Grand strategy games dispense with the micromanagement that is so often seen in the strategy genre. They prefer to focus on the macro level, the big decisions. Generally, these games focus on strategic level issues, ones that can affect an entire game world in one fell swoop.
Here is our compiled list of some of the best grand strategy games on offer. They cover a variety of settings and backgrounds. If however you are put off by the sheer scale on offer, take a look at our equally informative best RTS games list for some high octane action.
When asked to give an example of a 4x game, one could do worse than to mention most titles by Paradox Interactive. Europa Universalis is an exemplar of the genre, letting you chart the course of a nation state from the Late Middle Ages through the early modern period, from 1444 to 1821 to be exact.
Trade, administration, war, colonization, and diplomacy, are all essential factors. The intelligent AI makes even singleplayer a challenge. One common option is to choose a minor out of the way faction and go away for a few hours to let the AI play against each other, returning to see how the map has changed.
The game lends itself to alternate history from plausible scenarios where the House of York won the War of the Roses to the outlandish such as Denmark and Ireland colonizing most of the New World. It’s no wonder it’s one of the best 4x strategy games on the market.
Another entry from Paradox Interactive, the Hearts of Iron series cover the turbulent decades of the 1920s to the 1960s. Choosing to play as one of several powers, lead through some of the darkest history the world has ever seen.
Hearts of Iron is much more combat oriented than its sister games. The game has a streamlined combat and production system that makes it simple to send divisions of troops into battle across the entire globe. It is the perfect game for historical “What if?” scenarios in the 20th century.
Crusader Kings II differs from its sister games on our list as players do not take charge of a nation or kingdom, they take charge of a dynasty. The rise and fall of this dynasty is the central pull in the game where members of court actively plot and weave their own story intertwined with yours.
The dynamic nature of the AI means the player is constantly struggling not just against rival kingdoms but also their own vassals. Rather than frustrating players, this is an entertaining mechanic as even the best-laid plans can be foiled and the unpredictable nature of the AI makes no two games the same.
One of the most famous grand strategy games, Civilization is probably responsible for codifying it as a genre. The game is well known even to those who don’t play it. Civilization remains unchanged at its core despite its repeated reiterations. Each version merely redefines and improves on the previous game though there remains thriving communities for the older games.
Its premise is unchanged, choose a culture and lead it to victory from the stone age to nuclear power. Expansion is hampered by rival powers which will eventually result in war or assimilation. Peaceful victory is possible with powerful cultures able to absorb border cities with the aid of special structures and wonders.
Another game from Paradox, Victoria II covers from the early 19th to early 20th century and the First World War. The Scramble for Africa is in full effect and it is the age of gunboat diplomacy and imperial powers. Colonising is still a focus but centred on different locations than those in EU.
A series of global grand strategy games, the Supreme Ruler series offers a series of historical or futuristic scenarios where you can struggle for world domination. Diplomacy, trade, espionage, intimidation, and warfare, are all perfectly legitimate ways to influence the policies of your rivals.
The game also adds an immersive real-time strategy mood for battles, allowing you to take control on a tactical level. The sandbox mode allows for numerous replays and hours of entertainment.
One of the most popular strategy series on the market, the Total War series covers a breathtaking amount of historical and fantasy periods. Fight in Shogun era Japan, Imperial Rome, Napoleon’s grand campaigns, or medieval Europe in these richly detailed and immersive games.
The strategic game has received praise but the true joy of Total War is the huge battles that can include thousands of units at once. No other games test your generalship as the Total War series does.
A new name in the field, Stellaris has you chart a civilisation’s advance from early space flight to the development of FTL travel. Your species choice is an important factor into your eventual objective. Their ethics will help decide if your eventual goal is to amass riches, achieve technological domination, or galactic conquest.
Players start with a single planet, spaceport, and a small fleet. From there they will expand to become a galaxy-spanning power. The game is split into three distinct phases. The initial act consists of exploration and colonization, followed by diplomacy and governance. The late-stage game frequently involves crisis events such as robot uprisings or an extragalactic invasion.
Another recent series but already with a large fanbase, the Endless Space games are part of a larger series which include the fantasy game Endless Legend and the tower defense, Dungeon of the Endless. Featuring over ten unique civilisations, players compete to win Economic, Diplomatic, Supremacy, or Expansionary victories.
Although basic at first glances, Endless Space is complex under the surface. The game uses four basic resources that must be balanced to ensure a stable and strong economy. Control of space routes is important for trade and defense. Hero units grant bonuses and can be used as fleet commanders or system administrators to give your forces an edge.
Set in medieval Europe, Knights of Honor covers the early centuries of the second millennium. It offers over 100 playable kingdoms, the game map being divided into different provinces that can be warred over and captured. The game is built on three resources, Money, Piety, and Books. Money is used to recruit units and build improvements. Piety to convert provinces and increase your kingdom’s power. Books can be used to adopt provinces and educate your knights.
The game uses a Royal Court system where knights can be hired to lead armies, trade, spy, build, and convert provinces. The immersive gameplay offers untold hours of fun.
The third entry in the hugely popular series, Galactic Civilisations III takes place a decade after the war with the Dread Lords. Humanity has been isolated and the Drengin and Yor empires control the galaxy. The story campaign deals with the return of the Terran First Fleet to liberate the Sol system and take the war to the Drengin.
The game is the first in the series to incorporate multiplayer, a welcome addition. Environmental dangers help to make the universe feel more real as you explore. The world is a living and breathing one with little details helping to flesh it out, such as pirate bases expanding in power the longer that they’re left undisturbed
The latest entry in the Age of Wonders franchise is a return to fundamentals. The epic fantasy setting remains a turn-based grand strategy game with a controllable leader unit present on the map. Six races, each with their own unique traits and abilities, are available to choose. Cities are the focal point of the game, providing income, constructing units, and allowing research.
Leaders are much more prominent in this game with RPG elements heavy throughout. Six classes are available to choose from and this choice will affect a player’s playstyle as well as the development of their empire. The game also breaks with the traditional isometric view favored by the series, having changed to a fully controllable 3D view.
An ambitious RTS, Superpower 2 allows you to play as one of 193 different UN nations, starting from the year 2001. The player can choose to work toward a number of predefined goals or decide to improve their nation’s infrastructure, military, and economic strength,
The game offers several spheres of play, centring on the Political, Military, and Economic aspects of the game. The game offers several paths to victory as befitting its genre.
A game massive in scale, Distant Worlds: Universe offers an entire pocket universe for the player to explore. A single game can feature up to 1,400 different star systems with over 50,000 individual moons, planets, and asteroids.
The sheer scale of the game is staggering and the initial learning curve can be steep. Luckily the game has a pause function as well as automated systems and controls that assist the player in running their empire, ensuring that they’re not bogged down by minutiae.
As is common with grand strategy games, it offers several paths to victory. Players can build trade empires, expand their borders via diplomacy, or crush their enemies militarily. Fully customisable and moddable, it’s a game that players will still love in years to come.
The Dominions games cast you as a god, the master and ruler of a nation vying for power in a fantasy world. Your nation is one of many with all of the Pretender gods in a contest to become the sole survivor and assume the mantle of Pantokrator. Each god varies with different strengths and advantages.
The game takes inspiration from the history and myths of our world with Kievan Rus, Romans, Aztecs, and Shona all appearing in the game. The games are designed to be highly moddable with players able to create their own nations, monsters, and spells.