by John Markley1
The Most Hardcore Android Strategy Games Ever Made
From the visual extravaganzas that make my PC’s graphics card keel over wheezing for air to games that are mostly played via spreadsheets, from games with simple mechanics involving no more information than what is immediately available to those with long lists of arcane stats spread across myriad menus and submenus and sub-submenus, from the simplest tower defense titles to ferociously complex and intricate games that threaten to make the uninitiated user’s head explode in a Scanners-esque fountain of blood and offal, strategy games come in countless forms. This list is intended to focus on games that lean towards the latter end of at least one of those spectra – the complex, the detailed, the rewarding but plain-looking. Some still have more widespread mass appeal, some don’t, but if you’re a hardcore fan of strategy or management sim games looking for something to play on Android they’re worth at least a look.
Frozen Synapse is a port of a turn-based strategy game that I played the hell out of on PC. You command small squad-level battles across a series of procedurally generated stages, with an interesting twist. Each turn, you select orders that will be carried out over the next five seconds, and once you hit confirm each side moves simultaneously, in real time.
You have to anticipate, not just react. There’s an incredible amount of detail and depth – things like range, cover, movement speed, and the direction each character’s gun is pointed whenthe enemy is sighted all play a role, The orders you can each soldier ,give are highly detailed and can be planned down to tenths of a second, and there is no random element in combat at all. Before beginning the turn, you can enter possible moves for enemy units and run simulation of how the next five seconds would play out under those circumstances.
The depth is incredibly satisfying and the simultaneous turn system works wonderfully. There’s tremendoustension when you’re about to hit the switch and irrevocably commit yourself for the next five seconds, or beginning a new turn with a soldier in grave peril and desperately running simulation after simulation looking for a way to save him.
There’s also an intriguing story that develops during and between each mission, with an unexpectedly detailed cyberpunk setting and compelling characters. The music is great, and even the minimalist graphics work in the game’s favor through the sterile, dehumanized atmosphere they create.e If you’re getting tired of mobile strategy games with plots like “orcs want to steal your livestock, and you’d rather they didn’t” it’s enormously refreshing.
Originally released for PC, Anomaly: Warzone Earth is a twist on the tower defense genre that places the player in the role of attacker. In the near future, a strange object comes crashing to earth from outer space, striking downtown Baghdad and enclosing it under a dome-shaped force field. It’s up to you to venture inside, fight your way past arrays of alien weapons emplacements at the head of a platoon of British armored vehicles and discover the truth behind this phenomenon. The guy doing the rather questionable Jason Statham impression who gives you your mission briefings, not to mention all of humanity, are counting on you.
In each stage you must use the limited resources provided to you or salvaged along the way to build and upgrade a force selected from a variety of combat vehicles that gradually become unlocked as you complete missions, plan your route through the streets of the ruined city, and accompany your forces as they blast their way through. Your ace in the hole is the ability to deploy a limited number of special abilities like vehicle repairs, smokescreens, and airstrikes. I’m a big fan of the PC version, and Joshua Munoz, of Android Central, hailed the Android port as, “an absolutely stellar game with killer graphics, an awesome story, and gameplay that makes other tower-related games slink away in shame,” so this one comes highly recommended.
The sequel, Anomaly: Korea, continues the story in… well, take a wild guess. The basics of the gameplay are the same, but whereas the original’s levels and objectives were extremely straightforward – travel from one checkpoint to the next and make it across the map alive, with an occasional group of “boss’ structures that had to be destroyed at the end – Anomaly Korea is much more varied. Some missions will require you to perform additional objectives, such as defending other units or destroying specific types of targets, or put you under additional restrictions such as disabling support abilities or the ability to upgrade units. Level design is also less linear and allows for more choices in how objectives are approached.
It’s a very effective continuation of the series, praised by Hardcore Droid’s Travis Fahs for doing “an excellent job of taking the same simple gameplay that was enjoyable in the original, and exploiting its potential in a way the first game never could.”
