Ever wanted to command a small squad to prove your worth on the battlefield? Or maybe leading an entire army sounds more exciting to you? And what about ruling whole nations, watching them grow more powerful over decades, up to the point where conquering the world is at your fingertips? That’s exactly why strategy games were invented – to allow you to put your strategy skills to test, no matter the scale of the conflict.
Strategy games can be very diverse, though usually it’s all about war and utilizing unique abilities of commanded units to exploit vulnerabilities in enemy defenses. Strategies require careful planning and knowing units through and through. For example, in a medieval strategy, you wouldn’t usually want to send your cavalry charge the pikemen because it would result in heavy loses for your unit and minimal loses for the enemy. Strategizing in these games is often a matter of choosing the right counter for each encounter.
The scale of the battle may be different, depending on a game. Some titles let you command a simple squad consisting of just a few soldiers, while others may allow you to lead twenty thousand-men armies to battle. The goal is usually the same, however – to use your resources and manpower the best you can and force your opponent to waste theirs, just like you would in a game of chess.
Sword against sword, gun against gun. Small scale, large scale, real-time, turn-based. Base building, no base building. Medieval. Modern times. Future. Strategies indeed come in a variety of types and shapes, and this is a great thing – this way everyone can find a game to enjoy. Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the best strategy games you could play these days.
|Battlefleet Gothic Armada 2||2019-01-24||Strategy||Tindalos Interactive||81%|
|Iron Harvest||2020-09-01||Strategy||KING Art Games||90%|
|Hearts Of Iron 4 Cadet Edition||2016-06-06||Simulation||Paradox Development Studio||75%|
|Stellaris||2016-05-09||Strategy||Paradox Development Studio||81%|
|Homeworld Deserts Of Kharak||2016-01-20||Strategy||Blackbird Interactive||95%|
|Endless Legend||2014-09-18||RPG||AMPLITUDE Studios|
|They Are Billions||2017-12-12||Strategy||Numantian Games||5%|
|Total War Three Kingdoms||2019-05-23||Strategy||Creative Assembly||74%|
|Europa Universalis 4||2013-08-13||Economy||Paradox Development Studio||66%|
|Crusader Kings II Imperial Collection||2012-02-14||Economy||Paradox Development Studio|
|Sid Meier's Civilization VI||2016-10-20||Economy||Firaxis Games||94%|
|Cities Skylines||2015-03-10||Economy||Colossal Order Ltd.||73%|
|Starcraft 2 Battle Chest||Strategy||Blizzard Entertainment||0%|
|Total War Warhammer II||2017-09-28||Strategy||Creative Assembly||78%|
|Company Of Heroes 2||2013-06-25||Strategy||Feral Interactive (Linux)||89%|
|XCOM 2 Collection||2016-02-04||Strategy||Feral Interactive (Linux)||88%|
|Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition||2019-11-14||Strategy||Forgotten Empires||71%|
|Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition||2020-10-15||RTS||Forgotten Empires||74%|
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2
Although Warhammer 40k has some neat planetside strategy games to its name, the space combat strategies were very good as well.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is a bigger, better, juicier sequel, featuring more of everything. There are, for instance, gigantic Tyranid bioships which look like they could eat Mass Effect Reapers whole in one gulp.
There are 12 factions spanning all the big players of WH40k, and the storyline deals with the aftermath of the apocalyptic 13th Crusade which rent the galaxy asunder. Watching torpedoes streak across the void, deploying interceptors, or ordering a broadside salvo makes you feel like a true commander, and the graphics make every battle look awesome and intense.
Northgard is a strategy game putting you in charge of establishing a Viking colony on a land inspired by various Norse myths and legends.
There are several clans fighting for survival and control over the land of Northgard, each with different specialties, inspired by their iconic animal. Other clans aren’t your only competition, either, because the region is plagued by legendary beasts and ravenous undead.
There’s a variety of jobs you need to assign to your settlers to make sure that they are not only happy and safe, but also prepared for this land’s merciless winters. Northgard is a great colony building strategy, which has enough complexity and engaging systems to keep anybody occupied, not just devout fans of Norse culture.
|Developer:||KING Art Games|
Iron Harvest is striking right of the bat thanks to its premise: take The Central and Eastern Europe of the 1920s and add dieselpunk mecha to it.
That’s pretty much the core idea of the game, based on the illustrations of Jakub Różalski, but don’t worry, the game is more than just its aesthetic. It’s a proper real-time strategy game, and it’s going to keep you engage for a long time.
There are three campaigns to play through and each of the three main powers (Polandia, Rusviet, Saxony) can field unique units as long as you develop your base enough to support them, of course. There’s also a solid multiplayer segment, both competitive and co-operative. The game isn’t revolutionary by any means, but it is a solid RTS with a great, evocative premise.
Hearts of Iron 4
|Developer:||Paradox Development Studio|
Hearts of Iron IV is a treat for every fan of World War II. Playing out between 1936 or 1939 (your choice), it puts you in charge of a nation just before the outbreak of World War II.
