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Although it does receive boosts at the highest difficulty levels, there’s also a credible attempt to simulate counter-strategies tailored to the player’s actions. The Endless Universe release, or Ultimate Edition, is also bundled with the two expansions, one of which adds the ability to destroy solar systems.

The strategic portion of the game manages to instil resource gathering and experience grinding with the excitement of exploration and questing, while the tactical battles rarely become rote despite the limitations of an 11×15 hex map.

It’s a wonderful example of several simple concepts executed well and locked together in a whole far greater than the sum of its parts. A huge part of the game’s success lies in its approach to progression. As is often the case in strategy and RPG games alike, the goal in each scenario is to uncover a map and make all of the numbers go as high as possible.

Build lots of units, level up heroes and gather gold until there’s no space left in your coffers. New World Computing ensure that there’s always something interesting behind the fog of war, however, and that every step toward victory feels like a tiny fantastic subplot in its own right.

Just look at the towns for proof – every building and upgrade feels like an achievement, and part of a beautiful, fantastic tapestry. If you had to describe Neptune’s Pride in a few words, it’d sound like almost any other game of galactic conquest. Planets and ships can be upgraded, and, as ever, you’ll be trying to gather as much science, industry and money as possible. The twist in this particular tale is the speed of the game – or, perhaps, the distances involved. Sending a fleet to explore, invade or intercept takes hours.

There’s no way to speed up the passage of time so what to do while waiting? Neptune’s Pride is not one of those freemium games that allow you to buy gems why is it always gems? Instead, most of the game takes place in the gaps between orders, as alliances are forged, promises are made and backs are stabbed.

Due to the long-form nature of a campaign, Neptune’s Pride will live with you, needling at the back of your mind, and you’ll find yourself switching strategies in the anxious early hours of the morning, betraying friends and playing into the hands of your enemies.

Most XCOM-alikes end up disappointing, but Warhammer 40, Mechanicus managed to achieve a decent enough treatment of XCOM’s turn-based combat sub-genre, while adding enough creative idiosyncrasies to make it thoroughly charming in its own right. You play as a faction of deranged cyborg techno-monks, plundering the depths of an alien tomb in search of ancient technologies, enlightenment, or sometimes just additional fuel for your knackered starship.

Needless to say, the tomb is the resting place of countless miserable metal skeletons yep, it’s those necrons again , who want to chase you out with a rolled-up newspaper made from searing green radiation. This is an adventure that captures that ‘one more mission’ addictiveness, and it’s superbly written, too. The various bickering cyber-clerics behind your expedition are genuinely memorable characters, and you find yourself gripped – and occasionally even laughing – as their story unfolds in between missions.

The game’s also dripping with atmosphere, with moody battlefields, light choose-your-own-adventure elements in between fights, and a grimy industrial soundtrack that sounds like what a bunch of Gregorian monks might create if given access to an abandoned factory, a synth setup, and more than a little ketamin.

On the face of things, BattleTech might look like XCOM with giant robots, but those big metal suits aren’t just there for show – they’re what makes BattleTech so distinctive.

A big ol’ mech doesn’t much care when it loses an arm, for instance – it just keeps on fighting. Working out how to down these walking tanks both a permanently and b in a way that preserves enough of it to take home and use as parts to build a new one yourself is the key strategy here.

BattleTech is sometimes too slow for its own good though mods and a patch address this , but stick with it and it becomes an incredibly satisfying game of interplanetary iron warfare and robo-collection. Men of War is a real-time tactics game that simulates every aspect of the battlefield, from the components of each vehicle to the individual hats on your soldiers’ heads.

The hats are not a gimmick. Best Way have built a full scale real-time tactical game that simulates its world down to the smallest details. If you’ve ever played an RPG and scowled when a giant rat’s inventory reveals that it had a pair of leather trousers and a two-handed sword secured beneath its tail, Men Of War will be enormously pleasing.

Ammunition, weaponry and clothing are all persistent objects in the world – if you need an extra clip for your gun, you’ll have to find it in the world rather than waiting for a random loot drop.

If you need backup, or replacements for fallen men of war , you’ll be able to find them in friendly squads who exist as actual entities on the map rather than as abstract numbers in a sidebar. The credibility of the world isn’t window-dressing. All of that simulation serves a greater purpose, allowing for desperate vehicle captures, as a seemingly doomed squad realises that they might be able to commandeer the Panzer they took out moments ago, patch it up and continue to fight the good fight.

