The challenge of creating a good strategy game is often variety. While a puzzle can be solved to completion, strategy games are about adapting to ever changing situations and overcoming new and surprising challenges. Games like Sid Meier’s Civilization and the XCOM series excel at what they do by constantly challenging the player to change their game plan in order to overcome increasingly difficult obstacles. Strategy games quickly lose the interest of the player when they discover a “one size fits all” solution to any problem.
Combining a steampunk aesthetic, turn-based strategy, and adorable animal nobility, Steam Tactics is a cute, if somewhat empty, tactical adventure about rescuing your kingdom from a dark conspiracy. In Steam Tactics, you play as an entourage of three adventurers tasked by the queen to protect the princess and the kingdom. You take control of your team’s different airships in combat similar to the Fire Emblem series, although much simpler. Throughout the game, you’ll need to destroy squads of enemies in turn-based combat and upgrade your ships and crew using plundered resources. Each level unlocks new aspects of the story and brings you one step closer to uncovering the traitorous conspirators.
Steam Tactics features a charming cast of anthropomorphic characters each with their own side narrative. As the most renowned combat tactician in the kingdom, the queen has employed you and your crew to protect her daughter and the empire at large. As you uncover a larger conspiracy, you’ll get to know the characters more intimately. Whether it’s the familial tensions between a brave corgi nobel and his corrupt doberman cousin or the mysterious history connecting a bullfrog brigadier to the powerful inquisition, the writing in Steam Tactics brings life to these characters and gives the game that “one more turn” quality found in other popular strategy games.
Despite the cute characters and interesting story, Steam Tactics lacks much real challenge. For the most part, as long as your ships are sufficiently upgraded, you should be able to defeat any enemies without much trouble. Beyond trying to efficiently plot out your turns and movement, there isn’t much strategy involved in this strategy game. You could just as easily rush your opponents head on, as you could flank them or draw their focus. I tried balancing my team with a tank and two damage dealers, but it was unnecessary. While certain weapons deal more damage to certain enemies, and those weapons can only fire on certain spaces, the board is so small (only 6 by 8 tiles) that almost any enemy can be in range within a single turn. In practice, Steam Tactics forces the player to focus heavily on replaying levels to gather resources and upgrading their ships to be invincible rather than strategic planning.
Although combat can feel bland at times, acquiring new ships and weapons is fun and interesting. You’ll need to customize each ship’s loadout with unique weapons. This gives you a lot of control over the strengths and weaknesses of your party. While this would be more meaningful if combined with a deeper combat system, it can still be satisfying to have a plan come into action after spending a few turns designing the perfect squad.
Steam Tactics features lovely hand-drawn artwork and a unique steampunk aesthetic. This, combined with the adorable character design, means Steam Tactics is absolutely overflowing with charm. It’s impossible not to appreciate all the vision and effort that went into the visuals of this game. During combat, the game switches to a top-down view of the battlefield. Beyond the placement of a few floating rock obstacles, each battlefield is practically identical. However, enemy ships come in a variety of appearances and, while mechanically similar, it’s interesting to see the difference in ships flown by pirates, constables, and religious zealots. It can almost seem, at times, that the developers had an idea for a story and a lot of character art and the gameplay was the last thing to be discussed.
Overall, Steam Tactics lacks the depth that makes great strategy games so great. But the easy-to-learn combat, compelling narrative, and charming cast of characters guarantees at least a dozen or so hours of fun. While combat isn’t particularly challenging, upgrading your ships and acquiring new, more powerful weapons through crafting and trade is satisfying and enjoyable. While the late game provides slightly more challenge by having the player revisit more difficult versions of earlier levels, Steam Tactics is a great game for younger players looking for an easy introduction to the genre.