The best grand strategy games are, by definition, sprawling strategic experiences that typically encompass long periods of history, including many intricate layers that players need to contend with. It’s not just about winning that war or setting up this encampment; you’ve got to develop infrastructure, set policy, and manage internal dynamics over the long term.
As the ideal platform for the genre, the best grand strategy games comfortably stand shoulder to shoulder with the best PC games. They often overlap with other genres within strategy games as a whole, especially 4X games, but a key difference can be in framing. Our list of the best grand strategy games include entries that value economic management alongside map exploration, from the historical to the fantastical.
These are the best grand strategy games in 2023:
Supremacy 1914 offers you the chance to step into the shoes of a WW1 general. Here you get to choose any of the nations involved and then, along with up to 499 players, you each play your parts as the war unfolds. Games are long and intricate – exactly the kind of thing strategy fans love to sink their teeth into.
As you would expect, each of the playable countries is a little bit different, with access to varying resources, and the ability to create military forces that reflect those actually used within history. That’s an impressive level of detail in this game, particularly when you consider that it’s free to play.
Call of War: World War II
Do you like the sound of Supremacy 1914, but find yourself thinking, “By golly, that game would be so much more appealing if it were about WW2”? If so, you should definitely try out Call of War: World War II, because it takes the exact same formula, but applies it to WW2 instead which, as you can imagine, changes things up quite a lot.
There are ten nations to choose from (including Germany, the UK, the US, and the Soviet Union) and each of them plays very differently. What you do while in control of these countries is up to you. Do you want to invest in the economy and forge alliances with other countries? Or do you want to tear through the world like a war lord? There are many options available to you, and with the longest game going on for 411 days, you’ll have plenty of time to experiment with different strategies in this tactical arena.
Play Call of War: World War II for free.
Romans: Age of Caesar
Grand strategy and the Roman Empire go together like cheese and onions, and if you’ve ever wanted to feel like you’re a part of building a genuine, virtual empire, then we recommend you give Romans: Ages of Caesar a whirl.
In this free-to-play game, you must work cooperatively with up to 16 other players in order to rebuild a Roman city. Together you’ll defend your growing community from barbarian attacks, develop trade routes with cities run by other players, and gather resources so that your city can grow and prosper. It’s a really fun game to get caught up in, and presents an MMO spin on the grand strategy genre.
Play Romans: Age of Caesar for free.
Crusader Kings III
Released in September 2020, this is the highly anticipated sequel to 2011’s Crusader Kings II. What makes the series unique amongst grand strategy games is the idea that you aren’t just managing a kingdom or nation, you’re managing a person and their family.
From the lowliest of counts to the king of kings, you are put in charge of an entire dynasty of characters and tasked with ensuring its continued success and domination amidst the back-drop of medieval Europe. Crusader Kings III has doubled-down on this idea, marrying the RPG and the map-based aspects in a way its predecessor was never really designed to handle.
It’s a great one to start with if you’re a grand strategy newbie, as the development team have put a lot of work into tutorialisation and UI design, making sure the player is never more than a couple of clicks away from finding what they need.
If you reign supreme in Crusader Kings 2, our Crusader Kings 3 review details exactly how the latest entry to the series stacks up against its predecessor. We’ve also got some handy Crusader Kings 3 tips for beginners, as well as a list of the Crusader Kings 3 cheats and console commands that might come in useful. Alternatively, if you’re already a fan of CK3, be sure to check out our favourite Crusader Kings 3 starts, and the best Crusader Kings 3 mods to add a bit of spice to your gameplay.
Crusader Kings II
This is the game that put Paradox and the genre itself on the map, beginning a phenomenon that would go on to power nearly ten years’ worth of DLC and design in the grand strategy space. It’s also worth noting that the base game for Crusader Kings II is now free to play, so there’s no barrier to entry if you want to try this one out for yourself.
If you want some help getting started, we have a Crusader Kings 2 tips guide, a guide to all of the Crusader Kings 2 DLC released, and even a CK2 mods guide.
