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.
Bad North: Jotunn Edition
An issue that affects skirmish-oriented strategy titles - even on mobile - is a need to micromanage. Whether you're immersed in turn-based megalomania by way of Civilization VI or giving tiny armies a kicking in Total War, plenty of time is spent delving into the finer details of your sprawling campaign. Half the time, you wonder if you'd be better equipped with a spreadsheet.
Bad North does away with all that by giving you warfare in microcosm. Each battle takes place on an island, and finds a handful of armies facing off against invading Vikings. Select an army and tap a space on the map to move them. Should anyone come near, your chaps will attempt to fight them off. And that's it.
This probably sounds reductive, but there is depth. As you win battles, you can train armies, acquiring skills such as archery. In subsequent scraps, you can then have your archers dispatch enemies from a distance; but foes also come up with their own new tricks.
Escalation continues until you win the campaign or - most likely - end up horribly murdered. And in this game, death really is the end - any obliterated army stays that way. But with each battle lasting mere minutes and the entire campaign possible to complete in a few hours (at least in theory), this is a strategy title you can get your teeth into, without the risk of it taking over your life - or forcing you to manage every aspect of a virtual empire.
£4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Bad North: Jotunn Edition
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.
FREE + £19.99/$19.99 IAP for full game | For iPad only | Download Civilization VI
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/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Euclidean Skies
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/$9.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download FTL: Faster Than Light
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/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Hitman GO
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/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Kingdom Rush: Vengeance
Build. Expand. Defend. Those are your goals in Kingdom Two Crowns - although the beginnings for your monarch are suitably humble. While on horseback, a ghost briefly bosses you about, teaching you how to transform an abandoned campsite into something slightly more liveable. Lob a coin at a vagrant and they become a peasant you can train. Pretty soon, you'll have a little band of workers and archers, all going about their business, without you needing to micromanage them.
This is just as well, because when night falls, the Greed come to visit. The fleet-of-foot demonic kleptomaniacs appear from portals, raid your camp, and make off with anything shiny. If that happens to be your crown, your reign is over, and it'll be down to your heir to take over - and figure out how to give the Greed a solid kicking.
It's an intriguing set-up - rather like Settlers meets Gridland. And much like the latter title, there's almost no hand-holding. You're expected to experiment and explore, and only occasionally will the aforementioned ghost make an appearance if the game thinks you're dawdling a bit too much.
This could all prove overwhelming, but Kingdom Two Crowns is anything but. It's perhaps sometimes perplexing when you're not sure how to progress; and it's frequently intense, notably when trying to get back to the safety of your camp when your ride is tired and the Greed are in hot pursuit. But the game's mix of gorgeous pixel-art visuals, sublime audio, and slow-paced yet engaging gameplay with meaningful, regular progression makes for a modern-day mobile classic.
£9.99/$9.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Kingdom Two Crowns
Arnold Rauers has form reimagining dungeon-crawlers as claustrophobic, atmospheric card games. Miracle Merchant, Card Crawl, and Card Thief are all exceptional, but Maze Machina takes things to a new level - especially in terms of smashing your brains out.
The backstory involves Automatron, an inventor robot with a skull for a head, who's forged tiny steampunk versions of himself. He fancies testing them to destruction in a tiny ever-changing arena, at which point you rock up. The snag: you're a mouse. Fortunately, there's an escape route - although getting there is extremely tough.
There are 15 rounds of clockwork mayhem to get through, each requiring you to grab a key and make it to the exit. Also, every move depletes your energy - and reinvigorating cheese only shows up every three rounds. Furthermore, every tile on the grid represents a power-up that arms whoever's holding it.
Swipe and everything on the board moves in that direction and triggers the power-ups. Given that there are well over a dozen of them, even a single round presents a whopping number of potential combinations, and routes to your goal can quickly unravel if you end up stuck with the wrong item, surrounded by tiny knife-wielding murderous robots.
This one's initially baffling, then - perhaps even overwhelming. But it's also compelling, beautifully designed and animated, and - if it clicks - a strategy title you'll still be playing in years to come.
£1.99/$1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Maze Machina
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.
£3.99/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download 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/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Reigns: Game of Thrones