform: PC.
Frontier Developments is a strange company, one that's struggled a fair amount in the past in line with their failure to develop The Outsider, announced in 2005 and officially cancelled in 2011. Frontier has always been strong at simulation games, from porting RollerCoaster Tycoon for the Xbox to the development of RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, they also developed titles like Kinectimals and Zoo tycoon for Microsoft. Their real move to prominence came with the Kickstarter and release of Elite: Dangerous and then the release of Planet Coaster and now Planet Zoo. Jurassic World Evolution was decent, but not on the same level.
Planet Zoo, their recent release, provides you with the ultimate zoo-building simulation, refining what came in Jurassic World Evolution, but replacing the Velociraptors with Penguins. With an intricate level of controls, letting you control everything from buildings and paths, to intricate control over temperature, water, breeding, and more. The animals are also adorably detailed.
I liked what I saw when I previewed it and I've loved playing it after release. Our very own Rosh had this to say in his review:
Planet Zoo is a great management game that lets you impose your own goals and always gives you something to strive for. With incredible graphical fidelity, a huge overlapping array of mechanics to balance and incredible detail, the only issue is the sometimes annoying controls.
Untitled Goose Game (Official Site)
Genre: Simulation (?) Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch.
So, I'm not even sure if this is a simulation game. Is it? I suppose you are simulating the moves of one very mischevious goose. Sometimes that's all you really need in life. In the case of Untitled Goose Game, that's exactly it - it's a game that's as equally compelling as it is charming, which it is in spades. Why? It's the great stealth mechanics that simply work perfectly with the slapstick nature of the game and the simple but extremely rewarding puzzles.
What's so rewarding just how they work within the limitations of the game and the fact that you're a goose. As the titular goose, you need to see exactly what mischief you can get up to with just a few options. You can use your beak to pick up items or pull something, you can flap your wings or you can use your surprisingly loud and expressive honk! It's a lovely brief but altogether enjoyable experience thanks to every little thing about the game being perfectly designed to meet its end goal.
Playing Untitled Goose Game, you will laugh, you will smile and you will enjoy working out how exactly to get a strange man to put his summer hat on through the impressive powers of being a goose.
John Wick Hex (8.5/10)
Genre: Strategy (Turn-based tactics). Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.
If there's one thing that can be said about John Wick, it's that the films feature some of the best-choreographed action in the history of cinema. There's something just special about the attacks and counters, the use of the surroundings, every item in John's hands and even the clothes on his back. To have a game that features the same action and style is so rare.
To make this excellent choreography happen Bithell Games broke all of these actions down into their smaller components, all taken piecemeal as time stops but with a real-time consequence. This lets you look at an enemies action, consider your natural reaction time and the time it takes for your body to move and choose your actions accordingly. Do you throw your gun at one bad guy, to then smoothly dodge another, which then lets you throw this second foe into the first? It all plays brilliantly and creates what seem like fantastic action sequences akin to that found in Superhot.
If there's another thing to say about John Wick, it's that it has Keanu Reeves who is joint #1 with Sean Bean and myself as "world's best bloke", more things sorely missing from video games, with Keanu sadly not reprising his role here. Still, you get the image of Keanu in what is a great game. Our very own Dave Aubrey wrote a bit about John Wick Hex and he enjoyed it, saying:
When all is said and done, John Wick Hex is an exceptional licensed game, and a wonderful strategic shooter even away from that. It's the kind of game that's high quality and enjoyable, even if you are clueless about the John Wick movies themselves. The perfect kind of licensed game, that works as well as an introduction to the franchise as it does as an extension of it. Absolutely worth playing.
Genre: Strategy (Turn-based tactics). Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch.
Wargroove is an excellent Advance Wars style turn-based tactics game featuring an excellently colourful visual style, a simple but compelling enough story in the campaign and, most importantly, a massive wealth of game modes for you to sink your teeth into. The most important part is that it gets the combat and mission design spot on, offering enough challenge to keep you invested but not so far that sound, tactical decisions can't win the day.
Francesco, our very own passionate RPG lover - so much so that he kept calling this a tactical RPG, I'll forgive him though - had this to say about Wargroove:
Wargroove is the game fans of tactical role-playing games have been waiting for. The huge amount of content and play modes, solid gameplay almost completely devoid of RNG and excellent presentation make it a game that no fan of the genre should pass on.
Football Manager 2020 (9.5/10)
Genre: Simulation. Platform: PC (Core Game). Nintendo Switch & Mobile (Mobile Version).
Football Manager is a series of small steps and giant leaps. From great leaps as in 2017 to the small steps taken in iterations like 2019, the series is always refining and improving. Originally I firmly believed that 2019 was going to be the last of the smaller steps forward, me thinking that the game had hit a point where a new leap would be made.
That hasn't been the case and even with seemingly smaller improvements such as the compression of multiple facets into one development centre and the increased focus on club vision, Football Manager 2020 is more engrossing than it's ever been before by promoting and rewarding a more long-term approach than ever before. Slated to be the full-time replacement for Unai Emery at Arsenal (Note: this role may have been filled by the time this post is posted), the supremely talented manager Chris Wray had this to say regarding the game:
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.
Strategy and Simulation Games of 2019 - A Year in Review
Both Strategy and Simulation have been strong genres over recent years, with the constant growth of the PC being a large factor. It does also help that the genre finally seems to be getting a good showing on consoles through well-designed ports like Tropico 6, Wargroove, John Wick Hex, and They are Billions. Developers are finally getting a handle on these niggly controllers.
Another interesting point is that, compared to recent years, 2019 has seen more large-named titles than your usual standout collection of indie titles. Granted, John Wick Hex, Wargroove, They Are Billions and Unity of Command II show continued strength from the indies. As always, SEGA appears on the list thanks to Total War and Football Manager.
- Tropico 6 (7/10)
- X-Morph: Defense (7.8/10)
- Anno 1800 (8/10)
- They Are Billions (8.5/10)
- Transport Fever 2 (7/10)
- Unity of Command II (official site)
- Phoenix Point (7.5/10)
As with every other year, there's always a chance that I've missed a few games that should most likely be on the list. We've only played so many here at Wccftech and I'm also incredibly
drunk forgetful. There's also so many I want to play but time is, sadly, always limited.
On that note, if you've missed any of these, I'm no doubt going to recommend you give them a chance if you can. Stay tuned for our most anticipated Strategy and Simulation games of 2020.