Pocket Tactics Presents: A Guide to Free Games on Android

By Dick Page 12 Oct 2017 6

We live in an era of free games, with very loose definitions of the word "free'. In-app purchases can be the icing on the cake of a great game or the shit at the middle of a shit sandwich; they can be fun cosmetic upgrades, pay-to-win cheats, or something more like gambling than video gaming.

But did you know that there are also games that are genuinely free? There are games that have been created by beautiful, dedicated teams of people for the love of the craft. They are free, really free -- free as in America, not free as in beer. No ads. No gold, diamonds, coins, elixir, timers, or hats. They are what was once called "freeware", and we're here today to share some of them with you...


Some of the greatest games ever have been freeware. Spelunky, inspiration for countless roguelike platformers to follow, was originally a free GameMaker release (which you can play on Android! Although you really ought to have a gamepad). Dwarf Fortress, of course, has legions of fans willing to put up with its impenetrable interface for some of the most complex gameplay on any platform. The greatest party game ever, Spaceteam [iOS and Android], is essentially donation-ware.

As many know, Android is the place to be for free apps and games, where many apps that are paid on iOS or other platforms are released free of charge to get ahead of pirates. The openness of the Android system has led to many, many freeware games making it onto the Play store. In this article, we look at the cream of the crop of RPG and strategy titles, only a handful of which you can find for free on Apple devices. None of these games have ads or IAP beyond donations, nor are they demos. They are full, free and unlimited.

First, many roguelikes have been ported to Android, although not all of them are really playable on mobile. If you have a large tablet and a keyboard, by all means knock yourself out, but I can't recommend squinting at some tiny white ASCII characters and tapping out obscure commands on a software keyboard. There are a few that are worthwhile, however.

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The easiest freeware game to recommend (of any kind) is the great Pixel Dungeon [Android]. This is a full-featured roguelike made to be controlled on mobile - in one handed portrait mode, no less! It's got classes, bottomless pits, status effects, secrets, randomly named potions that will set you on fire when you drink them, the whole kaboodle. The desktop version is paid, but the Android version is donation only!

For a more mind-bending experience, try HyperRogue [Android], which combines roguelike procedural generation with Deadly Rooms of Death puzzle-RPG gameplay, set in non-Euclidean space on a hyperbolic plane. What is a hyperbolic plane, you ask? Well, its... easiest to explain just by playing this game, but you will find triangles whose angles sum less than 180 and parallel lines that diverge. The paid version is updated more frequently, but the free version is absolutely a complete game.

Less-polished but still very good is Pathos [iOS and Android], a Nethack-inspired mobile roguelike. The graphic design is a bit incoherent, with highly-detailed sprites clashing with simplistic backgrounds and menus, but the gameplay is excellent and easy to control. Definitely worth watching as it continues to be developed.

  NetHack- screenshot

Among the granddaddies of roguelikes, only Nethack [Android] has a really good mobile implementation. Nethack is a stone-cold classic, though, with incredibly detailed gameplay that will leave you dumbfounded at the millions of ways you can die. (Be sure to put on your gloves before digging around in a bag with a cocatrice corpse, is all I'm saying.) The mobile version allows keyboard control, but also suggests the most likely commands at any given time, so its much less fiddly than less-polished cousins like Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup [Android] and Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead [Android].

For puzzle fans, Mekorama [iOS and Android] is a cute navigation puzzler in the vein of Monument Valley, but not quite so mind-twisting. You guide a cute robot around 3D mazes, dragging elements of the geography to make paths. IAP are for donations only, and you can make and share your own levels through QR codes! The design is clean and the animation of the robot is utterly adorable. Also, the tile-sliding puzzle game 2048, which was mega-popular about three years ago, has an open-source Android port. It's a simple but addictive game.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of open-source games have been ported to Android, but the quality of the ports vary wildly. However, only the very best of games can drive a community of people to create free, open-source remakes of them. This means if you are willing to put up with some awkward controls and bugs, you can play some of the greatest games ever made for free on your freaking phone. If you have a tablet or even a bluetooth keyboard, that would be even better. Nevertheless:

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Open Panzer [iOS and Android] is an easy recommend for wargamers. It builds on the venerable Panzer General II -- one of the most classic wargames ever -- and has great mobile controls. Just be sure to play the tutorial first.

Freeciv [Android] is a version of Sid Meier's Civilization series (and most similar to Civilization II). If you've been living under a rock for thirty years, Civilization tasks you with guiding a civilization through six thousand years of gameplay, from the wheel to nuclear fission. Freeciv is well-implemented on Android, although a little WYSIWYG in terms of interface.

OpenTTD [Android] is a remake of Transport Tycoon, a business simulation game where you build transportation infrastructure. Okay, that sounds boring you think but then you've looked up and you've not just missed your bus stop, you're sitting in the bus mall and the driver is yelling at you to get the hell out. The Android version is well-done, but doesn't provide a lot of guidance, so you may want to start on a desktop and them let your capitalist hunger take you to the mobile screen.

  OpenTTD- screenshot
The Battle for Wesnoth is an excellent 10-year-old turn-based strategy game in an elaborate fantasy world. It has always been developed as freeware and it has an unofficial Android version that is free (the official one is paid). You will have to deal with dragging a cursor around on the screen to select things, but its not too cumbersome for a turn-based game. The gameplay, however, is worth it, with sixteen extensive campaigns and empires with vast differences in playstyles; Wesnoth is a world you can get lost in.

The Ur-Quan Masters [Android] is an open-source port of, no joke, one of the greatest games ever made. Star Control II was a hybrid of tactical action, adventure, RPG-style branching conversations, and resource management that would be unlikely to be made in this age of ossified genres. It's playable on mobile with on-screen controls but better with a gamepad, and worth trying for the hours of hilarious alien dialogue.

There are so many great open-source and freeware games around these days I must have missed some great ones, so let us all know in the comments what else is out there. Just remember the rules: no demos, no ads, and no in-app purchases except for donations!



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