Though real-time strategy games are newer and have seen more of a spike in popularity, turn-based games are still the more popular and diverse sub-genre of games. There is a draw to the tension that comes from turn-based games, where players take their time to think, analyse, and act. There are so many different types of turn-based games, so we made a list of the best turn-based strategy games (one game per franchise) for both new and experienced players to check out.
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1. 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 favourite way to play hardcore wargames, and Dominions 5 is the best example of a game that does this well. Looking for a 4X D&D game? Then look no further than this video. The amount of content in Dominions is mind-boggling. There are three different ages, a huge number of factions, and a huge number of spells that would make any game master blush.
Because the game is so hard to learn and the graphics and UI are so old, it comes at a price: This content buffet is great, but it comes at a price. In spite of this, there’s a certain charm to the pixel art style that makes the game’s setting look like something out of this world and fantastical.
When players get used to the game’s systems, they will find that it is a very complex and detailed strategy game that they can play for a long time.
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux
From fantasy to science fiction, BattleTech is a turn-based strategy game set in the same universe as the 1980s mech combat miniatures game. It’s based on that game. Gamer will lead a group of mercenaries with their impressive bipedal warmachines in the fractured world of the future. They will also make a name and a living. Of course, mech combat and everything else that goes with it is the best part of the game. This includes things like levelling up your pilots and making your mech unique.
BattleTech has flaws, like an uninteresting story, a shaky pace, and a few balancing issues. But the quality of the combat and the excitement of hunting for new mechs (like Pokemon) make these issues seem like small bumps in the road. To make things even better for players, the game has a huge modding community that allows them to change things up even more and add new things.
BattleTech is not only one of the best turn-based strategy games, but also one of the best mech games on the market, because of all this.
3. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
Developer: Firaxis Games, Westlake Interactive
Publisher: Electronic Arts, Aspyr Media, Loki Software
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux
There are some older turn-based strategy games that still work well today. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri is one of them. There are a lot of things that make Alpha Centauri similar to the Civilization games, but the main thing is that it’s set on an alien planet where people are trying to start over. However, Alpha Centauri isn’t just a sci-fi version of Civilization. It’s a true example of forward-thinking game design that changes the core formula in the right and meaningful ways.
Alpha Centauri’s best features are its well-defined factions, a wide range of victory conditions, and the way the planet is treated as an important part of player decision-making. But even though the game looks and plays like it was made years ago, Alpha Centauri still stands out because of its overall quality and how it has influenced 4X games to this day (Proxy Studio’s Gladius-Relics of War is a good example).
Alpha Centauri is the best game for someone who wants to play a colonisation game with all of the complexities of human thought and politics.
4. Sword of the Stars
Developer: Kerberos Productions
Publisher: Lighthouse Interactive, Paradox Interactive, Destineer
Sword of the Stars is a 4X strategy game that takes place across the galaxy. Players will control one of several different factions (a common theme in this list) and conquer their way to victory.
Sword of the Stars isn’t like Endless Space 2 or real-time 4X game Stellaris. It stays true to its roots with a lot of attention to fleet command and empire management. This includes budget management at the granular level, fleet mission selection, and a lot of ship design. Like Dominions 5, this attention to detail comes with a steep learning curve, but it’s worth it in the long run.
Sword of the Stars is very much the Total War of space opera 4X games because it combines turn-based grand strategy with exciting and beautiful real-time tactical battles that look great. In the same way that Alpha Centauri hasn’t been matched, Sword of the Stars hasn’t been able to match its high-quality strategic and tactical layers (looking at you Endless Space 2). Sword of the Stars, even though it’s been around for a long time and has a bad sequel that hurts its reputation, is still a great resource for players who want to take over the galaxy.
5. Renowned Explorers: International Society
Developer: Abbey Games
Publisher: Abbey Games
Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux
In strategy games, there aren’t only fights and victories. People who play Renowned Explorers make up a team of characters and go on trips around the world to become better explorers. Charming humour, bright art, and a sense of humour that’s easy to like make the game stand out right away.
Each time the players go on an expedition, they will face traps, hostile people, and other events that will test their skills and creativity. One set of tactics might not work well against a group of pet velociraptors who make the players cry or smile to calm them down.
Renowned Explorers is one of the best indie turn-based strategy games because it has creative challenges, a great theme and setting, and a great presentation.
6. Gears Tactics
There have been a lot of games that have tried to take over XCOM’s turn-based tactical crown in the last few years. Some have been good, and some haven’t been so good. In Gears Tactics, a turn-based tactics game for Gears of War, we’re surprised by how good it turns out to be. It’s a game that takes place before the events in the original Gears of War. It’s a series of tactical battles that are tied together by a story and some light progression mechanics.
There isn’t a strategy layer in this game, and while there is some persistence for the main characters, it mostly comes from loot and a few basic skill trees. It’s not perfect, but its flaws only show how strong the rest of it is. In the shooter series, there are a lot of “boss battle” elements that they’ve tried to bring over. These can be used in a tactical way, but they can still be a little clunky. There are other games out there that do turn-based tactics well, but this is one of the best new games in a while. You can read our Gears Tactics review to find out more about the game
7. Panzer Corps 2
This one is a little more difficult, but when it comes to turn-based strategy games that are based on history, the Panzer Corps games are the best. Panzer Corps 2 builds on the success of the first game and adds a brand new 3D engine to the mix. Scale is a little hard to grasp, but it lets you play long campaigns on maps that can be chunks of whole countries. A single tank can be used to represent hundreds of vehicles.
If you want to fight, you don’t need to worry about building units. You will, however, have to keep your forces fed as they move across the map. This means that you’ll have a lot of options for taking that important goal. Tactical options like encircling, supporting fire, and breaking down units into smaller “mini” versions for a good flank will help you. Not so far from Advanced Wars, which is played with hex tiles and is based on World War 2.
8. Unity Of Command 2
Unity of Command 2 is a great strategy game that also serves as a good gateway into the world of digital war games. It does everything its predecessor did and more. UoC has always had a little bit of “puzzle DNA” in it, but not to the same extent as the first game. By changing up the scenario design and adding new elements like HQs and more meaningful meta-campaigns, few repeats of the same mission will be the same.
Starting with the end of the battle for North Africa, Unity of Command 2 moves on to Sicily, Italy, and Normandy, where you can re-live the wars of the Western Front. With time, your army units and HQs will grow and improve. There is also a light card system that allows you to play special moves that can make or break an attack.