I seem to be a sucker for pastimes that everyone else has thrown away. Wargaming is effectively dead. Comics as we know them are dying.

But I still play wargames. I still buy comics (as money allows). I still play turn-based computer games.

Things like Advance Wars show that that last one isn’t really in big trouble. But the vocal majority of gamers will barely slow down long enough to say ‘Huh, you play that?’ when confronted with a died-in-the-wool turned-based strategy gamer. Some of the most influential computer games ever made are turn-based, but it feels like they are passed over on a lot of ‘Top 10’ lists. (And if they are on there then there’s a chorus of complaints about it….)

So when someone posted a question of ‘All my friends only want to play RTS and FPS games, why do we still do this?’ I marshaled my thoughts, and tried to get at the issue:

‘Real-time’ games have been around as long as video games. Pong, and every other arcade game, is, if you think about it, ‘real-time’. Going back further, while Poker, Chess and all their ilk use turns, sports are games too, and they have all the same traits of real-time games.

If you consider the yearly earning power of a sports superstar versus, say, Parker Brothers (the company), the gap between these two sides is nothing new. Actually, what was new was that turn-based (as a category) could generally keep up with the arcade style games on the computer. That changed back to the standard when computers got powerful enough to support the creation of the real-time strategy and first-person shooter genres.

These days, of course, the complexity of all games is mind-bogglingly huge. FPS and RTS, the two big winners on the PC have several advantages over traditional TBS games. They’re generally very fast to get into, and the action gets going immediately. Both of these types are also typically short games. You can easily get in several rounds in an afternoon. Game not going well? You’ll get another chance.

In the console world, the big winners tend to move towards fighting games (which is really a distant cousin of FPS), and RPGs. RPGs are much longer (indeed on a scale with TBS, or longer). But once again, they tend to spend a lot of effort on immersing you into the world (through the graphics), and the action gets started pretty fast (some even dump you into combat straight off).

Turn-based strategy tends towards a high level of abstraction, and a lot of the action is removed from any sense of immediacy. They proceed slowly at first, and never really produce the ‘now, now, now’ adrenaline rush of most other game types. This eliminates the vicarious thrill and removes the action to the higher thought processes. Not good when all you want to do is kill your frustrations by proxy….

Okay, now that I’ve shown why I’m in the minority… let’s see if I can grope my way towards an answer to the original question.

All games deal with resource management in one form or another. RTS often do this overtly, with Tiberium/gold/metal or whatever. Your units, and their ability to control/damage/influence is another form of resource. Also, your attention is a resource that must be managed. I admit that one of the things I don’t like about RTS is that constant knowledge that there are other things I should also be doing and paying attention to. I like my intelligence to be the resource, not my attention or physical skills (I have a sucky Dex score).

I’m not the kind to ponder over a chess board for hours, but I do like the fact when I’m done with a turn I’m DONE. I’ve thought about everything there is to think about it (and if not, it’s my fault, not the game’s), and all my plans are going forward because I paid attention to them all. In the long run, they aren’t necessarily good frustration killers either, as I’m likely to get frustrated with my problems with the game.

TBS also has the broadest range of subjects. I’m not always in the mood to fight a skirmish. With all the base building and action in the world, RTS games cannot show anything past about the level of a company on each side. [Well, technically they could, but they’d have to break out of the ‘1 man = 1 man’ mold. But Europa Universalis is far from what anyone thinks of as an RTS….] TBS can range from this scale (Fantasy General) to star spanning empires (Master of Orion, et al). Also the time issues allow for more complex interactions like economics, trade and diplomacy that the time-starved RTS doesn’t dare provide.

Maybe, my interests are just too broad to be contained within the narrow compass of the existing RTS genre. I want to conquer the world, not some little map. (Hmm… or maybe just my megalomania is too broad….)

I really think the time required is a bigger culprit than most people give credit for. Games have continuously gotten larger, and in the TBS realm, this means longer. Many current TBS games are well past what wargaming would have called a ‘monster game’. If I just want to blow an afternoon, I either have to go back to the mid-’80s, or pull out an RTS.