Put your hands up if you remember the first ever strategy game, 1972’s Invasion on Maganvox Odyssey (yes, retro games consoles had amazing names). No? Me neither, I’m not quite that old. I was born in 1982, so I missed a good 14 years worth of strategy games, and some of those were the best strategy games of all time.
I missed 1980s Computer Bismark, the first war strategy game.
I was too young to play 1983’s Reach for the Stars, the first space-based 4X strategy game.
1983’s grand strategy war game, Ambition? Missed it. I was too busy crawling around on the floor and trying not to vomit on myself.
I was just beginning to walk when Lords of Midnight came out (1984).
But I was alive when the ultimate strategy game of all time came out, 1989’s Herzog Zwei (and I later got to interview the game’s developer for GamesTM).
Herzog Zwei was the first real time strategy game. And was later followed by Dune II (1992).
Between those two games, Herzog Zwei and Dune II, you have the foundations of the strategy genre. It was entirely thanks to those two amazing games that RTS games became so popular, and why I, and other shockingly old people, fell in love with the strategy genre.
Sure, Total War did a lot to reinvent the genre, but make no mistake about it, Herzog Zwei and Dune II built the foundations on which the house of strategy is built.
We’re about to discuss the best strategy games ever, in one of those list-style articles that you guys seem to love so very much. But when we get into the list, always remember, that Herzog Zwei and Dune II are the absolute most important strategy games ever. Respect those two titles, people, because without them, you wouldn’t have your Command & Conquer, your Banished, or your Rome: Total War (Pants VS Zombies is another story. More on that later).
Now that I’ve done my “back in my day…” speech, let’s flash forward today and look at:
The Best Strategy Games That Are Being Played Today
That title is a disclaimer, by the way. Because I can’t include absolutely every great strategy game ever in this list. There’s just too many of them. So instead, I’m going to discuss the best strategy games that are still being played in significant numbers today. That includes new games as well as retro games that are still played today.
Oh, one more thing, these games are not listed best-to-worst. Why? Because once you get to a game that’s as good as Total War or Banished, everything becomes entirely subjective, so the idea of a best / worst is entirely redundant.
I noticed when I was researching this article that the vast majority of online articles that discuss the best strategy games only ever discuss PC strategy games. That seems silly to me, mate. Because there are lots of brilliant strategy games on other consoles.
In my list I’ve included PC strategy games as well as Mac, iOS, Android, PS4, XBox One, PS Vita and even N64 games. So be sure to look out for that token-N64 title.
Now, let’s get this baby started, shall we?
The Best Strategy Games Of All Time
Themes: historical / medieval
Style: city-building, survival
In Banished you take control of a remote community of outcasts. Your mission is to govern your city and make it strong. You’ll have to manage the people of your city by assigning them positions and jobs, which range from fishing to construction. But you won’t just manage those citizens, you’ll have to satisfy them too by making sure that they’ve got food and comfort.
So, Banished is a city building survival strategy game. One of the best, despite what critics might have thought.
When Shining Rock Software released Banished in 2014 they were received with mixed reviews. PC Gamer gave it 70%, and its MetaCritic is 73%. But critics are often wrong. And this is one of those cases.
Critics stated that Banished lacked progression and that there wasn’t enough survival in it (Banished is a survival strategy game).
But take a look at Banished user scores on Metacritic and Steam and you’ll see that gamers love it. It has 90% and 8.2% respectively. So even though critics weren’t convinced, gamers are. And because of that, Banished is still popular today.
What’s so great about games like Forge of Empire is that they combine survival with strategy. Without the survival elements, Banished would just be another strategy game, but by combining survival, strategy and city building it becomes its own beast.
Forge of Empires (Windows, Max, iOS, Android)
Themes: historical, medieval
Did you think I was only going to include serious strategy games in this list?
Lots of the best strategy games are not serious but just fun. Not every title has to be a Total War Rome or a Civilization type game. Some games, like Forge Of Empires, is great just because it’s fun.
Forge Of Empires is similar to other strategy games. You get to construct your own city in the Stone Age and take it up to the Arctic Future, so you get to see your own city in a variety of different times. You also get control of an army and enter battles. As your city gets stronger you will take on other cities to build your empire across the map.
Games like Forge of Empires show that a game can be both strategic and fun.
Themes: Historical, Rome, political
Caesar is precisely the game that it sound like. You take control of your own province in the Roman Empire and advanced towards becoming a political leader on the level of Caesar. As you progress through the game you take full control of your province and get access to finances, defences, city planning. Overall there are plenty of different aspects to the gameplay to create a really deep strategy.
