I think I’ve talked before about how some strategy games provide the tools and backdrop so that my mind can come up with a story to infuse it with purpose. Games like Civilization, Master of Orion, and even the recent FTL are all great at doing this. But perhaps nothing was quite as effective as a rather unique RTS called Kohan.
Kohan came out in 2001, and as far as I’m aware, never really made it big. It did decently enough to warrant an expansion and a 2004 sequel, but I’ve never, ever heard gamers talking about it. That’s a shame, a real shame, because Kohan provided me with a different kind of game experience that I’ve been unable to get before or since.
So at its core, Kohan puts you in charge of a faction that usually starts out with one or two cities, and then tasks you with wiping the map with the other factions. Each city can be upgraded — and should, since these upgrades help support your standing armies. The armies are the true feature of the game. Each are six-person squads that you can customize (as in, which classes make up the squad — 2 tanks, 2 mages, 2 archers, that sort of thing). You can only field a certain number of squads based on the cities you own and the upgrades you’ve established.
And here’s the other interesting thing: If your squad is in territory controlled by one of your cities, it will regenerate health. If it’s behind enemy lines, then you get no regeneration. It simply demonstrates the concept of a supply train, and makes attacks on enemy cities nail-biting experiences. Defenders always get the advantage, so you have to weaken them first, then come in hard and fast before you’re ground into paste. You also had the options to entrench, to level up squads to veteran status, and so on.
Because of the squad customization, I grew attached to the different armies and would come up with little stories for them. They reminded me of fantasy novels with large-action battles taking place and strategic movements across maps.
Probably the closes analogue to Kohan would be the much larger Total War series. I liked Kohan’s perspective better, however; it was streamlined enough so that battles weren’t enormous surging messes, but detailed enough so that it was easy to pretend that each squad was much larger than six mere soldiers. Kind of a thinking-man’s RTS.