Fan Voting Coming Thursday

PC Real-Time Strategy Game of the Year --
Age of Empires III

Build a base. Explore the world. Harvest resources. Defend your holdings. Build an army. Crush all who defy you. That's the heart of the real-time strategy genre, a mix of tactics and twitch gaming that's been a staple of PC entertainment for years. The basic formula is always the same, but the trappings change from one year to the next. This year, Dragonshard was among the most innovative, combining small-party subterranean dungeon combat with massive warfare aboveground.

But for pure gameplay, style, and execution, Age of Empires III shines the brightest in 2005. Covering the European colonization of the New World, in a single game you get exploration, the Revolutionary War era, battles with pirates, Wild West adventures, and huge Napoleonic battles. Graphically Age III was one of the most stunning titles of 2005, loaded with detail and "local color" that drew you into the period.

When it comes to gameplay, the new "Home City" concept doesn't redefine the genre, but it adds a subtle new dimension to it. There's a great deal of strategy in timing shipments to your colony, and there are decisions to make -- ship economic supplies or military ones? -- that separate out the different playing styles. Your Home City gains new abilities from one game to the next, so customizing it over time to suit your strategy is a great deal of fun. It may not have been this year's most innovative, but Age of Empires III is an outstanding game experience for RTS fans.

PC Turn-Based Strategy Game of the Year --
Civilization IV

In this era of glitz and glamour and graphics, what place is there for the humble turn-based strategy game? I've got an idea: how about on my hard drive. Civilization IV shines not only as the best strategy game of the year, but the best PC game, period.

Strategy fans will find a lot to love here. Every turn is a tumbling cascade of interesting decisions. Should I attack this enemy city or wait for my catapults to arrive? Should I build near this source of Ivory or colonize this unpopulated island before the French find it? Should I research Guilds in order to get Knights, or should I be studying Theatre in order to build up my culture? Is Alexander the Great going to stick to our peace treaty, or should I strike first with my horse archers?

Of course, these decisions are nothing new to long-time Civ fans. But several changes really take Civ IV to a new level. The interface is fast and streamlined, meaning you no longer have to constantly pop in and out of your city screens to make decisions. The graphics are crisp and animated, and not only look good, but convey important information such as the health of units or wonders present at a city.

And finally, there's multiplayer. Yes, working multiplayer, in a Civ game! It's rough in places but fully functional, and a blast if you've got a group of people and some time on your hands. Civilization IV is definitely the high point in strategy gaming this year.

Age of Empires III

Developer: Ensemble Studios

Publisher: Microsoft

Release Date: 10/18/2005

ESRB: T

$39.99

Civilization IV

Developer: Firaxis

Publisher: 2K Games

Release Date: 10/24/2005

ESRB: E10+

$49.95