Caesar games have been around for more than a decade and have gradually evolved over that time. What makes these games so good, in my opinion, is that there is so much depth and you get to control every aspect of your province. Though some Steam users seem to strongly dislike this title, in my experience it is one of the most rewarding city building strategy games out set in ancient Rome.
The best thing about games like Caesar is that they are the most realistic strategy games and have lots of depth.
Throne rush (Android, iOS)
Themes: Historical, Medieval
Style: casual, tower defense
Throne Rush is one of the most fun strategy games of all time. Games like Throne Rush show that you can do strategy while also having fun as you create your own kingdom in a fantasy world.
There’s not a lot that’s original about Throne Rush. Games like this aren’t supposed to reinvent the wheel. They’re more about taking what is already there and polishing it / making it more fun. So you get everything you would expect. There’s city building, fortifications, various classes (including knights and archers), quests, campaigns… everything you could want.
Starcraft (Windows, Mac, N64)
Themes: sci-fi, fantasy, military,
I told you I was going to include all different types of strategy games in this list. We’ve just looked at a few fun games. Now time for a very serious one.
The best competitive strategy game is Starcraft. Believe it or not, Starcraft is the national sport in Korea, and it is one of the most popular esports games too, with tons of tournaments taking place on Twitch and Youtube every month.
Starcraft is a science fiction strategy game in which you build fortifications and use minions to defeat another player. It is played offline in tournaments against other human players, though you can also play against the computer.
Starcraft is the deepest strategy game in the world (except for Chess). So, if you love games that make you think, you definitely need to play it.
> Check out these other games like Starcraft.
Boom Beach / Clash of Clans (iOS, Android)
Themes: medieval, military
Style: casual, real-time strategy (RTS)
Boom Beach (and other games like Boom Beach, for instance Clash of Clans) take the strategy element down a notch in order to make the game much more fun. And it works because of it.
Where games like Total War and Age of Empires are about realistic strategy, Boom Beach is about have a laugh online.
One of the real-time strategy games made by Supercell, Boom Beach was released in 2013 for iOS and Android. In the game you attack both other players and CPU bases. Ait’s set in a tropical archipelago. You build your base on your island, and use fortifications and troops to defend your base while attacking enemy bases.
Now, to clarify, Boom Beach and Clash of Clans are not the most serious strategy games. They’re not supposed to be grueling matches. They’re a blast and anyone can play them. And that’s why I’ve included them in this list.
>> There are more Boom Beach-style games here.
Advance wars (Gameboy Advanced, Nintendo DS)
Style: turn-based tactics
Advance Wars is arguably the most unique strategy game on this list and definitely one of the best Nintendo strategy games.
A turn based strategy game by Intelligent Systems, Advanced Wars is one of those games that exists in its own little bubble. There really is nothing else like Advance Wars. Or at least, there wasn’t at the time. Now, thanks to a horde of rip-offs there are games like Advance Wars for PC, iOS, and Android, but most of them are rip-offs, as I mentioned.
Advanced Wars tells the story of the Orange Star Army as it fights to defeat the armies of other countries. You will fight to defeat the opponent’s enemy by destroying every one of their units on the map. And you may also engage in other objectives, like capturing cities.
Advance Wars is one of the best Gameboy Advanced games and a truly exceptional TBS. The best thing about it, and other games like Advance Wars, is that it is very accessible and you can get into it in no time at all. Plus, there are free games like Advance Wars online, so you don’t even need a GBA to play it.
Dungeon Keeper (Windows, Mac)
Themes: dungeon, fantasy,
Style: real-time strategy (RTS), god game, management
When you started reading this list, you probably knew that certain games would be in it, right? You knew that Starcraft would be here. And Dune II. And you probably new that Dungeons Keeper would be on the list as well.
No question about it, Dungeon Keeper is one of the best strategy games of all time. Bullfrog’s masterpiece was released in 1997 on PC and it quickly became the must-play strategy game.
In Dungeon Keeper you build and protect a dungeon from invading hero characters (because you play the ‘bad guys’). Those pesky heroes are going to steal your treasure, kill your minions, and destroy your dungeon. And you just cannot allow that, no sir.
There really are no words that do Dungeon Keeper justice. It is one of the best strategy games of all time. A deep strategy game for those of us who like to use our brains.
>> see our list of games like Dungeon Keeper if you love this type of game.
