Codex Gamicus

Real-time tactics video games
Basic Information

Real-time tactics video games (RTT)[1] are tactical wargames played in real-time simulating the considerations and circumstances of operational warfare and military tactics. It is differentiated from real-time strategy gameplay by the lack of resource micromanagement and base or unit building, as well as the greater importance of individual units[1][2] and a focus on complex battlefield tactics.

Examples in different settings[]

Historical and Contemporary[]

Real-time tactics games with historical or contemporary settings generally try to recreate the tactical environment of their selected period, the most common eras and situations being the North American Civil War and European Napoleonic warfare, though ancient warfare and World War II settings are also common. Numerically they make up the bulk of the genre.

While the degree of realism is uniform, the scale of command and precise mechanics differ radically according to the period setting in keeping with the tactics of that period. So for instance, titles set in the Napoleonic Wars are often played at a company or battalion level, with players controlling groups of sometimes hundreds of soldiers as a single unit, whereas recreations of modern conflicts (such as the Iraq War) tend to offer control down to squad or even individual level.

  • The Total War series by The Creative Assembly, as exemplified by the first title, Shogun: Total War (2000), is widely-recognised for its large-scale tactical recreations of battles. Units are organised and controlled in regiments, frequently of fifty to a hundred soldiers, and the games are built to encourage the use of authentic tactics. Battles are freeform and generally take place in open country, and there are no plotted side-missions as in the Warhammer games (discussed below). Rome: Total War (2004) was praised for its impressive attention to detail.[3]
  • Sid Meier's Gettysburg! (1997) and its sequel Sid Meier's Antietam! (1998) (by Firaxis Games), set in the American Civil War, are the best-known examples of Napoleonic style simulations. Common to these games is the recreation in detail and scale of a particular set of significant or well-known battles. Using the same engine Firaxis and BreakAway Games also released Waterloo: Napoleon's Last Battle which recreates Napoleon Bonaparte's last and most famous battle of 1815. Also noteworthy is Imperial Glory (2005) by Pyro Studios which recreates the multi-polar conflicts of Europe between 1789 and 1830.
  • The Full Spectrum Warrior series (2004–) (by Pandemic Studios) is set in a fictional country similar to Iraq. The games revolve around a maximum of two fire-teams of four soldiers each, and offer engagements at a far more intimate level than the Total War series, or indeed the genre at large. It also emphasises story more than most real-time tactics titles. Despite a visual appearance similar to first-person shooters, the player does not directly control any character, instead only issuing orders to his troops. As such it qualifies as a real-time tactical game,[citation needed] and is distinct from the sub-genre of first-person shooters known as tactical shooters that incorporate some tactical aspects, such as Ubisoft's Rainbow Six series and Gearbox Software's Brothers in Arms.
  • Tom Clancy's EndWar (2008) is based on a fictional World War III in 2020 where nuclear weapons are obsolete and conventional warfare makes up the bulk of the gameplay.
  • XIII Century (latest instalment 2009) is set in the time of the Fourth to Ninth Crusades (1202—1272 CE) and features a complex battle resolution engine where each individual soldier is taken into account when determining the outcome.


While most fantasy titles bear some resemblance to a historical period (usually medieval), they also incorporate fictional creatures, areas, and/or magic, and are limited by few historical constraints.

The leading High Fantasy real-time tactics games belong to the Warhammer Fantasy Battle series. This loose series began with one of the earliest mainstream real-time tactics games, Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat (1995). While the game's depth of tactical simulation is comparable to that of Total War, it leans more toward skirmishes over epic battles, and features both unique hero characters and a tightly-authored story. The highly influential video game Myth: The Fallen Lords (1997) emphasised formation cohesion to a lesser degree than the Warhammer titles, but introduced more extensive maps.

In 2006, Warhammer: Mark of Chaos was released. Similar in kind to the two preceding Warhammer titles, it however took gameplay away from the realistic focus and fidelity of the Warhammer rules toward a more arcade- and micromanagement-oriented form. Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders and its sequel were complex and difficult games made in Korea mixing both elements of RTT and Dynasty Warriors-like action.

Recently released on PlayStation 3, Under Siege (2011 video game) is another example of tactical battles, where strategy is an interesting point to have in mind. The player is able to control a small group of heroes who fight against a huge invading army. It includes a single player campaign as well as local and online multiplayer content. The ingame editor enables the players to create and share their own maps with the world, taking advantage of the Player generated content .


Games set in the future and combining elements of science fiction obviously are not constrained by historical accuracy or even the limitations of current technology and physics. Developers thus have a freer hand in determining a game's backstory and setting. Games that are set in outer space can also add a third, vertical movement axis, thereby freeing up new tactical dimensions.

  • SEGA's Space Tactics (1980), where the player must defend five bases from invaders while being able to command each base to fire shots of their own.[4]
  • Tac/Scan (1982), where the player is in command of seven units in squadron formation, through waves of attacking enemies. The player can gain reserve units, while being able to command the units to perform various actions, including firing at enemies, getting into formation, or a "tac" maneuver.[5][6]
  • Ground Control's (2000) setting provided innovative new use of air units.
  • Starship Troopers: Terran Ascendancy (2000) is an action-oriented game based on Robert A. Heinlein's book, Starship Troopers. It is characterised by smaller and more autonomous units.
  • MechCommander 2 (2001) is notable for implementing a lightweight resource acquisition system without turning into an RTS. Players could earn 'Resource Points' at the beginning of and during a mission, but they could only expend them upon support tasks. Save for repairs and plucky on-field salvage operations, the system did not affect the player's combat forces in any way.
  • Nexus: The Jupiter Incident (2004) is set in space and replaces as a result most genre conventions (not least of which is the use of terrain for cover and mobility) with its own.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II (2009) involves commanding four of six Space Marines squads in each mission, each of which can be customised through experience points and wargear upgrades. Its predecessor, Dawn of War, was a real-time strategy game.

See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 The State of the RTS. IGN (7 April 2006). Retrieved on 14 September 2006(Article at IGN discussing their perception of RTS and related genres as of 2006. RTT is discussed as a new and not yet established genre from the publisher's perspective.)
  2. Point - CounterPoint: Resource Collection vs. Fixed Units. StrategyPlanet. Retrieved on 2007-11-04
  3. Rome: Total War Review
  4. Space Tactics at Museum of the Game
  5. Real-time tactics video games at Allgame via the Wayback Machine
  6. Tac/Scan at Museum of the Game

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