20. Plague Inc: Evolved
Plague Inc: Evolved takes the less exciting world of disease strain evolution and brings it to the forefront of the strategy genre. The complex models of infection, national and international medical response measures, governmental infrastructure and cure funding, and even the movements of livestock and bird migration patterns have caused the death simulator to skyrocket in popularity, its underlying systems of prediction and disease prevention even drawing the attention of the CDC. Ndemic Creations put you in control of what starts out as a single strain of disease with pretty minimal consequences to anyone infected. A cough, perhaps a stuffy nose, are the only warnings inhabitants are able to witness before you begin evolving your disease to more life-threatening symptoms.
Your task is to wipe out the world by dynamically developing your disease to cause the most destruction possible. With wildly realistic patterns of movement and national infrastructure, players will come up against governmental measures to limit the spread of such a powerful disease as well as the very real threat that a particularly violent strain will kill off its hosts before moving onto another. Everything is heavily intertwined, and realistic real-time updates and reports from each country will give you all the knowledge you need to evolve your disease in the most potently dangerous way possible.
One of the first games to ever hit Steam, Darwinia offered an early insight into the popularity of the real-time strategy genre on PC. Developed all the way back in 2005, Introversion Software’s stripped back experience drops players into a digital theme park in crisis. The once peaceful world of Darwinia has come under fire from a computer virus, a threat particularly dangerous due to the existence of this universe within a collection of 1980s supercomputers.
Initially, you’re given a set of combat skills to fight off the virus and protect the increasingly (and confusingly considering they consist of human-shaped blocks) cute Darwinian figures, but when that proves futile you’ll have to learn to adapt and evolve your troops to face the oncoming malware attacks. While it’s very clearly a strategy game, there’s enough of a mixture of action and puzzle elements to keep things fresh, and the core mechanics have held up under the test of time. Darwinia is a beautiful exercise in imagining what life is like inside your computer, and its inhabitants are more than fit for a fight.
18. Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine
If you’ve ever watched an Oceans film, you’ll be familiar with the hugely satisfying process of describing all the intricacies of a successful heist while it plays out in front of you. Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine plays like a homage to those moments where everything comes together, everyone’s unique skills are put into practice at precisely the right time, and each movement is streamlined to at. Though playable as a single player experience, Monaco is best enjoyed with friends, its local co-op contributions making waves on its release in 2017.
A top-down ballet of strategy and timing, Monaco allows players to build a squad out of a range of characters each with their own specialities. The Locksmith can break through any pesky physical security, meanwhile, the Mole can use brute force to tunnel into guarded locations. With all the action required to keep your fingers light, and enough tension to go around all 4 players, Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine is a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
17. Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander
An alien invasion and a derelict spaceship await your motley crew of scientists, engineers and medics. As enemies hurtle towards your home planet, players are tasked with using scrap from the Halcyon 6 station to rebuild Earth’s last barrier of defence and stop those tentacled fiends in their tracks. With a design inspired by the likes of FTL and Star Control as well as mechanical input from X-COM and Civ, Halcyon 6 is a mixing pot of turn-based strategy and management sim with a healthy dose of humour.
Explore the stars while building your base and managing your crew’s unique abilities and skills across a range of different deployments. As you battle hostile forces in the air or on alien planets, you’ll use everything from laser guns to covert hacking devices to gain the upper hand, chaining together unique combos to deal even more damage. Everything takes place in a retro pixelated aesthetic, only furthering the humorous nostalgia of the entire experience. With a storyline moulding around your own actions, even down to which members of your crew are imbued with which skills, every play through is different. Even the layout of your base will be randomly generated to keep up with the dynamic design of the game.
16. All Walls Must Fall
A single night out in Berlin may just be all you need. The violently energetic nightlife of the city living in an alternate history where the Cold War has lasted into 2089 forms the backdrop for this cyberpunk neo-noir strategy adventure. In 2089, nuclear threat has reached fever pitch, and an imminent strike will throw the world into chaos. Seriously, you only need one night. That’s because you’re a time travelling secret agent tasked with moving to the rhythm of the pulsating music in order to track down the forces behind the attack. If you fail, the world as you know it in the future will be destroyed.
As premises go, that’s a pretty bloody good one. What makes All Walls Must Fall even more of a must-play is the mechanical support backing up that stellar narrative. An isometric turn-based experience, players use time control systems to perfect the mission at hand, gathering information from the near future and using it to inform critical decisions about attack strategy and movement. The painfully cool nightlife of Berlin is the perfect backdrop to the satisfying feeling of moving through a gunfight seamlessly and is made even cooler by the odd spattering of blood on the dancefloor.
