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Strategy games arguably make up the most cerebral genre in gaming. Puzzle games might test your logical and creativity skills to a degree, but nothing will make you feel more like a true tactician than when you overcome a difficult strategy game campaign. If you want to test your mettle, these are the games to play.

Not all strategy games 5 Popular Free Turn-Based Strategy Games 5 Popular Free Turn-Based Strategy Games The turn-based strategy genre has always been a niche, lacking the popularity of even real-time strategy, never mind first person shooters. Unfortunately, being niche means there are fewer free games to choose from, but some... Read More are made equal. Save for a few exceptions, the most popular games are rarely the most difficult. Ready to distinguish yourself from the masses? Here are some of the toughest strategy games ever designed. Try mastering all of them.

Frozen Synapse


Availability: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android

Frozen Synapse is proof that indie strategy games 5 Classic Indie Strategy Games You Must Play [MUO Gaming] 5 Classic Indie Strategy Games You Must Play [MUO Gaming] Strategy games have a long history that dates back to the very first game consoles and even arcade games (such as Rampart). As with any other genre, most of the games produced have been developed... Read More can be so much more than simple and generic. It’s a shining example of gameplay that’s easy to learn, difficult to master, yet fun no matter how skilled or unskilled you are.

In this turn-based strategy game, you control a squad of combatants in an effort to eliminate all enemy units. Sounds simple enough, right? What’s great is that you can simulate the actions of your current turn, allowing you to see how it might play out. When you’re satisfied, all turns are simultaneously resolved.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the enemy’s smart AI, but if that isn’t enough, you can also play Frozen Synapse online against other players. If you like strategy games, Frozen Synapse is a title that you need to check out. I guarantee that you’ve never played a game quite like this one before.

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Commandos 2

Availability: Windows, Mac, PS2, Xbox

Commandos 2 is an older game, released way back in 2001, that hasn’t aged very well but definitely belongs on any list of “hardest strategy games” as it’s considered to have one of the steepest learning curves of any game of its kind.

In it, you control a squad of commandos who must rely on tactical positioning and advancement to accomplish a number of objectives. Don’t confuse it for a turn-based game, because it isn’t. Don’t confuse it for real-time strategy 4 Excellent Real-Time Strategy Games You Can Play On The Cheap 4 Excellent Real-Time Strategy Games You Can Play On The Cheap The real-time strategy genre is one of the staples in gaming today. Other genres, like first person shooters and role playing games, are saturated with hundreds of different titles, but real-time strategy doesn’t hold the... Read More , because it isn’t. It falls best under the category of “real-time tactics” game, which is something of a hybrid genre.

For the best experience possible, most recommend playing the PC version as the gameplay controls aren’t very intuitive in the console alternatives.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Availability: Windows, Mac, Linux, PS3, X360, iOS, Android

The very first game in this series, titled UFO: Enemy Unknown, debuted way back in 1994. Since then, a number of games have been released under the X-COM franchise up until around 2001. After a long break, the franchise was revived under the XCOM franchise with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Was the wait worth it? You bet it was.

This turn-based tactical game has the player controlling a squad of alien-fighting soldiers who must defend the Earth from an imminent invasion. You play through a series of missions which are interspersed with phases of research, development, and expansion. And to top it all off, critics consider it to be one of the most challenging tactical strategy games of this generation.

If you enjoy this game, continue the fun with the expansion pack, XCOM: Enemy Within.

Xenonauts

Availability: Windows

If you know anything about Xenonauts, you’ll know that it’s suspiciously similar to the aforementioned XCOM series. Well, that’s because it was indeed heavily inspired by it, though that doesn’t mean that Xenonauts is a sequel. The theme and gameplay are similar but it is neither a clone nor a remake.

Xenonauts gameplay is divided into two distinct components: there’s a strategic element that involves real-time air combat and a tactical element that involves turn-based ground combat. On top of its XCOM influence, the game has made some playability improvements of its own, including a cover system in combat, starting combat formations, and alternative victory conditions.

Europa Universalis IV

Availability: Windows, Mac, Linux

The Europa Universalis series of strategy games is among the deepest and most involved in its genre with Europa Universalis IV being the most advanced yet. Like the Civilization franchise, there’s a surprising amount of depth here, particularly when it comes to the sheer number of actions and options available during gameplay. Thematically, it covers a wide time period ranging from the 1400s to the 1800s.

