5 best turn-based strategies of all time (and 5 real-time strategies that define the genre)

Some old-time classic strategy games to modern masterpieces combined in one list (Images via Relic Entertainment and Creative Assembly)
Some old-time classic strategy games to modern masterpieces combined in one list (Images via Relic Entertainment and Creative Assembly)

Turn-based strategy games have some of the most loyal fanbases. It's one of the niche genres of gaming where the break, in turn, gives players time to ponder and strategize the best moves to win.

Some of the best strategy titles evoke the "will stop playing after one more turn" feeling in gamers.

There is something incredibly satisfying about setting up a perfect strategy and executing it in the field of battle. Moreover, turn-based strategy games help users think on their feet and, in the long run, improves their decision-making capacity in the face of adversity.

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Since its inception in the early 90s, the turn-based strategy game genre has become rather vast. There are 4x titles that focus more on empire building, yet there are strategy games where players control an entire army unit.

Here is a quick rundown of some all-time great turn-based strategy games that deserve a re-visit. The list contains a mix-bag of 4x strategy titles and turn-based strategy games that also offer massive real-time battles.


Five turn-based strategy games that will make players feel like Caesar

1) Civilization 6 (2016)

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Civilization is the latest and greatest turn-based title from the legendary Sid Meier's Civilization series, from which the very idea of "One More Turn" emerged. The game takes users on an incredible journey from transitioning from a primitive society of cave dwellers into the grandest and most advanced civilization.

The overall campaign map in Civilization 6 is similar to previous titles without a significant improvement. However, the game does manage to add cool new stuff in the technology tree and a whole new separate civic tree.

It is a more stylish representation of the previous Civilization title and perhaps the most polished 4x game ever created.


2) Total War: Attila (2015)

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The Total War series is known for its colossal real-time tactical battles involving thousands of troops. These games also have very engaging turn-based campaigns involving intricate court intrigue and historically accurate diplomacy with other factions.

Moreover, the Total War franchise has successfully recreated long-gone historical eras better than many movies and television series.

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Released two years after the launch of Total War: Rome II, Total War: Atilla served as a DLC expansion of the title above. Of all the Total War games, Total War: Atilla is by far historically the most accurate.

The title represents the era known as the Dark Ages. Historically, it was a time of the rapid spread of disease and mass exodus of many tribes of Central and Inner Asia across all parts of the world into Europe, Persia, and even India, running away from the barbaric Huns.

Total War: Atilla can perfectly represent the Dark Ages of history in its campaign maps. Players can choose to control one of the playable migrating barbaric factions, including Avars, Goths, Franks, the Geats, and the mighty Huns.

On the other hand, users can choose to play as one of the many playable settled Empires of the time, such as the Sassanids of Persia.

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The overall gameplay of the campaigns for this particular title in the Total War series is the hardest. It is challenging to hold on to territories, let alone conquer new ones.

Gamers campaigning as one of the settled Empires of the time, such as the Eastern Roman Empire, for instance, simply can't go about and subdue small neighboring kingdoms for fun.

Suppose the frontier regions are not defended well. In that case, players may find their Empire cut into two halves by marauding barbarian tribes in the next turn, which is exactly what happened around 2000 years ago.


3) Total War Warhammer 2 (2017)

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The Total War series went one step further in 2016 by integrating its large-scale battle mechanics into the fantasy world of the Warhammer universe. This enabled players to not only control the massive armies of some of their favorite fictional races, such as Woodland Elves, Orcs, and various Undead factions but also integrate magical abilities and heroes into the mix.

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However, the first Warhammer title was just an appetizer from the developers' end. The amount of detail put into Total War Warhammer 2 is truly incredible. All in all, Total War Warhammer 2 offers 70 factions in its campaign maps spread into 15 distinct races.

Every race in the game has unique army units, monsters, buildings, their own heroes, and associated lores. The expansive Warhammer universe and the cool new army units make Total War Warhammer 2 the best strategy game ever made.


4) Narcos: Rise of the Cartel (2019)

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Inspired by the popular Netflix television series, Narcos: Rise of the Cartel is a unique turn-based strategy game where users join Narcos and expand their drug cartel empire. The campaign map is a bloody turn-based-action strategy game that lets players relive the first two seasons of Netflix's television series.

Gamers can choose to play on both sides. However, they can only move one army or agent at a time on the campaign board. They can either be agents of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) or members of a drug cartel empire.

The strategy title offers a proper television series adaptation with intricate cut scenes and animations.

However, upon its release, the game received mixed reactions from the community. Players were let down because some of the most straightforward missions take a long time to finish.

Nevertheless, it is a hidden gem of a turn-based strategy game that recreates the popular Netflix show Narcos in a game seamlessly.


5) Battletech (2018)

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Battletech is a solid turn-based mech battler that offers a sprawling campaign map filled with plenty of steadfast encounters. It's one of the best turn-based mech combat games ever made.

