Things Can Only Get Better
Yes, I know, realistically things could get worse. We could be invaded by a cadre of intergalactic squid or a block-sized asteroid could yet again splash down in the Yucatan, or we might just suffer the sort of global tidal wave that years ago kept my 6 year-old son awake at night (Thanks, YouTube). But barring the above—and I do mean specifically the above—2021 is the year where things will just have to get better. And whether you’re staring bright-eyed into that future or licking your 2020 wounds, Hardcore Droid has got your back, with the following list of mobile gaming goodness to augment this no doubt auspicious year—our take on the very best Android Strategy Games as of 2021.
10. Iron Marines
Next to Company of Heroes, Ironhide Studios’ Iron Marines represents the best RTS on mobile. What’s more, it is decidedly a made-for-mobile title. While that is often a backhanded recommendation, it isn’t here. You can play Iron Marines in short spurts, yet it still possesses enough depth to keep strategy fans engaged. A sort of cartoonish pared-down StarCraft, Iron Marines offers up a bevy of cool battles and well-designed missions. What’s more, like Ironhide’s excellent Kingdom Rush games (listed below), there is enough nuance under the hood for gamers who require an extra measure of complexity. While the release of Company of Heroes does push this title into the penultimate mobile RTS position, second place atop the vast heap that is Android gaming is rather impressive, as is this excellent strategy title.
Time has been kind to Tropico, especially within the sphere of Android strategy gaming. Gathering of Developer’s superlative banana republic city builder is every bit as rich and engrossing as it was when it was released for PC in 2001. While not especially user-friendly in terms of game mechanics and the inherent imperfections of its touch controls, Feral Interactive’s port remains a wonderfully comprehensive city builder simulation in the mold of the best of that genre. To that end, you may wish to fool around a bit with sandbox mode after you’ve completed the tutorials as the campaign waxes unforgiving to noobs. However, once you’ve tucked the game’s systems under your belt, Tropico is an absolute blast to play. Considering the ocean of mobile sim detritus, Android gamers who are building sim fans will be in their absolute glory.
8. Plague Inc.
We’ve got a lot of nerve throwing this global pandemic simulator up on our list. In a very interesting and strangely fitting turn of events, Miniclip’s Plague Inc. saw a huge resurgence beginning last spring. For the uninitiated, in Plague Inc. you control a deadly virus. Your central task, is to shepherd said virus’s evolution from a relatively harmless microorganism to an invulnerable apocalyptic disease. Aside from being a scientifically accurate simulation, one that demonstrates how diseases evolve and spread over time, Plague Inc. is a brilliant and entrancing simulator. And one could safely argue that not only does it illuminate the nuances of a global pandemic, it also provides a startling argument for perhaps maybe listening to those folks responsible for stuff like space flight over, say, pundits and politicians.
Illwinter Games has carved a niche for itself among hardcore strategy gamers. Most of Illwinter’s titles sacrifice high-end production values for radical depth and complexity. At first glance, Elysium 3 seems to be in another category. You don’t need a manual, for example, to get in and start playing. However, complex mechanisms are buzzing away below its simple interface.
In Elysium 3 you cobble together and command a highly-variegated force of high fantasy races in an effort to conquer the map du jour. While you contend with a multitude of elements: heroes, a variety of martial units, races, and skill sets, it remains not at all hard to grasp. And once you’re in, gameplay waxes hypnotic. What’s more, it’s an ideal strategy game for those looking to get in and out quick as most games are relatively short by strategy gaming standards. The low-end graphics might give some strategy fans pause. If you love mobile strategy, however, keep it to a pause as Conquest of Elysium 3 is one of the finest strategy games you can play on Android.
It’s a frickin’ cartoon you say. Childish drivel you say. Yes. Yes it is. It’s also an absolutely superb and well-balanced strategy game. There’s a reason Ironhide Studios’ Kingdom Rush series has garnered legions of fans, no small feat for a premium mobile strategy game. While all of the games in the series are basically the same salad with a different dressing, they are all fun, fast-paced, smartly-designed tower defense titles, in which your towers and defensive units are finely counter-balanced against the invading hordes of baddies. And the cartoony towers, units and monstrosities are not only rather tiny and charming, they are also wonderfully detailed both in terms of its aesthetic and its thoughtfully fleshed-out underpinnings.
Firaxis’ Civilization VI is undoubtedly a seminal strategy title on any platform and by any standard. It is only listed as number five here because it only works on like three devices, and touch controls are less than perfect. While the latter is always true and they are not God-awful here, they do detract from the experience. In short, forgive us Civ Gods. We are only human.
