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For all you armchair generals, the strategy genre is quite possibly a better choice than joining the army.  Strategy games are primarily on PC because they’re exclusively focused on a complex user interface that can only be accomplished with high levels of detail and the mouse & keyboard combo.  Console strategy games tend to be ’dumbed down’ because the controllers only have so many buttons and is not as exact as a mouse.  There are two basic types of strategy games, the real-time strategy game and the turn-based strategy game.

Real-Time Strategy (RTS)

Back in the early-to-mid 90’s, a curious game based on the Dune sci-fi series came out, called Dune II.  No one really remembered what the original Dune game was like, but fans around the world agreed: Dune II rocked.  The focus of the game was about building up a base on a limited square map.  As you built the base, your opponent would be doing the same thing somewhere else on the map.  As your based progressed you’d be able to build units (that you could tell to attack, defend, or patrol) to attack the computer’s base.  The maps got bigger and the units got nastier as the game progressed, and it all happened in real-time with no pauses!  The real-time strategy genre was born, and would soon spin-off into a competitive segment of the video game industry.

Dune II was single-player only, though, and video game makers soon realized that RTS games were best against other players.  The super popular Warcraft series from Blizzard have capitalized on this need.  Warcraft II was played over one of the first internet server networks run by a game developer.  Its popular spiritual successor, Starcraft, is still played over Battle.net today even though it’s almost a decade old.  Recently, Warcraft III came out to the delight of RTS fans around the world.  The thing that makes Warcraft different from most modern/futuristic warfare RTS games is that it’s set in a mythical world where humans, orcs, dwarves, and other powerful races battle for supremacy.

Modern games like the Total War series give players control not only on the battlefield, but over entire continents.  This adds another level of strategy to an increasingly complex genre.  Not only do players need guile on the battlefield, but they also must manage the logistics of entire empires!

Another popular kind of RTS game among younger fans and the more light-hearted is the Tycoon series of games.  Most involve building business empires like amusement parks (where you can design your own roller coasters), vast transportation networks (like Railroad Tycoon), and even a vacation resorts.

One of the most interesting RTS games coming out of the woodworks recently was Evil Genius.  It was released in 4Q 2004, and gave players the chance to build and manage an evil megalomaniac empire.

Turn-Based Strategy

Usually reserved for the ultra-hard-core strategy gamers, the turn-based strategy game has enjoyed a renaissance of late.  The reason for making a game as turn-based as opposed to real-time is simply a matter of control.  RTS games can get out of hand when you have hundreds of units engaging in battle at once.  The turn-based strategy game gives the player ultimate control over his or her entire force. 

Most turn-based strategy games revolve around war.  There are so many WWII turn-based games for both PC and console that I won’t cover all of them.

Silent Storm is a new entry into the turn-based strategy market that combines modern (and extremely detailed graphics), a real-time component, turn-based combat, fully-destructible terrain, and complete character inventory customization.  I’ve had a chance to play it and it was a fantastic run.

An interesting turn-based strategy game that you can pick up on PC for free is Steel Panthers: World at War.  It’s definitely a small niche game for the avid WWII enthusiast, but considering that the 500 MB game is completely free it’s worth checking out.

My personal favorite in this category is Jagged Alliance 2.  If you haven’t played this game, you can get it for under $20 as a bargain buy.  I won’t spoil much, but suffice to say I’ve never had so much fun building an elite mercenary team and sending them up against waves of soldiers.