Oh Christmas, what a time to be playing videogames. The cold wind is blowing outside, peppered by moments of rain or snow and you’re on your living room with the lights down low, with the fireplace crackling and you need to start finishing up your last year’s catalogue before indulging yourself into another Steam, GoG or whatever gaming related sales fest you attend to. So why not start by finishing or even trying some of the games in the list ahead? They are picked on a personal preference basis, not because they’re Christmas related (I mean, how the hell can you related Darkest Dungeon or Star Wars to Santa?). But because they are some of the games I usually boot up around this time of the year that I find them really good, relaxing or nostalgic. Also, at the end of each entry there are many other games to enjoy to which I cannot find the time to write about. Maybe next year?
Let’s open up this list with this Lovecraftian’up that launched around the Christmas season into early acess 2 years ago and has ever since become a widespread classic into maddening and heart-attacking turn-based tactical combat genre.
Innovative, ruthless, hard as nails and weirdly addicting Darkest Dungeon is a sure way to make yourself feel comfy on your slippers as your incompetence leads your party into a no-turning back spiral of doom.
You might also enjoy: Faster than Light; Halcyon 6; Slay the Spire (This one is really, really good!); The Banner Saga 1 and 2.
Age of Empires II
That good ol’ Age of Empires II. Boy, did that game stand the test of time or what? I would dare say it’s more actual than ever. Strategy gaming as been facing a renaissance as of late and with the next instalment in the series right around the corner what better time there is to boot a snowy map and play some Aztecs vs Mongols? Besides, AoE IV is getting ever more close!
You might also enjoy: Stronghold 1 and Crusader; Age of Mithology; Cossacks series games.
Company of Heroes 2
The second entry on the genre changing series- Company of Heroes- takes us away from the hedgerows of Normandy to the cold steppes and villages of Mother Russia! And what a better way to celebrate Christmas by stop all the weapon firing, grenade throwing and air bombing and artillery shelling non-sense and just lay all your troops by the fireplace and have a moment with them, maybe upgrade them, give them some grenades as a gift, maybe an MG42? That way you can even replenish that annoying bar that is supposed to represent cold that drains quicker than that wine bottle near your drunk uncle at your Christmas dinner table.
(I had no cool images from CoH2! Sorry!)
For real tho, after a somewhat questionable launch, by 2017 Company of Heroes 3 is a very good product and not only features the cold eastern front in Russia but also takes you to its western counterpart in the snow covered forest of the Ardennes. This genre defining RTS is something everyone should play at least once so if you have laying around your Steam library and go play and delight yourself with one of the best RTS there is.
You might also enjoy: Company of Heroes 1 and it’s expansions Opposing Fronts and Tales of Valour; any Men of War game in the series except the Vietnam focused one because, well, no one likes that one;Steel Division: Normandy 44; Any game in the Wargame series; Graviteam Tactics: Operation Star; Tank Warfare: Tunisia 1943.
Fields of Glory II
Don’t like the snowy and bone chilling weather, you say? You would rather spend your holidays lying around in the Mediterranean plains, eating bread with olive oil and drinking extremely high quality wine? Fields of Glory II got you covered! If you can stand the noise of trampling elephants, the clash of spears and shields, the moans and groans of the wounded and the freighted shouts of your troops routing away in the right flank that will, for sure, cost you the battle!
This classical turn based tactics game pretty much elaborates on the already established career of games such as Sengoku Jidai and Pike and Shot but brings those systems to a more recognizable, easily understandable setting, the Classical Period. It’s focus is on plausibility, deep tactical choice and realism, added to the fact that it is filled to the brim with content (and a new expansion just came out!) quickly ensured its place amongst the War gaming pantheon.
You might also enjoy: Pike and Shot: Campaigns; Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun; Battle Academy 1 and 2; Vietnam ’65; Afghanistan ’11; Panzer Corps; Open General; Unity of Command.
This might seem like a weird entry in this list but for some reason I always seem to associate Christmas with Power Rangers and as such Chroma Squad deserves a place on the list. To be fair, as a turn-based tactical game it isn’t very good, the simplistic mechanics and totally uninteresting campaing aspect (you’re not really a group of super heroes but a cast of actors that decide to create their own studio and you act as the director of the episodes) of it make up from some bland combat. That is until your cast assembles that Chroma mecha-thingie like you see below! Marvelous!