Game of Dwarves (PC, PS3)
Themes: dwarves, fantasy,
Style: real-time strategy (RTS) management, dungeon,
Do you like deep strategy games? I mean really, really, really deep strategy games? Then you absolutely must play Game of Dwarfs, the game so deep you’ll either love it or top yourself as you desperately try to understand just what the heck is going on.
Game of Dwarfs is one of the any games like Dungeon Keeper, but… with dwarfs.
So, if you like Dungeon Keeper and you have the love and respect for dwarves that you know you should have, then you definitely should play this.
Now let me just say, some people hate Game of Dwarfs. But it’s because they’re pansies. That’s right, pansies.
People who do not like deep strategy games usually hate games like Game of Dwarfs. So I guess it’s a love / hate thing.
Age of Empires / Age of Mythology (Windows, Mac, Mobile)
Themes: mythology, historical, political, realistic
Style: real-time strategy (RTS)
Age of Empires is one of the best RTS games of all time. Released in 1997 it is still played today. So what makes it so popular and so enduring (other than a string of sequels, I mean)?
Age of Empire is a game like Civilization (the ultimate RTS game). It focuses on political events across the globe at various historical moments. There are games in the classical period, some in Rome, some in Asia, some in Europe…
Must like similar games, you take control of a town and built it up, and you have to govern your people and your army. So, it is a game that will be immediately familiar to people who have not played it. And the gameplay seems classic now, though it was innovative at the time.
What else might you like to know about this?
How many Age of Empire games are there? Seven. Which is the best? Age of Empires 2. Though it is a close call. real-time strategy games. They competed with another popular strategy series, Civilization. Which is better? Leave a comment below.
>> See more games like Age of Empires
Civilization (PC, Mac)
Themes: political, historical, realistic,
Style: turn-based strategy, 4X,
Civilization is basically the godfather of all turn-based strategy games. Without this, there really would not have been a lot of what followed.
Released in 1991, Sid Meier’s Civilization is the first in the series, and one of the first turn based 4X strategy games. The objective, no doubt familiar, is to build an empire to stand the test of time.
You begin playing in 4000 BC and must develop your civilization to expand across the globe, building a mighty empire. You start with a number of settler units and must build your empire to compete against a number of other civilizations. As you would expect, the gameplay is mostly based around the decision you make to advance your civilization.
>> By the way, if you like Civilization, you’ll like these games too.
Empire Earth (Windows)
Themes: historical, realistic
Stainless Steel Studios’ 2001 Empire Earth is another of the best real-time strategy games of all time.
In Empire Earth you gather resources and construct your city, building an army to wipe out enemy civilizations. One of the most amazing things about it is that it spans over 500,000 years of world history that begin in the middle ages and progress to the nano age. It was followed with an expansion pack, Empire Earth: The Art Of Conquest (remember that one, OGs?).
A historical strategy game, Empire Earth is a game like Age of Empires, by which I mean it is a realistic historical RTS game. However, Empire Earth is 3D and so it looks considerably different to Age of Empire despite the similarity in gameplay.
Gameplay wise, this is pure RTS and has everything you would expect, like units, resource gathering, and so on. What makes Empire Earth so good is that it is deep and the graphics were fantastic for the time of release.
Total War (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Themes: realistic, historical, mythological,
Style: turn-based strategy, real-time tactics
Total War is a masterpiece of the turn-based strategy / real-time tactics genre (a “real-time tactics” game, by the way, is basically an RTS that doesn’t have micromanagement).
The Total War series started in June 2000 and has subsequently grown to gargantuan proportions, it’s latest release being Total War: Warhammer in May 2016.
The series began with Shogun: Total War, which was set in feudal Japan. In It you are shown different interactive videos that represent the different decisions you can make, like converting to Christianity. This was a cult classic game and it would give birth to one of the biggest strategy game series of all time.
Total War then went on through… how many?… nine sequels, meaning there are ten Total War games in all.
The full list of Total War games:
- Shogun: Total War
- Medieval: Total War
- Rome: Total War
- Medieval II: Total War
- Empire: Total War
- Napoleon: Total War
- Total War: Shogun 2
- Total War: Rome 2
- Total War: Atlanta
- Total War: Warhammer.
I’ve put together a list of Total War-type games. So, if you’re a fan, check it out.
Command & Conquer (Mac, N64, PlayStation, PC, Sega Saturn, PSP, Xbox 360, PS3)
Themes: military, realistic,
When Command & Conquer was first released (in 1995) it instantly became the top competitive strategy game for local multiplayer offline matches.
