This week's Friday Five is a fun one, as Max Edwards (@onechaptermore) shares an unusual (or is it?) perspective on strategy games. Please share your own in the comments - I suspect we all have some similar stories of alternate histories and dark Dwarven drama. (Ok, maybe not the latter.)
I never quite get on with Role Playing Games. Despite their similarities to the genre I love – they and I never quite click. Instead I like my worlds more flexible. More dynamic maybe. I like a game where no two players play the same game, where stories happen naturally, where the romance is in the telling.
I tried to write this with descriptions of the games, but it just didn’t capture it. So instead, I’m going to tell you a story. Not everyone likes dwarves, football, incest or the middle ages. But I hope you can appreciate that a game has created these stories. That they are unique to me, and yet everyone who has played them will have something similar. And that’s amazing.
Europa Universalis 3
The year is 1680. The mighty nation of Oman has spent the best part of the last 250 years conquering southern Arabia and Eastern Africa, in the name of spreading the Shi’ite religion while surrounded by heathen Sunni. To our south lies Somalia, cash rich and technologically weak. When I can, I like to steal the odd province and chunks of gold off them. When I can. The problem is that they are allied with my Northern neighbours, The Ottoman Empire. In the early 1500s they inherited Hedjaz, in modern-day Saudi Arabia. In the early 1600s they took Egypt, destroying The Mamluks and Tunis in a series of wars. They are the most powerful nation in the world, capable of fielding 125,000 troops at any one time.
All it took was a year.
My Indonesian colony had rebelled. I sent a couple of thousand troops over to quell it, and The Ottoman’s bit. All of a sudden I was at war with them in the North, flooding my African and Arabian holdings. I had 10,000 men on the Island of Bahrain, but only the capacity for 2,000 to be evacuated to Indonesia. They destroyed my navy, then destroyed those poor 10,000. Every mainland province, captured. Ethiopia, wrested from my grasp. The Mamluks, reborn in provinces that should have been mine. My nation split in two as The Ottoman’s took my coastal provinces.
1780. A war between Oman and Delhi breaks out. Britain and The Ottoman’s intercede on either side. Constantinople falls to British and Omani troops. Delhi is captured by 100,000 men, Bengali-British and Ceylonian Omanis. India becomes Shi’ite.
X-COM: UFO Defense
Death stalks Northern Ireland in mutant form. Well, Muton form anyway. I receive reports of a UFO landing there and scramble my Skyranger to deal with it before it flies away. Sgt. Thomas leads the squad. She’s back from a harrowing 18 day injury, and has packs more punch than Mohammed Ali. Sadly, she’s encumbered by rookies. Cpl. Hernandez is injured. Major Herrera never came back from Egypt.
The squad goes in, guns blazing. No thought of keeping the UFO intact, not with this many rookies. A rocket launcher blows a hole in the side of the ship, terrible 1993 graphics illustrating this with a 4 colour fireball. Sgt. Thomas goes in first.
No sign of any aliens.
Outside the ship, Mutons appear, firing at my rookies. Three die, in exchange for one Muton. Inside, Sgt. Thomas is torn – forward, and take them unprepared, or back, and ignominious retreat. She’s saved from this decision by the appearance of another Muton in the corridor behind her. In her confusion, she has turned – it shoots at her back.
Sgt. Thomas turns again, shoots it square between the eyes, and is killed as some fuel explodes nearby.
Crusader Kings 2
I’m King of Ireland. I don’t own too much, I’ve claimed the title anyway. And because I’m greedy, I want more. My daughter is married to the Duke of Galloway, who is the son of the King of Wales. The King of Wales is an invalid, and my daughter has just popped out a boy, my grandson. However, there is a problem. I need to kill off my sons, and the eldest daught, and their children, and my daughter before I die in order to have my Grandson inherit Ireland, Galloway and Wales. Oh, bugger, my daughter’s husband is third in line. More deaths.
So I set about it. Finraig meets an untimely end while out hunting. Owain is sent to the church, and then quietly murdered over dinner. But alas! My daughter des in childbirth, leaving behind a granddaughter for me.
Somehow I stay alive another 16 years. My Grandson takes over Galloway. The King of Wales dies, leaving my grandson heir to the throne. But my Grandson is barren. His heir is his sister, my granddaughter. She’s just turned 16.
My third wife ‘slips’ down the stairs.
My population has just reached 160 and the game is slowing down severely. One of the issues with Dwarf Fortress is framerate. A catsplosion occurred relatively early on, and it took a brutal butchery regime to keep the exponential rise of cats from killing my game. Tasty tasty cat shanks.
The Elves are invading. Something about me making wooden ornaments. Those pesky elves and their wood-loving ways. Below, I’m excavating a cave, and a message pops up: A forgotten beast has appeared.
Outside my fortress, crossbow wielding dwarves man my walls, shooting the determined elves. As they break down my gate, however, I send the axe-dwarves in.
Below, I activate a magma trap, sealing the forgotten beast in behind a river of magma and abandoning my team of explorer-dwarves to be eaten alive.
Above, one of my dwarf fighters is a woman. A woman. I know, right? But this is actually terrible: she’s had a baby recently, and in Dwarf Fortress’ odd perception of motherhood (okay, it’s a long-standing bug), she won’t let go of that sucker – instead she’s gone in to battle wielding her axe in one hand and kid in another. Rather inevitably, it becomes a rather unpleasant kebab on the end of an elven spear.
Below, the Forgotten Beast flies over the magma river, having munched on the explorers. Ah. It stops to admire my beautifully engraved dining hall, before feasting.
Above, the mother-fighter dwarf goes insane at the loss of her baby. She kills the dwarf nearest her, decapitating it in one blow, before turning and running for the entrance. At the sight of this, the dwarf manning my pit-trap lever freaks out, and punches the guy next to him, who is fleeing the Forgotten Beast below. Who stabs him back. And is summarily decapited by the insane mother dwarf.
The Forgotten Beast roars.
Amiens is a medium-sized northern French town. It’s fairly industrial, and a bit dull to be honest. It’s got a pretty cathedral, which is a World Heritage Site. In 1918 a battle occurred just outside the city, the first battle of the Hundred Day Offensive which led directly to the end of the First World War. In 1802 The Treaty of Amiens was signed. The ensuing peace between the British and French was the only year of peace between the two nations in over 18 years of fighting. Jules Verne lived there for thirty years, until his death in 1905.
I went there in 2012, and didn’t anywhere near these historical places. Instead I visited the Stade de la Licorne, the home ground of Amiens SC, a small football club in the French National, the country’s semi-professional third division. While there I bought a home shirt with ‘Eikrem’ on the back, and an away shirt with ‘Kossoko’ on the back.
In real life, Omar Kossoko spent one year at Amiens. They sold him five months before I bought the shirt to Auxerre.
In real life, Magnus Wolff Eikrem is an ex-Manchester United reserve player, who now plays for Cardiff via a couple of years at Molde in Norway.
In February 2018, Omar Kossoko broke his leg. As a result of this he retired as Amien’s top goalscorer ever, and a club legend.
In May 2019, Magnus Eikrem scored the third goal in the 78th minute of a 3-1 win over Toulouse. He had come on as a substitute, and taken the captain’s armband. At the end of the match, I like to imagine he was lifted on the shoulders of his teammates as he lifted the Ligue 1 trophy for the first time in Amiens history – club-captain and record appearance holder, slowly declining through age, scoring what would prove to be the winning goal in the title-winning last game of the season.
Your turn - what stories have come out of your strategy games? The Decline and Fall of the Aztec Empire? Command and She Stoops to Conquer? Please share them in the comments below!