An overview of free turn-based strategy and war games

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This article will present an overview of 19 free turn based strategy games (empire building or war games).

The games are: FreeCiv, TripleA, Stick Figure Strategy, Weewar, Eight Kingdoms, PhpDiplomacy, C-Evo, Advanced Strategic Command, Project W, Conqueror, The General, TriChromic, FreeOrion, People’s Tactics, Lgeneral, Crimson Fields, 1848, The Battle for Wesnoth, and Risk.

I’m a big fan of turn-based strategy and war games. If pressed I would go on record as saying that Sid Meier’s Civilization series are the best ever created… and while I’m at it let me also venture my opinion that turn-based strategy games offer an inherently better design that real-time strategy games, even when the latter profess to be a better representation of what happens in the real world.

Turn Based Games Screenshot

This posting could have been entitled “19 games I really would have liked to
play had I had the time”; I wanted to present an overview of the many free turn based strategy games that I’ve come across. Note that although I usually personally try all the software I post on Freewaregenius, I only played a sub-set of these. Finally, it took a while to research and write this article, so please Stumble and/or Digg it! This list assumes the following guidelines:

  • Will include empire building and/or war games only; no squad based or shoot em ups (e.g. Worms-style), or role playing games.
  • Turn based: no real-time-strategy (RTS) games will be included.
  • Focus on standalone, playable games rather than game engines.

FreeCiv Screenshot1- FreeCiv: inspired by the Civilization series of games, FreeCiv is a an open source turn based strategy game that most closely approximates Civ2 (although it also includes elements from the others in the series, as for example “national borders” which is equivalent to “culture” in Civ3. FreeCiv has been around for a while and has a large community following and lots of resources on the net. [Open source, single player, LAN or internet multiplayer. Windows, Linux, Mac and a number of others]. Go here to download.

Also check out Longturn, which organizes multiplayer FreeCiv games over the internet where each turn takes 24 hours, for those of us who do not have hours every day to invest in playing but wouldn’t mind spending a few minutes each day to play a single turn.

TripleA Screenshot2- TripleA: is a free, Java-based turn based strategy game based on the popular Axis and Allies boardgame that looks very good indeed. Documentation is somewhat scant but you are familiar with Axis and Allies you’ll be in good shape, or you can find a guide for TripleA newbies on the AAZone fansite. [Open source, single player or multiplayer over the internet. Windows, Linux, Mac].

Go here to download.

Stick Figure Strategy3- Stick Figure Strategy: a turn based strategy game that could be considered a casual game in that it can be learned in a mere 15 minutes. Everything is kept simple, from the handful or rules to the relatively short list of units, but that only serves to enhance the game playing experience. And despite the simple, perfunctory graphics it still somehow manages to look cool [Open source, single player. Windows].

Go here to download.

Weewar screenshot4- Weewar: this is a free browser based multiplayer turn based strategy wargame on a hexadecimal grid. A friend of mine loves this game and I’ll take his word for it that it’s pretty cool. Unfortunately, and although Weewar allows its users to create their own maps, it requires an upgrade to a “pro” version to allow you to play these. All the same there will be a good number of maps for you to play for free at any point in time.

Due to it’s serial turn-based nature some games could potentially take a long time. Once a player finishes his turn others are notified by email, or you can get notified through a number of desktop based tools and widgets. [Free version allows a max of 4 simultaneous games, browser based, multiplayer over the internet, requires registration]. Go here to play.

Eight Kingdoms Screenshot5- Eight Kingdoms: featuring 3D graphics overlaid onto an hexagonal grid, 8 Kingdoms takes you to a medieval world of warring kingdoms. Of note, as I researched this game, was the diverse set of units and downloadable maps. The website lists a number of “significant” features of this game, including the “realistic projection of terrains and surfaces which influence upon movement, realistic model of weather, well-developed computation of fights, including counter-attacks, visibility and experiences, siege weapons and magical units, model of money, taxes, payment to the army, units earn experiences, and artificial intelligence”.

I haven’t played this game but it looks like its a very good one. [Open Source, single and multiplayer games, Windows and Linux]. Go here to download.

phpDiplomacy Screenshot6- PhpDiplomacy: a browser based implementation of the board game “Diplomacy” which professes to be “quite self explanatory”, according to the website. Another quote: “Diplomacy is a game which is easy to learn but impossible to master. The rules are all very intuitive, lots of people pick them up just by playing”. In fact all you need to get going is to learn the handful of possible moves and unit types, and the basic rules of Diplomacy. [Open Source, browser based, multiplayer using hotseat or play by email, requires registration]. Go here to play.

C-Evo Screenshot7- C-Evo: another Civ2 inspired game. This one boasts all the elements that you would expect in an empire building game: exploration, war, diplomacy, industry, research, etc. What the creators of this game aspired to do, however, is to create a strong, challenging AI who is out to get you from the get-go. [Freeware, single player or hotseat, Windows]

Go here to download.

Advanced Strategic Command Screenshot8- Advanced Strategic Command: an open source game modeled on the Battle Isle series of games released in the 1990’s, featuring warring units on a hexagonal grid map (what else could you possibly want?).

[Open Source, Single player against the AI and against multiplayer using hotseat or play by email. Window, Linux and Mac]. Go here to download.

Project W Screenshot9- Project W: set 50 years into the future, this game sets you as one of five nations with the objective of controlling a world set . You will need to control the territory you own, manage your army, research new technology, spy/sabotage your enemies, manage your staff (scientists, spies, generals, etc.), and of course manage your resources. Features multiple units, buildings, and techs, variable AI personalities, and an extensive manual.