Made by the same people who made Dune II (the sublime Westwood Studios), Command & Conquer was born to be the best strategy game ever and it succeeded at that. Command & Conquer is one of the most realistic strategy games of all time.
In C&C you take control of an army and must defeat other armies in order to progress on your conquest. To do that, you gather resources, construct buildings of different types so that your base has all it needs to operate, and use troops to attack your enemy.
For anyone who loves some LAN based strategy games, and particularly real-time strategy games, C&C was an absolute must-play.
Style: simulation, turn-based tactics
AtWar is one of the best free online strategy games. In it you take control of an army and must fight other people in order to achieve world domination.
AtWar is a multiplayer Risk-type game for PC that uses simultaneous turn-based strategy tactics with free range movement. You can play with up to 20 taking simultaneous turns, which makes for amazing action. And on top of that there’s the fantastic bonus of a Map Editor so you can create your own maps.
Age of Civilizations (Android)
Themes: World War I / World War II
Style: board-game, Risk-type,
Age of Civilizations is an Android strategy game not available on iOS. It’s something like a board games spliced with traditional strategy game mechanics. In it, your objective is to dominate the world. To do that you will need to take over enemy territories.
This is a Risk-type game in which you get to visit a variety of historical locales, including World War I and II and some modern scenarios as well. And on top of that you are able to create your own scenarios.
What makes Age of Civilizations on of the best Risk-type strategy games is a combination of complexity, depth, and a generous amount of content. Games like Age of Civilization are making the Android strategy scene a real treat.
Call of Champions (iOS, Android )
Call of Champions is a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) in which you and two other players fight three online opponents. Your mission is to get the brilliantly named Orb Of Death to the enemy tower in order to defeat them.
As you can probably tell by the description, this is a more fun, easy strategy game. It only takes about five minutes to play a game so it is perfect for quick matches. That said, there is more than enough strategy to make you get into it. And you can keep playing for free.
Overall, one of the best Android strategy games.
Chess Free (Android)
Seems obvious looking back, that when it comes to creating a list of the best strategy games, Chess has to be on it. And indeed it is, thanks to AI Factory’s Chess Free.
Chess Free is the best Android Chess game out. What makes it so good is that it just gives you what you want: Chess with absolutely no added gimmicks. This is the pure Chess experience. The difficulty levels and the tutorial are fantastic too.
Personally, I love it when a games developer just gives you what you want with absolutely no malarkey. And that’s what AI Factory do. This is pure Chess, unadulterated.
Clash Royale (Android, iOS)
Style: card dueling
Ah, at last we come to the best card dueling strategy games. And to kick it off we have the fantastic Clash Royale, in which you build a deck and duel with other players. It’s an online card based strategy game in which you have to use your brain to beat your opponent.
Clash Royale gives you a starter deck and as you play you unlock additional cards to level up your deck. Win matches and you’ll get trophies that will improve your online ranking.
Hearthstone (Android, iOS, Mac, Windows)
Style: card dueling
The second of two card duelling strategy games on this list, Hearthstone is one of the most popular esports strategy games.
A game similar to Clash Royale, you’re given a starter deck, and as you play you unlock new cards so that your deck gets stronger. A nice little bonus of this game is that it has cross-platform support, so you are able to play people on different devices. That accessibility is part of the reason why Hearthstone has become so popular in esports, because you can play people on other devices.
Plus, Blizzard keeps putting out new Hearthstone expansions, so the game always feels fresh.
If you love this type of games, take a look at our list of the games most similar to Hearthstone.
Great Big War Game (Androis, iOS, Windows)
Themes: war, military,
Great Big War Game is one of the most fun war strategy games on Android. It’s the type of game that you can get into easily with no fuss.
A 3D turn-based strategy game, in Great Big War Game you use your troops to fight different battle across 50 missions and also in online multiplayer battles. Oh, and there’s also a great local multiplayer which is a fantastic little bonus.
Great Big War Game doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is pure fun. As is attested to by the goofy story.
Kairosoft (iOS, Android, PC)
Style: retro, management
Kairosoft is not a game but rather a developer of strategy games. Their Japanese-style games were very popular in the mid-90s, and titles like Ninja Village and Game Dev Story are popular today.
Kairosoft was founded in 1996 and was ranked as one of Pock Gamer’s Top 50 Developers of 2012. Their first games were simulations on Windows, and they later started getting into more strategy-style video games. In 2012 they released Game Dev Story for iOS, which became a major hit. A definite worthy addition to this list.
>> see more games like Kairosoft.