Europa Universalis IV
The previous gold-standard of Paradox grand strategy, this is the fourth iteration of a series that was originally adapted from an old-school board game of the same name. Pull your nation through the turbulent times of the 15th Century all the way through to the Age of Reason and Napoleon’s revolution, upgrading your technology, your political acumen, and your ability to judge your neighbours along the way. If you’re looking to rapidly outpace them in global power, our guide to EU4’s formable nations will certainly come in handy.
Among historical grand strategy games, Europa Universalis IV is notable for not focusing exclusively on Europe but giving access to much of the world for the whole span it covers. Want to turn a First Nation tribe into an industrial powerhouse to invade Europe? Want to dissolve the HRE and form Germany early? The only limit is your imagination.
What’s more, there’s a truly staggering volume of EU4 DLC available to purchase. Alternatively, if you’d prefer to expand your borders without spending a penny, our list of the best EU4 mods will steer you in the right direction.
The first of Paradox’s grand strategy games to stray into ‘4X’ territory thanks to its sci-fi theme, in Stellaris you’re no longer limited to simple terrestrial life.
Create a new spacefaring species, decide on its political and social inclinations, then take to the stars to spread an empire across a randomly generated galaxy. You will need to compete for resources and position against your equals, and the polities of long fallen superiors.
Stellaris is over five years old now and already has several DLCs which extend and expand options for your space empires. While it may not have the historical depth that other Paradox titles can depend on, it is more focused on evolving new experiences with new sci-fi stereotypes as often as it can with heavy emphasis on player customization.
Plus you get to design your own spaceships, which is always a bonus. If you need a hand getting started, we’ve got some useful Stellaris tips, as well as the lowdown on the expansive Stellaris tech tree. Of course, we’ve also got a guide to the best Stellaris mods and DLC will appeal to seasoned space explorers, too.
Hearts of Iron IV
This series is unique in its attempt to be a ‘true’ grand strategy WW2 game, as opposed to other war games that operate at similar strategic scales but generally forgo the breadth of the entire war. Much like EU4, here you can play as any nation on any continent during this era, with the politics serving as the backdrop to a WW2-like event. You must do your best to profit and survive, and not necessarily in that order – just look at our breakdown of the HOI4 meta if you’re unsure.
Hearts of Iron IV is going through somewhat of a transition – since launch, it’s been torn between the need to try and provide an authentic ‘as it happened’ WW2 experience and an emerging player base that enjoys a more sandbox approach, allowing for alt-history and ‘what-if’ scenarios. That community consensus is reflected in the Hearts of Iron 4 mods, which often rush to fill that void.
Because of this, not all countries have equal access to interesting decision trees at the moment, with the focus currently being on those who were significant players at the time. It does currently seem to be favouring alt-history with each update, so bear that in mind if you’re a WW2 enthusiast. Check out our list of essential Hearts of Iron 4 tips if you’re a newcomer, or our collection of the best Hearts of Iron 4 DLC if you’re a returning player.
Total War: Rome II
Right up until the release of Three Kingdoms, Total War: Rome II had the honour of being Creative Assembly’s most-played historical strategy game by a significant margin. It’s had a loyal core of many thousands of players for most of its life which inspired developer Creative Assembly to create more expansions for the game despite it being quite old by now.
Rome II had a rocky start, but it’s in a very good place these days. Rome: Total War is a cult favourite for many older series fans and Rome II, by and large, is a better, more encompassing game. It’s not perfect, but unless you’re really turned off by the time period this is an excellent one to try out. If you’re a returning player, our guides to the best Total War: Rome 2 mods and DLC should be your first stop.
Total War: Warhammer I, II & III
A departure from their usual fare, Creative Assembly landed quite the coup when they won the right to work on Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy license. This was at a time when the IP itself had been axed in the tabletop world in favour of the Age of Sigmar’s ‘nu fantasy’ line.
Going fantasy for the first time also allowed the design team to let their hair down and get creative, with everything from the strategy map to tactical battles getting fantastical twists and innovations. Some are great, others are very much subjective (the tactical battles are a bit divisive), but no one can deny it’s been a success.
