Apple fans are used to free gaming for the iPhone and iPad, but tend not to think so much about free games for macOS. This is a shame, because the Mac is a great games platform with plenty of excellent freebies.
Indeed, the Mac App store is positively packed with free games, and you can pick up some amazing Mac games elsewhere that are great fun to play without paying a penny. These aren't just casual or hobbyist games, either, but full-blown, high-quality experiences.
Note that before playing for the first time, some titles may require you to temporarily adjust your security settings in System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General. Set 'Allow apps downloaded from' to 'Anywhere', launch the app once, confirm you're OK with it, and then revert your System Preferences settings to a higher level of security.
This cross-country vehicle simulation is actually a great laugh to play. You drive around the Alps in a variety of pickups and vehicles. The off-road setting makes a change from the usual car games that see you flying round the same track again and again.
FREE | Download Alpine Crawler
It's not the most visually amazing game, but Basketmania is a giggle to play. Use the dots to line up the beginning of a trajectory and fling the ball. It's easy to pick up but soon starts to offer a more challenging experience.
FREE | Download Basketmania
Beneath a Steel Sky
Beneath a Steel Sky is a old science-fiction point-and-click adventure game from back in 1994 (it was originally released on the Amiga). It's been reworked to run on OS X, and while the graphics aren't incredible it does have a real charm. It's like reading a detective novel set in a cyberpunk future.
FREE | Download Beneath a Steel Sky
Brogue is a roguelike adventure game for the Mac based upon the classic adventure game Rogue (first developed back in 1980). The levels, characters and enemies are all represented using letters and symbols, which may strike you as a bit odd but it's actually a great representation of a world.
It's almost like a cross between a text adventure and an early video game. It's incredibly tough to play, but Rogue is a classic and Brogue is the best modern representation.
FREE | Download Brogue
A retro, pixelly 2D platform shooter along the lines of Ghosts 'n Goblins or Metroid, Cave Story has a cute, unusual look and solid gameplay. As well as the familiar jump and shoot mechanics there are some RPG elements: character and weapon upgrades, simple fetch quests and so on.
You have to download the game and the English translation patch separately; we tried it first in Japanese and found the whole thing baffling. Story, as the name of the game might suggest, is more important than you might expect. David Price
FREE | Download Cave Story
Death Ray Manta
This one's like playing an arena shooter in a 1980s disco, controlling a flying space fish with a laser gun strapped to its face.
From the off, you're blasting neon robots, bobbing your head to urgent synth-pop, and having your retinas assaulted by dazzling visuals. Soon, you realise every level is a puzzle of sorts, with you having to clock set-ups and behaviours and respond accordingly.
The scoring's smart too: you get a point for clearing a round, and another for collecting a 'tiffin' before doing so. So there's a maximum to aim for - but one hit kills, so be careful out there, fishy dude.
FREE | Download Death Ray Manta
Doodle Hangman Free
The visually nicest version of Hangman we've ever seen. It's free to play and a great way to pass time with friends. There are multiple categories of words to choose from, and it's linked in to reference websites that help you learn more about any words you didn't know.
FREE | Download Doodle Hangman Free
Like Brogue, Dwarf Fortress is another ASCII-based open roleplaying game. It's incredibly complex, as you explore the world and build your own fortresses. You get an expedition team of dwarfs, and use them to perform tasks like woodworking, farming and craft-making.
You then get to dig up the earth, mine for minerals and begin building your own world. Minecraft owes it a big debt.
FREE | Download Dwarf Fortress
The Elder Scrolls: Legends
Legends takes the characters, setting, and artwork of the vast Elder Scrolls role-playing games and transfers them on to digital cards, which you'll collect in the game and use to battle against both computer and online players. It promises a large amount of single-player content, but the biggest draw is sure to be the real-time online competition, for which you'll build your best deck to prepare for tense battles. Andrew Hayward
Eternal Card Game
At a glance, Eternal looks a lot like Blizzard's wildly popular Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, but reviewers say it's a lot more like Magic: The Gathering with having to play land cards and build mana. And if that all means nothing to you, know this: it's a free-to-play online card-battling game, it has a cool Wild West-meets-fantasy aesthetic, and most players seem to love it. Andrew Hayward
FREE | Download Eternal Card Game
Fistful of Frags
If you want a great free first-person shooter then Fistful of Frags is the game to get. It's built upon the Half Life 2 engine, so looks the business and plays incredibly well. It's set in the wild west, and you have old weapons like pistols, rifles and shotguns.
Players work in teams, and four teams: Desperados, Vigilantes, Rangers and Banditos compete in each online game. Each game is packed with close-range, tense gunfights.
FREE | Download Fistful of Frags
Imagine your arcade favourites mashed together, but instead of becoming a sticky goo, they somehow transform into something brilliant. That's Forget-Me-Not, where you roam procedurally generated mazes, hoovering up flowers, blasting enemies, grabbing a key and making for the exit.
