A Tactical Management games thread! No, I refuse to call them XCOMlikes


#1

So with rising interest in BATTLETECH and XCOM 2: War of the chosen, I thought it would be about time to make a thread about these sorts of tactical management games. Games like XCOM, BATTLETECH, Darkest Dungeon, and Massive Chalice where tactical combat is interwoven into a meta campaign where you have to manage several things at all times.

I don’t really have a goal for this thread other than wanting to talk about these games, but I’d like to introduce of few questions:

  • What should this genre be named?
  • What’s you’re favorite tactical management game?
  • What’s the best game for people who want to get into tactical management games?
  • What role should the management layer have? How much should it affect the tactics layer?
  • Is the possibility of losing the game outright a fun aspect of the genre?
  • Ironman: good or nah?
  • …Is this even a genre?

Let’s discuss!


#2

I’mma let you finish, but Jagged Alliance 2 is the best tactics game of all time


#3

One I don’t see mentioned much is The Banner Saga. I’ve always referred to games like this as Tactical RPG’s.


#4

I think Hard West qualifies and it has a really cool and unusual setting (Western + Occult horror) but dang, the “luck” mechanic really rubbed me the wrong way.


#5

… did I just walk into a 3MA episode?


#6

Does the Shadowrun Returns series count? The combat is turn-based and XCOM-like, and the out of combat gameplay involves a heavy dose of party and equipment management.


#7

Rob and I agree on a lot of things, especially things that are objectively correct, like that Jagged Alliance 2 is the best tactics game of all time.


#8

You see, I’m not sure if it does? That is an RPG with tactical combat as far as I’m concerned, whereas the games I’m thinking of are definitely strategy games through and through with a clear strategic management layer and a distinct tactical later that changes the management layer in meaningful ways.

Or maybe almost definitely genres are just an archaic way of thinking about games.


#9

Anyway, I call them tactics games, and for me these are the distinguishing characteristics of the genre:

  1. Direct control of a limited number of individuals. I’m not moving squads, platoons, companies, regiments, or divisions around. This is to distinguish it from strategy, which is on a larger scale.
  2. Positioning matters within the gamespace
  3. While an overall strategic layer is nice, it is not a necessity

Generally the assumption is that they are some sort of turn-based, but that is not a requirement. The Commandos games are excellent real time Tactics games. Final Fantasy VII is not a tactics game because it has no positioning. Final Fantasy Tactics IS a tactics game even though it has no strategic layer.

RPG elements (skills and such) are frequently included but not necessary.

The best game for someone who wants to get into tactics games is probably Into The Breach, because it represents the purest distillation of the genre that I can think of right now. Three units, planning and positioning are all-important. ITB has no extra cruft whatsoever, and that makes it a fantastic introduction. If you dig Into The Breach you may like the genre, and if you like the genre then branching out into more complex examples may be for you.

Fundamentally, tactical games are like most games, in that they are about giving you a set of tools and then presenting you with a series of puzzles that require you to use those tools well.

edit: Chess is a borderline example of a Tactics game. It is of sufficient size and complexity that I think it straddles the fence between tactics and strategy.


#10

Building off what @dogsarecool said, I think for me personally these type of games (XCOM FF Tactics) type games are grid base. That might also just be because it makes it easier for me to figure out where to position people tbh…

I remember I really liked that Tactics Ogre on the psp had a rewind feature that helped me not totally kill all my units. I haven’t played it in a really long time but it might be a decent one to start with?
I have a super big soft spot for Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced series mostly for the art but I also really liked the setting of it. Admittedly I haven’t finished the GBA or the DS one though.


#11

So I suppose this is what I’m trying to suss out. Is a tactics game with an overall strategic management layer a subgenre of tactics (one that I’m calling Tactical Managment)? Or is it even worthwhile denoting it as a genre of game? Because that’s specifically what I had in mind when I made this thread. Because while it may be perfectly fine to describe them as “games like XCOM” and leave it a that, I feel there is a diverse enough range of games in this space to treat is as an established genre of game. Though I suppose this is delving into soulslike territory.


#12

Obviously they should be called commies.


#13

I’m not sure how broad this category is - look what happened with roguelikes - but it does bleed over into RPGs and, when RTS was a thing, there were a fair few Real Time Tactics games knocking about, with little to no resource or base management. I have particularly fond memories for the original Ground Control, for example. In my personal experience though, the real-time games lean less upon the individual and impactful decisions that Into the Breach is almost entirely focused on, and they do tend to play up the management layer instead. Less life-or-death decision making, more looking for efficiencies that pay off in the longer term.

It’s hard to say what really got me on board with the genre - I’ve dabbled in a lot when I was younger, from the old x-com games, Chaos Gate, a fair few RTT and the real time stealth/puzzle focus of commandos - but I think Strategy RPGs were the gateway, Final Fantasy Tactics being the first one I played. And every so often, you would be at just the right level and squad setup, and the game would go just badly enough, that it would feel like a very roguelike, and for a few turns it would be a life-or-death struggle where every action counted - and that’s what I find the best feature of this as-yet-unnamed genre. I’ve no idea how Into the Breach would be to a complete newcomer, but it trades heavily on that exact situation.

As to ironman, I can’t say what anyone else should do. I find it a combination of a long, bad book with a great ending, and a nutritious yet horrible vegetable. If there’s a big time investment required, unless I’m playing as a kind of social thing and talking about it with other people, the prospect of everything going pear shaped over the course of a few bad missions and killing a run is too offputting. However great the individual moments of my campaign, I’m unlikely to go back.


#14

I wish the JA2 interface was a bit more user friendly. I’ve tried to get into it so many times and I really enjoy all the depth that’s there but I bounce right off the clunky interface and the difficulty almost as soon as the game starts. Also the 1.13 fan-patch/mod that makes the game playable at higher resolutions seems needlessly complex for a newcomer to the game.

As far as the genre in general, I’ve come to the conclusion that Ironman just isn’t for me. I realised this after having to restart my 3DS for the umpteenth time while playing Fire Emblem. If there is any form of authored content attached to these characters, I want to see it. FE ain’t really a management sim as these other games are.

I’m glad Ironman exists, I just don’t have the time for it.


#15

I found Invisible Inc pacing of a campaign great, a run can be done in 7 hours or so if successful and has a less linear progression of upgrades.


#16

Ooh, yeah, Invisible Inc is also a good example of a game ditching the dice rolls and going for a more puzzly type of challenge than the unpredictability and risk of something like x-com.


#17

Sorry to necro this thread, but the 3 moves ahead podcast released an episode on tactical management games this week and it’s a fantastic discussion!


#18

While we’re necromancing, Fort Triumph is a recent game in this genre, with a sort of Heroes of Might and Magic strategic overworld and fantasy-XCOM combat. I played most of the first campaign chapter as it was in Early Access a while ago, and I thought it was actually pretty fun, even in that rough early state. Anyone into these should at least give it a look!

(Haven’t listened to the 3MA cast yet, maybe they mention it too?)