Strategy and tower defence games
If you’re the kind of gamer who likes to think several steps ahead, these are the ideal titles to pit against your planning expertise.
It’s safe to say Civilization VI was quite the surprise when it suddenly appeared on iPad. Whereas previous Civs for iOS had been massively cut-back takes on the classic empire-building/world-domination series, here you get the real deal.
There’s a price-tag to match, of course, but then that should be expected when a top-notch PC strategy title has been squeezed into your iPad. And there are months of strategising to be had here, from having your settlers take their very first steps to attempting to duff up your opponents – economically or by getting a bit stabby and shooty.
Given the click-happy nature of the original, everything works very nicely on the touchscreen. The only obvious rough edge is some slightly blurry graphics on iPad Pro. Regardless, this is an astonishing achievement on iOS and – more importantly – a first-rate game. Craig Grannell
£58.99 | For iPad only | Download Civilization VI
Like the best tower-defence titles, Fieldrunners 2 keeps your mind constantly occupied. There are always problems to address, threats to deal with, towers to upgrade or weak spots that need filling. It’s a brilliantly frenetic game.
As the enemy assaults you with waves of troops, your job is to prevent them from getting to the other side of the screen by building gun towers in strategic combinations. Funnel bad guys into bottlenecks and then shoot them to pieces. You have to last a given number of waves to finish a level, but you can then play an endless mode, and carry on for a laugh.
There’s a decent range of weapon towers. There are radiation, plague and poison gas towers (lovely), towers that generate a vicious laser ribbon between them and a tower that lobs beehives. And the Fieldrunners have medics who heal troops around them and hazmat specialists who are immune to your chemical warfare. The graphics are great, too.
Fieldrunners 2 is about as polished, well-crafted and enjoyable to play as the humble tower defence genre gets. David Price
Freeways doesn’t look like much. This game about creating motorway interchanges for autonomous vehicles has all the visual polish of a kid scrawling on a blackboard with fist-sized chalks. But don’t be put off by the crude graphics, because this is one of the finest strategy titles to ever grace iOS.
In each single-screen level, you’re given a bunch of road stubs and buildings. Press one and arrows display connections you need to make, and the amount of traffic that’s going to head along it. All you need to do is draw in the roads.
This is easier said than done. Although in most (but not all) levels, it’s possible to raise roads up to two levels higher, you very rapidly run out of space - or concrete. You’re often forced to economise and get creative, fashioning weird looping spaghetti junctions.
Fire up the simulator, which zooms through a day in fast-forward, and you’ll get a feeling of pride when all goes well. But if your network becomes jammed, it’s time to start from scratch, or figure out how to fix your system by adding yet more roads. There’s no undo in Freeways - but there is tons of surprisingly compelling road-scribbling fun. Craig Grannell
FTL: Faster Than Light
A wonderfully tense strategy game set in space, Faster Than Light also incorporates many of the crueller elements of roguelike roleplaying games.
You direct the small crew of a Federation messenger craft fleeing from the advancing rebel fleet, and at each point on the map a randomly generated encounter may result in new equipment, additional crew members, or a dangerous fight with another vessel. Any crew members who fall in battle are gone for good, and losing a fight is permanent too - hence the unbearable tension, and the glorious satisfaction when things work out.
It’s a tough game, but well worth the tears it will make you shed. David Price
The Western perhaps isn’t a genre that screams innovation, and that extends to Infinite West – a strategy game set in a world of gunslingers. Its isometric viewpoint and deliberate turn-based structure echo the likes of Hitman GO, while the backstory (a hero’s family is killed by a gang, and so he seeks revenge) is so overused that it almost borders on parody. Nonetheless, it’s hard to not become captivated by what turns out to be an engaging combination of chess and violence.
Each algorithmically generated level takes place on a seven-by-seven grid, your aim being to get to the exit. The tiny snag is enemies will try to thwart your escape, by getting all stabby or shooting you. Each enemy type’s range differs, and can be previewed by way of a tap; and all characters on the field must move one space during their turn.
These limitations – along with a few special actions that can be gradually enhanced over time – make for an endless supply of brain-smashing logic tests. This is even more the case when you’re deep into a game, find yourself facing a dozen armed gang members, and have to figure out a sequence of moves and actions that’ll help you avoid a very final trip to Boot Hill. Craig Grannell
Almost as much an exercise in modern art as a video game, Mini Metro makes underground maps come alive. Part simulator, part strategy title, the game gradually adds stations to an initially blank map. Said stations must be connected by lines, whereupon passengers start being ferried back and forth. Over time, you can choose from bonus items - more lines; extra tunnels; interchanges - to expand your network.
The semi-random nature of where stations appear always keeps you on your toes, and Mini Metro eventually becomes a frenetic juggling act of management, with you constantly rejigging lines and moving trains to more efficiently cart people about. Should a single station become overcrowded, your game is over.
Do well enough by that point and a new map will be unlocked, with its own challenges. If it all gets a bit much, fire up the endless mode, which aligns perfectly with the minimal visuals and noodly ambient soundtrack generated by movement within the game. Feeling a bit more hardcore? Check out the extreme mode, which doesn’t allow you to edit any lines you’ve previously laid. However you play, Mini Metro is a modern mobile masterpiece. Craig Grannell
Strategery is like Risk, but the maps you play on are abstract: no Irkutsk or Kamchatka here, just great expanses of hexagonal tiles, fenced off into vaguely realistic-looking land territories and inaccessible ‘lakes’.
Battles are mercifully speeded up, too; the moment you attack, every single army in the attacking and defending territories is converted into a die, results are calculated, and the casualties are swept away. While Risk spends hours trudging towards an inevitable result, you can rattle through even the largest of Strategery games in the span of a single commute.
You can tweak the way it plays, with the choice of starting positions - each player can start with either a large randomised share of the board, or a single territory, followed by a mad rush to grab what you can - a particularly crucial factor in determining the character of the match. But it’s fundamentally simple and satisfying in a way that will retain its appeal across many, many months. David Price
XCOM: Enemy Within
XCOM, which you command, is a pancontinental paramilitary organisation devoted to investigating and combatting alien incursions. You do this primarily by way of tense turn-based strategy encounters, cautiously advancing your team of operatives from cover to cover and attempting to gun down enemy units and tick off persistent or mission-specific objectives. But there’s also a neat resource-management/base-building aspect in which you hire additional troops, build new facilities, research advanced tech, launch satellites and generally do your best to keep on top of planetary panic.
Enemy Within takes the overall storyline and ultra-slick framework of 2013’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which it replaced on the App Store, and adds masses of new material. You get new enemies, fun but non-essential toys (such as the ability to manipulate your people’s genetic makeup and turn them into grotesque super-soldiers) and clever new missions that break up the often repetitive structure of the earlier game and encourage new styles of play - fast, aggressive approaches are rewarded more than before. The result is one of the finest strategy games on the iPad. David Price