Turn-based games are enjoying a resurgence in recent years, in no small part thanks to the successes of Divinity: Original Sin 1 and 2, as well as Firaxis Games’ successful reboot of X-COM.
As a result there are many titles to consider when one looks for the next turn-based game to play, including the more specific genre: an RPG, a strategy, or maybe just focus on tactical engagements with minimal, or non-existent gameplay beyond combat deployments. In this article we’ve assembled a list of games which cater to these preferences, but all have one thing in common: turn-based, tactically satisfying combat, regardless of the circumstances it appears in.
Battletech is a franchise with some history behind it, including a tabletop wargame and plenty of novels detailing the setting’s backstory. There were also several video games, including Harebrained Schemes’s Battletech excellent turn-based tactics game. You get to take control of a mercenary company capable of fielding its own battlemechs to support whoever pays well enough.
EMechs are multi-ton lumbering mechanised walkers, which means several things for the combat system. They can’t turn on a dime, so you need to mind their field of view when you plan to move them, for example. There are also features like balance and heat dispersion, which play into the way you use weapons and pick the terrain to stand on. There is a lot to play around with.
|Developer||Red Hook Studios|
Darkest Dungeon doesn’t use a grid to represent the clashes of armed groups. Instead, it looks from the side at two columns of adventurers and their enemies, and writes the rules governing available tactics around this style of presentation. There’s for example the whole range system, which lets certain characters affect only certain spots in their own or enemy column, which affects team composition.
There’s also a interesting depth to the way your team deals with the stress of dungeon crawling though locations that take a lot of inspiration from Gothic horror. As time goes by, they’ll start getting stressed out, and should you fail to help them unwind in the nearby village they might develop disorders, which will in turn affect their performance on missions. There’s a lot to consider.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
After years of party-based RPGs using mostly the Real-Time with Pause, Larian Studios’ Divinity: Original Sin proved that turn-based combat is still cool and worthwhile. The sequel, Original Sin 2 capitalised on that, and turned out to be one of the best games of its year, and one of the best RPGs in history. It didn’t hurt that the game looked and sounded great, but battles are the focus of this text.
An important element of Original Sin 2’s combat are the interactions between various elements and statuses. Strike a poison surface with a bolt of fire, and you have an explosion on your hands, for example. Each character has a number of Action points and, later on: Source points, which are the key resources, since they power both movement, basic actions, and using abilities.
|Developer||Splash Damage, The Coalition|
Although the Gears of War series is known for third-person action games with emphasis on cover-based shooting, Gears Tactics is certainly an interesting experiment. As Gabe Diaz, Sid Redburn, and a number of procedurally generated COG soldiers you’ll travel the war-ravaged world in order to take down a Locust scientist who provides extremely dangerous beast to aid regular Locust troops.
Like in Divinity: Original Sin 2 above, Gears Tactics doesn’t bind the characters to a rigid grid, instead utilising free movement limited by character speed. There are five soldier classes, influencing substantially the way your units operate on the field, and when you get a kill on a Locust, there is a good chance that you’ll be rewarded with brutal and bloody finisher.
Into the Breach
Where many turn-based tactical games use large, detailed maps in order to present additional layer of complexity to each battle, Into the Breach distils all of that to an 8×8 grid. Each unit or element of the environment occupies a single square of the grid Your task as a team of mech pilots, is to clear out aliens from the map, ideally while sustaining little damage and causing little collateral destruction.
In addition to just shooting the Vek aliens, you get additional options, such as pushing them away, a useful tactics if you manoeuvred them near a deep pit in the ground. You always know the direction in which the aliens are going to move, which helps you decide what to do next. Since you only have a set number of turns to compete objectives and just three units, you have some planning to do.
|Developer||Double Fine Productions|
You are an immortal ruler of a kingdom attacked by an evil forced called Cadence. You have a magical chalice, occupied by two personalities, which can deal with the Cadence, but collecting the power to do so will take three centuries. If you can keep evil at bay during this time, all will be fine. So now you need to deal with noble families and get yourself an army. Welcome to Massive Chalice.
Over the years each family will produce soldiers for you, coming in three core and several hybrid classes achieved through strategic intermarriages. Age and family traits will carry into turn-based battles, affecting speed, range or some other aspect. It’s an interesting game, neatly integrating the tactical and strategic layer, and adding a bit of Crusader Kings II to the whole mix.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
|Developer||The Bearded Ladies|
Based on a Swedish tabletop role-playing game “Mutant Year Zero” Road to Eden is set on post-apocalyptic Earth. Your two main characters are humanoid boar Bormin and humanoid duck Dux, who need to find the expert technician from their home base, Ark, one of the only safe places in the region… at least when nothing breaks down, which is why finding the technician is so vital.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden mixes exploration and stealth playing out in real time with turn-based tactics one proper combat begins. Being able to pick fights reasonably, and stage a solid ambush with your team of three is essential, because some fights are going to be too challenging until you upgrade the characters (with new mutations for example) and their weapons.
Phoenix Point’s development was headed by Julian Gollop, the man who, with his brother, created the old X-COM games, before Firaxis’ great reboot. In the world of Phoenix Point, Earth wildlife was mutated by an alien virus into creatures which would fit right with Lovecraft’s abominations and the twisted creature from John Carpenter’s The Thing. Thankfully you have a few ways of coping.
One such way is you ability to field more than just a handful of soldiers at a time. As you progress through the game you’ll get to deploy even sixteen of them, which makes for a lot of firepower. They can also target individual parts of an alien’s body to disable abilities relying on them. Unfortunately, the aliens are also evolving, so there’s an interesting arms race on the strategic layer.
Pillars of Eternity 2
Although the initial release state of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire wouldn’t have qualified it for this list, an update released weeks after launch added a turn-based mode, and it turned out to be a really fun way to play the game originally designed for real-time mechanics. The mechanics change so much, that if you want to play in a different combat mode, you need to start a new game.
Once you’re in the turn-based battle, you’ll begin according to your Initiative, but after that the order of action is defined by the speed of actions you took on your turn. Especially the spells take some time to cast, and the duration of various effects was rebalanced from a “seconds” to “rounds”. It works really well, and unlike the real-time mode, it lets you admire the visuals of more elaborate abilities.
|Release year:||2012 (XCOM), 2016 (XCOM2)|
The XCOM games are all about building an organisation capable of taking the fight to alien invaders controlled by mysterious Ethereals. In XCOM: Enemy Unknown we tried to fight off an invasion-in-progress. In XCOM 2 we played as the resistance trying to overthrow an alien occupation. The games are deeply inspired by the X-COMs from the 1990s, but Firaxis put its own spin on the license.
In both games you’re going to field teams of soldiers, each with one of several classes, and explore a map to complete a specific objective. Turns are taken by entire teams, rather than individual soldiers, so on a single turn you can freely position your people to try to kill enemies or prepare for their turn. This sell the fiction of operating as a unit of professionals really well.
Combat over, hopefully you’ve lost no soldiers and got in some nice flanking shots. Hopefully these ten games are enough to interest you in turn-based games, or, if you’re already interested: give you an idea what next to play. If you need more, refer to the list of turn-based strategies to see more games like XCOM, or of turn-based RPGs to see more of games like Deadfire or Original Sin 2. There are a lot of turns to be taken between the three lists, and you’re bound to find something that sparks joy.