What are the best turn-based strategy games? The break afforded by ‘turns’ allows us to think, ponder, and plan our moves with as much expert precision as we can muster. Witnessing that master plan unfold can create untold levels of satisfaction, and suddenly you fancy yourself the master tactician.
This genre is also home to the ‘one more turn’ trope – that feeling of near-addiction that compels you to click the ‘End Turn’ button just one more time to see what happens in one of the best PC games. Maybe you’re waiting to see the outcome of a daring attack; maybe you’re just trying to click through some downtime. We also have the best strategy games or 4X games to see our thoughts on that particular niche. Note that despite many similarities, we’re not counting tactical RPG games among this list as they have their own separate entries.
Best turn-based strategy games
Here are the best turn-based strategy games on PC:
The Lamplighters League
Mixing 1920s moxy with the turn-based strategy of XCOM, The Lamplighter’s League is a game that tells of a rag-tag group of talented folk trying to save the world. They aren’t the best, mind – the original Lamplighters all met their untimely end during the war – but they’re what we have.
The Lamplighter’s League is a solid strategy game, with decent fundamentals and a fun story. It doesn’t do much to shake up the genre, but that makes it absolutely perfect for a turn-based strategy beginner. You can read our The Lamplighter’s League review if you want to know more.
There have been quite a few challengers to XCOM’s turn-based tactical throne in recent years. Some have been good, some not so good. As much as the Gears of War third-person shooter franchise is well regarded, we’re still surprised at how good its turn-based tactics spin-off is in Gears Tactics. Set before the events of the original Gears of War, this game is essentially a series of tactical battles strung together by a narrative and some light progression mechanics.
There’s no strategy layer, and while there’s some persistence for the main characters, it mainly revolves around loot and some basic skill trees. It’s not perfect, but its imperfections stand to highlight further just how solid the rest of it is. One innovation they’ve tried to carry over from the shooter series is the ‘boss battle’ elements. These work in the tactical sphere but can still be a bit clunky. Still, if you’re looking for something to scratch that turn-based tactics itch, this is one of the best newcomers. Read our Gears Tactics review for more.
Panzer Corps 2
This one’s a bit more on the hardcore side, but when it comes to historical turn-based strategy WW2 games, the Panzer Corps franchise is king. Panzer Corps 2 builds on the original game’s success and couples it with a brand-new 3D engine. The scale is a bit abstract – a single tank can represent hundreds of vehicles – but it allows you to play sweeping campaigns on maps that can represent chunks of entire countries.
It’s a combat-focused game, so you don’t need to worry about building units, but you WILL have to worry about keeping your forces supplied as they blitz across the map. Tactical options such as encirclement, supporting fire & breaking down units into smaller ‘mini’ versions for a decent flank means you’ll have plenty of options to take that key objective. It’s not so far removed from a hex-based, WW2-themed Advanced Wars.
Unity of Command 2
An excellent strategy game that doubles up as a viable gateway to the world of digital war games, Unity of Command 2 does everything its predecessor did and more. By changing up the scenario design and adding in new elements like HQs and a more meaningful meta-campaign, few repeats of the same mission will play out the same. However, Unity of Command has always had a trace of ‘puzzle’ DNA within it, which is still true but not to the same extent as the first game.
Unity of Command 2 takes players to the more known waters of the Western front, starting with the closing stages of the battle for North Africa to the invasion of Sicily, before finally allowing you to re-live the Normandy campaigns. As you play through the grand campaign, your army units and HQs will grow and improve over time, and there’s also a light card mechanic that allows you to play a limited number of special actions that can make or break an offensive.
BattleTech is a meaty, ruminative turn-based mech battler that does as much justice to its FASA tabletop roots as it does to make a ponderous, complex miniature game come alive in digital form. Its depth and sprawl are the product of thirty-odd years of lore and gaming, and it’s one of the best mech games out there.
This game demands commitment, selling the idea of MechWarrior combat as anything but brief. There’s plenty of crunch to encounters on the tactical level, with heat and weapon management coalescing with environmental factors and position. Mechs are beautifully detailed, evoking the right mix of old Ral Patha miniatures and the thankful modernization of MechWarrior Online’s artistic precedent. We also have a mech build guide to help people get to grips with the wealth of options.
At the time of writing, active development of BattleTech has ended as the studio moves to other projects. Still, the studio did release a lot of free content and three major expansions: Flashpoint, Urban Warfare & Heavy Metal.