For five seconds at a time, Frozen Synapse allows you to feel like a tactical genius. You provide orders for your team of soldiers and then watch as enemies waltz right into your line of fire, or find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place, right on the killing floor. The next five seconds might flip everything around though, leaving you feeling like a dolt.

The beauty of Mode 7’s clean and colourful game is that it plays on confidence and intuition rather than detailed analysis. Each 1v1 round of battle takes place on a randomised map, both participants draw up their orders and then execute simultaneously. Maybe you’ll have to take on the aggressive role, knowing that this particular enemy commander prefers to set up an ambush and wait.

In a few short minutes, you’ll perform flanking manoeuvres, lay down covering fire, attempt to breach and clear a room, and watch in horror as everything goes wrong again.

But when a plan comes together? You’re a genius again, for at least five seconds more. Imperator’s launch was met with a seriously mixed reaction from devotees of Paradox Development Studio’s grand strategy games, but we personally felt it stood toe to toe with the strongest of its stablemates.

With its window of play opening in BC, the game follows the formula set by ‘s Europa Universalis: you’re presented with a map of the world, on which you can examine every discrete political entity that existed at the time, before choosing one to pilot onwards through time.

It’s a great moment in history to choose, with Rome poised between early collapse and expansion into a continent-eating juggernaut, Carthage lurking in the wings, and everything to play for in the chaotic fallout of Alexander’s empire. Rome itself is a beautiful headache to play, with internal politics and infrastructure growing harder and harder to manage as the legions seize more territory: it’s a game that’s less about building an empire, and more about holding it together.

For those who weren’t happy with Imperator at launch, it’s already undergone several transformative and free patches to address player criticism, and the reaction from fans seems to be encouraging. If you’ve not dipped into it so far, now’s a good time.

It’s incredible to think that nobody has taken Jagged Alliance 2 on face to face and come out on top. There are other games with a strategic layer and turn-based tactical combat, sure, and there are plenty of games that treat mercenaries, guns and ammo in an almost fetishistic fashion – but is Jagged Alliance 2 still the best of its kind?

Doubts creep in every once in a while and, inevitably, that leads to a swift re-installation and several days lost in the war for Arulco. Jagged Alliance 2 is still in a class of its own and despite the years spent in its company, it’s hard to articulate the reasons why it has endured. The satisfaction of gaining territory in the slow creep across the map is one reason, and the tension of the tactical combat is another. Even the inventory management feels just right, making every squad the equivalent of an RPG’s party of adventurers.

But it’s the character of the squad members that seals the deal. Each has enough personality to hang a hundred stories on – remember the time Fox bandaged Grunty’s wounds in the thick of a firefight a turn before he bled out, or the time Sparky made an uncharacteristically good shot and saved an entire squad’s bacon?

If you don’t, go play Jagged Alliance 2 and make some memories. It’s glorious. To EA’s enormous credit, the Remastered Collection does those old games proud, rendering ridiculous FMV in modern resolutions, turning pixelated sprite art crisp, applying UI improvements from later games back to the original, as well as rebuilding the multiplayer, adding a map editor, and more.

It’s a great package – and heck, worth it for the remastered music alone. Gears Tactics is, as its name might suggest, a turn-based tactics game set in the beefy, growly world of Gears Of War. An odd combination, you might think, but this is a game whose veins run deep with the same kind of deep, tactical prowess as your X-COMs and, err Against all the odds, it really does turn out that, even in the preposterously hench world of Gears, the mind really is the strongest muscle.

Its campaign is a smoothly designed, relentlessly paced squad ’em up that eschews everything in its genre territory except for the actual tactical battling, and it does that exceedingly well indeed. Its mechanics are built to emulate the aggressive, horde-mowing-down playstyle of its brick-chinned FPS dad, and you’d be amazed how well that translates to a completely different genre.

The only notable omission is the lack of any strategic or management meta-game once each battle is over. Instead, it’s back to the battlefield with your newly looted gear and skills you’ve gained from levelling up. That may not be everyone’s cup of protein tea, but if you’ve always tended to enjoy the fights of XCOM rather than spending time hanging around your base, this is the tactics game for you.

The latest in Ubisoft’s series of semi-historical colony managers, Anno covers the transition from the age of sail and small-scale farming to the era of thundering engines, electricity and hellish abattoirs we all know and love. As well as offering competitive real-time city-building against both AI and human opponents, Anno also has an extra layer of built-in maritime RTS where you direct a small fleet of ships to trade, explore, carry out reward-based missions, fight pirates, or assault your competitors.