Playing Templar Assault Elite, some among you might start to feel a sense of familiarity. “Wait,” you’d be heard to say, to the discomfort of everyone else on the subway, “a dark far-future science fiction setting, elite warriors in a quasi-religious military brotherhood who wear powered armor and call aliens ‘xenos,’ fighting through dimly lit, claustrophobic environments… why, this all seems highly derivative of BattleTech!”
And the people on that bus would be right to feel awkward and uncomfortable around you, because this game is actually highly derivative of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and particularly the classic Games Workshop game Space Hulk. But that’s fine if a game uses its influences well, and this one does. Besides, Warhammer 40,000 itself was made by grafting pieces of J.R.R. Tolkien, Dune, 2000 AD comics, Starship Troopers, Michael Moorcock, Aliens, and the Cthulhu Mythos into a single Frankensteinian monstrosity, so it’s hardly in a position to complain.
Templar Assault Elite puts you in command of a squad of the aforementioned warriors, the Templars, on a series of turn-based missions battling the enemies of humanity. Gameplay is tense and compelling, and there’s a great deal of depth here for strategy fans. Graphics are very low-fi , but the atmosphere is still great- it really feels like your squad is all alone in the endless night of space, with nothing but skill, teamwork, and careful avoidance of the terminology that bears Games Workshop copyrights to protect them. There’s a free limited version of the game you can try before buying the full Elite version, so give it a look.
Like its predecessor Kingdom Rush, Kingdom Rush Frontiers is a tower defense game with elements of real-time strategy added. In addition to building traditional towers to bombard your enemies with arrows, artillery, and magical attacks, you can also build barracks to train soldiers you can deploy in its vicinity to get right in the enemy’s path and engage them hand-to-hand.
This changes things quite a bit – your forces aren’t as fixed in place as most tower defense games, you can temporarily force at least part of an advancing enemy force to a halt as they engage your men, and a significant amount of your combat capability is based on units that can actually suffer casualties. The paths enemies – and your troops – move on are wide enough to provide some room for maneuver instead of forcing everyone to advance single-file, so hostile forces can actually have respectable battles when they meet.
The game offers a lot of customization, with specialized versions of your basic buildings that can be further improved by upgrading them and assigning different special abilities between stages.
It looks great, with relatively simple but beautifully drawn characters and stages and a bright, endearingly cartoonish style, and it just feels more energetic because of so much more going on than the usual “enemies walk forward and get shot at” tower defense gameplay. it’s a fine choice if you want something that’s fun, fast-paced, really distinguishes itself from the sea of generic tower defense games out there.
Kingdom Rush/Kingdom Rush Frontiers by Ironhide Game Studio
Buy Kingdon Rush on Google Play
Buy Kingdom Rush Frontiers on Google Play
Read the hardcore review of Kingdom Rush
Read the hardcore review of Kingdom Rush: Frontiers
The title of this article promised “hardcore strategy,” and where the strategy genre is concerned it’s hard to get much more hardcore than a hex-map turn-based game originally written in assembly language on an Atari ST. Slay has gone through many versions and upgrades since it’s distant origins, an early version of the game called Battle Hex, but it’s essence has always remained the same: Simple but extremely fun and addictive struggles between you and five opponents for control of a hex-based island.
You must expand your territory and your forces, manage resources to keep your growing host supplied, and position troops and fortifications at vital strategic points to hold back the encroachments of the enemy. Once you create a unit you’re stuck with it and it’s maintenance costs as long as it’s alive – and if your territory can’t pay, every unit in it dies. The maintenance costs of progressively stronger units increase geometrically, and if you control multiple territories that aren’t connected geographically they each have their own income, cash reserve, and expenses for the units in them.
This leads to the final and most satisfying part of the game: Cackling with glee when a well-planned invasion slices an enemy’s territory in two, severingsupply lines and dooming mighty armies to sudden oblivion. A lot of the game’s fun and challenge comes from the way a few well-chosen moves can drastically alter the balance of power, and since the game has no random elements – units of equal power stalemate each other, stronger ones automatically defeat weaker by moving into their hex – these sudden reversals of fortune never seem arbitrary or unfair. If you win, you earned it; if you lost, the responsibility is equally yours.
