Are strategy games still “in”?
With franchises like Civilization, Fire Emblem, and XCOM making headlines with staggering sales numbers, it certainly seems like it. As gaming in general becomes more mainstream, strategy games naturally follows suit. With thought-provoking gameplay and addictive mechanics, it’s no wonder that they attract such wide audiences. For years, games like chess have been thought of as games for “nerds”. But if you take the game of chess, and you present it alongside aliens, ninjas, and gladiators, people will be much more drawn to it.
Strategy games and mobile devices seem like a natural fit, too. Strategy games typically aren’t very hardware-intensive, since they’re usually turn-based. The mobile platform enables the user to either play for hours at a time, or play in short chunks. Not to mention, development for a strategy game is nowhere near as lengthy as development for something like a first-person shooter. It seems like a match made in heaven, and it’s no surprise to me that some of the most successful mobile apps are strategy games.
But which strategy game is right for you? “Strategy” is a genre of game that contains numerous sub-categories. You have tower defense games, you have turn-based RPGs, you have board games, you have city managers, and the list goes on and on. It’s difficult to look at this enormous selection and choose a select few to download to your Android device. Luckily, I’ve done all of that work for you. Check out this list of the top 10 Android strategy games of 2016.
10. rymdkapsel – $4.00
Yeah, try saying that one five times fast. Rymdkapsel is a game that initially looks as complicated as its game. The interface is minimal, and if you watch a gameplay video, it can be kind of difficult to tell what’s going on. Rmydkapsel is, in essence, a space-themed RTS tower-defense game. You run a space station, which is attacked by waves of enemies. You have to manage your resources and strategically design your station to protect it. Your aim is to expand your station as far out as you can.
Rymdkapsel is one of those games that is solid all around. The synth soundtrack is incredible, and there’s something stunning about its colorful and minimalist visuals. Gameplay is challenging, but well-balanced. You never feel like the game is unfair. Any defeat is because of your strategy, and nothing else. (This is a pretty vital thing to have in a strategy game.) The only drawback? It’s way too short! If you’re good at strategy games, you can probably beat the entire thing in 3-4 hours. I really wish that there were more content to this. If the main campaign were expanded, even by a little, this app would’ve climbed much higher in the rankings.
9. Star Command – $2.99
You may have heard of Star Command already. It had a fairly successful Kickstarter a few years ago, which allowed it to launch on the Android platform to begin with. It’s been a while since its release, and I think the verdict is out at this point. Star Command is a retro-style space game, where you manage a ship and a crew. You’re able to upgrade both of these things to give you a leg up in different real-time space battles.
Star Command has been successful, but it isn’t really a smash hit, either. Some backers of the Kickstarter were disappointed that certain aspects of the game weren’t really delivered, like deep space exploration and diplomacy. Considering that a lot of Kickstarters take your money without making a game at all, I guess this isn’t that bad. It does sting a little bit, though, that it seems like the finished product is a watered-down version of what backers were promised.
The game is also notoriously short, and content updates are few and far between. Combat isn’t all that great, but the crew management and progression system is one of the best and most simple I’ve seen in a space strategy game. The visuals are colorful and cool, and the game itself has quite the knack for humor. If you want a quick and funny little sci-fi strategy fix, give this one a closer look. If you want something a little more polished, keep scrolling!
8. Door Kickers – $4.99
I know what you’re thinking. I’ve had enough of this space stuff. Where are the military tactical games? This one’s for you. Door Kickers is a SWAT-style tactical military game that was originally developed for the PC. It attracted a lot of positive attention, and it has recently been ported to iOS and Android devices. In Door Kickers, you control a squad of law enforcement officers who are searching an area, utilizing stealth tactics, and trying to defuse a situation as safely as possible.
Door Kickers is a neat little game, and it requires a lot of puzzle skills. You choose how your units will move and when, and you decide which tools they will use in the process. Suppose you’re turning a sharp corner. You can have one unit peek over the corner and hurl a grenade into the room, while another unit stays behind with a firearm in case things go south. It’s a unique beast because it manages to feel both realistic and Hollywood at the same time.
The game also gives you a lot of freedom. Personally, I don’t really like most stealth games. Door Kickers, as you can infer from the name, also enables the user to just bust down doors and charge in as hard and as fast as they please. It’s a puzzle-strategy game that doubles as an action-strategy game, and I really respect that. However, the game is definitely more well-suited for keyboard and mouse controls, and its touch controls are a little wonky and unrefined.
7. Ticket to Ride – $6.99
Like Door Kickers, Ticket to Ride isn’t a mobile native. In fact, it has only come to Android just recently. It started as a board game, and then worked its way across multiple other gaming platforms. Even so, I’m just glad that this iconic board game has come to Android devices in the first place! In Ticket to Ride, you manage different railroad systems. I know it already sounds boring, but hear me out here. You’re given an assignment, where you’re trying to connect two different cities to one another. You earn points when you complete these assignments successfully. You also aim to have the longest rails out of everyone else playing, which also earns you points.