Total War: Warhammer II is where the new fantasy-fuelled Total War format really shines, and the perfect entry to the series. If you haven’t dabbled in Total War: Warhammer previously, our Total War: Warhammer 3 review will give you a good idea of what to expect. If you own the first game, you can also partake in the ambitious, grand-strategy style ‘Mortal Empires’ map that combines the landmass of both games. The series is looking to get even greater now after the release of Warhammer III, bringing with it fan favourites Kislev and illusive Grand Cathay.
That said, if you’re not ready to take the leap, there’s plenty of Total War: Warhammer 2 DLC to keep you busy, along with our collection of the best Total War: Warhammer II mods.
Total War: Three Kingdoms
Released in May 2019, this Total War game attempts to marry the hardcore, historically based sensibilities of the classic titles with some of the better innovations to come out of the Total Warhammer fantasy line. Creative Assembly has been threatening to do a Three Kingdoms-era game even before Rome II, so it’s nice to see them finally realise this goal.
As our Total War: Three Kingdoms review can attest, it’s been a resounding success. Three Kingdoms has made the campaign layer better than it’s ever been, with some very meaningful character interactions and dynamics between the various factions. Real-time tactical combat sits somewhere between the fantasy and historical offerings from the Total War series. While there are certain aspects that will come down to personal taste its still a very robust and very decent tactical battle engine that really helps give weight to the political machinations of the turn-based layer.
It’s a shame really that Creative Assembly decided to end support for the game, barely two years after it was released. Thankfully, there’s enough Total War: Three Kingdoms DLC to make it worthwhile, further supplemented by our list of the best Total War: Three Kingdoms mods.
Field of Glory: Empires
Released in July 2019, Field of Glory: Empires is an historical grand strategy game from Slitherine. It attempts to occupy the space between Rome 2 and Imperator: Rome and brings with it some smart ideas and decent design choices. It’s a tad old-school, but then the developers have a history of creating hardcore, old-fashioned wargames so some of that was going to bleed through. It definitely has the military-focus of older Total War and Paradox titles, but also some really interesting mechanics in terms of empire & population management. It’s also not gone for the same ‘breadth’ that Imperator has, instead going for some very focused abstractions that remind us of the original Rome: Total War.
Empires’ other ace-in-the-hole is the ability to sync up with another Slitherine title, Field of Glory II, and export the battle data from Empires so you can play out the fight in-full like you can in a Total War game. It’s an extra step, but the process is as smooth as it can be and FOG2 is a really good tactical turn-based strategy game, to be fair. Now that it’s out in the wold it’ll be interesting to see where Slitherine take it; they’re not known for Paradox-levels of support but they’re certainly more attentive than most, so you never know.
The Victoria series is yet another feather in Paradox’s grand strategy cap. It may be slightly on the older side, but it presents a markedly different experience of grand strategy than Europa Universalis IV that’ll appeal to any strategist looking for a focus on the economics of running a nation. Victoria II begins at the dawn of the colonial era, with the option to take control of any country on the world map. From the 19th Century onwards, you are free to shape the political, industrial, and colonial landscape of your nation however you please. You can enact social reform on important issues like healthcare and wages, and decide your trading policies with neighbouring countries.
As you might expect, not all of your decisions will be accepted by your subjects, and their fluctuating loyalties may result in dire consequences for your power on the global stage. While Victoria 3 is in prime position to surpass its predecessors – a sentiment that’s echoed in our Victoria 3 review – it’s currently held back by some economic balancing issues. However, a patch is likely on the horizon, and our Victoria 2 cheats and Victoria 2 mods are sure to keep you entertained in the meantime.
That’s all the best grand strategy games you can expect to find on PC. Suffice it to say that the Total War series dominates this sub-genre quite a bit, so if you’re interested in those game specifically, be sure to check out our curated list of the best Total War games. If you prefer to take the interstellar highway in games like Stellaris, our collection of the best space games is the one for you.