Unrealistic Strategy Games (A Gamer’s Rant)

Photo by John Petalcurin on Pexels.com (Just to clarify, this isn’t my setup)

I love strategy games. The first computer game I bought was a Turn Based Strategy (TBS) game titled, Star Trek: Birth of the Federation. I grew up on that, and several Real Time Strategy (RTS) games like Star Trek Armada, and Command & Conquer (Red Alert universe). I tend to enjoy TBS games more than the fast paced and mission oriented RTS titles. Turn based games allow a player to slowly build up an empire and can last over a month before completing a game session by conquering the world or galaxy.

Unfortunately, newer titles have become overzealous with their attempts to improve gameplay by trying to be more realistic. They’ve added some features to several strategy franchises and their heavy-handedness is taking the joy out of strategy games in the process. The most problematic features are: war weariness, warmongering, vassalization, size penalties, and Warmongering.

War Weariness and War Exhaustion

Civilization VI is one of the recently released games to implement war weariness and punishes the player by spawning “rebel partisans” near your capital to wreaking havoc on your supposedly safe infrastructure in the heart of your empire. Similarly, Europa Universalis has the same concept known as “war exhaustion”. War exhaustion will cause the revolt risk to increase to a point a rebel army will spawn in a province and attack your empire. These new mechanics don’t make sense and it’s unrealistic to penalize a player’s empire for winning a war with little to no casualties!

Take World War II as an example. Germany was conquering all of Europe with hardly any losses and German citizens were as happy as can be, and were volunteering to help with the war effort. Germany only suffered slight war weariness when its forces were stopped on the western front. But Hitler ended up making the stupid decision of opening a 2nd front in the east by attacking the Soviets. War weariness only became an issue when Germany’s forces were being driven back into the homeland.

Another example are the Mongol invasions. Around 1200, the Mongolians conquered pretty much all of present-day China, half of Siberia, parts of the Middle East, and took Eastern-Europe. They went as far west as the border of Germany and as far east as the Sea of Japan. The worst things the Mongolians faced were local revolts on the fringes of their empire, and insurrections caused by lack of communication and confusion regarding the successorship of the dynasty. There wasn’t any war weariness in their expansion, except the limits brought on by their supply chain and the lack of communication with the Khan and governmental bureaucracy.

Although, war weariness may have played a role while Alexander the Great was conquering the known world. This is seen when his generals mutinied during the campaign in India. We don’t have record of any major unrest in Greece caused by his war campaigns, specifically. Most of the historical books I’ve read indicate that unrest against Alexander’s rule came from him moving his capitol out of Greece and him snubbing his nose at Greek religion and customs by adopting those from barbarians.

Why do game developers think it’s a good idea to penalize the player for being good at waging war by causing the player’s citizens revolt for no realistic reason at all? It makes no sense!

We’re conquering the world with little to no casualties and those citizens should be happy! Why are they revolting instead of helping with the war effort?

Vassalization

I first encountered the concept of vassalization while playing Europa Universalis III and hated it. Vassalization is defined by Paradox Wikis as: “A vassal country is a country, a client state, that is subject to the rule of a foreign country.” This sounds okay on paper, but the game mechanics are horribly flawed and incredibly unrealistic.

In order to expand and “win” the game you need to expand and conquer to become a powerful empire. You can do this either diplomatically or militaristically. Unfortunately, your new acquisitions are vassals. These provinces give up some of their taxes and share their fog of war. They also have the ability to do whatever they want, including turning around to attack your empire at will. There was no other way to acquire territory.

In the game, a player can fight a war and achieve total victory over an enemy country but is forced to give everything up! In order to end the war, the player must negotiate with the vanquished nation (who’s leaders are dead and buried). The best the player can hope for in the negotiation, from a completely defeated nation, is to receive a few vassal provinces.

And guess what! The nation you defeated is back!

How is that possible?!

Aside from the Earth-Minbari War on Babylon 5, in what universe do you conquer an entire nation, only to give it all up?!

IT

MAKES

NO

SENSE

!!!

