Turn-based strategy games bring out the more cerebral undertones of the genre – the break afforded by ‘turns’ allows us to think, ponder and plan our moves with as much expert precision as we can muster. Witnessingthat mater plan unfold can create untold levels of satisfaction, and suddenly you fancy yourself the master tactician.
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This genre is also home to the ‘one more turn’ trope – that feeling of near-addiction that compels you to click the ‘End Turn’ button just one more time to see what happens. Maybe you’re waiting to see the outcome of a daring attack, maybe you’re just trying to click through some downtime. We also have thebest strategy games on PCif you’re looking to expand beyond petty concepts like ‘turns’.
This is a living list, in the sense that there are many worthy candidates and not enough room to fit them all in. Every so often (especially as new games come out), we’ll give this article a refresh and an update to bringgive other titles their turn in the spotlight. Also, don’t be alarmed that games like Civ 6 aren’t on the list: You can check out our guide to the best 4X games to see our thoughts on that particular niche.
The best turn-based strategy games on PC are:
Gears TacticsPanzer Corps 2Unity of Command 2BattleTechBattle BrothersWargrooveFrozen Synapse 2Warhammer 40,000: BattlesectorThe Battle for WesnothXCOM 2: War of the Chosen
Let’s take a look at some of our favourite turn-based strategy games…
There have been quite a few challengers to XCOM’s turn-based tactical throne in recent years. Some have been good, some not so good. As much as theGears of Warthird-person shooter franchise is well regarded, we’re still surprised at how good itsturn-based tactics spin-off is inGears Tactics.Set before the events ofthe original Gears of War,this game is essentially a series of tactical battles strung together by a narrative and some light progression mechanics.
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There’s no strategy layer, and while there’s some persistence for main characters it mainly revolves around loot and some basic skill-trees. It’s not perfect, but it’s imperfections stand to further highlight just how solid the rest of it is. One innovation they’ve tried to carry over from the shooter series is the ‘boss battle’ elements. These do work in the tactical sphere, but can still be a bit clunky. Still, if you’re looking for some to scratch that turn-based tactics itch, this is one of the best newcomers in a while. Read ourGears Tacticsreview for more.
This one’s a bit more on the hardcore side, but when it comes to historical turn-based strategy games, thePanzer Corpsfranchise is king.Panzer Corps 2builds on the original game’s success and couples it with a brand new 3D engine. The scale is a bit abstract – a single tank can actually represent hundreds of vehicles – but it allows you play sweeping campaigns on maps that can represent chunks of entire countries.
Related:Want more WW2 Games? We’ve got you covered.
It’s a combat-focused game, so you don’t need to worry about building units, but you WILL have to worry about keeping your forces supplied as they blitz across the map. Tactical options such as encirclement, supporting fire & breaking down units into smaller ‘mini’ versions for a decent flank means you’ll have plenty of options with which to take that key objective. It’s notso far removed from a hex-based, WW2-themed Advanced Wars.
An excellent strategy game that doubles up as a viable gateway to the world of digital war games, Unity of Command 2 does everything its predecessor did and more. By changing up the scenario design and adding in new elements like HQ’s and more meaningful meta-campaign, few repeats of the same mission will play out the same, althoughUoChas always had a trace of ‘puzzle’ DNA within it, which is still true but not to the same extend as the first game.
Related:Here arethe bestwar games on PC
Unity of Command 2takes players to the more known waters of the Western front, starting with the closing stages of the battle for North Africa, before moving on to the invasion of Sicily, Italy before finally allowing you to re-live the Normandy campaigns. As you play through the grand campaign, your army units and HQs will grow and improve over time, and there’s also a light card mechanic that allows you to play a limited number of special actions that can make or break an offensive.
BattleTechis a meaty, ruminative turn-based mech battler that does as much justice to its FASA tabletop roots as it does to making a ponderous, complex miniature game come alive in digital form. Its depth and sprawl is the product of thirty-odd years of lore and gaming, andits one of the best mech games out there right now.
This is a game that demands commitment, selling the idea of MechWarrior combat being anything but brief. There’s plenty of crunch to encounters on the tactical level, with heat and weapon management coalescing with environmental factors and position.Mechs are beautifully detailed, evoking just the right mix of old Ral Patha miniatures and the thankful modernisation ofMechWarrior Online’s artistic precedent. We also have a mech build guide to help people get to grips with the wealth of options.
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At the time of writing, active development ofBattleTechhas ended as the studio moves to other projects, but they did release a lot of free content and three major expansions:Flashpoint,Urban Warfare& Heavy Metal.
Battle Brothersis ostensibly theGame of Thrones:Bron Simulator. A deliciously low-fantasy mercenary manager that is refreshingly free of trope-ridden kings and kingdoms, OverHyper Studios’ hex-based combat game is immediately accessible, balanced by brutality and permadeath.
