If there was ever a cautionary tale against being a leader, Banished would be it. This brutal city-building simulation game is a constant uphill battle to keep your town’s population alive and well.
The titular ‘banished’ are the inhabitants of the game, having been cast out from society and having to build a new one of their own. You’ll build and expand your populace, all while carefully managing resources.
It’s a cruel world out there, though. The number of ways in which your people can die is alarming, from starvation and disease to fire and exposure to the elements. Good luck, you’ll need it.
29. Tooth and Tail
Real-time strategy games often conjure up images of vast battlefields of armies to micromanage. Tooth and Tail flips those complex and large-scale conventions on their head.
With each match, you’ll select a commander and just a handful of units from a roster of twenty. This tightly-knit squad is who you’ll do battle with, in short, but sweet skirmishes on procedurally generated maps. A USP of Tooth and Tail is how well this simplicity translates to a gamepad, a typically clunky form of control for the genre.
Oh, and did we forget to mention that it’s not humans you’re fighting with, but animals? Different factions of critters are at war, literally starved for resources and fighting over what food remains. It’s an interesting concept enjoyed over a solid single-player campaign and selection of multiplayer modes.
28. Planet Coaster
Theme Park and Rollercoaster Tycoon were classics of the park sim genre, and up until recently were unmatched by more modern efforts – that is, until 2016’s Planet Coaster.
Planet Coaster feels just like playing those stalwarts of the genre but with souped-up visuals bringing the experience up-to-date. It’s a brilliantly accomplished rollercoaster-’em-up that isn’t afraid to get into the nitty-gritty of park management and provides heaps of customisation options so you can truly make your park your own.
If building rollercoasters and looking after the park’s coffers is your idea of strategy, then you may also want to check out the recent Parkitect.
27. This is the Police
It ain’t easy being a police chief. Particularly not when you’ve got a corrupt town mayor to deal with on one hand who’s bringing an end to your career, and the mafia blackmailing you on the other hand. This is the gravity of your situation in This Is The Police.
The game takes place over the final six months of your employment, in which you have to keep the police department running and crime rates as low as possible. There’ll be tough calls to make, from allocation of staff to ensure that crimes are dealt with to whether to do the opposite and take bribes for money.
This Is The Police benefits not only from some deep cop strategising but also a compelling narrative that delves into the dark side of politics. It’s a duty you’d do well to report for.
26. Star Ruler
If there’s one thing we know about space, it’s that it’s pretty big. Star Ruler is a procedurally generated 4X game that pays homage to this fact by letting you create upto ten thousand solar systems to explore. That wasn’t a typo. Ten. Thousand. Just bear in mind that you’ll need a beefy rig to run anything close to that.
Typical of the genre, Star Ruler provides depth and complexity in spades. Its technology tree is a particular highlight, with a ton of interesting research to carry out that can also be affected somewhat by chance, with unpredictable and exciting results.
It may be lonely out there in space but Star Ruler doesn’t have to be – you can play with as many as 10 other budding spacelords either online or over LAN. It’s also a highly customisable game with great mod support as if there wasn’t already enough content to be getting on with.
25. Jurassic World Evolution
Jurassic Park is a series absolutely ripe for lending itself to park management, so it’s a wonder that it took so long for a decent one to come along. Thankfully, Jurassic World Evolution generally doesn’t disappoint.
Frontier Developments made an effort to reach a level of authenticity in the game, closely studying the source material and even drafting in Jeff Goldblum and other actors from the films to provide voiceovers. A central mechanic involves going on expeditions to uncover DNA for breeding new dinosaurs, and just as the dinos are infamous for finding ways to escape in the films, here too you’ll be required to beef up your security and capture any that make a bid for freedom.
As well as being on PC, Jurassic World Evolution is also available on PS4 and Xbox One, a boon for console players for whom park management games aren’t always made available.
24. The Escapists
Prison sucks, everyone knows that. Cells are dingy and uncomfortable, the food is crap and you’ve got power-tripping guards to contend with on a daily basis. It’s no wonder that making an escape is such an enticing option, and The Escapists provides excellent practice. Not that you would ever need such talents, dear reader.
In a series of ever higher-security facilities, you’ll go about your daily prison routines while building up skills, acquiring contraband and slowly formulating your plot to escape. Side quests exist in the form of favours that you can carry out for your fellow inmates, acquiring items they need to receive a reward.
If you’ve ever watched any prison escape shows or films you’ll be familiar with some of the common methods, and The Escapists has a large and varied representation of these. Whether you slowly chip away at a tunnel from your cell, cause a riot for distraction or simply shiv any guards standing in your way, the most important thing is that you get the hell outta there one way or another.
23. Sword Legacy: Omen
Sword Legacy: Omen is quite a melting pot of ideas, with turn-based tactical combat harkening back to Final Fantasy Tactics but with a dark Arthurian story and roleplaying structure that puts it more in the realms of The Banner Saga trilogy.
Your characters have a variety of different unlockable abilities that allow for myriad combat strategies, but also need some TLC to avoid them getting too stressed and having a meltdown.
As well as some solid combat with an emphasis on unit positioning and skill combos, Sword Legacy: Omen also features exploration in which you’ll scout around for loot and solve puzzles. This is all topped off with a compelling – and at times, brutal – storyline.
22. Party Hard
Party Hard combines both action and stealth in your unnerving bid to murder everyone at a party – initially, your excuse being that it’s causing too much of a ruckus and you just want some shuteye. Why’s it in our strategy list? Well, if you’re going to do it properly, you’ve got to plan it out carefully.
Just brazenly stab someone in plain sight and the witnesses will call the cops. Likewise, if you get sloppy with the hiding and disposal of the bodies. Party Hard, then, is a methodical game of lying in wait, cleverly using poison and traps and distractions, then concealing the corpses in dumpsters. That’s not to say it can’t be fast-paced and action-heavy too, with guns, swords and explosions in the mix.
Party Hard has developed into a fairly successful series of its own, with the light-hearted Tycoon spin-off and then the more recent full sequel, Party Hard 2. The latter was the most positively received of them all, so feel free to start there.
The ‘X’ in Xenonauts is more than just a quirky spelling – it is, in fact, a clear allusion to X-COM, in particular, the original series. Xenonauts is a love letter to this heavily strategic and wildly engrossing grandfather of turn-based tactics.
Whereas the recent XCOM reboots went a fair way towards streamlining the original formula and making it more accessible, Xenonauts maintains as much of the depth of its predecessors as possible – albeit while giving some quality-of-life modernisations to UI and the like.
All of the features that you’d expect are present: tight turn-based combat, planetary defence, technology research and resource management – and you’ll have some tough decisions to face involving these. And yes, for better or worse, your soldiers suffer from the trademark X-COM mortality – let them die in a mission and they’ll be lost forever.