The Civilization series is the gold standard for PC turn-based strategy. It’s been around since the very beginning of the genre, which is a testament to the strength of a blueprint that hasn’t changed drastically since the initial release back in 1991.
In each iteration of the game, players are tasked with role-playing are the leader of a real-world nation –Napoleon of the French, Cromwell of the English, etc– and it’s their job to guide your people from the Stone Age to the Space Age.
Progressing through each era of civilization, players research new technologies, forge alliances and do battle with aspiring empires, all in glorious turn-based style, giving them plenty of time to agonize over each decision.
Sid Meier, the man behind the series and whose name graces every entry title card, is to strategy gaming what Hideo Kojima is to stealth-action. And if that doesn’t pique your curiosity then nothing will.
Total War: Three Kingdoms
While you technically only spend half of your time playing in the turn-based strategy layer of the Total War series, they need to be included for pure bombast alone.
Spanning every era, from Ancient Rome to the Napoleonic Era, each Total War game drills down into its chosen time period and provides hundreds (sometimes thousands) of hours of deep, satisfying gameplay.
As the name implies, the Total War series has a combat focus and its real-time combat is thrilling and is a technical marvel. With thousands of soldiers clashing in mo-capped combat, that you can view from a first-person level or from a birds-eye view far above, these games will push even the beefiest PC to their limits on extreme settings and are a fantastic benchmark for tech enthusiasts.
Into The Breach
A part of a relatively new genre known as micro-strategy, Into the Breach takes all of the strengths of its larger brethren and refines them to there most pure elements. You never control more than three units at a time, and each unit has only a couple of actions they can make.
The strategy comes from the types of enemies you face, and the environmental dangers you may face on any given map.
Into The Breach also features rogue-like elements, which keeps the gameplay interesting for repeated playthroughs. It also allows you to earn bonuses for future attempts, too, so any failures on your part aren’t punished unfairly.
Coupled with gorgeous pixel art and a killer soundtrack, it just goes to show that big things sometimes come in small packages.
Final Fantasy Tactics
Final Fantasy Tactics is the premiere tactical JRPG from the PS1 era and is still the best and truest example of the genre nearly 20 years later. Set in the world of Ivalice, Final Fantasy Tactics featured the Job system which allowed for unparalleled unit customization and replayability.
Although there were spiritual successors, in the form of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance I & II, one of the great tragedies of modern gaming is that we have never gotten a true sequel.
With a dramatic story and addictive gameplay, this is one classic that absolutely holds up in the present day.
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen
The original XCOM: UFO Defense was a seminal video game, and its brand of squad-based tactical gameplay coupled with its strategic layer was incredibly novel upon its launch in 1994.
When Firaxis rebooted the series in 2012, they kept that same winning formula and modernized it, and XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is the latest and best example of this evolution.
By taking a page from the Middle Earth games’ much-lauded Nemesis System, there are now elite aliens that can be encountered to further randomize gameplay and constantly keep you on your toes.
In addition, The Lost is a species of zombie-like creatures that can spawn under certain conditions and will attack both your soldiers and the opposing alien forces, to really mix things up.
Along with hero characters that can join your campaign, and a terrorist faction that can further make your life difficult, War of the Chosen allows near limitless replayability.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
The Fire Emblem series has long been Nintendo’s flagship strategy series and is fairly unique in this list as it is console-exclusive, and with some entries is even a portable title. A fantastic jumping off point for anyone unfamiliar, Awakening is one of the 3DS’s premier titles.
The long-running series has a focus on characters and operates on a rock-paper-scissors combat system, that changes from title to title and is where a lot of the strategy comes from.
There is also plenty to do in between combat, as you can spend time with your comrades and form relationships, and even play matchmaker. Marrying off certain characters to others can lead to them having children, who can also be used in battle… once they come of age, of course.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, simply put, has no right being as good as it is. Set in the fantastic world of the Witcher books and games, you would be forgiven for thinking that this game is simply a visual novel attached to the Gwent card game that CD Projekt Red has been pushing for the last few years.
And in some ways, it is that, but also so much more. It is fantastically written, with interesting and fleshed out companion characters that rival the likes of Mass Effect and Dragon Age.
As Queen Meve, you roam the land making incredibly adult and bleak decisions that will have longlasting effects, whilst also raising an army and engaging in battles to hold off the encroaching Nilfgaardian Empire.
Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness
Disgaea is a name synonymous with ridiculously overpowered attacks and unbelievable damage numbers, sometimes literally into the millions. Full of outrageous puns and wacky characters, the Disgaea games are deceptively deep and beneath the silly veneer lies one of the more hardcore series around.
There are multiple mainline entries in the series and various spin-offs, and in each, you play from the point of view of the villains. This is something that is fairly unique and allows for all kinds of interesting scenarios, and really makes the series stand out from other tactics games.
And of course, there are the Prinny’s: the often abused but delightfully psychotic penguins that serve as the series mascots.
Heroes of Might and Magic III
Maybe the least known title on this list, Heroes of Might and Magic III has become something of a cult classic that a certain breed of strategy fans are sure to have fond memories of.
The game plays out like an interactive board game, with you moving your avatars around the map and collecting resources. You use these to improve your cities, recruit new and better troops, and to buy powerful magical items to gain an edge over your opponents.
What was so surprising about this game was its in-depth lore, fleshed out factions and deep gameplay mechanics. The battles themselves played out on detailed (for 1999) maps that had terrain features that could be exploited for advantage, and you could use an array of powerful magic and war machines to destroy the opposing forces.
There were plenty of sequels, but none ever matched the high water mark set by this entry.
Valkyria Chronicles 4
The Valkyria series marries turn-based, third-person shooting with a complex system of character interaction. You play as the commander of a regiment and can forge bonds with your fellow soldiers in your downtime, that can have significant effects on the battlefield.
Set in an alternate universe World War 2, these games deal with very serious issues like conscription and even genocide, all the while being portrayed in a beautiful manner not dissimilar to an oil painting.
Battles can go on for a while but thankfully most games in the series are available on portable devices, like the PlayStation Vita and the Nintendo Switch, which can really help to break them down into smaller play sessions.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Who would have thought that Mario and XCOM would go so well together, and with the Rabbids thrown in for good measure, no less?
Nintendo’s new strategy crossover took a lot of people by surprise, but most surprising of all was just how good it was, and what a perfect fit it would be on the Nintendo Switch.
Combining low-risk squad-based tactical gameplay with fun and friendly characters make Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle the perfect strategy game for younger players, and is a great introduction to the genre.
That isn’t to say it doesn’t get tough in later stages, because it does! But you won’t have to worry about full squad wipes ruining your progress like you would in XCOM.
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
The Tactics Ogre is another storied tactical series, although unlike with others listed there have been relatively few releases in its decade’s long history. A very serious and mature game, Let Us Cling Together tells a grounded story of Machivelen political machinations, and would appeal to Game of Thrones fans.
It features a job system reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics, but has a focus on item management, and equipping key characters with powerful gear is often the key to success.
While not as well known as other titles in the genre, the Tactics Ogre series is every bit their equal, and should not be overlooked.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
While the Divinity games are regarded as tough-as-nails RPGs, it is the fusion of strategic elements into this mix that makes them truly stand out, and makes them something special.
This stems from the in-depth magic system that can be used to do all kinds of outrageous things, like electrifying the blood of fallen foes to inflict damage, or setting the battlefield ablaze to deny enemy movement.
This, however, does lead to a pretty hefty learning curve, and it’s not the kind of game you can just jump into and play a battle or two. This is an 80-hour epic, and while it is absolutely worth playing through, its slower pace is something to be considered.
If you are looking for something a little different, but still requires plenty of planning and forethought, then Divinity: Original Sin 2 might be just the change of pace you need.
Wargroove is a grid-based strategy game in which you build up forces and engage your enemy in a battle system of increasing complexity. Your forces are lead by heroic generals, that have powerful abilities that can turn the tide of battle in your favor.
There are multiple factions, each with different playstyles that keep the gameplay fresh. The campaign will keep you engaged, and as you encounter each playable faction in turn. Thanks to local multiplayer and a map editor, Wargroove will keep you playing for man, many hours.
Battles in SteamWorld Heist play out like a puzzle, or even like geometry exam during the more difficult encounters. This is because combat is achieved by ricocheting your characters (that happen to be lovable robotic pirates) bullets off of walls and around corners.
It is an incredibly satisfying mix of cover-based shooting with some rogue-like elements thrown in for good measure.
As combat encounters are generally quite quick it is a perfect game for the Nintendo Switch, for those looking for some strategy on-the-go. And as the campaign is fairly lengthy, there is plenty of swashbuckling (swashblasting?) action to keep you coming back again and again.