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.

Civilization VI

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. 

£58.99 | For iPad only | Download Civilization VI

Euclidean Skies

In 2017, Euclidean Lands swept on to the App Store. Gorgeous minimal aesthetics recalled Monument Valley, but the game’s turn-based battles echoed the chess-like Hitman GO and Lara Croft GO. All this took place on geometric structures akin to Rubik’s Cubes hanging in space.

Sequel Euclidean Skies initially resembles its predecessor. You’re faced with an improbably floating structure, albeit with soft pastel shades replaced by bold colours, and skeletal monsters draping over the battlements. Enemies still roam these strange locations, though, slicing up your intrepid adventurer should she step into their path.

However, this game is a very different beast, largely due to the freedom you’re afforded in manipulating your surroundings. Instead of offering a Rubik’s Cube, Euclidean Skies has you unwrap each level, deconstructing the land before you. Sometimes, you can spin a section of level about an axis and wallop an enemy on an outcrop. Other times, you’ll fashion twisting pathways to simultaneously bridge doorways and switches.

Needless to say, Euclidean Skies is not easy. Even early on, it disorients and baffles; and as you get deeper into the game, your ability to contain and control chaos will be severely tested, as you stare at a mess of cubes, with no idea how to progress. But perseverance reaps rewards in what’s another fine iOS title from the peerless kunabi brother; and there’s an extra nod of approval from Macworld at a games creator that could have offered more of the same, but instead went for something ambitious and distinct. 

£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Euclidean Skies

Freeways

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. 

£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Freeways

Best iPad & iPhone games: Freeways

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. 

£9.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download FTL: Faster Than Light

Hitman GO

Adorable isn’t an adjective usually found in a videogame review about a hitman, but here we are. Hitman GO is adorable. And we even mean the assassination bit.

No, we haven’t lost it, and this might come as a shock to fans of the console Hitman series, or – for that matter – anyone who knows assassins kill people for a living. But what on telly consoles is a violent, bloody game of death is on iOS transformed into a clockwork chess, taking place on beautifully constructed dioramas.

The game’s turn-based, and you move Agent 47 along pre-defined paths, in an attempt to get him to a goal. Once you move, everyone else gets their turn. Find yourself in the way of a guard, and they’ll bump you off (literally – Agent 47 is knocked off of the board); but if you get your timing right, you can take them out instead.

Right from the off, Hitman GO is tricksy, often forcing you to think several moves ahead, and take labyrinthine routes to the exit. Later on, it drops in hiding spots, sniper rifles and disguises.

There’s plenty of replay value, too – every level has three goals. These tend to be impossible to complete during a single run, and often require you shake up everything you figured out so far about any particular level. Frankly, even if these didn’t exist, you’d want to play the game through several times anyway, because it’s that good. 

£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Hitman GO

Infinite West

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. 

Free + £2.99 IAP | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Infinite West

Kingdom Rush: Vengeance

If you’ve played a tower defence game before, you’ll broadly know the score when settling down for a few rounds of Kingdom Rush: Vengeance. You get a screen with pathways and slots, and then build towers to obliterate waves of enemies that appear. The aim is to stop them reaching their goal – and giving you an off-screen kicking.

The backstory finds you as miffed wizard Vez’nan, sick of being defeated by the heroes of the realm, and so out for revenge. Quite how deep-rooted tower defence enables you to advance into enemy territory, it’s hard to say. Perhaps don’t think about it too much – after all, this is only a videogame.

Still, this isn’t just any videogame, nor just any tower defence game. It looks fantastic, not least when dozens of tiny foes are darting about, being contained by your cunning tactics. It’s reasonably deep, with special powers to unleash, mighty heroes to deploy, and an upgrade tree to grapple with.

Oddly – and slightly disappointingly – some goodies (towers; alternate heroes) sit behind IAP. But you don’t need to splash out to win; and for the outlay, it’s hard to remain grumpy at the best game of its kind on iOS.

£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Kingdom Rush: Vengeance

Mini Metro

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.

£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Mini Metro

Best iPhone & iPad games: Mini Metro

Reigns: Game of Thrones

The original Reigns remains something of a watershed moment on the App Store. It took complex kingdom management, squashed it into an interface that borrowed from Tinder, and decided the path to victory was a kind of juggling. Thus, you were faced with a constant stream of demands from subjects, gentry and enemies. You swiped left or right to make decisions that aimed to keep the church, army, people and treasury happy – although not so happy someone would end up jealously stabbing you to death.

Follow-up Reigns: Her Majesty was in similar – albeit better-written – territory, but this third edition combines the series with top telly show Game of Thrones. Yes, you can ‘be’ John Snow, Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, or several other claimants, and plonk your bottom on the Iron Throne – until such a point you mess everything up and get killed, or turned into a drooling zombie-like figure by White Walkers.

If you’re not familiar with the TV show, this game probably won’t *quite* have the same appeal. You’ll miss the in-jokes, and some of the strategies for success might take longer to figure out. But even then, it’s a fun one-thumb adventure of sorts, where you gradually uncover new strands in its complex narrative web. Those who’ve lived and breathed Game of Thrones since its inception will be in a kind of gaming heaven, flicking a thumb to summon a dragon – or relieve someone of their head. 

£3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Reigns: Game of Thrones

Twinfold

In stills, this one looks a bit like sliding puzzler Threes! For a few moments, it plays like it, too, with you swiping golden idols about, the numbers on their foreheads doubling when they merge. But whereas that’s where Threes! ends, Twinfold is just getting started, with a raft of rules, mechanics, power-ups and features to discover.

For a start, your little character (another square with a face) also moves as you swipe, and must be kept alive. Smack into a wall or get bashed by a roaming enemy and that’s a life lost. Energy can be replenished by gulping down idols, but eating rather than merging idols reduces their value – and only big points rapidly increase the XP bar that bestows power-ups when full.

If that’s not enough to contend with, the maze rebuilds every time idols are merged or eaten, and monsters spawn at regular intervals, ensuring you’re barely given time to breathe.

It sounds like a lot to get your head around. It *is* a lot – at least at first. But spend time getting to grips with Twinfold and you’ll find one of the finest turn-based strategy games on iOS – even if everything happens in a single screen. 

£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Twinfold

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. 

£9.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download XCOM: Enemy Within

Best iPad & iPhone games: XCOM: Enemy Within