Strategy games have captivated gamers for decades with their cerebral gameplay, complex systems, and ability to let players live out their fantasies of ruling nations, building empires, and commanding armies. This article will countdown the 10 best strategy games ever made—the titles that revolutionized and defined the genre over the years.

An Introduction to Strategy Gaming

Before diving into the top 10 list, it helps to understand what exactly makes for an exceptional strategy game experience. These types of games emphasize strategic decision-making and planning over quick reflexes or raw action. They require players to think many moves ahead, manage resources wisely, and adapt plans on the fly.

Strategy games generally fall into a few major categories:

  • Turn-Based Strategy (TBS) – Players take turns moving units and executing commands. Examples include the Civilization and XCOM franchises.
  • Real-Time Strategy (RTS) – Players simultaneously control units and buildings in real-time to compete against opponents. Classic RTS franchises include StarCraft, Command & Conquer, and Age of Empires.
  • 4X – Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate. These games focus on exploration, territory control, resource management, technological progression, diplomacy, and conquest. Civilization and Endless Space are 4X strategy titles.
  • Grand Strategy – Games that emphasize macro-management of nations, economies, diplomacy, technology and military over individual battles. Examples include Crusader Kings, Hearts of Iron, and Europa Universalis.
  • Tactical RPG – Role-playing games with a strategic, turn-based combat system and squad management between battles. Franchises like XCOM, Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem fall into this category.

This list collects the greatest games spanning these genres over the past few decades. These are the strategy titans that set the gold standard – the chess masters of the gaming world. Let's countdown the definitive top 10.

10. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 (2000)

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2

No best strategy games list would be complete without the zany, live-action cutscene-filled Command & Conquer series that helped define the RTS genre. Of the franchise's many beloved entries, 2000's Red Alert 2 stands out with the most memorable campy campaign, over-the-top unit design, and fantastic expansion in Yuri's Revenge. Charging into battle with Tesla troops, war bears, and mind-controlled enemies never gets old.

Key Features:

  • Zany live-action Soviet vs Allies RTS gameplay
  • Innovative unit design like attack dolphins, war bears, and tesla troops
  • Hilarious FMV cutscenes and expansive campaigns
  • Deep expansion Yuri's Revenge with new factions and story

9. Into the Breach (2018)

Into the Breach

This indie strategy darling reinvents turn-based tactics with elements of a chess match and a puzzle game. Facing an impending underground monster invasion, players control mech squads defending cities from utter devastation over the course of tight, 15-turn battles. With randomized units and abilities, the replayability is endless. The clean pixel art style and refined gameplay make Into the Breach a modern classic.

Key Features:

  • Chess-like turn-based battles with puzzle elements
  • Squads have unique abilities to synergize combos
  • Randomized and handcrafted battles across corporate-ruled islands
  • High replayability with rogue-like elements

8. Stellaris (2016)

Stellaris

For strategy fans looking to scratch their sci-fi itch, it doesn't get better than Stellaris. This space-faring grand strategy game lets players traverse a procedurally-generated galaxy as leader of a custom alien civilization. Stellaris excels through its emphasis on roleplaying newly conceived races like imperialist avian raptors or enlightened tree people. Each playthrough shapes a unique story of intergalactic exploration, diplomacy, technological progression and endgame crises.

Key Features:

  • Massive procedurally-generated galaxies to explore as custom alien races
  • Sophisticated space diplomacy, warfare and colonization systems
  • RPG elements like traits to roleplay bird people, hive minds, megacorps and more
  • Endgame crises shake up late-game stagnation

7. Heroes of Might and Magic III (1999)

Heroes of Might and Magic III

This classic turn-based strategy masterpiece has withstood the test of time better than the vast majority of its peers. Heroes III perfects the exploration, empire building, turn-based combat and compelling progression systems of the influential Might & Magic franchise. Players take the role of wandering heroes leading armies across a fantasy landscape divided into rival factions. Charming sprites, varied unit design, random map generation and accessible mechanics cement the game's legacy as one of the greats.

Key Features:

  • Accessible turn-based exploration, empire building and combat
  • Charming 2D sprite visuals that still hold up
  • Randomly-generated maps and quests
  • Iconic mythological creature designs

6. Total War: Warhammer II (2017)

Total War: Warhammer II

The award-winning Total War series has long set the benchmark for real-time battle tactics and empire management, spanning eras from feudal Japan to Napoleonic Europe. Innovative as ever, Creative Assembly branched into the dark fantasy world of Warhammer to incredible success with epic clashes between detailed 3D armies of humans, orcs, elves and vampiric hordes. Between building legendary heroes' empires turn-by-turn on the campaign map and deploying them in gorgeous large-scale battle, Total War: Warhammer II stands among the best strategy experiences ever crafted.

