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The Historical RTS List
If computer games were all to go by, history would be nothing but wars, wars, more wars, and even some more wars interspersed with about three seconds of peace. And peace, in this lopsided paradigm, is nothing more than a breather so the froot loops in power can tool up for the next big bloodbath. "Great deeds" are those that involve invasions and conquest. Or as they're known in this day and age as Holocausts and Ethnic Cleansing. Historical figures are reduced down to little more than a great generals and leaders (i.e. an asssortment of tyrants and butchers) who set forth doing Great Deeds (i.e. wiping out horrendous numbers of people, destroying great cities or driving a civilisation into a long period of futile civil war or even a Dark Age) and while fun to read or play about, are not the sort of characters you'd want to go on a picnic with. Welcome to the world of the historical strategy game. A lot like watching the History Channel, really.

Ancient Art of War, The (1984)

Yes, that is the right date. This is an old Apple II game, and a definite contender for the First RTS of All Time. Actually, I'm sure it got around to many other platforms, and I swear I saw it on a PDP-11 UNIX mainframe at Uni once. It wasn't so much a big scrolling map like your usual RTS but a slow moving minimap view that you'd organize your campaign around. It would switch to an orthographic battlefield to resolve the actual fighting where all your guys would be presented as monochromatic sprites. If nothing else, it was one of the first games to use the paper-scissor-rock dynamic.

This is so basic, harking back to a happy, carefree time where the developers might actually be a guy and his mate - where it was possible to write a game from home and have a hit. A really big game might take a whole three months to come out and fill an entire floppy disk - a five and a quarter inch floppy, that is. Ironically, some of those ancient titles have more spark, creativity, imagination and, well, playability than a lot of the hollow, bloated, unremarkable graphic demos that infest the shelves these days. :/ In part, that's due to gaming back then really being unexplored territory, and also, expectations of what makes a good game these days is astronomical by comparison. There was something more personable at least, more of a one on one with you and the (obviously enthusiastic) creator. Just showing my age, there - heh, don't worry kids, you'll be old and ignored soon enough!

This game was popular enough to spawn a sequel: The Ancient Art of War, At Sea. (1987)Back

Europa Universalis II (2002)

This is the sort of historical strategy game that shows up exactly what the regular "mainstream" strategy games and publishers don't generally do. Unlike the bland, context-free worlds of Age of Empires, or the Saturday morning cartoon sensibilities of WarCraft, Europa Universalis - like many games from developer Paradox and Strategy First (and other smaller publishers like SSG) delves deep into the heart of geopolitics, economics, intrigue, diplomacy, and the ideology, culture and religion of the nation state or political system or empire that is trying to impose its ambitions on the world. Like many of the Civ strategy games, culture and nation building is as important as going on the warpath, and the relationship between competing states is a complex and interesting one.

Obviously, this is the sequel to Europa Universalis (2001), which starts from the "discovery" of the New World in 1492 and tracks three centuries of European history and imperialism across the globe, as seen through the eyes of 75 European Nations. Europa Universalis II is simply a more sophisticated update; it covers the same time and theme as the original, except with a lot more detail and depth. You get to mess with up to 180 different nations, including a number outside Europe, like China or the Native Americans - and you can either conquer or play any one of them! This isn't just a RISK style game of moving armies about: religious struggles, missionaries, expeditions, diplomacy and a wealth of other details are also just as important. Policy decisions are a big factor - tight centralised control? strengthen the aristocracy? type of government? personal freedom for your citizens? National stability? Europa Universalis goes as far to reproduce cultural, religious and linguistic differences between states and peoples, making it tricky to conquer and hang on to a foreign nation with a different religion and language. On top of that, it also recognises the vast role religion played in all those European wars during the period. This is historical gaming that - for once - really is historical!

Its somewhat daunting. But, like all high calibre games, once you've put in the effort to learn it, you'll almost certainly get a lot more out of it. Just be prepared for a long and involved learning curve.

