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Essays 19 September 2014, 16:27

author: Adrian Werner

Best Mobile Strategy Games: Top Exclusives for Tablets and Smartphones

We prepared a list of the best mobile strategy games, which veterans of the genre will definitely like, and which you will not find on PC or consoles.

From among many genres, strategy games seem to fit mobile devices best. They do not require a perfect precision and they are pretty convenient to play on a touchscreen. Despite that, when it comes to tablets and smartphones, their state has been rather poor in recent years. It is because we were flooded by Clash of Clans clones, and economy games where all the ‘fun’ comes down to choosing between either idly waiting or resorting to microtransactions.

This does not mean, however, that no mobile game developers proved to be more ambitious than that. There are still many teams who more than rip off players want to provide them with good, deep gameplay. We decided to make a list of the best mobile games of this type. While completing this list, we focused on titles available only on tablets and smartphones, as we believe that most of our readers are more likely to hook into these than even the most successful PC conversions.

As always – if you have your favorite titles that we missed out, go ahead and let us know in comments.

Transport Tycoon

The game kept the isometric view of the original. - 2014-09-19
The game kept the isometric view of the original.

TRANSPORT TYCOON
  1. Developer: 31X Ltd.,
  2. Platforms: iOS, Android,

We start off with a real classic, namely Transport Tycoon. The PC original from 1994 and the released a year later Deluxe Edition still hold place among the best transport-themed economic simulation games.

The development process of the mobile version was overwatched by Chris Sawyer himself (the creator of the original game, as well as of Rollercoaster Tycoon), who applied a very reasonable approach to the task. Instead of simply making a conversion of the PC game, he chose to create a new title based on the same ideas. That hit the jackpot, as the results proved to be impressive.

The interface may not be the prettiest one, but more importantly, it enables simple and effective management.

At first, you take control of a small transport company with modest funds for your first investments, and from now on, you have to take care on your own. Your goal is to create a transport empire that would dwarf all the competition. To that end you need to create railroads, highways, sea lines, and airlines. In the meantime, you keep upgrading and modifying your gear, while keeping a close eye on the budged.

All that may seem to be no different from other economic simulation games, but Transport Tycoon uses these ideas in a more elaborate and professional way. The sheer number of different elements is overwhelming, and the interconnections between them are really strong, thus a couple of careless decisions may lead to a financial crisis. Despite that intricacy the controls are very simple, thanks to the interface built up specifically for touchscreens, and the wide range of available scenarios make it possible for everyone, be that a veteran or a novice, to find something for themselves.

Eclipse: New Dawn for the Galaxy

Visually, the game reminds some older 4X titles, however, gameplay is faster here. - 2014-09-19
Visually, the game reminds some older 4X titles, however, gameplay is faster here.

ECLIPSE: NEW DAWN FOR GALAXY
  1. Developer: Big Daddy's Creation,
  2. Platforms: iOS,

Mobile devices proved to be a great platform for board games adaptations. One of the most recommendable of these is Eclipse: New Dawn for the Galaxy, created by a Polish team Big Daddy’s Creation – the developers had already proved to be experts in their field releasing the excellent Neuroshima Hex and Stronghold, but their latest work beats all, and it is even able to win hearts of those who not necessarily like board games.

The game is a space strategy which can be described as a slightly simpler version of a typical 4X game. You take control over one of seven races, each having their unique technologies and cultures, as well as their own strengths and weaknesses. As usually in the case of type of games, you get to explore the galaxy, expand your empire, exploit resources, and exterminate everyone who dares to stand in your way.

The authors chose graphics style that successfully hides the fact that game is actually an adaptation of a board game. - 2014-09-19
The authors chose graphics style that successfully hides the fact that game is actually an adaptation of a board game.

What sets Eclipse: New Dawn for the Galaxy apart from typical 4X titles, is the pace of gameplay. As a result of its board-game origins, a single game usually lasts about an hour. Gameplay is seemingly simple, but the more you play, the more depth you discover. Besides, the authors used the kind of stylistics that looks nothing like a typical table game adaptation, rather resembling a traditional mobile strategy game.

Of course, the most fun comes out of competing with other players, however, thanks to the smart AI (of three difficulty levels) you can really enjoy the game even when playing alone, and the game provides months of high quality experience.

Ravenmark: MerPriceries

Ravenmark’s graphics is simple but it has nice atmosphere. - 2014-09-19
Ravenmark’s graphics is simple but it has nice atmosphere.

RAVENMARK: MERCENARIES
  1. Developer: Witching Hour Studios,
  2. Platforms: iOS, Android,

Ravenmark: Mercenaries is an excellent turn-based strategy game, which focuses on wars waged in a magical fantasy universe. The authors put a lot of effort into the story itself. The world they created is interesting, multicultural, and has its own history.