All of the above said, it is, as Civilization has always been, a landmark strategy title, a crackishly addictive game that is at once easy to learn and challenging to master. For those of you raised on an ice floe, Civilization VI sees you developing a civilization, of all things, from its beginnings in the Stone Age step-by-step into the Space Age. Along the way you’ll research every imaginable facet of a developing nation from political ideologies to a bevy of resource types; from arms and armaments to arrays of technologies. The way these multitudinous elements alter your unfolding civilization in terms of how you manipulate the world around you is mesmerizing. Relatively speaking, it is a game for which the term deep falls woefully short.
4. Door Kickers
A cross-platform title, KillHouse Games’ Door Kickers proved a solid fit for mobile devices, offering both a somewhat unique premise and superb real-time tactical combat. Door Kickers sees you managing and controlling a SWAT team. Mostly you invade the bases and strongholds of criminals and terrorists. Combat unfolds by way of a detailed way point system, through which one can orchestrate detailed and multi-pronged incursions into enemy territory. Each mission is rated via a three-star system. Being that rewards include arms and new team members, you will undoubtedly find yourself perfecting your tactics to improve your SWAT team. At the end of the day you kind of need the boost as the missions grow increasingly difficult as the game progresses. Yet, we didn’t mind either the replays or the difficulty levels as Door Kickers provides some of the most satisfying tactical combat mobile gaming has to offer. Get it.
We apologize to the fine designers at Ironhide Studios. But Company of Heroes represents the first bona fide real-time strategy game to appear on Google Play. Yes, you could cite this game or that game. To which we say no, and no, and no.
If you are looking to engage with some serious goodness with all the trappings of a genuine RTS, COH is the real McCoy (And we are aware of how antiquated that phrase sounds, but bear in mind that no one ever doubted that that boy was for real). Originally released in 2006 by Relic Entertainment, the title is set during World War II.
Early missions feature historical recreations of the Invasion of Normandy. Later missions see players taking part in seminal conflicts like the Battle for the Bulge. COH’s muted earth tone palette belies extraordinary production values, with detailed animations and AI causing troops to hit the dirt during explosions, and incoming aircraft to lay perforated tracks of gunfire across the dirt. Similarly, the game’s underlying minutia is detailed and balanced enough to hit the sweet spot between player-friendly and challenge. If that weren’t enough, the game’s missions are not only historically accurate but often comprehensive in scope. In short, what we have at last is an authentic real-time strategy game on Android. And another reason to thank Feral Interactive for a first-rate port.
2. The Banner Saga 1 and 2
Versus Evil’s The Banner Saga often finds itself in the penultimate spot on our strategy lists. This year is no different as it remains a beautiful, unique and storied tactical strategy game. While it boasts a small measure of loot and character progression, the game’s focus on tactical combat drops this title firmly in the strategy category for us.
Set in a dark fantasy world, a sort of faux medieval Northern Europe shared by humans and varls, giant humanoids with ox horns. The Banner Saga’s narrative premise twists and builds on standard fantasy tropes. It does much the same with it simple, elegant tactical battles. In combat you have two main stats to worry about. Instead of hit points, strength functions both as a damage modifier and HP. In order to reduce strength/HP, your strength has to be higher than your opponent’s armor. If the differential is high enough, armor is ignored. Otherwise you have to break the armor down. Fittingly as strength is reduced so is your opponent’s capacity to damage you. This simple, elegant system pays dividends in term of providing varied and unique tactical choices. Additionally, under the hood are a host of other stats that add depth both to combat and managing troop builds.
The other half of the game plays out by way of an Oregon Trail mechanics where you manage unfolding events as you travel Banner Saga’s crumbling game world in an effort to keep your band of humans and varls healthy and whole. What’s more, the series’ overarching story, in which you pendulate between playing a human and varl chieftain, both contending with an encroaching apocalypse, is epic in scope and engagingly well-written. A cross-platform title, Banner Saga is a perfect fit for mobile. Its storied trappings and simple controls are liable to induce an urge to curl up on the couch with your device as though you were reading a favorite book.
For our money, XCOM: Enemy Within is not just the best Android strategy game, it’s the best mobile game period. Via a strategic and tactical layer, you head up XCOM, managing a multi-national last line of defense against a planetary invasion of technologically advanced ETs. In the strategic layer, you manage XCOM, doing R&D on cool alien loot you’ve retrieved. Base management also involves placating member states, and upgrading your soldiers and home base.
The tactical layer, however, is where the fun is. XCOM and XCOM 2 (the latter releases on Android later this year) have become the high watermark of turn-based tactical combat. The reason: XCOM is so well designed across the board that unfolding missions invariably create emergent narratives. If you ever lost a beloved sniper that you named in a heated terror mission or shattered a hulking sectopod’s armor with a shredder rocket then finished him at point-blank range with an alloy cannon, then you know what I mean. If, however, you have never headshotted an Ethereal from the lofty perch afforded you by your archangel armor, then, my friend, you need to pony up the cash for this extraordinary gaming experience.
Enjoyed our list of the Best Android Strategy Games as of 2021? Be sure to check out our list of the Best Offline Strategy Games for Android.