January 6, 2013 12:00 PM | Konstantinos Dimopoulos / Gnome
Strategy gaming, despite being one of the most demanding genres for players and developers alike, is also one of the areas indie devs seem to excel at and gamers seem to love. What's more, 2012 was an excellent year for the tactically thinking masses indeed, what with its impressive selection of strategy offerings appearing on most platforms.
What follows are our picks of the very best strategy games of 2012 and, as you will soon discover, it's a list covering everything from RTS and turn-based games to tower-defense and rogue-like variants. It even sports some excellent freebies!
10. This Precious Land (Ishisoft) [Windows, free]
Ishisoft's This Precious Land, is a truly unique beast, as it is one of those precious few games that despite being created under the limitations of a Ludum Dare competition managed to make it into one of our top ten lists. Most probably due to it being incredibly addictive and downright beautiful (if you love your games pixelated, that is). This Precious Land, essentially a sandbox construction toy, was apparently partially inspired by games like Triple Town and Settlers. Though it can be slightly confusing in the beginning, as you come to terms with the game's rules, it will become a wonderful and most creative experience.
9. Gratuitous Tank Battles (Positech Games) [Windows, paid]
Described as "not-exactly-a-sequel" to Positech's previous masterpiece Gratuitous Space Battles, Gratuitous Tank Battles takes a more active approach to combat, blending elements from the strategy, simulation, and tower defense genres. Players can choose to play the role of defender or attacker on any map, and the game includes a built-in map editor and an online map-sharing challenge system.
One particularly interesting feature is that players can save and record replays of their attack strategies within a level, and then play against the recording as the map's defender. This should make for a most unexpected challenge, should you want to compete with something other than the game's already great AI.
8.Fieldrunners 2 (Subatomic Studios) [iOS, paid]
Fieldrunners 2 is easily the best tower defense game of 2012 for iOS and one of those games you will most probably be returning to for quite some time. Cute graphics and tons of polish aside, the game also sports 25 levels, an impressive selection of weapons to choose, dozens of different enemy types and some pretty innovative design choices such as puzzle, sudden death and multi-storied maps. What really impresses though is the excellently and rather realistically modeled swarm behaviour of the baddies.
7.Linux Tycoon (Bryan Lunduke) [Windows, Mac and Linux, free]
With Linux Tycoon being the premier and admittedly only Linux Distro Building Simulator game in the known world, it simply had to appear in our top 10. Then again it really is an excellent and most refreshingly novel game, and it's been even made available for the incredibly sensible price of nothing. So, get it and experience all the fun parts of putting a Linux distribution together without having to fully understand what you are doing. You'll be analyzing and selecting software packages, fixing bugs (no, not really), managing staff and even hunting for volunteers in no time.
6.Towns (SMP) [Windows and Mac, paid]
Towns is a rather aptly named city-builder/manager with a healthy dose of RPG features including, well, dungeons and demanding that your town does well enough to provide with fresh, healthy and strong enough crops of heroes to conquer said underground adobes. Though said features haven't been fully implemented yet and the game hasn't completely matured, it is full of promise, it does look good and it will be the closest you'll get to experiencing something like Dwarf Fortress without spending months of studying tutorials.
Oh, and the well fleshed out crafting features work brilliantly, with a pretty wide variety of tasks and tools for your poor townspeople to use. The way the economy works is also pretty impressive and chances are this will end up being one true indie classic.
5.Reprisal (reprisaluniverse) [Windows, Mac and Linux, paid]
Reprisal is Populous in almost every way and Populous is brilliant in absolutely every way. As an added bonus Reprisal is Populous tweaked for the better, sporting lovely graphics, an excellent soundtrack, a modern interface and all sorts of small additions and changes, making manipulating its big virtual world with those tiny god-fearing citizens a joy. Players are put in the role of a godlike figure in the sky and use their awe-inspiring powers to raise land from the sea, flatten mountains and perform the occasional miracle, while helping their tribe prosper and crush everyone else.
Reprisal is also available as a free browser game, but its commercial desktop version provides with some greatly enhanced music, extra maps and none of the flash version's ads.
4.War of the Human Tanks (Fruitbat Factory) [Windows, paid]
War of the Human Tanks would definitely head our top named games list of 2012, but, alas, we have prepared no such thing for you dear readers. We will though suggest you give this strategy/visual novel hybrid a go and see what you can do with its cast of armored humanoid weapons and simple yet deep RTS mechanics. The game includes over 30 maps of tactical challenges and even allows players to use resources earned from combat to purchase new abilities and upgrades between battles in what can only be described as its strategy mode.
3.Awesomenauts (Ronimo Games) [Windows, Mac, Xbox Live Arcade and PSN, paid]
League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients are as impenetrably complex as ever, but if you want the MOBA genre boiled down in an easy-to-grasp summary, Awesomenauts is definitely the game for you'd been waiting for and it will hook you in minutes. The skillful side-scrolling presentation keeps the experience fresh and frantic throughout each match and, even though the single-player element is somewhat lacking, the multiplayer mode of Awesomenauts is second to no other indie real-time strategy game.
2.Defender's Quest (Level Up Labs) [Windows, Mac and Linux, paid]
Defender's Quest is a decidedly retro-looking tower defense/RPG hybrid with obvious adventure inspirations that will, honestly and in a most humbling manner, go out of its way to make you happy. Everything can be tweaked, everything has been thought of and everything keeps getting bigger and better as the developers keep adding content and love to an already excellent game. Shockingly, not only does Defender's Quest do tower defense better than anyone else, not only do its RPG elements wonderfully blend in, but it actually manages to sport a proper story that is properly interesting and, gasp, well written.
1.FTL: Faster Than Light (Subset Games) [Windows, Mac and Linux, paid]
A top-down mix of almost all the things that make a hardcore experience so worthwhile and, uhm, hardcore, FTL, Faster Than Light to call it by its full name, is a terrific rogue-like-like that demands some serious strategic and tactical skills and can easily consume ones life. FTL is a space-faring simulation that has players dealings with the trials and tribulations of space-travel. You know, space pirates, a galactic war, super novas, tough to navigate nebulas... that sort of thing.
Intensely difficult, almost to the point of being insurmountable for some, FTL is a deeply absorbing experience offering some of the best combat mechanics ever and the best rogue-starship-commander-captain-sim experience ever.