People who say that video games will rot your brain are full of themselves. Video games have come a long way from a dot bouncing between two lines. While being good at games like Chess has long been the symbol of intelligence, there are new games that deserve just as much respect. The gaming industry has come up with games involving management of so many details and strategies that they put Chess to shame.
There’s a good reason Chess has been around for so many centuries. It’s a solidly built game that takes a sophisticated level of strategy and creative thinking to master. Even though the standard game of Chess has 32 pieces with only six different types, the possibilities for each and every game are limitless. But even a game like this can’t keep up with the advances in computing and game design theory that have emerged in the last few decades. There’s an immeasurable amount of depth and options available in modern games that would have stupefied the creators of Chess.
The game of kings will always have its place, but the future of intellectually-challenging games lies on consoles and home computers.
6. Total War: Shogun 2
Total War: Shogun 2 brings the Total War franchise back to Japan. The games in the Total War series are unique in that they mix together turn-based and real-time strategy gameplay. The turn-based mechanics come from the player acting as the leader of any of the many playable clans. The real-time aspects of the game are explored when the player takes the role of the general of the military. As the general you will be leading combat units into battle to fight against your enemies.
While the military is a huge focus in the game (it has “war” in the title, after all), there are factors in victory that don’t involve any fighting at all. Diplomacy and subterfuge are powerful tools in this game. The player can gain advantages through political means. However, one must also keep an eye on their own suffering from nonviolent means. Trading with foreigners will improve the player’s economy, but it is also likely to bring trouble. Coming into contact with these foreigners opens up your population to Christianity, which can increase religious unrest.
This game is all about building an empire and conquering your enemies. Your tools are your soldiers, your economy and your ability to plan ahead while simultaneously adapting to constantly changing situations. Not just anyone can rule Japan. Can you?
5. XCOM: Enemy Within
The updated version of the classic XCOM games is one of the most critically acclaimed titles of the last few years. This turn based strategy has been the gateway drug to strategy games for many people who weren’t around to enjoy the original games back in the 90s. In this game you play as the commander of XCOM (Extraterrestrial Combat Unit), a paramilitary organisation tasked with dealing with the alien threat. The council that runs the program gives you authority to raise a fighting force, research alien technology and provide protective satellite coverage to member countries.
The game breaks down into two major modes. The bulk of the game comes from the ground combat. You can take up to six soldier units to fight a variety of enemies.There are four basic classes of soldier and each of them has a tree of customisable perks and abilities. In addition to this, you can either genetically modify your soldiers or augment them with a mech suit, adding additional layers of strategic customisation.
When you’re not on the battlefield, you’re at your headquarters managing the global situation. You have to decide which technologies are most important for the success of your mission and which facilities need to be built in your base to support your needs. You also have to build and maintain a fleet of interceptors to shoot down alien ships and prevent them from destroying your satellites. And while all that is going on you need to keep an eye on global panic levels and what you can do to reduce them. If a country’s panic level becomes too high, then they will withdraw from the program and will cease funding. Keeping a country from pulling support involves making a series of difficult decisions where you have to weigh the various risks to your own soldiers and your relationship with other countries against the threat of losing a member nation. You are the only one who can stop the alien threat.
4. Starcraft II
Starcraft II is one of the pillars of the global professional gaming scene. The game has sold over six million copies and is known for its enormous tournaments. There’s good reason that people pay so much attention to this game.
The goal of Starcraft II is to collect resources and raise an army powerful enough to either force your opponent to surrender or to obliterate them completely. Like most games on this list, Starcraft II is just as much about managing your economy and resources as it is ordering around your combat units. You start the game with nothing but a home base and a few workers and have to build up a massive force of dozens and even hundreds of units working on the war effort. Keep in mind that this is a real time strategy, meaning that you will have to keep a running tally of every situation going on throughout the entire map while anticipating your future needs.
If you want to win, you have to start playing before the game even begins. Each map has its own advantages and disadvantages to certain styles of play and have their own strategic points of interest. A chessboard never changes, so becoming familiar with it takes hardly any effort. Starcraft II players need to be intimately familiar with several maps in order to make the most out of their match.
