Let's look at some of the best tactics games released this year. No big surprises this year. It was a pretty good year overall for tactics games. The indie scene on iOS/Android and PC is thriving while consoles continue to decline in importance.
3DS/DS Winner: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2
Devil Survivor 2 was released last year in Japan and this year in North America. With the DS winding down and the 3DS just heating up, there wasn't much competition for quality 3DS/DS tactics games this year. Devil Survivor 2 managed to be the best tactics game on the 3DS/DS two years in a row. Devil Survivor 2 is a solid tactics game with a unique battle system, plenty of customization and interesting bosses. Check out my review if you haven't yet.
While I haven't played Fire Emblem: Awakening for 3DS, I don't like what I've heard of it. It's more of an open world RPG with endless stat grinding, heavy game imbalance, and dating simulation. I'll see what it's like when it's released in NA next year (thanks 3DS region lock), but I highly doubt I'll like it as much as Fire Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow.
PSP Winner: Gungnir
Gungnir is another Sting tactics game, following the Union series (Yggdra Union being the only one released in NA). The battle system is speed based and isometric 3D with height mechanics, similar to FFT or TO. However unlike FFT or TO it's a fairly hardcore and demanding tactics game with several complex and unusual systems, good game balance, rank mechanics, and a skill based scoring system.
Scoring systems and complex mechanics tend to send your average RPG player running away screaming, so it's no surprise it got a lackluster reception. Even though there's a beginner mode and you can grind, the mechanics are probably baffling to your average RPGer. I've lost count of the number of times I've read people complaining that the scoring system discouraged them from hanging around a map opening every treasure chest. That's the point of the scoring system - to encourage you to make strategic choices. Of course you can still do game over grinding, but level ups mean very little and your score will suffer if you grind, as it should. In any case, I enjoyed it.
PSP Runner Up: 2nd Super Robot Wars Z Saisei-hen
More Super Robot Wars, what a surprise! While this SRW is very easy, it's still pretty fun. I was able to enjoy it doing a no upgrade run with low turn counts. Its game mechanics are not as in depth, balanced, skill based, or polished as Gungnir, but few tactics games are.
PC Winner: XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a solid tactics game that brings a much simplified version of the original X-Com to modern day gaming. While I think it's a good game, I also think it has been overhyped by people who turn a blind eye to other good and/or challenging PC tactics games out there, let alone other console tactics games. I've written a detailed review that you can find here if you want my detailed opinion.
Honestly after beating the game on Classic Ironman and Impossible I haven't gone back to it - it just doesn't have the longevity the original had. The added DLC missions have not motivated me to play the campaign again to experience them. It would have been nice if they were also available as stand alone missions.
PC Runner Up: Battle Academy: Operation Sealion
Battle Academy is one of my favorite PC tactics games, right next to Panzer General, Panzer Corps, and Elven Legacy. Operation Sealion is another great campaign that is more challenging than previous ones, tasking you with defending a World War 2 Britian against a theoretical German invasion. Panzer Corps - Afrika Corps expansion also looks good although I haven't gotten into it yet.
PS3/360/Wii Winner: 2nd Super Robot Wars OG
Aside from some moe games from Systemsoft, home consoles continue to get almost no tactics game attention. The one exception this year was 2nd Super Robot Wars OG, the first SRW game in 720p resolution. It easily has the best 2D animations of any tactics game.
While it leans on the easy side and has a couple of filler stages, the last couple stages aren't quite a cakewalk. 2nd SRW has more depth than usual with the twin system where you pair two units together into a group. There's lots of room for tweaking and optimizing a party setup. Turn counts are protected against game over grinding, and when you combine turn counts with the ex-hard difficulty mode you might find some challenge. SRW is still mostly about giant robots violently smacking eachother around, but it's a fun game.
iOS Winner: Hero Academy
Hero Academy sets the standard for asynchronous multiplayer PvP tactics games, which have become all the rage on mobile devices these days. It has fast paced combat, pretty good UI, and makes money selling character packs rather than heavy handed microtransactions. Hero Academy is also available for PC on Steam.
iOS Runner Up: Battle Academy for iPad
Battle Academy for iPad is a bit pricey at $19.99 on the app store, but you won't find a better full fledged tactics game experience on your iPad. I don't own an iPad but if you do you should pick this game up despite the price. I mean you paid $600 for a tablet already, right?
That's it for 2012. Thanks for reading.