Due to the strategy genre’s massive amount of subgenres, flavors, and variations, it can be an incredibly intimidating area of gaming to get into. Not to mention, some of the most popular and well-known strategy games have many levels of complexity that require preparation, practice, and experience that the average player or curious enthusiast may not initially possess. Despite this seemingly overwhelming complexity and high barrier to entry, the strategy genre is well worth the patience and time spent to experience some of the most rewarding and compelling works of art ever created.
The strategy genre’s incredible flexibility and variety plays into its favor as there are a number of excellent games on the market that will help players curious in the genre immerse themselves in strategy as a whole. There’s of course the jump-into-the-deep-end approach of learning where players can pick the hardest and most complex games and work through them bit-by-bit. However, for a more general and gradual introduction to the strategy genre, we composed a list of some of the best strategy games for beginners with one entry per franchise.
The Best Strategy Games For Beginners
15. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Developer: Firaxis GamesPublisher: 2K Games, Feral InteractivePlatform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, iOS, PS3, Xbox 360, PS Vita, Android
Sometimes even grandiose games can act as solid first steps to even greater opportunities. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is not only the first representative of the revitalized subset of XCOM-like games, it also happens to be one of the best games for beginners to check out for this type of strategy game and other tactical role-playing games like it.
In XCOM, players will take the role of a secret organization that’s fighting back against an alien invasion of Earth by researching technologies, progressing through the narrative, and engaging in challenging and exciting tactical battles. XCOM will teach players many skills, such as preparing for the unknown, tackling new challenges on the fly, and dealing with random number generation (RNG).
Sometimes RNG can be an incredible point of frustration and the tactical battles can be brutally hard due to a competent AI and complex battlefield. Nevertheless, XCOM has plenty of content and story to offer new players and as such is one of the best strategy games for beginners out there.
14. Stars in Shadow
Developer: Ashdar GamesPublisher: Iceberg InteractivePlatform(s): PC
Space opera and sci-fi are hugely popular strategy games due to the inherent wonder and excitement games set in the stars provide. It’s quite common to see sci-fi married with 4X strategy games, and Stars in Shadow is the best lightweight example of the grand potential these games have.
Right off the bat, Stars in Shadow’s vibrant and colorful aesthetic will immediately catch the eye of the player, but this will only serve to lead players into the game’s compelling systems and features. Stars in Shadow is a great starting point for beginners as it brings all the major 4X gameplay features to the table without doing too much to overwhelm players with numbers and intricate systems.
Sometimes just a minimal amount is enough to give a sense to the player of what they can expect from similar games in the same subset or family of games. It’s not the most original 4X game and the lack of more robust competitive systems limit its replayability, but Stars in Shadow still remains a sturdy launch pad for players to use to jump to bigger and greater games.
13. Civilization 6Civilization VI
Developer: Firaxis Games, Aspyr MediaPublisher: 2K GamesPlatform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, iOS, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Android
One of the largest-scale games on the list and arguably one of the best-known strategy game series, Civilization 6 is an excellent introductory point into both grand strategy and 4X strategy games as a whole. The game’s historical setting, emergent story-telling, and effective tutorial will quickly hook beginners in the game’s evolving world.
One way Civilization 6 does this of course is with a solid tutorial, but even more so through the addictive nature of its gameplay loop, which will pull players into the game’s world and show how the player’s decisions and projects develop over time. Firaxis has had many years to work on this series, which is shown in the general refinement of the game’s systems, as well as the unexpectedly simple grandiose systems like technology, civics, and construction.
As an intro to the grand strategy subgenre, Civilization 6 will give players the tools necessary to make grand plans utilizing a variety of tools to see them come to fruition over the long-run. Due to its scale the game can be quite intimidating and might not be the best starting point into the strategy genre, but it’s definitely a solid gateway to large-scale empire level strategy games.
12. Ultimate General: GettysburgUltimate General
Developer: Game-LabsPublisher: Game-LabsPlatform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, iOS
Historical conflicts are some of the most popular settings for complicated wargames and as a result many hardcore wargames tend to be as complex as the history they’re trying to capture. However, there are a select few of these wargames that act as easier gateways into the world of deep wargaming, with Ultimate General: Gettysburg and its follow-up Civil War being solid starting points.
