When Gameplay Had to Compensate for Lack of Graphics
Truly, the 1990s were the golden age of strategy gaming. Over the years I have dabbled in various strategy games as they came out, but nothing has ever "done it" for me the way classic games like the original Master of Orion, Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space, or the original Lords of the Realm. Newer strategy games all have much better graphics, to be sure, but they always seem to fall a bit short.
To be fair, I have found a few good ones over the years, and I burned many hours playing Galactic Civilizations II which provided a pretty close approximation of the magic of Master of Orion. But on the whole, I think that the reason those old games were so great was because they could not rely on graphics to save a less-than-excellent game. Nowadays I think that visuals can too easily become a crutch.
The good thing is, all those classic games are old enough that they're available for free, and I am now reliving my gaming glory days with my oldest son. I recently downloaded Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space and we've been playing a few turns every other day. It's available here: http://www.raceintospace.org/
If you are interested in the Soviet-US race into space this is a great game. Every launch has us on the edge of our seats wondering if it will blow up, or go according to plan. My son is learning a lot about the history of the space race too. He's just turning 8 next week but is able to grasp the game with some help from me. Great stuff.