History is dotted with charismatic commanders who led their troops to victory time and again. These shrewd leaders excelled at battlefield strategy, outflanking their enemies with both mind and might. Nowadays, moral, social, and political factors prevent us from building an army and taking over the town next door. There are, however, more appropriate outlets for our megalomaniacal intents. Strategy games let us step into the combat boots of a military commander from the keyboards of our Macintoshes.
Building an army
Some strategy games are purely militaristic, while others require you to develop and maintain entire civilizations.
In military-focused strategy games, youll have to deploy troops and other armories very carefully to maximize the effectiveness of your attack. In some situations, for example, you might place vehicles with heavy firepower on your frontlines to strike a powerful blow against your enemy. In other instances you may place hordes of disposable ground units on your frontlines to absorb the brunt of the enemys attack. Many games give you direct control over each unit in your army during the battle. You can select specific units with your mouse, and then click on the enemy you wish to engage. Other games require you to prepare your offense in advance. The battle itself may be over in seconds, so youll have to play your hand cautiously in order to seize victory. And, as always, there is strength in numbers.
In civilization-building strategy games, you step into a leadership role and oversee the development of an empire. You can wage war on neighboring civilizations to expand your territory. Victory is often accompanied by riches, which you may use to purchase more powerful weapons and rebuild your armies. In addition to military concerns, you may need to ensure your people are well fed and have good jobs to ward off angry protests. You might also play an important role in the development of your cities and towns, adding homes, shopping markets, libraries, and other important establishments. Increased taxation can add to your governments coffers, but it might also instigate a revolt by your citizens.
Strategy games typically use one of two gameplay modes: real-time or turn-based. In the former, the action continues regardless of what you do. Leave your computer to get a drink without pausing the game first, and you could return to find that an enemy has sacked your empire, leaving it a smoldering ruins. The latter, however, goes around the board and gives each player a chance to take a specific action, stopping when your turn arrives. That offers you the chance to carefully consider your options before making a decision. Nothing will happen until you say so.
Strategy on Shelves
The Civilization series, which uses turn-based gameplay, is going strong, with Aspyr Media releasing the fourth edition, along with the Warlords and Beyond the Swords expansion packs and a standalone title, Civilization IV: Colonization, that doesnt require the original game to play. Civilization IV opens at the dawn of time, complete with a sonorous introduction by Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame. Choose one of 18 civilizations and start with nothing but a couple of settlers, building up an empire that soon butts against its neighbors. Negotiate treaties with other leaders, trade technologies with them, or simply go to war as in previous iterations of the game, brute force isnt the only way to win, though.
Civilization IV: Warlords adds six new civilizations to the mix, along with new leaders for four of the 18 civilizations that came with the original game. (The full version of Civilization IV is required.) All 24 civilizations now have unique buildings, and youll find three new personality traits among the new leaders. You can also use the new vassalage option to turn another civilization into a vassal state, and the new Great General character can join a city as a military instructor and boost its unit production.
Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword emphasizes the later stages of the game, allowing you to take advantage of such new technologies as advanced flight and stealth. The new corporation technology allows you to establish a business, such as Sids Sushi Co. and grow it around the world, paving the way for a potential cultural victory. Watch out, though, for special events like earthquakes that can knock your carefully-laid plans to waste.
Beyond the Sword also features ten new civilizations, including the Sumerian Empire and the Native American Empire, as well as six new leaders for existing ones. The expansions new espionage system lets you play havoc with your opponents, but watch out for counter-espionage attacks.
Native Americans also play a prominent role in Civilization IV: Colonization, which begins in the year 1492 and focuses on four European nations Spain, England, France, and the Netherlands as they explore North and South America and establish a foothold in the New World. You control the fate of one of those colonies, gathering resources, establishing trading routes, managing relationships with native tribes and other colonies, developing your military, and eventually throwing off the shackles of your oppressive European homeland. Watch out, though: the king wont let you gain your freedom without a fight.
If you prefer strategy games with a more narrow historical focus, Battlestations: Midway, Sid Meiers Pirates!, and Rome: Total War Gold Edition (Feral Interactive) should satisfy your needs. The first one recreates World War IIs Pacific theater, complete with the ability to oversee Allied attacks from the air, as well as above and under the water. Determine your strategy, move units into place, and then take control of a ship, plane or submarine, directly engaging the enemy and issuing orders. Up to 100 air and sea units can participate in a battle simultaneously, allowing you to re-enact some of World War IIs most famous naval battles with online friends. During the 11-mission single-player campaign, youll even meet a famous guest star.