Gettysburg has all the hallmarks of a hardcore wargame: detailed weapon performance, combined arms tactics, methodical movement, attention to detail, morale, troop stamina, and ammunition management. There are so many things at play that can immediately cause consternation for new players, but the pleasant bird’s-eye view perspective, as well as the comfortably simple and intuitive control system, will ease players into the complexity that makes up Ultimate General: Gettysburg.
Gettysburg will help players appreciate general battle geography and how the positioning of units and their support equipment can lead to breakthrough success or quick defeat. The scenarios are designed more like puzzles than free-flowing sandbox engagements, but they still provide a lot of fun and help teach the concept of combined arms warfare.
11. Field of Glory 2: MedievalField of Glory 2
Developer: Byzantine GamesPublisher: Slitherine SoftwarePlatform(s): PC
Some of the main limitations of chess is that it’s an abstract wargame that doesn’t do a great job of modelling historical conflict, nor a good job of illustrating the effect of terrain on combat. Field of Glory 2: Medieval, itself based on a tabletop miniatures strategy wargame, is a great alternative or historical step up from chess, as it authentically models warfare of the High Middle Ages.
Aside from the solid visualization and representation of Medieval combat, Field of Glory 2 teaches the player patience, precision, and the ability to understand the terrain. One of the biggest challenges of learning more expansive and complex strategy games is understanding the interactions of economics, politics, or battles, in the case of tactical games, with geography as terrain alone can flip any number of situations on their head.
Field of Glory 2 does have a lot of intricate mechanics to wade through for new players, but as a turn-based game, beginners will have every chance to poke and prod at the various mechanics and features when playing their first skirmishes. Graphically the game may be less impressive than even some of the smaller-scale games on the list, Field of Glory 2: Medieval more than makes up for it with what it can teach players about tactics and historical warfare.
10. Two Point Hospital
Developer: Two Point StudiosPublisher: SEGAPlatform(s): PC, macOS, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
For something more medically-oriented, Two Point Hospital is a true management game in every sense of the word that lets players create a functioning hospital that’s both effective and absurd. One of the game’s main selling points is its endearing and silly sense of humor that immediately takes the edge off of the stress of running a hospital.
Two Point Hospital is probably the best entry point into management games, not only with its aesthetic, theme, and plentiful compelling mechanics, but also with how the game structures and introduces new content and mechanics to the player. An element that players will need to be ready for when looking into the management subgenre is that many games can feel punishing from trial-and-error, rely quite heavily on spreadsheet-style logistics tracking, or be ready for absolute precision in their actions.
The developers of Two Point Hospital paced their game out as they introduce mechanics steadily without overwhelming the player, while leaving room for inefficiency and creativity, as well as precision and discipline. It can be a long game with many specifics and mechanics to learn, but as a first entry into the management subgenre, Two Point Hospital can’t be beat.
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9. Cities: SkylinesCities Skylines
Developer: Colossal Order, Tantalus MediaPublisher: Paradox InteractivePlatform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Not all strategy games are about intense action or multi-tasking under constant pressure of some danger. Sometimes it’s important to sit back, relax, and create something impressive and Cities: Skylines fits the mould perfectly.
Cities: Skylines is a no-pressure city-builder strategy game where players are tasked with building a modern city of their dreams without any particular guiding objective driving the player’s actions. In a way, the game can be considered as the Minecraft of city-builder strategy games where the goal is to go crazy and let the creative juices flow to create something amazingly satisfying.
Cities: Skylines is by no means a small game, as players will need to improve the happiness of their neighborhoods in parallel with cities growing both horizontally and vertically, even if at times the game can also feel somewhat aimless. The lack of objectives, though, doesn’t hamper the experience too much and gives new players a low-cost and enjoyable entry into the city-builder subgenre.
