The Best Xbox Strategy Games - Xbox Game Pass, Game Pass for PC & Retail15 Jan 2020 2
Once upon a time, it was almost impossible to play good strategy games on consoles. They definitely existed -- and some of them even became classics of the genre -- but often hard-core strategy gamers were turned off by console's controllers, under-performing graphics, and user interfaces which felt at best tacked on, and at worst deliberate impediments to playing the game.
But times have changed. Console strategy games are everywhere and consoles themselves can match some of the best graphics from mid-range PCs, and a few decades of user interface experimentation and design have produced experiences which can go head-to-head with the desktop titles. In fact, there are a host of strategy games which exist on both platforms, bridging the two worlds. One of the big two consoles in the US is the Xbox One, and Microsoft recently announced that on top of the Xbox Game Pass they would offer the same service (with many overlapping titles) for the PC.
If you are a strategy gamer thinking about colonising the Xbox space or is just interested in what is available in its Game Pass, this article is for you.
Xbox Game Pass Strategy Games - PC & Xbox One
- Bad North
- Totall Accurate Battle Simulator
- Halo Wars: Definitive Edition
- Halo Wars 2
- Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
- Banner Saga 1
- Banner Saga 2
- Banner Saga 3
- Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
There are a surprising number of games which can be played on both the Xbox One and PC under the Xbox Game Pass. Most of them promise to have very similar if not identical experiences on both platforms.
A 'micro' strategy game that involves real-time tactics, some puzzle elements and rogue-like progression, this is a wonderful blend of strategy staples distilled to a pure, slightly alcoholic state. You control a small army of troops and must defend islands of varying size and topography from waves of Viking attackers. There are different types of troops, and a rock,paper,scissor-like mechanic exists, but it's not just about beating type. You have to make sure your troops are in place ahead of time to get the full effect. Planning and positioning are the real Gods of the Norseman, and if you curry their favour you will win the day. An excellent addition to the Xbox roster, and you can read our Bad North review for more details.
Totally Accurate Battle Simulator
This is technically a 'Game Preview' game as it's still considered in a pre-release state, but this wonderfully bonkers title is now available to Games Pass subscribers on both Xbox One and PC. It's more simulation than strategy, but offers a uniquely fascinating combat simulation that allows you to pit vastly different types and numbers of troopers against each other. It's not grounded in reality what-so-ever, but it's still fun to play around with.
Halo Wars: Definitive Edition & Halo Wars 2
While real-time strategy games have been a little thin on the ground lately, the console revolution has given them new life in many cases. Halo Wars is one of the older RTS which has seen considerably more discussion and play since it has been available on Xbox. Upgradeable units, a relaxed pace, and a setting which has shown its chops definitely make it of interest for those in the know.
You can't keep a good franchise down and Halo Wars 2 proves that in spades. Taking up the story from the end of Halo Wars and popping in a time skip, you are dropped into a fight made of strategic units, heroes, and radial menus. While some of the original handling of DLC was unfortunate, that's no longer a problem.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
At one point in the not-too-distant past, stealth-strategy games were all the rage. Maneuvering a group of characters across the map, trying not to raise an alarm, killing those who need to be killed but only those, and coming out the other side with no one the wiser – that was good play. Shadow Tactics plays to that directly. As usual, this kind of game is almost as much a puzzler as it is strategy. We have a Shadow Tactics review of the PS4 version of the game, if you want some additional insights as to how this plays on console.
The most modern game in this bunch while simultaneously the most retro, Wargroove borrows heavily stylistically from older properties. If you enjoyed the pixelated wonder of Advance Wars then the lighthearted approach to strategy and tactics here is going to tickle your fancy. Gameplay doesn't stop at the end of the campaign because a map and mission editor can extend your enjoyment as long as you feel creative. Check out our Wargroove review for more.
Banner Saga 1-3
While technically the Banner Saga games 1 through 3 are three entries, it's not entirely fair to consider them separately. Taken together, they comprise an impressive amount of experiences combining deep tactical gameplay with a surprisingly complex story of good versus evil, taking its stylistic cues and mythological heritage from the ancient Norse culture.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
One of the modern innovations in turn-based strategy has been two couple it with deep story and RPG-style character development. Mutant Year Zero takes that and runs with it, mating an XCOM-style TBS with an RPG-style story and unit development architecture to turn out something which may not be the best TBS available but will keep you coming back for more because the story itself is interesting.
Xbox Game Pass Strategy Games - Xbox One only
- Kingdom: Two Crowns
- Pandemic: The Board Game
- Stellaris: Console Edition
There are a number of strategy games on the Xbox Game Pass which are only available on the Xbox One console itself. While few in number, they span a significant range in terms of scale, scope, and intensity.
