We’ve discussed strategy game music, interviewed strategy game makers, and even given away store credit to play strategy games yourself. But which strategy games are worth playing for a strategy newcomer? If you dig strategy games, what’s some other game should play? Today we’ve compiled a list of seven of the greatest strategy games and tell you why we think each game is the cat’s pajamas. Did your favorite make the cut?
What person who’s seen the Star Wars movies hasn’t dreamt of controlling an Imperial Starfleet to crush the Rebels or wanted to devise attack patterns for a squadron of X-Wings to deliver a crippling blow to the Empire? This game took the familiar gameplay of war strategy games and put it in a galaxy far, far away. Strategy buffs got a rich game with complex battle system and Star Wars geeks got to play around in George Lucas’ sandbox, exploring locations mentioned or glimpsed briefly in the movies that could now be explored and conquered at your leisure. As an ultimate fan service, this game even includes locations and characters from the expanded universe novels, which is one of the only times this has happened in a Star Wars game. There’s even a multiplayer feature that allows you and a friend to battle against each other using entire star systems as your battleground. Now you can settle that bet and and see who truly has The Force with them.
“If you are a Star Wars fan and you like strategy games, Empire at War is the perfect combo. It has EVERYTHING…space combat with the Millennium Falcon, ground combat with AT-AT’s. Just think of your favorite Star Wars character to control or scenario to relive and you can play it out in real time in this game. Do you want to destroy the galaxy planet by planet with the Death Star? No problem. Do you dream of having Vader and Obi Wan rematches in any Star Wars local you choose? Done. I bet I have 300 hours in this game, and flying around with Boba Fett tossing out seismic charges at X-Wings NEVER gets old.” – Michael Blair
Already a wildly successful franchise, the fourth installment of the Civilization series took the grid-based strategy gameplay and took it to dizzying new heights. The increased focus on leaders of a civilization gave new depth and personality. Great artists of your civ could potentially look like Elvis or William Shakespeare which was a fun little thing to give the game more character. The added emphasis on dealing with corruption and espionage took gameplay to new level by adding police as to your options. Religion as a cultural component and motivator was added for the first time, making this game have far more layers and complexity than any of the previous installments. Plus the graphics were created with a 3D engine for the first time, wonder movies made their return, narration was provided by the legendary Leonard Nemoy, and there was even a rich modding component with the base title including some fascinating mods, including the historically accurate Rhye’s and Fall of Civilization. The add-ons Beyond the Sword and Warlords gave even more bang for your buck, and Colonization was a brilliant stand-alone title highlighting the time of imperialism and discovery in our history made this such a complete package that it was hard to conceive of how this series could get any better.
“I love history and I love strategy games––and there are very few games that combine both like Civilization IV. Whether I’m commanding armies of Persian Immortals or negotiating resource trades with Montezuma, every game is its own unique story and experience. The infinite replay ability, complex strategies and brilliant music, make it hard for me turn away.” – James Vicari
This game is much more in the mold of what many consider to be a “traditional” strategy game. Take a particularly war-mongering civilization from our world’s history and place the user in their shoes, having the make battle decisions as well as fortify their own cities and defenses. The player assumes the role of one of three powerful Roman families and uses their wealth and ambition in an attempt to conquer the realm. Battles happen in real time, so all of the action unfolds before your eyes in a very epic way, with battles of as many as 10,000 soldiers on screen at once, really immersing the player in the experience. Those needing an extra edge can even employ famous leaders such as Julius Caesar and Spartacus, even when battling your friends in an intense multiplayer match. This version also includes the Barbarians expansion, which allows you to do battle against the brutal barbarians of the time, such as Attila the Hun and or the fierce Saxon tribe.
“Rome: Total War almost feels like playing two games in one due to the inclusion of turn based empire building and real time battles. This combination creates a deep and immersive strategy game that is a must play for a fan of the strategy genre. Rome: Total War in particular is a great choice for someone new to the Total War series as the Roman houses start off fairly strong. This gives you some leeway early on as you figure out the intricacies of the game. Like Civilization, Rome: Total War is absolutely enthralling and is one of those games that will leave you wondering where the day went.” – Kellen Kincaid
Isn’t it about time we talk about Tower Defense games? This sub-genre of strategy games is incredibly popular, whether in the form of mods of other games or stand alone titles like Plants vs. Zombies or Defense Grid: The Awakening. In this game you strategically place defense towers around the map in order to defend your home base against an invasion. Different towers do different kinds of damage, which is important to properly take down the wide variety of enemies you’ll encounter. Unlike some of the other titles on this list, this game can be played much more casually. The game is broken up into levels so you can have quick blasts of gameplay or sit down for hours at a time if you like.
