It is a great time to be a strategy gamer. So many outstanding games have come out for mobile platforms or are just around the corner. If you’ve just bought an iPhone or an iPad, you might be wondering what games to pick up – and even if you’ve had an iOS device for ages, you’d be forgiven for having fallen behind.
The Situation Report is a perennially updated list of Pocket Tactics’s favorite games in each strategy sub-genre – we’ll have a similar feature up for Android soon. So without further delay, the (very subjective) Pocket Tactics iOS Situation Report.
The Best iOS 4X Game
Civilization Revolution – $2.99, iOS Universal
Civ Rev is a stripped-down (cynics will say “console-ized”) version of the venerable Sid Meier’s Civilization series for PC and Mac. It’s also starting to show its age a bit, as it’s now almost 3 years old. But for all that, Civ Rev is still the best expand, explore, exploit, and exterminate game for iOS – it just barely edges out the superb Ascendancy. Civ has the advantage of being based on the time-tested Civilization formula and despite the tablet streamlining, it delivers. The more recent sci-fi 4X Starbase Orion has given Civ and Ascendancy some welcome competition, but compared to those two the newcomer is a bit sterile and bland. Starbase Orion’s devs have been steadily improving that game with regular updates though, so watch this space.
The Best iOS City-builder
Rebuild – $2.99, Universal
Rebuild isn’t exactly SimCity (though if you’re desperate, EA has a pretty disappointing iOS SimCity on the App Store), but the liberties it takes with the traditional city-building formula make it one of the most exciting experiences in strategy gaming. Rebuild puts you in a world overrun by zombies, where you are in charge of retaking a city from the undead. You have to recruit survivors to your cause and assign them to critical tasks while you decide how to put your metropolis back together. It’s hard to overstate how much fun it is and how replayable it is. It’s not a straight city-builder, but there really aren’t any on iOS worth talking about, anyway.
The Best iOS Casual Wargame
Battle Academy – $19.99, iPad-only
For the time being, there is simply nothing like Battle Academy on iOS. It’s a full-featured PC game that invalidates the idea that games need to be stripped down to work on tablets. Battle Academy is easy to pick up and learn but has a diabolical tactical AI at its heart, so experienced grognards will get a challenge out of it, too. It would be a great wargame on any platform, but it’s the best on iPad.
Honorable mention goes to Legion of the Damned, which doesn’t look nearly as pretty as the iPad-only Battle Academy, but is an outstanding casual wargame in its own right. The multiplayer-focused Uniwar still has a dedicated community of players years after release.
The Best iOS Hardcore Wargame
Given that the iPad was born to play good old tabletop wargames, it’s hard to believe that there still aren’t any proper hex-and-counter wargames to be found in the App Store. That’s not going to be the case for long, what with Panzer Corps and possibly Battle of the Bulge on the way, but for now I can’t award this belt to anybody.
The Best iOS Squad Tactical Game
Tactical Soldier: Undead Rising – $4.99, Universal
Let’s not mince words: this is the X-Com category. For a whole generation of gamers, X-Com is a perfect Madonna figure that has never been matched, much less exceeded. There is, as yet, no squad tactical game on iPhone or iPad that holds a candle to X-Com – but Tactical Soldier is the closest thing we’ve got. Despite a name that looks like it came out of a random game cliche generator, Tactical Soldier has a wickedly entertaining (if goofy) single-player campaign built on top of a solid 3D engine. Worth mentioning in this category is Hunters 2 by Rodeo Games. Hunters has more interface polish and refined art direction, but it doesn’t have the tactical depth or variety of Tactical Soldier and gets tedious after a while. Those who prefer their squad tactics in a fantasy setting should try the charming Dungeon Crawlers.
The Best iOS Boardgame
It’s not possible to overstate how polished, how replayable, and how perfectly suited to mobile devices Elder Sign: Omens is. Set in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, Elder Sign gives you a handful of uniqely gifted investigators and sets you to stopping the arrival of an Elder God into our dimension. It’s a stubbornly difficult game at times but that difficulty arises from thoughtful design – there is a great deal of luck in every encounter but your strategic decisions give you sufficient influence over the outcomes that you won’t feel cheated. There are a raft of boardgame conversions coming to iPad this year but they will have to be very good indeed to outdo this game.
The Best iOS Tower Defense Game
Anomaly: Warzone Earth – $1.99 for Retina iPhones and iPad
This is possibly the most crowded category of them all, but most of it is crap. In an App Store full of nearly identical tower defenders, Anomaly stands out by making you the attacker running the gauntlet of towers. The revised formula keeps you very busy and the generous checkpointing system means that the game’s considerable difficulty never infuriates. Also worth a look are the visually and aurally stunning Radiant Defense, the now-ancient but still tactically brilliant Geodefense Swarm, and Kingdom Rush – whose cartoony graphics mask a deep gameplay experience.