8. Frozen SynapseFrozen Synapse
Developer: Mode 7Publisher: Mode 7Platform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android
Some of the most important skills to learn from strategy games are foresight and predictive planning. Frozen Synapse, a WEGO tactics game, or a simultaneous turn-system game, is an excellent game to help players develop the skill to plan ahead.
The unique element of WEGO games is that players program orders for their turn at the same time as their opponent and then watch it play out once all parties are ready. This means that tacticians need to come up with their orders not necessarily where the opposing forces are currently positioned, but where they’re likely to go.
This system can be quite challenging and mind-bending to learn, as it’s one of the less common control systems that balks at established traditions found in most turn-based strategy games. Yet, this is exactly part of the fun of playing Frozen Synapse, not just for its ability to give valuable skills to new players, but to show the weirder and more creative side of the strategy genre as a whole.
7. Bad NorthBad North
Developer: Plausible Concept, Oskar StålbergPublisher: Raw FuryPlatform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, iOS, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Android
Many games like Company of Heroes and Ancestors Legacy have significant squad management and strategic planning components that take some skill getting used to. Bad North is an excellent small-scale game that sees players commanding squads of soldiers defending islands from an unstoppable encroaching force of Viking-inspired enemies.
Bad North gives plenty of opportunity for players to practice their micromanagement skills with squad special abilities and positioning to maximize the effect of terrain, as well as strategic decision-making with island hopping to get the greatest benefit from special equipment and money. Not only that, but the game has a striking minimalist aesthetic with great audio-visual feedback to help players understand the rapidly developing combat situation as enemy ships beach onto the islands.
Bad North can be punishing and at times drive players into no-win scenarios, forcing frustrating restarts and when the hordes come in force, it can definitely get overwhelming if players aren’t prepared. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for the best strategy game for beginners with addictive gameplay systems, Bad North isn’t a bad pick.
6. Sons of RaSons of Ra review
Developer: Pharaoh Hound GamesPublisher: Pharaoh Hound GamesPlatform(s): PC
The classic RTS subgenre is infamous for its intimidation factor and steep learning curve from the demanding micro intensive gameplay, but Sons of Ra is a solid jumping off point without being a classic RTS itself. It’s a competitive tower defense game where players skirmish in lane-based combat, casting powers, and placing towers to gain an advantage over their opponent.
Sons of Ra does a great job of capturing that constant hectic flow that players will surely experience in classic RTSs like Age of Empires or Command and Conquer by boiling down resource management and the push-of-war style of combat to their absolute basic components. The game will help players get used to quick commands, judging the correct timing to launch an attack, and how to utilize the right tools to achieve local victories.
The control scheme of Sons of Ra is simple and inviting, which will minimize the time needed to learn it and focus more on actually developing your own playstyle and aptitude for micromanagement. The game does lack collaborative modes, so it can certainly be intimidating facing off against human opponents, but it will inevitably prepare players to the inevitable jump to more demanding strategy games.
5. Kingdom: Two CrownsKingdom Two Crowns
Developer: Stumpy Squid, Fury Studios, CoatsinkPublisher: Raw FuryPlatform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Android
Many strategy games with multiplayer systems usually end up pitting players against one another. However, not all strategy games do this exclusively and competition isn’t always the best way for beginners to be introduced to the genre with Kingdom: Two Crowns being a great example of a cooperative strategy game.
Kingdom is a simplistic city builder and survival game, quite similar to Vedelem, but it differentiates itself with a vibrant pixel art aesthetic and 2D plane. Most importantly, Kingdom Two Crowns lets two players act as the leaders of a settlement, which means the challenge is less about how to outdo one another and instead working collaboratively to overcome the game’s nightly challenges.
This makes Kingdom a great game for mentorship and learning teamwork without getting bogged down in the minutiae, detail, and complexity of the game’s commands. It can get repetitive at times, as it doesn’t really do much beyond the baseline city building and survival, but the collaborative backbone gives this type of game a fresh twist and great entry point for new players.
