The best strategy video games
Whether it’s the split-second decision making of many modern strategy games or the slow, methodical strategy popularised centuries before video games were even a concept, strategy in video games just fits perfectly. There’s so much to do with it, and the fiercely competitive nature means it’s a great way to challenge yourself.
Of course, there’s a vast array of them, too, for all sorts of tastes. Throwing out the jargon of the genre, we’ve put together a list of the best strategy games, from the most recent interpretations and advancements in tactical video games to a few of the titles that really helped the genre grow.
StarCraft – PC
You can’t start off a list of strategy games without starting on StarCraft. Released almost 20 years ago, in 1998, the original StarCraft was technically limited,with some glaring issues, and brilliant, to many.
It takes place in real-time, rather than in turns, and has two players (one of which can be a computer) build structures, workers, and an army to go at each other, with the last person standing winning. There were three races (the human Terrans, the insectoid Zerg, and the psychic Protoss) to play as, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and it can be credited as being the catalyst for esports’ growth around the world over the last two decades. In South Korea, especially, the game is massive, even to this day, with a remastered version released just earlier this year.
By most accounts, the real-time strategy of today wouldn’t exist without StarCraft, and the fact that people are still playing it and competing in tournaments for it is further evidence as to quite how well it was made.
X-COM – PC
Similarly to how StarCraft is largely responsible for a large amount of growth in its genre of fast-paced strategy, X-COM did the same for the slower kind. Controlling a squad of elite soldiers, you’ll investigate alien threats, and, almost certainly, be beaten by them. It’s one of the most challenging and punishing strategy games, where your computer opponent is always stronger than you.
They have better guns, more soldiers, and more resources: you have a limited number of each. Lose one soldier, and you’ll be losing a large chunk of your forces. It’s a game about taking your time and playing smart, meticulously going through details for the right choice.
Again, we wouldn’t have the same kind of strategy nowadays if it wasn’t for X-COM. It pioneered the translation of slow board game design to video games, and introduced many people who would, otherwise, never have tried a video game to the concept.
Age of Empires 2 – PC
Some people have some very strong opinions about what the “best” Age of Empires game is, with the original being the leader, the third title being the most modern and fleshed out take, and the Age of Mythology spinoff being just the right kind of absurd.
Age of Empires 2, though, was just simple, clean, and focused enough. It provided the right kind of depth, and, since a remastered edition improved its compatibility, is still available to play on PC today. As one of a number of nations, you play through a series of eras, growing a small colony of workers, providing them with farms and housing as you grow. You’ll then fight against other nations over the new land, with the last person standing winning the game.
While StarCraft pioneered the genre of fast-paced base building strategy, Age of Empires 2 did a fantastic job of bringing the genre forward, making it accessible and modern.
Total War – PC
The question of which Total War game is the best causes a lot of arguments online, but, as a series, it has really carved a place in the annals of history. Mostly focusing on historical eras, such as the Roman Empire’s history or the growth of Japan in the feudal era, it mixes up the two kinds of strategy. On the one hand, you have overarching control of your empire and its growth, where the armies and generals move, but then, in battles, you can control units directly.
Each title has its own quirks, with the most recent, Total War: Warhammer 2, actually using a fantasy setting from the Warhammer series of games and figurines. Total War: Warhmmer 2 is definitely the most accomplished title in the series, but depending on your own personal knowledge of history, and what sort of historical periods you know about, which one is for you is very much down to personal preferences.
Factorio – PC
The first game on this list that doesn’t fit the typical strategy model is Factorio. Made for PC, it’s a game about creating a factory all by yourself, a self-sufficient, automated series of machines that creates more and more complex machinery itself.
At first, it starts with just making conveyor belts that lead to furnaces, but quickly escalates into automating the creation of complex circuits and alloys. The strategy comes in designing that and making it efficient enough to not break. Planning space for machines, minimising the amount of time materials spend in transit, and ensuring nothing is wasted is a form of strategy solved in good planning, a little mathematics, and some trial and error. While it’s not the complex, terrifying prospect of war like the above titles, it is its own form of deep strategy.
FTL – PC, Mobile
FTL, or Faster Than Light, is often described as simply a ‘roguelike’, referring to how it is like the game Rogue, a punishing game where death is permanent. That does, to an extent, oversimplify the game: it’s a role-playing game, a puzzle game, and a strategy game all in one. You control a crew on a spaceship, being chased by the evil leaders of the galaxy as you race towards their largest ship to destroy it. Through the chase, you’ll fight against space pirates, violent aliens, and the many natural dangers of space.
Strategy games, especially ones about war, have a tendency to soak up all of your time. One play of FTL can take less than half an hour, meaning it’s great for for just wasting some time while cooking, commuting, or at any other point during the day, really. It’s available both on PC and mobile devices, too, giving you some strategy on the go.
Hearthstone – PC, Mobile
One of the most popular games in the world, Hearthstone is a card game from Blizzard, using much of the art and characters from one of their other huge titles, World of Warcraft. Despite sounding intimidating, it’s by far the most accessible card game around, with clear designs and minimal jargon for you to learn.
Like FTL, it’s also available on mobile devices too, and is still getting regular updates with expansion packs to this day. It’s free to play, although you can pay for more cards: if you want to just dip a toe in, the fact that Hearthstone is free means it’s perhaps the best starting point.
SteamWorld Heist – PC, 3DS
Taking a lot of design influence from X-COM, SteamWorld Heist is a more stylish, inviting, and interactive form of that style of strategy. Taking place in a 2D setting, you’ll play as a crew of robots going on heists through enemy ships. Taking turns with a computer opponent, you’ll control your robots and fire guns one at a time, aiming them precisely.
The strategy comes from how you move your robots and how you shoot: it’s possible to fire your gun in such a way that bullets bounce off walls, meaning trick shots are very much possible. Those behind cover aren’t that safe if you’re smart about how you fire. With a killer soundtrack, too, it was the most inventive X-COM-alike out there.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle – Nintendo Switch
SteamWorld Heist was the most inventive X-COM-alike until Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle came along. It takes the design of two players, one being a computer with stronger units and one being a player with creativity, and makes it clear, simple, and easy to get into. X-COM has often been shunned for being too difficult and obtuse, while Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is quite the opposite.
Anyone could enjoy Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and while fans of X-COM who play the game on the highest difficulties as a perfect strategist might find it a bit too simple, it’s perfect for pretty much everyone else. Nobody expected a joint project with Super Mario and Ubisoft’s odd Rabbid creatures (which are like if you crossed a Minion with a rabbit), but here we are, and i’s better than we deserve.
Civilization 6 – PC
Similarly to Age of Empires, the debate of which Civilization game is the best will forever rage on online. Civilization 2 and 4 were arguably the most cohesively designed, but every game in the series has its strengths and weaknesses. While there’s definitely flaws in each one, too, Civilization 6 is the most modern and the easiest to jump into. Individual changes between all of the games will always end up arguments, but it’s easily the best one to jump in to with friends.
That’s the main draw of Civilization 6: it’s a game about world domination, where you pick a certain nationality and grow it to the point of either dominating everyone through sheer power in war, scientific breakthroughs, or just being popular. Not unlike the board game Risk, it’s more strategically deep and offers the endless fun of lying to your friends about just how many soldiers you’re about to invade them with.