From Austria-based 4Head Studios comes this life-simulator set in medieval times. In addition to running a workshop in order to earn money, you can also dabble in local politics, commit all manner of intrigue against your rivals in a city (including poisoning them with the evil and nebulous "toad slime"), engage in long-distance trade, and even turn evil and become a thief or a robber baron. The only thing that truly keeps this game from greatness is the fact that not only is the vanilla game extremely buggy, so too are all three of the beta patches that were released (the game itself was never completely fixed). The bugs keep what could have been a great game merely above average.
By far the most polarizing game on this list---if you have time to learn every little nook and cranny of this game it's a gem, but if you find yourself overwhelmed and lost at the obtuse interface, at-times-buggy AI, and extreme learning curve, you'll wonder why you wasted your time. I lean toward the former camp; they just don't make games like this in America, but they do in Sweden---in compiling this list I had to limit myself to only three games from Paradox's in-house-developed catalog to avoid making this into "the top 10 games made in Stockholm". Take charge of a nation, from mighty Britain to lowly Hawaii, in 1836 and guide its development through 84 years of industrialization, literacy, and modernization. Along the way, you'll build factories, fight wars, see new political ideas take root (including the devil of the 20th century, namely communism), and get a real sense of change over time. If you decide it's to your liking, there's an expansion called Revolutions which is really a fans-only proposition---Gamespot gave it a 5.3, which should tell you which side of the Vicky camp they're on.
From Germany and Spellbound Software comes this simple-yet-addictive game that puts you in the role of one of four airline bosses competing for fame, fortune, and the approval of airport manager Mr. Uhrig, who comes off in his scenes as a more gruff Sgt. Mike Cosgrove from Freakazoid. One of the most beautiful things about this game is the fact that it was clearly developed before 9/11 - you can hire a walking stereotype of an Arab terrorist to cause everything from bacteria in the coffee (watch, amused, as your chosen rival runs to the bathroom every hour or so) to a plane crash. Nobody will ever accuse this game of being deep, but it is fun and lighthearted.
One does not traditionally associate Bulgaria with game development, but this underrated gem from Sofia-based Black Sea Studios hits all the right notes, effectively giving a lot of folks a major sense of deja-vu if they've played Medieval: Total War. In many ways Knights of Honor has Medieval beaten, however, most notably in the more lively "overworld" map of Europe and in the greater level of strategic depth since you can only build a fixed number of buildings in each province and have to balance the needs of troop production and economic prowess. Throw in a few different victory conditions (you can win by amassing resources, becoming the elected Emperor of Europe, or just plain bashing people's heads in) and you've got a surprisingly replayable game that in many ways exceeds a lot of other grand strategy games out there.
Paradox's newest entry into its longtime strategy series, EU3 makes the move to full 3D in style (if not in performance---load times are eternal and system requirements high since the game preloads the entire graphic engine into video RAM at startup to make room for a sophisticated AI that makes anything short of a Core 2 Duo run away crying). If you have the horsepower to handle it, however, EU3 is such a quantum leap forward from EU2 that it is well worth the upgrade. Add to that the fact that Paradox has finally (mostly) mastered the art of releasing games without major bugs (minor ones are another matter, but patches are frequent and thorough and the 1.21 patch leaves no major holes) and you've got yourself forty bucks extremely well spent.
A smash hit in the US as well as abroad, this game needs no introduction. Developed in the UK by Chris Sawyer (the last of the one-man shows in game development), this game puts you in the CEO's chair of a theme park. Design roller coasters, place them in your park, and watch your patrons give up their cookies on the exit path. Plenty of games (Extreme PaintBrawl, I'm looking at you) have been accused of being nauseating; in Rollercoaster Tycoon the only nausea will be experienced by your park guests. Watching someone (in this case, your hired handymen) clean up puke has never been so much fun!
A game that shatters the myth that games developed in Central Europe are buggy messes, Port Royale 2 has an interesting distinction in that the game has never been patched---it's never needed to be. Beyond that, this game proves it's possible to simplify a game engine without dumbing it down---the trading interface is easy, the building construction interface is even easier, and the mission journal makes sure you never forget what it is you're supposed to be doing at any given point in the game. This is the game Sid Meier's Pirates! should've been, and if you like that game, you'll love Port Royale 2. The best part? It won't burn too big a hole in your wallet since it's been out for three years and has come way down in price as a result.
Hong Kong-based Enlight Software and Trevor Chan developed this one, the mother of all business sims. Any game which allows you to manufacture cars, jewelry, fruit snacks, and leather handbags, sell them all under the same brand name (mmm, Chevrolet Strawberry Snax and Silver Necklaces), actually dominate those market segments, and enrich your avatar to the point where you have more money in cold, hard cash than Bill Gates has in his entire fortune? Tell me that's not worth the $20 it'd cost you to download the full game from Gamespot's Steam-style direct-to-download service?
Paradox Interactive's Swedish chefs cook up a masterwork, the best World War II strategy game in a genre that is overcrowded at best and something thoroughly unprintable at worst. Take the time-tested and thoroughly refined Europa Universalis engine that appears in a couple of other places on this list, add in a dose of country management, throw in the frankly brilliant "movement-is-attack" rules that initiate combat on a thoroughly clockwork schedule (you can time the arrival of your air and artillery support literally down to the hour), and wrap it all in a relatively (for Paradox) simple interface, and you've got a must-play for grand strategy fans and alt-history buffs.
The best thing to come out of Australia since Paul Hogan, ranked #4 on IGN's list of the Best PC Games of All Time, and the game that gave us "I want to bathe in their blood for a WEEK", never before or since has the Total War series truly nailed it on every level. Simple yet deep, complex yet accessible, and a ton of fun, you'll get hours and hours of playability, replayability, and waste-a-weekend-ability out of this game.
As has become evident here, the PC is alive and well, especially if you don't have the luxury of ample console gaming choices due to living in a PAL country. If anything, PC games are better than their console counterparts in the Old World even if you account for importing and mod-chipping. For those of us stateside? Every game on this list saw widespread US release. As for why all ten of these games are in the strategy genre? Well, to that I say I guess that's what Europe does best.
List by SimuLord (04/06/2007)
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