Where is the Strategy in RTS?

Jan 20, 2015 | 2 Votes by GamingApe 8.5 rate Your vote
Many games fancy themselves with big and flattering descriptions, one of those is “RTS”, or real-time strategy. We researched the topic for you, so let’s take a moment and discuss this huge niche of games. WWGDB - Where is the Strategy in RTS?

RTS is one of the biggest game genres currently existing in the games industry. Covering a huge variety of games such as Starcraft, through Anno to Clash of Clans. All of those are considered a “RTS” game, but each of them is a completely different game from the others in visuals, user experience and gameplay.

The Abbreviation RTS stands for Real-Time Strategy, quite a vague definition that gives us a vast area to play within. So what we have so far is there needs to be something we think about in advance (Strategy), and it needs to happen relatively “now” (Real-time).

But wait, some of these games don’t really offer us anything to think about, right? Or their “Real-time” is not quite “now”. So how come they pride themselves with this title?
First of all, to understand this game genre we will have to break it down to the different types of RTS games out there. We can divide them to 3 main categories: Micro Management, Macro Management and Resource Management.

Micro Management
In this kind of games, you control every little aspects of stuff. The movement of a single soldiers, placing a building precisely in a certain spot, you will need to gather exactly 5 pieces of wood and run away, etc. It is best described as a tactical game. You need to strategize an immediate plan to achieve a very specific goal while being precise.

A good example of this would be Red Alert. Red Alert’s plot in set in our time, when World War 3 broke between the still remaining Soviet Union and the Liberal West. In the game you build an army and need to defeat the opposing team or teams. You do so by sending troops that you control individually or by a small group, and need, in real time, to instruct them how to destroy your enemy’s units and buildings. After you do so – you won and the game is over.

red alert



Macro Management
In this RTS category, you control a nation, corporate company or other huge group. You never go down to little details, only the mere numbers of them. You know you control 145,000 soldiers, you produce 5000 gold per day and that your defense is over 9000. But you don’t control the soldiers themselves. For example: You order your “general” to enlist 3% more civilians, and you construct barracks “somewhere”. You have no actual control over the barracks or soldiers and usually, there is no graphic representation for the amounts of resources you control. You strategize mostly the number of things you possess and what to build in the limited territory you own.

An example for this category might be Desert Operations. In this game, you are a leader of your own modern nation and need to defend it from other players in the world (the game server). You do so by constructing buildings, ordering military forces to defend or attack against other players.
After sending your army, you have to wait (in real-time) a number of minutes to days until the mission successes or fails, then you gain control of the army you sent once more, and you can plan your next attack or fortify against the upcoming retaliation.
Usually, in this kind of games, there is an arbitrary goal you have to achieve if there is any. “Be the most powerful nation” or “survive until the year 2050”.

desert operations



Resource Management
The mechanics of this kind of game changes a lot from game to game, so it’s hard to define them. You are assigned an amount of resources or you product/harvest an amount that you need to utilize in the best way possible. For example: you get 10,000 coins, with them you will need to create the best hero, and with that hero – defeat all other heroes.
Or another example: you need to crop coins from your buildings every few hours, to unlock a new building that appears only for a short time.
You might need other skills in the game, you might actually need to fight with the hero you have build, or send an army somewhere with the building you constructed. The Strategy part isn’t in the battle or actions you did, it was in the planning phase you had when you allocated the currency you possessed.

An example of this kind of game is Hero Zero, in which you build a superhero character, give it special powers and choose how to divide coins you receive from battles and other actions to power-up your superhero.

Hero Zero



As you can see, these games are quite different. Sometimes it is hard finding the silver lining separating the different types. Some games merge elements from 2 or more types of the genre, and sometimes even elements from Roleplaying games, action games and more.

I myself think that Micro Management RTS should be considered a different category than Macro and Resource management games. While the first is an action-oriented tactical game that puts emphasis on graphics and fills you with adrenaline, the latter are more relaxed, more calculated games that focuses on construction and “farming” and usually has less impressive graphics.

So we gave you a short survey of what kind of Real-time Strategy games there are out there, and what part of them is strategic exactly. If you want to try some RTS games, go up, and click on the “RTS” category, try to figure out for yourself what kind of game each of them is, and discover your personal favorite.

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