Though real-time strategy games are newer and arguably have had a more notable explosive rise in popularity, turn-based games still remain the more prolific and varied sub-genre in comparison. There is an inherent allure to the tension found in turn-based games where players take their time to deliberate, analyze, and act. Since turn-based gaming is such a broad topic, we decided to list the best turn-based strategy games (one entry per franchise) for new and veteran players to check out.
The Best Turn-Based Strategy Games
20. Dominions 5: Warriors of the Faith
Developer: Illwinter Game Design Publisher: Illwinter Game Design Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux
Turn-based strategy has always been a favored system for hardcore wargames and Dominions 5 is the best example of such a game. If you ever wondered what a 4X Dungeons and Dragons game would ever look like, then look no further. The amount of content in Dominions is staggering, from the three distinct ages, to the huge number of factions, and an absurdly massive list of spells that would make any game master blush.
This content buffet does come at a cost as the learning curve in the game is incredibly steep and the dated graphics and UI don’t do a great job of easing players in. Yet, there’s a kind of charm to the pixel art style that gives the game’s setting a fitting otherworldly and fantastical atmosphere.
Learning the game is quite the challenge, but once players get comfortable with its systems, they will discover an incredibly deep and detailed strategy game.
Developer: Harebrained Schemes Publisher: Paradox Interactive Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux
From fantasy to science fiction, BattleTech is a turn-based tactics game set in the eponymous universe based on the classic mech combat miniatures game from the 1980s. Players will take command of a company of mercenaries with their impressive bipedal warmachines and make a name (and a living) for themselves in the fractured world of the future. The highlight of the game of course being the mech combat and everything associated with it, such as pilot levelling and mech customization.
BattleTech is not without its flaws, such as an unimpressive story, inconsistent pacing, and some balancing issues, but the quality of the combat and the thrill of hunting for new mechs (a la Pokémon) make the aforementioned issues look like small speed bumps. As an added bonus, the game has an extensive modding scene for players to delve into to further spice up their playthroughs with tweaked systems and all new content.
All this makes BattleTech not only one of the best turn-based strategy games, but also one of the best mech games on the market.
Some older turn-based strategy games still hold up to this day — Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri definitely fits that category. In essence, Alpha Centauri is similar to the Civilization series in gameplay structure (same development studio) except that it’s set on an alien world where players seek a new beginning for humanity. However, Alpha Centauri isn’t just a science fiction Civilization reskin, but a true example of forward thinking game design that evolves the core formula in appropriate and meaningful ways.
Alpha Centauri’s standout features are it’s well-defined and characterful factions, a wide array of victory conditions, and the treatment of the planet as an integral part of player decision-making. Though at this point the game’s age is quite apparent in its controls, UI, and graphics, Alpha Centauri’s overall high quality is yet to be met (Civilization: Beyond Earth tried with limited success) and it continues to influence 4X games to this day (Proxy Studio’s Gladius-Relics of War is a good recent example).
For someone itching for a colonization game with all the complexities of human ideology and politics, Alpha Centauri is the best interpretation of our struggles on an alien planet.
From a single planet and beyond, Sword of the Stars is a galaxy-spanning 4X strategy game where players will take command of one of several distinct factions (a common theme throughout this list) and conquer their way to victory.
Unlike the more recent Endless Space 2 or the real-time 4X game Stellaris, Sword of the Stars stays closer to its hardcore gaming roots with extreme attention to detail to fleet command and empire management. This includes granular budget management, fleet mission selection, and extensive ship design. Just like Dominions 5, this detail-oriented approach comes at the cost of a steep learning curve, one definitely worth working through however.
Sword of the Stars is very much the Total War of space opera 4X games as it combines turn-based grand strategy with exciting and visually impressive real-time tactical battles. And just as Alpha Centauri is yet to be matched, the same goes for Sword of the Stars as the high quality combination of strategic and tactical layers seems to elude recent titles (looking at you Endless Space 2). Though it may be an old and underrated game with a buggy sequel harming its legacy, Sword of the Stars is still a goldmine for players looking to engage in galactic conquest.
