4 All-Time Classic 4X Games To Lose Yourself In

Dave LeClair 18-12-2013

Strategy games 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 are the perfect genre to just lose yourself in 5 Games You Can Play For Over 100 Hours – That’s Value! One of the many traits unique to video games is the sheer volume of entertainment a game can provide. While a movie is over in two hours on average, and a TV show may offer... Read More and have a great time. It’s easy to lose hours working your way around the battlefield and manipulating your units. If you are looking for a little more than just pointing and shooting The 7 Best Online FPS Browser Games Here are the best FPS browser games you can play on the web right now, all of which are fantastically playable. Read More , or mindlessly blowing through hordes of enemies, strategy games, and specifically those of the 4X variety, are perfect for you.


What is a 4X game?

Technically, 4X means explore, expand, exploit, exterminate. Almost any strategy game of this type will feature goals that revolve around these four objectives.

However, almost all strategy games actually feature these elements, so 4X games have been more specifically narrowed down to those that have a larger scale and a heavier reliance on diplomacy than most.  They tend to be less combat focused and more focused on the economy than a game like Command & Conquer, which is far more about on basic resource gathering and fighting.

Many people tend to mistakenly think that 4X games need to be turn-based, but real-time strategy games can fall into the genre, but it is far more rare.

So now that you know what a 4X game is, let’s dive into some classics of the genre that you can easily spend hours enjoying.

Sid Meier’s Civilization IV

When you talk about games of this sort, Civilization is the first series that comes to mind for most gamers, and with good reason, as it offers a level of depth that rivals any of the other games in the genre. Additionally, Sid Meier’s games feature an additional level of polish and quality that few other games can match.


You could swap Civ IV for Civ V if you want a slightly more modern game, but the AI in Civilization IV is a little more reasonable, which makes winning via diplomacy a much more likely endeavor. Any of the Civilization games are good, and if you crave a little more old-school action you can always go back and play one of the originals, but Civ IV strikes the perfect balance between old and new, and for new players to the genre, it’s the perfect game to jump into. You can scoop up this game for $19.99 for just the base and $29.99 with all of its expansions.

Sins of a Solar Empire

This is one of those rare 4X games that opts to go with a real-time element instead of turn-based strategy. This changes the way it plays because players lose the ability to slow down and take their time making decisions. It’s a space strategy game that features much of the massive scale for which 4X games are known.

If the slow pace of games like Civilization has turned you off in the past, and the non-stop in your face action of a game like Starcraft doesn’t do it for you, Sins strikes a great balance between the two genres. It speeds things up a bit, but it also puts a great emphasis on economy and other elements that are lacking from combat-focused RTS games. Sins is on Steam for $19.99, which is a great value for the amount of depth available in the game.

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri

Yet again we have to mention another game from the 4X strategy master Sid Meier. This game is actually part of the Civilization series, but it makes a massive change in setting, opting for science fiction instead of quasi-realistic wars.


In spite of this game coming with many of the same features as Civilization II, it does add some new mechanics that are still present in modern Civ games such as climate, customizable units, and the ability to win a Domination victory through votes from the population. If real-world wars don’t do it for you, but you want to be part of the Civilization fun, this is the game for you. It’s available for only $2.99 on GOG, which means you can jump in without breaking the bank.

Masters of Orion

This is actually the first game to officially call itself a 4X game, so there is no way it could not be included here. It’s a little on the older side, having been released all the way back in 1996, which means it might be difficult to go back to if you are used to playing more modern strategy games. However, the gameplay holds up very well, and the depth of the strategy is on par with any of the modern games available today.

It’s a space game that features a massive galaxy for players to explore and control. It also features tons of diplomacy, tactical combat, and all the other elements that you expect from the genre. It’s only $2.99 on GOG, and that actually gets you a copy of MOO 2, so it’s quite a deal. If you want to take a trip down memory lane with a true 4X classic, these are the games you need to play.

You Tell Us

What are some deep 4X strategy games you think all fans of the genre need to play? Or do you prefer your strategy games a little more fast and furious? Hit the comments section and let your voice be heard.


Related topics: Retro Gaming, Steam, Strategy Games.

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  1. Steph
    April 1, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    I downloaded a copy of Alien Crossfire/Alpha Centauri recently a whopping 10 bucks but my initial CD (not dvd) the second purchase mind you was scratched. Love that game. To this day I have not found a 4X that I love as much as I did that game. I was hoping Beyond Earth would scratch that itch but no dice. Really enjoying Endless Legend lately.

  2. Thomas Southern
    March 18, 2015 at 8:19 am

    Space Empires IV or V by Malfador. No other game has more customizable ships to design and only Civilizations V can compete on modibility.