Kingdom: Two Crowns
The Kingdom games have been around for a couple of years, combining resource management with a sort of linear tower defense gameplay, except instead of playing a disembodied God you are literally down in the mud racing back and forth on your mount giving orders. Two Crowns has the surprising twist of multiplayer co-op along with an entirely new Japan-themed environment in which to strive against the darkness.
Pandemic: The Board Game
If you've played board games in the last several years, odds are extremely good that you have played Pandemic, and know it's not about opposing the other people at the table but about figuring out how best to cooperate with them to take out the plague which is destroying humanity. Balancing your limited resources and your limited area of effect (since you can't be everywhere at once) is the real meat of the game. It's tense, it's challenging, and it's on the Xbox.
Stellaris: Console Edition
If you're an avid Strategy Gamer reader, you know that Paradox games get a lot of coverage, and Stellaris is one of our favourite games from the Swedish publisher. Create your own species along with its government, expand from your home world, conquer, trade, and connive in order to be the most powerful space Empire in the galaxy – and along the way, try not to get killed by older, more powerful things from beyond the rim.
Xbox Game Pass for PC Games
- Phoenix Point
- Europa Universalis IV: Microsoft Store Edition
- Age of Empires I-II: Definitive Edition
- Battlefleet Gothic: Armada
- Imperator: Rome
- Into the Breach
- Space Hulk: Tactics
- Valkyria Chronicles 4
- Age of Wonders: Planetfall (see retail section below)
While Xbox Game Pass for PC is definitely still in beta, the list of games available for the platform is definitely noteworthy. If you're interested in playing strategy games, the PC has always been the go to platform but the Game Pass looks to be a great way to try things out in a genre which sometimes takes a fair amount of time to discover if you like a game or not before you buy it.
Games Pass for PC is the only other place to get Julian Gollop's X-COM successor outside of the Epics Games Store or the Microsoft Store. It might be worth checking it out for free first if you're a subscriber, as while Phoenix Point has a great strategy layer and is a visual treat, it's a little rough around the edges at the moment. There's a lot to be said about how Firaxis' XCOM handled tactical battles, and not many follow-ups (not even Gollop himself) have managed to fully capture that magic. Read our Phoenix Point review for more.
Europa Universalis IV: Microsoft Store Edition
It's not as mainstream of Crusader Kings 2, but EU4 is one of the two main poster-childs of grand strategy gaming. This game takes you from the mid-1400s right through to the end of the Napoleonic era in 1815 - some 400 years of history that saw everything from the discovery of the new world, to the age of Gunpowder. You can choose to play as any nation in the world and lead them through their own journey.
As well as the base-game, all of EU4's DLC has also been made available via the Microsoft Store. You don't get it for free with Games Pass, but subscribers do get a discount. Check out our master DLC guide if you want to know where to start.
Age of Empires I-II: Definitive Edition
The late 90s are thought of as the origin of the real-time strategy genre by many, as some pivotal games came out of that period, including both Age of Empires 1 and 2. 20 years later, we have remasters of the originals with slightly improved graphics but exactly the same gameplay. If you look back on these games as part of your seminal introduction to the genre, you probably want these.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada
No, not the sequel but the original released in 2017. If you're interested in getting into the basics of how a relatively rugged tabletop turn-based strategy game got converted into a real-time digital strategy game, BGA is worth checking out. If you just love the Warhammer 40K universe, you'll get plenty to satisfy you here.
There has been much digital blood spilled on the subject of Imperator, particularly between reviewers on this very site. Despite the fact that Paradox is a consistent winner around here, at launch this game felt a little under-cooked, with an insufficient diversity of mechanics, and a general sensation of not being as deep as it wants you to think.
Recent patches though have really amped up what this game offers, however, so it's not something to really worry about anymore and soon it'll be able to take its rightful place among the pantheon of grand-strategy games. It's also one of the only such games available in the Game Pass, which makes it easy for you to check out and make up your own mind about how you feel.
Into the Breach
The world of indie game development is, by necessity, more limited in what they can do than AAA developers. The best of them turn the limitations into inspiration. The same team that had a huge hit with FTL returned to give us an extremely tight almost-puzzler where you command giant robots to protect the earth from alien invasion. Its execution is not bleeding-edge, but it can still give you a serious case of one-more-turn-itis. Read out Into the Breach review for more.
Space Hulk: Tactics
Games Workshop deserves an absurd amount of praise for the number of digital translations of games they have allowed over the years. While the quality has been inconsistent, there have been so many that good ones are inevitable. SHT is one of the best digital versions of Space Hulk to date. The graphics are clean and clear, the interface is relatively intuitive, and it just works. If there's a drawback, it's that what "just works" is an extremely faithful translation of Space Hulk with all the RNG, clunky Space Marine movement, and moments of unfairness that implies. Read our Space Hulk Tactics review for more.
