Table of Contents
Earlier this month, we asked you to vote for your favourite strategy games of all time to celebrate the launch (and glorious return) of several strategy classics this month, including Relic’s WW2 RTS Company Of Heroes 3, Blue Byte’s The Settlers: New Allies and Cyanide’s fantasy Warhamball Blood Bowl 3. And cor, I’ve never seen such love for individual expansions and total conversion mods among mainline RTS games and 4Xs. As with all strategy games, however, there can only be one victor – and you can find out what that single strategy game to rule them all is right here. Here are your 50 favourite strategy games of all time, as voted for by you, the RPS readership.
Naturally, with so many mods and expansions coming up on the list, the number of votes for certain games has ended up becoming quite diluted in places. I won’t spoil which game received the highest number of votes up top here, but let’s just say if I was ranking this list by series, we’d have a very different top ten. StarCraft would be sitting at number one, followed by Command & Conquer, Civilization, Supreme Commander, Age Of Empires, XCOM, Total War and Warcraft, with two more individual games that I won’t name here because, you know, spoilers. That some games in these respective series still broke into the top ten all on their own is testament to their enduring appeal, of course, and I’m dead keen to see what you make of this list in the comments below.
Importantly, it’s a very different ranking to our own best strategy games list, which is great! I love seeing such a variety of different games and tastes come to the fore here, and thank you to everyone who wrote in to tell us about their favourite strategy game as well – your words will forever be enshrined in the list below, just like our RPS 100: Reader Edition.
Just one thing before we get started, though. I’m not gonna lie. Invisible, Inc. relegated to no.50 is an absolute disgrace. Shame on you all. Enjoy!
50. Invisible, Inc.
49. Endless Space 2
dglenny: Clearly defined factions and asymmetric mechanics and a great big my-goodness-I’m-so-powerful-now. And so beautiful. Just so beautiful. Shame about the last DLC, but let’s just agree to ignore that.
48. Warcraft II: Tides Of Darkness
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Davidson & Associates
Where can I buy it? GOG
47. Age Of Empires III
46. Sins Of A Solar Empire
nitric22: The push and pull dynamics of holding and taking the gravity wells along the travel lanes in these monstrous maps is what really made Sins Of A Solar Empire special. This really felt like space. As in, if my fleet is caught two or three jumps away from a key battle, I can count them out already. Positional planning matters. The sluggish pace of traversing the maps and the intense heated combat of multiple capital ships, corvettes, and support ships just felt so satisfying.
Elaine: It’s the perfect blend of RTS and 4X with a very approachable learning curve.
45. Sid Meier’s Civilization II
Where can I buy it? Sadly, nowhere
44. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn Of War II
Lowenhertz: The right formula for a stratagey game without the basebuilding element.
43. The Settlers II
phuzz: OK, I was torn between The Settlers I and II, but really my love for these games is in the things they have in common. Low pressure, just keep trying to optimise your road network, and watch your little people go about their jobs 🙂
42. Age Of Empires
41. Dune II
Developer: Westwood Studios
Publisher: Virgin Games
Where can I buy it? Sadly, nowhere
GB#9133: Zero-K is the first game I played since I started gaming on PC two years. Yet until today, even though it might not have the best graphics when it comes to RTS games, the fact that this free, open source game can offer so much content is amazing, with the game having no monetization other then optional donations used to maintain the game’s servers.
Tom: It’s free, open source, Windows and GNU/Linux native, and niche. Every unit and defense is easily pickable from the view, and even out of view by listening. Speaking of, there is a massive array of units to learn about, with each factory having multiple units as something similar to a generalist and then having one or a few token units that stand out from them all. Running out of words here: line-move (ruined other RTS for me), commander class-based upgrades, extensive campaign, incredibly customizable UI (seriously), custom UI widgets (huge enough that it can be its own thing from the base UI customization), and an awesome (volunteer) contribution/development team.
