There is a difference between strategy and tactics, one that can be sometimes forgotten, or ignored. In the broadest terms, strategy is largely concerned with large-scale, long-term plan of accomplishing a specific goal. Tactics, meanwhile, is mostly concerned with accomplishing immediate goals, some of which will, ideally, contribute to the strategy.
In the context of this article, it means games that have turn-based battles between units presented as discrete missions or, and a form of overworld-layer on which to explore, manage resources and in general prepare for the combat deployments. This differs from turn-based RPGs, where TB combat is usually integrated organically into usual activities and doesn’t constitute the core gameplay element. We purposefully moved away from 4X games like Civilisation to give more tactically-minded strategies a moment in the spotlight.
Best Turn-Based Strategy Games
With the criteria established, let’s move on to the list!
The universe of Battletech is one of the moderately far future, where noble houses of the galaxy decided that fights between Lances (teams) of massive mech walkers is the right way to resolve conflicts. You’ll get to lead your own mercenary outfit with a garage full of battlemechs coming in several weight classes and many different default loadout variants. Now it’s your job to lead them into battle.
One of the coolest things about Battletech is that each Battletech is divided into several sections which count damage individually, which affect available tactics. Lose an arm, and you lose the weaponry located there, lose both legs and you’re out of the fight. If you hit a location housing the ammo storage just right, it can explode, and if you destroy the Head section it does what headshots usually do.
|Genre:||Role-playing, dungeon crawl|
|Developer||Red Hook Studios|
Although Darkest Dungeon is classified as an RPG, the game fits in quite well in a list that has XCOM on it, for instance. What is Darkest Dungeon? It’s a game about sending a group of adventurers into dungeons spreading wide and deep beneath the family manor of the player’s character. The problem is that the setting isn’t heroic fantasy, it’s a Gothic horror, and your adventurers are only human.
The dungeons are crawling with various unsavory monsters and vicious humans, and exploring horrific dungeons puts a strain on your toons’ psyche. This is where the hamlet management comes in, where you send your folks to rest and heal in upgradable buildings between dungeon runs. There’s a lot of emphasis on managing your forces and the city in addition to battles and exploration.
Disciples: Sacred Lands, and the broadly superior sequel Disciples II: Dark Prophecy (and its several expansions) was a series that could rival Heroes of Might and Magic. Disciples 2’s story takes place in a land called Nevendaar, torn by conflicts between gods and mortals. Each of the peoples has its own objectives and methods, many of which put them at odds with others, or open shaky alliances.
Each mission plays out on two levels. During a round each factions moves its leaders (and their personal guard) around the map, exploring and claiming resources. When enemy leaders meet, a battle screen is entered. Parties, each arranged in melee and ranged rows, stand against each other and exchange blows turn by turn, according to initiative. Simple, but effective and engaging.
Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest
|Genre:||Adventure, RPG, Strategy|
|Developer||Ctrl Alt Ninja Ltd.|
Druidstone is a little-known game that could use more recognition. The follows a team of three characters: a fighter, a ranger, and a mage, which need to investigate the unfortunate events taking place in a sprawling forest. Along the way they will learn more about themselves and each other, improve their abilities, and get to the core of what is going on.
Although the game features character progression, the means towards it, and the game’s structure itself make it closer to games like XCOM or Hard West. You’ll move from mission to mission, and each one is in a way a puzzle, featuring several obligatory and optional objectives, and since you can replay once completed missions on higher levels, they become something of a series of tactical puzzles.
|Developer||Splash Damage, The Coalition|
Gears of War is best known as a series of third-person shooters which popularised cover-based gameplay and brought muscle-bound marines back in favour. As a result, the announcement of Gears Tactics, a turn-based tactics game serving as a prequel to the original games came as something of a surprise. The main character is the father of Cait Diaz, whom you know from GoW4 and Gears 5.