What sets Forget-Me-Not apart is the varied behaviours of the mazes' denizens, which are equally happy taking chunks out of each other (and the maze itself) as hunting you down.
Note you can go full-screen (O opens the options), and there's a two-player mode for head-to-head chaotic madness.
FREE | Download Forget-Me-Not
Full Deck Solitaire
Solitaire is a classic card game that's a great way to while away an hour or two. Full Deck Solitaire is a visually gorgeous version that's also easy to pick up and play. Aside from that it's very much the Solitaire we all know and love. A great free addition to the Mac.
FREE | Download Full Deck Solitaire
Hearthstone is an online game where you collect cards. Sounds boring, but it's got around 40 million players so put your preconceived ideas away.
You earn cards by playing daily quests, and then battle your cards in online matches against other gamers (where you can win rare cards). You can't trade cards, you can only win them in battles (this is a good thing as it means there are no scams and fewer robots playing).
It's easy to pick up, quick to fit into your daily life and has an amazing community of players. There are in-app purchases, but you can get by just playing the free game.
FREE | Download Hearthstone
League of Legends
League of Legends is a multiplayer battle arena game (MOBA) and is one of the most popular games in the world. You control a champion, and compete in matches against other players online.
You'll start out at a very low level and gain experience as you play the game. It's a very easy game to get started with, but is ultra-competitive amongst its fans. It's also far deeper than you first suspect, with a huge range of characters. A great free game to play.
FREE | Download League of Legends
Lord of the Rings Online
LOTRO is a free strategy game based in JRR Tolkien's Middle-earth. You create a character and get to wander around Middle-earth, going through a main quest story.
While there is a bit of combat (against game monsters or other players), it has a huge amount of crafting where you can build objects and artifacts, and both farm and cook food. This gives it a charm that Tolkien fans will love.
A loving tribute to Matthew Smith's seminal 1980s platform game, Manic Miner finds you leaping through 20 single-screen caverns, on a mission to collect objects and not horribly die. The problem is, this being based on a 1980s game, dying comes frequently.
But stick with Manic Miner, gradually mastering its challenges, and you'll find a deviously designed classic platformer, even if it lacks the eye-searing colours and ear-smashing audio of the ZX Spectrum original.
FREE | Download Manic Miner
Before Bungie made Halo (originally a Mac game) it built Marathon, a first-person shooter set in space. Halo fans will recognise much that made it into Halo, although it's recognisably an older game.
Marathon has been updated by fans to work on Mac and a free version can be downloaded. It's a little long in the tooth, but a great piece of gaming history.
FREE | Download Marathon Trilogy
As everyone knows, a gentleman must wear a hat. And so it follows that to 'max' your gentleman status, you must wear all the hats.
Hence in this game you belt along, pilfering other people's hats by having yours magically leap from your head. Swooping birds must be avoided by moving the magic hat up and down the stack and leaping from that point. And one you've maxed out your hats, you head to the pub for one-on-one hat and beer-guzzling battles with a drinking chum.
FREE | Download Max Gentlemen
This fast-paced single-screen wraparound platform game finds you scooting along lazily drifting platforms, trying to paint white ones blue. For reasons unknown, the other inhabitants of this neon realm hate your interior design skills and set out to stop you.
Fortunately, you can unsportingly hurl balls you collect their way. Other than that, it's a case of dodging and running until they clobber you the traditional three times.
FREE | Download NeonPlat 2
A game to set IP lawyers twitching, Pacapong finds two bats facing off, a maze of dots and ghosts between then. The ball is fired into a corridor, whereupon it takes on a famous form and starts munching dots.
If it ingests an alien bonus, an invader attacks the opposition's bat. Wait long enough and a celebrity gaming ape starts hurling barrels into the air. (And Pacapong is precisely why remix culture should be celebrated rather than curbed - it's mad and brilliant.)
FREE | Download Pacapong
Realm of the Mad God
Preposterously addictive and blessed with some of the catchiest music in gaming, RotMG is a twin-stick shooter and massively multiplayer (co-operative) RPG that caused massive drops in productivity in the Macworld offices one Christmas. You can play in the browser or download it on Steam; either way the game is free. David Price
With its many millions of active players, Blizzard's Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft feels like the de facto collectible card game today, but there are alternatives. Shadowverse is the latest, although it appears to have garnered a significant following in Japan before getting translated into English. In fact, many reviewers claim it scratches an itch that Hearthstone simply cannot.