Dr0ppy: The medium pace and the big team fights are amazing.
39. Age Of Empires IV
38. Sid Meier’s Civilization
Matt M: Civilization is an excellent balance between grand strategy and micro-management, especially in the earlier games of the series up to about IV. Outsmarting devious and persistent AI characters and avoiding the nuclear rage policies of Ghandi have always been a fun challenge. To sum this game up: I had to uninstall it and ban myself from playing it at times because it was too addicting.
lglethal: It is the perfect blend of risk-reward gameplay. It has a wide array of enemies, a good blend of gameplay tactics, and a perfect just one more turn feeling. Absolutely Perfect Game (especially when expanded with mods!).
OPJayhawk: It’s a game that defined the whole genre; so ahead of its time. Civ is a series that will exist forever and exists as one of the major pillars of gaming on PC.
37. Total War: Warhammer III
Stuart: This vote is really for the whole series, ever since getting Warhammer I at release it’s been my go to strategy game. Total War: Warhammer III just keeps adding more stuff on top. While the cost of entry for new users may be unresonably high if you want to have access to all the factions for those of us hat have been along from the start the gradual building of more and more toys to the toybox is just enough to keep me gripped.
36. FTL: Faster Than Light
35. Age Of Mythology
34. Total War: Shogun 2
32. Supreme Commander 2
31. Medieval II: Total War
deguerra: Mods. the last of the Total War series that allowed the creativity of complete overhauls: Middle-Earth, Antiquity, the Middle East and completely original worlds alike. I don’t think I’ve put more hours into any other single game.
30. Starcraft: Brood War
ggscv: It was the first esport to reach mainstream success (in South Korea) and still to this day plays extremely well, single player and multiplayer. One of the finest RTS’s out there.
Verman7: Storyline, replayabikity, units, strategies SFX, music, VFX, graphics, just everything is perfect in this game.
29. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn Of War
Titler: An RTS where logistics mattered, high octane combat, open moddability, and WAAAGH!
alien: It was the first game I ever played on PC, and introduced me to strategy games as a whole. It managed to be a strong contender to many modern RTS games for me in its base gameplay as well as all the great mods that were made for the game that added even more content.
28. Jagged Alliance 2
Fett von Speck: Jagged Alliance 2 is a real time mercenary management simulation with open world and sandbox characteristics, and at the same time a turn-based tactical RPG. The attention to detail is enormous and until today unsurpassed.
DEspresso: Combine memorable characters, excellent turn-based combat add a decent story, a lot of Easter eggs and weave it together under an umbrella of economic management sim, resulting in one of the few games with different systems that work.
XJ220: The micro-management: who gets which armor, who carries which spare equipment, who uses which gun with which ammo and accessories, who assumes which stance and covers which sector during combat etc. Also, of course, the personalities and their interactions. Characters who are the definition of vanity or simply hate one another or who cheer each other up. And, of course, Deidranna and her advisor Elliot, “the idiot”. Simply brilliant! Even more so with the 1.13 mod.
Herzog: Elliot, you idiot!
27. Hearts Of Iron IV
Caesar: When I started playing Hearts Of Iron, I liked the idea of expanding your territories by waging war on your neighbours, then I continued to play HOI for the variety of stuff within the game like tank, airplane and ship designing, template designing, researching tech, air and naval superiority, terrain modifiers, resistance systems etc, in addition to how many paths you can take per country, all of those things make the game so replayable and doesn’t feel the same every time.
MikeZone: It never gets old and always evolves for the better.
26. Total War: Warhammer II
Guðmundur: I’ve played too much of Warhammer II through the years and now I’m getting stuck in III, I love how I can play so many different styles in one game with utterly ridiculous units and completely nuts story/characters the Warhammer universe is bonkers which is why I love it. Yeah, I really do love those pompous Elf princes that ride dragons or skewer everything from afar 😀
Pavlov: Endless variety, big monsters smashing hell out of each other, and constant decisions.