16. Renowned Explorers: International Society
Developer: Abbey Games Publisher: Abbey Games Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux
Strategy gaming isn’t all about combat and conquest. Renowned Explorers is a strategy adventure game where players compose a team of characters and go out on expeditions across the world with the goal of becoming the best explorers in the world. Right off the bat, the game stands out with its charming humour, vibrant artstyle, and endearing sense of humour.
In each expedition, players will encounter traps, hostile parties, and events that will challenge their skill and creativity. One set of tactics for a combat situation might fare poorly against a pack of deceiving pet velociraptors who will demoralize or pacify the players party with tears and smiles.
The combination of creative challenges, an excellent theme and setting, and fantastic presentation makes Renowned Explorers one of the best indie turn-based strategy games.
This entry will probably be the most controversial on the list as Heroes of Might Magic 3 is widely regarded as the pinnacle of the series. However, Heroes of Might and Magic 5 holds several advantages over its predecessor, such as a vibrant and bright art style, which holds up to this day, an excellent soundtrack, and refinements to tactical gameplay.
The Heroes of Might and Magic series is a strategy adventure series with light role-playing elements where players control a faction, build up their cities, and defeat their opponents, all the while levelling their heroes, collecting loot, and learning new skills and spells.
Despite the narrative being quite convoluted and generic, HoMM offers a lengthy campaign that gives players a chance to play as every faction and get to know their tactical strengths and weaknesses. The skirmish mode allows players to take what they learned and apply it against, admittedly very poor, AI or against other players in multiplayer where climactic tactical battles are second to none in intensity and visual flare. Unfortunately, Ubisoft doesn’t support the game’s multiplayer servers anymore, requiring third party virtual LAN software to run.
Despite this, HoMM 5 is still an incredible love letter to the series that respects the series’ roots while carving out its own place in strategy gaming history.
14. Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock
Developer: Black Lab Games Publisher: Slitherine Software Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Licensed games are all the rage these days, which means that lesser known, smaller, or underrated franchises have a chance for coverage. Battlestar Galactica made a successful jump to turn-based strategy games with Deadlock, going for a simultaneous turn system (aka WEGO) as its control scheme. Unlike the 2003 reimagined TV series covering the apocalyptic second Cylon War, the game retells the events of the first Cylon War as the sentient AI Cylon automatons rise up against their human inventors in all-out interstellar warfare.
The quality of Deadlock comes from the astounding variety of ships and capabilities players will have access to for both the Cylons and the Colonial space fleets, including distinct fighter squadrons, deployables, and ordnance options. Though the AI is mediocre and the campaign’s gameplay can get repetitive from inconsistent pacing, the battles themselves are both tactically sound and visually stunning, with multiplayer making combat even better and challenging.
It may not be as flashy as some other space combat games, but Deadlock’s detailed and simple-to-understand tactical systems make it one of the best turn-based strategy games.
13. Blood Bowl 2
Developer: Cyanide Studios Publisher: Cyanide Studios, Focus Home Interactive Platform(s): PC, macOS, PS4, Xbox One
You might think that sports and strategy gaming would be a perfect match, but sadly there are only a few examples of strategic or tactical sports games. Blood Bowl 2 is one such game and happens to be the only Warhammer universe game to make the list.
The game is a faithful adaptation of the Games Workshop-produced board game of the same name where players will coach a fantasy team in a rugby, American football, and chess mashup.
The biggest highlights of Blood Bowl is the incredible number of varied teams and the deep character progression system. These two systems work so well together that it will warrant multiple playthroughs of the same team, allowing players to try different approaches and tactics. Luck is also a huge part of Blood Bowl, sometimes to its detriment, but it gives the game a high level of tension and excitement when players execute their moves. All this makes it a great sports and strategy game to boot.