Valkyria Chronicles 4
The Xbox is an RPG-heavy platform, so it's not surprising that RPG's that lean heavily on strategic mechanics (or strategy games which borrow heavily from RPG mechanics) would be well represented. VC4 is one of the classic representatives of the hybrid, the turn-based tactical combat a tense affair as you trade-off mobility for actually taking a shot. If you like a heaping helping of strategy in your story or vice versa, you might want to give this title a test drive.
Xbox One Strategy Games - Retail
The Xbox Game Pass covers around 350 games and it's unlikely that they're going to keep much more than that in the curated list available going forward. Strategy is still not a strong driver of game sales on consoles, despite their increasing penetration. That doesn't mean there aren't more strategy games on the Xbox.
Metacritic lists 75 strategy games at the moment for the Xbox One. Not all of them are, strictly speaking, strategy games in the purest sense, but there are still a few surprise gems. Here's a fat handful that you may not have seen mentioned elsewhere.
- Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock
- Ancestor's Legacy
- Age of Wonders: Planetfall
- They Are Billions
- Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics
- Phantom Doctrine
- XCOM 2
Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock
This recommendation can vary depending on how much you enjoy Battlestar Galactica as a license, but for what it's worth this is also a really good tactical fleet combat game. Our Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock review can tell you more, but in essence you control a small flotilla of ships that can range from small corvettes, to Jupiter-class Battlestars like the Galactica.
It's got a great single-player campaign with challenging resource and political management, and the tactical engine itself is superb. There are also skirmish options against the AI, and online multiplayer. There's also lots of DLC available to boot.
This is a very cool RTS that's recently made the jump to consoles (as well as Switch). It's a curious blend of things like Tropico, or perhaps Stronghold, and Warcraft, with the principle mechanic a kind of 'guided' control/automation. You have villagers, and you can assign villagers to different buildings for specific jobs. Those newly kitted-out villagers will generally start doing their job automatically. It's not quite has harsh as games like Majesty, where you can't give any direction to your units, only incentives - you can click on any villager and send them to a specific place, but you don't assign actions to them directly by and large.
Each game of Northgard is set on an island that you must slowly explore and expand into - clearing out hazards and eventually running into other players. There's been loads of free updates, and new modes added for free, with DLC coming in the form of new clans. Check out our Northgard review for more.
This game is very underrated, but it's also quite niche in what it offers. You could almost call it a Dark Age Company of Heroes, in that it's a tactical focused game with army units in an RTS environment. Several factions are represented, such as Saxons, Franks etc... and the solo campaign is actually pretty decent - especially the one in the Crusades themed DLC.
We have an Ancestor's Legacy review available for more, just be aware that player numbers for this might be low so you won't be able to do much multiplayer.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall
AOW has been long a staple in the hero-style hex-based faction-heavy TBS field, and Planetfall appears to be a more than worthy successor, bringing the game into the science-fiction future while retaining the hero-focus and turn-based tactical scale battles. It looks really good and could continue to crack open the Xbox ecology for serious strategy games. Read our Age of Wonders: Planetfall review for more.
Age of Wonders Planetfall is also now available via Xbox Games Pass for PC.
They Are Billions
While the overwhelming zombie sub-genre may have reached its sell by date, there are still interesting games being produced in the niche. This one plays as a hybrid between tower defense or old-school Stronghold and real-time strategy, with forces you need to move and properly deploy in order to survive the effectively endless waves of zombies while building up your industry and support. It seems an odd choice for console interfaces, but there you go.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics
The default time period for most of the Cthulhu mythos literature has always been the 1920s, but ACT skips forward a couple of decades, placing us firmly in World War II and providing what is really more of a turn-based experience inspired by XCOM but with more focus on longer-term preservation of units. After all, these are people, with wants, dreams, and often supernatural powers. While it's not necessarily canon Cthulhu, it's enough to jazz with.
Also in the single-man-as-unit turn-based world, being submerged into the field of modern spy craft hooks hard if you're of that bent. There is a considerable focus on stealth and cunning to hold off the inevitable detection by enemy forces before you can escape with your prize, and both gunplay and managing your base both feel weighty and meaningful. Read our review of Phantom Doctrine to find out more.
It's just not a real roundup of strategy games on platforms if there is no XCOM. Luckily for us, here it is, available for console players to really sink their teeth into it and have one of the best (and occasionally most frustrating) TBS/TBT experiences available in the genre right now.
What are your favourite strategy games on Xbox? What else would you like to see ported to console? Let us know in the comments!