Strategic eXpanse #34 – Strategic Warfare Part 2

Join Nate, Oliver, Mark, Joshua and Troy as they continue to discuss Warfare in 4X games and focus on the “Arc” of a 4X games. They also discuss ideas that they’d like to see developers implement in future games with a specific focus on Winning Conditions. So come, listen and tell us what you think.


Insert Coin to continue… – 00:56

  1. Strategic eXpanse #31 – Strategic Warfare Part 1

How might we improve the Status Quo for Victory in 4X games? – 04:22

  1. Cutting off the last 1/3 of the game and orthogonal means of attack
  2. Catch-up mechanics – 11:42

Games that avoid Victory Conditions entirely and what that means? – 28:39

  1. Simulation sandbox 4X games
  2. Underdeveloped victory system in Stellaris and Achievementes in games – 30:36

Games that start to rethink the underlying approach to Victory Conditions in 4X games? – 43:25

  1. Three Moves Ahead Podcast – Episode 302: The 4X Genre
  2. Asymetric designs (player vs. game) – 44:29
  3. 4X game classification – 51:23
  4. Recalibrated / unified goals – 1:01:45

Closing thoughts – 1:15:17

  1. (Upcoming) games that do the best job?
  2. Community – what do you think? Which games do a good job in your opinion?


10 thoughts on “Strategic eXpanse #34 – Strategic Warfare Part 2

  1. Not sure that I agree that poor victory conditions are the reason that 4X games get boring in the late game. In my opinion it is instead due to fundamental issues with the core gameplay that arise in the late game.

    Basically, it is fine making a small number of important decisions, but it is not fun making loads of minor decisions (at least for most people). Without fixing this somehow, 4X games will always be much more fun in the early game than in the late game.

    Sure interesting victory conditions are nice icing on the cake, but it is fixing the core late-game 4X gameplay that matters most. Even bean-counter victory conditions would be fun, if the gameplay remained fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with you, Neil. That’s why I wrote my articles on what I believe is the Core Mechanic of 4X (links below for convenience). I believe that 4X games get boring the moment there’s nothing new to unlock. That’s why the endgames suck so much: the players have run out of new things to do.

      So here’s an idea. If developers really wanted to make a revolutionary 4X game they would include triggers for hidden content that only appears when a player (or AI) has suffered serious losses, is down to a few cities/planets, makes a new alliance, declares war, sees another faction leader destroyed, etc. When one of these things happens, the player should get a special hero, new unit types, desperation bonuses to the economy, militia units, special techs/spells that unlock new powers, new government types, late game random events that have a significant impact on the board state, etc.

      Bottom line, 4X games become boring when there’s nothing new left to do or see. So that’s the part of the design that needs attention.


      Part 1:

      Part 2:

      Liked by 1 person

    1. “Even bean-counter victory conditions would be fun, if the gameplay remained fun.”

      We’ll sure… but I think at the end of the day these things are connected. Bean counter victory conditions are predicated on snowball & rich get richer type gameplay systems, which at a certain point cease being fun in a game when it’s clear you’ve won. You could say – then the that you need to adjust when the end is triggered (making it happen sooner), but that goes rightin line with what I’m saying about the need to change the victory triggers.

      In other words, I don’t know if it’s possible to make the bean counting more fun after you’ve passed the point where it’s obvious that you’ve won. What’s the point?


      1. To my mind the problem of the game carrying on after the winner is obvious comes under victory condition problems, and is hardly unique to 4X.

        The boring late game of most 4X compared with early game is, in my opinion, more fundamentally linked to the core gameplay loop falling apart. What some call micromanagement hell. You end up making lots of little decisions each turn, rather than a small number of big ones.

        I believe that is why 4X games get boring late game. The other issues apply to almost all games and sports.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. To put it another way, I’m not denying it is worth improving victory conditions and dealing with one player being miles ahead, but that this is currently improving the icing on a cake that has gone stale, with regards 4x late game.


      3. Yes – I agree totally that we have a problem of too many small, trivial, optimization based decisions instead of making fewer but more interesting and impactful decisions. I 100% think that we designers need to tackle that head on.

        BUT – the question remains, “towards what” are we making these big interesting decisions? The traditional 4X victory systems are all based on snowball and optimization. If you are just making fewer but more consequential choices – yet that nevertheless just result in putting you in position to snowball to victory, then I don’t think those decisions will ever really be all that interesting. It’s still just optimization.

        To break away from optimization based gameplay I think you have to break away from victory conditions that are coupled to those same gameplay systems.

        I talked about this in the episode relative to boardgames: most newer boardgames have you build an “engine” and the key choice is deciding when to use the outputs to reinvest in the engine versus working towards victory. Few 4X games ever pose that choice. Reinvesting in your engine IS SIMULTANEOUSLY always working towards victory in traditional 4X games, and that link needs to be broken IMHO, and replaced something else.


      4. I see your point about 4X games ending up just being optimising for its own sake. Your suggestion about borrowing from board games is interesting. Some 4X gamers might complain that it would make things to ‘gamey’. As is touched upon in the audio, I Think that 4X games have a bit of split personality, in that they can’t make up their mind if they are games or simulations. Maybe a divorce of these two streams would help.


  2. I don’t think that more special or “boardgamey” victory systems need to feel gamey. Quite the contrary. Age of Wonders 3 seal’s victory condition is a perfect example of an alternate victory condition that is decoupled from the optimization game while fully connected to the lore and story line. Doesn’t feel gamey at all to me. Ditto for Total War Warhammer’s vortex campaign.

    That said, I definitely think 4X games have a split personality at times. In some ways I think it makes sense to embrace this difference and build a compelling game around going all in. Really, this is a divide between Paradox grand strategy games (CK2, EU4) which are very simulation driven, compared to Traditional 4X games, that are trying to be more of a fair and balanced “game” experience.

    On the other hand, I think there is the potential to unify these approaches. To make a game that is at once an interesting simulation and also provides a victory structure that is compelling and aligned with the lore. I think faction or narrative based victory conditions are a possible way to do this. Stellaris could be close if different ethics had some unique victory target to achieve (for example). Or what if in Stellaris you could win the game by being the empire or alliance that bested the galactic threat and in the process gets rewarded with the key to transcendence or something cool. Suddenly the threats are just a survival hurdle to overcome, but become a competitive race to be the one to land the final blow.


  3. Thanks for this podcast, it gave me some design ideas;
    Mainly Including the drives from the population (which are inspirations, needs, wants and projections) of the player’s faction, allowing it to know by what is driven the population of its faction.
    These drives are generated from the main drivers of the faction: industrialists, culture (via the memes and in a certain way by the policies in the game), scientists, health and instruction system, and from the military.
    In term of gameplay the drives are introduced as dynamic “objectives” (dynamic in the sense that their support from the whole faction evolve other the time and can change) that the player can follow in full, for some parts, or simply ignore them.

    I will see to design the full system which will be a core one for the future.

    Liked by 1 person


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