Pocket Tactics Presents: A Guide to Browser-Based Games24 Jan 2018 3
Are you looking for something to play in between meetings? Are you nostalgic for the boss button? After a game that only requires a few minutes of investment a day? Something you can bring with you on your mobile during your smoke break? Or maybe you just want something to play on your Chromebook? In any of these cases, what you may be looking for is a browser game.
Games you can play in a web browser get a bad reputation, and to be sure, there are lots and lots of useless timewasters--dull endless runners, unfunny shooting galleries, etc.--but would you believe there are also some real gems of strategy games hidden in the haystack? After I dug up backstabbr.com, a web interface for playing the classic board game Diplomacy, I got curious what other thoughtful, complex, maybe cutthroat, experiences were waiting for me behind some innocuous URL.
The place to start for original browser strategy is Iron Helmet Games, makers of the contemporary classic Neptune's Pride. They specialize in multiplayer strategy on a long time scale, but within this genre each of their games are still quite distinct. All of their games also work (fairly) well on mobile, even on a phone, so it's not to tough to go cross-platform.
Neptune's Pride is the original and best to begin with, especially if you can find a few friends to make a game, so that you can quickly end those friendships with unforgivable betrayal. The rules of this outer space empire builder are simple, but after the orders are given ships may take days to complete their routes. This leaves plenty of time for negotiating and scheming behind the scenes.
Or, if you aren't interested in never speaking to your bestie again, Blight of the Immortals lets you play a long-form cooperative game in a fairly original fantasy setting,where the traditional Tolkienian races are under siege from an army of the undead. Players have to work together to outmaneuver the horde. The game can be played very slow real-time or turn-based single-player if you don't have any friends.
Iron Helmet's last game is the fun board game Buccaneers, Bounty and Boom! which has you commanding goblin pirates and scoring points for acquiring loot and raiding villages. It can be played on several time scales, and will appeal to players looking for something closer to a Eurogame economic empire builder.
If you just want to play some boardgames, the place to be is Board Game Arena. The site is designed to be a promotional tool for lesser-known board games, so it is mostly free with a handful of premium features locked behind a paywall. A lot of the games work well in a tablet browser, but I wouldn't recommend trying to squeeze any on your phone.
Lots of the games on BGA also have official apps that are much more polished, but if you just want to give them a try or if you want something platform agnostic, the website is a great choice--often with more rules variations and expansions, for the seriously hardcore. Through the Ages is available, for instance, as well as Colt Express and Race for the Galaxy. But have you tried older games like Love Letter, a game with only 15 cards that takes 15 minutes to play? Or raced to have the most relaxing vacation in Tokaido? Or spun the competitive dungeon-crawler Dungeon Twister? These and more have excellent implementations on the web, and now even let you play in 3D!
The Grid and Hyperiums might look more like spreadsheets than strategy games, but that's part of their charm -- long-running PvP strategy MMOs for your browser. Hyperiums is a space-based economic MMO with games that last years, or maybe forever--kind of like EVE Online without the pew pew. The Grid is similar, but with a more abstract political theme. Too tiny and fiddly to play on a phone, but if you are on tablet, these are two titles that won't eat through your data plan.
Town of Salem is an interesting variation on venerable party game Werewolf (or Mafia). Take on a good or evil role and try and convince the other players to trust you. At Night, you can use your special ability to kill, protect or control other players, and during the Day phase you must vote on who to send to the gallows as a suspected Evil. Roles that could only work in a digital implementation make up for not being able to see your opponents directly.
Littlewargame is a traditional RTS with pixel graphics that will quickly get you building bases and rushing your opponents. There are a wide variety of maps and variations, so if you are itching for some Warcraft II, you could do much worse.
For something else a little lighter, you could always go for .io games, which have almost become a genre unto themselves. Lordz.io and tribs.io are a simplified massively multiplayer RTSs that are quite popular. Wanderers.io deserves some more attention, if only for its beautifully animated pixel graphics and Populous-inspired godlike gameplay that has little hooded followers hopping about to obey your disembodied hand.
The world of browser based strategy is a vast ocean and these are only the sweetest cupful of web games. What else did I miss?