Strategy games are as synonymous with gaming as a controller. A constant since gaming began to make its mark on the entertainment world, you’ll be hard pushed to find a genre with more devoted players. While there are countless classics you can hunt down should you so wish, it’s much easier to keep your eyes focused on the latest releases which are sure to be remembered for some time to come.
The question, then, is what are these games, and why should you play them? That’s why we’re here, though, and this is the best strategy titles you can play right now.
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Review Price: £39.99
The Civilization series rarely steps a foot wrong and the sixth entry in the franchise is no different. In fact, it may very well be the best release yet. Asking you to prove there is a brain in your head and that you can use it too, Civ 6 demands to be treated seriously from start to finish, but that only helps the cause. You’re responsible for every success, and for every failure, and the high and lows you experience are nothing short of excellent.
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This is made all the better given that you must take charge of a civilisation (obviously) and take it from an early settlement to an unstoppable world power. You even get to step into the shoes of a famous leader as you go about your business, meaning the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Gandhi, Cleopatra and even Queen Victoria are always on-hand.
It all comes together spectacularly, allowing Civ 6 to mesh quality gameplay with a ton of personality. The end result is very special indeed.
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Platform: PC, Xbox One PS4
Review Price: £39.99
The events of XCOM 2 are based around the idea of a fallen Earth. A military organisation – known as XCOM – has failed in its attempt to stop an alien invasion and is now trying to stop the threat from completely occupying the planet. The only way to achieve this is to engage with some of the finest real-time strategy gaming in history.
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Showing once again that developer Firaxis understands how important having personality is, every choice, death and kill feels like it matters in XCOM 2. You’re not just controlling nameless faces who blend into the background. They’re characters you name and give life to, so when they die, you’re genuinely affected by the outcome.
It’s this blend of strategic warfare and methodical thinking that has made XCOM 2 such a standout in the field, even more so as you progress and realise you’re adapting to each and every scenario. A true standout.
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Available on PC
Of course if you love Total War: Warhammer, of course you’re going to adore its sequel. While more of a second chapter than a true successor, it evolves by introducing new races and mechanics that add depth and excitement to an already great game.
The RTS genre of course can be a tricky one to pick up, but Warhammer does a good job of introducing players to all its complexities making this a great place to dip your toe in the water before diving in and getting completely absorbed in its world.
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It’s still incredibly tough, but with a few early baby steps, the task is a little less daunting for newcomers.
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You know how Apple’s iPad pretty much represents what most people mean by a tablet? Well World of Warcraft’s free-to-play online spin-off Hearthstone is equally synonymous with collectible card games.
It’s accessible for newcomers, but Hearthstone still holds plenty of depth for dedicated players. With a blend of expansive lore, engaging gameplay and great graphics, the upcoming offerings from Gwent and The Elder Scrolls Legends have a high bar to match.
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Available no for Nintendo 3DS
The Fire Emblem series is so vast and packed with lore it can be tough to work out where exactly to jump on board and start playing. But that’s why the newest entry, Shadows of Valentia, is so perfect, as it’s a remake of the original 1992 release.
Retaining the core strategic elements that make the series so compelling, Shadows of Valentia is an excellent strategy game that also includes a great story to boot. If you’re a strategy fan who likes gaming on the go, this is a no-brainer.
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Banner Saga 2
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Platform: PC, Xbox One PS4, iOS, Android
Review Price: £14.99
Aside from being an extremely good RTS in its own right, The Banner Saga 2 gets extra praise because it comes from three-person development team Stoic. How only a trio of individuals made this is anyone’s guess, especially as it’s loaded with story and characters that pack it with depth. There’s a wealth of content in which to care about and invest.
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It also benefits from a unique combat system that’s propped up by how balanced your team is. While some battles are designed to let you unleash, the majority need tactics and a sensible approach. Running in like a loon will see you fail time and time again. This is the whole point, however, and why there’s a constant introduction of new enemy types. You can’t switch off.
As such, The Banner Saga 2 never lets proceedings get old and you’re always left wanting more. Plus, it’s available on mobile, meaning you can play it as, when and where you please
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Platform: PC, Xbox One PS4, Xbox 360
Developer: Haemimont Games
Review Price: £32.99
Who doesn’t want to be a pretend dictator and then rule their own country? Exactly, and this is what Tropico 5 allows you to do without ever holding back. How you take charge is completely up to you, and it’s here where Haemimont Games’ RTS really shines.
While you can treat your society well and become a beloved figure, you can also go in the opposite direction and be an absolute tyrant by increasing housing prices, taking power by force and just making your population’s life a living hell. You have to accept the consequences, but the choice is in your hands.
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Tropico 5 also benefits greatly due to it being the first in the series to feature cooperative and competitive multiplayer. Opening the door for your own friends to try and rise up against you – or be your strongest ally – it’s the perfect way to make your political dreams a reality.
Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £25.99 | Amazon.com from $25.99
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Platforms: PC, Xbox One PS4, Xbox 360
Developer: Introversion Software
Review Price: £25
No one ever thinks how difficult it is to run a prison. People are so obsessed with the prisoners themselves that the concept of upkeep is lost on them. Prison Architect changes all that.
Putting you in charge of every aspect that’s needed when running a jail, it’s up to you to employ wardens, guards and other workers, as well as build cells, facilities, utilities and take care of the financial side of the business. If that wasn’t enough, you also have to keep the inmates themselves content, and if you don’t, they will kick off as a convict would. Trying to manage that is a whole other kettle of fish.