Key Features:

  • Stunning real-time battles between extremely detailed fantasy armies
  • 4 unique factions with vastly different playstyles and legendary heroes
  • Deep empire building campaign with RPG progression mechanics
  • Epic crossover Mortal Empires campaign combining 2 games worth of content

5. Age of Empires II: Age of Kings (1999)

Age of Empires II

The Age of Empires real-time strategy franchise has taught history and strategy fans for over 20 years. Of the series' venerable entries, Age of Kings stands as the quintessential experience. Revolutionizing the genre with innovative town and economy management, gorgeous 2D visuals and four fully-fleshed historical campaigns, Age of Kings is easily one of the most accessible and important strategy titles ever designed. Its recent Definitive Edition remaster shows the charm and gameplay holds up incredibly well decades later.

Key Features:

  • Four lengthy historical campaigns spanning the Middle Ages
  • Innovative RTS town, economy and empire management
  • Charming 2D visuals and iconic building/unit design
  • Huge variety of playable civilizations
  • Still great gameplay after recent Definitive Edition remaster

4. Crusader Kings III (2020)

Crusader Kings III

This character-driven medieval grand strategy masterpiece rocketed to mainstream popularity in 2020, letting players navigate dynastic politics, war, and intrigue as noble families throughout Europe and the Middle East. Whether plotting assassinations against your rivals, breeding genius heirs, or reforming pagan religions, no other game delivers such deep strategic roleplaying and emergent storytelling. Prepare to lose hundreds of hours scheming your way onto various thrones.

Key Features:

  • Sophisticated medieval dynasty simulator and feudal empire management
  • Roleplay viking conquerors, religious reformers, master seducers and more
  • Plots, secrets and inter-character dynamics generate hugely emergent stories
  • Moddable sandbox structure keeps every playthrough feeling fresh

3. XCOM 2 (2016)

XCOM 2

This beloved tactical strategy game builds upon the already rock-solid foundation of 2012's XCOM: Enemy Unknown and its Enemy Within expansion. Picking up where the last left off, the Earth fell to an overwhelming alien invasion as XCOM failed in its defense. Now players control a resistance force slowly building momentum to overthrow the extraterrestrial rulers. The turn-based battles are tighter than ever with challenging mission objectives and devastating enemy abilities keeping tension high. Outside combat, players manage a mobile headquarters between missions researching weapons and gear to take on the alien administration.

Key Features:

  • White-knuckle turn-based tactical combat
  • Challenging campaign with complex risk/reward decisions
  • Soldiers gain RPG stats and personalities through combat experience
  • Players balance base building, research priorities and guerilla operations

2. Sid Meier's Civilization VI (2016)

Civilization VI

The beloved Civilization franchise has eaten more gamer hours than potentially any game series in history since its 1991 debut. Representing the culmination of decades of refinements paired with bold innovations, Civilization VI stands out as the apex of the iconic 4X series. Brand new districts system to build city layouts, research boosts through inspiration mechanics and vastly distinct civilization design makes this the most replayable entry yet. The excellent Rise & Fall and Gathering Storm expansions introduce sweeping new mechanics elevating an already phenomenal game.

Key Features:

  • Districts system revolutionizes city planning and building specializations
  • Inspiration system dynamically rewards exploration, culture generation, or battle
  • Most sophisticated diplomacy system negotiates emergent relations
  • Major expansions introduce empire loyalty, climate change dynamics and more

1. StarCraft (1998)

StarCraft

The king of real-time strategy, StarCraft's shadow looms as large as ever even 20+ years later. Its expertly-balanced asymmetric factions, innovative unit design, memorable alien worlds and immersive lore rightfully earned a reputation as one of the finest strategy games ever conceived. Beyond an incredible campaign, StarCraft fostered a professional gaming scene leading to televised matches and sponsorship deals for the world's top players. Its enduring legacy as an eSport giant and supreme RTS exemplar secures its place at #1.

Key Features:

  • Perfectly-balanced and innovative asymmetric factions
  • Game-defining competitive multiplayer legacy
  • Sci-fi atmosphere, visuals and sounds that still impress
  • Campaign delivers epic interstellar showdown between terrans, zerg and protoss

Honorable Mentions

Beyond the top 10, these strategy classics deserve recognition for their enormous contributions:

Sid Meier’s Civilization V – Perfected the iconic 4X franchise upon launch with a refined hex grid and one-unit-per-tile system. Its Gods & Kings and Brave New World expansions introduce religion dynamics and ideological culture conflicts that greatly enhance empire development.

Warcraft III – Landmark RTS notable for revolutionizing RPG/hero elements in the genre. Customizable hero units gain experience and items leading armies. Story campaign delivers an epic fantasy showdown that spawned the cultural sensation World of Warcraft.

Europa Universalis IV – Grand strategy masterpiece allowing players to steer any nation for over 400 years of alternate history across the early modern era. Sophisticated systems managing trade, technology, colonization, diplomacy and warfare come together into a hugely immersive sandbox.

Panzer Corps – Faithful spiritual successor to 1994's beloved Panzer General, this tactical hex-based WWII game excels through tense Wehrmacht campaign progression across the European theater.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here