Sometimes we play video games to enjoy a mindless adventure or have the life scared out of us. We seek out epic quests filled with action and tragedy, hoping to get lost in excellent writing and superb storytelling. Then, there are times where we want to challenge ourselves.
It’s not about being immersed in a narrative or getting lost in adventure. We want to test our ability to strategize and plan. That’s where this list of the best strategy games comes in.
Representing the best of the strategy genre, these titles range from punishingly difficult to accessible. Some require hours to completely understand every aspect of gameplay, while others are easier to jump into without worrying about instructions. If there is one constant among all of them, though, it’s that they perfectly define strategy gaming.
NOTE: we are only picking one entry per franchise.
The Best Strategy Games
15. Into the Breach
Developer: Subset Games Publisher: Subset Games
The stakes are high, but the battles are miniaturized in this turn-based strategy game from the team behind FTL: Faster Than Light. When the gigantic Vek arrive on a futuristic Earth, it’s up to you to man giant customizable mechs and defend humanity. Into the Breach uses procedurally generated scenarios to keep things fresh across the game’s multiple islands.
Defending Earth’s installations against the Vek requires careful planning, especially as each scenario has a turn countdown. Fail to accomplish your task by the last turn, and you’ll effectively hand the planet over to the Vek. The maps are small, but this doesn’t make the scenarios easier. In fact, it can add to the stress of planning your moves knowing the Vek are just a few squares away.
Into the Breach borrows few elements from Subset Games’ preceding title, FTL, but is largely a new experience. If you have the patience to learn the nuances of a relatively complex, but simple-looking game, you’ll understand why Into the Breach makes an impact on this list of the best strategy games.
14. Rise of Nations: Extended Edition
Developer: SkyBox Labs Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Ever wanted to take an entire nation through multiple generations, starting in an age of simple huts with straw roofs and advancing to the atomic era? Then you’ll want to install Rise of Nations right away. The Extended Edition is the high definition rerelease of the critically acclaimed real-time strategy, featuring all of the fun of the original with improvements to textures and animations.
Though the HD upgrade isn’t necessary to enjoy building an empire up from scratch, it certainly doesn’t hurt as you go from attacking buildings with fire archers to launching waves of dive bombers on thriving metropolises. Tired of the back-and-forth that doesn’t seem to be gaining you any land? Rise of Nations lets you develop and drop nuclear missiles on your opponents, resulting in a mushroom cloud of fiery destruction that’s sure to turn the tide of war.
Often compared to the Age of Empires series, Rise of Nations does well to stand on its own, even if it may fall short of the near-perfection that its competitor achieved.
Developer: New World Computing Publisher: New World Computing
Heroes of Might and Magic: A Strategic Quest is a unique take on the strategy genre. You’ll oversee a village of people, improving living conditions, building essential facilities, and upgrading your military units; but you’ll also take to the map, moving groups of units as far as their stamina takes them each turn. Carefully scout ahead to avoid getting sucked into a battle you can’t win or wander aimlessly and hope for the best.
Unlike real-time strategy games, when combat is initiated, it switches to turn-based combat where your customizable band of soldiers can auto-attack or be commanded individually. It’s far less involved than modern turn-based combat, but the simplicity of it is deceptive. A Strategic Quest isn’t the type of game you can just breeze through. As the game progresses, enemies are harder to kill, and encounters that aren’t well-planned can go awry very quickly.
What the game lacks in polish, it makes up for in content and charm.
12. Europa Universalis IV
Developer: Paradox Development Studio Publisher: Paradox Interactive
As Europa Universalis IV shows us with its level of depth, becoming a stable world power isn’t easy.
It takes patience and a clear mind. It takes understanding the value of your provinces. It takes the might of a strong military and a rich economy. All of these things come into play in this strategy game, which transports players, acting as ruler of a European nation, from the Late Middle Ages to the mid-19th century.
How you thrive as a leader is up to you. Rely solely on military strength and you’ll become a colonial superpower at the expense of rebellions and civilian unrest. Build a massive economy and your people will be happy, but neighboring provinces will surely have their eyes on your goods.
There’s a delicate balance to achieve global perfection, but Europa Universalis IV lets you teeter on the brink of tyranny and fair rule. Though it may look like Risk on the surface, Paradox Development Studio focused on providing players the choice of how they’ll want to rule – with a strong fist, with pockets filled with gold, or honor and diplomacy.
Back in the 1990s, Mythos Games and MicroProse brought PC owners UFO Enemy Unknown, a sci-fi strategy game where players monitored the skies in search of extraterrestrial and deployed military units to take on intergalactic intruders.
Firaxis Games brought the classic series back to life, using many of the concepts from the original 1994 cult hit. The necessary upgrades to gameplay and visuals make this a suitable remake, right down to the often punishing difficulty.
Players take control of XCOM at the height of an alien invasion. Strategy is delivered two ways in Enemy Unknown: with management of the multinational paramilitary organization and in heart-pounding turn-based combat.
The stakes are high with each mission, even if you happen to squeeze by with a victory. Lose a soldier on the battlefield, even one you’ve spent hours beefing up, and they’ll be stricken from your roster completely. When you’re not engaging enemy units, you’ll manage XCOM’s research and tech, monitor global activity, and forge alliances with the world’s nations while keeping their people safe.
XCOM is relentless, throwing everything at players to deliver a thought-provoking, strategic experience that will have you guessing your every move – on and off the battlefield.