“Defense Grid is probably the best hardcore tower defense there is. The difficulty curve is great, every single tower is useful, and each level provides numerous challenges. Unlike many other tower defense games, the storyline is brought to life through a terrific narrator. I’ve spent dozens of hours on this game, and fire it back up every once in a while when I realize that there are still goals I haven’t completed yet.” – Ryan Stocks
So we’ve got historical strategy and even intergalactic strategy, but what about future strategy? Supreme Commander 2 takes players into the distant future as you use real time strategy to prep a worldwide force against galactic foes. The president has been assassinated and none of your enemies take credit, all blaming the other! Take command of giant battle robots, laser-shooting space ships and other awesome weapons in both an intense story-driven single player campaign mode or bring the pain to your friends in multiplayer mode. Battle bots, lasers and cunning strategy? What’s not to like?
“I’ve sunk so many hours into this game, I wouldn’t be surprised to look up and find that the futuristic weapons and military forces have become a reality. The graphics are stunning, and the gameplay and mechanics are easy to pick up, and the various factions add a lot of replay value. And did I mention the killer robots? Yeah, you should play this one.” – Jacky Coiro
Called by some the greatest military strategy game of all time, Company of Heroes drops players in the middle of World War II. Players start their campaign at the Invasion of Normandy and guide Allied forces through the rest of the struggle against Germany until victory. This game has a cinematic feel at times, making the player feel like they’re playing a movie. The environments are beautiful and completely destructible adding a needed level of realness. The AI is programmed well to, with squadrons making decisions that seem logical and intuitive, so there’s nothing to take you out of the experience. This version of the game also includes every expansion, ensuring that you get the complete experience. FPS games set in WWII like Call of Duty may be fun, but in those you’re just one man. In Company of Heroes you make critical battle decisions for entire armies, and there’s something about that just feels so incredibly satisfying.
“Still considered one of the best RTS titles of the past decade. The campaign will challenge you, and with the included DLC content you’ll be entrenched in this game for a long time.” – Matt Krous
Most series, no matter their quality, seem to hit fatigue by their fifth installment, but Civilization V launched arguably the most successful and popular title in the series to date. The game scaled back some of the complexities of the previous game, making the game a little simpler and easier for strategy newcomers to understand and play. The game boasted a beautiful new engine and shifted the basic square grid of the map to a hexagonal shape. Cities could now defend themselves instead of relying on garrisons and the focus on civilization leaders is further emphasized. There’s also tons of DLC content for this game compared to earlier version, including a staggering number of different cultures and civilizations from across history. The major expansion Gods and Kings, re-incorporated espionage and religion to increase the complexity of the game. Every piece of DLC content released so far is included in this Gold Edition, giving players the complete experience and preparing them for what is sure to be a huge expansion later this year, Brave New World. A game that turns three years old and is still providing fresh and exciting content is like a gift that keeps on giving–and incredibly rare in the game industry.
“Civ V was both my introduction to strategy games (aside from Final Fantasy Tactics) and the Civilization series. I’ve always shied away from these because they seemed so complex and daunting, but Civ V is a perfect game for n00bs like myself. It’s at the same time complex and incredibly intuitive, with the first few hours of play taking some time to adapt. Once you do though, it’s a fun and exciting game that really draws you in as you watch your cities and civilization grow. It’s one of the first times I’ve played a game and completely lost track of time because I was so into it.” – Jarad Matula
Just released on the Mac by Feral Interactive, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a stellar turn-based strategy game that sees players taking command of the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit (XCOM) to fend off a worldwide alien invasion. While not directing a squad of elite soldiers with unique abilities on the battlefield, players must carefully manage resources to build their base, research new projects, and develop the latest tech and weapons. Based on the 1994 game UFO: Enemy Unknown, XCOM features a brutal and unforgiving difficulty (though new players may manage the settings to make the game quite manageable), which makes every single decision incredibly important, whether on the field of battle or back at base. Planning ahead, however, can pay off huge dividends. What makes this game a must-play title, however, is the extra included content in the Elite Edition, including the Slingshot and Elite Soldier Packs, as well as the Second Wave update, which includes a series of gameplay modifiers that add further depth and flexibility to the campaign. Created by Firaxis, the same guys who brought you the Civilization series, XCOM features that same “one more turn” mentality that will keep players hooked for well longer than they plan. Once you pick this one up, let’s just say your weekend is booked.
“I was unfamiliar with the XCOM series until recently, but now I can’t put the game down. I absolutely love managing my squad of soldiers and have grown rather attached to each one. This works on a few levels, in that I’m now much more cautious about the moves I make and strategies I pursue. I’ve truly adopted the “leave no man behind” mentality, and I plan to follow that through until the end.” – Russ Looney
We hope you enjoyed our strategy picks that you should run, not walk, to go to play for your Mac. Keep watching our Twitter feed for a few more chances to win credit to grab one of these games. What’s your favorite strategy game? Let us know in the comments!