There’s a hand-crafted quality to the game, appealing in much the same way asUnity of Command 2. Grim little busts of ugly mercenaries plug their way across swamps and forests, paper-dolled with whatever arms and armor you assigned, engaging in violent combat with all manner of armies. What’s most impressive aboutBattle Brothersis the impact with which it conveys every hit, stab, slice and shot.
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Each successful attack is incredibly visceral, making sure you know that there are no do-overs in theBattle Brothersworld. By the end of each encounter, the field is littered with loosed arrows, blood and corpses. Those who diedare indeed gone for good. And those that survive just may live a little longer.
While not theultimateAdvanced Wars PC game we could haveasked for,this highly anticipated turn-based tactics title certainly did not disappoint when it released in February 2019. An excellent visual design coupled with a rich tactical experience across all the factions meant that this was a game that was easy to learn, challenging to master, but never anything less than a delight to play.
The real strength of Wargroove however is its built-in future proofing. There’s plenty to do and try out straight out of the box, but a powerful and robust editor means that there will be some fantastic user-generated content coming down the pipe in the months ahead. People are already recreating maps and entire campaigns from other classics like Fire Emblem and Advanced Wars, so we can’t wait to see what the else the community does with the game. Read our Wargroove reviewfor more.
Indie sensationFrozen Synapseis very much deserving of its accolades. A simultaneous turn-based breakdown ofCounterStrikeat its heart, Mode 7 Games condensed the fundamentals of the first-person shooter — movement, stance, speed and vectors — into five-second parcels of plotting direction and behaviour. While the sequel didn’t try to mess with this simple and effective formula too much, it did try to instil a sense of purpose with a ‘big picture’ strategy layer.
Frozen Synapse 2’s main offering is a grand-strategy layer. You run a private security firm in a procedurally generated city, and your goal is to grow, keep the other organisations in check, while also deal with a mysterious new foe that’s appeared on the scene. Take contracts, hire recruits to fill out your squads, and fight your enemies in battlegrounds that vary depending on where the action takes place. The initial offering is functional and imperfect, but it’s already proven to be a great way ofoffering an excellent tactical experience with meaning and persistence.
We’re thankfully not short on Warhammer games, and the good news is they’re getting better. Battlesector is a pretty decent attempt at distilling the tabletop game into something that is authentic, but still had the flair and spectacle of a digital game. It’s similar to a previous entry on this list – Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach.
It’s been developed by the same studio that brought you Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, one of our favourite strategy games of all time. The game is pretty, it works quite smoothly, and overall represents an excellent foundation to build upon, as you’ll note in our Battlesector review.
It’s got some noticeable drawbacks too – the scenario design leaves much to be desired, and the campaign isn’t that replayable. You’ve also only got the two factions to play with at the moment as well. It offers an excellent vehicle for you to live out your Space Marine fantasies, but if you’re not a 40K fan your mileage will vary. It’ll take time to become truly great. Speaking of good Warhammer games, the recently releasedWarhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground is also surprisingly good as well.
What kind of turn-based list would it be without some sort of open-source or free elder statesman of the genre? Just inching out People’s General, The Battle for Wesnoth is a sprawling suite of tactical turn-based hexery. The game itself is accommodating, the community modules vast and varied, and heck, it’s even been ported to phones. Wesnoth feels like it’s at an aesthetic cross-roads between traditional Japanese SRPGS and western heavy-hitters like Heroes of Might and Magic.
Related: We’ve got an excellent list of free games to play on PC.
Light enough to run on the most dismal of systems, and not costing a brass razoo, The Battle of Wesnoth is truly the people’s game.
XCOM 2 might have had some initial technical niggles around launch, but thereafter has been patched up to shine as intended. Coupled with War of the Chosen, XCOM 2’s pot-stirring expansion that throws antagonistic human factions into the mix, there’s little reason not to have Firaxis’ second tilt at this magisterial series in your library.
Secondary objectives also add an interesting tension to the game, as well as the looming threat of a grand alien program that cooks away in the background, harbouring a fail-state if left to mature. War of the Chosen elevates XCOM 2 from admirable sequel to essential addition to the long-running franchise. The story might put humanity on the back foot, but XCOM has never been more ahead.
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If you’re looking at reading more, we’ve got a guide to all of the XCOM 2 DLC available, as well as some tips and tricks to help you get started. Forveteran players, we’ve got an XCOM 2 class guide, as well as a guide to the best XCOM 2 mods.
From recent releases, to recommendations and previous entries on this list, here are some other great turn-based strategy games to check out:
Empire of SinMöbius Front ‘83Space Hulk TacticsPhoenix PointCorruption 2029Six Ages: Ride like the WindCrying SunsNarcos: Rise of the CartelsInvisible Inc.Into the Breach
We’ll update this list over time as more turn-based strategy games release that deserve a top spot.