It's been a busy, kind of mixed year for strategy games. Ever a broad church, 2021's seen enough releases to keep ten of me busy, from the easy-going Legion War to the month-consuming Shadow Empire. I don't know about you, but my personal "to play" list is out of control.
And yet, while we've had plenty to enjoy this year, it's felt like a period of build-up to something bigger. I'm not one for looking forward. If a game's not out yet it tends to disappear from my mind, making room for a hundred other recent releases in this age of plenty. That I've less interest in looking back over this year than I do pondering the next suggests that maybe we're in for something special in the coming twelve months. Or perhaps it's just been a rough one and I'm very sleep deprived and don't want to think about 2021. Either way, let's have a look at what's in store for strategy fans in 2022, yeah?
Mech Engineer (December 2021)
Cheating a bit already, Mech Engineer is currently in early access and its full release date of "December" technically makes this a 2021 game - but it's also still in early access at time of writing, so let's just say 2022 for the sake of argument, all right? It's about mechs fighting aliens, but you're not doing that yourself. You're the engineer. You have no direct control of your people, and learning how to rebuild your base, and traverse the Earth as it's terraformed, and research and manufacture and tune every weapon makes for a daunting and confusing game with an esoteric UI.
Since September, its frequent updates have added sound effects, more music, and much better documentation. Kiberkrecker have even added a save system, removing a huge issue with repetition at the start, when you had a bay full of guns and engines to calibrate every time you lost a campaign, which would be often. It's a lot easier to recommend Mech Engineer than it was, but it will remain a niche game that will probably get a hard time from alienated players. Some of you, though, will love it like I do.
Alliance Of The Sacred Suns (early 2022)
Alliance Of The Sacred Suns first blipped onto our radar in 2016, promising a grand space strategy focused on characters, political manoeuvering, and detailed empire management. KatHawk Studios summarise it as "a 5X - the 5th 'X' being 'eXist'". That's exactly what I hoped for just months ago. Where your typical strategy game abstracts your leadership, here you'll play the full adulthood of a neo-feudal ruler as they run an empire through negotiation and macromanagement, ending with their death.
Since its announcement we've seen the release of Crusader Kings 3, Shadow Empire and Star Dynasties, meaning AOTSS perhaps won't be as unique in 2022 as when it was announced. But if it meets its ambitions, it could be a defining game of the year.
Spies & Soldiers (early 2022)
Espionage is often an afterthought. Enter Spies & Soldiers, a head-to-head game of conniving and assassinating alongside direct military attack. Taking your rival's lands just goes so much easier when you've already got a guy inside the castle. Those (kinda pretty) lands are randomly generated, hopefully cutting down on winning by rote memorisation.
This looks to be one where simple rules multiply to create lots of clever tricks. I'm here for any game where surprise, orchestration and timing are as important as raw numbers, and I've already gushed about my appreciation for simultaneous turns. It'd be nice to have one I don't have to convince people to study for a weekend before they'll play it with me, too.
The Iron Oath (early 2022)
Once upon a time, there were about three survival games. A year later there were uncountable billions. A few years ago, there were about three mercenary management games. Do you see?
The Iron Oath is set to join Stoneshard and Wartales in the category of "how the hell am I going to research for 200 hours and still squeeze all of these into one article". Its battles are more spectacular than its more grounded peers like Battle Brothers or Jagged Alliance 2, but its standout concept is a focus on the long term reputation of your company in a world that changes along with it over a timespan of centuries.
It even won over the hex-vexed Alice B in demo form, when she compared the way it lets individuals age and die while the company lives on to Wildermyth. If also captures the ebbing and flowing fortunes of Darklands, or something equally compelling, don't be surprised if the early 2020s do to mercenary management what the early 2010s did to survival games.
The Battle Brothers devs have promised "new content on the side" of their coming console ports in 2022, incidentally. And Wartales and Stoneshard are pencilled in for 1.0 releases. Ow, my time.
Distant Worlds 2 (March 10th 2022)
It's a good thing I don't really have a working concept of the future, or I'd have way too much invested in Distant Worlds 2. The original was a madly ambitious space 4X that went in hard on scale, and consequently on macromanagement and delegation. Running an empire meant controlling absolutely everything, or handing over whatever you didn't care about to the AI. Or the inverse - let your empire run itself, and periodically intervene to micromanage your favourite fleet, redesign ships or build.