  3. Stefan
    May 29, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Remember Dune? Would you consider it 4x ?

    Colonization and The Settlers were also great but probably not true 4x.

    Civilization is the king though.

    • Patrick M.
      January 10, 2017 at 4:26 pm

      I remember Dune (2000). It was a bit more mindless and totally lacking the strategic depth of the Civ games, but it did have a great backdrop in the Dune universe. It helped arouse my curiosity about Dune in future years.

      That said, I felt it was a forerunner to Warcraft II given the real-time element and lessened strategic complexity that was never given the credit it was due.

  4. F1ange
    December 30, 2013 at 5:58 am

    There were some amazing pbem and hotseat 4x games that were pretty amazing. Stars! comes to mind...

  5. codeelfDOTcom_is_better
    December 21, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    The Grid --

    for those looking for a simpler, yet innovative and unique online strategy multi player gaming experience, without all of the hassle of download.

    Simply play this huge board game of strategy online on Desktop, Android, or Ipad. ~ free web browser international strategy underground game

  6. Hellbishop
    December 19, 2013 at 4:25 am

    UTOPIA an old Commodore Amiga 500 strategy game where you build cities on another planet along with an army to defend them. It was like a sci-fi military version of Sim City.

    MISSION FORCE CYBERSTORM fantastic battlemech type war game which felt like playing the Battletech board game especially after the Devs released a ton on ini tweaks making it a true war game. It was the closest thing to Battletech on a Windows pc next to Ralph Reed's Battleforce which was exactly like the board game for the Commodore Amiga.

    RISE OF NATIONS is another more modern 4x game which was a lot of fun to play with its fantasy spin off RISE OF LEGENDS really going gonzo on its mix of fantasy and steam punk strategy.

    AGE OF EMPIRES and AGE OF MYTHOLOGY- two of my old time favorites I still play which still stands the test of time gameplay and graphic wise along with the great music.

  7. Matthew H
    December 18, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    Dave, I am *so* glad you mentioned Alpha Centauri. It's one of my favorite games of all time. Quick question though. Does Age Of Empires fit into the 4x paradigm?

    • Hellbishop
      December 19, 2013 at 4:27 am

      Yes it does. I prefer the first two AGE OF EMPIRES games though. They seem to have just the right mix of building and combat to keep things fun. AGE OF EMPIRES III seemed off kilter somehow in its gameplay and I could never really get into it like it could the first two.

    • Matthew H
      December 20, 2013 at 12:33 pm

      I'm with you there. AoE III *sucked*.

  8. Bumferry H
    December 18, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    Back in the day I would loose myself for days on Civ 2 (the best in the series imo). I still own a copy of CIV 4 but find it just doesn't have that "special something" that makes me care about my nation the way civ2 did.
    Oh go on then..... I dust off Civ 4 and have a bash for old times sake. :O)

    • Freen Hult
      December 18, 2013 at 7:51 pm

      Surprising, I consider 4 to be the crown-jewel of the entire franchise. Everything that was wrong in 3 was corrected by the last Expansion of 4 (Beyond the Sword), and then further refined by community mods. Either way, 5 is a wreck compared to the rest of the series and I wish Firaxis would seriously come back to listening to the community like they once did.

    • Bumferry H
      December 18, 2013 at 8:08 pm

      Is it wrong that I miss pirate raids and floods (and earthquakes??? or did i make that up) from the very first Civ?

  9. Christian C
    December 18, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    It amazes me how good Alpha Centauri still is, not just the game play but the entire presentation. The visual design has managed to not look dated (lots of science fiction based visuals can, and fast), and the approach to the tech tree is amazing.

    Everyone in the world should play this game, imo

  10. Dany Bouffard
    December 18, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Other good strategy worth mentionning: Master of magic (MOM) I wish they made a remake of this and all the Heroes of Might and magic Series are good classic Turn Based Strategy. Also another classic for me personally was Mission Force Cyberstorm (Another one that need a remake)

    • Patrick M.
      January 10, 2017 at 4:31 pm

      Master of Magic was super cool, but it was way too easy to win (even I can write that in this case).

  11. Alex D
    December 18, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    The second I saw this article I knew I had to read it just to see if I wasn't the only one who loved Sins enough to deem it an instant classic. I remember back in 2008 buying this on a whim and never regretting it. Of course, I knew Civ IV would be on here as well as Alpha Centauri. Unfortunately, I'm a little young for Master of Orion so it passed right by me on it's initial release, but seeing them both on Sale (as of December 19, 2013) on GoG, there's no way I'll pass that up. Also, can't emphasize this enough; anyone reading this: buy Sins!