4. Vedelem: the Golden HordeVedelem The Golden Horde
Developer: Castle RoachesPublisher: Breda University of Applied SciencesPlatform(s): PC
One of the tricky things to judge for strategy beginners is when to up the challenge and learn new skills under pressure. Vedelem is an excellent, minimalistic city builder and survival strategy game with light elements of real-time tactics that helps players ease into the challenge of multi-tasking different gameplayer facets.
In some ways, Vedelem is a kind of historical version of Plants vs Zombies, but with significant differences found in the wider map and more in-depth considerations for paths of attack and resource management. The raiding Mongol hordes have a variety of units that can come from all sorts of unexpected angles and players will need to prepare structural and army defences to counter these raids.
The real-time structure of the game is perfectly fitting to develop multitasking skills under constant threat of attack. It may be a small game with little else to offer beyond the initial premise, but Vedelem is a free strategy game, making it one of the most accessible beginner strategy games without an entry price.
3. Plants vs ZombiesPlants vs Zombies
Developer: PopCap GamesPublisher: PopCap Games, Electronic ArtsPlatform(s): PC, macOS, iOS, PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo DS, Android, PS Vita, Blackberry 10
One of the more light-hearted games on the list, Plants vs Zombies sees players defending the backyard of an eccentric pot-wearing fellow from a horde of zombies while utilizing a colorful cast of plants. This game gives beginners an introduction to both the survival and tower defence types of strategy games.
Plants vs Zombies isn’t a complicated game by any means, as players will simply need to place down plants of various kinds to keep the hordes of zombies at bay, all while the cutesy and cartoony aesthetic will disarm and invite players of any skill level to enjoy the ensuing on-screen hilarity. Despite its silly appearance, the game will teach strategically-minded botanists how to deal with evolving enemies, shifting circumstances, and desperate tactical situations under constant pressure, requiring a measure of multi-tasking.
The fact that Plants vs Zombies is a real-time game also adds to the sense of tension and will incentivize players to learn how to act under stress. The game lacks competitive multiplayer, but the idiosyncratic hordes will undoubtedly keep players on their toes and maintain a consistent fun kind of danger.
2. Into the BreachInto The Breach
Developer: Subset GamesPublisher: Subset GamesPlatform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch, Stadia
When dipping your toe into the big wide ocean of strategy games, it’s wise to take time to move from one familiar point to another, while also introducing new and exciting elements that hint at what’s available. If chess is an excellent gateway to the strategy genre as a whole, then Into the Breach is the best gateway into the world of the strategy genre.
Into the Breach has a very similar structure to chess in that unit control is simple and maps are limited in scope, but there are several systems that throw interesting curveballs to keep players on their feet. Maps have varied terrain, each unit has unique abilities and equipment, and enemies evolve over time, meaning players will have to adapt their tactics consistently as the game progresses.
Luckily, Into the Breach isn’t too overwhelming and its bite-sized skirmish approach to missions will give beginners a chance to take their time to get acquainted with the game’s systems. It may not be as competitive or it may not have such a high skill ceiling as Chess, Into the Breach still provides enough content to keep players busy, as well as introducing them to the roguelike strategy subgenre.
1. Chess UltraChess Ultra
Developer: RipstonePublisher: RipstonePlatform(s): PC, Xbox One, PS4, PS VR, Nintendo Switch, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift
Chess is undoubtedly the ultimate strategy game for beginners. Because of how ubiquitous the game is in the modern cultural zeitgeist, it’s easy to find an opponent or tutor and Chess Ultra does this while making this venerable game look oh so beautiful in the process.
Chess’ design also lends itself to being an excellent introduction to the strategy genre, with Chess Ultra giving players a wide range of virtual platforms to choose from that best suits their setup. The game scenario never really changes, the sides have equal resources and units, unit command is quite simple, there’s plenty of time to think through a move and plan due to the game’s turn-based structure, and there’s an incredibly high skill ceiling.
These features will easily give beginners a taste of the core concepts of the genre, such as forward planning, resource efficiency, trading, and most importantly strategic and tactical decision-making. Most of all, chess’ incredible potential for player growth and development through competition makes it the ultimate strategy game for beginners.
READ NEXT: The Beginner’s Guide To Strategy Game Subgenres
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