While looking for a game to stream that involves the chat as characters we narrowed it down to The Sims or XCOM 2. Since XCOM 2 was a part of PS Plus (thank you Sony!) and I’ve enjoyed strategy games in the past (love Master of Orion) and we were looking for a Patron choice for OneLichEmperor, XCOM 2 ticked the most boxes. After a few sessions, I can’t believe I’ve wasted a good chunk of my gaming life NOT playing it.
After hearing a few podcasts describe the addictive turn-based strategy I tried to get into the XCOM reboot last gen. Finding many sales I ended up with a copy on PS3, Vita, and even Mac, looking for the perfect spot to crank out games. But sometimes game time just doesn’t line up. Other games and life get in the way and games go from next up to a depth role in the backlog, possibly forgotten forever. Now, of course, I’ve re-downloaded the Vita version for on the road XCOM’ing to scratch that itch.
From board/table to video
I went through a few Warhammer tabletop phases. The epic battles and never-ending tweaking for the perfect army composition kept my mind occupied to the point of addiction. I had a ton of fun but there are drawbacks to the format. Models are expensive, a large play space and time is required, there are many conflicting rules, and more to get in the way of the core gameplay. Video gaming mitigates many problems beautifully. The cost just a one-time game purchase (and optional DLC) which is a tiny fraction to what a tabletop gamer could spend on Warhammer armies. Gameplay wise, a video game uses computing to calculate any amount of details, dice rolls, percentages etc, that could otherwise slow down a tabletop game. Plus, all the rules are black and white, removing arguing between players that can sour a tabletop game experience.
We’ve seen this more directly with turn-based RPG combat and other DnD mechanics smoothly translated, as well as the evolution to real-time action that calculates percentages, damages, etc as fast as the player can play. It can be extremely effective to take proven board/table mechanics and I wonder why it isn’t done more often.
The ‘one-more-turn’ cliche is worn out for a reason, as it’s a driving force of engagement with strategy games. The trick is constantly giving the player interesting decisions. A strategy game relies on constantly choosing the best course of action. XCOM presents challenging encounters and an almost overwhelming choice of how to proceed. Each action sends ripples to the next, creating wonderfully chaotic consequences, forcing commanders to adapt on the fly to survive.
Is RnG a good thing?
Having a success percentage for attacks increases the chaos but I believe also encourages aggressive play. If all shots hit 100% of the time, players would most likely revert to the safest strategies, fearing to put their players in positions of guaranteed danger. The RnG of attacks also causes a clenching tension before each strike as the invisible dice roll. Unlucky RnG can be frustrating, but life is also unpredictable and this leads to just as many triumphant moments as heartbreaking. It’s the commander’s job to put their soldiers in the best position to succeed.
After a short amount of time, XCOM 2 has rocketed into my top ten all-time games. That could be a silly prediction, but I don’t take games that seriously, and XCOM 2 is a damn good experience that is strangely not often copied. Perhaps it’s a niche genre that struggles to find mainstream money, but being the go-to for a genre and arguably creating a genre for yourself is a damn good start.
If you have any interest in strategy games or particularly enjoy the choices found in turn-based RPGs, do yourself a favor and get on the XCOM train.
Interesting read; particularly on your points regarding board-gaming as well as how games of this nature benefit from providing players with interesting choices from turn to turn.