If you love your combat turn-based, deeply strategic, and played out on a grid, then you’ve probably played an awful lot of XCOM. You might even have played it on your phone, in XCOM: Enemy Within for example, given that the tactical shooter has been available on it for around six years now. That’s a lot of time, so you’re probably a little sick of XCOM at this point, but you might well fancy a similar experience.
If that’s you, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve scoured the various app stores to bring you this list of XCOM alternatives that you can play from the comfort of your phone. While they do vary in terms of style, all of them contain a variety of your favourite features from the game that inspired them. You just might be trading guns for swords and sci-fi environments for lovely forests.
Different strokes for different folks. If you can’t find it on this list, then it’s probably not worth mentionining. So have a good look through for your next mobile gaming fix.
What are the best games like XCOM on mobile?
Trading assault rifles and grenades for swords and bows, The Banner Saga is an excellent strategic turn-based strategy game that takes place in a frozen and uncaring world. If you dig the nihilism of Game of Thrones, you’ll enjoy the story offerings here, with a series of terrible events happening frequently during the course of your adventure. The good news is that the combat will appeal to fans of XCOM, with a grid and wide variety of moves for each character ready and present. For even more XCOM-esque game series, be sure to check our list of the best mobile strategy games.
Xenowar is a brilliant distillation of the razor-sharp tactical challenges of XCOM, though it does sacrifice some scale and endgame satisfaction in favor of presenting a clean-cut intense series of battles. In particular, the GEO mode is a smart compromise between a full-fledged life-consuming, planet-saving, alien-cleansing XCOM campaign and a single strategic arc that a dedicated gamer can accomplish in just a few sittings. It takes a lot of presence of mind to create games like this, which understand what’s great and reiterate it without becoming derivative or redundant in the process. Oh, and it’s open-source to boot.
Hydra’s best point is how creative and wide its customisation options are, both in terms of squad composition and difficulty level. The plotting and theme are boilerplate, but in terms of mechanics, stats, and abilities, the game is brimming with possibilities. Psionics and physics add some flair and unusual effects to the classes, and the enemies are weird bio-machine hybrids. All of this wouldn’t matter a whit if the game’s buffet of options were paired with anything but an equally rich campaign. Here, Strike Team Hydra delivers again, ratcheting up the scenarios, objectives, and enemy types just as generously as it doles out strategic tools. It strikes a great balance between question and answer; risk and reward; problem and solution.
Along with the top-down isometric perspective, Frozen Synapse made one other amazing change to the standard tactical shooter formula. Each side takes turns planning their actions in secrecy, mapping out the steps their units will take, and the shots they will fire. Then the game resolves everyone’s programmed actions creating a ‘simultaneous’ turn that is nonetheless meticulously choreographed. One good idea, perfectly rendered, is enough to make a good game. Frozen Synapse fulfills this crystal-clear ideal.
Space marines versus xenomorphs, loosely derived from the Ur-horrors of Alien. Templar Battleforce owes some thematic debts to Warhammer and others, but its rapid-fire pacing and generous respect system are wonderful tools for experimentation and strategy. There’s some light characterization and world-building, sure, but in lieu of story one has to respect Templar Battleforce’s varied scenarios and equally creative squads that allows divergent thinking. To a man with a hammer, everything is a nail, but to a commander with endlessly variable squads, the mutating threat can be met with an equally sundry battleforce.
We’ll start with an option that predates Enemy Within on mobile. Aliens versus Humans is an old game. So old that if you buy it for iOS you’ll get the warning about it slowing down your device since the developer hasn’t updated the game to Apple’s standards. That warning is often meaningless and misleading and you should go ahead and ignore it in this case.
Aliens versus Humans is effectively a clone of the very first XCOM game from back in 1994.It features base management, research, manufacturing, and, of course, tactical combat against alien enemies. The graphics are retro and nothing to get excited about, but the gameplay is solid, combat is challenging, and there’s a whole lot of content for a couple bucks. You can bring a huge squad to battle which allows for more options to face threats than games that top out with a team of four or so. It also lets you play the attrition game to grind out victories. So while Aliens versus Humans is over three-years-old at this point, it is well worth considering if you’re looking for XCOM-like action.
The first of a couple free options in this article is a little game called Alien Star Menace. Aliens have attacked the starship Paladin and it’s up to you to save the day. Alien Star Menace is light-hearted and looks pretty basic at first glance but it actually packs a good tactical punch. You pick a five-person squad from a variety of special units with different pros and cons and take them into missions on different levels of the Paladin.
The mission objectives are things like “Kill Everything” and “Reach the Stairs” and the game rewards smart decisions like making good use of choke points and ranged attackers. Missions are very quick and perfect for bite-sized play sessions on your phone, which is often a big plus for gamers these days. Alien Star Menace is also free-to-play with no IAP. There are ads, which can be annoying, but the frequency is very low.
World of Warriors: Quest is a light turn-based tactical game where you play as a team of warriors from across the ages — Roman centurions, Viking berserkers, and stealthy ninjas for example. The characters fill your standard RPG roles. The Roman, Brutus, is a tank and taunts enemies with his attacks to keep their attention. Gunnar, the Viking warrior, is a decent balance of damage and survivability. The ninja is named Kuro and he’s the glass cannon —big area-of-effect damage but very low health. Those are the starting characters but you encounter more as the game goes on.
You choose three warriors to take on a number of quests that lead you across the Wildlands on a mission to discover what the local bad guys are up to. Each quest has several waves of fights and it can be a challenge to keep your team upright and alive so you don’t succumb to attrition. Each warrior has special attacks to make use of and there are also consumables֫ that recover health, enable big attacks, or provide extra movement speed.
World of Warriors: Quest is not a particularly deep game, but good for those interested in light squad-based tactics. You also can’t beat the price — this one is free with no IAPs or ads.
The Last Warlock is a turn-based tactical game with a somewhat unique almost-anything-goes approach. You play as a warlock capable of summoning deadly creatures, casting magical spells, and crafting weapons, armour, and other equipment. You embark on a series of quests to find and defeat enemy warlocks, all vying to discover the secrets of the famed last warlock. To defeat these rivals you must first best their monsters, traps, and puzzles before taking them down.
It provides an extraordinary amount of freedom. You can go straight for your foe or explore a little and take the road less travelled. This provides a great deal of replay value because you can play the same quest multiple times and use a different strategy. Your squad in this game are the creatures you’ve summoned and you can end up with quite a crew as you grow in power and a quest wears on. The single-player campaign is quite extensive and will provide many hours of play for one premium price. There’s also an asynchronous online option for those looking for multiplayer action.
Star Chindy mixes in elements of both FTL and XCOM. You warp around the galaxy in your ship, the Star Chindy, in a hunt to take on and take out a big bad alien race that very nearly wiped out earth. You’ll maintain and upgrade your ship, and others you pick up along the way, and decide where to go and what risks are worth taking in your travels.
You’ll take a squad on various away missions and engage the enemy in turn-based tactical warfare. The missions are a good challenge and get better and better as you train up your squad. The space-based combat is less interesting, however. It plays out in real time, rather than being turn based, and your weapons auto-fire on enemy ships in range. Your job is to frantically maneuver your ships to avoid enemy fire. Luckily, the fun of the squad combat more than makes up for this and despite this odd dichotomy, Star Chindy is definitely worth a go for fans of XCOM.
- Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion
- Shieldwall Chronicles
- Skulls of the Shogun