All that, however, is just an eye-pleasing frame for an expansive combat system, which differs from a typical turn-based game. It means that both sides of the conflict give out orders at the same time, and then watch how these are carried out. Because of this you cannot just focus on responding to enemy maneuvers but also learn to predict them to some extent.

Players usually command huge armies. Thus, it is not necessary to wet nurse each soldier individually. Instead, you can set general objectives for a part of your forces and they will easily make do on their own, letting you concentrate on the most key aspects of the battles that require careful approach.

The scale of battles grows along with progression in the campaign. - 2014-09-19
The scale of battles grows along with progression in the campaign.

The key thing, is a proper use of formations. They not only give you an upper hand over the opponent, but also grant special abilities to your units. Another attraction are RPG elements in the form of heroes’ and units’ progression system.

Ravenmark: Mercenaries offers a variety of single player missions, but the heart and soul of the title is its excellent multiplayer mode. Those who prefer solo play should rather choose the previous installment in the series, entitled Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion, which has an extensive and well-polished story campaign. Sadly, that game is available exclusively on iOS and it is unknown when it may be released on Android.

Desert Fox: The Battle of El Alamein

Desert Fox is the first part of the series that is not set in Europe. - 2014-09-19
Desert Fox is the first part of the series that is not set in Europe.

DESERT FOX: THE BATTLE OF EL ALAMEIN
  1. Developer: Shenandoah Studio,
  2. Platforms: iOS,

In the last couple of years Shenandoah Studios have made a name for themselves as a developer who creates the most ambitious mobile war games. They worked for their name by systematically developing the Crisis in Command series. Its first two installments – Battle of the Bulge and Drive on Moscow – met with warm reception and were showered with high score reviews. The third one – Desert Fox: The Battle of El Alamein – raised the bar even higher, becoming probably the best choice for those seeking complex and realistic mobile strategy games.

Accordingly with the title, the game is set during the second world war. It takes you to the African front and lets you play the battle between Erwin Rommel’s German forces and the Allies lead by British Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery. The authors made it possible to take the lead of either sides of the conflict. You can fight the battle as a part of an extensive campaign, which may provide several weeks of play, as well as one of many separate and much shorter scenarios.

The game’s graphics will not win anybody’s heart, but its battle mechanics definitely will. - 2014-09-19
The game’s graphics will not win anybody’s heart, but its battle mechanics definitely will.

Desert Fox: The Battle of El Alamein offers realism and deep tactics. It is a turn-based game of large scale, which means you command entire squads and brigades, instead of single units. In order to win, you have to not only come up with cunning battle tactics using terrain for your advantage, but also draw long-term strategies, which you will be realizing for weeks of the virtual conflict. Apart from the single player campaign fought against several types of AI, characterized by different “personalities”, the developers also prepared multiplayer mode.

The game offers high-level intricacy, however, it was designed not only for veterans of the genre. Extensive tutorials and really intuitive UI make it possible for even absolute newbies to quickly catch the basic rules.

First Strike

In First Strike the battlefield is the entire planet.. - 2014-09-19
In First Strike the battlefield is the entire planet..

FIRST STRIKE
  1. Developer: Feinheit
  2. Platforms: iOS, Android

First Strike is an RTS set in global scale, which takes you through a nuclear conflict. Players take the lead over nuclear arsenal of a chosen nation, and have to decide where to place it and how to use it. The ultimate goal is to turn every other country into a post-nuclear wasteland. Sounds horrible, but actually the game’s abstract stylistics creates a universe, in which using weapons of mass destruction turns out to be a whole lot of fun, instead of an apocalyptic horror.

PC players may have associations with the hit Defcon. However, First Strike, although based on similar ideas, is much different. First and foremost, it does not focus on multiplayer mode, instead letting you fight against an AI, which fortunately, makes a pretty good strategist. Besides, the very game mechanics are more expanded.

The beginning of a nuclear conflict always makes your spine tingle. - 2014-09-19
The beginning of a nuclear conflict always makes your spine tingle.

The main resources here are time and provinces on the map. At one time, you can perform only one action, e.g. building a rocket, developing a technology, capturing neighboring regions, and of course, shooting a missile – which may either be used for an attack or taking down an enemy rocket. You are allowed to reissue the commands once every few dozen seconds, so each command brings some risk with it. You may e.g. need a nuclear research project which would improve range of your attacks, but are you ready to pay the price of making a large portion of your lands defenseless for that time? All this happens in real time, and the map is quite large, so controlling it all requires real divisibility of attention.

At first, First Strike seems like a simple game, and when you start it playing as the United States, you do not have to put much effort into that. Then, however, you unlock other, weaker countries, and the difficulty level rises significantly, offering a real challenge even to strategy games veterans.