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It’s incredibly addictive, however, and as your prison grows trying to keep on top of it all is beyond challenging. Prove to be a success, though, and you’ll be rewarded with a feeling of satisfaction that’s hard to beat.
Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £17 | Amazon.com from $22
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Developer: Colossal Order
Review Price: £34.99
Many years ago Simcity was considered the king of the RTS genre. While there’s still plenty to love about that series, the modern equivalent is Cities Skylines and it’s, quite frankly, great.
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An open-ended building simulator, you’re put in charge of a city and responsible for not letting it crumble to the ground. You have to control zoning, road placement, taxes, public services, transportation, the budget, health, happiness, employment, traffic, pollution and that’s just the start of it. You have to make that all-important call on anything that needs to be managed, and the whole game is superbly executed.
It also helps that Cities Skylines stays away from random events or ‘spectacle’. The heart of the experience is to run the city as if it exists in the real world, so challenges lie in more specific areas – such as taking care of the environment – as opposed to having to deal with a hurricane. The approach works, though, and you simply won’t find a game doing this any better.
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Review Price: £34.99
Stellaris offers a slightly different twist on your usual RTS fare by focusing on space exploration and trying to manage an empire amongst the stars. It’s like a tactical, more stringent version of Star Wars.
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Easy to learn and yet hard to master, Paradox’s finest creation to date doesn’t follow the expected formula and instead toys with its ideas, even adding in RPG-like elements. This works wonders in terms of how the game starts, as your experience will be shaped by the decisions you make when designing your own species. There’s also a very specific end game that can drastically shift events to make them more personal to you.
With a grand setting and an exploration mechanic that’s frighteningly deep, Stellaris does a fantastic job of embracing its environment and never letting you forget where you are. It’s intriguing almost from the word go, and trying to see everything it has to offer will take months, if not years.
Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £27.99 | Amazon.com from $39.99
Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void
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Review Price: £29.99
StarCraft 2 itself is one of the greatest RTS games ever made, but if you’re looking for something slightly newer, the Legacy Of The Void standalone expansion is exactly what you need.
As well as all the content from previous expansion Heart Of The Swarm, Legacy Of The Void also continues the campaign for the Protoss race and brings StarCraft 2 as a series to a close. Still seen as one of the most influential releases of the last few years, it draws all of its story elements to a close while also evolving the multiplayer to new levels, an area where the franchise gets its longevity.
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You’ll have to be ready for a sharp wake-up call should you dip your toe into StarCraft’s competitive world as the skill level is so high – there are tournaments worth millions of pounds happening constantly – but it’s hard to deny what Blizzard has created here. It’s an RTS masterpiece and won’t be shifted from its perch for some time.
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Platforms: PC, Xbox One
Developer: Creative Assembly
Review Price: £40.99
Halo Wars 2 may be built upon a traditional RTS template but it pulls it off with so much skill, while also effortlessly blending in the Halo universe, that it’s hard not to be impressed.
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Utilising a ‘rock-paper-scissors’ combat system, battles often break down to the point where ground vehicles are better against infantry, infantry are better against aircraft, and aircraft are better against vehicles. Ensuring you find that sweet spot when fighting is essential for victory and you’ll be switching tactics up on the fly in order to stay ahead of the curve. Throw in a co-op campaign that allows you to team up with a friend and developer Creative Assembly deserves a lot of credit.
Such praise can also be applied to the lore the Halo franchise offers up, and that’s even before you start playing. The story and sheer depth of content in Halo Wars 2 is enough to rival any of its competitors and fans of the series will be especially thrilled.
Clash of Clans
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Clash of Clans is the perfect game for mobile. With surprising level of nuance for a free-to-play title, Supercell has created a great game for creating online communities that fits in your pocket.
You start by creating your own community and collecting vital resources for expansion. Then, once you get stronger, try to hold your own against other players and take everything that isn’t nailed down. It’s an addictive loop that’s perfect for your daily commute.
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Rome II: Total War
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One of the greatest strengths of the Total War series is the detail woven into the setting, and Rome II is top of the pile. While Creative Assembly’s strategy title might be intimidating with its overwhelming UI and complicated mechanics, push through and you’ll find an absorbing and immersive slice of history.
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Carefully growing your Roman Empire might be interesting, but the scale of cinematic battles really shines in Rome II. Your faithful force fills the screen for mind-boggling distances that look more beautiful than ever.
Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £29.99 | Amazon.com from $28
Plants vs Zombies
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It’s probably the oddest, but simplest premise in video games. You have a house to protect in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, with only a handy horticultural troops for protection.
What begins as a simple curio blossoms into a full-blown compulsion as you experiment with bright, cartoony defensive combinations on your garden battlefield. Plant and zombie types are as many as they are imaginative in this endlessly addictive mobile title.
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Clash Royale shares the mobile dominance and bright, Pixar-esque visuals of other Clash titles, but offers a more engaging second-to-second gameplay experience.
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Royale is a card-collecting, tower defense title with some MOBA elements in which you seek to defend your three towers from your opponent, while trying to destroy theirs to earn a three-crown victory. You might find the paywall less forgiving than Hearthstone, but plunge deeper into this one and prepare to wave goodbye to more free time.