On the surface, however, they seem very similar: you'll take turns playing a creature or hero card on the board, and then they'll battle it out, while the 400+ collectible cards offer a load of deck variety. It's free-to-play, too, which means pumping in money can bring big advantages, but at least you can try it out and probably play quite a bit without spending. Andrew Hayward
FREE | Play Shadowverse
Probably the most fun you can have in five minutes. Shotgun FunFun is a side-scrolling action game in which you have to shoot as many zombies as possible with a shotgun. It's dumb fun, but definitely fun.
FREE | Download Shotgun FunFun
The most brutal game in this list, Slime Time finds a little jet-packing CEO trying to cover up a toxic waste crisis. Said executive blasts about, blowing up sewer pipes that spew green goo and lasering creatures that emerge from the toxic pool below.
Recoil-based controls wrong-foot you from the start - firing the laser downwards also moves you up, and left/right shoots in that direction but flings you the other way - and the difficulty is such you'll consider yourself a gaming genius on scoring more than zero. It's infuriatingly compelling, though.
FREE | Download Slime Time
This indie darling is best known in remade form on Xbox 360 and PS Vita, but its origins go way back to 2008 on Windows. This download is an unofficial Mac take on that first version.
And what a game it is, featuring a little spelunker exploring procedurally generated caves packed full of ladders, precarious drops, venomous spiders and loads of bling. Merely surviving is a test; zooming through levels at a rate the game's happy with is a true challenge for even the most skilled gamer.
FREE | Download Spelunky
Starcraft 2: Starter Edition
Starcraft 2 is one of the finest games you can get for the Mac. That you can get an (almost) full Starcraft 2 game for free is jaw-dropping.
This strategy game sees you controlling three different races: Terrans, Zerg and the Protoss. Each race has different weapons, craft and abilities (and each feels magnificently different to play). You wage battles against one or two of the other races.
There's a great narrative story, and you can play five missions from the full game in the Starter Edition. You can also play other gamers online, and it's a great multiplayer experience.
The original Starcraft has gone free too, along with the Brood War expansion.
Super Crate Box
A fierce twitch platform shooter, Super Crate Box tasks you with leaping about platforms, blasting running skeleton heads, and collecting boxes. If the skeletons reach the fire, they reappear at the top of the screen in madder, faster form, so keeping their numbers down is key; but only collecting boxes improves your score and racks up the points needed to unlock new arenas and weaponry.
The game's an adrenaline-rush juggling act, then, often over in seconds, but compelling enough to stick with until you're armed to the teeth.
Super Crate Box is also available - and a great deal of fun - on iOS, although we must caution that the controls are less accurate and satisfying on a touchscreen.
FREE | Download Super Crate Box
Super Stickman Golf 3
Golf? Isn't that just people hitting tiny balls with sticks? How very dull. But in Super Stickman Golf 3, you wear hats that give you special abilities, wield clubs that also have crazy powers, and thwack balls about floating islands, in dungeons, and through space stations in zero-gravity.
For free, you get 20 full courses and online turn-by-turn matches with friends; cough up for premium (£2.99) and you get yet more places to show off your swing.
Team Fortress 2
This is the gold medal award. Team Fortress 2 is an amazingly well-balanced online shooter with a wonderful cartoon style.
Even though Team Fortress 2 is multiplayer-only, it's easy to jump in and start playing on your own. It's ridiculously good fun, with a range of genuinely different character types. You'll soon become utterly addicted to helping your team win each shootout.
FREE | Download Team Fortress 2
If you remember a game called Worms, then you'll love Teeworlds. It's like Worms, but free.
Up to 16 players can play at once, and you can meet other gamers online. It's open-source and developed by users who play the game themselves. You can also create your own maps using the in-game map editor.
FREE | Download Teeworlds
This game from iOS makes its way to the Mac in style. Touchgrind is a skateboarding game where you place two fingers on the trackpad to guide the skateboard around.
It's a real test of skill, but also an innovate control style that makes a great change from the usual mouse and keyboard routine.
FREE | Download Touchgrind
World of Warcraft
Slight word of warning: World of Warcraft is genuinely addictive.
This online roleplaying game puts several players together and keeps them building up their characters. World of Warcraft is one of the greatest computer experiences ever made, and has legions of fans.
It's free to play up until level 20, but you can buy a subscription that unlocks the remainder of the game. Most people play the subscription model so it'll only be free until you get hooked and start wanting to play the extra levels.
FREE | Download World of Warcraft
Zen Pinball 2
Pinball's great on an iPad, but Macs have the clout to render tables in a properly eye-dazzling fashion. And Zen Pinball's tables are certainly dazzling, marrying realistic physics with larger-than-life animatronics and special effects.
You can buy tables in-app (including Marvel and Star Wars ones), but spooky fairytale Sorcerer's Lair is entirely free. It's a great table, packed with mini-games, ramps and missions, as you venture into a haunted mansion and join forces with the spectral Whisper in an attempt to defeat the titular Sorcerer.
FREE | Download Zen Pinball 2