Kingdom Rush Origins (iOS, Android, Windows, Flash)
Style: tower defense
Kingdom Rush Origins is one of the many games in the Kingdom Rush series. With a score of 83% on Metacritic, this is one of the top tower defense strategy games on Android.
In Kingdom Rus Origins you build towers and take control of heroes in order to defeat incoming waves of enemies. It’s a simple game that is very easy to get into. If you love tower defence games you definitely have to play Kingdom Rush Origins.
Out There (Android, Window, iOS, Mac, Linux)
Themes: sci-fi, space,
Style: adventure, roguelike
One of the best survival strategy games, with roguelike gameplay, Out There was released in 2014. It received critical acclaim and won numerous awards, all of them well deserved.
In Out There you play as a character who awakens from cryo-sleep and must survive outer space. To do so you will need to manage your oxygen levels and other resources and repair your spaceship.
Out There is a challenging strategy game that makes you use your brain. And you’ll be rewarded for your intelligence in the form of Google Play Achievements.
Plague Inc (Android, iOS, Windows Phone)
Style: RTS, simulation,
One of the most popular strategy games of all time, in Plague Inc you have to infect the entire world with a disease. In order to do that you will have to evolve the illness to make it powerful enough to infect everyone. There are 12 different disease types and the game has tons of depth, so you will probably be playing it for months to come.
I personally love the premise of Plague Inc. I mean really, infecting the world with a virus… genius premise.
Rymdkapsel (Android, iOS, Windows, PS Vita, Mac, Linux)
Style: minimalist, RTS,
No, that isn’t a typo, this game is actually called Rymdkapsel, a word which looks like a random mish-mash of letters. Rymdkapsel actually means “space capsule” in Swedish.
In Rymdkapsel you build a base and defend it from attackers. Actually, that makes it sound like a tower defence game, which is not accurate. Rymkapsel is a unique game with retro style graphics that look like they came out of the 1980s though it was actually released in 2013.
It’s hard to define Rymdkspel. It’s a Tetris-style strategy game where you fit pieces together to create a base.
This game reminds me why I love European game developers (and European art and culture in general). They put out so many unique games.
Vainglory (Android, iOS)
Vainglory is a MOBA strategy game that was released in 2014 and which is popular today. A game like Call of Champions, Vainglory also uses 3v3 battles. The battles last for up to 20 minutes, so they’re good to play during a break.
Vainglory has good graphics, boasting 60fps and a sub-30ms control response. That might not sound important to causal gamers, but if you are a hardcore strategy game fan you’ll know how important that response time is.
XCOM Enemy Within (Windows, Mac, PS3, Xbox 360, Linux, iOS, Android, PS Vita)
Themes: sci-fi, fantasy
Style: turn-based tactics
You knew that this game was going to be on the list at some point, right? XCOM Enemy Within is one of the most popular turn-based tactical strategy games in the world. It plays out on a Chess-style board and you must kill the bad guys. As you play you get to recruit new characters and to upgrade your characters, abilities, and gear. It also features an excellent multiplayer.
Crusader Kings II (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Themes: middle ages, medieval,
Style: open-ended, Grand War
Paradox Development Studio’s Crusader Kings II is a grand strategy game set in the middle ages. Released in 2012 on Mac and 2014 on Windows, Crusader Kings II is the developers second most popular game.
In Crusader Kings II you control a Medieval dynasty from 1066 to 1453. And there is also a DLC called The Old Gods, which lets you play from 867 to 769. The game involved a complex system of marriages, war, and assassinations as you lead your dynasty to conquest.
One of the best parts of Crusader Kings II is that it is open-ended and you are completely in control of how the game progresses.
Plants VS Zombies (Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android)
Themes: casual, zombies,
Style: tower defense
Plants VS Zombies is one of the most popular indie games ever. It was made by PopCap Games and released in 2009 for Windows and Mac, and then later for iOS and Android. And it has become immensely popular and has received critical acclaim.
In Plants VS Zombies you play as a homeowner who must use different plants in order to fend off a horde of incoming zombies.
Plants VS Zombies is one of the most accessible and fun strategy games of all time and an absolute must-play. Trust me, Plants VS Zombies will make you fall in love with its craziness
>> Also consider these other games like Plants VS Zombies.
The strategy genre is one of the best genres of video games and has been for over three decades. Year on year game developers are taking the strategy genre in new directions, and it’s exciting to think of where the genre might go next.
Now over to you. What is your favorite strategy game? What did you like about it? Leave a comment.