Basically, you’re trying to become the most successful railway tycoon. I promise you, it’s a ton of fun. The Android app is a “port” of Ticket to Ride (if it’s possible to port a board game) that is really faithful to the original. If you’ve ever played the board game, you shouldn’t have any problem playing the app. Even if you haven’t played the board game, the app makes things very easy to understand, and the game itself is super easy to learn. (But not so easy to master, as is the standard for strategy games.)
The Android app also supports online multiplayer, which is a blast. As you can imagine, a game based on a board game isn’t quite as fun when you’re playing by yourself. I have also found in my own personal experiences that online games are always easy to find. Ticket to Ride is like the Angry Birds of the board game space, which means that it’s constantly replenishing a naturally dwindling userbase with people who are just starting out. Go to any board game shop, and you’ll probably be recommended this game. Its popularity makes it to where you never have to worry about dealing with dead lobbies.
6. Out There: Ω Edition – $4.99
(Sorry, another space game.) I’m going to share a personal fact: I love science-fiction. I love games that take
place in space, and I love games that take place in the future. One of my favorite strategy games of all time is the game Faster Than Light, which is a rouge-like space management/combat game. Currently, FTL is only available on PC and on iOS devices. Until that glorious game is ported to Android, Out There is the absolute best substitute that we have right now.
At first glance, Out There looks like a straight-up rip-off of FTL. The gameplay looks identical, with you viewing and managing a ship and crew from a top-down point of view. Mechanics are similar, where you’re in charge of regulating fuel and oxygen use, as well as hull damage. However, it’s not fair to Out There to say that they just cloned FTL and stuck it in the Google Play Store. The game puts an interesting spin on the original Faster Than Light model, and the entire game is stylized in a comic-book like fashion. It’s a really cool way to take the game, and I enjoy it. The entire game looks like it’s been ripped straight out of a Marvel comic book, and it adds a certain kind of char,.
Not to mention, Out There is much richer in terms of storytelling than Faster Than Light has ever been. FTL was always about strategy, and about doing things carefully. I’ve never found myself being lost in FTL’s world like I am in Out There. It’s a much more immersive and personal experience. Out There manages to replicate the difficulty and core mechanics of FTL without cheapening it. Most impressively, however, it adds to that winning formula and makes it its own.
5. Civilization Revolution 2 – $9.99
I’m just going to come right out and say it. Civilization is probably the greatest strategy series of all time. Not only is it an absolute classic, but the Civilization series continues to deliver installment after installment of quality content. Weird space expansion packs not withstanding, I don’t think there’s ever been a Civ game that is truly bad. Some may not have aged well, but they’re all good. Civilization Revolution 2 is a (long overdue) graphical remaster of Civilization Revolution, which was a console Civ game that came out in 2008.
This game brings all that I think you would want out of a mobile Civ game. It’s completely true to the original games, and although some features had to be simplified a bit to accommodate to the platform, it still feels like Civilization. It’s just as agonizing, just as satisfying, and just as addicting. This is one of those apps that makes you late for social functions. I’ve always thought that mobile gaming was a perfect platform for Civ, since it’s so easy to pick up a handheld device to play, and Civilization makes it so difficult to put it down.
The game isn’t without its drawbacks, unfortunately. Personally, I don’t know if I’m a fan of the cartoon-y style that they adopted for this port. I understand that the change was likely made due to hardware limitations, but I would have preferred a different artistic direction. Aside from that, the app isn’t as stable as it could be, and it hasn’t updated in almost 2 years. If you’re running a newer Android device, you’re going to encounter all kinds of weird bugs and glitches.
4. Plants vs. Zombies 2 – Free
Plants vs. Zombies, while not quite as “classic” as Civilization, has also grown to be quite the big name in the strategy game industry. Plants vs. Zombies is a tower-defense series, where you strategically place different types of plants to protect your garden from waves of zombies. PvZ stole our hearts when they took standard tower defense mechanics and wrapped it all up in a cute, colorful little package.
PvZ 2 is very similar to the original game, with a couple of little added wrinkles. To start with, PvZ 2 is a lot more difficult than its predecessor. I remember being underwhelmed by the original game, if only because it was much easier than I expected it to be. Remember how I talked about the importance of balance in strategy games? As fun as the first game was, I think it was nowhere near as difficult as it should have been. The second installment changes that, though, and the main game is actually quite challenging.
You’d be surprised by how well the Plants vs. Zombies interfaces translates to mobile devices, also. The game was originally made for PC, and the lack of huge menus and tiny text make it all very easy to navigate on a touchscreen. Plants vs. Zombies 2 takes all of the fun of the original game, and refines it, to make a more well-polished and thought out sequel. And, bonus: it’s a good port.
3. Clash of Clans – Free
This will probably be a controversial pick, but I’ll go with it anyway. If you have been living and breathing during the last few years, you have probably heard of Clash of Clans. It’s a freemium game where players manage their village with the intention of increasing its defenses. By increasing its defenses, the villages are less open to attacks by other players.