It can get hectic at times, with at least two separate maps new and old world in play at any one time, but it means you’re never, ever short of something to do. Anno is also thoroughly gorgeous, with coastlines and jungles that thrum with exploitable beauty, and complex, varied building animations that make it genuinely worth it to zoom in on your streets and see what’s going on. The Banner Saga is an epic turn-based strategy series whose story spans across three separate games.

While The Banner Saga 2 is arguably the best one in the trilogy, introducing more enemy types and classes to keep things interesting, this is very much the second act of the game’s wider narrative, so it’s definitely worth playing right from the start. The pseudo-rotoscope, Norse-themed art is glorious, but what gives The Banner Saga as a whole its staying power is that it’s a sort of rolling mood more than anything else. A disaster-strewn trek across a dying land, multiple, oft-changing perspectives, awful decisions with terrible consequences made at every turn, more a tale of a place than of the individual characters within it.

The feel of Banner Saga is what’s most memorable, elevating choose-your-own-adventure tropes into real atmosphere. There’s a reasonably robust turn-based combat system in there too, in which you regularly get to field armies of horned giants. A few punches are pulled, perhaps, but The Banner Saga has far more substance than might have been expected from a game which seems so very art-led.

They Are Billions takes real-time strategy, tower defence and zombie survival, and combines it all into a single punishing, rewarding, delicious experience. It’s one of the rare games that succeeds in its Frankenstein-esque genre splicing, and Numantian Games have only made it bigger and more beautiful since coming out of early access.

The year is , and after one of those classic zombie apocalypses that ravage the earth, the remnants of this steampunk-infused world now live inside a huge walled city to keep out the undead nasties.

But no more! In They Are Billions’ sprawling campaign, you must colonise new outposts in the world around you, building new communities from scratch while protecting them from the hungry hordes.

The special thing about They Are Billions, though, is the way it keeps you scared and on your toes even during moments of relative peace. The way it leaves you to slowly explore outwards from the centre of the map and see just how many thousands of zombies are waiting for you, just beyond the borders of your city.

The way it generates such fantastic, characterful anecdotes of Achillean heroism and Sisyphean despair. It all adds up to a delectable experience that keeps you coming back even after it defeats you time and time again and, more importantly, even after you finally complete it, too. Six Ages works as a strategy game because it’s about influencing people, not just accumulating resources. Cattle and horses and food are vital, sure, but they’re not everything, and you need to gauge many things that can’t be counted.

How the Grey Wings feel about you isn’t presented as a number or bar, but what your traders and diplomats have to say. You’re leading a village in a dangerous land of magic, religious conflict, and looming environmental crisis. Yes, it has bags of personality as your advisors snark and ramble and complain, and you explore the alien values of this colourful, yet malleable culture, but there are hard strategic decisions to make every year, even if the decision is to stay the course.

Success is about making good decisions in its many events, but also directing your clan’s long term efforts behind the scenes. Where do you explore and when? Will your precious magic supplement your crafter this year, or is it time to risk a ride to the gods’ realm to secure a special blessing? And those decisions can never be fully divorced from the wider situation.

The ideal solution might be obvious but unaffordable, or contradict another plan you have going. Empire Earth 3. Star Wars: Commander 7. The Settlers: Rise of an Empire.

March of Empires 6. The Warchiefs Age of Empires 3 Expansion. Warhammer 40, Dawn of War II. Might and Magic Heroes 6. The Island Castaway 1. Royal Revolt 2 4. Freeciv 2. The techs, the conflicts, the characters— it was unlike any of its contemporaries and, with only a few exceptions, nobody has really attempted to replicate it. Not even when Firaxis literally made a Civ in space, which wasn’t very good. Alpha Centauri is as fascinating and weird now as it was back in ’99, when we were first getting our taste of nerve stapling naughty drones and getting into yet another war with Sister Miriam.

More than 20 years later, some of us are still holding out hope for Alpha Centauri 2 opens in new tab. Pick an Age of Wonders and you really can’t go wrong. If sci-fi isn’t your thing, absolutely give Age of Wonders 3 a try, but it’s Age of Wonders: Planetfall opens in new tab that’s got us all hot and bothered at the moment. Set in a galaxy that’s waking up after a long period of decline, you’ve got to squabble over a lively world with a bunch of other ambitious factions that run the gamut from dinosaur-riding Amazons to psychic bugs.

