From Ancient Rome to the machinations of colonial powers, strategy games give players a controlling role in history from the leisure of their desktop. Here are the best games armchair generals are guaranteed to identify with.
If there’s any game that is more guaranteed to make players feel like a combination of a field general, master tactician and Caesar-in-waiting, we haven’t played it… well, yet.
Imperator: Rome plonks players in the sandals of a general in the last days of the Republic and lets them get on with the business of empire building.
Imperator: Rome covers the gamut from battlefield tactics to real-politick negotiations to civilian management and all of the action is played out on an incredibly vast and detailed map that stretches from the British Isles to India. This is a game that is not only incredibly engaging, it sets a standard for historical strategy games as a genre.
Company of Heroes
Moving from the ancient world to the frontlines of World War Two, Company of Heroes has players oversee the two of the most pivotal Allied campaigns – the Battle of Normandy and the liberation of France. Coordinating these operations takes a deft use of the game’s Real-Time-Strategy (RTS) mechanics; players are also tasked with capturing resource points on the map, build bases and structures and guide their soldiers to victory.
The game’s robust single-player campaign is well complimented by its online mode in which players can control either the Allied or the Axis forces. It also has two superb expansion packs: Opposing Fronts, which pits the British 2nd Army against the German Panzer Elite, and Tales of Valor, which contains three missions for single-players and multiplayer modes including ‘Stonewall’, in which players repel waves of increasingly difficult enemies.
Its sequel, Company of Heroes 2, in which the action moves to the Eastern front and players control the Russian forces, is also well worth checking out. Meanwhile, Company of Heroes 3 is due for release in 2022.
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
When it comes to strategy games, the Civilization franchise stands head and shoulders over most competitors, and Civilization VI is no exception. Critically acclaimed – and deservedly so – on release, this instalment streamlines the user interface (UI), taking its cue from its immediate predecessor, but its central conceit remains the same: build up your faction from a disparate tribe to a world-dominating force.
In order to do this, players have to build up their cities, grow the strength and reach of their tribe’s culture and conquer the land around them through a combination of battles and diplomacy. The pace is a little faster – and all the better for it – the movement of units and establishment of resources from earlier games benefits immensely from the tile-based UI and the visual presentation is superb, making the entire experience come alive in a way that wasn’t present before. A must-have for any strategy game fan.
Total War: Shogun 2
Another entry in the excellent Total War series, Shogun 2 transports the action from Ancient Rome to Feudal Japan. The sequel to one of the most critically acclaimed games in this series, Shogun 2 places players in the shoes of a warlord in the aftermath of the Onin War and lets them get on with the business of empire building.
Shogun 2 brings the base levels of the franchise – battlefield tactics, resource management, diplomacy, settlement building – but ramps them up to a vivid degree. On top of that, players are able to use ninjas and geishas as assassins and spies respectively, adding a rather deliciously underhanded mechanic to the proceedings. A fantastic entry in the series.
Europa Universalis IV
One of the most intimidating strategy games ever made, Europa Universalis IV is really worth exploring. It has one foot in history and one in fantasy – not the fantasy that includes dragons and the like – and it requires an almost laser-like level of attention if players plan to win through.
This is one of the hardest and most involved strategy games ever made. Rather than offering players the chance to hover above units on a battlefield controlling the tactical minutiae of each outcome, Europa Universalis IV is a resource management simulation that places most of its gameplay on organisation; players succeed here through having the best research systems, tech levels and national traits. It’s a game that is hard to play, but wonderful to master… provided one has the time.
Crusader Kings 3
Whereas most historical strategy games require players to manage resources, fight battles, engage in diplomacy, build up supply lines and the like, Crusader Kings 3 makes the whole experience feel a lot more personal. The reason? All of the actions the player takes is based around the characteristics of the historical figure they choose.
In Crusader Kings 3, players can sign up to be as far up the totem pole as they like – ruler, duke, count and the like – which to a degree decides the difficulty level. When players pick their historical avatar, they’re presented with a talent tree based on the character they picked. This bleeds into the game and may provide them advantages or drawbacks on how they set about conquering the world. An experience like no other, Crusader Kings 3 is well worth exploring.
Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition
Really, you could pick pretty much any Age of Empires title to include in a list of brilliant strategy games. The series is filed and receipted as one of the best in this genre. We’re going to plump for Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition. Shot through with gorgeous HD 4K graphics, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition now looks fantastic. The legendary core experience is present and correct, but Definitive Edition also offers players the ability to play through the numerous campaigns that have been added to the game over its long lifespan.