Blah64: Massive map filled with many playable factions with varying forms of gameplay. Campaign map lets me watch numbers go up. Battle map lets me watch epic battles of coordinated units.
25. Sid Meier’s Civilization IV
24. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Old_Man_Gaming: The first XCOM after the expansion is brilliant. The game is hard enough to present a real challenge, with all the tense, tactical battles from the base game given a keener edge by the additions in the expansion. The desire to collect Meld makes you play more aggressively, the missions against EXALT stretch your resources and the new tech trees give you hard base building choices. All while obeying my strategy game rules – failure is the player’s fault and every choice feels crucial. When XCOM calls I always say, ‘Yes, Commander’.
23. Heroes Of Might & Magic III
Zewwy: Absolute timeless game that just keeps giving.
22. Command & Conquer: Red Alert
21. Europa Universalis IV
krazha: Europa Universalis III was one of my first strategy game loves, and Europa Universalis IV is an iterative improvement on it in almost every way, with a few small exceptions. The great advantage of all the historical grand strategy games is that every decision the player makes is grounded in the greater narrative about the course of world history in that particular game. EU4 does this best – its starting point is distant enough for the results to not be uncanny, but close enough that the implications of the differences from our world are comprehensible. Beyond this the modding community, especially Anbennar, has injected tons of replayability and new adventures into this particular old dog.
Cathal: All Paradox games are in a class of their own but, with more than a decade of love and support, EU4 is a cut above the rest. Crusader Kings II is its closest competition but whereas that focuses on roleplay, EU4 leans more towards strategy with its countless interlocking systems. The end result: a game where you will still be learning new things in your thousandth hour!
20. Beyond All Reason
Paranoid: Beyond All Reason is a community led remake of Total Annihilation, backed up by an extremely sophisticated game and physics engine that simulates every shots trajectory in huge 16-player battles. The game also features a truly next generation UI for controlling units, allowing even those who are slowing down a little to compete at the highest levels.
Teppic: The #1 game is an outstanding fan made successor to the absolute classic that is Total Annihilation, made multiplayer and giving a virtual infinity of strategies to realize, while governing the production and actions of more units that you can fathom. Micro and macro management, adjustable resource sharing within teams… They have it all. A must see for someone who appreciates classics.
Grumpy: Beyond All Reason, the real-time strategy game that has me hooked for hours on end. The ability to build and manage my own faction, gather resources, and wage war against other factions is just so satisfying. What sets this game apart is its unique technology tree system, allowing me to shape my faction in a multitude of ways. It is an enjoyable and challenging strategy game that may appeal to fans of similar games like Planetary Annihilation or Supreme Commander.
Dubhdara: It’s got that 90s style action! BAR is also super deep and has loads of things to master. Just pure competitive goodness.
19. Command & Conquer
Batrigore 5272: It’s the game that blew young(er) Batrigore’s mind with its full motion cut-scenes and fast paced action (well, it was at the time).
Arathorn: I love the cutscenes as much as everyone else who mentions this game, but for me the standouts are the two factions with their own unique identity and units, which forces players to adapt their playstyle to their strengths and weaknesses, and the great and varied missions. Frank Klepacki’s iconic music makes it even better. The remaster is a solid update and makes modding possible.
18. Company Of Heroes
Cognac McCarthy : Company Of Heroes’ single-player campaign is one of the best I’ve ever played. The missions are varied enough to keep it interesting throughout, and the sound and cinematic feel are intense enough that it never feels like you’re playing with army men. It’s an action game that just happens to be shown from above. Homeworld (my #2) had the better story, but COH wins thanks to its online play. It was the first RTS I ever comfortable enough with to try my hand at competitive multiplayer. Its emphasis on micromanagement and complementary army rosters over basebuilding and APM meant if I lost, I usually felt like I got outsmarted, not outpaced. COH2 offered real UI and technical improvements but I can’t put it ahead of the original. Looking forward to COH3!