Gabe Diaz gathers a team to take the fight to a leader of the invading Locust army, and the group he gathers is full of strong personalities. There are several classes, and while each has its own abilities, in a true Gears of War fashion, everyone can hunker down behind a cover in order to lay down some covering fire while one brave soul moves in for an suitably Gears-y finisher.
Hard West is an interesting game. Set ostensibly in the Old West, with bandits, prospecting for gold, and the devil himself bringing people back as vengeful revenants to correct a horrible wrong…wait, what? In fact, Hard West has more than a few shades of horror and fantasy elements, but the core experience is all about shotguns, revolvers, and living a life on the frontier.
Hard West goes to impressive lengths to make each scenario as thematic as possible, from shadows betraying lurking enemies, through avoiding being shot through sheer Luck, to making cover out of objects in the world. You can even make trick shots, like ricochets, provided there is something to deflect the bullet off.
|Genre:||Strategy, turn-based tactics|
Phoenix Point has quite a legacy behind it. It development was headed by Julian Gollop, the creator of the original X-COM games way back in the 1990s. Phoenix Point is a game quite similar to the formula of Firaxis’ reboot of XCOM, with its own style, and a few neat ideas regarding the mechanics of both the strategic and tactical layer of the game. Especially the enemies are an interesting nightmare bunch.
You’ll be fighting Earth wildlife mutated by an alien virus into looking like Lovecraftian abominations. Interestingly they will evolve as the campaign progresses, to make sure you never feel safe again. You’ll also manage competing factions, and field team of up to sixteen soldiers, because having a chance against slimy tentacled mutants from the deep means fielding overwhelming firepower.
Warhammer 40.000 Mechanicus
Warhammer 40.000 got to see several real-time strategies, action games, even an action RPG, but aside from Space Hulk, turn-based games were rare. Warhammer 40.000 Mechanicus is a really cool attempt at changing that state of things. Featuring Adeptus Mechanicus as the playable faction, the game has a really good idea how to turn the setting’s specifics into gameplay mechanics.
Playing as Priests of the machine Cult, you will control not only the Techpriests themselves, but also a number of expendable servitors. Your enemies will be Necrons, cybernetic undead waking up from millennia of slumber, disturbed by your exploration of their tombs. Much like the original tabletop wargame, Mechanicus will test your tactical acumen harsher than you’d expect.
XCOM: Chimera Squad
XCOM: Chimera Squad was announced out of the blue mere weeks before its release, but quickly drew the attention of fans of the brand and of tactical games due to its interesting premise. You are playing as a joint force of humans and aliens formed in the aftermath of XCOM2’s campaign. You’re effectively playing a kind of SWAT team, keeping order in City 31 where two species try to coexist.
An essential element of Chimera Squad gameplay is the breach phase, a unique mechanics unseen before in the series. You get to place your operatives around the area of operation in a way that will allow them to use their breach skills most effectively, which includes generating useful synergies with other characters. It turns the breach phase into a bit of a tactical puzzle, which is great.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown & XCOM 2
|Release year:||2012 (XCOM), 2016 (XCOM2)|
Two games that made turn-based tactical games cool again, ushering in a surge of successor titles. Both games have quite a few things in common. You are given control of an organization which has to fight against time and alien forces in order to prevent a scheduled tragedy from occurring. The game plays out on two levels: strategic base management and overworld operations, and tactical battles.
On the strategic layer you will decide on construction projects taking place in your base, manage research and engineering, and address crises appearing on the world map. During missions human and alien teams take alternating turns, and thanks to several XCOM soldier classes and many different Alien types, each new scenario is an interesting tactical conundrum with high stakes and kill count.
Plan and execution
This marks the end of the list, and hopefully, you’ve found something that sounds interesting. There are many turn-based strategies, both tactically minded like the ones above, and Civilisation-like 4X strategies. Be it science-fiction, gothic horror, or fantasy, there’s something for nearly everyone.