The Best Strategy and Tower Defense Games for the iPad

The iPad has tons of awesome strategy games. Here are the best ones

With its touch controls, the iPad is a natural fit for strategy games. Here we round up the best of them. Whether you're a fan of turn-based or real-time strategy, tower defense or rogue-like simulations, you'll find something to love in any one of these great iPad games.

An illustration of a strategy game on an iPad.
Theresa Chiechi ©Lifewire
01
of 13

XCOM: Enemy Within

XCOM: Enemy Within

What We Like

  • Fun multiplayer system.

  • Vast amount of content.

  • Intense story line.

What We Don't Like

  • Skimpy, confusing tutorial.

  • Not updated for iOS 12, causing some freezes.

XCOM: Enemy Within may be the first PC or console game to receive a full-featured port to the iPad. This is great news for strategy fans who know XCOM as one of the most beloved strategy games of the decade. Complex turn-based tactics provide an unparalleled depth of strategy, while the backdrop of an alien invasion offers a haunting sci-fi experience.

Enemy Within is the expanded version of the original game, Enemy Unknown. It includes everything from the original, as well as new themes and gameplay elements.

02
of 13

Civilization VI

Civilization VI game

What We Like

  • Nearly identical port of the popular PC version.

  • More relaxing for long-term play than computer versions.

  • Awesome game for new and experienced players.

What We Don't Like

  • Free download limited to 60 turns.

  • Full game in-app purchase is pricey.

  • Requires iOS 11.4.1 or later.

One of the most famous (and addictive) strategy games of all time, Civilization allows you to build a thriving empire that braves time, history, and nature alike. The sixth installment, Civilization VI, is the first to arrive on iOS and includes a virtually identical port of the PC version.

Players familiar with earlier editions of the game know what to expect: a sprawling, empire-building, turn-based monstrosity that's difficult to turn away from. First-timers, however, may find the complexity difficult to navigate.

Civilization VI comes with a hefty price tag, which is understandable given the similarity to the PC version. But you can demo the game up to 60 turns for free.

03
of 13

FTL: Faster Than Light

Faster Than Light

What We Like

  • Randomness means endless replay opportunities.

  • Offers three difficulty levels.

  • Rich story line provides immersive sci-fi experience.

What We Don't Like

  • Very difficult even on Easy level.

  • Depends too much on luck, not skill.

  • Tutorial isn't much help.

Inspired by Star Trek, FTL: Faster than Light is a rogue-like game, which means there's a degree of procedurally generated randomness to each new game. With so many different ways to play the game, you'll find yourself exhausting hours at the command of your own starship.

If you've ever wanted to know what it feels like to command a redshirt, knowing full well what a ​redshirt means, this is the game for you.

04
of 13

Rome: Total War Collection

Rome Total War game

What We Like

  • Realistic ancient war strategy.

  • Addictive gameplay.

  • True to the spirit of the PC version.

What We Don't Like

  • Huge 6.9 GB download.

  • Requires iOS 11 or later.

  • Mastering touch controls takes awhile.

First released in 2004, Rome: Total War masterfully blends turn-based and real-time strategy with tactical control of both battles and military campaigns.

Rome: Total War is one of many classics to enjoy a rebirth on iOS, losing none of the magic that made it such a great strategy game to begin with. The bundles include the classic Rome: Total War, the Barbarian Invasion, and the Alexander variants. Each can also be purchased separately.​

05
of 13

Civilization Revolution 2

Civilization Revolution II

What We Like

  • Better graphics than the original Civilization Revolution.

  • Less complex than the PC version, but ideal for mobile.

What We Don't Like

  • Clunky interface.

  • Games are brief.

  • AI less sophisticated than previous Civ games.

Civilization Revolution is an attempt to bring the Civ franchise back to its roots, simplifying an otherwise massive game into something both casual and hardcore strategy gamers can enjoy. Civilization Revolution has the same epic feel as the PC games, with hours of content but in a simpler package.

The sequel, Civilization Revolution 2, expands on this idea with new technologies to discover and units to deploy. There's also a new way to play: scenarios, which drop you right smack into the middle of simulated historical events.

