Release Date: The original Stronghold came out in 2001 from the lovely folk at Firefly Studios. In 2013, Stronghold had an HD re-release that update the game’s graphics to support more modern operating systems and higher resolutions.
Genre: A Real-Time-Strategy/ Castle-Builder / Castle Management.
Best for: More experienced players with an added interest in building and managing their own castles. It’s designed for a more realistic take on warfare and larger-scale battles than other titles.
Excels at: High Middle Ages.
Feature List: A single-player campaign with 21 story missions. Map Editor.
Stronghold is one of the most realistic games on this list. When it came out, back in 2001 it was so scarily realistic it made me think about the nature of warfare in a different light. Units’ life bars can be downed to zero in one or two archer shots if they lack any kind of battlefield protection. This put an emphasis on cautious and defensive gameplay, perfectly teaming with Strongholds’ ability to be the best castle fabricator in the business- then and now. Any want to be a Medieval architect would do well to boot up Stronghold and give its castle creation mechanics a go.
Stronghold and its subsequent predecessor are perfect at capturing a certain subsect of the military reality and that is, as the titular name implies, the siege of a castle or a fortress. Castles are synonymous with medieval times, the home to powerful lords and a testament to a kingdom’s strength and military might, and ingenuity. Castles took many different shapes and sizes, with technology and availability being the ones to influence the most on how their final forms were chiseled into History’s crust. Stronghold gives you almost every tool available to create your medieval fortress: short and tall stone walls, crenelations, and towers of different shapes and sizes for different uses (tall towers increase the archer’s range and larger ones can hold defensive siege weapons. Units are able to use their shovels to dig ditches as well as hone their spears, in fact digging and shoveling are as par for the course in military history as field battles Gates with drawbridges provide additional protection and a sense of security to the ones inside the castle walls. However, not everything can fit within the walls, farms, orchards, and wheat fields are way too big to fit, and so are quarries. This means you must prioritize what needs to be inside the castle walls and what you can afford to protect, as ventures to the countryside are a necessary nuisance to protect your economy.
The economy is not only a matter of rising number counters on the top left of your screen. Every citizen needs food and the better fed they are, the happier they get and the more taxes you can impose on them. Every resource must be stored in either a granary or a warehouse. The townspeople will then make their way to retrieve these materials and forged them into the final products, similar to games like Anno and other city builders. Swords need to be forged out of iron. A bovine must perish to provide the armorer with leather to equip the man at arms. The mill that supplies the flour to the bakeries needs wheat, etc. The list goes on. To block the enemy from getting a hold of any of these items can be highly detrimental to their capabilities of waging war, especially when each AI has a very specific playstyle that, once you figure it out, can hamper their tactics significantly.
The siege mechanics are what makes Stronghold rise amongst its peers and stand out as the best medieval castle-besieger-simulator around, more than 20 years later. Traps can be placed, firepits can be dug and hounds can be unleashed on advancing foes. On the other hand, the tunnelers and engineers’ guilds provide the attackers with an ample array of siege equipment to tackle the challenge that lies ahead. Ladders, catapults, trebuchets, siege towers, battering rams, mantlets (to protect advancing troops), and ballistas. This all means that preparation is essential before storming the enemy walls and battles are more often than not, multiple stages affairs, as castles have several redundancies imbued into their defensives (multiple walls, gates, keeps).