I was interested in one of their newer games, but wanted to avoid vassalization. I asked in the game’s forum if it had the same unrealistic method of conquest. A representative of the developer not only confirmed the game had the feature, but also stated that I may not like many of their other titles. This response and my prior experience with Europa Universalis III, helped me to decide to “ignore” the entire developer on Steam. You probably can’t pay me to play another one of their games.

Thankfully, Paradox Interactive is the only developer I’ve seen with vassalization… so far.

Size Penalties

How can it be realistic to penalize an empire for being too large? The size penalties newer games employ are formulated to punish the player for each additional city or territory they control as a vassal or puppet, or own outright, by negatively affecting morale, productivity, and research.

Civilization VI is plagued by this concept. I think Civilization V had a size penalty too, but I don’t remember it being as big of a problem as with Civ 6.

How do you rationalize a longer development time of technologies or longer build times for World Wonders based on size? If anything, the time-cost to research or build a wonder should be reduced because of the manpower and resources a larger empire can commit to such projects.

Morale is a bit different. I can see how during ancient times fringe territories could be disenfranchised by being so far away from the cultural and political capital of the empire. Total War: Rome II did a great job implementing this form of morale penalization. However, most terrestrial (Earth-based) TBS games apply this penalty to the whole empire, and that doesn’t make sense at all.

I think the morale penalty should be greatly reduced with the new technologies like the telegraph or radio, and then reduced to near nothing when the internet is researched.

If we’re going to penalize the player’s empire for being too large, it would make sense to apply an economic penalty caused by corruption and bureaucracy. But such a penalty would need to be added with care and the player should be able to reduce the effects with new technologies or laws.

Warmongering & Diplomacy

Warmongering is a game mechanic that imposes diplomatic penalties for waging wars and conquering cities. I’ve experienced this in the most recent Civilization games (Civ: 5 & 6) but have noticed it in other turn-based games as well. The mechanics for warmongering are broken across most games.

Thankfully, the penalties aren’t a major problem when it comes to managing your own personal empire. You don’t suffer any production or immediate economic penalties, but they do have a bearing on your international negotiations. The warmongering penalties are punishing players for fighting defensive wars and for merely retaliating against NPC aggression.

For example, I hardly ever start wars against other empires (NPCs) until around 1500 CE. Before that time, almost every single war I fight is caused by some NPC empire who thinks they can conquer my empire. Sometimes the NPCs will gang up on me and World War I will start around 1200 CE. How can you be a “warmonger” if you’re only defending your country, and retaliating by conquering those who sought to conquer you?

The game mechanics should be altered to remove the warmongering penalty for fighting a war that was not declared by the player. This will allow the player to recoup any losses during the initial assault and retaliate against the invasion by conquering some of the attacking nation(s)’s cities. Retaliation of this nature is commonly seen throughout history.

If there must be a warmongering penalty for conquering enemy cities as the victim of a war declaration, then it should happen only after the player conquers a certain percentage of enemy cities. Let’s use 50% as an example. I remember most of the empires that warred against me early in the game had about 4-6 cities. This would allow the player to punish the attackers by, taking 2-3 cities without incurring any diplomatic penalty. Should the player decide to conquer more cities, the player runs the risk of being seen as a warmonger, and the penalty should apply for the extra cities being conquered. This is important because a ruler who truly is just retaliating against another empire’s aggression should reasonably try negotiating for peace.

Unfortunately, diplomacy in these games is broken as well, and NPCs tend to be unreasonable during negotiations. I mean, come on, how can an empire with no way to defend itself not agree to a peace or truce treaty? Sometimes the NPCs have the gall to demand cities in exchange for ending a war they are losing!

I’d also like to clarify that I don’t demand anything unreasonable from the aggressive empire if I initiate the truce/peace request. However, if the NPC initiates the negotiations while I’m attacking a city, I’ll demand the city I’m almost done conquering, or I’ll demand another concession like money or resources. It only makes sense to negotiate like this in real life, but the broken diplomacy systems don’t operate the same way human players would think it should. Which is why being unable to reasonably end a war, is the reason many players decide to continue conquering the aggressive empires, sometimes entirely. I think in this case, the warmongering penalty should remain low or non-existent for the additional cities being conquered.

