Strategy games have come a long way since the original Dune, and contrary to popular opinion, are still going strong.

Featuring an unparalleled level of detail and historical scope, Europa Universalis is the best example of how to make a historical turn based game. With over 700 provinces controlled by 60 different nations, it offers extreme control over your budding empire's military, diplomatic, and economic fronts. Based on Europe immediately prior to the Reformation, Europa's enormous level of depth is undoubtedly unwieldy at first, but is a rich experience for anyone willing to get past the initial shock.

This oft-overlooked 1983 game is one of the most innovative strategy games yet. It was a twist on chess, where you couldn't simply capture another piece and take over a square: you had to fight for it in a real-time battle. Each unit had its own different powers (with the white units generally being slower and powerful, and the dark units being faster and weak) and varied in strength depending on whether the square was white or dark (or somewhere in between). With an intriguing blend of strategy, skill, and fast reflexes, it was tremendously fun and inspired a generation of gamers to come.

This simple urban simulator is a milestone in the history of gaming, spawning both endless Sim sequels and spinoffs, but also inspiring many game developers (Sid Meier and his Civilization, for instance). With addictive gameplay and fantastic design, it's a no-brainer to see why this was the first major computer game hit. To many people, it was the first game that let them truly be in the game - the city somehow became a representation of yourself and where you wanted to live. Many players became emotionally attached to their cities, and combined with its enormous popularity and undeniable educational value, led to it quickly cementing its status as a gaming landmark.

Forget, if you will, what Westood and the C&C label has become in the wake of Generals, and think back to what it used to mean. It used to represent GDI, Kane, and the first major strategy game that just felt right. Westwood started the real time strategy game genre with Dune, and C&C really defined what they set out to do, but it wasn't until their odd little Red Alert spinoff that they touched on what real time strategy was all about - Red Alert clarified to everyone what the modern real time strategy game really was. It was fast, easy, brutal, and fun, and it set in stone the now ubiquitous RTS model of "build, gather, pump like a madman".

With four entirely different races, an innovative role-playing component, and dazzling 3D graphics, this spiritual successor to Starcraft has never quite matched Starcraft's popularity, but is a fine game in its own right. A followup to the tremendously successful and groundbreaking WarCraft II, it was one of the first games to try to shift away from the massive armies in previous RTS's and focus more on individual units like heroes. Add in a fantastic map editor, and this game's online community has been thriving ever since.

The Total War series will undoubtedly become a landmark in the history of strategy gaming, for it was the first game to mix both an outstanding turn-based historical component with an absolutely gorgeous real-time battle simulator. Featuring unprecedented levels of detail and strategy, the battle component quickly became *the* main reason to play Total War. It's even been adopted for use by the History Channel for recreating historical battles. With staggering realism, this groundbreaking game has truly redefined the genre.

For many of today's gamers, this was the first strategy game they ever played. This groundbreaking game has had an undeniable impact on the genre - it marked a shift from the Westwood style of fast carnage to a slower, more defensive, and more strategic style of gameplay. With stunning artwork, beautiful visuals, 4 resources, multiple paths to victory, and of course its sequels, Age of Empires is an outstanding game and a fond memory for many of us.

The game's title isn't kidding. Other games have sissy "unit caps" and "upkeeps". Total Annihilation has none of that. When you attack, you don't just send a handful of units - you send over screenfuls of tanks at a time. You aren't limited to just one superweapon like other games - you build them dozens at a time and fire all at once. This nonstop brutality and carnage made for tremendously addictive gameplay. Combined with a simple, intuitive, yet powerful interface, pioneering 3D technology, an unsurpassed musical score, and literally hundreds of air, land, and sea units to build and choose from, it remains one of the most fun strategy games ever created.

There is possibly no greater milestone in the history of strategy gaming than Civilization. The game spawned sequels, spinoffs (Alpha Centauri, an outstanding game in its own right), endless imitators, and virtually created the turn-based genre. It was one of the first truly addictive games, as anyone who has played it can testify to ("Just one more turn"...oh no it's dawn and I forgot to sleep!). It was also one of the pioneers of open-ended gameplay, as your civilization needed to dominate through military, economic, diplomatic, and even celestial means. No turn-based strategy game can be made without inspiration from Civilization. There is nothing quite like this pillar of turn based strategy, and quite possibly never will be.

Could there be any doubt as to number one? Seven years after its release, StarCraft still stands head and shoulders above all competition. Featuring three entirely asymmetric yet perfectly balanced races (something no other game has yet managed to duplicate) and a powerful storyline, it has quickly become a national obsession in South Korea, where top professional players have DVD's of their best plays released, fan clubs with membership in the hundreds of thousands, and a thriving televised tournament circuit (complete with announcers) to compete on. Thanks to a dedicated online community, Starcraft continues to be the most popular strategy game of all time, with tens of thousands of players online at any given moment. It remains the brightest star in Blizzard's excellent constellation of games and has set the standard for every real time strategy game to come. It says something about this game that many dedicated fans don't want a sequel, for fear of tarnishing the game's legacy. No other game has ever come close to this pinnacle of strategy gaming.

Strategy games, along with shooters, dominate the professional gaming scene for good reason. They are true tests of strategical thinking, mental composure, and physical speed. It is possibly for this reason that these top strategy games all rank among the very best games ever made.

List by GrandInquisitor (01/12/2006)

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