Do...do you feel that, reader? The snap of cold in the air? The thud of heavy feet on the frozen earth? Ah, but it must be our imagination yet. But wait. Do you hear it, reader? The scrape of mighty antlers as they brush through the pine branches? The frantic chuckling of a turkey? Oh no, no, not now. We thought we had escaped her this year. We made the obeisances; we left a glass of Monster Energy on by the hearth. Tremble, for it is the mighty terror wreathed in bone and wire; it is she, who augurs the future in the innards of her flock of eternal turkeys, each one disgorging the promise of a future video game.
It is the fearsome giantess Horaszdóttir. The harshest of all deities. The winter god of game releases yet to come. She has come again, to push our faces to the turkey giblets, and make us see and tell of the desires we hold - desires for games in 2021. Unbidden, the words come to us, and we must describe our most anticipated titles for the year ahead. What will it be today, dread Horaszdóttir? Only tell us, and we will obey! Ah, it is the tricksy genre, that beloved of warmongers and managers, builders and battlers. It is... strategy games!
What is it? Super-ambitious reimagining of the human civilisation sim, from the studio behind Endless Legend
Who's it by? Amplitude Studios, Sega
When is it out? April 21st
Nate: I feel so guilty that I can never find a way to start talking about Humankind without essentially positioning it as the Pepsi to the Coke of Sid Meier’s Civilization. The game, which is a heavily hyped, all-in “magnum opus” from developer Amplitude, clearly wants to prove that there can be more than one benchmark when it comes to 4X games covering the whole of human history. And having played an early version last year, I’m inclined to say it’s got a fair shot at that objective indeed.
It’s a brilliant and beautiful idea, and I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve seen it in action in a 4X game.
It’s still played on hex tiles with distinct eras to pass through, and giant men wandering about the landscape, but beyond this basic pack of common denominators, there’s a lot to differentiate Humankind from its rival. Customisable, composite civilisations drawing from multiple historical cultures, ambitious tactical battle instances of the kind seen in Endless Legend, and some deeply satisfying urban sprawl, all make me eager indeed to summon Ghoastus and get Roming come April.
Ollie: Maybe I’m alone here, but whenever I play a 4X game like Civilization or Endless Legend, one of the most exciting moments is choosing my leader or civilisation at the very start of a new game. It frames the entire experience and offers you deep and meaningful choice in a similar (though smaller) way to creating your character in an RPG. I’ve played the Humankind OpenDev campaigns to death, and there are lots of things in this game that excite me. But none more so than the fact that with each new era you get to choose a new culture to adopt and assimilate into your own smorgasbord culture. No longer is that exciting choice over and done with by the time the world has loaded. In Humankind it’s part of the journey, right there with you from start to finish. It’s a brilliant and beautiful idea, and I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve seen it in action in a 4X game.
What is it? 2D Turn-based strategy battles in which you smash medieval illustrations of animals together.
Who's it by? Yaza Games
When is it out? 2021
Alice Bee: You know when you see a tweet that has about 20K retweets, and it's something like "medieval monk: yeah of course i know what a hare looks like lol", with, attached, several photos of extremely cursed drawings from illuminated manuscripts, depicting sad rabbits that variously look like they just remembered they left the gas on, one of their parents was a human man, or they've been stored inside a gravy boat for their entire life, etc. etc.? In Inkulinati, those animals are forced to do turn-based battle across the pages of a book.
There is something quite Monty Python (I refuse to treat the term 'Pythonesque' as if it were a real world) in the sound effects, and the way the battling illustrators' live-action hands interact with the book. And many of the attacks are fairly scatalogical but so were a good deal of the medieval illustrations as shared on Twitter, so what are you going to do? Despite that, it looks like the actual tactical aspect is serious and complex. There are buffs, debuffs, special attacks, and little sneaky things like pushing - so you can push enemies right off the book. A lot going on, plus funny animals, means this remains one to keep an eye on.
What is it? Retro "spy-fi" evil lair management sim.