Cartras #6379: Iconic, standard setting, enduring. Polished and updated/expacs (in its time). The standard by which all strategy games have been judged ever since.
17. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
JonClaw: When it comes to Alpha Centauri, no strategy game has come close to competing with the density of lore and world-building packed into the research portion of this game. Ask any fan of SMAC what their favorite quote is and they’ll give it to you.
HKEY_LOVECRAFT: The almost infinite replayability. The literal ‘living world’ that hosts the tug-of-war between the factions. The faction leaders’ personalities and associated AI. The ‘wonder’ videos. The storytelling. The best diplomacy/negotiation options in any title EVER. The fact that it’s a Civ game where terrain actually matters. The audio cues (e.g: “I don’t know but I’ve been told, you just got a network node,” and, “Please don’t go. The drones need you. They look UP to you”). All of these comprise the reason that this is my favorite strategy game of all time.
Rowland: Great science fiction characters and world building inside of a great turn-based strategy engine.
16. Crusader Kings II
Mario, Lawyer in Black: In thinking about the GOAT, I have to put the game in it’s context. Crusader Kings II dominated its environment. It was a source of endless fun in playing in different places different ways and play evolved so much over time.
Plato_Karamazov: Homeworld is awe-inspiring, terrifying, and exhilirating in equal measure. It perfectly captures and maintains the feeling of being alone in a hostile galaxy, and inspires you to care about the people you are commanding. The skirmish mode will be improved in HW2, but there has never been a better RTS campaign.
Greg Claydon: Homeworld was like nothing else when it released. The scale and scope of the game was breathtaking, the art was sublime and the sound and music was unbelievable. That moment in the third mission sticks with me even now. Awesome.
Lennert: I always loved space games and being able to traverse it in 3D. Seeing hundreds of space ships battling it out against a beautiful backdrop was quite inspiring. Zooming in as small fighters while in formations dodge and weave through waves of missiles, shot from huge destroyers. A sight to behold. It was also one of the first games I played in online multiplayer. Besting other players by sneaking up with a carrier group from below or above never got old. Follow that up with an intriguing story and cinematics. It has to be one of my favourite games of all time.
14. Into The Breach
dwiggles16: Into The Breach is incredibly tight, you always feel like it’s your fault if you screw up, and it never drags on for too long (unless you have analysis paralysis and again that’s your fault).
Grant: As precise and intricate as a Swiss watch. No other game has made me stare at the screen with my arms folded for 20 minutes at a time as I desperately attempt to get myself out of another self-inflicted mess. A game that gives no quarter and expects none in return, yet never feels like it’s cheating you. When cities get toppled, it’s because you stuffed up and you know it.
ArmitageV: Take the modern iterations of XCOM and strip them of all tedium and uncertain variables, and you’ve got Into The Breach. It doesn’t have a grand narrative that hooks you or lore you can dive into, but it doesn’t even need any in the first place. This is a game that’s confident that its core game mechanics are enough to make it a worthwhile experience for the player. It’s clean, concise and streamlined game design applied to the genre historically known for its micromanagement and lengthy campaigns. More than anything else, it feels like Into The Breach respects the player’s time and their intellect and I can only respect it in return for that.
13. Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
DWDuck: Many strategic options from early to end game, all classes’ units are effective for something but not too many to make it difficult to learn. Can micro a small army with great affect or play defensively and manage the battle field at large. Awesome stuff!