The title offers plenty of tactical encounters where everything from weapon management to environmental factors such as heat and positioning matters.

It has a diverse catalog of mechs to choose from, each detailed to perfection with unique weapon systems. The title is an immersive turn-based game that puts players in the shoes of one of the captains, commanding a mech with plenty of plot twists and tough survival decisions.

Five greatest real-time strategy games

1) Age of Empires 4 (2021)

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When Age of Empire 4 was released in October 2021, the demand for the popular RTS title exploded on Steam. It must be admitted that Relic Entertainment did a fabulous job reimagining the timeless real-time strategy game Age of Empires 2.

The title offers much sharper graphics and detailed 11-hour-long worth of real-life documentary footage about various civilizations, ages, and wars, explaining the overall historical context of the campaigns to players.

Age of Empires 4 has eight playable factions, which include the old-timers English, Chinese, French, the Holy Roman Empire, the Mongols, and the newly included in the playable list, the Kievan Rus, the Delhi Sultanate, and the Abbasid Caliphate.

The Mongol campaign is incredibly well remade. It brings some fresh gameplay elements to age-old units like the Mongol horse archers that can shoot while moving. The best part of the Mongol campaign of Age of Empires 4 is that users get to control Subutai Khan, the only undefeated general in history.

The effort put into Age of Empires 4 is truly immense. If gamers are bored playing the campaigns, they can immerse themselves for hours into the rich archives of historical knowledge available in the game.


2) Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War 2 (2009)

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Delivering a mashed-up world of Diablo and the StarCraft series, Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War 2 is a real-time role-playing strategy game where users get to customize their own unique characters.

A sequel to Warhammer Dawn of War, it offers a non-linear interplanetary campaign playable as the Space Marines, Orks, Eldar, and Tyranids.

Although the Warhammer 40000 series has built up a rich and expansive universe, and the franchise has released 12 more titles, Warhammer Dawn of War 2 remains one of its best-ever releases.

This game's campaign gives the authentic feel of the richness the Warhammer 40000 universe possesses. It is filled with tons of Warhammer 40000 lores, making it an absolute delight to play this real-time strategy game.


3) World of Warcraft 3 (2002)

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Developed by Blizzard Entertainment, World of Warcraft: Reign of Chaos is a real-time strategy game with role-playing elements. It is filled with rich narratives and has a compelling overarching story of a fantasy world populated with numerous races such as Humans, Orcs, Elves, Undead, Furlongs, Goblins, Centaurs, and Fiends, among many others.

The title literally gave birth to the lores of future Warcraft games. World of Warcraft: Reign of Chaos has some of the most well-written stories in its linear campaign.

Gamers players start as humans and undertake a voyage across the land of Azeroth. In the process, players get to control the playable factions of Orcs, Undead, and finally Night Elves as they progress along the storyline.

Each chapter of World of Warcraft 3 is crafted to perfection with superb narratives, likable characters, plenty of hidden items to discover, artifacts to unravel, and mysterious dungeons to explore.

World of Warcraft: Reign of Chaos is just an ingeniously creative real-time strategy game.


4) Age of Empire 2 (1999)

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The strategy game genre may have diversified into many branches, 4X games, turn-based titles like Civilization, games that offer a mix of both real-time and turn-based elements, and so on.

However, Age of Empire 2 is one real-time strategy game every gamer has at least played once or knows about. It is still considered the gold standard of strategy gaming and remains relevant.

Unlike Age of Empire 1, which showcases antiquity, Age of Empire 2 is set in the medieval era, and users have to progress through their Empire from the Dark ages through the Castle and Feudal ages all the way to the Imperial age.

Age of Empire 2 offers gameplay elements of historically accurate army units, siege equipment, castles, walls, resource gathering, monument construction, and tech and civil research in one playable package for the first time to gamers. The game was truly a revelation for 20th-century folks.


5) The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth (2004)

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Developed by EA, The Lord of the Rings Battle for Middle Earth is yet another real-time strategy classic that recreates Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The game lets players fight either as the good side of Froddo or as the evil dark side seeking to destroy Middle Earth.

If they choose to be on the good side, the campaign follows the traditional narrative shown in the movie. It emphasizes scripted missions that recreate some of the trilogy's key moments, such as the Battle of the Hornburg, the siege of Osgiliath, Sam's search for Frodo in Shelob's lair, and the Battle of the Pelennor, and many others.

If users choose to be on the evil side, the campaign begins with Isengard's betrayal and moves on to Saruman's conquest of Rohan.

When it comes to gameplay, The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth allows gamers to control heroes possessing magical abilities in addition to army units.

There are also tons of cool gameplay features that this particular Lord of the Rings title offers, including the ability to shift army formations which other strategy games are yet to create.

Note: This article is subjective and reflects the author's opinion.

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