age-of-wonders-planetfall-splash
Age of Wonders: Planetfall

15 Best Grand Strategy Games of All Time

Oh that's grand, that is.

Grand strategy games are both incredibly common and, at the same time, a rarity in the strategy genre. On the one hand, grand strategy is all about scale and breadth of systems (most 4X games can be classified as grand strategy). On the other hand, grand strategy is slowly becoming its own sub-genre mostly due to Paradox Interactive’s role in taking ownership of the sub-genre. To wade through the ambiguity and give a concrete starting point for players to latch onto, we decided to make a list of the best grand strategy games of all time with one entry per franchise.

 

The Best Grand Strategy Games

15. Dominions 5: Warriors of the Faith

Dominions 5: Warriors of the Faith
Dominions 5: Warriors of the Faith

Developer: Illwinter Game Design
Publisher: Illwinter Game Design
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux

The first of several 4X strategy games to grace the list, Dominions 5 is the most hardcore fantasy grand strategy currently on the market.

Dominions 5: Warriors of the Faith is a turn-based strategy monster of a game perfect for players who wish to command fantastical and weird armies in a setting a la Dungeons & Dragons. The number of general and faction-specific spells alone are enough to give this strategy game the title of “grand”.

Its biggest fault and what makes it the 15th entry is its incredibly steep learning curve. Though graphically not too impressive either, Dominions 5 has everything needed for a grand strategy game: army management and recruitment, massive faction diversity, research, item forging, construction, and agent management. The lack of diplomacy isn’t missed as the strategic depth of fighting on all fronts is plenty to get players engrossed in one of the best grand strategy games of all time.

 

14. Star Ruler 2

Star Ruler 2 (2015)
Star Ruler 2

Developer: Blind Mind Studios, Glacicle
Publisher: Blind Mind Studios
Platform(s): PC, Linux

In many ways, Star Ruler 2 and its direct predecessor are a lower-budget version of Paradox’s Stellaris before that game was even announced. For its modest production values, Star Ruler can give some AAA titles a run for their money. If you thought the scale of Total War battles were impressive and the number of ships zipping about in Stellaris breathtaking, then Star Ruler has this in spades on a grand scale.

Graphically speaking, the game is nothing to write home about, but it more than makes up for it with the ludicrous amount of customization players have, with the ship designer being a particular highlight. Players can tinker with modules, infrastructure, and figure out the best technology path all the while Star Ruler simulates the player’s efforts in real-time.

The game can be considered overwhelming with a relatively steep learning curve, but every strategy fan has no reason not to check this game out as it’s open source and free for anyone to download.

 

13. Knights of Honor

Knights of Honor
Knights of Honor

Developer: Black Sea Studios
Publisher: Paradox Interactive, Sunflowers Interactive, Atari Inc.
Platform(s): PC

A kind of early competitor to Creative Assembly’s flagship Total War series except in real-time, Knights of Honor is set in Medieval Europe where players select a faction and scheme and conquer their way to supremacy.

Despite the simplistic aesthetics and outdated UI, unlike some of the other older games on this list, Knights of Honor still holds up to this day, mostly due to its mechanics and fun gameplay. You might think that this is a niche forgotten game, but the series holds strong enough to be getting a sequel.

Knights of Honor stands out in its innovative construction system and successful implementation of real-time action over the more traditional turn-based model. To top it off, the developers were able to incorporate a decent tactical battle system where armies can face-off in fast-paced small-scale battles. Though time may have buried Knights of Honor in obscurity, it’s a hidden gem that incorporated many systems that would become prevalent in later grand strategy games.

 

12. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri

Developer: Firaxis Games, Westlake Interactive
Publisher: Electronic Arts, Aspyr Media, Loki Software
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux

Curiously, Civilization-style grand strategy games with a sci-fi twist are quite rare, despite the compelling mix of genre and setting. However, Firaxis’ Alpha Centauri still scratches that itch with its overall quality and first-of-a-kind systems. Even though the control scheme, graphics, and UI are quite outdated at this point, Alpha Centauri’s features and mechanics alone make the game worth checking out.

What Alpha Centauri gets right is faction diversity and the planet’s meaningful interaction with the player’s actions. This game really is the gold standard for well-defined competing political entities with distinct ideals, specialization, and victory objectives with many modern games doing their best to repeat such success.

Alpha Centauri was ahead of its time and is still an exemplar of 4X and strategy gaming in general and is one of the best grand strategy games of all time.

 

11. Sword of the Stars

Sword of the Stars (2006)
Sword of the Stars

Developer: Kerberos Productions
Publisher: Lighthouse Interactive, Paradox Interactive, Destineer
Platform(s): PC

From planetary to galactic grand strategy, Sword of the Stars is another oldie-but-goldie 4X strategy game. This won’t be the last 4X entry on the list as this game does an excellent job of highlighting the breadth of systems available to the 4X sub-genre. With Sword of the Stars in particular, the variety of features are compounded with a high degree of complexity, which gives the game a steep learning curve and engrossing decision-making.