Don: Gaming comfort food. You can play in multiple styles in excruciating micromanagement or just coast through and watch history unfold. I never tire of playing this game even if the end-game is a bit of a slog at times. Just boot up history again with a new map, a new leader, and new opponents. A classic that keeps getting better.
quarrel: One… more… turn…
12. Crusader Kings III
Ketil Horn: Crusader Kings III is by far the very pinnacle of game design for a mature crowd. For a man that has been playing computer games since 1983 as a child, or about 40 years to a middle-aged man, that is quite the testimony. The game allows numerous routes for the player, as well as antagonists to lay and execute strategies with a very strong and compelling unique narrative generation and real strategic dilemmas. I have almost 2000 hours into this new game, and I got near 500 games bought at Steam and 50 at Epic. (I even got a job and 2 kids).
Steve Hewitt: No other game allows for so many diverse ways to play—military conquest, breeding a super dynasty, building wealth, creating a new religion, backstabbing and intrigue, tall development, whatever. It’s just an amazing achievement that I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into exploring, and I always come back to it.
Jack: I love the emphasis on the humans behind the strategy. For instance, I had family member NPC vassal who’s been a problem to three generations of rulers – brother to one king, uncle to another (who he eventually murdered), until finally his grand-niece took him down as vengeance for her slain father. When he finally died at age 89 a broken, insane man loathed by his own grandchildren (to whom I had granted his titles after stripping them from him as punishment), I couldn’t help but feel pity and more than a little respect for the dangerous and ambitious old geezer that led a successful revolt against his own brother, murdered his nephew, and very nearly dethroned his grand-niece. What other game could give you something like that? Oh, did I mention that the guy was a nudist for the last half of his life?
Syt: Providing a grand sandbox of medieval intrigue, personal drama and unintentional hilarity and being almost endlessly adaptable through mods (Historical realism! Elder Scrolls! Post-apocalyptic America! 1000+ Dog Names!) it’s one of the best story generators out there!
Marsican: Crusader Kings III combines all the things I adore in video games, emergent storytelling, genetics with great graphics, family sagas, spreadsheet-like interfaces, political intrigue, culture/religion building, medieval settings, etc. It’s just perfectly tailored to my tastes. I also love simulations and seeing the game evolve with but also without my input, i.e: seeing how countries far from the one I’m playing are faring. The high re-playability makes it perfect, due to the scope of the base game but also because it’s bound to expand for years with expansions, like CK2 before.
Sleeping Capybara: Every time I play Crusader Kings III, I want to tell stories of how that game went. And I want to tell them in the first-person: I fomented revolt in Mercia, I inherited my brother’s crown when he died in unexplained circumstances, I got so attached to my pet dog I started bringing her to every court meeting. No other strategy game makes me feel as personally invested in its characters.
Con: 4D dwarf eugenics skullduggery.
11. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
Dash323: Red Alert 2 was the first game I ever played online. From the handful of online matches I played back in circa 2001, I can still remember over 20 years later exactly the strategies I used to win each of the matches I won. The feeling I got as a 12-year-old out-smarting another unknown human and winning was pure euphoria. Oh, and the campaign is awesome too. I’ve probably played through it at least 10 times.
Guilherme Carvalho: Amazing campaign, thrilling online multiplayer, easy to learn but hard to master. The perfection of the C&C formula. The game is so good that it’s the sole reason the greed EA still sells Command & Conquer: The First Decade bundle in Origin since all the other titles in the bundle are freewares due to being too old.
10. Supreme Commander
Soulgamer: Supreme Commander perfectly balances scale, complexity and fun in an engaging and even realistic way. Many have tried, but no other game has managed to achieve this to the same extent.
Shadowfury333: It has the strategic flexibility and map variety of the Age of Empires games, the faction differentiation of the Blizzard games, provides plenty of incentives to go out on the map and fight in the course of any match, has state of the art quality of life features even today, and a match can be done in the span of a lunch break. There’s also just something satisfying about it even playing skirmish, let alone with another human being on the other side.
Chris: Still the best large scale mass wargame ever.
Pep Cherner: The beauty and versatility of the units and a truly unique transport system no other RTS could ever copy. All in all the units left you a vast variety of options and combinations on how to tackle your opponents.
