Tired of Civilization VI? Try Out These Awesome Indie Strategy Games Instead

Smaller studios can offer just as much bang for your strategy buck as the big guys. Check out these indie hits!

You may have been caught up in certain other world events unfolding at the the same time and missed it, but Civilization VI was released last year to critical acclaim. It may have felt a little like an iterative release than anything fundamentally new and different, but it was certainly a polished and immediately immersive experience.

But when you've ploughed tens of hours into Sid Meier's latest and are in need of something -- anything -- else to scratch that strategy itch, what should you turn to?

Fear not. It's a question we've also asked ourselves, and while it may be easy to proffer the usual reliable list of sequels and strategy granddaddies, why not instead dip your toe into the indie market and see what gems nip at your toes?

We have a few suggestions which may appeal to you.

Planetbase

Colonising Mars may make a nice change to sending your legions out to take over the Earth, and Planetbase offers you exactly that. It's a world-building game, so there's a definite shift in pace and focus to the Civilization strategy you may be expecting. But your expertise in management and organization can definitely find a home on the Red Planet.

Starting off with enough resources to build a sizeable base, you need to direct your colonists to complete tasks within their fields of expertise -- biologist, engineer, and so on -- in order to expand. Resources are the order of the day, and you will need to generate these by building suitable structures as well as purchasing them from visiting traders, who will attempt to fleece you with ridiculously high prices. 

The initial graft required to get to a level of self-sufficiency may put some players off. It's sometimes a matter of luck whether you are able to create the right amount of materials to be able to expand, but once you get to a level of autonomy -- aided by your workers and robots, the latter of which you can build more -- the game develops into a satisfying blend of strategy and management.

Preparing for potential disasters such as meteor strikes or crop failures is prudent (as anyone who has seen The Martian will realize), and success will see you move beyond Mars to spread your colonization skills to neighboring celestial bodies. 

Madruga Works have crafted a more thoughtful alternative to the laser-heavy space battle strategy games on the market, and it may well scratch the itch of those Civ players who want a more gentle introduction to the galactic world-building genre. 

Endless Space

The sequel may have hit early access late last year, but with no confirmed  release date, it's the perfect time to take a look at the original 4X space strategy from French developer Amplitude Studios. 

Endless Space takes a more holistic view of the cosmos, giving you a level of macro-management over one of eight different races (or letting you build a custom tribe). If you're looking for high-octane space battles, then this won't be for you. Combat is a simplistic affair and while the cutscenes are beautifully rendered, the slightly distant approach to battles won't appeal to everyone.

Yet, if you're in the market for a tightly executed sim that allows you to colonise, produce, expand and build, you can do far worse than this one. The interface is intuitive and uncluttered, notifying you of important events and offering helpful rollover tooltips.

The systems you intend to conquer are diverse, and the decisions you need to make are fraught -- will you forsake the development of a planet because it looks more hassle than it's worth? Doing so may mean you miss out on a resource that could cost you the game...

The Escapists

If you fancy yourself as a bit of an Andy Dufresne, then The Escapists will let you play out your very own Shawshank Redemption fantasy. As an incarcerated ne'er-do-well, you'll need your nous and a little bit of luck to escape from one of six different prisons.

Coming from a game like Civilization VI to this may seem a little jarring, but in many ways the games are complementary. Switching from the macro-management of an empire to a singularly focused task like a prison break will keep your perspective fresh. Yet, the strategic elements are still in play -- you may have a narrower purpose, but juggling the different jobs that will lead to your escape is no different than balancing the numerous goals you need to achieve for a glorious victory on the field. 

The premise is straightforward enough. Explore the prison throughout the day, making a note of potential escape routes, items that might help you get out, and people you can bribe, threaten or cajole into assisting you. The beauty of the system is that there's no single solution to get out of any prison, which gives you the flexibility to be as creative as you want. Taking imprints of keys, trading with (or stealing from) inmates, or even crafting your own means of escape -- it's all possible, as long as you make sure you hide your contraband and cover your tracks.

The variety in The Escapists is what makes it a joy to play. There are a few RPG elements to help you become more proficient in fights, more able to craft complex tools, and more speedy for those times you need to hotfoot it back to your cell. But ultimately, the game is about planning. It took Andy Dufresne nineteen years to escape incarceration. These six prisons may not take quite as long, but there's a sequel on the way so you'd better start practising.

 

Endless Legend

Back to Amplitude again, but this time in a fantasy setting and with more of a tabletop feel. Given their small size, the studio have pumped out some genuinely excellent titles -- and this fully realised and addictive entry in their catalog is no exception. 

Consider Endless Legend to be a mish-mash between the Civilization and Age of Wonders series, and you will be on the right lines. There are differing factions which grant varying bonuses such as improved technology or better bartering skills. There is a brilliantly detailed map which allows you to immediately spot areas of tactical advantage and then watch your troops battle it out, as if the intro to Game of Thrones was an actual battlefield you could interactive with.

Most importantly, like its space-themed sibling, there is a real sense of playability. Amplitude really do know how to design an interface. The AI was a little more passive than we'd have hoped for on release, but thanks to constant updates from the developers, this has since been improved. There's no substitute for playing against a human though, so if you prefer high fantasy to galactic warfare, grab a buddy and live out your Westerosian drama right here. Stellar stuff.

***

Do you have a particular favorite indie strategy game? Let us know in the comments! 

Published Jan. 29th 2017

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