There's an expansion. Europa Universalis: Crown of the North (2003) which goes backwards in time (1275-1340) and heads north to Scandinavia to the only civil war Sweden ever had. Back

Imperial Glory (2005)

A Total War clone developed by Pyro Studios and published by Eidos, set around the French Revolution and the Napoleanic Wars. Imperial Glory pits the large European empires of the day against each other. This uses a turn based map to stage the global picture, and resolves individual battles in a real time tactical engine that stretches from the deserts of the middle east, the green hills of England, the frozen Russian steppes and a new environment of naval warfare on the high seas, when the entire world's oceans became battlegrounds for the first time.Back

Medieval: Total War (2002)

This is an excellent turn based strategy that resolves its battles in an expansive, sprawling real time environment. The battles are amazing (although the graphics might seem a bit dated these days) and the turn based strategy component was so good that it almost overshadows the battles themselves! A beautiful blend of big picture strategy and the down and dirty tactics of an actual battle. Definitely worthy of classic status. See also Total War Series.Back

Rome: Total War (2004)

See Total War Series.Back

Stronghold: Crusader (2002)

The next title in the Stronghold (2001) game series. Stronghold was a castle building, management and sieging game set during the Crusades. Stronghold: Crusader is not quite a sequel, but not an expansion pack either. This stand-alone title reigns in the castle building angle to concentrate more on the battles around them.You can play the single player campaign either as Richard the Lionheart or the great Arab leader Saladin, contesting the Holy Land during the Crusades. Single player and multiplayer modes also offer a large number of game variations where you can fine tune the game parameters to a high degree for different types of games. This adopts simplified versions of economic elements you've seen in The Settlers - or rather, like the Caesar series of games, crossing them with the straightforward RTS model of Age of Empires.

Its more strategy orientated than build orientated, though. You still get to plant farms, chop trees, mine metals and hammer stone, but all these details have been stripped back and streamlined in favour of a fast paced, strategic game. Stronghold wasn't as much about castle building as it was about building a town with walls and a keep and constantly fighting marauding AI's. Graphics are 2D and a wee bit plain, but its well worth a look, though.Back

Total War series

Shogun: Total War (2000)

Widescreen strategy action with samuraiAn expansive strategy title set in 1530: Feudal Japan is gripped by civil war and you're carving out a campaign to become its new Shogun. There are eight different factions vying for supremacy, and the game campaign involves intrigue, assassinations and battles in full 3D. While using a full 3D environment, your guys are only small sprites. Your role is that of supreme commander sitting on a hill somewhere. There's a fair degree of remoteness here, and battles can literally involve casts of thousands while your camera never gets any closer than a broad helicopter shot.

There's no individual unit control at all: orders are issued to entire regiments at a time. Regiment control centres around selecting a regimental flag and issuing orders to it. There are the usual basic moves and attacks, and adopting different stances and formations. You can group regiments of different units together and issue the same orders to them. Grouped regiments - hell, your entire army! - also have their own amazing formations, where you can order formations to defend, attack head on or savage the flanks of the other army. Your individual units scramble about to make formation and the AI's pretty amazing watching all those archers, cavalry, samurai and spear men organising themselves into position.

Strategy revolves around the usual unit types trumping each other, advantages from high and sloping ground, weariness of the troops and knowing how to best deploy your forces on the field. Its all very Kurosawan. Expansions: Mongol Invasion (2001). There's now a Shogun: Total War Warlord Edition which bundles everything into the one package.

Medieval: Total War

Twelve European powers in the Middle Ages duke it out for supremacy in the same epic style. See the RTSC Medieval: Total War page.

Rome: Total War

This does the same as its predecessors in this series, changing the scene to the Ancient World. This time your 3D view can get right down into the heart of the action to take in some mindboggling vistas of fully rendered troops and units fighting it out hand to hand. The game engine itself was actually used to illustrate ancient battles in the History Channel documentary series called Decisive Battles, and a BBC game show called Time Commanders, where teams of contestants get the chance to restage historical battles and see how they might change the outcomes.

There's now an expansion: Rome: Total War: Barbarian Invasion.Back

Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun (2003)

Developed by Paradox Entertainment and published by Strategy First, this is geopolitics, economics, strategy and the scheming of the British Empire, set during the reign of Queen Victoria when the Empire was at its height. You're turning that world map red ("when red meant British!") and expanding the British Empire so that the sun can never set upon it it. Starting off in the late 19th Century, you must guide the Brits through the awkward process of industrialisation, technological development, diplomacy and empire building, while at the same time, making sure that the burgeoning democratic process and the changing social landscape brought on by industrialisation doesn't disintegrate the state. This is serious and complex historical gaming in the same vein as Europa Universalis.Back

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Last modified Mon, Nov 7 2005 by Lindsay Fleay