Mist-e-Fire: Very balanced and tactic game. It feels there is meant strategies and counter strategies to adopt
9. Sid Meier’s Civilization V
Karl: I have spent over 1,000 hours in Civ V – ranging from middle school to law school. It’s unequivocally the greatest strategy game ever. City building, troop management, technology, culture – and even the happiness system – all culminate in an addictive and unforgettable experience.
francis: Near infinite replayability with mods, the feeling of geo-political stakes that are not replicated as well in Civ VI or the previous games.
juan_h: It’s so relaxing. No, really! It’s a pretty good version of Civilization, but the real reasons that I have sunk a truly terrifying number of hours into this game are that it’s pretty, it’s easy to play while drinking tea, and that I genuinely like the soundtrack and incidental sounds.
Calyk: I like what I’ve played of Civ VI, but this one arrived at a time I was most receptive to the series. The Brave New World expansion really elevated it as well, particularly in multiplayer. Arguing over resolutions makes diplomacy feel like something you can engage with not just through normal gameplay but by verbally making your points in such a way that you exploit democracy to your own ends. I’m admittedly a pretty casual strategy gamer, but throwing in joke resolutions alongside deceptive game-changers when playing with friends is probably the most fun I’ve had with any Civ game.
Vladisomire: Stellaris is a grand galaxy-wide strategy, with warfare, in-depth economy, resource production, political intrigue and warfare. With custom empires, you can create a game that offers a large amount of replayability. Especially so when playing with friends. That the producing company – Paradox Interactive – has a thing that you can own only the base game and play with the DLC of your friends is also really awesome.
DoctorDaddy: The roleplay potential is so high and flexible compared to most strategy games, and that only gets better once you dip into the incredible mod scene.
Fraser McCallum: While staying true to the 4X model of the grand strategy game, each play through feels more like you’re weaving together the threads of your empire’s epic space opera! I also appreciate that the game continues to get real love from its dev team, like many Paradox games there is a continuous drip feed of not just patches but feature-rich DLC options to let you add more breadth and depth to your stories. Lastly, but maybe most importantly, the game has been embraced by a strong modding community leading to a plethora of options to change things up and make the next game even more epic!
ElderBeagle: My cousin and I played StarCraft on his brand-new Gateway PC. I can still hear the Protoss Zealots saying, “My life for hire,” in my head. I’m sure we were terrible at StarCraft, but for one summer break it was all we played.
Stav Havivi: We used to break in at night to a place that had a LAN and somehow were never caught, which to teenage me made it even cooler. Siege tanks deploying sound highly satisfying in the “boys love tanks” way. The visceral feeling of the Zergs purple goop and the Protoss’ sounds. Great design, well balanced, cool campign, fun LAN, really amazing cinematics for that time. StarCraft II just wasn’t as spot on for me as the first was.
EarthWormJim: It’s simplicity through its sci-fi story. Character evolution and outstanding narrative. The perfect trinity with its diverse units and complementary races.
Talen10: Zergs go brrr.
6. Warcraft III: Reign Of Chaos
Lyle: Warcraft III was the only computer game I needed from the days I learned to mash keys up till middle school. My dad, a Blizzard fanatic, thought Diablo II was too much for his brats, but he did lend us his Battle Chest discs, which my three brothers and I thoroughly abused, shoving them into every PC and laptop our family eventually acquired. Curiously, we barely touched DOTA or the other famous custom maps – our time was split between finding Easter eggs, betraying Grom in Cry of the Warsong, and maxing our pop caps with entirely dragons to duke it out at a Fountain of Health.
Christopher Logel: Warcraft III had everything: refined, yet innovative gameplay; a great story; amazing online support, and an unparalleled custom map and modding system. It was the total package. But for all its merit, perhaps the most amazing thing about Warcraft III isn’t even the game itself, but what came after it. The world’s first MOBA (DOTA) started off as a custom map for Warcraft III. And of course, without Warcraft III there likely wouldn’t have been a World Of Warcraft. So not just strategy gaming, but in fact, entire sectors of PC gaming would be entirely different, or perhaps non-existent, had Warcraft III never been made.