12. Panzer Corps 2
Developer: Flashback Games Publisher: Slitherine Software Platform(s): PC
Panzer Corps is a bit of an odd historical strategy game as it models World War 2 tactical combat on an abstracted strategic scale rather than being an accurate simulation or direct adaptation of history (like Unity of Command 2). This definitely doesn’t take away from the game’s overall quality, but can make it feel more like a puzzle game than a fully fledged strategy game.
Where Blood Bowl 2 had a huge variety of factions, Panzer Corps 2 delves more into unit variety as the number of air, land, and sea units present in the game is absolutely staggering. Unit variance is also compounded with the introduction of heroes, unit achievement upgrades, and skins customization, which further personalizes the player’s troops and opens new tactical possibilities.
As an abstract turn-based puzzle-strategy game with a historical setting, Panzer Corps 2 is definitely one of the better ones.
From history to fantasy, Endless Legend is the premier fantasy 4X strategy game. Though it may initially look like a fantasy version of the Civilization series of games, it plays quite differently as the game introduces sector control, turn-based tactical combat, and HoMM-like hero management and levelling. Endless Legend is also unique in that it exists in the greater Endless series of games, which range from 4X strategy to roguelikes, giving an additional level of narrative quality.
Where other games pride themselves on large numbers of factions to give players opportunities to play through a game multiple times, many of them still have a common gameplay system and framework. Endless Legend is a game where the factions are not only numerous and diverse in visual style, but they’re also the closest to being truly asymmetric in design, which makes the game’s fantasy setting refreshing when compared to others.
While the tactical combat leaves much to be desired, the sheer amount of creativity coupled with a pleasant and clean UI makes Endless Legend one of the best fantasy strategy games of all time.
10. Age of Wonders: Planetfall
Developer: Triumph Studios Publisher: Paradox Interactive Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
In many ways, Planetfall is similar to the previous entry in that it combines strategic play with tactical battles for a holistic grand strategy experience, this time in a science fiction universe. Planetfall ekes out Endless Legend for the 10th spot primarily for how fleshed out both components are. The strategic layer has enough elements, such as research, diplomacy, colony management, and hero management, for players to take into consideration in their decision-making while the tactical dimension is incredibly fun, deep, and challenging.
Though Planetfall’s factions may not necessarily be as memorable or creative as in Endless Legend, this is made up for in how flexibly players can engage with each of the factions, choosing the hero that leads them, as well as the secret technology that can drastically change their playstyle. Occasionally, this may lead to the game feeling a bit bland, especially on the strategic layer since all the factions generally follow the same rules with little deviation.
Despite this minor lapse in design, Planetfall’s compelling strategic depth and fun volatile tactical combat make it worth looking into.
9. The Banner Saga 3
Developer: Stoic Studio Publisher: Versus Evil Platform(s): PC, macOS, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Compelling narratives and gripping storytelling are areas where the strategy genre can innovate and The Banner Saga 3 (along with its two predecessors) are the best example of such innovation. If there is one thing to come away with from this fantastic trilogy, it’s how the player’s choices affect the characters. Though we placed the third game of the trilogy on the list, all three games are directly and intricately connected and can be considered part of this entry as well.
Undoubtedly the standouts for The Banner Saga are the characters, writing, visuals, and the narrative. The tactical combat is also challenging and varied, especially when characters from different storylines meet, creating interesting combos and tactical possibilities, though admittedly it can get repetitive at times, in the first installment in particular.
Even with some frustrations, the emotionally impactful choices in the narrative and well-realized tactical combat makes The Banner Saga 3 one of the best turn-based strategy games ever.