You might also enjoy: X-COM series; Fire Emblem series;
Who hasn’t played StarCraft, right? Well…I’m still new into this StarCraft II thingy. While I’ve heard A LOT about it, I never truly played it myself until a few weeks ago when I managed to get the entire collection for a very low price. As I lack the mechanical ability or the patient to play online RTS’s I’ve been dabbing about with the Terran campaign and so far it’s been highly successful in throwing my mind back to the days of yore when Collecting, Building, Deploying strategy games were THE shit.
If you fancy RTS missions with a a somewhat interesting even if cheesy story, some tight controls and asymmetrical factions, StarCraft II might be worth a re-install. And from the looks of it, StarCraft 1 remake might be worth a look!
You might also enjoy: Halo Wars: Definitive Edition; Homeworld Remastered Collection;
Star Wars Battlegrounds Saga
Early memories of playing Battlegrounds Saga take me back to the times when demos were available on CD-ROMs and RTS were still a thing, the 1st level puts you on the shoes of what I can assume some godly like dark force inclined non-corporeal God leading an imperial force commanded by the man itself- Darth the Vader- charging on against the rebel scum. It’s isometric view, AOE style graphics made this Star Wars RTS a blast (ahah!) to play. It’s not very tactical nor, very deep or challenging and it’s a pain to make it run properly on modern systems but if you manage to soldier trough still worth a boot!
Ah! The snow is falling peacefully in the suburbs, painting the roads and the buildings in a clear white. The cars rush to the shopping centres and the city comes alive with its citizens filling the stocking for Christmas.
Hardly any game other than SimCity 4 could evoke such feelings of amazing complexity and beauty, that inner proud of accomplishment when everything is going incredibly well and you can shut down your game knowing that tomorrow, your Sims will spend the best Christmas to date. All thanks to your amazing management and urban planning skills! This city management classic is, to this very day, the most recognizable game in the genre (sorry Cities Skylines, you come second 😉).
Why? I refuse to believe that it is because it’s an extremely complex management sim- because it isn’t- or because of its innovative game design- because it isn’t. Rather, I believe that it all comes down to the fact that it managed to capture perfectly the hollywoodesk feeling of the United States urban centres by the time it came out. Beautiful modern architecture tainted with the art deco of yore, long straight avenues filled with the sound of citizens stomping their way on the sidewalk, peppered by the occasionally distance sound of an ambulance mixed in with somewhat heavy traffic near the most crucial entrances to the commercial district. The cities looked familiar, even for Europeans like me, but most of it, they looked alive, filled to their necks with 24h non-stop activity, and somehow you can find all of that relaxing, by being far away removed from that, sitting away at your desk, snow falling outside, and you turn your pc off again, and rest assure that your Sims had the best Christmas they could have hoped for.
You might also enjoy: Cities Skylines, Planet Coaster
This one sure brings up some sweet memories of times gone by when Christmas was about the long wait until midnight, whereas kids, the hour and half between finishing dinner and waiting around watching home alone and whatever Shrek was on TV was the most painfully boring hour of the entire year. Fortunately, a relative of mine had a decent gaming pc by the time Empire Earth came out and we blasted this AOE style RTS delight for the entire evening of the 24th even to the detriment of our own gift unwrapping session. That’s how good it was! It deserves a place here just out of nostalgia!
You might also enjoy: Rise of Nations
Shogun 2 Total War (and it’s expansions)
Christmas is when a general can choose its battles, said Napoleon once, allegedly (He didn’t). The wind is blowing and the snow gently falls down on an isolated batch of road in Japan, the battle rages and it’s soon interrupted by a thundering voice that announces: “Our men flee from the batrefiiiiied! Shamefur dispray!”.
Yeah, voice acting is not the strongest part of this Shogun wannabe simulator. The Sengoku Jidai period, the gorgeous graphics and detailed units selection, historically accurate decision making, complex province management and deep tactical systems cement this entry of the Total War serious amongst the top 3. You can also role play as Tom Cruise in the Last Samurai if you want with it’s latest expansion “Fall of the Samurai”, you just need a little imagination.
You might also enjoy: Any Total War game; Ultimate General: Civil War; Supreme Ruler series; Hearts of Iron; Crusader Kings 2; Europa Universalis IV.