Just like Alpha Centauri, Sword of the Stars stands out with its distinct approach to faction design and identity, extensive technology tree, and a one-of-a-kind ship designer. The ship designer also feeds into the game’s exciting real-time tactical battles and combat, something that even some of the best grand strategy games struggle with.

Ultimately, Sword of the Stars’ meticulous attention to detail and unique aesthetics make it an excellent grand strategy game.

 

10. Endless Legend

Endless Legend (2014)
Endless Legend

Developer: Amplitude Studios
Publisher: Sega, Iceberg Interactive
Platform(s): PC, macOS

Straying into science-fantasy, Endless Legend is one of, if not the most successful fantasy take on grand strategy games, taking much inspiration from the Civilization series, while innovating in several key areas.

A common theme for high-quality 4X grand strategy games is their faction diversity and Endless Legend is no different. That said, Amplitude took faction design a step further by making them not only aesthetically different, but mechanically as well, adding an element of asymmetry to the gameplay.

Endless Legend also innovates in map design with the prominent introduction of a sector system for diplomatic, economic, and construction purposes. Moreover, Amplitude added a tactical combat system (something unseen in the Civilization series), however, this feature was more mixed in its implementation. All in all, Endless Legend is one of the greatest grand strategy games for its asymmetric balance from unique faction design and incredible visual flair.

 

9. Age of Wonders: Planetfall

Age of Wonders Planetfall review 2
Age of Wonders Planetfall review 5

Developer: Triumph Studios
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One

From here on out, this list can almost be called the best Paradox games list, as they are the largest developer and publisher of grand strategy games. One such published game is Age of Wonders: Planetfall, the first foray into science-fiction for the Age of Wonders series (previous major titles had fantasy settings). Science-fiction is generally a popular setting for grand strategy games to explore due to the deep potential for mechanical depth, especially for research and combat.

As a grand strategy game, Age of Wonders: Planetfall covers all the main bases of city management, in-depth diplomacy, and a compelling albeit simplistic economics system. Where the game truly shines is in its technology and combat systems due to the insane amount of customization players have access to for strategic and tactical experimentation.

Of the grand strategy games, Age of Wonders does falter somewhat in its faction design, but it’s still one of the best sci-fi 4X grand strategy games to date.

 

8. Hearts of Iron 4

Hearts of Iron 4
Hearts of Iron 4

Developer: Paradox Development Studio
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux

The first grand strategy game directly developed by Paradox to grace this list, Hearts of Iron 4 covers the least amount of time of any grand strategy game, but it makes up for it with the sheer breadth of content. This game is also a good example of the popularity of history in grand strategy games, something Paradox excels at. The company uses various historical settings to accentuate different parts of the grand strategy experience.

Hearts of Iron 4, though highly focused on the military, is more of a logistics grand strategy game, where players will need to maximize their factory production, weapons research, and supply chains to make sure that their forces prevail in World War 2. This doesn’t mean that everything else is pushed to the wayside, however, as players have just enough flexibility to change history and select their own path to victory.

Though smaller in scope and more linear than some of Paradox’s other installments, Hearts of Iron 4 is one of the best historical grand strategy games out there.

 

7. Field of Glory: Empires

Field of Glory Empires
Field of Glory Empires

Developer: AGEod
Publisher: Slitherine Software
Platform(s): PC

From tanks and planes to legions and phalanxes, Field of Glory: Empires is a grand strategy game set in Iron Age antiquity. It can be considered a competitor to Paradox’s grand strategy titles, except in turn-based form with greater historical authenticity. Slitherine published games are generally well-regarded as historically authentic due to their background in hardcore wargaming.

Aside from simply being turn-based, Field of Glory: Empires stands out with its wide selection of factions, excellent combat system, and distinct construction and decadence system. Combat, in particular, is Empires’ strong suit as the Field of Glory series itself started as a virtual adaptation of the tabletop miniatures wargame and is only enhanced further if players own the Field of Glory 2 game to play battles manually (there is still some controversy around this feature splitting).

It may not have the same visual flair as some other grand strategy games on the list, but Field of Glory: Empires is still well worth your time.

 

6. Total War: Shogun 2

Total War shogun 2
Total War: Shogun 2

Developer: Creative Assembly
Publisher: Sega
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux

There’s so much to choose from when adapting history into grand strategy games and one of the most successful takes on Sengoku Jidai Japan is Creative Assembly’s Total War: Shogun 2. The Total War franchise as a whole, with its razor-sharp focus on war and conquest, might be a bit too focused to be considered a true grand strategy series, but there are enough varied systems to help it make the cut. Conflict, just like history, provides a lot of potential for fresh and compelling features and systems and that is where the Total War series makes its pedigree.