Ships may change over the centuries, but naval warfare tactics dont, as youll learn in Sid Meiers Pirates!, which takes you back to the 17th century Caribbean, where Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, and other infamous buccaneers prowled the high seas. Begin your pirate career as a young man in search of his family, which was enslaved a decade prior. Assemble a scurvy crew and negotiate alliances and conflicts with British, Dutch, French, and Spanish forces. Defeat other ships in combat and add them to your navy, dock in ports to trade goods and upgrade your vessels, woo governors daughters, engage in swordfights, and even capture towns. Your ultimate goal: Become the most feared pirate and eventually retire to a life of luxury.
The Roman Empire may be remembered more for its army than its navy, but Rome: Total War still lets you use ships to ferry troops and block enemy ports. On land, coordinate some of the most spectacular battles ever rendered on a computer screen, with up to 10,000 soldiers engaged in combat at one time. Control one of seven factions Romans, Barbarians, Greeks, Egyptians, Africans, Middle Eastern states not under the control of Alexander the Greats successors, or a loose coalition of independent groups and fight with or against Julius Caesar, Spartacus, Hannibal, and other great military leaders as you aspire to grow the Empire or defeat it. The included Barbarian Invasion expansion pack leaps ahead 350 years to the fall of the Roman Empire and its aftermath.
Right Now in a Strategy Game Near You
If youd rather focus on conquering entire galaxies, Star Wars: Empire at War will probably fit the bill. Set before the events depicted in the first Star Wars movie, Empire at War lets you join the Rebel Alliance or the Galactic Empire, unleashing real-time assaults against the other side on Tatooine, Dagobah, and many other planets; both those seen in the films and some never before featured in a game.
Manage your troops, vehicles, and structures as you deal with such environmental obstacles as tornados and sand storms. When the situation seems hopeless, bring in memorable Star Wars characters, like Darth Vader and Han Solo, to save the day.
Back on Earth, Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars (Electronic Arts) takes you to the year 2047. Kane, leader of the Brotherhood of Nod, resurfaces after nearly two decades of silence to launch a missile at a satellite where the Global Defense Initiative (GDI) leadership is meeting. Thus begins the third Tiberium War between the GDI and Nod, and you get to control both sides as you play through 30 missions. Four bonus missions let you take the reins of the marauding aliens known as the Scrin, who have arrived on Earth to harvest Tiberium for their own purposes.
Tiberium is a lethal substance that has ravaged the globe but also provides important resources for all three sides in the war. Use it to build structures and produce vehicles, aircraft, and soldiers as you develop your strategy. Live-action cut scenes featuring Star Wars star Billy Dee Williams, as well as Battlestar Galactica regulars Grace Park and Tricia Helfer, propel the storyline to a conclusion that will leave you wanting more. Luckily, you can take on other C&C 3 opponents over the Internet until the next installment in the series arrives.
The Command & Conquer (C&C) story continues in Red Alert 3, a prequel that takes place during the early days of this universes alternate timeline, in which World War II happened differently: Albert Einstein created a time machine that allowed him to erase Adolf Hitler from history and keep Germany from invading Poland, wiping out World War II in the process. In doing so, however, the Soviet Union became powerful enough to threaten the United States and her allies, resulting in a different World War II during the 1950s. Thanks to Einsteins other advanced technologies, though, the Allies won that war.
In Red Alert 3, the Soviets attempt to undo the Allies victory by traveling back in time to get rid of Einstein after he eliminated Adolf Hitler but before he invented his war-altering technologies. The Soviets succeed, but their celebration is short-lived when they discover that Japan, the Empire of the Rising Sun, has risen to prominence, complete with advanced, mysterious technology that threatens to undermine the Soviets and Allies standing in the world. The former enemies must ally to face a common enemy and World War III begins, complete with the tense real-time strategy action loved by C&C fans. This time, the oceans play a major role with territory to control and resources to harvest.
Many of the latest strategy titles recreate a three-dimensional environment, so they demand the faster processors, additional memory, and more capable graphics cards typical of the Mac Pro or the iMac. Please inspect the box of any title that appeals to you to ensure that it will run on your Macintosh.
Waiting for orders
Strategy games allow us to command and conquer from the comfort of our home office. These titles require a calculating mind and a quiet ambition to rule a powerful empire. Pick one up today and discover your inner Napoleon. Or Darth Vader.