You're probably wanting to hear about the one that intersects between "cheap" and "great", so I'll point out that Warlock: Master of the Arcane, which Ken praised highly in May, can be purchased for less than ten dollars through Steam. This is a sale that will last through June 11. Although Ken's not as much a strategy gamer as I am, I trust his judgment. I bought the game and all of its bonus content for twelve dollars and forty-seven cents.
Now, about that other great game. Distant Worlds released in 2010, terrifically ambitious and rather buggy. Like most ambitious, bug-filled games, it was easy to admire the concept while damning the execution. The game has since undergone a number of patches, and two expansions. To fully enjoy the game, you'll need to buy both expansions. That'll put you back almost seventy bucks.
What do you get for your seventy bucks? I'm glad you asked: You get one of the deepest and most enjoyable strategy games ever released. Distant Worlds is a real time (pausable, with option to control game speed) galactic empire simulator. Think Master of Orion in concept. But Master of Orion was small.
Distant Worlds is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think Master of Orion was grand strategy with its fifty star galaxies, but that's just peanuts to Distant Worlds. Distant Worlds allows the player to enter a galaxy with 1400 stars, each with multiple planets, to fight battles involving hundreds of ships against twenty opposing empires. It has everything you expect from such a game: espionage, ship design, colonization, aliens, planetary invasions, technological research, space monsters, interstellar trade, diplomacy, individual leaders such as admirals, generals, scientists, and governors. Did I mention battles involving hundreds of ships at a time?
And yet it never bogs down or overwhelms the player, because the game allows you to automate the portions of your empire you find less than stimulating, while setting parameters for the computer to follow, and to take back control at will. Typically I allow the computer to build ships and run the economy for me, while I concentrate on diplomacy, exploration, colonization, research, and really vast space battles between huge fleets.
It's not for everyone, but if the game clicks, you can play it for hundreds of hours without getting bored. Distant Worlds will occupy my hard drive for years. If you're interested, note that you'll need the two expansions to get the most out of it.
Now, on to the expensive game that, well… It's unfair to say that Diablo III sucks. It's simply dull, drab, boring, and awful. I bought it on release day, and already I never want to play it again. Leaving aside common complaints such as the auction house trivializing the acquisition of loot (the point of Diablo is that shiny loot falls out of monsters if you beat them hard enough) and the mandatory internet connection, something isn't there. And that something is fun. Oh, the game plays like Diablo, but this isn't the year 2000, and all of Blizzard's "improvements" are distractions, side-tracks from the important work of beating monsters so hard that shiny loot falls out of them.
Technology is change, and usually for the better. But not in this case. You wouldn't want a twelve year old car if you could have something brand new. With Diablo III, Blizzard has given us a 2000 Mercury Grand Marquis, stuck a huge tail fin on the back, and tried to sell it as this year's model.