A common thing I’ve noticed in strategy games (of all types, 4X, RTS, MOBA, etc.) is that most games eventually get to a point where it is fairly clear who is going to win, and the rest of the game just becomes playing out the motions, and if the winning player/team doesn’t make a major misstep, they will win.
This is just kind of the nature of strategy games. They inherently have a “snowball” effect. The gameplay is all about setting yourself up for success over your opponents in the future, and whoever does this better in the earlier stages of the game should win in the later stages. This happens in every strategy game to some extent, even the most classic. In Chess, it becomes increasingly harder to win if your opponent takes more and more of your pieces and forces your remaining pieces into tough situations.
As I said, this is just a fundamental part of the genre, so I’d hesitate to call it a problem. However, on occasion, in these types of games, you have matches where no player/team gains a significant advantage early, and the game comes down to the last turn. In my opinion, these are the most exciting and interesting matches you can have. Furthermore, when this doesn’t happen, the late stages of the game can feel very boring for everyone involved, where the winning player is just awaiting their inevitable victory, and the losing player their inevitable demise (this can be especially unfun for the losing player, as they probably have very few options, and it is just really unlikely that they are having a good time).
So it would be cool if we could design a strategy game that avoids consistently falling into this state, right? Well, I have seen a handful of games like this, where a losing player consistently has avenues to victory, no matter how far behind they are. The issue with this is that if an upset happens (say one player was dominating the whole game, and then a losing player makes one good play at the end of the game to win), that victory can feel very unsatisfying for the winning player, as they may feel they didn’t deserve it. Similar, the player who was winning most of the game may be very unhappy, as they may feel like victory was robbed from them, and they didn’t deserve to lose. So essentially, no one is happy with the result. This approach may also make the early game less fun, as players may feel like it just doesn’t matter.
So is it possible to design a strategy game that avoids both of these issues? A game where we don’t consistently fall into a boring lategame with a forgone conclusion, and yet also keep victories feeling satisfying and deserved? Or are these issues far too fundamental to strategy gameplay to overcome?
If this question is too vague on its own, then we can focus on 4X strategy games, as those are the games I have experience with, and that I am interested in designing.