Strategy & Simulation Games tend to cycle. We've had several strong years recently, with 2020 being a recent highlight. None of the recent years lacked; this will be my seventh consecutive list for the two genres, so I should know. This list can include no game in early access and no reboots, remakes, or re-imaginings (sorry, Tactics Ogre: Reborn).
As an interesting aside, this sort of feels like the end of a circle. 2016 was my first time writing best-of lists for Strategy and Simulation (separate at that time), and some familiar entries here bring back some fond memories. The best example is the very first game on my list:
Total War: Warhammer III (9.5/10)
Genre: Strategy (Grand Strategy). Platform: PC.
No year is complete without what has become a tradition; a SEGA-published strategy game being worthy of any game of the year list, never mind just the strategy & simulation list. Acting as the end of Creative Assembly's run in the Warhammer world, this marked a perfect end to the trilogy, particularly if you want the pure Total War experience with the Immortal Empires campaign.
As the culmination of the Total War: Warhammer trilogy, the story-focused approach combined with massive multiple-part battles feels like the right thing to do. While aspects can make you feel rushed, this is undeniably intentional as you're in a race against all other factions on the map, and the more I play it, the more I like it. The battles feel genuinely epic, with even regular ones seeing significant improvement thanks to excellent design. AI improvements on the campaign map, combined with the unique features of factions, also add another layer to the game. There are a few niggles here and there; the AI has issues during battles. Corruption on the campaign map also feels imbalanced, but while these can be irritating (corruption mainly), they are minor issues in the grand scheme. All in all, Total War: Warhammer III is an excellent game.
Two Point Campus (8/10)
Genre: Simulation. Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One & Series S/X, Nintendo Switch.
SEGA appears again, making me repeat something yet again: SEGA is one of the best publishers in gaming today, particularly if you're of a strategic (with a dash of simulation) mindset. Two Point Campus, the follow-up to Two Point Hospital, carries on from the original. The developers seem to be setting up a Two Point Universe, giving us a collection of slapstick management simulations for anything and everything. Police or Fire services next?
Thanks to solid gameplay and a good sense of humour, as well as Two Point Studios strengthening the management aspects, I'm looking forward to the next outing.
Two Point Campus follows the track laid by Two Point Hospital, keeping the same comedic look and tone, the same humour in its courses and curses. Like their first title, this combines strong simulation and management mechanics with accessibility that works well with the aforementioned tone and aesthetic. Two Point Studios know their work, and they're no doubt leading the class in more ways than one.
Marvel's Midnight Suns (8.5/10)
Genre: Strategy (Turn-Based Tactics). Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One & Series S/X, Nintendo Switch.
Following on from Total War, Marvel's Midnight Suns also represents the circle I mentioned initially. Firaxis, developers of XCOM2, return and appear on this list. I, being the cynical arse that I am, assumed Marvel's Midnight Suns was going to be a run-of-the-mill game, essentially XCOM but Marvel. How wrong I was.
Yes, this is a turn-based tactics title like XCOM, but that's where the similarities end. Integrating deck-based mechanics almost perfectly, it also integrates chance due to you never being sure if you will draw a helpful card. In addition to engaging combat, Firaxis has also included strong RPG mechanics, branching out from their usual style and performing admirably.
Marvel's Midnight Suns is a strong tactical RPG that feels like something that wouldn't be amiss in the MCU. Some elements can feel a little bloated, but it's a very strong game. The characterisation is top-notch, with some excellent scriptwriting and voice-acting to support it. Outside of the RPG aspects, combat is fun, engaging, and challenging - particularly at higher difficulty levels. I've had a lot of fun with the game, and I'm still having fun with it, and I can't help but think that fans of the genre - and Marvel - would enjoy it as much as me.
Hardspace: Shipbreaker (9/10)
Genre: Simulation. Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One & Series S/X.
Following its release on Early Access in 2020, Hardspace: Shipbreaker has proven to be a hit for Blackbird Interactive and Focus Home Entertainment, having sold over 500,000 copies in early access alone. It's with good reason too. Combining a solid story with excellent simulation aspects, this almost meditative look at corporate abuse and the dismantling of spaceships is excellent.
Hardspace Shipbreaker does everything it wants to do, and does it well. The shipbreaking is fun, tactile, and rewarding. The story is humorous, thoughtful, and engaging. And the music is relaxing and thoughtful.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope (8.5/10)
Genre: Strategy (Turn-Based Tactics). Platforms: Nintendo Switch.
The marriage of Mario and a Rabbid, made from the minds of a group of strange, sordid individuals, should never really have worked. Of course, since we're now looking at the second of the Mario + Rabbids titles, and it's in a best-of list, we know it did work.
Ubisoft has developed yet another strong game, one that has managed to have a level of humour throughout that doesn't become tedious and keeps you smiling. In addition, the sequel has improved on the tactical action with increased flexibility - a great game that has you looking out for what comes next.
Tactical RPG fans and those that love the chaotic nature of Rabbids owe it to themselves to check out both Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope and its prequel Kingdom Battle for a gaming experience you won't find on any other platform.
I know I've not included the big one on this list. The reason is that - due to several personal issues when I should have been playing it for review, I didn't get the chance to get myself in. I will give it a late review next year, but it will have to lead the honourable mentions for now. I've played enough to know it's excellent, but not enough to do it justice.
Overall, 2022 has been a decent year, but it hasn't been the best. It has had standout titles, the culmination of one of the best trilogies, and developers like Firaxis successfully branched out. If there's anything I've missed, let me know because I know there's going to be something. Drop me a line in the comments, and give me something to play this year!