Going Analog

Where video game industry veterans introduce great board games to video gamers

Board games are perfecting the classical strategy of PC gaming's greats

Drop the keyboard. It's time to gather 'round the war table.

Too many robots have died under our command. And that’s not mentioning the knights, Roman legionnaires, orcs, space marines, and countless other brave souls. All it took was a single click of the mouse to send hundreds charging to their doom. And boy, was it fun.

Just over 20 years ago, strategy was the king of PC gaming. OK, simmer down shooter fans. Yes, we know you had Quake and Unreal Tournament, but boasting StarCraft, Total War, Total Annihilation, and Command & Conquer to name just a few? The sovereign genre was undisputable. 

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Those seminal series served as the vanguard, paving a tactical path forward for the genre's advancement. As such, strategy games have changed a lot over the last two decades. The era of build orders and macro planning has given way to rapid MOBA action and experimental indie takes on the format like Into the Breach and Bad North. Even on consoles, Fire Emblem is somehow crafting brilliance out of an unholy mix of visual novel and tactical battles. 

The gates to our beloved kingdom have been hurled wide to welcome fresh ideas and interest. But attempting to remind newcomers of their lineage can often feel like waving a faded photograph from the mantelpiece in the face of young, Dota-driven minds.

Back in my day you had to pay for and control the creeps yourself! You don’t know how easy you have it. 

Yes, grandad, they sigh, ushering us back to the comforting glow of a CRT monitor.

So where’s a classical strategy fan supposed to find some friends/rivals for a game or two? As it turns out, the digital realm wasn’t the only place inspired by that bountiful era of tiberium harvesting. Look across the border to the sister nation of tabletop, and old-school strategy isn’t just alive, it’s thriving

Classic strategy games PC board games

Down in the undergrowth, Root conjures a tantalizing arena to squabble over with cards and mice. Step back and you can see Scythe’s mechs stomp and churn the muddy fields of economy and efficiency. And in the night sky above, Star Wars: Rebellion mixes grand space battles with interplanetary hide-and-seek. The future is further bristling with retro-tactical nostalgia too, as Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy looks to revitalize -- and bring a desperately needed visual buff and polish to the rusting hull of -- an older classic. 

If the drive to crunch armies and minds against one another never left you, then prepare yourself to enter a new yet comfortably familiar arena. Arriving from 4X space games? Twilight Imperium and Eclipse’s countless worlds await you. Disembarking from political pc warring? Take a seat at A Game of Thrones: The Board Game. Just don’t forget your premium backstabbing knife. 

Even real-time strategy, which might seem a poor fit for the turn-based world of tabletop, has its heart and spirit stored safely within comforting cardboard. Scythe will have you perfecting build orders and production efficiency, while Root sees factions -- most of them, at least -- amassing warriors to wage war over control points and construction sites. Cry Havoc is almost explicitly influenced by RTS games of old. In the midst of miniature-based warring, base building, and upgrade researching, the turn order chops and changes to make each round a frenzy of action.

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Better yet, these games are begging to be replayed with the same, core group. In the ’90s and early 2000s, online matchmaking was little more than a dream lodged in the slow, cramped pipes of the web. Almost all the matches you’d play would be against the same folk, endlessly adapting strategies and approaches to gain the upper hand over one another. One look at Root’s tangled, asymmetrical woods and it’s clear that repeated games aren’t just a good idea, they’re a necessity. 

Provided you can cobble together a regular board gaming crew, there’s no port closer to home for PC strategists to dock their weathered navies in. Though in a time when meeting up is harder than ever, we’ve found ourselves turning to the video game adaptations of board games to get our strategy fill. There’s irony in that somewhere, but you’ll have to pry it out of the long-cold hands of Dawn of War’s Space Marines. Strategy video games might not dominate the charts and online chatter quite like they used to, but on our tables, the battle has never been so fantastically fierce.

If you’re after some suggestions of where to start, head over to our list of the best strategy board games for PC gaming nerds. Got your own ideas? Share them with us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter! And if you enjoyed this piece, you can hear more of our thoughts on the Going Analog Podcast.

When he’s not losing himself as a mercenary in Gloomhaven, Henry Stenhouse can be found gobbling up all the latest and greatest party games, then wondering why he can never find the time to actually play them with friends. Share your love of deckbuilders with him on Twitter @Fernoface or drop an email to henry@moonrock.agency.