Pocket Tactics Presents: The Best Android (and iOS) Turn-Based Strategy Games

By Michael Coffer 27 Apr 2018 18

Strategy does not believe in tomorrow, in the petty influence of mishaps or the crushing inevitabilities on the future. No, strategy is the art of reverse-engineering outcomes from starting conditions with nought but wits and will. The choice offerings below will train and challenge even the most avowed enthusiasts with a maddening variety of scenarios and systems to learn and master. All platforms, playstyles (single- and multi-player), themes and scales of strategy, from the minute to the life-swallowing are represented.

So, go forth and take your time digesting Pocket Tactics' pick of the best turn-based games for Android and iOS (in no particular order):

Darkest Dungeon

Publisher: Red Hook Studios Inc.
Platforms:  iPad
Price: $4.99
PT Review: 4/5

With each passing year since its conception and release, Darkest Dungeon recedes into annals of history, into the collective memory of unspeakable legends. In other words: a horrid, demanding and sublimely satisfying little game is fast becoming an all-time classic. Some have balked at the fine-tuning numbers behind its challenges (e.g. pre-Radiant days, the initial Crimson Court balancing), but in general the game’s ‘give-no-quarter’ philosophy has won a die-hard following that keeps coming back for more punishment. With the next expansion The Color of Madness slated to arrive later this year, this is a game whose vicious, compelling cycle will continue for a long time.

darkest dungeon

Dream Quest

Publisher: Peter M Whalen
Platforms: iOS Universal
Price: $2.99
PT Review: 4/5

The challenge in Dream Quest is always the same: proceed through three levels as a chosen class, building a deck strong enough to escape the realm of dreams at last. But like its namesake, the twists and turns this progression takes are strange and wonderful. Rogue-likes typically rely on stochastic events and imperfect knowledge, yet Dream Quest transforms these uncertainties into a must-try challenge for strategy buffs. The total card-pool is modest and manageable but in total produces a surprising variety of synergies and unique challenges. Inscrutable sphinxes, malicious mimes, and immortal hydras all make an appearance as foes, giving show-stopping battles. The art is so bad it has become iconic; the theoretical possibilities it provides are captivating. Dream Quest’s endgame is supremely satisfying in of itself, but the arduous journey to meet the Master of Dreams is equally thoughtful and intense. A pleasure throughout.

dream quest

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lion

Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: iPhone, iPad, Android
Price: $13.99, $15.99 & $11.99 respectively

The Final Fantasy Tactics series is a mixture of its namesake’s rpg and story elements along with the primary attraction: a robust grid-based combat system. Its original incarnation is over twenty years old, having been updated and re-released as ‘War of the Lion’ in 2007 and ported to iOS back in 2012, with some awkward middle stages in functionality along the way. Still, the game has a broad, detailed storyline of political intrigue and personal betrayal set in the world of Ivalice. And the gameplay has legs, well beyond its reputation and extensive zombie re-visions might indicate. The tactics are reminiscent of other turn-based standards like Fire Emblem or Advance Wars, and the game features a more open-form approach to strategy thanks to its job system, essentially a branching class-system. The characters are well-rounded and engaging, the battles are close, and the game is evergreen, with a truly complex system you can lose yourself in. Settle in for the long haul.

final fantasy tactics

XCOM: Enemy Within

Publisher: 2K
Platforms:  iOS Universal, Android
Price: $9.99
PT Review: 5/5

XCOM is still the golden standard for turn-based tactical gameplay, so let’s take a moment to revisit why. Squad-based, knife’s edge combat constantly challenges commander’s ability to scrape victory from defeat. Players make overworld and between-scenario decisions for which soldiers to train and tech to pursue, every bit as decisive as the individual commands given to the squad members in the heat of battle. The game has its hallmark AAA production lustre and mankind-on-the-brink storyline, and these conventions work in its favour. Keep your squad intact, do the mission, save the world, piece by piece.

xcom

Templar Battleforce Elite

Publisher: Trese Brothers
Platforms: iOS Universal, Android
Price: $9.99
PT Review: 4/5 

Set in the Trese Brother's Star Traders universe, this turn-based strategy/RPG throws up some wonderful Space Hulk/XCOM vibes. It's got plenty of character customisation and varied levels with different missions/foe/map combinations, although the enemy AI is a bit lack-lustre at times. Still, this is a great squad-based tactical experience that knows where its strengths lie. The narrative is not exactly Mass Effect, but it's functional and pulls you through all the combat encounters. The ability for your Templars to completely re-spec in-between missions is also a plus, meaning that are few bad choices you can make in managing your force.

