A screenshot of the Sectopod alien from XCOM2.
Image via Firaxis

Top 13 best turn-based strategy games, ranked

Real-time gameplay? Nah, it's turn o'clock.

While the genre of strategy games may have been through its fair share of ups and downs over the years, the entire niche is now in a fairly good spot.

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Turn-based strategy games have taken over the real-time titles’ crown from the early aughts, and we’re now getting so many good games that it’s getting hard to keep track of them. Here are the best 13 turn-based strategy games, ranked!

Top 13 best turn-based strategies

A piece of official keyart for Advance Wars: Days of Ruin depicting some of the game's main characters.
Image via Nintendo Life

#13: Advance Wars: Days of Ruin

Choosing the best Advance Wars game is kind of like choosing your favorite child: you can’t do it, and even if you do give out an answer, nobody’s really going to be happy with what you just said. Casting that thought aside, the reason Days of Ruin‘s made its way onto this list is that it’s a phenomenal strategy game, yes, but also because it exists in its own, separate continuity that makes it delightfully easy to jump into and enjoy. This helped it eke out a tiny victory over the other Advance Wars titles, though each is worthy of this spot, if we’re being honest about it.

A screenshot depicting SteamWorld Heist's projectile ricochet feature.
Image via Image & Form Games

#12: SteamWorld: Heist

The genius of SteamWorld: Heist is difficult to describe, as it doesn’t truly set in until you’ve already experienced a few hours’ worth of gameplay and immersed yourself into the game proper. Here’s an honest-to-goodness side-scroller turn-based strategy that emphasizes features such as projectile ricochets, procedural level generation, and skill-based progression, and it’s all packed together under the revered (albeit niche) SteamWorld IP. Even if you’re on the sidelines about this one, we recommend giving it a shot because it won’t leave you disappointed.

Screenshot of a regular mission from the Battle for Wesnoth.
Image via David White, The Battle for Wesnoth Project

#11: The Battle for Wesnoth

A totally free and open-source (not free-to-play, not shareware) turn-based production that’s been going for just over two decades now, The Battle for Wesnoth is a bit of a legend among older gamers. It certainly helps that it’s a hugely comprehensive and engaging game with just about all the features you could wish for from an open-source project. So, mods, map editing tools, hotseat multiplayer… you name it, the odds are that Wesnoth has it—a must-play for fans of the genre, both old and new.

An image of a combat situation from Gears Tactics, with COG forces dealing with the enemy.
Image via Splash Damage, The Coalition

#10: Gears Tactics

Perhaps it may come as a surprise that Gears of War‘s emblematic bravado would translate well into the bones of a quality turn-based strategy, but it winds up being one of the best turn-based games, easily. Gears Tactics is, essentially, an XCOM game set in the GoW universe. And hey, it works. No, wait, it works incredibly well, to the point where it’s easily one of the best Gears titles. Note that the story isn’t this game’s strong suit. Instead, you should be jumping into it for its brisk combat and excellent pacing, which does mean that XCOM 2 is still the superior product.

A screenshot of 4X city management gameplay from Endless Legend.
Image via Amplitude Studios

#9: Endless Legend

What if Civilization was a true fantasy game, with all the weirdness and strange civilizations that would entail? With Endless Legend, Amplitude Studios asked that very same question and ended up developing what is, arguably, the single best Civ-alike made yet. Endless Legend is remarkably varied and interesting, with its factions and races differing from one another by a ridiculous margin. Whether you’d like to set up a hive-mind civilization that worships death or, perhaps, one controlled by seasonally shape-shifting bat creatures, Endless Legend lets you do just that.

A stylized screengrab of two mechs teaming up to destroy the third in Battletech.
Image via Harebrained Schemes

#8: Battletech

Battletech is a delightful mecha-XCOM game, and that’s about as much as you need to know about it to be immediately sold on the idea. Featuring very granular combat and a surprisingly in-depth narrative, Battletech serves up precisely what you’d expect, given its subject matter. Though it’s got some roughness to it, Battletech more than makes up for any perceived jank with great gameplay and customization options, bound to keep you busy for hours on end.

A screenshot of a small band of mercs fending off a pack of hyenas in Jagged Alliance 3.
Image via Haemimont Games

#7: Jagged Alliance 3

Jagged Alliance had been in a rough spot for years, with one entry after another seemingly failing to touch upon Jagged Alliance 2’s true greatness. Then, Jagged Alliance 3 came crashing through the proverbial wall, finally giving fans something new to play. It’s strange, too: JA3 totally side-steps almost all the mistakes made by its predecessors while feeling appropriately retro in some ways. What novelties there are are meaningful and interesting, and they genuinely add to the experience.

A closeup screenshot of a combat encounter from Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters.
Image via Complex Games

#6: Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters

Warhammer has played host to a truly mind-bending number of bad-to-mediocre strategy games, but occasionally, you get something genuinely awesome out of it. Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters puts you in control of the (in)famous Grey Knights as they put the fear of the Emperor into the infidels’ bones. If you combined XCOM 2 with Dawn of War 2, this is basically what you’d get, and we mean that in the best way possible.

A closeup to one of Age of Wonders 4's cities.
Image via Triumph Studios

#5: Age of Wonders 4

Age of Wonders 4 carves out its space as one of the best turn-based strategy games by delivering genuine novelty. On top of allowing you to build your race of creatures from the ground up, including their culture and magic affinities, AoW4 also has a meta-progression system. Better yet, the factions/races you use to win matches may appear in future games, adding to the general air of persistent progression you’ll find here. A great game made even better by its thinking outside the box.

Image via Ubisoft

#4: Heroes of Might and Magic 3

A true classic that’s etched its title into the minds of many a gamer, Heroes of Might and Magic 3 is one of those games that even the most casual players will have heard and played, too. This gives HOMM3 a uniquely universal outreach that will, in some conversations, elevate it as the very pinnacle of not only the turn-based strategy niche but also gaming as a whole. And indeed, as the quality of gameplay on show here is absolutely phenomenal. It’s just sad that we’ve not had a truly worthy successor to this classic. We do recommend grabbing the GOG version to get all the DLCs, note.

A screenshot of one of the combat puzzles from Into The Breach.
Image via Subset Games

#3: Into The Breach

Into The Breach is turn-based strategy gameplay boiled down to its absolute basics and then built back up again by a small bit. Tight, focused, and infinitely replayable, this game is a must-have for any fan of the genre. This was a given, perhaps, as Into The Breach was made by the same people who made FTL back in the day, and veterans of that game will find ITB equally charming. Or, perhaps, even more so!

Aiming screen from XCOM 2, with the XCOM soldier taking aim at an amorphous alien.
Image via Firaxis

#2: XCOM 2: War of the Chosen

XCOM 2, with its War of the Chosen DLC, is a monumental turn-based strategy. With a great pace and a genuinely amazing amount of variety in encounter design, XCOM 2 is the golden standard that’s inspired the best of this generation of turn-based strategy games. It’s not by accident that it’s been getting mentioned over and over again in this article. For those who do find it too easy, consider adding the legendary Long War mod into the mix, turning it into an unforgettable hardcore strategy.

A screenshot of Civilization 6 during peacetime.
Image via Firaxis

#1: Civilization 6

Though fans would certainly argue whether Civilization 3, 4, or 5 might be the respective pinnacles of the franchise, one cannot go wrong with the latest mainline entry. Civilization 6 is the deepest and most complex a Civ has ever been if you invest in its admittedly many DLCs, and there’s a wealth of mods to tweak the game exactly to your liking. Even though competitors have been coming out in the past years, Civ 6 remains the ultimate civilization-building turn-based strategy and the pinnacle of the genre as well.

Our strategy game ranking, explained

Choosing the very best turn-based strategies was no mean feat, all things considered. Aside from the obvious must-haves, like XCOM, we simply had to consider a huge array of legacy titles to keep in mind as well. We’d be remiss not to have included at least the most important examples here. The list just went through is quite eclectic, with that in mind, but that’s precisely why we’re sure you, too, will have found something new to play here.

One caveat worth keeping in mind here is that this was not a list of the best turn-based RPGs. Games such as Octopath Traveler, Baldur’s Gate 3, Fire Emblem, and Dragon Quest 11 are awesome and turn-based, yes, but they’re also full-fledged role-playing games, which we chose not to feature here. Similarly, Total War games are often phenomenal, but their real-time combat component meant they weren’t getting onto the list. It’s a fine line, to be sure, but it had to be drawn somewhere.


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Author
Filip Galekovic
A lifetime gamer and writer, Filip has successfully made a career out of combining the two just in time for the bot-driven AI revolution to come into its own.