Steambirds

The browser origins of the game are visible in its austere artworks. - 2014-09-19
The browser origins of the game are visible in its austere artworks.

STEAMBIRDS
  1. Developer: Spry Fox,
  2. Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows,

Steambirds was borne as a small browser strategy game. Players liked the prototype, so the authors developed it as a commercial mobile game.

The game is set in an alternative version of the second world war. The vision offered by the developers creates a steampunk atmosphere, thus all machines use steam engines, and the skies are dotted not only with planes, but also majestic airships. The campaign consists of 30 missions, letting you control 5 types of airplanes and fight against 30 enemy units.

The simple graphics does not stand in the way of great fun. - 2014-09-19
The simple graphics does not stand in the way of great fun.

The game mainly focuses on aerial battles of small groups of planes. The combat is turn-based, so each side of the conflict give out orders undisturbed, and then they are carried out in a few-second sequence played out in real time. Your units attack enemies automatically, so all you have to do, is maneuver them properly. It is not that easy, though, as the machines are to some extent inert, so they cannot take a turn anytime you want, which necessitates planning your attacks in advance. Gameplay is enriched by a wide selection of manually activated special maneuvers and attacks.

Starbase Orion

Starbase Orion is second to none, when it comes to 4X mobile strategy games. - 2014-09-19
Starbase Orion is second to none, when it comes to 4X mobile strategy games.

STARBASE ORION
  1. Developer: Chimera Software,
  2. Platforms: iOS,

To those who look forward to playing a purebred 4X strategy game – like Master of Orion or Galactic Civilizations series – on their touchscreens, we recommend Starbase Orion, a game by Chimera Software.

It is a turn-based game, and your objective is the same as in countless PC productions of the type. You get to explore the galaxy, colonize other planets, expand you infrastructure, develop technology, as well as invade foreign territories and defend your own. There are 5 races to choose from. When starting a game, you get a lot of options which describe the randomly generated universe; you select its size, number of enemies, and difficulty level.

The game is not new, so the graphics got quite old, but the years that passed since the release also brought large updates, significantly improving the project. - 2014-09-19
The game is not new, so the graphics got quite old, but the years that passed since the release also brought large updates, significantly improving the project.

The complexity of Starbase Orion is impressive. You can manipulate hundreds of various systems, and the sheer number of the elements that influence the situation in the galaxy is overwhelming at first. In the case of larger maps, the game may take a few dozen hours, whereas no two games are the same. Another attraction is multiplayer mode.

Starbase Orion is by far the best mobile 4X game and one of the most excellent iOS strategy games at all. However, the game did not launch like this. The title that you can buy now in App Store is much different from what debuted three years ago. Then, it was a decent game, which, however, lacked its own character and real depth. For the following years the developers often released one free update after another, adding new content, improving existing elements, and enriching the story. Recently, an advanced AI was introduced, whose actions are calculated on cloud servers in order to speed up the game. The great bulk of work brought dividends, transforming Starbase Orion from a decent strategy game into a mobile piece of art.

Great Little War Game 2

The authors chose slightly cartoonish stylistics… - 2014-09-19
The authors chose slightly cartoonish stylistics…

GREAT LITTLE WAR GAME 2
  1. Developer: Rubicon Development,
  2. Platforms: iOS, Android

Great Little War Game was one of the first really good turn-based mobile games, winning hearts of millions of demanding players. A couple of months ago, the developers returned with its sequel, which proved to be even better than the original.

Great Little War Game 2 is a small-scaled turn-based war game. You fight battles on small maps, using few units recruited in small barracks in exchange for war loot and oil taken from captured territories. You command infantry units, as well as military vehicles, flying machines, and floating vessels. Each of these categories contains a large variety of units with their own strengths and weaknesses. Gameplay mechanics was balanced according to rock-paper-scissors rules, so every unit has its own deadly enemies, as well as opponents whom they can overcome easily. It is a simple system, however, it works just fine in practice, especially when you need to carefully use terrain to your advantage.

…but under the humorous artworks there are some complex gameplay mechanics. - 2014-09-19
…but under the humorous artworks there are some complex gameplay mechanics.

Great Little War Game 2 offers an extensive campaign that contains of 60 missions. The plot is not overly serious, presenting a comic story instead, which fits well with the artworks of the game.

Crimson: Steam Pirates

From the very first contact, the game makes a fantastic impression with its steampunk atmosphere. - 2014-09-19
From the very first contact, the game makes a fantastic impression with its steampunk atmosphere.

CRIMSON: STEAM PIRATES
  1. Developer: Harebrained Schemes,
  2. Platforms: iOS,

Crimson: Steam Pirates is a sea battle strategy produced by Shadowrun Returns developer Harebrained Schemes Studios in cooperation with Halo creators, Bungie company. The game is set in a steampunk universe, and lets you play as a ship captain sentenced to death by Queen Victoria – after he escapes captivity, he starts a career of a pirate.