There's no doubt that Civilization VI is the ideal, super-sized version, but it also has a super-sized price tag. If you are unfamiliar with the Civilization games, Civilization Revolution 2 is a great way to get your feet wet before jumping into the more complex Civilization VI.

06
of 13

Plants vs Zombies 2

Plants vs Zombies 2

What We Like

  • Time-traveling zombies.

  • Great sequel to a great game.

  • Clever minigames add variety.

What We Don't Like

  • Some formerly free plants now require purchase.

  • No more daily gems, gauntlets, or coins.

  • Random ads to switch play areas.

Plants vs Zombies was a refreshing take on the tower defense strategy game, and the sequel stays true to its roots. It's perfect for gamers who enjoy the addictive quality of strategy games without the need to spend hours on a single session. The levels get more intense as you go along, and you'll be able to play through different themes, like the Wild West and Ancient Egypt.

This is one of those rare occasions where if you've never played the original Plants vs Zombies, the sequel is the best place to start. The free-to-play model, which in other games can swarm with ads and in-app purchases, is tolerable here. The original is great, but you'll still have a ton of fun if you decide to play through the sequel first.

07
of 13

Rymdkapsel

Rymdkapsel

What We Like

  • Minimalist strategy/puzzle game with spacey visuals.

  • Tons of atmosphere.

  • Easy to play. Hard to master.

What We Don't Like

  • Must play through once to understand it.

  • Particularly difficult after wave 20.

  • AI could use improvement.

Hard to pronounce but easy to get addicted to, Rymdkapsel is perhaps the most unique game on this list. The object is to build a space station capable of warding off alien attacks while researching some strange monoliths. Some people may be turned off by the minimalist visuals, but these visuals nonetheless evoke an enchanting atmosphere. 

In many ways, Rymdkapsel is reminiscent of the old Dungeon Keeper games, where you build a dungeon with different rooms and prepare your minions to ward off intruders. It's unfortunate that the Dungeon Keeper remake went too heavy with in-app purchases, but for gamers who like that combination of real-time strategy and tower defense, Rymdkapsel is a load of fun. 

08
of 13

Star Command

Star Command

What We Like

  • Good game with a lot of potential.

  • No in-app purchases.

What We Don't Like

  • Short game. Promises of additional content never materialized.

Designed for fans of space-faring sci-fi, Star Command puts you in command of a spaceship tasked with defending planet Earth. You have strategic control of operations and ship resources and can deploy redshirts to defend the ship. In addition to redshirts, there are yellow shirts who serve as engineers and blue shirts who are science officers.

The retro graphics and light-hearted take on the genre add fun to the experience. As you maintain the ship, you'll face off against enemies who beam onto your ship. The only downside to the game is the linear storyline, which makes playing through a second time a bit repetitive.

09
of 13

TowerMadness

TowerMadness

What We Like

  • Great classic tower defense game.

  • Lots of variety in gameplay.

  • Two-player, split-screen battle mode.

What We Don't Like

  • Developers slow to respond to needed updates.

  • Would benefit from new maps and weapons.

Perhaps the best tower defense game on the iPad, TowerMadness tasks you with the critical mission of defending sheep from an alien invasion. Your arsenal includes a tower that electrocutes aliens to make them run slower, an amplification tower that improves surrounding towers, and an artillery tower that bombards enemies.

TowerMadness features free-form tower defense gameplay and an excellent tutorial that will quickly get you into the game without completely boring longtime tower defense nuts.

10
of 13

Battleheart

Battleheart

What We Like

  • Quirky and funny animations.

  • Amazing soundtrack.

  • Simple design.

What We Don't Like

  • Repetitive combat.

  • Could use more levels.

For those who love a little role-playing in their strategy games, Battleheart puts you in command of a lone knight, capable of recruiting more mercenaries as the game progresses. The intuitive swipe controls allow you to control the action on screen, which makes for a unique hybrid RPG and real-time strategy experience.

11
of 13

Modern Conflict 2

Modern Conflict 2

What We Like

  • Fascinating single missions and campaigns.

  • Good game for downtime.

What We Don't Like

  • In-app purchases to advance in game.

  • