So based on the discussions from a recent open thread on the feeling of improvement and talking current intros to CCGs, I’ve started thinking about how we think about the current wave of roguelike-likes and how that loops back into the sort of experiences people have with some strategy games (including grand strategy, 4X, even up to various solitaire[-like] games). The list of games being brought up in the open thread got me thinking about genre-mixing in the way Kerbal Space Program has that career strategic layer but also each mission launch is kinda an independent run a lot of the time (at least up until later on where you may rely on existing infrastructure already out in space to refuel etc), often bound for failure as you start the game (as an expected part of the process of learning to master the game systems). [Edit: one key difference there being the lack of RNG in KSP: even if each run out into the sandbox can feel like a perma-death fresh voyage into the unknown every time during the initial part of the game before space fills with your junk.]
When discussing Slay the Spire I found myself opening by musing on the strategy games released or going through Early Access in 2018:
…there certainly have been some great games like Mashinky building up in Early Access and BattleTech getting a full release [in 2018]. Into the Breach is another game from earlier in the year that I’ve not written about yet but is very nice. There’s something in the strategy/tactical water this year and it tastes like roguelike-likes. The genres have always been somewhat mingled, what with 4X games (or even solitaire games) being about semi-random runs which build their own story through the mechanics (and that’s where Mashinky fits in), but much of 2018’s output (They Are Billions entered Early Access at the very tail of 2017, I’m counting it) feels explicitly part of the current roguelike-like wave. Sometimes it’s unclear which side of the line games are aiming for (Frostpunk is probably going for more scenario-based rather than the endless replayability of rogue).
Obviously none of this is new. The XCOM 2: War of the Chosen strategic later in 2017 is not a million miles away from the one offered in UFO: Enemy Unknown in 1994 (itself heavily inspired by suggestions from publisher MicroProse based on the 1991 game they also published, Civilization). Back way before we were thinking about the way roguelikes had created a significant influence on other genres building somewhat explicitly in that shape.
But when we consider how these games are often played, repeatedly jumping into semi-randomised initial conditions (with lots of the subsequent material also leaning on RNG, such as the combat encounters in a Total War or X-COM building on random sub-maps) and having a “run” which often end in failure rather than finding the way to a distant win condition. No one is going to argue they meet anything like the Berlin Interpretation but when we widen out to roguelike-likes, this sure does feel like the eternal evolution of a genre that is not just being mined for procedural content & strategic layers but also responsible for keeping the flame alive that bloomed into the modern roguelike-like revival.
What do you think? Separated at birth or are these things less similar than I’m giving them credit for?