It’s enormously enjoyable, and it’s simple production values make it eminently playable without a state-of-the-art phone. Hardcore Droid’s John Markley called it “a fun, simple, addictive game that’s easy to pick up and well worth playing for strategy fans,” and if you can’t trust him you can’t trust anybody.
Ever play the Warcraft games – the original strategy games, not the MMORPGs? Remember how one of the resources you needed to build new structures and units was wood that you acquired by sending laborers to chop down nearby trees, and how, after a particularly long battle, you could end up with a stage that had been transformed from a verdant forest into a barren wasteland?
That’s nothing. Greed Corp is a turn-based strategy game with an interesting twist. You need money to build units, and to get money you build resource-harvesting buildings. That’s all pretty standard, except the game is set in a steampunk world where continents float in the sky and the resource you harvest is the ground itself. Every turn, each map hex with a resource building on or adjacent to it drops one layer, and when you harvest the last one that hex and everything on it goes plummeting to its doom. The result is a game involving some very different strategies than most games of its sort, with the steady erosion of the ground playing an essential role in your planning and battles getting more cramped and desperate as more of the battlefield crumbles away.
While the unusual mechanics take some getting used to, gameplay is otherwise very simple and straightforward, so you don’t need to be a hard-core strategy buff to get the hang of things. Individual levels are usually a fairly modest length (they sort of have to be when battlefield logistics revolve around devouring the ground everybody is standing on) so they’re well-suited for short sessions on the go. It’s a lot of fun, and justly described by Julian Emert, of Playandroid, as “extremely cool, especially if you like strategy games.”
Great Little War Game is a turn-based strategy game with a humorous tone. There’s nothing groundbreaking here–you build units selected from a variety of types, deploy them, exploit the terrain and the different abilities of each unit to fight through a series of battles – but it’s the execution that counts, and in that Great Little War Game has won nearly universal critical praise, withPaul Wilks calling it, “a game that is by far one of the best available on the Android platform.” The missions are well-designed and offer great variety in their objectives, and the visuals have an endearingly goofy style to them.
“More of the same” isn’t really a criticism when it comes to this series, as last year’s Great Big War Game proved, offering up 50 new single-player missions with enough solid content to keep the Great War Game fan playing for days on end. Pocket Gamer’s Harry Slater lauded Rubicon Development’s sequel, stating, “Great Big War Game builds on the foundations of its predecessor elegantly, and while it doesn’t add anything spectacular to the mix, solidifying what was already there and tweaking where necessary instead, there’s enough here to make sure that the war efforts go on indefinitely.”
Sentinel 3 is a game in the ubiquitous tower defense genre. In the freakishly unlikely event that you’re simultaneously sufficiently interested in Android gaming to read a publication specifically about it and unaware of what a tower defense game is, here’s a primer:
Hordes of enemies move across the screen toward some objective, such as your base. You must use the limited resources at your disposal to build fixed weapons emplacements, or “towers,” at strategic locations to rain fire and death on the enemy as they pass and wipe them out before they can reach their target. It’s like that scene in Transformers: The Movie where the Autobots ran down a corridor under heavy fire from a gauntlet of Decepticons and only those Autobots whose action figures were selling well enough to justify keeping them in the show survived, but now it’s interactive.
Sentinel 3 adds some new wrinkles. Paths have barricades that the onrushing horde of enemies have to stop and break down before advancing, adding another consideration when you decide where to deploy your weapons. You have an on-screen character, a soldier in powered armor who fires on the enemy, hinders them with special abilities, and repairs damaged barriers. You can also, regenerating energy supply permitting, call in orbital fire support when you find yourself overwhelmed. You earn experience for your armor after each stage that lets you add points to different stats, and money access new towers and abilities.