You play as any of the game’s three races, Terran, Protoss and Zerg. Choosing which race to play as is a critical decision, as they are all unique and come with their own units suited specifically for different situations and play-styles. You have to come up with ways to make these units work together in ways that will dominate the competition.
While XCOM: Enemy Within is a great modern update to the original games, a lot of the deeper mechanics were lost. Compared to the original XCOM games, there is a lot less on your plate in terms of base management, customisations and overall scope. The recently released Xenonauts is a love letter to the franchise that keeps the depth of the originals.
To put it simply, Xenonauts allows you much more freedom to fine tune the way you combat the alien threat. Think of it as XCOM: Enemy Within on steroids. Instead of being limited to only one base, you have the ability to build multiple bases across the globe. Once the new base is constructed, it still needs work. You decide how much space will be dedicated to different facilities including laboratories, living quarters and satellite arrays.
There are several types of customisable aircraft specialising in different types of aerial combat. You can even customise the dropships used to transport your soldiers to and from the crash sites. This is much more robust compared to XCOM: Enemy Within, where the dog-fighting boils down to building the second type of aircraft and giving it the best weapon.
By putting more decisions at the discretion of the player, it increases the amount of information the player has to keep track of. XCOM: Enemy Within made this more manageable by making a lot of the decisions somewhat autopilot. You would pick a research project, forget about it and come back in a few days to pick a new one. In Xenonauts, you can now work on multiple projects and allocate your scientific staff however you see fit. In this game, you have to constantly keep an eye on this information and update your strategy and priorities on the fly as new events occur. If you want the human race to survive you need to outsmart the alien menace.
2. Democracy 3
Leading a country can’t be that hard, can it? According to Homer Simpson all you have to do is “point the army and shoot”! Well, it turns out that it’s a lot more complicated than the fat, bald cartoon character suggested. Democracy 3 is a political simulator in which you run a country and attempt to be re-elected. You can run the country any way you like, from turning it into an educated utopia to a polluted crime-infested hellhole. But the latter might not get you the Latino vote.
Part of the fun to playing Democracy 3 is molding the country into your own vision. But to do this you need to be strategic in your decisions in order to keep the loyalty of not only your citizens but also your cabinet members. Not keeping your promises can make the country’s voters cynical and less likely to support you. You won’t get very far if you don’t have the help of your cabinet either. You have to figure out the best way to get voters on your side through policies in tax, economy, welfare, foreign policy, transport, law and order and public services. The game does a great job of portraying the complexity of making decisions on these issues.
There are a number of overlapping voter groups that you need to keep track of. Whichever ones you prioritise is up to you, but you always have to keep them in mind when making decisions. What might make environmentalists happy may make the conservatives less likely to vote for you. And don’t forget that decisions you make for one issue will impact others. Higher education means lower crime. Introducing tobacco taxes improves public health. It’s a complex network of decisions that are all connected. If you ever want to know what it feels like to run a country, then this game is for you.
1. Civilization V
Sid Meier is the master of the 4X (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) style of strategy games and Civilization V is his most recent masterpiece. In this game you play as the leader of a civilization that starts from a single city in the days before even agriculture and archery were invented. Then you grow your empire into a global force capable of building space colonies and giant death robots. This game involves a lot more than just conquering your enemy. To win you have to keep a healthy economy, make your citizens happy and manage relationships with other countries. You play against several other leaders in the game, all of whom have distinct strategies for making their own empire thrive.
There are five ways to win in Civilization V. Winning through domination involves conquering the original capital city of every other country. The science victory is awarded when a country successfully launches into space and creates a colony. The cultural method is done through influencing the culture of all other nations and building a utopia through social policies. The diplomatic victory condition comes from earning enough allies to be voted the world leader in the United Nations. And finally, one can win by having the most points by a certain date.
Any of these victories takes several hours of planning and cooperation with other nations. The player can make alliances with other countries, but these can lead to tensions with other nations and even open the player up to being double-crossed. It’s not easy ruling the world. It takes a brilliant mind.