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Touch controls are great for games that require thought rather than quick, twitch movement. You can plot moves, activate abilities and direct units all with the touch of…well, your touch.
You’d expect that to mean excellent strategy games dominate the platform but, in fact, the most popular titles tend to be lighter fare or free-to-play games defeated with cash more quickly than skill.
Here are a few strategy games for iPad that stand out for their quality rather than price.
Anomaly Warzone Earth / Anomaly Korea ($3.99)
The Anomaly series is an unconventional twist on the popular tower defense genre. Instead of playing the defenders, you play the attackers – a squadron of human troops infiltrating territory held by powerful invading aliens. This small band of heroes is led by the commander (that’s you!), a super-trooper with various support abilities.
Though the core gameplay is simple, Anomaly keeps the experience fresh by constantly throwing new challenges at the player. These come in the form of special objectives, new enemy types, new support abilities and new units. Even veteran strategists will feel the heat in the game’s later levels.
Anomaly Warzone Earth is the original title while Anomaly Korea offers additional levels and both are $3.99 on the App Store. The game is also available for Android, Blackberry, Mac OS X, Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, though the mobile versions are cheaper than the rest.
This golden-oldie, which also earned honors from MakeUseOf as one of the best Android strategy games, combines real-time strategy with RPG elements to create a fun tactical combat game. Most of the game revolves around the battles themselves, which are akin to boss battles in role-playing games. Different enemies have different attacks and vulnerabilities that must be properly avoided or exploited.
You can also field a variety of characters with their own abilities and equipment. Though the choices are simple at first, you’re quickly given a significant cast and crew with many options. Your choices will decide the tactics you can use in battle and guide you through the game’s campaign, which will occasionally let you choose which opponent you’d like to fight.
Battleheart is $2.99 on the App Store and can also be purchased for Android.
Battle of the Bulge ($9.99)
Ten years from now we may look back on Battle of the Bulge as one of the iPad’s most important games. While most other titles take a bite-sized approach, offering small battles with limited mechanics, this game has crafted a full war-gaming experience for your tablet.
As the title implies, gamers can command Allied or Axis forces during one of World War II’s most famous battles. This is an operational war game, which you’ll be commanding from far above the terrain and overseeing grand strategy rather than unit-level tactics. Force allocation, positioning and unit composition make the difference between victory and defeat. All of this may sound intimidating, but don’t fret – Battle Of The Bulge is reasonably intuitive. Just don’t expect to win your first game. Or second. Or third.
An iPad exclusive, Battle of the Bulge costs $9.99 on the App Store.
Crimson: Steam Pirates (Free, In-App Purchases)
Crimson is a turn-based pirate game made by Bungie. Yes, that Bungie. The game follows the story of an intrepid pirate who, like all pirates, seeks to earn fame, fortune and the love of a gorgeous woman. Cheesy? You bet, but the game owns it with its slick presentation and cartoonish in-game graphics.
Combat involves the difficult task of piloting a huge hunk of metal effectively through narrow straights and past intimidating islands. Different ships have different characteristics like range, firing arcs and speed, all of which must be noted to emerge victorious. There’s no indication of how enemy ships will move, so you must act preemptively to make sure you’re not flanked, out-ranged or divided.
Despite the game’s quality, you can download and play the first chapter of the campaign (two to three hours of content) for free. The second and third chapters are $1.99 and $2.99, respectively. Crimson can also be played on a PC via the Chrome web store.
Eufloria HD ($4.99)
This strange little strategy game for iPad has a long history. It was originally released in 2009 under the name Dyson and then re-released as Eufloria for both PC and PlayStation. The iPad version, named Eufloria HD, has been further modified and is the only version of the game that still receives updates.
At its core the game is about force disposition. You command seedlings which colonize asteroids in the ether by planting trees within them, thus producing even more seedlings. Sometimes the asteroids are free to take, but often they’re defended by other enemy seedlings none too happy about your incursion.
Sound simple? It is, but strategy can be found in the details. Asteroids have their own unique properties, and attacks can only be launched at others within a certain range. The layout of a map can completely change how the game is played and maps are randomly generated, so they’re always unique. You generally won’t have an overwhelming force, so cracking an opponent while resisting counter-attacks is tricky.
Eufloria HD is $4.99 on the App Store. It can also be purchased for Android.
These five games represent the very best of strategy gaming on the iPad. They are all challenging, yet also intuitive, and are defeated by skill rather than micro-transactions. Don’t forget to check out more must-have iPad apps on our Best iPad Apps page, as well as our pick of iOS games on the Best iPhone Games page.
Did we miss your favorite game? Let us know about it in the comments.