It’s quite nice graphically, with a good visual style – it’s not super-serious and gritty-looking, but doesn’t go to the opposite extreme of being outright cartoonish. The action is fast-paced and fun, and the additional tactical considerations of deploying your armor and calling down additional firepower from orbit make it more interesting. They also add a bit of atmosphere, making it feel like what’s happening on your screen is an actual battle and not just a puzzle game with gun turrets.
Let’s take a break from all the warfare, bloodshed, and wanton ecological vandalism that have dominated this article so far. In Townsmen 6, you’re in charge of building a new city, requiring you to manage various resources, create new structures, and attract new citizens to your town. Damien McFerran, of Pocket Gamer, hailed Townsmen 6 as a “complete triumph” for both the quality of its graphics and the depth of its gameplay, so give it a look if you enjoy actually creating things once in a while instead of wrecking them.
UniWar is another turn-based strategy game: Different types of units with various strengths and weaknesses, hex map, capture bases, you know the drill. Once again, though, it’s all about execution, and in that regard UniWar has been very well received. It’s especially known for its online multiplayer mode, which includes an option to have multiple games in progress simultaneously and can send you an e-mail notification when it’s your turn. Levi Buchanan, of IGN, raved, “If you draw even the smallest amount of gaming pleasure out of the genre, there is no reason not to download UniWar.”
My elementary school’s rather grandiosely named “computer lab” had little to recommend it. You could quite literally go there twice a week for six years, as every student there did, and remain blissfully unaware of the existence of exotic computing devices like mice or hard drives or monitors that displayed colors other than green.
Yet there was the one bright spot amidst it all: Oregon Trail, a game where you had to successfully cross the Western 19th-cemtury United States with your family in a covered wagon, carefully planning the equipment and provisions you’d take for your journey before setting out and then heading down the titular trail facing threats like starvation, disease, and rivers that randomly drowned half your family if you tried to ford them yourself to save five bucks on the cost of hiring the ferry. It was fun, it was addictive, and it was educational enough for the school to have it.
Organ Trail is a spiritual successor of sorts, adding new gameplay elements and decisions to the classic formula. Also, it has zombies, from whom you’re fleeing across a desolate post-apocalyptic wasteland in search of safe haven from the undead hordes. It’s won quite a few fans with its combination of dark atmosphere, humor, and classic gameplay, with Eurogamer’s Rich Stanton raving that, “Organ Trailis a great idea, and its execution moves it far beyond a grisly tribute act.” The Director’s Cut adds some new features such as customizable characters, new events you can encounter along the trail, and online leader boards.
For the hardcore gamer who isn’t sufficiently challenged by other tower defense games, there’s Myth Defense. It’s a relentlessly challenging game, where the enemy is utterly relentless and each of the game’s 18 campaign stages has at least 70 waves of pitiless foes to hold back. In addition to the campaign mode and another 4 stages for one-off games in Battle Mode, there’s also the option of playing in randomly generated stages, with a different layout and terrain each time. Mike Rose, of Gamezebo, says it “offers one of the better TD experiences on the Android with some wonderfully deep gameplay.”
We now travel into the mists of prehistory. Military Madness was originally released in 1990 for the TurboGrafx-16, an ill-fated console that had the unenviable task of competing against the Sega Genesis and then the Super Nintendo and ended up… well, pretty much the way you’d expect a scrawny newcomer who jumped between two ‘roided up bruisers trading haymakers to end up.
The game, which puts you in command in one of two warring futuristic armies battling on the surface of the moon in 2089, was widely praised as one of the best military strategy games on the market when it came out, but had only modest sales in the United States.
This version for Android boasts all of the strategic turn-based gameplay of the original combined with greatly improved graphics, and has been praised by Pocket Gamer’s Damien McFerran for doing “a fine job of giving this classic game a much-needed modernization.”
As a special added bonus, the Description of the game on its page at Google Play, as of this writing, features the sort of hilariously broken English seldom seen in Western gaming since- well, since the original era when Military Madness came out. Do you have what it takes to master the feature of items and landforms to get a victory? Experience the sensation to play the classic simulation game and find out!