Thanks to the game’s compressed timeline (only up to about 1950s) it can be even more detailed, in-depth than its already complex cousins: Europa Universalis and Crusader Kings.
There are dozens of nations you could take over, and lead them to victory, or at least survival, in the war. While the game aims for realism, it does allow you to change the course of history with smart decisions. Economy, government principles, directing and developing armed forces are all-important, and neglecting one might lead to your faction’s downfall.
The game is split into two main parts: The first is overworld travel on a node-filled map of the galactic sector where you find, negotiate, and accept missions. This is also where you manage your crew, ship, battlemechs and, of course, finances.
While on the mission, the game becomes a turn-based tactics game. You can field up to four heavily customizable mechs from several weight classes and many models. Depending on a mission you’re likely to fight both other battlemechs and regular units like tanks. Positioning and “facing”is of utmost importance, because of the complex damage system which can easily claim your mech’s limbs.
|Developer:||Paradox Development Studio|
Stellaris is a space grand strategy on a galactic scale. You’re put in charge of an alien species, just starting to explore space beyond its own star system.
You can pick the species from a list of ready options, or make your own, picking from a very satisfying range of options for appearance, traits, and cultural tendencies. After that, you’re off to explore a titanic, beautifully rendered galaxy.
As usual, you can pursue any way to galactic dominance you choose, with conquest and diplomacy being the most obvious ones. You get a tremendous degree of control over your empire, ranging from sweeping government decisions to designing ships your species is using. The endgame is cool too, with many things that can happen when empires go over the top, such as AI rebellions.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is a prequel to the all-time science fiction strategy classics.
As a result, instead of a complex 3D space-RTS we get a more traditional, but still excellent, grounded, planet-spanning strategy. There are several factions in play, racing to uncover a mysterious anomaly detected on the southern side of the planet.
Not unlike its predecessors, Desert of Kharak is interested mostly in mechanised warfare, so you’ll be assembling your armies from various types and weight of land and air vehicles, clashing on and over lovely desert maps. There’s also a solid multiplayer, of course,
Endless Legend is a 4X strategy set in a vivid fantasy world populated by several interesting species and cultures.
There are nine factions in the base game, and a few more added via expansions, and each has different ideas about conquest, government, and expansion. Which, of course, makes for a very replayable game thanks to many different playstyles represented.
In addition to development, conquest, and diplomacy, Endless Legend also leans into the fantasy trapping if its setting, and gives you cool, flavourful, rewarding quests. Beyond its deep mechanics, Endless Legend also deserves credits for its presentation, from the beautiful procedurally generated maps to awesome music, it’s just a great game to admire for artistic value.
DEFCON is somewhat forgotten these days, which is a shame, because it’s an interesting, unique strategy game that seemingly has no imitators.
Inspired by movies such as War Games, DEFCON doesn’t have flashy graphics. What it does have is a map of the world rendered is relaxing blue hue and tracking very much NOT relaxing nuclear missiles. One of DEFCON’s subtitles is Everybody Dies, by the way.
DEFCON reduces the necessary input to a minimum, you mostly just pick a location, side, and then issue orders as necessary. The goals change depending on game mode, but always involve scoring points for megadeaths caused. As the numbers grow, you achieve higher-rank DEFCON, which in turn provides new options to you. If you’d like to play something unique, DEFCON should do the trick.
They are Billions
Your job in every mission is simple: fortify a settlement against uncountable hordes of ravenous undead happy to eat some humans. This means not only building sturdy walls, but also developing some nifty tech.
You can put turrets on the walls, but you’d probably also want to develop some mech suits to protect your workers in the field, and to plug any holes in the defences. They are Billions is happy to just let you play, but if you want some story with your game, there is a fully fledge campaign exploring the setting’s backstory and adding a sense of drama to the experience.
Total War: Three Kingdoms
Total War series brought us multiple phenomenal strategies over the past 20 years – entire franchise already counts over 10 different games.
Total War: Three Kingdoms is the most recent member of the family and focuses on the so-called Three Kingdoms period, rough times for Chinese history.
The ultimate goal of the game is to conquer all rivals and unite China under your banner. It’s worth noting that the game features two separate game modes – and one of them is romanticized version of the story, where your heroes possess unnatural strength, equal to the power of a small army. The game also introduces a nice little addition in the form of duels, allowing generals to engage in showy one-on-one combat.
Europa Universalis IV
|Developer:||Paradox Development Studio|
It would be hard to find a strategy fan who didn’t hear about Europa Universalis – a game so complicated it could take hundreds of hours to learn to play effectively, yet very rewarding when you finally grasp the basics.
As a ruler of the chosen nation, you need to take care of its diplomacy and economy, as well as maintain an adequate army to ensure the safety of your own people. Enter alliances, make trades, declare wars, spread religion – conquer the world and claim it. Unlike most strategies, Europa Universalis IV focuses on the real-world history allowing us not only to become the head of historically accurate medieval kingdoms but also experience some of the most influential historical events like War of Roses.
