If you’re an avid video game player, you are probably already familiar with turn-based strategy (TBS) games. These types of games are borne out of board games and their characteristic slower-paced, strategy-centered gameplay. In video games like the classic Civilization, you must think like a chess player and strategize multiple steps ahead. If you’re not into fast-paced shooter games and you don’t want to depend on reflexes alone, you might enjoy the slower-paced action of a turn-based strategy game.
However, there are also plenty of TBS games that are a mix of genres if you like the idea of mixing role-playing games or first-person shooter games with the tactical thinking necessary in TBS. We will explore the details of turn-based strategy games and the most popular ones available on the market today.
What is a turn-based strategy game?
A turn-based strategy game is focused on - you guessed it - strategy and planning. Usually, you’ll have to keep track of multiple units simultaneously and you may need to maintain certain resources or combat units at the same time . This type of game is in contrast with shooter games that require fast reflexes above all else.
What are the subgenres of strategy games?
There are tons of different types of strategy games and as you skim the different types, you might notice there is some crossover between them. Again, like game genres in general, subgenres may have a lot in common with each other. Below are some of the common subgenres of strategy games .
A 4X game is defined as a strategy game that fulfills these four goals: discover, grow, exploit, and kill. Because of those themes, these types of games are typically historical in nature and last over several centuries in the game timeline.
This is one of the earliest types of games invented. Typically, artillery games are described as two- or three-player turn-based games with tanks and soldiers engaged in fighting.
3. Real-time strategy (RTS)
In these games, you are encouraged to collect and regulate your resources while growing both your combat forces and sources of sustenance.
4. Real-time tactics (RTT)
Typically, this type of game focuses on tactics you use on a virtual battlefield or during warfare gameplay instead of maintaining resources.
5. Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA)
What do you get when you put together real-time strategy games, role-playing games, and action games? Multiplayer online battle arena or MOBA for short. Players are generally in control of one character in one of two teams that cooperate to attempt to take over or destroy an enemy team’s home base.
6. Tower defense
In this type of game, you must protect your tower by fighting off AI-controlled enemies, called “creeps.” While games vary, players may be awarded with special skills like the ability to poison, slow down, or otherwise maim enemies trying to penetrate your fortress. If you destroy enough creeps, you’ll get credits toward better weapons or towers.
7. Turn-based strategy (TBS)
We’ve mentioned already that TBS gameplay involves strategy but it’s important to note that players are typically given a finite amount of time to complete their desired actions during their turn. This is why TBS games are generally a better fit for single-player play.
8. Turn-based tactics (TBT)
This subgenre is a nod to the roots of video games in general, a military need to recruit and train soldiers. TBT is steeped in military-themed strategy and true-to-life, realistic tactics. Combat teams are pitted against each other in tactical gameplay in these games. A great example of this style of gameplay is Final Fantasy Tactics which came out in 1997.
Wargames are map-based games where players must use tactical or strategic moves to get ahead, usually on a smaller scale.
10. Grand strategy wargame
This is a wargame but on a grander scale, usually involving a nation or empire.
How do turn-based games differ from real-time strategy and other types of strategy games?
Real-time strategy and shooter games differ from turn-based strategy games in some important ways. However, gaming has evolved and exploded in many different directions so the strict definitions of gaming genres and subgenres bleed into each other. You might see a TBS game with RTS elements or vice versa.
Sequential versus chaotic play
A turn-based game is going to be what Gamasutra calls deterministic . The success of the player is going to be determined by carefully uncovering what the results of certain in-game actions will be and trying to accurately gauge the best or correct moves to make.
Turn-based strategy games have their roots in board games as mentioned above, specifically war games where strategic thinking is required to plan many moves ahead. By contrast, chaotic gameplay defines real-time games.
For example, if you’re playing a real-time game, you may be lost in the game scape in a combat situation where a multitude of events could happen. An explosion could occur and disrupt your path, a side quest could pop up, or an enemy may find his way behind you unexpectedly. That’s what makes real-time games more dynamic than turn-based games - often, you’re forced to make decisions on the fly.
Multiplayer or single player
Real-time games are typically multiplayer while turn-based games are generally single-player. This is because it’s unrealistic to expect players to be thrilled with waiting their turn while another player finishes after their allotted time runs out.
What are some of the best turn-based strategy games available today?