8. Into the Breach
Developer: Subset Games Publisher: Subset Games Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch, Stadia
Into the Breach is another mech strategy game to grace the list. Whereas BattleTech is bombastic and expansive in its approach to mechanized warfare, Into the Breach takes a more subtle, almost chess-like approach. The game is essentially a turn-based strategy roguelike hybrid game where players select a team of pilots and their mechs to go back in time to fight kaiju and prevent the devastation of Earth.
Though the gameplay structure is relatively simple, there are a huge number of status effects, abilities, modifications, and mechs for players to consider in any given run. The enemy kaiju will also evolve and change based on the terrain the player is fighting in and how far they’ve gotten in a playthrough, keeping players on their toes.
While Into the Breach certainly isn’t as ambitious as some of the other entries on the list, the overall quality of its gameplay loop that doesn’t overstay its welcome makes it an incredible indie gem of a strategy game.
7. Field of Glory 2: Medieval
Developer: Byzantine Games Publisher: Slitherine Software Platform(s): PC
Another board game adaptation, this time of the Field of Glory miniatures wargame, Field of Glory 2: Medieval is a turn-based tactics game set in the Northern parts of Western, Central, and Eastern Europe during the High Middle Ages where players field massive armies to drive the enemy from the field.
The premise and control scheme may be simple, though the tactics needed to succeed are anything but. Though very similar to the original Field of Glory 2 set during the Punic Wars of Antiquity, we decided to place Medieval as the entry due to improved graphics, refined UI, and overall more approachable Feudal European warfare (the original is absolutely worth checking out, though).
The biggest strengths of Medieval lie in the variety of available army lists and the effect terrain has on the battle. In terms of modeling terrain and being historically authentic, the Field of Glory series is second-to-none. The campaign system is the biggest let down of the game by far (it’s barely even a campaign), but it doesn’t hamper the core tactical experience, which will provide hundreds of hours of theorycrafting, experimentation, and exciting battles. Field of Glory 2: Medieval is a must-have Medieval strategy game for anyone with an interest in history.
6. Darkest Dungeon
Developer: Red Hook Studios, Sickhead Games Publisher: Red Hook Studios, Merge Games, Degica Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, iOS, PS4, Xbox One PS Vita, Switch, iOS
One of the more recent highly influential strategy games to grace the genre is Darkest Dungeon, a Lovecraftian-inspired horror-themed dungeon crawler. In it, players will command a restoration effort to clear out their ancestor’s castle from evils undead, mutilated, living, and eldritch.
Though some may claim that Darkest Dungeon is more of a role-playing game, I’d argue that it is most accurate to call it a war simulator (with elements of RPGs), where the overall long-term effort takes precedence over individual characters. The game has been so successful and influential that it has inspired other games to incorporate dungeon crawling as a focal system into their strategy games with Slay the Spire being a good example.
Darkest Dungeon has a striking artstyle, impactful and creative combat that includes the physical and the psychological, and a strong core of hunting for loot and completing objectives. It can get repetitive at times as any campaign takes quite some time to complete and the gameplay loop rarely deviates. However, due to the massive number of character classes and unique setting, Darkest Dungeon stands out as one of the best turn-based strategy games of all time.
5. Total War: Shogun 2
Developer: Creative Assembly Publisher: Sega Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux
Shogun 2 is not only one of the best strategy games, but is also the best Total War game in the series. The game is set during Japan’s Late Middle Ages Sengoku Jidai period where feudal lords jockeyed for power to become the next Shogun (overall military leader) and players can represent one of the many clans of the period. Unlike many of the games on this list, faction diversity isn’t as prevalent in Shogun 2, but each clan is unique enough (some more than others) in their bonuses, units, and starting positions that it will warrant multiple playthroughs.
The Total War series combines turn-based strategic gameplay with real-time tactical battles and in Shogun 2, these two layers are the best they’ve ever been, with exciting and complex fast-paced samurai battles and deliberate strategic decision-making taking center stage. Shogun 2 may lack some of the quality of life improvements from recent Total Wars, though not enough to dampen the gameplay’s depth.