Battle Brothers is ostensibly the Game of Thrones: Bron Simulator. A deliciously low-fantasy mercenary manager that is refreshingly free of trope-ridden kings and kingdoms, OverHyper Studios’ hex-based combat game is immediately accessible, balanced by brutality and permadeath.
There’s a hand-crafted quality to the medieval game, appealing in much the same way as Unity of Command 2. Grim little busts of ugly mercenaries plug their way across swamps and forests, paper-dolled with whatever arms and armor you assigned, engaging in violent combat with all manner of armies. What’s most impressive about Battle Brothers is the impact with which it conveys every hit, stab, slice, and shot.
Each successful attack is incredibly visceral, ensuring you know there are no do-overs in the Battle Brothers world. By the end of each encounter, the field is littered with loosed arrows, blood, and corpses. Those who died are indeed gone for good. And those that survive may live a little longer.
While not the ultimate Advanced Wars PC game we could have asked for, this highly anticipated turn-based tactics title certainly doesn’t disappoint. An excellent visual design coupled with a rich tactical experience across all the factions meant that this game is easy to learn, challenging to master, but never anything less than a delight to play.
The real strength of Wargroove, however, is its built-in future-proofing. There’s plenty to do and try out straight out of the box, but a powerful and robust editor means that there will be some fantastic user-generated content coming down the pipe in the months ahead. People are already recreating maps and entire campaigns from other classics like Fire Emblem and Advanced Wars, so we can’t wait to see what the else the community does with the game. Read our Wargroove review for more.
Frozen Synapse 2
Indie sensation Frozen Synapse very much deserves its accolades. A simultaneous turn-based breakdown of CounterStrike at its heart, Mode 7 Games condensed the fundamentals of the first-person shooter — movement, stance, speed, and vectors — into five-second parcels of plotting direction and behavior. While the sequel didn’t try to mess with this simple and effective formula too much, it did try to instill a sense of purpose with a ‘big picture’ strategy layer.
Frozen Synapse 2’s main offering is a grand-strategy layer. You run a private security firm in a procedurally generated city. Your goal is to grow while keeping the other organizations in check and dealing with a mysterious new foe on the scene. Take contracts, hire recruits to fill out your squads, and fight your enemies in battlegrounds that vary depending on where the action occurs. The initial offering is functional and imperfect, but it’s already proven to be a great way of offering an excellent tactical experience with meaning and persistence.
Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector
We’re thankfully not short on Warhammer games, and the good news is they’re getting better. Battlesector is a decent attempt at distilling the tabletop game into something authentic, but it still has the flair and spectacle of a digital game. It’s similar to a previous entry on this list – Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach.
It’s been developed by the same studio that brought you Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, one of our favorite strategy games of all time. The game is pretty, it works quite smoothly, and overall represents an excellent foundation to build upon, as you’ll note in our Battlesector review.
It’s got some noticeable drawbacks, too – the scenario design leaves much to be desired, and the campaign isn’t replayable. You’ve also only got the two factions to play with at the moment. It offers an excellent vehicle to live out your Space Marine fantasies, but if you’re not a 40K fan, your mileage will vary.
The Battle for Wesnoth
What kind of turn-based list would it be without an open-source or free elder statesman of the genre? Just inching out People’s General, The Battle for Wesnoth is a sprawling suite of tactical turn-based hexery. The game itself is accommodating, the community modules vast and varied, and it’s even been ported to phones. Wesnoth feels at an aesthetic crossroads between traditional Japanese SRPGS and Western heavy-hitters like Heroes of Might and Magic.
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen
XCOM 2 might have had some initial technical niggles around launch but thereafter has been patched up to shine as intended. Coupled with War of the Chosen, XCOM 2’s pot-stirring expansion that throws antagonistic human factions into the mix, there’s little reason not to have Firaxis’ second tilt at this magisterial series in your library.
Secondary objectives also add an interesting tension to the game and the looming threat of a grand alien program that cooks away in the background, harboring a fail-state if left to mature. War of the Chosen elevates XCOM 2 from an admirable sequel to an essential addition to the long-running franchise. The story might put humanity on the back foot, but XCOM has never been more ahead.
If you want to read more, we’ve got our XCOM 2 War of the Chosen review that goes over it in more detail. If that all sounds good to you, check back with us, as we’ve also got a guide to all of the XCOM 2 DLC available and some XCOM 2 tips and tricks to help you get started. For veteran players, we’ve got an XCOM 2 class guide and a guide to the best XCOM 2 mods.
Those are all of the best turn-based strategy games on PC. While you’re here, here are some of the best free PC games if you’re looking for something new that won’t cost you anything to play.