Since the dawn of PC gaming, strategy has kept us buried in maps, army lists, and construct orders. And it’s one of the most eclectic, with everything from hardcore grognards to people who just want to see Gandhi nuke Montezuma catered to.
You’ll find everything from fast-paced, competitive RTS games to long-burning 4X romps on this list. We have history if you like it. Is it science fiction? Yes, there are a couple of them. Often, fantasy. In the case of series with several instalments, we’ve chosen the best game to play right now. If we think they’re different enough that you’d profit from playing both, we can feature more than one entry from the same series.
4th edition of Europa Universalis
The ultimate grand strategy game, placing you in control of a nation from the end of the Middle Ages to the 1800s, is Paradox’s long-running flagship strategy romp. You decide on the country’s political policy, meddle in its politics, order its armies, and build an empire as its leader.
Europa Universalis 4 allows you to start changing history right away. Perhaps England defeats France in the Hundred Years’ War and establishes a vast continental empire. Perhaps the Iroquois will defeat European settlers, construct ships, and conquer the Old World. It’s massive, dynamic, and has only continued to expand over the years. The simulation can be difficult to grasp at times, but it’s worth jumping in and seeing where alt-history takes you.
A list of the best strategy games will be incomplete without a mention of Civilization. Right now, Civilization 6 is our favourite game in the series, particularly now that it’s gotten a couple of expansions. The district structure, which unstacks cities in the same way that its predecessor unstacked armies, is the most significant reform this time around. Cities have become these sprawling things full of specialised areas that require you to consider the future while designing tiles.
The expansions introduced some new twists that are very welcome, but they don’t completely transform the venerable series. They introduce the idea of Golden Ages and Dark Ages, with benefits and penalties based on your civilisation’s progress over time, as well as climate change and natural disasters. It’s a new, forward-thinking Civ.
Solar Empire’s Sins
The spectrum of Sins of a Solar Empire is similar to that of a 4X strategy game, but it is implemented within an RTS system. This is a game about galactic empires that rise, stabilise, and collapse in the span of an afternoon, and particularly about the moment when those empires’ massive capital ships emerge from hyperspace above half-burning planets. Diplomacy is also an option, but so are giant spaceships. Play the Rebellion expansion to bloat your spaceships to absurd proportions.
Stellaris is a Latin word that means “star”
Stellaris approaches the room 4X with a ‘all and the kitchen sink’ attitude. It’s a sci-fi game with elements of EU4, Paradox’s grand strategy game, but it’s set in a world of everything from robotic uprisings to aliens living in black holes. It can try to do too much and lack the concentration of some of the other genre greats, but there are few films that come close to capturing the spirit of interstellar science fiction. It’s a liberating sandbox where you can steer your species and empire through the stars, messing with their genetic code, enslaving aliens, or consuming the galaxy as a ravenous hive of clever insects, resulting in a cavalcade of tales.
Endless Legend: Fantasy 4X is proof that a convincing 4X game does not require sacrificing tale. – of its asymmetrical factions has its own special and uncommon characteristics, which are enhanced by storey quests that feature some of the best writing in any strategy game. The Broken Lords, for example, are vampiric ghosts that live in armour and struggle with their deadly existence; the necrophage, on the other hand, is a ruthless force of nature that only seeks to consume, avoiding diplomacy in favour of total conquest. There are 13 factions in total, including expansions, each with their own odd quirks. This is the pinnacle of faction architecture.