While Shogun 2 may not be as complex or as wide in features as some of Paradox’s grand strategy games, it has a leg up with its aesthetics, visceral combat, and character-related mechanics. Aside from the excellent real-time combat system, the role-playing lite and character development systems ground the grand strategy experience and give it a personal touch, as many games of this type can turn into soulless Excel Spreadsheet analytics games.

Because of this, Shogun 2 is not only the best Total War game, but also one of the best grand strategy games of all time.

 

5. Victoria 2

Victoria 2
Victoria 2

Developer: Paradox Development Studio
Publisher: Paradox Interactive, Virtual Programming, 1C/Snowball Studios
Platform(s): PC, macOS

Returning to the kings of grand strategy gaming, Victoria 2 has one of the most interesting and least covered time periods of history. The game takes place during the world’s 19th century Industrial Revolution and lead-up to World War 1. It also happens to be one of the most robust and well-regarded Paradox games as it’s still going strong today, especially with a recently announced sequel.

Where Hearts of Iron 4 focuses on war and logistics, Victoria does the same for economics, society, and politics. The Industrial Revolution was a period of tectonic shifts in civilization and Victoria 2 does an admirable job of illustrating economic developments, their complexities throughout the world and their impact on social dynamics.

While the game may stray too close to being a spreadsheet simulator, it’s undoubtedly captivating and earns extra points for covering an uncommon period in history.

 

4. Crusader Kings 3

Crusader Kings 3
Crusader Kings 3

Developer: Paradox Development Studio
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux

Going back nearly a millennium, Crusader Kings 3 takes place during the medieval period where the focus on economics gives way to the whims of individual characters, rulers, and vassals. The success of Crusader Kings shows just how much the personal and role-playing connection is vital to compelling grand strategy gameplay. Strategy isn’t always about number crunching and perfect rationality, but also about relationships and human emotionality.

We can sing the praises all day for the game’s deep character systems, but more importantly, it’s what these mechanics do to set this grand strategy game apart from the others. There’s plenty of spreadsheet strategy potential here, but the character-centric approach to Crusader Kings 3 gives the game huge potential for emergent story-telling and, in turn, greater player investment in the overall experience.

Though it may not be as complex in its economic systems as some of its other Paradox counterparts, Crusader Kings 3 is still one of the most engaging and story-fueled grand strategy games on the market.

 

3. Civilization 6

Civilization VI
Civilization VI

Developer: Firaxis Games, Aspyr Media
Publisher: 2K Games
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, iOS, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Android

No list would be complete without discussing the Civilization series in some way, and Civilization 6 is the best representative of the series as a whole (though Civ 5 is just as worth checking out). Civilization still holds strong due to its rock solid premise of taking a culture from the Stone Age all the way to the modern day. Though the game may not incorporate explicit role-playing systems, the potential for emergent storytelling is still there, which only adds to the experience.

Unlike some of the other games on the list, which can get overwhelming and exhausting, Civilization 6 retains that perfect balance where the systems at play are just complex enough for players to never get tired of optimizing their decisions, while simple enough not to bog them down in analysis paralysis. The game also happens to be a landmark for the series as a whole with the introduction of districts, refinement to city happiness, and the redesign of culture and civics (not to mention the greater emphasis on climate and geography in expansions).

The Civilization series just keeps on giving and its latest title is still one of the best grand strategy games of all time even five years after release.

 

2. Europa Universalis 4

Europa Universalis IV
Europa Universalis 4

Developer: Paradox Development Studio
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux

Europa Universalis 4 is hands down the best historical grand strategy game of all time. Just like Victoria 2, it’s another Paradox game and it also covers a less represented period of history in gaming, the Early Modern period. Centralization, colonization, conquest, and religious strife are the name of the game here.

Europa Universalis being more focused on outward expansion and conquest gives the game an element of strategic dynamism that’s lacking in games like Victoria or Crusader Kings. The fact that players can choose almost any faction, small or large, and see how far they can go or even simply take the entire world is praise in itself — there’s so much freedom and flexibility.

Europa Universalis 4’s focus on conquest has the potential of getting stale and repetitive, but the sheer mass of content is guaranteed to keep players interested for many gameplay sessions.

 

1. Stellaris

Stellaris
Stellaris

Developer: Paradox Development Studio, Tantalus Media
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S

What a surprise, the final and best grand strategy game of all time is another installment from Paradox, this time returning to science-fiction with Stellaris. To simplify Stellaris’ massive scope, essentially the core of the game’s success is combining most elements found in all the previous entries on the list. Unlike its other Paradox brethren, Stellaris also happens to be a 4X game, which only lends itself to providing the game an excellent gameplay core.

Stellaris does stray a bit closer to being a spreadsheet strategy game than something like Crusader Kings, but it avoids becoming exhausting due to the sheer number of systems at play. There’s always something to do, from designing ships and planning out planetary construction, to losing yourself in the empire designer and figuring out the best path to one of the many victory types.

Stellaris embodies the dreams of science-fiction perfectly — the future of infinite possibilities — and as such is the best grand strategy game of all time.

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