My pick for best classic strategy game ever simply because i have never seen such concept of gameplay in any other game. It is a fun, deep, turn based strategy game meant for hardcore strategy players only. It has a very nice graphics for 2005 game, very beautiful colors, solid unit animations and very big variety of maps which are very well designed and beautiful. Gameplay itself is superb, interesting, not hard to learn, but actually very difficult to master, especially if you suck at chess or any other turn based games. Game is solid in most aspects but gameplay is the thing that really blows you away and i m very sad that there were no sequels or remakes planned.
Let's talk about gameplay. As i said, it is a turn based strategy game but it is unique so i can't use anything for comparison so i will have to explain it in detail. There is a little background story from the previous games but it is not really important, let's just say there are 2 factions called Free Nations Union(FNU) and Phantom League, which are shown as "greens" and "reds" in the game and on the minimap. These 2 factions are at war and it is fought on multiple planets blah blah blah esentially there are no space battles but they rather fight for control of the planets(each map representing a planet with continents and border-defined countries). You play this game like you play chess, you start one game against an opponent and you either win, loose or draw the game and there is no campaign or anything like that, just online 1vs1 matches, which can be spectated by anyone and you can always get a replay of a game since game and official website preserves every single match.
Now, the details of gameplay. You start a game on one of many maps in the game as one of 2 previously mentioned factions. The water and terrain of the map is defined by a hex grid which defines the movement of units. Map itself is a planet, so there are many countries on it which are divided into 3 categories: Low, Medium and High Economy Countries. Most of them are neutral and marked gray on the map, and the main feature of gameplay are your secret allies which you can disclose one per turn. You have a bunch of neutral countries and your secret allies, who appear as just another neutral one to your enemy and vice versa. Depending on size of map and agreed settings of the game, there will be a variable number of allies. You both get the same number of Low, Medium and High Economy allies, which disposition on the map is different in every match. Countries are featureless, only features being its variety of terrain and their capitals. Capitals are cruical to controlling the country and it's revenue and serve as airfields(every capital can house 3 bombers).
In turn 1, you disclose your first ally and purchase some units depending on the economy of your ally, Low gives you 8$, Medium - 12$ and High 18$ and their revenue per turn is 2$, 3$ and 4$ respectively. Victory condition is set by a balance ratio which is 0% at the start of the game but changes + or - according to the situation on the map - size of opposing armies, amount of fully controlled countries, allies still standing, number of countries still giving revenue(yes, the money eventually drains out, after how long is agreed by players prior to game). When you reach positive 100% it means that you have utterly destroyed your enemy and you win, but usually players preffer to oppose you as long as they have a winning chance but once you gain the absolute initiative they surrender, but still a lot of twists, ups and catastrophic downs may happen if you are not careful or you play against a competent strategist.
So, in turn 1 both you and your opponent disclose your first allies with Phantom League player moving first. First thing you are going to do is invade a neutral country by crossing it's border with your units and drive for their capital. None of the neutral countries have an army BUT once you cross the border they immediately declare allegiance to your opponent and their gray borders are now contested with green and red meaning there is a battle going on for this country. Now, the attacked country, whether ally or neutral can deploy "guerilla" forces who are just like regular units but they get to strike first at the invaders. However, a country may deploy these only once in a game and they serve various purposes: sneak attacks on valuable enemy units, cutting off the enemy's line of retreat before you send reinforcements or most often as cannon fodder. Low EC will get only 4$ guerilla budget, Medium EC 6$ and High EC 8$ so it may appear that you can't do much with it but you can, for example if the attacked neutral country was your secret ally you can still disclose it and spend additional money, adequate to the economy of the country, to buy more units and together with guerrila units surround the invading force, cutting them off and eventually destroying them meaning not only did your opponent loose an entire task force, his own ally is now vulnerable to attack as most of the countries have long, extensive borders which require couple of turns of revenue to properly block with units and form some kind of defence, this is one example how guerilla forces could be used other than simply holding off the enemy as long as possible. Capturing the capital of the country is the ultimate goal of invasion, but it is equally important to control the rest of the country as well because you will get no revenue as long as there are any enemy units within the borders of the country.
This is actually the very basic explanation how the gameplay works, i haven't talked at all about units, terrain, army branches and specialities, balance of power between the 2 factions, how do you fight, turn phases, the fact that there is no fog of war and how that affects the gameplay...but, if you are not already intrigued by this unique concept then it is not necessary for me to prolong this review.
It's developer, Wargaming.net, kinda abandoned it but it still has a couple of hundred loyal fans who play it regularly so you won't be lacking oponents since this is multiplayer-only game(with exception of playing against AI bots). I have played other games from the series as well but this one i have played for thousands of hours before i bought the Steam version and i will tell you again, this is not a game for people who occasionaly play some strategy games like C&C, this is meant for hardcore strategists who win by taking their time and devising a global strategy instead of clicking as fast as possible to produce as many units as possible(don't get me wrong i like C&C but this is a completely different game for a different community of gamers).
If you are not finding my reccomendation enough and are having a tough time deciding whether to buy the game or not, try demo but don't expect much from it because it is poorly designed, almost as poorly as the game was advertised(which caused it's downfall), but again i have reccomended this game to many of my friends who are grand strategy fans and they loved it, so if you are one of those i can promise you, you will not be dissapointed...