Shogun 2 is a great entry point for players interested in the Total War series or high-quality strategy games in general.
4. Unity of Command 2
Developer: 2×2 Games Publisher: 2×2 Games, Croteam Platform(s): PC
Similarly to Panzer Corps 2, Unity of Command 2 presents the player a series of challenging scenarios that are puzzle-like in nature, but unlike Panzer Corps, authentically illustrate the operational setup of any given historical engagement. Furthermore, Unity of Command 2 has a lengthy persistent campaign covering the campaigns and battles of the Allies on the Western Front with options for alternate history paths based on player success.
The amount of systems at play, such as supply, command and control, unit experience, ability activation, weather, terrain, and troop upgrades, is absolutely staggering and no one system outshines the other. Paired with a competent AI (a rarity in strategy gaming), all these mechanics and features work together like a symphony. Unity of Command 2 can be considered a hardcore wargame, but the developers have done their utmost to make the game accessible and easy to understand, helping Unity of Command 2 to become a cut above many simulation wargames.
3. Civilization 6
Developer: Firaxis Games, Aspyr Media Publisher: 2K Games Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, iOS, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Android
No turn-based strategy games list would be complete without mentioning the most influential 4X strategy game series – Civilization. For this entry, we’ll focus primarily on the most recent sixth installment in the series, which has notably evolved some of the series’ mechanics. The biggest change is the so-called “unpacking” of cities where players will now have to be more considerate of terrain for their specialist districts, wonder construction, and troop movements.
Civilization 6 still retains its predecessors’ addictive gameplay as seeing a well-thought out long-term plan coming together is one of the best feelings any player can experience in a strategy game. Not to mention, Civilization 6 has a well-rounded cast of leaders and civilizations (some quite unbalanced) for players to experiment with and try to achieve different victory conditions.
With recent expansions, Civilization 6 has only developed for the better with the introduction of new mechanics, but even in its vanilla version there’s enough strategic depth to call it a fantastic turn-based strategy game.
Coincidentally, the second best turn-based strategy game, XCOM 2, is also developed by Firaxis, and just like Civilization, has become one of if not the most influential strategy games in recent memory (Phoenix Point, Gears Tactics, and Mechanicus are all good examples of XCOM-like games to check out).
XCOM 2 is a turn-based tactics game with role-playing elements where players lead the eponymous organization in a massive guerilla resistance operation against the all-controlling and alien-led Advent. An interesting note about the game’s narrative is that it came from player statistics of the original XCOM: Enemy Unknown, where so many players were defeated in their playthroughs that it led to the aliens taking Earth in XCOM 2’s narrative.
The game’s strengths lie in its well-realized setting, excellent customization, modding support, and challenging AI. Players will have to contend with an ever-changing and developing opponent while constantly facing new situations requiring creative tactics and solutions. This will inadvertently create unwinnable or near impossible situations, which can lead to you running the gamut of emotions. Aside from the lack of meaningful branching story paths, XCOM 2 has set the bar high for future turn-based strategy games to live up to.
And that bar has been broken with the natural evolution of XCOM’s game systems coming to a head in Battle Brothers, a low fantasy tactics-RPG hybrid.
The core elements that make the game stand out are infinite replayability, satisfying difficulty, and meaningful emergent storytelling. Though not necessarily a strategy game series, Mount and Blade is a good comparison to Battle Brothers as both share the absolute player freedom in decision-making and choice of path.
Players lead their own mercenary company, hiring new characters from all walks of life with the overall goal of becoming the most famous and renowned mercenary company, but in actuality, players can do anything they wish and create their own stories of how hilariously they fail and gloriously win.
There isn’t enough space to sing praises for Battle Brothers as all of its systems work so well together leading players to learn something new every time they try a new playthrough, something many video games strive for. Hands down, Battle Brothers is the best turn-based strategy game, if not one of the best video games of all time.
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