The methodical empire building is a big improvement over its fantastical predecessors, benefiting from big changes to its structure and pace, but just as engaging are the turn-based tactical battles between highly customisable units.

Stick lasers on giant lizards, give everyone jetpacks, and nurture your heroes like they’re RPG protagonists—there’s so much fiddling to do, and it’s all great.

Set in an alternate ‘s Europe, factions duke it out with squishy soldiers, tanks and, the headline attraction, clunky steampunk mechs. There are plenty of them, from little exosuits to massive, smoke-spewing behemoths, and they’re all a lot of fun to play with and, crucially, blow up. Iron Harvest does love its explosions. When the dust settles after a big fight, you’ll hardly recognise the area. Thanks to mortars, tank shells and mechs that can walk right through buildings, expect little to remain standing.

The level of destruction is as impressive as it is grim. To cheer yourself up, you can watch a bear fight a mech. Each faction has a heroic unit, each accompanied by their very own pet. All of them have some handy unique abilities, and yes, they can go toe-to-toe with massive war machines.

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 opens in new tab ‘s cosmic battles are spectacular. There’s a trio of vaguely 4X-y campaigns following the three of the Warhammer 40K factions: The Imperium, Necron Empire and the nasty Tyranid Hives, but you can ignore them if you want and just dive into some messy skirmishes full of spiky space cathedrals colliding with giant, tentacle-covered leviathans.

The real-time tactical combat manages to be thrilling even when you’re commanding the most sluggish of armadas. You need to manage a whole fleet while broadside attacks pound your hulls, enemies start boarding and your own crews turn mutinous. And with all the tabletop factions present, you can experiment with countless fleet configurations and play with all sorts of weird weapons.

Viking-themed RTS Northgard opens in new tab pays dues to Settlers and Age of Empires, but challenged us with its smart expansion systems that force you to plan your growth into new territories carefully. Weather is important, too. You need to prepare for winter carefully, but if you tech up using ‘lore’ you might have better warm weather gear than your enemies, giving you a strategic advantage. Skip through the dull story, enjoy the well-designed campaign missions and then start the real fight in the skirmish mode.

Mechanically, Homeworld opens in new tab is a phenomenal three-dimensional strategy game, among the first to successfully detach the RTS from a single plane. If you liked the Battlestar Galactica reboot, or just fancy a good yarn in your RTS, you should play this.

Thanks to the Homeworld Remastered Collection opens in new tab , it’s aged very well. The remasters maintain Homeworld and its sequel’s incredible atmosphere, along with all the other great bits, but with updated art, textures, audio, UI—the lot. Everything is in keeping with the spirit of the original, but it just looks and sounds better. The different factions are so distinct, and have more personality than they did in the original game—hence Soviet squids and Allied dolphins. They found the right tonal balance between self-awareness and sincerity in the cutscenes, as well—they’re played for laughs, but still entertain and engage.

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak opens in new tab sounded almost sacrilegious at first. Over a decade since the last Homeworld game, it was going to take a game remembered for its spaceships and 3D movement and turn it into a ground-based RTS with tanks? And it was a prequel? Yet in spite of all the ways this could have gone horribly wrong, Deserts of Kharak succeeds on almost every count.

It’s not only a terrific RTS that sets itself apart from the rest of the genre’s recent games, but it’s also an excellent Homeworld game that reinvents the series while also recapturing its magic. Only Total War can compete with the scale of Supreme Commander opens in new tab ‘s real-time battles.

In addition to being the preeminent competitive strategy game of the last decade, StarCraft 2 opens in new tab deserves credit for rethinking how a traditional RTS campaign is structured.

Heart of the Swarm is a good example of this, but the human-centric Wings of Liberty instalment is the place to start: an inventive adventure that mixes up the familiar formula at every stage. In , Blizzard finally decided to wind down development on StarCraft 2 opens in new tab , announcing that no new additions would be coming, aside from things like balance fixes. The competitive scene is still very much alive, however, and you’ll still find few singleplayer campaigns as good as these ones.

Most notable today for being the point of origin for the entire MOBA genre, Warcraft III is also an inventive, ambitious strategy game in its own right, which took the genre beyond anonymous little sprites and into the realm of cinematic fantasy.

The pioneering inclusion of RPG elements in the form of heroes and neutral monsters adds a degree of unitspecific depth not present in its sci-fi stablemate, and the sprawling campaign delivers a fantasy story that—if not quite novel—is thorough and exciting in its execution.

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