The Best Free Games on iPhone & iPad01 Nov 2018 4
Apple's walled garden approach to their app store means that a lot of the worst of the internet gets filtered out, but you lose a lot of freedom too. Android may be the platform of pirates and hackers, but it’s also where the craziest indie developers can go wild. In the end, that wall only protects users from creative, ardent, independent makers, while letting the worst of big money gatcha trash through.
Are you one of our Android readers? Fear not, we have a guide to the best free games on Android as well!
But, whaddya know? I did some digging and some generous souls have released a few truly free strategy, board, RPG, and puzzle games on iOS, supported only by free donations. Not freemium, no ads, no IAP, no loot. True freeware! It's enough to restore your faith in humanity. Oh, of course, these are (almost) all available on Android too, obviously.
World of Empires 2 (iOS Universal)
This passion project brings Civilization to your mobile phone. The interface is a bit goofy looking, using sometimes disparate icons and cartoony skeumorphic buttons. The gameplay, though, is all there. It has all the features you would expect from Civ, including random and historical maps, way too many starting civilizations, the whole Civ tech tree with all your favorites, Gandhi threatening you with nukes, everything.
The AI is okay, but there is also the option to play on LAN or online. If you like it, there is a donation button and totally optional ads that you can watch to support the developer. Also on Android.
Warfare Incorporated (iOS Universal)
There's not a lot of RTS on iOS to begin with, so you may be shocked to learn that one of the best examples of it is totally free. Warfare Incorporated is a time-tested game going back to the heyday of real-time strategy, being originally built for PalmOS in 2003. It's mastered touch controls for RTS, with an interface that appears when you need it and goes away when you don't, and a smart multi-touch box for selecting groups of units.
The graphics are dated, but it's easy to tell units apart and tap on the right spots. The game has a classic sci-fi setup, with rival corporations competing over an alien planet in its campaign mode, but the real star are the hundreds of user-created missions you can download and the online multiplayer, making Warfare Incorporated a stock that will never crash. Also available on Android.
Open Panzer (iOS Universal)
Or, if you disparage real-time strategy as shallow "micro" tap-tap-tapping, one of the deepest and most venerable wargame franchises is also available for free on iOS. Open Panzer is basically the classic Panzer General II on your phone with controls exceptionally well-adapted for mobile play.
Set in World War II, as all the best wargames are, Open Panzer charges you with commanding historically "semi-accurate" troops through over seventy different scenarios. These troops number in the thousands, so think carefully and try the tutorial first if you've never played a General game before. That said, if you're a newcomer to wargaming, Open General is a great starting point. Also available on Android.
Antiyoy (iOS Universal)
This boardgame-like strategy game has a lot of really interesting ideas underneath its minimalistic exterior. You build farms and towers to support a small army of troops. The trick is that each soldier has supply requirements, so if your development isn't balanced or you are over-extended, your opponents will quickly cut you down to size.
All the math can be done on one hand, leaving you to focus on predicting your opponent's moves. It's thoughtful in much the same way chess is. Also, you have to deal with rapidly-growing forests eating up your farmland, which I don't remember being a feature of chess, but I might be forgetting. Also available on Android.
Mind Cards (iOS Universal)
This is basically Card Crawl but free, so go get it. In this card-based dungeon-crawler, you have to clear the deck of cards by using potions and food to keep your strength up while you kill monsters. Food acts as energy, monsters drain your health, potions restore it, and gems are needed to draw a new board. Manage your resources well, and you'll get new special ability cards that add whole new twists to the basic gameplay. Mind Cards' simple cycle adapts well to new abilities, which keeps it exciting as you learn to master new cards and push yourself further into the card dungeon.
Occidental Heroes (iOS Universal)
Occidental Heroes scratches a similar itch as indie hit Battle Brothers, albeit in a much more limited fashion. You take command of a group of three mercenaries in a fictional medieval (not magical) world seemingly influenced by Darklands. You're responsible for company management and battlefield tactics. The tactical layer is interesting enough since each unit type has quite distinct abilities. A lot of the game is procedurally generated and there is permadeath.
Though there's no overarching story, there's lots of little touches to make the world feel more alive. Each mercenary has a background that may come into play on the battlefield or may help you avoid conflict by parlaying with enemies, and they can retire and complete their tale if you can get them enough reputation. The developer is still adding more to the game, but right now the gameplay is solid and the rewards compelling. Also available on Android.
Pathos: Nethack Codex (iOS Universal)
Pathos is a very successful attempt to bring a streamlined form of Nethack to iOS. It takes the basic roguelike classic design and cuts away all the fat. Moreover, it keeps the controls and interface super-smooth so they stay out of the way of your goblin-slaying. There's still lots and lots to do and think about, unless you want to die horribly. You have thirteen classes, pets, potions, a wide variety of monsters, the whole shebang.
A lot of the stuff that was removed was more annoying details of Nethack, like rusting weapons, and good riddance One of the best (worst?) parts of Pathos is the default graphic set, which looks like it was copied from the first page of Google Image Search results for "fantasy sprites". If you are less charmed by the kitsch, there are several more traditional sets. Also available on Android.
iNethack2 (iOS Universal)
On the other hand, if you want the full-fat roguelike experience, the true form of Nethack is playable on iOS as well. Nethack is an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink (no really, you can die by hitting your head on a kitchen sink) take on roguelikes and its thirty-year development has resulted in some delightful bloat. That said, the iOS port iNethack2 uses the system keyboard and suggested commands to give you full access to the systems of the game while keeping things manageable on mobile. It has sprite sets too, if you are one of those people who just can't see a purple ampersand as a demogorgon in your mind's eye.
Vampire's Fall: Origins (iOS Universal)
Jumping into Vampire's Fall, you will be instantly transported back to 1996 and the town of the original Diablo, down to the identical (?) fonts. You are a vampire and the king is dead (oh no!) and the big bad Witchmaster has returned so it's time to kill some rats and level up until you can kick his ass. Unlike Diablo, combat plays out in turn-based form rather than action real time.
It's not the deepest, but you do have multiple skills and the ability to pick up and use new gear. It's a straightforward but fairly polished traditional RPG experience. Like World of Empires, it does have IAP and ads, but they are both meant only as voluntary donations--you have to seek out a certain character in town to either pass the developer some cash or put some eyeballs on his ad buys. Also available on Android.
Mekorama (iOS Universal)
Finally, a puzzle game. Mekorama looks a lot like the iOS instant classic Monument Valley or the indie game Fez, but it's not quite so devious as those games--its three-dimensional environments are really three-dimensional, no tricks.
There's an adorable robot that needs to get from the start to the finish, and you can rotate the mazes, drag parts of the environment around, and tap to guide the little guy to the finish. There are mountains of levels, and a level creator that outputs QR codes, making it a snap to share and download new mazes. The IAP are purely for donations. Also available on Android.
Any other iOS games you've discovered that are really freeware? Remember: no ads or IAP that aren't totally donations.