Crimson: Steam Pirates has one of the best story campaign among mobile strategy games. The whole story just glitters with humor. The world is inhabited by colorful characters, whose adventures are told in a style that refers to old dime novels.

This production has one of the most interesting stories among all mobile strategy games. - 2014-09-19
This production has one of the most interesting stories among all mobile strategy games.

Turn-based gameplay is focused mainly on sea battles. Your units automatically attack any enemy in sight, however, hitting them is not that easy as the game realistically recreates the momentum of floating vessels. Making a maneuver takes a lot of time, so you have to plan them in advance. What introduces some variety to gameplay, is boarding enemy steamships, as well as numerous special skills of your crew. Initially, you start off with just a couple of ships, but after a while you will be able to gather an entire armada, including a few airplanes and submarines.

Crimson: Steam Pirates is based on free-to-play business model with microtransactions, but these last work just fine. The authors prepared 3 extensive campaigns, the first one can be downloaded for free, while the other two can be purchased with a single payment.

Lionheart Tactics

The game’s authors were obviously inspired by Japanese developers. - 2014-09-19
The game’s authors were obviously inspired by Japanese developers.

LIONHEART TACTICS
  1. Developer: Emerald City,
  2. Platforms: iOS, Android,

The last but one of the games we wanted to recommend you is Lionheart Tactics. This is a turn-based fantasy strategy game with RPG elements. The whole thing was obviously inspired by numerous console games, such as Final Fantasy Tactics, although the authors focused on battles alone, while simplifying other aspects of gameplay.

The campaign takes you into a classic fantasy realm, where long ago humanity stood on the verge of destruction, and in order to avoid total extermination by the forces of darkness, a mighty magic wall was raised, protecting the good people from evil armies. The game starts hundreds of years after the event, and of course, all the evidence is that soon another invasion will launch and this time it is going to be so great that even the wall will not be able to stop it. Hence, your mission is to disrupt the evil plots.

Lionheart Tactics is the best tactic RPG developed exclusively for mobile devices. - 2014-09-19
Lionheart Tactics is the best tactic RPG developed exclusively for mobile devices.

Lionheart Tactics mainly concentrates on turn-based battles, during which you command a small team of up to 6 characters. They have to win hundreds of skirmishes against hordes of enemies. Besides, the authors implemented some degree of world exploration, however, this aspect is much simplified and serves only the purpose of recruiting new fighters and buying gear. It works excellent in practice, though, because the combat system is really well-polished. The variety of heroes and monsters is impressive, the maps are interactive, and it does require a lot of cunning to win battles.

All this is set in neat 3D graphics and cartoonish, slightly caricatural stylistics. - 2014-09-19
All this is set in neat 3D graphics and cartoonish, slightly caricatural stylistics.

Another feature is multiplayer mode, which lets you play against players from all over the world. The game is free-to-play, and offers microtransactions – you can purchase various power-ups, however, this is an option prepared mainly for players who do not really like much challenge. The campaign can be completed without spending a penny, and it is even more satisfying that way.

Autumn Dynasty

The artwork aims to resemble old maps. - 2014-09-19
The artwork aims to resemble old maps.

AUTUMN DYNASTY
  1. Developer: Touch Dimensions,
  2. Platforms: iOS, Android,

The last game we want to recommend you, is an RTS game entitled Autumn Dynasty. It is set in a fantasy realm inspired by Chinese and Japanese legends. The titular autumn is a reference to the state of the mighty empire, whose golden age is long gone, and it is slowly starting to decay. You play as a young patriotic commander who is trying to prevent that.

You pursue that goal in a typically strategic style, by raising buildings, recruiting an army, and commanding your men in battles. Usually, the biggest problem of mobile RTS games, are the controls. Autumn Dynasty developers came up with an excellent idea to solve that, so the UI is based on drawing lines and circles on the screen. It harmonizes with the stylistics that aims to resemble old maps, so you can feel just like an aged general, who is drawing war plans on a yellowed parchment.

The game’s sequel, Autumn Dynasty Warlords, adds empire management to gameplay . - 2014-09-19
The game’s sequel, Autumn Dynasty Warlords, adds empire management to gameplay .

A compelling campaign, excellent controls system, and rich tactical options, are the things that put the title among the best mobile strategy games. Originally, it was released exclusively on iOS and only recently received Android conversion. Its sequel, Autumn Dynasty Warlords, is already available on the system from Apple company. It has significantly more complex gameplay mechanics, with another layer consisting of managing the whole empire. In the future, the second part should be released on Android too, however, right now the authors are unable set a specific date for that.

Adrian Werner | Gamepressure.com

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