1. Civilization by Firaxis Games
This is one of the most famous turn-based strategy games on the list, created by Sid Meier. Your goal as a player is to try to design an empire than can withstand the sands of time. You’ll guide your civilization from the primitive world of the Stone Age, all the way to the modern life of the Information Age.
requires players to simultaneously balance multiple elements. You’ll have to navigate international politics, breathe life into your empire’s culture, and deal with other world leaders who are competing with you for dominance. You have five different ways to gain victory over others in this game, it’s up to you how you play. Alliances, negotiation, conflict, and resources, how will you take over?
The latest iteration of the Civilization franchise, Civilization VI: Rise and Fall was released in 2018. It features a multiplayer option that allows you to team up or fight, depending on your respective goals. Plus, you can enjoy gameplay that can be easily completed in one session rather than being forced to play over a period of days.
2. Final Fantasy Tactics by Square Enix
Final Fantasy Tactics
is a tactical role-playing turn-based strategy game that was released in the US in 1998. It fuses elements of the fantasy-themed, long-running Final Fantasy
series with military strategy. The narrative of the game follows the story of Ramza Beoulve who must navigate the intricate strategies behind The Lion War. This conflict involves two warring parties vying for power and the throne.
As Ramza and his allies progress through the game, it becomes clear the military conflict was started for reasons other than just power. It’s considered a cult classic and has been called one of the greatest games of all time.
One of the most beloved aspects of the game is the ability of players to choose their characters who play a specific role in the game: Summoners, Priests, Wizards, Monks, Lancers, and Thieves, Squires, and Chemists.
3. Heroes of Might and Magic by Ubisoft
Heroes of Might and Magic
, also called Might & Magic Heroes
since its 2011 iteration, is a popular turn-based strategy game that was originally released in 1995. In this game, your goal is to move around the map, create combat units, maintain and find resources, and fight competing factions.
A typical objective or mission in this game might be to capture as many enemy towns as possible during your conquests because this is the source of new army recruits as well as money. As you progress through the game, you gain experience levels from your battle-weary days practicing warfare. You can also gain artifacts to increase your power and learn spells to disable or destroy enemies.
A team loses when no towns remain and no heroes are left alive under their respective control. Players will also lose if they don’t control a town for seven days in a row. The last player or team remaining takes the win.
4. Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Koei Tecmo Games
Based on the Chinese novel set during the demise of the Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms era in Chinese history, this game is one that spans multiple genres. Originally released in 1985, Romance of the Three Kingdoms
is considered a turn-based, role-playing, simulation, grand strategy, tactical wargame.
This game forces players to juggle multiple in-game elements like maintaining resources and finding new ones, tactical strategy, military might, and fight against other factions for total dominance.
The gameplay is determined by a player’s ability to manage statistics relating to a city’s grain supplies, risk of damage from catastrophic natural disasters, the loyalty of subjects, and politics.
5. Planetfall by Triumph Studios
You can choose to create an empire using one of the six faction options from warmongering Vanguard to Amazons who get around via dinosaurs. Each mission will require you to think carefully under pressure while advancing your empire-building goals through politics and naked military might.
You can journey alone in single-player mode or engage in competitive play with multiplayer mode.
6. Darknet by E McNeill
Where things really get interesting is when you add virtual reality to the turn-based strategy game sphere. In Darknet
, you play an elite hacker who plugs right into the web. Using dubious methods like viruses and worms, it’s your job to steal data before someone traces your signal.
You’ll need to use careful strategy to unlock your bounty in different computer systems like a storage system in a cloud network, for example. But you’ll need to get in and out of the network within the specified time frame, otherwise, you’re out of luck.
7. Wanna Survive by PINIX
While the pixelated graphics plays to the nostalgia of early video games, this modern combat-based strategy game requires you to think ahead while facing dynamic enemies.
In Wanna Survive
, your goal is to fight off zombies during the apocalypse and carefully lead your survivors and feed them while guiding them toward the Sanctuary. In the meantime, you’ll have to fend off roaming mobs of zombies who want nothing more than to eat the survivors you’re charged with protecting.
8. Gloomhaven by Flaming Fowl Studios
, another 2019 release, challenges players to explore a series of monster-laden dungeons in an attempt to find treasures. Players will use a team of mercenaries to advance through the game in an immersive, atmospheric game scape. Each mercenary has their own unique backstory and strengths.
Based on the popular physical board game, there are elements that are derived directly from it. As a player, you lose when you run out of health points for all of your players or when you run out of cards to play, which allows you to complete different actions during your turn.
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