What are the best games like Civilization? As the undisputed king of 4X games (for now), there are many who’ve tried to copy what Sid Meier created and plenty who want to play a Civ-like experience that wasn’t created by Firaxis. We’ve delved into some of the best 4X games out there to save you the trouble of looking around.
Civilization games offer a unique vision of turn-based strategy where you start from humble origins, and lead a people through the ages, founding more cities, enriching your empire with cultural or technological advancements, and quite often, fighting other civilizations. While we have a dedicated list of great 4X games in general (on which you’ll of course find Civilization), some of you may be interested in looking for something that more closely resembles Firaxis’ popular series. Here’s that separate list of games like Civilization then, but we’ve dug up some very specific examples to avoid too much overlap.
Here are six great games like Civilization:
Warlock: Masters of the Arcane
If you take Civilization V, and then add in fantasy elements such as magic (instead of tech), NPC monsters, and portals to other dimensions, then you’ve got Warlock: Master of the Arcane. Published by Paradox Interactive 2012, this is a mash-up of experiments that elevate it beyond its ‘fantasy Civ’ facade and provide a fascinating counterpoint to Civilization V, which even at the time was incredibly popular.
What is especially cool is that, if you were bored of doing the more run-of-the-mill Civ-like stuff on the main map, you could take your armies and try to find portals – these would lead to other ‘maps’ and represented different dimensions, with tougher monsters and better rewards. You could also colonize these spaces, and expand your empire that way.
Warlock got a sequel in 2014 called Warlock 2: The Exiled, which leaned into the dimension-hopping a bit more. It wasn’t as creative as the first game, but it’s still pretty decent. Both are notable for the fact that Civ V’s UI is replicated quite accurately, making it very obvious what the primary inspiration was.
One of the more recent turn-based strategy games and released from early access in 2022, Old World is a 4X that attempts to deconstruct Civ and innovate in ways that push the boundaries more so than any other rival. It’s the brainchild of Soren Johnson – the former lead designer of Civilization IV – and his studio Mohawk Games. Old World is locked to the ancient and classical ears, featuring civilizations such as Rome, Carthage, and Assyria.
The mechanical elements around empire management are fine, but the real innovations lie in the addition of Crusader Kings-style character elements, events, and the ‘orders’ system. This converts a player’s ability to act into a finite resource, as opposed to every unit getting to do something every turn. Check out our Old World review for more, but this is definitely one worth checking out.
Age of Wonders 3
While Age of Wonders: Planetfall is on our 4X games guide, it’s the third game in this long-running turn-based wargame series that’s closer to the Civilization roots, albeit with another fantasy twist. There’s everything here you’d expect from a Civ-like – the empire management, armies, tech trees, and spells, as well as add-ons such as hero units. The main headline feature for Age of Wonders 3 is that there is a separate tactical battle mode where armies fight it out in more granular detail.
The world is filled with NPC dangers, as well as other empires, but there are also quest-like nodes you can interact with as well, such as dungeons or abandoned mines. Maps could also spawn a subterranean level that can only be accessed by specifically placed tunnels. Some of AoW3’s races (like dwarves) prefer being underground. What I always found cool was that, in addition to building the usual cities, you could also build smaller ‘forts’ and outposts to hold key positions without needing to found an entire city, similar to Humankind.
You can’t have a conversation about games like Civilization without discussing the ultimate copycat, Freeciv. As the name implies, it’s 100% free and has been actively developed and worked on as an open-source project since 1996. In terms of rules, it has more in common with Civilization II than it does with more modern games, and its architecture is actually based on an old shooter game called XPilot.
The project has grown and evolved since then, with a new ‘longturn’ format introduced in 2004 which involves day-long turns, and games involving up to 30 people. The game can support 2D and 3D graphics and is very flexible if you know what you’re doing. If the wallet-friendly aspect of Freeciv appeals to you, we also have a list dedicated to the best free PC games right now.
The Battle for Polytopia
This is an excellent, light, distillation of the Civilization 4X experience. Considering this started life as a mobile strategy game, Polytopia has grown to become something worth checking out even on PC as it offers 12 civs, multiple procedurally generated maps, and all the key touchstones you’d expect from a 4X game.
A bit like RTS classic Northgard, all of the game’s major updates are given away for free, but additional civilizations are available to purchase as DLC packs. It recently enjoyed a major balance pass and the developers still have plenty of plans left in store as well. If you want a lighter, tighter Civilization experience, this is where you should look.
Last but certainly not least, the ultimate game like Civilization has to be one that’s actively trying to topple Sid Meier’s giant off its gilded throne. Humankind, from the developers that brought you Endless Legend and Endless Space, seeks to become king of the hill through a reinvention of diplomatic, empire, and victory systems, as well as a turn-based tactical mode where armies can clash over large swathes of terrain.
This is the game Amplitude has spent its entire existence working towards, so there’s a lot riding on it. You can read our Humankind review to see what we thought of it in full. There are still some issues around late-game balance, but it’s in no worse state than Civilization V or VI.
Hopefully, these six 4X gems will satisfy your lust for other Civilization-like experiences while we wait for a Civilization 7 announcement from Firaxis. If you still need more, alongside the 4X and turn-based listicles linked above, then take a look at our more general best PC games list, and you might even discover a new favorite genre.