For days when you just want to see the world die, there’s Plague Inc.
The premise is simple – design a pathogen to wipe out the human race as quickly as possible. After picking a lucky country for your first infectee, you gradually shape the nature of the disease by spending DNA points earned as it spreads – the vectors that spread it, its symptoms, its resistance to different climates and antibiotics, and more. Eventually the world takes notice, and the race is on as you get around containment measures by mutating new forms of transmission for your disease and make it ever-deadlier and more debilitating to bring humanity down before they can research a cure.
The world reacts to you in numerous ways, which is interesting from a gameplay perspective and also provides a lot of atmosphere. It’s chilling to watch the news ticker as responses grow more desperate – eventually, if you’re doing well, countries will be declaring martial law, sealing off national borders, wiping out species and entire classes of animals that you’v been using as vectors, and other even more extreme measures.
(I once lost on the cusp of victory after my disease, spreading steadily but slowly through the last remnants of civilization due to its poor adaptation to cold, was wiped out by the Canadian government’s last-ditch decision to just round up and kill everyone who had it. Insert health care system joke here.)
It’s engrossing, extremely addictive, and more than a bit unsettling.
Some games are subtle in how they draw on their inspirations. Others are less subtle. Still others are blatant and explicit about it. And then there’s Starfront: Collision HD.
To say that Starfront: Collision HD resemblesStarcraft is like saying that the consequences of Earth suddenly falling out of its orbit and plunging directly into the sun would be “bothersome.” But derivative doesn’t necessarily equal bad, and while Starfront is a bit short on originality it makes up for it in execution, offering what Paul Devlin, of Pocket Gamer, calls “a generous, well-paced and satisfying strategy experience.” There are 20 single-player missions in the main campaign, a customizable skirmish mode, and online multiplayer for up to four simultaneous players. The game has also been praised for its effective control scheme, something that is often a sore point for mobile gamers in genres that require precise input – a group that definitely includes real-time strategy games.
One of my first contacts with the genre was trying to play the original Command and Conquer with a game pad on the original PlayStation, so I know about these things all too well.
The long-running military strategy franchise for PCs finally makes its mobile debut with this turn-based spinoff. It doesn’t actually have all that much in common with its desktop-based forebears, as was inevitable when translating a complex strategy game that can track thousands of individual combatants in real-time battles into a format that can be played on a phone. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop it from being acclaimed as Hardcore Droid’s Strategy Game of the Year, no small distinction in the face of competition like Anomaly: Korea.
Hardcore Droid’s own Travis Fahs “called it “a smart game that will tax the mind of an experienced player,” so if you’re away from your computer when you’re jonesing for some Sengoku Era Japanese military strategy this could be just the thing,
Spaceward Ho! hates my eyes, and the feeling is mutual. It’s almost militant in the unattractiveness of its graphics. Even allowing for the fact that this is a mobile port of a Macintosh game from 2003 that was itself an iteration of a much older series, it looks awful.
Planets start out as ugly featureless brown-orange lumps that turn into smeared blue-green-purple lumps when terraformed. The presence of mineral reserves on them is indicated by even uglier protuberances that are presumably supposed to resemble rocks but make planets look like they’re afflicted with some sort of disfiguring skin disease instead. Spacecraft designs are an unstable hybrid of generic science fiction meets stupidly goofy. Spaceward Ho! does neither well.
By now, you’ve seen the screenshots for Slay and Templar Assault. You know what they look like. You know I’m not not a picky man.
Beneath the exterior that seems to mockingly dare the player to actually look at it, however, there’s a nice 4X interstellar empire strategy game. The gameplay is fun and intuitive, with lots of things to do – colonize, terraform, and mine planets, research technology in five areas, design and build warships to fight your enemies. Colonization requires significant ongoing expenses early on before new worlds become profitable, forcing you to strike a careful balance between expanding too quickly and bankrupting yourself and expanding too slowly and being overwhelmed by larger rivals.
If you like the genre and have a high tolerance for hideousness, it’s worth a shot.