The Best Offline Strategy Games for Android & iOS21 Oct 2019 5
In the age of the always-online freemium mobile experience, sometimes it's nice to know that there are quality strategy games out there that you can play offline. Maybe Grandma's wi-fi isn't up to the job, or maybe you just don't have any internet. Are you on a Bus? A Plane? Read on, my friend...
Whatever the case, there comes a time when you need a strategy game that's a real feast--but at a table set for one. Luckily, there are a large number of mobile games with great offline experiences in 2018, on both iOS and Android.
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Games for the Bus
Bad North (iOS Universal and Android)
Bad North is a self-styled 'micro' or 'minimalist' real-time strategy game that's been a big hit on PC and Switch, and is finally available on mobile. It works perfectly even when you're not connected to data or wifi, which makes it a no-brainer for this last. Technically, we've played this the most on Airplanes but since it's a game primarily about short-bursts of activity, it's also suited for played on the bus.
Essentially you're in charge of a small army of units that you must use to defend a succession of islands from Viking invaders. Islands are connected together in a randomised and procedurally generated chain, and once you've completed one it unlocks the the next in line. You have to try and keep up forward momentum because if you lag behind you may be overtaken and you lose. Along the way you can find items and more units to command, but the islands get harder to defend.
Star Traders: Frontiers (iOS Universal and Android) (Review)
This is technically more RPG than strategy, but it's a cracking solitaire game that gives you a wide open sandbox to explore as captain of your own space-shop. Trade and take on 'quests' as you strive to make a name for yourself in a dangerous universe, with both turn-based squad battles (JRPG style) and turn-based ship combat which will put your vessel and your crew to the test. You can customise your character and your crew as much as you like, levelling them up along specific career paths that can make you a hard-as-nails combat vessel, or a stealthy smuggler looking to maximise profit. The game has lots of story vignettes to pull you through, from standard quest systems, to larger multi-part stories and era-defining events that you can help shape, or not. Regardless, this is a living sandbox that will progress with or without your help.
What makes this a good 'offline' game though is the fact that not only does it not require an internet connection, but the game will remember your state if you find yourself having to close down the app unexpectedly, even in the middle of a battle. Plenty of save slots as well for all you scummers out there. The icing on the cake is that the developers are always pushing out updates, so there's near weekly fresh content being dropped into the game.
Rebel Inc. (iOS Universal and Android) (Review)
Just like its predecessor Plague Inc., Rebel is an excellent drop-in/drop-out game that allows you to pause the action and come back to it at a later date. This real-time strategy experience puts you in the shows of a newly appointed administrator of a troubled region recovering from a recent war (evoking memories of the recent War in Afghanistan, specifically). You must spend your budget wisely on government improvements and initiatives to help the population rebuild and to win support.
Unlike Plague, however, you can't just sit back and wait for the people to love you - the enemies vanquished in the recent war haven't gone away, and soon insurgent forces will start popping up on the map trying to try and take over by force. You then enter a different game entirely - one of tactical placement. By marshalling local or coalition forces, you must drive out the insurgents from the major population centres and corner them so that they have nowhere to run. Do well and they'll eventually ask for peace but the longer the linger, the quicker your reputation declines and if it reaches zero, you lose.
Doorkickers makes a great bite-sized tactical treat. Each mission is a puzzle that you solve by drawing lines for your squad of police officers to follow. First you plan, then you can pause the game at any time to modify your strategy. The encounters are over as quickly as a real tactical breach would be, which means if you screwed up and got your officers fragged you can try again almost immediately. You can pass a mission with minimal requirements, but casualties and mistakes will carry over to the next level. While there's not much story here, there is a gradual progression of unlockable gear and skills and new, more challenging missions. At the same time, you're free to take on any one of several campaigns at the same time. Get stuck and you can just try a different one.
Frozen Synapse Prime (iOS Universal and Android)
This is another great tactical game that works well with a touch interface. Set in a futuristic city with cyborg commandos that can be controlled remotely, Frozen Synapse breaks turns out of a real-time battle by pausing every few seconds for both sides to issue new orders. The orders play out simultaneously, so the core mechanic is predicting what your opponent is going to do next.