15. Bad North
Bad North takes all the grandeur of real-time strategy and maroons it on a tiny island kingdom. The results play better than you’d think they would. As you command your troops around randomly generated spaces, fending off the Vikings threatening attack from their longboats offshore. You’ll only be controlling a maximum of four troops at a time, so seasoned strategy vets might find the first few battles a little simplistic. Nevertheless, with an increase of enemy boats encroaching on your tiny island from all angles, your limited forces will need to act smart and fast to keep the Vikings at bay. The adorable art style relates exactly what Bad North has to offer; an almost relaxing, zen-like strategy game with quick reward and simple yet delightful outcomes.
There’s no information overload here, just squads of archers, pikemen, and infantry units waiting to do their jobs when needed, and a group of bad guys to defeat. It’s simple, sure, but combined with a minimal style and a satisfying difficulty curve that will end up challenging even the most seasoned of real-time strategy players, such simplicity plays idyllically in the hand of Bad North’s experience.
14. SteamWorld Heist
The SteamWorld universe is one of many surprises. The string of games produced by Image & Form Games are known for their genre flexibility, with titles ranging from roguelike-ish dungeon-crawler-ish mining experiences to the upcoming card game all set within the same steampunk universe. SteamWorld Heist is no different, and gives players a far more combat oriented experience than previous SteamWorld Dig titles. At its core, it’s a turn-based strategy game, but with a minute level of detail afforded to the player. The main mechanic lies in aiming your robot army’s bullets manually, allowing for awesome wall bounce tricks and multiple kills from the same attack.
Line up your offensive and defensive units perfectly in each battle to secure a victory. Each location is painstakingly detailed in the gorgeous art style mixing the grainy steel of mechanical warfare with a light-hearted decidedly human touch. SteamWorld Heist has been celebrated for its mechanical gameplay and there’s no better way to explore the SteamWorld universe than in real time strategy.
13. Rise of Industry
Rise of Industry has had a gradual and tumultuous rise of its own. Once called Project Automata, it failed to take off on Kickstarter in 2016, needing more time to pick up steam before a successful release on itch.io as a pre-alpha the following year. Last year it embarked onto Steam Early Access with quite a lot of issues and unfulfilled potential but has come on massively. At this time of writing, v1.0 is only a couple of weeks away!
All of the classic economic management sims have influenced Rise of Industry – Industry Giant, Transport Tycoon, Anno and more. This is a deep game that’s easy to lose yourself in during an endless drive to increase your business empire, build factories and transport networks and increase efficiency.
Despite being based on the oldies and providing a ton of intricacy, Rise of Industry tries its best to not be too daunting to newcomers. It helps that you don’t need to be the best at everything, rather choosing to specialise in whatever aspects of industry appeal to you the most. A marvellous way to wile away the hours.
12. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
A mutant person, pig-man and anthropomorphic duck walk into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. This isn’t a joke, but rather the setup of Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, a cracking turn-based tactical RPG set in the remains of civilisation after a nuclear catastrophe.
An X-COM influence is a recurring theme throughout our strategy list and Mutant Year Zero is no exception. The meaty, tactical combat will be recognisable to anyone who’s played the classic series, but what’s interesting here is how this is combined with a well-developed stealth mechanic that lets you position yourself strategically before battle or avoid it altogether.
It’s a tough ride, with finite resources and XP, truly feeling like a post-apocalyptic fight for survival. If your curiosity has been piqued, you can try Mutant Year Zero’s new demo, available on its store page, and even carry over your progress into the full game should you choose to buy it.
11. Frozen Synapse
As one of the first modern indie takes on bringing the turn-based strategy genre up to date, Frozen Synapse remains a masterpiece of tactical depth. Taking control of an armed squad of killers you’ll have to plan out your line of attack through a serious of missions, or through online multiplayer against a human opponent. Traversing a randomly generated city you’ll have to plot out a plan of attack factoring in every possible outcome.
The beauty of it though is the pacing. This isn’t a twitch-RTS where your actions are quickly locked and decisions made. Any tactical plan can be tested and re-strategised until you settle on your final approach. Much like chess, games can take days to complete with your opponent free to complete their move whenever they decide their plan is ready to enact. And that’s where its brilliance lies, it the psychology and intricacy of strategy games like chess.
The single-player serves more as an introduction to how the game is played than a stand-alone mode. The real game begins when you face a human opponent and all the tactical musings that come with that. It’s a constant guessing game trying to decide what your opponent will ultimately do and how you can counter that. The tension comes in your committal to your finalised move, although you have the freedom to try out every option, once you hit ‘commit’ your strategy is unchangeable. That’s not to suggest that the game can’t end quickly either. If decisions are made on the spot, a game can end in seconds with one wrong decision decimating your squad. It’s a true battle of wits, which is what strategy is all about.