Crusader Kings II
|Developer:||Paradox Development Studio|
Another title from Paradox, though it shares some similarities with Europa Universalis IV, it is, in fact, a completely different game with different mechanics and which puts emphasis on different aspects of the gameplay.
It’s more newbie-friendly, but saying it’s an easy game would be a huge over-interpretation. Instead of focusing on a nation, Crusader Kings II revolves around the royal family. Your main concern is to ensure there is always an heir to the throne ready to take over because the game will end if the ruling family leaves no descendants. Genetics system and trait inheriting are interesting additions, forcing you to think twice before deciding for a marriage.
Crusader Kings II is free to play game.
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, similarly to the previous games from the franchise, lets you become the ruler of one of many famous civilizations to lead it through ages, develop it and make it prosper.
It won’t be an easy task, because your nation is not the only one with ambitions to become the most influential power on Earth.
There are multiple ways to achieve this goal, not just a military one. Depending on the chosen nation you may want to focus on developing new technologies or propagating religion instead, which will allow to meet Science or Religion victory conditions, respectively. What makes the game quite different from other turn-based strategies is the fact it takes place on the hexed map.
|Developer:||Colossal Order Ltd.|
Now that was unexpected, right? But unnecessarily – designing a large and well-functioning city indeed requires a lot of planning and strategizing, so the game fits the list perfectly.
Cities: Skylines is probably the most successful game of its genre since SimCity 4 which was released back in 2003.
Here you will be able to both plan the city and manage it. Build roads, designate housing and industry areas, provide the city with electricity and water, give citizens access to schools and universities, build police stations and fire departments, take care of the public transport and watch your city grow. The amount of content available is overwhelming and a solid bang for your buck. If you find the title interesting, you may also want to try one of its multiple expansion packs, each adding even more functionalities to the base game.
Now let’s take a trip into the sci-fi future, where Terrans, Zerg, and Protoss species are fighting each other for dominance.
This is the game we usually think of when talking about strategies – opposing factions start the battle in a different part of the map and soon the fight for resources begins.
Your goal is to quickly develop your own base, recruit troops and swarm the enemy. Each of the playable factions is different and has its own unique units you need to utilize in order to achieve victory. This is what makes the game more interesting – part of the fun is learning how to play each faction effectively.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is free to play game.
Total War: WARHAMMER 2
While we’re at the fantasy side of strategies it would be unwise to not to mention the Total War: WARHAMMER 2.
And by large we mean really large, like Total War large. Similarly to other games from the franchise, the game consists of two main parts. You will spend most of the time on the grand map in the turn-based mode, where you will be able to manage your empire, take care of diplomacy, recruit armies and declare attacks. And then the second part kicks in, as each declared attack can be resolved on the battlefield, where you will be able to control your few thousands-men army in a real-time battle
Company of Heroes 2
|Developer:||Feral Interactive (Linux)|
If you are interested in a traditional RTS with base building and army recruiting but set during the Second World War period, then there’s hardly a better choice than Company of Heroes 2.
The game allows you to play either Allies (the Soviet Union, US Forces, or British Forces) or Axis (Wehrmacht Ostheer or Oberkomando West).
Needless to say, each faction plays differently and allows to use different tactics in order to defeat the opponent. It’s worth mentioning the destructible environment and the fact that units can gain experience on the battlefield to increase their battle effectiveness. Also, the game still lives and you shouldn’t have trouble finding a quick online match.
|Developer:||Feral Interactive (Linux)|
This one allows you to follow the story from the first game.
The core of the gameplay lies in the campaign mode, during which you will be able to develop your research complex and manage your squad of soldiers specialized in fighting the aliens.
For each battle, you will be able to send up to six soldiers. During encounter you will issue orders in a turn-based manner – this includes moving the soldiers from one point to another, taking cover, throwing grenades or shooting at enemies. Successful battles reward your soldiers experience you can use to enhance their skills. Between battles, you will be able to extend your base and research new useful technologies and weapons to later use against invaders.
Age of Empires II: HD Edition (Definitive Edition)
The king of old-school RTS games returned after almost 15 years in a new, refreshed, high definition version.
It is the same amazing game it was back in 1999 but tweaked to fit the contemporary reality of bigger screens working at higher resolutions.
However, it would be simply a lie to say there’s nothing new besides the updated graphics. Age of Empires II: HD Edition supports Steam multiplayer, Steam Workshop for user-created content, and have 3 new expansion packs, including The Forgotten, which is based on a fan-made creation. Expansions add more content to the base game, but they also make important balance changes for existing units.
This concludes our small list of the best strategy games on Steam and beyond. Hopefully you’ve found something to ignite your interest.
Strategies come in many different flavors. Depending on what you’re looking for, there are tons of exciting titles to choose from. We probably missed a few other great games, but it would be simply impossible to list them all in order to make everyone happy. If you’re a fan of large-scale battles, then any Total War game could easily make its way into your game library. For Second World War fans there’s Company of Heroes 2, and if battling is not your cup of tea, then there’s always a peaceful path in the form of Cities: Skylines to follow.