Who's it by? Rebellion
When is it out? March 30th
Alice Bee: I played the original Evil Genius, but I wasn't overly excited for the sequel - until I got to play a preview build of the tutorial, and then I was like, "Hell yeah, I remember why this concept is so cool now!". It's a base builder, but the base is that of a Bond villain who's really playing into the tropes. You have minions in yellow jumpsuits and goggles who build everything for you, a whole separate screen for managing your nefarious schemes around the world, and you even have to staff and man a front operation - a casino.
Once you get into the nitty gritty, it becomes surprisingly complicated. You can even set individual roulette wheels in said casino to 'scam tourists' mode. But it's also funny - think Theme Hospital - with really great little animations for things like interrogations of enemy agents, or your guards incinerating a bodybag. I doubt I will ever achieve world domination, but I can at least fill up a couple of vaults with gold, and I shall enjoy doing it.
What is it? Remake of one of the best city builders ever made.
Who's it by? Triskell Interactive, Dotemu
When is it out? 2021
Nate: This one is, as we say in the Cavern Of Lies, “classic Nate bait”. The original Pharaoh (off of the year 1999) is one of my favourite city builders ever, and indeed one of my favourite games ever. I bark on about it all the time, and so it’s inevitable that I’d be excited for a remake. I do wish there was more to it than simply ULTRA GIGA HD, as purely cosmetic strategy remakes always strike me as a missed opportunity, but I was due a replay of Pharaoh anyway, and I certainly won’t complain if it looks nicer this time round.
While we’re Egypting, I’m also going to put in a word for Builders Of Egypt, another settlement-focused Nile-’em-up inspired by the original Pharaoh. I thought the demo was promising when I played it last year, and apparently the full business will be coming in the next few months. I’m quietly hopeful.Alice: Nate is correct in that the original Pharaoh is one of the greatest city builders of all time (possibly eclipsed by Zeus: Master Of Olympus, which is basically in the same series of games anyway). I for one am happy for the original to just get a proper good facelift - although since it's advertised as a remake with "new code" and "modernised UI" there is cause to hope for maybe some small quality of life improvements. It's hard to say. I'm just happy to play again where I have to plan everything around the flooding of the Nile. I loved that. It was like a heartbeat for my civilisation.
What is it? Run a donut-shaped space station full of aliens and trash.
Who's it by? Realmforge Studios, Kalypso Media
When is it out? March 26th
Alice Bee: I loved the original Startopia. God, I loved it so hard. Still do! And when I poked my head in on the beta of this unofficial spiritual successor (unofficial but leaning really, really hard on the collective nostalgia for the original, and clomping around in its shoes and make-up in a pretty shameless way), it looked like it was heading in the right direction. You've got your different alien types with different needs, your different decks on your space station (my favourite being the entertainment deck where you can build a massive disco), and competing cost/benefit analysis for all your different services.
Like, yes, technically the efficient running of my space station would be aided by building a new medical bay, but doctors are expensive and you're probably fine, little beetle alien. Go and visit the massive disco. It's a nice plate-spinning bit of strategy management. As long as it doesn't go too overboard on the wacky jokes, obviously. The original did it really well, but doing an impression of someone else's sense of humour rarely turns out to be actually funny.
What is it? The third installment of The Creative Assembly’s spectacular fantasy disasterpiece, which turns the old Warhammer setting into a grand strategy game epic scope.
Who's it by? The Creative Assembly, SEGA
When is it out? Late 2021
Nate: It’s easy to be fairly confident in anticipating great things from Twarhammer 3, because it’s not really a new game, it’s just the third chunk of the behemoth Total War: Warhammer project. I don’t say “just” to diminish it at all, mind. If it’s anywhere near the scale of Twarhammer 2, it’ll be one of the bigger Total War games to date in its own right. And just as was the case with the second instalment, it’ll be possible to bolt it onto the existing duology, to create an even bigger composite map with even more factions warring across it. It’s essentially an expansion pack, then - but one so vast that it will have its own string of expansion packs. And hopefully,one of those expansions-to-an-expansion will bring ogres to the game at long last.