Malte Skarupke: The campaign is ace, perfecting the “every level has an interesting twist” formula, with a better story than StarCraft II. Combat is great: lots of depth without being overwhelming or being too punishing if you don’t control all details. But the best thing is the online multiplayer, and in particular the custom maps. They were around in StarCraft, but they really evolved in Warcraft III to the point where they could be spun out into their own games: Tower Defense, DOTA, Auto Chess, (e.g. Pokemon Defense) Tug of War (e.g. “Survival Chaos” or the paid StarCraft II mod “Desert Strike”) and others that haven’t yet escaped. Warcraft III was the main game I played for years.
5. Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance
Binkenstein: Forged Alliance is the successor to Total Annihilation with more variation between factions, more depth and larger maps.
jesseowengauthier: Epic scale of battles and focus on macro vs mirco.
Dahools: It took an already incredible strategic masterpiece in Total Annihilation and upgraded it to make it grander and more spectacular, delivering a sense of scale even more impressive than thought possible for its time, just like TA did.
Keepvogel: The epic scale, fluid economy and variety of conceivable strategies is mind-blowing. Extremely well executed. Now supported by a small but avid community who’ve built a third party match-making tool, complete with mods, maps and ranked gameplay.
Glavius: The first RTS to combine massive unit counts, huge maps, and a great multiplayer experience. Plus, a single-player campaign that doesn’t hold your hand, all while handing you the biggest units in the game from the first mission!
Tucker Wilkin: It’s an RTS with creativity and thought put through it. Its skill floor isn’t so colossally high that it takes an equally autistic friend to sit down and play with you. Forged Alliance Forever has a respectable size of players who are equally as dumb as I am. I can feel them make roughly as many mistakes as I can. It lets me automate my unit production so I can focus on things that actually feel important to an RTS rather than, “You didn’t leave your TC/HQ idle did you? Oh, no, no, no, baby, you fucking LOSE LOSER.” It emphasizes map control with resources. The goal of the game isn’t necessarily complete destruction of one’s base, but the murder of his commander. It creates interesting, albeit sometimes frustrating, strategies to win. But most importantly, it isn’t fucking Brood War. Fuck Astrogap.
Bryce Jones: The pacing (the long build up, for those of us who have proper attention spans), and the variety of units/their utility. As well as the sci-fi setting, naturally. Nothing else has ever even come close.
4. XCOM 2
Zach#1630: XCOM 2 balances well the aspects of play vs. tactics/strategy. While Into The Breach is a great game, for example, it does often feel like there are correct solutions, where XCOM 2 feels more flexible, doesn’t feel so fatalistic, and remains open to allow for some emergent storytelling. That said, the game still allows for satisfaction when you manage to pull off clever strategies. The game is also not afraid to be silly.
Sonowz: A brand-new gold standard for AAA turn-based strategy games. It showed us what big studios can do: a wide variety of assets, stories, and polished game mechanics.
StrafeMcgee: Our squad was doomed, outnumbered after its leader got caught out by an unfortunate crit, and a sectopod showed up. My sniper took a last-chance shot to take it out, and by a miracle landed a 5% instant kill, dropping the sectopod into a car and blowing up the rest of the enemy squad. It’s stories like this which will always make XCOM my number one strategy game – the tales of success against the odds are just so damn exciting.
Noah: I have 600+ hours on XCOM 2. I love coming back to it time and time again and bonding with my soldiers whom I will inevitably get killed.
Exaal: Super-stylish with great turn-based battles and tons of replayability! The DLC only makes it better with even more fun and gear that feels great to play with!
Pete: The perfect distillation of all that made the first XCOM reboot by Firaxis great, while removing a lot of the issues and trimming some of the superfluous mechanics.