Basically, it’s an asynchronous multiplayer tower defense game. It also doubles as a city simulator, but that isn’t really what this list is focusing on. As much as you’re probably sick of hearing about this app, I think that its strategic features are often overlooked. There are multiple Clash of Clans-related communities that are dedicated to thinking up the most efficient and effective strategies. It may seem shallow, and it may be marketed in a shallow way, but it’s really far from it.
I can understand why you might be miffed by this game placing so high on the list. The microtransactions that have made the app so much money can make the game feel a little pay-to-win. In my opinion, strategy in this game always trumps money. Yes, there are some isolated instances of people spending hundreds of dollars and skyrocketing in the game’s rankings. For the most, part, though, this is a game where you should expect to spend a little bit of money and rely primarily on your strategic ability. It’s a bit of both. If you like tower defense games, and if you’re the competitive type, give this game a second look and ignore all of the preconceived notions that you may have about it. You won’t regret it.
If you really enjoy Clash of Clans, you should check out our article on the top 5 games like Clash of Clans to find out about some similar games. Or, even if you hate Clash of Clans, you might find an alternative that you find more palatable. Similarly, if you’re looking for a more intense game, check out our article on the top 5 games like Age of Empires. Age of Empires is similar to Clash of Clans, but with a stronger emphasis on real-time strategy-based combat.
2. Plague Inc. – Free
Plague Inc. is also a pretty popular application that you’ve heard of already. However, if you haven’t, the
gameplay is pretty similar to a series of Flash games that were popular several years ago. The games were called “Pandemic”, and they involved you, the player, making various strategic moves and taking advantage of different upgrades to infect the entire world with your chosen disease. It’s a very interesting take on the standard “world domination” model, and it’s also a whole lot of fun.
Let’s admit it. It’s good to be bad sometimes. There’s a very specific kind of satisfaction that comes with doing something that’s absolutely evil. Plague Inc. gameplay is no different. It’s a game that has a bit of a learning curve. Definitely not something that you can pick up and win on your very first shot. It takes a bit of skill, a bit of strategy, and a bit of luck. The game is presented in a very simple way, and there’s not much in the way of graphics or visuals. You’ll spend most of your time reading text, or analyzing charts and graphs.
It may seem morbid or depressing, but the game itself is deeply engaging. Playing this, an hour can feel like 15 minutes. The bare-bones interface and the steady progression in-game means that it’s really easy to play through an entire game without realizing it. You’re constantly trying to see what happens next, what evolves next, how this symptom will affect this figure, and so on. Replay value is strong early on, but it deteriorates over time as you learn all of the different tricks. Biological genocide has never been so enjoyable.
1. XCOM: Enemy Within – $9.99
When the iconic strategy gaming series XCOM came to Google Play Store, the world was forever changed. Okay, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but it was still pretty cool. For years, people have been having fun playing these games. Originally known as X-COM, the series was rebranded as XCOM when they were revived by 2K games a few years ago. (2K also publishes the Civilization series. They definitely know what they’re doing.) XCOM is a tactical military strategy game, where you control multiple units in an attempt to protect the world from alien invasion. And yes, it’s exactly as badass as it sounds. With the recent release of XCOM 2, the series is more relevant than ever.
In XCOM: Enemy Within, you control a squad of units who are tasked with protecting the world. You progress through various levels, which typically involves annihilating aliens while experimenting with different tactics. (Pro-tip: Flanking will save your life.) Combat in XCOM is entirely turn-based, which means that it’s vitally important to meticulously plot out every point of the battle to ensure that you’re not caught off guard by your enemies. As far as XCOM games go, Enemy Within isn’t particularly difficult. In fact, sometimes it feels a little too easy. Still, it’s never smart to underestimate the enemy. There have been multiple instances where I lose because I’m celebrating before the level is even over. It’s important to stay sharp.
From a technical standpoint, XCOM runs pretty well on most Android devices. It’s a beefy game, so anticipate a large download. (Remember though, a large download means a lot of content. And this game is absolutely bursting at the seams with content.) Load times can be a little slow, but that’s to be expected. Frames are mostly smooth, and it doesn’t look as bad as you would expect a mobile XCOM game to look. It isn’t all that battery-friendly, but that’s honestly expected. Aside from those technical aspects, which is more of a hardware thing than anything else, I can’t think of a single problem that I have with this game.
There are a ton of strategy games out there that couldn’t make this list, and they’re all pretty good. Strategy has always been a competitive genre, since it’s so easy to carve out a niche and sit there for your franchise’s lifetime. It hurt a little to have to leave out games like Boom Beach, Frozen Synapse, and Eufloria. Still, I’m pretty confident that this is a comprehensive list of the best strategy games for any fan of the series. I tried to cover as many different categories of strategy games as possible. (And there are quite a few.)
If you don’t like the sound of any of these games, feel free to conduct your own research. There are plenty of hidden gems out there, just waiting to be found. If I missed your favorite Android strategy game, tell me all about it in the comments section.