The 2019 Strategy Game of the Year
This year was an incredible for the Strategy game. We had releases of all kinds coming out of both the AAA and indie sectors. We went back to the past with Anno 1800, went back to the past in a different way with Warcraft III: Reforged, built a brutal dictatorship with Tropico 6, and built a dream zoo with Planet Zoo.
Two titles that just about made our runner-up list were Wargroove and Age of Wonders: Planetfall. Planetfall was an incredible adaptation of the Age of Wonders 4X formula to a sci-fi setting. It’s a great game, especially if you like the combat side of the strategy sim, or if you like incredibly deep character customization.
Wargroove is kind of like a “Fire-Emblem Maker.” It features its own story and campaign, but it also comes with a full feature set to let you make your own maps and campaigns, providing near endless community sourced content.
And heck, we couldn’t even consider every game we wanted to. Phoenix Point, a spiritual successor to XCOM, is coming out later this month and it might be one of the best ones yet. There’s always next year for that one.
But what is the one game that we can call Strategy Game of the Year? Well, we wanted to be fair to both AAA and indie games and not necessarily judge AAA’s better because they have a better marketing budget. So we took four strategy games, two AAA’s and two indies, with the highest Metacritic scores and compared them against each other. Here’s what we ended up with.
Runner up: Slay the Spire
To be honest, we struggled with where to nominate this one. It’s a rogue-like card building exploration game… and that sorta sounds like strategy to us, so what the heck.
Slay the Spire has been in early access for a while but it officially released this year, and man was it received well. If you looked at only the base game, this could easily be one of the best Strategy games to come out of the indie-sphere.
But we aren’t making it a runner up simply because it’s a fantastic game. We are also making it a runner up because of its impressive modding scene. The community has given Slay the Spire everything from new characters to new items, new dungeons, new encounters, new difficulty levels, and more. This is a game that you will get literally hundreds of hours of enjoyment from because there is always a new way to experience it.
Even if mods aren’t your thing, the dev team is still making new content. They post updates about their progress on a near weekly basis. This is easily going to be one of those “living” games that just keeps getting more content every month. If you think that a rogue-like deck building strategy game sounds like a good time to you, then Slay the Spire might be the only game you need for years.
Runner up: Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
Fell Seal is an indie game that is just full of good ideas. On the surface, it looks like a tribute to games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre. Deep down, however, it’s so much more.
This is a game that is just chock full of customization options. You can customize and create your own difficulty modes. You can import your very own character portraits if you dislike the art style. You can access a debug mode at any time if you need assistance to get through the game. All of that is just the stuff that the devs gave you.
The modding scene is also strong with this one. Want new classes? You can have them. Want new maps? You can have them? Want to rework the core mechanics of the game? Anything you want you can have.
We haven’t had a good isometric grid based strategy like this in a while. Fell Seal filled a niche that was critically underserviced while simultaneously innovating in ways few indie games or strategy games have. That’s enough to get a runner up slot, and more than enough for us to recommend it to all of you.
Runner up: Total War: Three Kingdoms
When I first played Total War: Three Kingdoms one thought went through my mind: “Why haven’t they done this before?” The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is one of the most recognized works of military literature in history and yet we so often see it interpreted in Dynasty Warriors-style brawlers rather than military strategy games.
Total War: Three Kingdoms manages to merge together the epic feeling of the source material with the strategic combat that the Total War series is known for. The ability to play as legendary heroes puts a new spin on conflicts, making them feel both as if you need precise tactics, and that the tide of battle can be turned on the actions of one godlike general. The graphic style is very different from other Total War games, at times looking like a moving ink painting, purposefully stylized to feel like a work of art from its era. It is a beautiful example of both a Romance of the Three Kingdoms game and a Total War game, and it certainly deserves to be in your library.
Winner: Fire Emblem: Three Houses
I played the crap out of all the games on this list, but when I looked at sheer playtime, one of them vastly outclassed the others. I am coming up on 300 hours in my Fire Emblem: Three Houses playthrough. Any game that can make you sink that many hours into it is a game that deserves recognition.
Simply put, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is one of the best examples of its franchise and its genre. This is a game that lets you experience its story from four different perspectives. It lets you deeply customize each unit. It lets your actions out of battle reflect in battle. It even has a social time-management puzzle similar to the Persona series that makes you consider all of your choices outside combat.
And that’s just in your first playthrough. Dive into New Game + and you’ll find even more customization options, more battles, and when you add DLC, even new ways to spend time out of battle. Not to mention all the DLC isn’t even out yet, and Nintendo has promised some hefty story content.
In a way Fire Emblem: Three Houses feels like a toy box. If gives you all these interacting parts, all these characters, classes, weapons, and activities, and lets you go nuts. Even several playthroughs in you’ll still learn something new about these characters. You’ll learn that healer that you’ve been keeping in the back rows is actually a magnificent tank. You’ll learn your edgelord sword boys can be turned into dancers and suddenly be even better edgelord sword boys. Maybe you’ll get deep enough into a social rank to find out that those cutesy anime tropes are actually deeply scarred characters. Or maybe you’ll just keep marrying the same character over and over to get a high quality jpeg of your waifu.
No matter what way you like to enjoy Three Houses, as a tactical game, time-management sim, or waifu simulator, you can easily enjoy it for hundreds of hours and hundreds of hours more. The general strategy game community is still talking about this game even though it came out in July. Half a year is a pretty long time for a single-player game to stay in the spotlight. If Nintendo keeps supporting it with new content, Fire Emblem: Three Houses sure to remain in that spotlight for much longer.
Congratulations to Fire Emblem: Three Houses our Strategy Game of the Year.