ShredZ: Gorgeous looking game, which always provides a new cut scene around every corner, and always some new piece of tech to use on the battlefield. Always feels fresh.
Sorbicol: A game all about the tactical combat. Always a challenge but never unfair, except when the RNG comes out to play. But that’s the challenge – learning how to cope when that happens. Add in making soldiers from your friends and family & the horror of permadeath making it all so much more personal. Also home to some of the greatest mods ever made. My last playthrough? 192 mods!
3. StarCraft II
Iandra: Despite not being a pro player, StarCraft II remains an endearing replayable love. Excellent campaigns and endless creator content keeps the game fresh even after a decade with mods that create brand new ways to play the game or give a twist on the original campaign (i.e. GiantGrantGames). The game remains an excellent balance of rock-paper-scissors mechanics that remains fun to watch in the competitive scene to this day and it doesn’t take a pro to appreciate the matches. The world of Starcraft remains a rich tapestry that deserves to be explored further and has inspired some of the other noteable sci-fi universes in gaming (aka Halo) and we can only hope Blizzard will re-visit it at some point in the future.
Oasx: It’s a really fun and great looking game, and the best esport ever.
niilzon: The most responsive, with great campaigns.
Matterhorn: Even 13 years later, there has not been another RTS made with as much mechanical competency and polish. It’s the peak of 1v1 competitive gaming, even though its popularity as an esport is falling behind the rest. No other game dominates its category/niche as heavily as Starcraft does to RTS games.
Overcooked: Remains excellent to watch others play, and an excellent esport despite its age.
Don Reba: Giving the first place to StarCraft II for the amazing professional competitive scene it fostered.
Cliver5: I like the variety of races, the lore (even if it’s cringe at times), the dynamics, the abilities, and the custom stuff people made in it. It was fun to speed with a mobility composition, and making too many marines, and building a command center in a terran base using an infestor and no-damage cheats!
2. Age Of Empires II: The Age Of Kings
Maninahat: Age Of Empires II is one of the few strategy games in which building the city is itself part of the joy – The ever expanding catalogue of factions and their beautiful unique architecture ends up distracting me a lot from the strategy aspect. But I enjoy that strategy aspect too, in all its cleanly defined, isometric glory, to the point that I’ve been returning to this game over and over for the last 20 years.
p2004a: It held up extremally well over time, it’s timeless and still fun to this day.
Mike: Ground-breaking, highly-polished, and well-balanced at its release nearly two-and-a-half decades ago, Age of Empires II still receiving regular updates, remasters, and new expansions with a highly-active player base and competitive scene.
Salty: Unmatched depth of play and replayability even 20-odd years later, albeit thanks in large part to a number of official and fan-made updates over the years. Age IV recaptures some of the magic, but thanks to the change in how games are funded and developed it doesn’t have quite the same sheer scale of content.
rpsiscool: Age Of Empires II is a timeless classic and one of the few nearly perfect games.
1. Total Annihilation
Platytross: I’ll never understand why Total Annihilation doesn’t often feature in lists of the best games of all time, let alone being absent from most best strategy game lists. The units are fun, the maps varied and the scope of the game was unheard of on release. One moment you’re micro-managing individual groups of bots, then swarms of them, and finally launching artillery and nukes all the way across the map. The economy allows multiple successful playstyles even in multiplayer, and best of all the modding community is one of the best you’ll ever find, and still going strong to this day!
Đorđe Kovačević: Way ahead of its time, had unlimited resources and dozens of tactical options to choose from. Huge battle with hundreds of units, online multiplayer with battles that changed galaxy map (Boneyards server).
Jordan: A game that felt ahead of its time. Fully 3D terrain and units. Awesome FMV intro (for the time). Excellent orchestral soundtrack that changed from ambient to intense when combat started. A very neat economy where you didn’t have to accumulate the full unit cost before beginning construction.