Templar

The Battle for Polytopia

Publisher: Midjiwan AB
Platforms:  iOS Universal, Android
Price: Free (additional Tribes as in-game DLC)
PT Review: 4/5

Polytopia takes the crown for best Civ-lite. If this sounds like damning with faint praise, it’s quite the opposite. Because civilization-building builds its challenges and satisfactions with a grand scope and timeframe in mind, trying to miniaturize this genre experience can go pear-shaped in several ways. In Polytopia, the tribes are separated by a single tech (with some glaring exceptions), and the map has been foreshortened to a grid of 256 squares. Units and tech are the same for everyone, but the simplicity of this means a shorter list of decisive, vexing choices. There is no diplomacy system, but victory is determined by points and not necessarily conquest. The game’s blocky, loose artstyle and easy interface make it an easy game to learn and hard to put down. Only just recently did the support for online multiplayer finally make its debut, and it is this latest change that elevates this title to a must-try.

polytopia

Invisible Inc.

Publisher: Klei Entertainment
Platforms: iPad
Price: $4.99
PT Review: 5/5

The future came and went, (Invisibly) and it has been cruel to all but a select few supranational, extraterritorial megacorps. Your ragtag bunch of spies and specialists will scour the globe for intel and supplies so they can make one final run, wipe their identities from the omni-vigilant database and live off the grid in peace. Each run escalates if the agents are detected by the guards, cameras or drones, yet the stealth aspect of the game is only one kind of risk calculation among many. The game’s AP and power systems mean that even successful runs can be tight, and sometimes making a clean escape is a failure if the team did not steal enough resources. The game’s generous learning curve belies an experience in which knowledge can lead to perfect play and challenge runs for pacifist or no-item wins at even the most fiendish difficulty.

invisible inc

Banner Saga

Publisher: Versus Evil
Platforms: iOS Universal, Android
Price: $9.99
PT Review: 4/5

The Banner Saga is the first entry in a critically acclaimed trilogy about the story of a nomadic group travelling through an inhospitable landscape inspired by Norse mythology. The game’s storyline changes based on the player’s decisions, and its memorable, well-written characters give the unfolding game greater resonance and depth. Other perks include the hand-drawn aesthetic and excellent soundtrack, but honestly the battles themselves are the best part. We’re eagerly looking forward to when the upcoming third entry (due out on Steam Early Access soon) makes its eventual journey to mobile.

banner saga

Civilization VI

Publisher: Aspyr Media
Platforms: iOS Universal
Price: Free Limited Trial, $29.99 IAP for full game
PT Review: 5/5

Civilization VI is a premium game at a premium, no-fuss price, albeit one that’s made many a mobile gamer flinch. Friendships have been shattered and lesser men driven mad by the game’s epic arcs starting with the cradle of civilisation and culminating in space travel and the digital age. Production, culture, warfare, science and diplomacy are all concerns when cultivating your civilisation. The original thrill of growing from a single city in misty, distant obscurity to a global force shaping the course of (simulated) human history really doesn’t boil down to a punchy recommendation. For those living under a rock, this is a game which actually merits those common adjectives bandied about to praise games: epic and awesome. For strategy gamers, Civilization 6 will consume all of the free hours of your life.

civ 6

Imbroglio

Publisher: Michael Brough
Platforms: iPad
Price: $3.99
PT Review: 5/5

Imbroglio sounds like a mess; it is in the name. But of all Michael Brough’s excellent, sparse designs, this one has the most player-driven customization and controlled random inputs. Here is ample proof that roguelikes can offer as much strategic challenge as the best of classics. Each character has their own ability and weakness, and the 4x4 grid on which the game unfolds is filled with tiles doubling as weapons. Swiping towards an enemy will activate that tile and fire its ability, with every slain enemy adding experience to the weapon responsible.

The goal of the game is to collect treasure, which upon collection heals the character and causes the walls of the grid to change configuration. Enemies spawn quicker and quicker as the turn count increases, so the whole affair is a race against time to level-up the sixteen tiles while staying healthy and collecting treasure at a steady pace. It is accessible but with a glut of weapons and characters to unlock and the final challenge to beat, it will reward sustained interest and focused strategic approaches.

What would your list of the best turn-based strategy games on mobile look like? Let us know in the comments!

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