The empire will still face penalties based on its size, which should be punishment enough.

***

I’m all for improving the dynamics of a game to help players enjoy it better, but it needs to be done with a modicum of reality. If the game developers are worried about making it harder for players to take advantage of NPC empires, then they should disable the “easy” difficulty options. They shouldn’t add things to the games which don’t make sense or penalize the player for waging a great campaign when an entire planet of NPCs decides to gang up on the player by declaring war at the same time. It should never be a chore to play a game.

Video Games and Sleep

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Before I start this story, I should remind my readers that I love gaming. I’m pretty sure this story isn’t going to do the world’s perspective of us any favors, but this is a unique experience I had 2 decades ago while being sleep deprived and playing videogames.

I remember playing Medal of Honor on the PS1 during the summer between 9th and 10th grades. Daddy found a new girlfriend around that time and was spending most of the days living with her. He’d only come back to check on me and see if we needed groceries, and to spend the weekends with me and my sister when it was her weekend to live with us.

  • I could have a boyfriend come over and umm… “play”.
  • I could eat what I want.
  • I could go to bed when I wanted.
  • I could listen to music and watch TV however loudly I desired.

I had a blast!

Someone gave me a Medal of Honor game around my birthday, so when my dad left to go visit his new girlfriend, I started playing it… nonstop. I went from level to level, and only took breaks to: pee, drink tea, shower & brush my teeth, watch the local & world news, play with my boyfriend, and check to make sure all the doors & windows were locked (I didn’t eat much).

I did this for 3 to 4 days.

Yes, I’m sure there are players out there who can speedrun the remake in a couple hours or so, but this was the dawn of the millennium, and most games were time consuming and challenging back then. Access to cheat codes was virtually nonexistent as well since the smartest device in the house was the family’s Windows 98 PC, and getting that thing connected to the internet was a pain.

I played this game day and night. I’d get back from my boyfriend’s house in the evening and switch the TV over to my PlayStation and play. I glanced out a window once or twice and notice that it was dark as night outside, and after a couple missions, it was bright as day. I’d do my morning hygienic ritual and went back to my game.

With each mission I completed, I had a sense that I was getting closer to beating the game. I didn’t want to stop until I made it to the end. I was on the mission where I was tasked to sabotage the Nazi’s heavy water plant when I was forced to stop for sleep.

I was progressing through the level when a German soldier appeared behind me, in my house, and yelled, “Halt it Americana!”

I heard that German (or burglar) yell at me from behind, so in one swift motion I:

  1. Rolled out of the couch while taking care to push the pause button.
  2. Peeked over the edge of the couch while pointing my wireless remote as though it was a handgun.
  3. Quickly get up and ran around to the other side of the couch to check if the intruder was hiding behind it.

There were a lot of hooligans in my neighborhood, and I lived there with the looming possibility they may break in at some point. I checked and double-checked the locks on the doors and windows throughout the house, the garage, and I even checked the attic. I only decided it was time to sleep when I appeased my paranoia enough to be certain, beyond a shadow of doubt, I was the only living creature taller than 2 inches in the house.

I ended up sleeping for about a day and a half, only waking once or twice to pee and drink. I don’t remember what my dreams were specifically about while I slept, but I recall they were in PS1 graphics. Everything was cubic and angular and the people in the dreams were cartoonish.

I woke from my hibernation and did my “morning” ritual, even though I got out of bed in the afternoon. I was eager to complete my mission, and hopefully the game, so I powered up my TV and was thankful the game was still paused. I finished that mission and beat the game that day.

***

I still enjoy playing video games for hours on end, but I play in moderation and make certain gaming doesn’t interfere with any scheduled social commitments and household tasks. There’s a lot of things helping to maintain that healthy balance, such as: working 9 to 5, going to the gym, reading, writing, and the occasional social visit with friends.

Sleep also helps to keep me from gaming all night. I used to be able to stay awake all night and function the next day at work, but that changed once I hit 30. My body now requires at least 4 to 5-hours of sleep or I’ll suffer the next day. I still slip up and play until 2 or 3 AM in the morning… sometimes.