The general flow of gameplay begins with exploration and scoping out the unknown world, which then moves onto expansion of territory, exploiting the world’s resources, and finally exterminating your opponents. Europa Universalis IV is the very definition of a 4X strategy game 4 All-Time Classic 4X Games To Lose Yourself In 4 All-Time Classic 4X Games To Lose Yourself In If you are looking for a little more than just pointing and shooting or mindlessly blowing through hordes of enemies, strategy games, and specifically those of the 4X variety, are perfect for you. Read More , though this game has a lesser focus on direct combat and a greater lean towards diplomacy than most other 4X offerings.

Once you beat the original game, you can expand content through 3 expansion packs and over 10 different downloadable content packs. Or if you’d rather play against people, you can do that through the multiplayer feature.

Sins of a Solar Empire

Availability: Windows

Like the aforementioned Europa Universalis series, Sins of a Solar Empire is a real-time 4X strategy game that takes place in the future when civilization lives among the stars Can't Wait for Civilization Beyond Earth? Play These Space Games Now Can't Wait for Civilization Beyond Earth? Play These Space Games Now Are you excited for exploration beyond Earth? It's time to try these high quality titles that let you wander among the stars while you wait. Read More . Through military and diplomacy, players can conquer various star systems to advance their own empire.

One of the defining aspects of Sins of a Solar Empire is its massive scope. The 3D environment, just like true space, is an entire ocean full of celestial bodies with which you can interact. The difficulty of this game comes from the depth in all of its technology trees and game systems; there’s so much to do that a single game can last over six hours.

Sins of a Solar Empire is primarily a multiplayer game. While no single player campaign exists, you can play against AI opponents in an offline mode when multiplayer is not an option.

And if these aren’t enough to satiate your tactician’s mind, keep an eye on these upcoming strategy games 5 Upcoming Strategy Games To Keep An Eye On 5 Upcoming Strategy Games To Keep An Eye On Strategy isn't the most popular genre, but it’s a common choice among players who want a cerebral experience. Here are 5 upcoming games sure to keep your brain busy. Read More that will be sure to keep you on your toes.

Know of a strategy game that’s even tougher than the ones listed here? Share them with us in the comments and make a case for why you think so. We’d love to hear what you think.

Image Credits: Intensely Playing Via Shutterstock

  1. HexGrid
    May 25, 2016 at 1:57 am

    Honestly if you don't have Darkwind War on Wheels here you haven't researched well enough.

  2. Ez
    April 20, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    Aurora 4x ? Distant worlds ? Galciv3 ? Compare to them EUIV is easy peasy casual game. The first one with dwarf fortress will redefine your definition of steep learning curves.

  3. Strategy Player
    February 28, 2016 at 5:01 am

    Aurora 4x.

  4. Yaromirr Sneh
    September 2, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    X-com serie is hard maybe on the hardest diffulcity. Commandos is easy. I think Sudden strike, Z: steel soldiers and KKND (krush, kill and destroy) is the toughest. But it is little bit older. I need something new.

    • Sivolc11
      October 25, 2015 at 1:10 am

      That's because you never tried XCOM Long War....*cry*

  5. Jeffrey
    August 17, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    Ha! Try winning in any Total War game. You need to know what you're doing and what choices to make or you fail miserably.

    • james
      December 14, 2015 at 1:49 pm

      true

  6. Stephen
    August 16, 2014 at 12:35 am

    I'm surprised Dark Reign hasn't been mentioned here! I highly recommend for those looking for an immersive challenge in an RTS context.

  7. Logan
    August 15, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    The entirety of the Fire Emblem series.

  8. Vanja
    August 14, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    Have you ever played Knights & Merchants, one of the best strategy games ever..

  9. b
    August 14, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    All these games are super easy and super mainstream. The Men Of War series makes all my friends who have played Warhammer 40k and Starcraft 2 for hundreds of hours break down in frustration.

  10. Amrit K
    August 14, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    *Some honorable mentions*
    StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
    Hearts of Iron II
    World in Conflict
    Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
    Company of Heroes
    Supreme Commander

    • Joel L
      August 14, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      Great mentions! Especially Hearts of Iron 2 and Starcraft 2 on Brutal Mode.

  11. Ashwin
    August 14, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    Well, if you think Commandos 2 was unforgiving, you should try the Destination Paris Mod for the game. It re-defines the term unforgiving. You can get it from http://commandoshq.net

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