Project W does not skimp on eye candy and looks pretty good, but requires a decent graphics card. [Freeware, Single player or multiplayer, hotseat mode, on one PC. Windows 2000, XP, Vista]. Go here to download.

Conqueror Screenshot10- Conqueror: a Shockwave based game set on a map of medieval Europe. It can be described as a cross between Risk and Civilization, in that you manage your territories and resources (build structures such as farms, raise/lower taxes, and have to deal with your population and keep them happy lest they revolt). A nice game in general but the AI seems to be very well behaved and non-aggressive in general while human opponents are much harder to deal with. Conqueror employs “ingenious system of simultaneous turns” which means you (mostly) don’t have to wait for the human players to finish their turns (no I don’t really know exactly how this works, if you do please explain in the comments section).

Overall a nice game but the AI players don’t seem to make sense sometimes, and the game will require that you play for extended periods of time to get to grips with it. You can play against up to 16 players (human or AI) and the games can be anywhere from 30 mins to 4 hours or so. [Free, browser based, Single player or (mostly simultaneous) multiplayer. Requires registration]. Go here to play.

The General Screenshot11- The General: a turn based strategy game that despite its somewhat primitive graphics promises to be a “real intellectual treat” and has grown significantly in popularity it its first two years. The General offers simple controls via a tabbed interface, excellent computer AI that “is not confined to some rigid scheme of play”, and is very suited for multiplayer play with other humans (and employs a simultaneous turn processing mode).

A full game with a handful of human players can be completed in 3 to 4 hours, and the game supports “all multiplayer modes”. [Freeware, Single player or multiplayer via LAN, modem, through LPT or COM ports, on the Internet, or hotseat mode on one PC, Windows]. Go here to download.

Trichromic Screenshot12- TriChromic: a fairly straightforward game inspired by the “Advance Wars” series of games where you fight your opponents for control of a map. The graphics are nothing to write home about but the gameplay is fun and somewhat addictive.

TriChormic offers three types of army: Crimson has sophisticated yet expensive/slow units, Cobalt has fairly good units that are faster than Crimson but less powerful, and Pine has few unit types that are cheap yet versatile. Gameplay consists largely of grabbing resources on a map and managing the combat by managing sheer numbers as well as a kind of rock/paper/scissors calculus. The game comes with a map editor as well.

This game is easy to learn and get into with a minimal time investment. The only problem I had with it was its tendency to crash on my Win XP system, although the blame may lie with my PC rather than the game. [Freeware, Single player or multiplayer, Windows or Linux]. Go here to download.

FreeOrion Screenshot13- FreeOrion: a galactic conquest game modeled on the “Master of Orion” games released in the 1990s. FreeOrion is a so called 4x game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit & eXterminate) and incorporates the typical elements of an empire building game, such as nation building, etc., It also supports an open design that allows for the customization of the story elements and the game engine.

[Freeware, Single player or multiplayer, Windows, Mac,or Linux]. Go here to download.

Peoples Tactics screenshot14- People’s Tactics: a wargame on a hex grid modeled on games like Panzer General and Empire Extreme where up to 10 (human or AI) players can play. You will have to deploy land, sea, and air units (including officer units with special abilities), manage logistics and supplies, and issue “highly customizable”. This game has been called “one of the best freeware war games ever made”, and seems to have struck a perfect balance between complexity and playability.

People’s Tactics includes a random mission generator and offers downloadable scenarios (e.g. American Civil War, Spanish Civil War, etc, found in the forums). [Freeware, Single player or multiplayer hotseat or play by email, Windows]. Go here to download.

Lgeneral Screenshot15- Lgeneral: another Panzer General inspired tactical turn based wargame. I didn’t play this one and information was sparse, but will quote the website for some of the features: “Entrenchment, rugged defense, defensive fire, surprise contacts, surrender, unit supply, weather influence, reinforcements and other implementations contribute to the tactical and strategic depth of the game.” Also offers custom downloadable scenarios. [Freeware, Single player or hotseat multiplayer against another player, Windows, Linux]. Go here to download.

Crimson Fields Screenshot16- Crimson Fields: a turn based tactical war game on a hex grid modeled on the “Battle Isle” series of games, and includes a converter that can import maps from games such as Battle Isle and History Line. Crimson Fields offers a range of mission objectives (e.g. defend a location, destroy the enemy, etc), and includes a tool for creating custom maps and campaigns. [Freeware, Single player or multiplayer network or hotseat, or play by email. Windows, Linux, Mac, and a number of others including PDA versions; Zaurus, Palm, PocketPC]. Go here to download.

1848 Screenshot17- 1848: this game is set during the Hungarian Independence War of 1848-49, which apparently was a period during which many revolutions against the Austrian Habsburg erupted and were put down. 1848 is a turn based tactical wargame on a hexadecimal grid, and features 3 nations (Hungary, Austria and Russia), 14 unit types, and 100 generals. [Freeware, Single player or multiplayer network or hotseat. Windows].

Go here to download.

Battle for Wesnoth Screenshot18. The Battle for Wesnoth: is a very addictive turn based strategy game played on a hex grid. What makes this game good is (a) its balance between depth and complexity – a good dose of the former, and not a lot of the latter, (b) its strong AI, and (c) its just fun! Although it has elements of a role playing game I decided to include this game here because in many ways its is a strategy wargame in a fantasy setting (the other reason: its a rather good game). See the full Freewaregenius review of this game. [Open Source, Single player or nework or internet multiplayer. Windows, Linux, Mac]. Go here to download.

Risk Screenshot19- Risk: there are a number of freeware implementations of the famous Risk board game, my favorite being a Java-based version that I previously reviewed on Freewaregenius. Check it out here.

Note: if you know of a good freeware Risk implementation that you like, please let me know in the comments section!.