The strategy genre on Android is like an iceberg: the part you see is just the tip of a much larger object beneath the surface (and also because of James Cameron’s upcoming Edwardian-era romantic drama set against the backdrop of a tragic maritime disaster somehow caused by Plants vs. Zombies). Above the surface, there are breakout hits like Great Little War Game. There are ports of popular games from other platform, like Anomaly: Warzone Earth and Greed Corp. There are Kairosoft’s management sim games. There’s the never-ending cavalcade of tower defense titles created by randomly selecting two concepts and sticking “vs.” between them.
Meanwhile, beneath the surface, there’s far more that most people overlook. Admittedly, a lot of it is overlooked for good reason, but there are some gems too, lesser-known games, like:
HD Score – 4.0
Slay is old. In the primordial afterglow of the Big Bang, when the stars themselves were young and the silicon atoms in the computer on which you read this had yet to be forged in their searing nuclear furnaces, Sean O’Connor had already programmed Slay’s forerunner Battle Hex on his Atari ST. Just a few years later in 1995, the first version of Slay was born. It’s been gradually getting updated and ported to new platforms ever since, making it’s way to Android in 2012.
It’s a simple but extremely addictive turn-based strategy game where you and five opponents battle for control of an island. You must capture hexes to increase your income, which allows you to create and pay ongoing maintenance for your units, which you use to take more territory and protect what you already have. You’re perpetually walking a tightrope – you can’t disband a unit once created, the more powerful units that trump weaker ones become geometrically more expensive, and if you can’t meet maintenance costs in a territory at the end of the turn you lose all of them.
There’s no random element at all, so no matter how unexpected and seemingly out of nowhere the collapse of your empire is, it’s your fault. It’s a lot of fun, especially if you’re inflicting the sudden collapses rather than suffering them, and the mechanics encourage sudden, dramatic reversals of fortune without being arbitrary or unfair.
HD Score – 3.5
Sand Box is difficult to classify. You create a world by adding “elements” to it – stone, soil, water, and so forth- choose settings for things like climate, and watch it evolve and interact. There are many elements and a huge number of possible interactions between them – water evaporates into clouds and comes down as rain that erodes the landscape, metal conducts electricity, intense heat turns stone and sand into lava and glass, and so on. Create the right conditions, and life can evolve.
You can create an environment for life to thrive, build great mountains and then unleash the elements to slowly wear them away, create elaborate systems of electrically powered machines, or douse the map in lava and oil to reduce it to a nightmarish apocalyptic hellscape. There’s a lot of possibilities, and Sandbox allows you to really get creative with it.
HD Score – 3.5
Templar Assault might be called derivative of Warhammer 40,000, much as leaping naked into molten steel might be called “unsafe” – which isn’t a bad thing if it leads to a good game, mind you.
You lead a squad of the eponymous Templars, powered-armor clad warriors in a futuristic quasi-religious military brotherhood, through a series of turn-based missions battling the enemies of humanity. The combat is fun, and careful tactics are essential. The game has a good atmosphere, which the gameplay reinforces – your squad is all alone, surrounded by alien horrors lurking in the darkness.
Between stages, you can customize and upgrade each of your men by choosing their equipment, selecting stats to improve, and deciding which new weapons or soldiers to requisition with the “Honor” points earned from each victory. Templar Assault is a lot of fun, and despite the derivative nature of the premise (which the designers freely admit to) it’s nice to see an Android military strategy game that invests some personality and atmosphere in its setting.
HD Score – N/A
NEC’s ill-fated TurboGrafx-16 console is mostly known nowadays for its acclaimed shoot’em ups and for introducing the first video games on CD-ROM via its TurboGrafx-CD peripheral. However, it also featured the acclaimed and highly influential Military Madness, a futuristic turn-based military strategy game.
You battle for control of the Moon in the year 2089, commanding an army of diverse units including different types of tanks, infantry, artillery, aircraft – winged flying vehicles that produce lift with no atmosphere are a thing 76 years from now, apparently – and more, each with their own strengths and weaknesses The Android version of the game features the full campaign of the 1989 original, with improved graphics.
Strategy & Tactics: World War II
HD Score – 4.0
This turn-based historical strategy game seemed to pass under most people’s radars upon release. The gameplay is simple but entertaining, putting you in command of Axis, Soviet, or British/American forces in a series of historical campaigns from the Second World War. There’s also a multiplayer mode with plenty of scenarios, including a huge grand campaign that supports up to four human or AI players
S&T has an interesting, immersive visual style despite being relatively undemanding in its technical requirements, and the best music I’ve ever heard in a mobile game – better than that of most PC and console games I’ve played recently. Unfortunately, a lot of the sound effects are so ear-insultingly grating and uncomfortable to listen to that I actually had to turn off the sound – you can’t the sound effects and music separately – while playing with headphones, which is a real shame when a game has music so good that I’d sometimes just let the game sit idle so I could listen to it. Still, check it out.
HD Score – 4.25
The zombie apocalypse is a trope that’s been overexposed in games recently, but there are still interesting things being done with it. Rebuild is a city-building/management game that makes you the leader of a group of surviving humans. You must scavenge for supplies, find more survivors, build new structures, make important decisions about the future of your community, and fight off the threatening zombie hordes to restore some semblance of civilization.
It’s got a nice visual style and a wonderfully creepy, atmospheric soundtrack that help set the tone of the game. Rebuild is an entertaining spin on not one but two overcrowded genres, zombie horror and the mobile town building game, and manages to be a worthwhile entry in both. .
HD Score – 3.5
It would be unkind to describe Spaceward Ho! as “ugly.” Or “pug-ugly,” “ass-ugly,” or “something the Elephant Man might play to feel better about himself if he were still alive and owned a smart phone.”
It wouldn’t be inaccurate, but it would be unkind. More importantly, getting hung up on the game’s almost aggressive unattractiveness (I genuinely would have enjoyed it more if it had just been Dwarf Fortress-style text graphics) and questionable stylistic choices would make you miss out on a solid and fairly complex 4X interstellar strategy game.
You’re charged with building an interstellar empire, managing ship construction, exploration, colonization, mining, terraforming, warfare, five different areas of technological research, and two resources – money, which is generated anew every turn, and metal for ship construction, which the galaxy has a finite supply of. Rapidly expanding and gaining resources without bankrupting yourself is an interesting balancing act. Combat is resolved automatically when hostile fleets meet, but the surprisingly in-depth ship design system makes warfare interesting in spite of that. If you enjoy games like Master of Orion or Galactic Civilizations, give Spaceward Ho! a try.