Delegation and macromanagement are, I maintain, the territories wherein 4X design will hit a revolutionary period. But Distant Worlds: Universe did more than that. Its elaborate economy made it a rewarding logistical sim on top, and it even let you play as a proper pirate faction, extorting the empires, smuggling, and capturing goods and ships to sustain yourself. Alas, DWU was a difficult beast to tame, and it's already showing its age badly on Windows 10. Its reach always exceeded its grasp. But my goodness, what a reach. You can perhaps see why it's a good thing I don't want to burden its sequel with all my hopes.
Distant Worlds 2 will almost certainly, and wisely, leave some features on the drawing board. Codeforce are under no obligation to fulfill promises to me that they never made. But what if they do?
Urban Strife (2022)
Developed by White Pond Games, a Romanian studio with a ton of experience in designing tactical and action games at Ubisoft, Urban Strife is a post-apocalyptic tactical turn-based shooter in which you must forge a faction that will be stable enough to rebuild. There are zombies, which I'd normally sigh at, but whatever. More interestingly, you'll co-operate and/or fight with other human factions, keep your people healthy and fed, and generally live a sort of Jagged Alliance 2-meets-zombie-survival life. Nothing outlandish in isolation, but mixed in the right proportions those elements could prove potent.
It also reminds me I should think about covering Twilight 2000 someday. How'd you like a trawl through my memories of unplayable but fascinating 90s strategy games that should be remade now that the world is ready for them, folks?
Men of War II (2022)
Every Men of War player remembers the trainyard. Defending it against constant German attacks was a crucible of wonderful explosions, clumsy scrambles for ammunition, and delightfully awful voice acting.
After a decade of sequels and spin offs, Men of War 2 is due to return to levels like the trainyard, in which you direct up to hundreds of soldiers, tanks, static guns and whatever else to survive gruelling battles from World War II: World Warer. The headline feature is the ability to ASSUME DIRECT CONTROL of any unit, using the keyboard to move and fire, from the mightiest naval guns to every single bullet in the pockets of the crew that bailed out of that tank. Once in a while, that was the one shot your entire strategy depended on.
Best Way emphasise that Men of War 2 will bring "significant visual improvements, destructible environments, and an advanced AI". It's that latter part that I hope will bring the series to the forefront again. Please do not make me personally rearm an entire battlefield again. Partisans can have a little initiative, as a treat.
Master Of Magic (2022)
Back when all this was modem noises, SimTex took Civilisation and said "Pottery? Code of law? Navigation? BORING." They replaced technology with magical spells, implanted cute sprite-based tactical battles, and added RPG levelling, items, and an entire parallel world. They then shook the result until it broke a little bit. It still worked, but it no longer behaved. That's Master Of Magic.
A remake seemed both impossible and inevitable after decades of sporadic attempts to recapture its... uh, mojo, some of which were decent enough, but they still didn't quite get it right. This carries the name and many familiar wizards, but can it carry the intangible essence?
I hope it is unbalanced as hell. Warlords Battlecry 3 understood as the original MoM did that when your game is a melting pot of powers and factions and units and even genres, you have to let it boil over.
Workers & Resources: Soviet Republic (December 2022)
A December release has a high chance to slip into 2023, but 3Division have, poetically enough, planned and organised their development well in advance. It's a Soviet-themed city builder with a heavy focus on production chains and logistics. Where its peers give you a power plant and some power lines, this Workers & Resources gives you 18 types of electrical line and leaves to falsify an agricultural report. This is a game about understanding a complex machine as much as it is about building.
Accept that your first couple of towns will be first drafts, and you'll find a rewarding and deceptively friendly game, despite the concretey look and, since we last covered it, secret police. Erk. Still, you can switch parts of it off, or give yourself unlimited money until you get a feel for things. It doesn't look down on you or want to ruin your fun. It's just a different kind of fun to most builders.
With a keen and active following and unique setting and design, plus a healthy modding scene, don't be surprised if Workers & Resources squeaks into a few game of the year lists. It deserves it.
Doesn't take long before there's more turns than you could ever possibly end, does it? What a genre.
There might not be a lot to be optimistic about out there, but in here where the strategy games are, we've a lot to look forward to. With the Coming Soon shelf heaving, I'm sure to have missed a heap of promising games, so please do chime in if you're excited about something on your horizon. Given the physical limitations of the universe I can't promise to cover even a tenth of what I'd like to, but I'll certainly have a look at anything you think might be a good one. Who knows, eh? Maybe this will be our year. I certainly hope it is.