The 12 best turn-based strategy games on Steam

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The 12 best turn-based strategy games on Steam
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Turn based strategy

If you're looking for Steam games to run on an older laptop or a touchscreen device, turn-based strategy is a great genre. It rarely demands top-notch computing power and will wait patiently for you to fiddle with clumsy controls.

Even if you're just an everyday Steam gamer, top strategy titles are always worth a look. It's a neglected genre in the mainstream, yet contains so many unique titles. If you want a break from twitch gaming or role-playing, the mental workout of strategy can satisfy like nothing else.

So here's our top picks for gamers looking for a change of pace. A mix of introductory and in-depth titles with a particular eye toward those that work well on mobile. All of them guaranteed to give the gray matter a good stretch.

Sid Meier's Civilization V
By Firaxis Games - buy on PC, Mac, and Linux (£19.99) Sid Meiers Civilization V

Let's get this out of the way first: the most popular and accessible 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) game around.

Some say its predecessor Civ IV is more demanding and compelling. Which it might be for micromanagement maniacs. For the rest of us, the smooth balance of positional, diplomatic, and economic strategy offered by this game is a safer bet.

The chance to re-create human history in a randomly generated world is rarely less than enthralling. And a choice of play styles, world seeds, and difficulty levels ensures an almost limitless play time.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown
By Firaxis Games - buy on PC, Mac, and Linux (£14.99) XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Staying with getting the most obvious choices out of the way first, here's the strategy smash of the decade.

Again, an approachable interface hides a cybernetic fist of strategic depth underneath. Add in the role-playing elements of gradually nurturing a squad of soliders toward elite status in a demanding environment and you've got a sure-fire winner.

The game also achieves a rare satisfying marriage of tactical and strategic elements. While famed for its combat missions, managing the whole XCOM enterprise is equally fun, and can be just as deadly if you make a bad choice.

Invisible, Inc.
By Klei Entertainment - buy on PC, Mac, and Linux (£14.99) Invisible, Inc.

One of the more obviously derivative spawn of XCOM turns out, on inspection, to not be derivative at all. Rather than a combat title, Invisible Inc is an almost unique stealth strategy game.

Your task is to guide agents through corporate buildings, hacking terminals for tasty secrets. Quiet is the order of the day, with missteps ratcheting up the security level in an unbearable corkscrew of tension.

Add in procedural generation, role-playing elements and terrifying time limits, to make one of the best indie games of the year so far.

X-COM: UFO Defense
By MicroProse Software - buy on PC (£2.99) X-COM: UFO Defense

Some gamers might not realise that XCOM is an up to date version of a much older game, originally released in 1993.

The presentation is as bad as you might expect by modern standards. The gameplay, however, doesn't feel like it's aged a day. This is the ancestor of almost all modern squad tactics titles.

It's also quite different from its modern day descendants. Most notably in its punishing level of challenge. Anyone who's already suffered at the hands of XCOM might find that surprising, but seeing of the aliens is all the more satisfying as a result.

Chaos Reborn
By Snapshot Games - buy on PC, Mac, and Linux (£14.99) Chaos Reborn

The XCOM franchise is the brainchild of developer Julian Gollop. One of his earliest commercial games was fantasy strategy title Chaos on the ZX Spectrum.

What made is special was the simple mechanic for illusions. Wizards could summon creatures with a risk of failure, or cast an illusion that always worked. However, everyone had a disbelieve spell that destroyed illusions - at the cost of wasting that turns' casting slot.

This simple yet brilliant dynamic is intact for this modern remake. Along with better graphics, collectibles, stats, options, online multiplayer, and all the other bells and whistles we've come to expect.

Skulls of the Shogun
By 17-BIT - buy on PC, Mac, and Linux (£6.99) Skulls Shogun

Quality fantasy strategy games like the latter pick can be hard to come by. Which makes it all the more surprising that this little gem, a hit on mobile, seems to have passed so many Steam gamers by.

The action follows a murdered Samurai into a violent afterlife to seek revenge. The tone is a fantastic blend of horror and humour.

What makes Skulls stand out, though, is the way it grafts difficult decisions onto simple mechanics. Do you attack the enemy, move to a defensive position, or eat someone's skull? It's a harder choice than it might sound.

King's Bounty: Armored Princess
By Katauri Interactive - buy on PC and Mac (£7.99) King's Bounty: Armored Princess

There's a long and distinguished history of fusing fantasy strategy with role-playing. But most titles in this group tend toward the latter.

Not so Armoured Princess. Good job, too, since the narrative elements are mostly dire, as typified by the egregious bikini armour of the box cover.

If you can get past that, then the turn-based game beneath is a treat. The strategic layer sees you recruiting, training and maintaining an army. While tactical skirmishes seamlessly weave sword and sorcery together.

Endless Legend
By AMPLITUDE Studios - buy on PC and Mac (£26.99) Endless Legend

If you want something fantastic but on a grander scale, you won't do better than this recent fusion of fantasy and 4x.

It takes two genres which are both defined and constrained by their stereotypes and blends them with a skilled eye on what to keep and what to tweak.

The result is at once comforting yet challenging. And also manages to be approachable without sacrificing the epic scope of a civilization game.

Unity of Command: Stalingrad Campaign
By 2x2 Games - buy on PC, Mac, and Linux (£14.99) Unity of Command: Stalingrad Campaign

Turn-based strategy is synonymous with a certain genre of historical wargame. These titles have an often-deserved reputation for being confusing and inaccessible. Unity of Command turns that on its head.

With smooth graphics and simple mechanics, it brings the strategy of the Second World War alive for anyone and everyone. But don't mistake ease of access for ease of play: it's a demanding, realistic game with an AI that will punish your mistakes.

Interlocking historical scenarios given the game a grand narrative sweep. If you've any interest at all in military simulations, this is the place to start.

Order of Battle: Pacific
By The Artistocrats - buy on PC (£29.99) Order of Battle: Pacific

And if you're into World War 2 strategy, this is the place to continue.

The action has shifted to the island-hopping of the Pacific campaigns. It's epic in scope but eases the player in gently, like slipping into a warm bath. By the time you're in full flow, juggling supply lines for hundreds of unit types across the ocean, you'll hardly notice.

Plus it makes a breeze of spreading the action across land, sea and air, something that's eluded almost every game set in the Pacific before.

Panzer Corps
By Flashback Games - buy on PC (£14.99) Panzer Corps

The previous entry owes an awful lot to this title which, in turn, owes and awful lot to the classic Panzer General series of the 90's. Wargame designers don't like to waste good ideas.

It gets that vital balance of being approachable yet deep right from the off, and keeps it across all its campaigns.

And those campaigns cover all the titanic clashes on the Eastern Front that you've read about. Stalingrad, Kursk, and Moscow transform from dots on the map to the epicenter of colossal battles.

Jagged Alliance 2 Gold
By Strategy First - buy on PC (£13.99) Jagged Alliance 2 Gold

The majority of the games on this list focus on strategy over tactics. Which is a shame in some ways. Because what you lose in terms of epic sweep you gain in intimacy.

There's no better proof of this than the Jagged Alliance games, which see you nurture a squad of mercenaries through a series of demanding missions. You'll get to know each one, and the stories they carve across the map will be burned in your memory. There are also lists of best Android strategy games and best iOS strategy games!

Plus, there's a surprisingly modern role-playing feel to the stats and inventory management in this game for a title released over fifteen years ago.

Matt Thrower
Matt Thrower
Matt is a freelance arranger of words concerning boardgames and video games. He's appeared on IGN, PC Gamer, Gamezebo, and others.