While Frozen Synapse is extra great with a human partner to second-guess, it also has a very cool single-player campaign with a pretty interesting post-cyberpunk story-line. This also features quite a variety of mission types, smart AI, and satisfying progression. On iOS, you'll also be able to get the original, with hip minimalist graphics. On Android, you've got the Prime remake, which is essentially the same game but with more realistic visuals.
Iron Marines (iOS Universal and Android) (Review)
This mission-based RTS will take a little more commitment, but the rewards are worth it. From veteran developers Ironhide, creators of the mega-hit Kingdom Rush, is a polished, neon-colored gem of a mobile strategy game. It's your basic space marines vs aliens set against highly improbable but beautiful alien landscapes. Your commander has MOBA-like hero abilities that will help you face a variety of mission types and enemies, and the game can get pretty tough later in the campaign.
Games for the Airplane
The fact that this game is iPad only (for now) doesn't stop it being an excellent solo turn-based strategy experience. Inspired by dice-rolling board game design, this is a survival/disaster management game where you must try and get as many of your crew to Mars as you can as the spaceship that's carrying you there slowly falls apart around you. Each turn represents a week aboard the failing Iktomi, in which the crew have to repair various system failures or suffer the consequences. These consequences include a faulty life support system damaging the crews’ health or a severe fire destroying the ship’s hull and bringing an abrupt end to your mission.
The solo nature of this game means that it's an excellent one for those longer-haul journeys, although the caveat is it may not be as battery friendly as others in this section. Still, the thought of being forced to resort to cannibalism to keep your crew alive can sometimes be too compelling to ignore, battery be damned.
Ticket to Ride (iOS Universal and Android) (Review)
A must have feature of any modern digital board game must be pass-and-play. It brings these apps closer to their physical counter-part and allows them to actually fill the niche they were designed for, albeit at the potential expense of sales as close-knit groups or couples only end up buying one version of the app between them. Ticket to Ride is an extremely popular, mainstream boardgame, although we can quibble over its definition of 'strategy' if you like. Still, it's combination of set collection and the tactical placement of your trains makes for a very compelling game - do you go the easiest route, or the longest? do you focus on your tickets, or try to subvert other player's routes? Do you place those trains now, or pick up those cards you desperately need?
Regardless, as an app and as an offline experience, it's well above par. The base purchase gets you the USA map, but most of the series' spin-offs and expansions are available to purchase via IAPs. IF you wait for a sale, you could easily stock up on options and you'll find yourself with a great shared experience to tide you through those long flights. You can even fit in a game with two people and two AI in an hour-long domestic flight, so if you're looking for a quintessential offline experience for two or more people, look no further than Ticket to Ride.
Lots of old console titles have been ported to mobile, but not many are worth the hassle. Final Fantasy Tactics is the exception. Brought over from the beautiful PSP port with an improved translation, gorgeous cel-shaded cutscenes, and new aspect ratio, the game still has the PlayStation original's RPG-influenced tactics. Most importantly, FFT is the one console port that works brilliantly with touch controls. What makes FFT a great use of your offline time is its mammoth campaign with a rich, mature storyline. There's gameplay here to fill a few months of commutes.
XCOM: Enemy Within (iOS Universal & Android) (Review)
Likewise, the mobile port of XCOM is rightly lauded as one of the few PC-quality experiences to be had on a tablet. Not only did this standalone expansion of the original ground-breaking remake Enemy Unknown polish off all the rough edges of its original, it added great new wrinkles to the classic core gameplay. You still get a massive open-ended campaign with tactical turn-based missions, but now you have a much more interesting storyline that has your soldiers questioning whether they have gazed too long into the abyss to still be considered human.
Battle of Wesnoth (iOS Universal and Android)
For a different sort of grand experience, try the venerable Battle for Wesnoth, an open-source project fifteen years in the making. It's a grand strategy game with a Tolkienesque fantasy theme. There's a massive variety of units in six highly distinct factions, plus different historical ages that change the balance. Its sixteen (!!) lengthy and story-based campaigns will keep you busy for a long long time. The complexity of the interface means this is one for the tablet, and the free Android version is a bit jankier than the more polished (and paid) iOS version.
What would your favourite offline strategy games be for mobile? Let us know in the comments!