Strategy games are always a great way to spend time – as long as you have LOTS of time. It is a well known joke that Civilization and its sequels are best known for 4 words….”Just one more turn.” There are 2 types of strategy games, real time (RTS) and turn-based (TBS). Real time means that, as the name says, your opponent(s) make their moves while you do. Turn-based allows more time to plan, since you can step away from the game or study it longer, and only after you have chosen what to do will your opponent have his turn.
Here is part 1 of a 2-part overview of most strategy games available on Linux. As usual, a indicates that the game is also available for Windows, so you can play online with your friends.
8 Kingdoms – REALLY top-down although in full 3d. The camera can zoom out for a wider view. I have seen screenshots that are more at ground level, however I have no idea how to achieve that. This game is supposed to include weather effects, units that gain experience, and both single and multi-player modes. The graphics are not very detailed but I could overlook that – the main problem is that there isn’t an easy way “into” the game. Instructions or a tutorial would help a LOT. There are several single-player scenarios, including an “introduction” one, but the goals aren’t clear at all, and I had no idea what to do. The game starts in full-screen, but you can switch the setting. Music is not bad but typical. There are 4 language options, unusual for a game (English, French, Czech, Finnish) but only 3 graphics resolutions. The website mentions a map editor, but it’s only available for Windows. When I tried to check the Wiki they have, it was off-line. I would really like to try this game out, but the steep learning curve makes it not worth it.
The beginning of 8 Kingdoms’ “Introduction” scenario.
ASC (Advanced Strategic Command) – A turn-based strategy game inspired by the Battle Isle series of games (which I admit I’ve never heard of before). The game features very good graphics, 4 campaigns, including a tutorial. The game starts in full-screen mode but it’s easy to switch it to windowed, with several resolution options. Worth trying, in my opinion.
a screenshot showing the tutorial mode being played.
Battle for Wesnoth – Graphics are top-notch, as is the music. There is an in-game tutorial and an extensive wiki at the game’s website. This has definitely earned its place as one of the best strategy games – a must-play. LOTS of scenarios (16), and probably more to come. Each scenario has a gorgeous introductory scene with several slides setting up the story for the campaign you have to win. When you pick the scenario, you then choose one of 3 or 4 difficulty settings, which vary. Some later campaigns have no easy difficulty. Starts windowed but easy to change to fullscreen. Several resolutions are available should you prefer windowed mode. Highly recommended.
Learning to play Battle for Wesnoth. The tutorial is excellent, although tough.
20,000 Lightyears – This game has a tutorial. The graphics are adequate but not great. It’s not bad for a small scale strategy game. The basic idea is to defend your network of pipes and power supply against aliens who are periodically attacking your network. Only available in a windowed mode and needs Python and Pygame to run. Worth trying.
For a simple game, 20,000 Lightyears is not bad at all.
Lordsawar – This turn-based game looks promising, and claims to be a clone of Warlords II (1993 fantasy strategy game). It starts up in a window with fixed resolution (and no option to change size, although you can choose fullscreen). Clear instructions are easily available by pressing F1 to access an online manual that includes screenshots. There is music (you can adjust volume) and the graphics seem above average. Options include 3 scenarios and network play, although you need to know the hostname of the server to join in. The only way to play single player is to adjust all but one player to “computer”, and the main multiplayer is “hot seat” which is as follows: all players are in the same room, and take turns sitting at the computer to play. When each has finished her turn, she moves out of sight of the screen and the next player sits down. This game offers a Play by Mail option also, which is a good idea in my opinion. Play by Mail used to be extremely popular with turn-based games before the rise of the Internet (the 1980s…those days seem so far in the past now). This looks worth a few hours of your time – try and see if you like it. Also included when you install are 3 editors for armies, maps, and tiles. I’ll have to look around for extra maps and scenarios. (One caution: this game seems to crash on Ubuntu 11.04 when you first try to run it, but if you restart there is an option to “rescue from crash”.)
Unfortunately, this is the only window size you get for Lordsawar.
Spring – This used to be called “Total Annihilation: Spring”. You need scenarios, which are downloaded separately. It lets you play against humans or AI. When you install it, you start it up by running “SpringLobby” from the menu. Behind the main Lobby window is hidden a Newbies guide, which I didn’t even notice the first couple of times I tried to play. This guide has some (brief) instructions on how to get started. Some of them seemed to assume more knowledge than a typical Windows user might have, especially one new to using Linux. I’m not very pleased with this game’s setup, because installing scenarios isn’t simple and takes several steps (for Linux at least). I did find more than 10 scenarios at the Spring wiki, and they do seem to be quite different from each other. The graphics for this game are excellent, based on the screenshots I have seen.
(In contrast, Wesnoth’s scenarios are in the Ubuntu repositories but not installed until selected. If you install Wesnoth from the Software Manager, you can choose to install all content, or a smaller group of “popular” scenarios, in one step. Spring really ought to follow this example.)
EDIT: After posting this article, I found an old (but very useful) guide to the “Spring Engine” at a website I have found very useful and informative in the past. If Spring interests you, you might find this helpful. Just remember to update all Ubuntu references to “Natty”.
Warzone 2100 – This game was originally created and published by a game studio and it shows. Easily one of the best strategy games available, it is a RTS-type game set in the future, where your goal is to rebuild from a base in the Rocky Mountains of the USA, after a terrible mistake has devastated the world. The game has a tutorial mode, voice narration, music, and excellent graphics. The main website has lots of information about structures and the research trees you use during the game. You can play online versus others of course. Graphics settings are customizable. The game starts full-screen but can be switched to a windowed mode easily. Although the graphics require a relatively recent graphics card, you don’t need the top of the line. I highly recommend trying this game out, it’s one of my favorites.
Xconq – I can’t recommend this. It suffers from the same problem that 8 Kingdoms has, inadequate documentation. There is a manual that isn’t very clear for people who just want to play, rather than make scenarios. I didn’t see any tutorial, and figuring out how to move and what your goals are is nearly impossible. The graphics are minimal.
I just want to add a overall point which applies to all Linux games: if it seems like I’m too lazy to install scenarios (Spring) or dig up instructions (Xconq or 8 Kingdoms), well yes I am. There are plenty of well-done games for Linux. An important part of a GOOD game is to have clear instructions for newcomers, and make it as easy as you can to add modules to the basic game. Battle for Wesnoth does this quite well, and Warzone 2100 also provides plenty of documentation. If you expect people to play your game, and recommend it to friends, you want to make it fun, and easy to learn. This should not have to be pointed out.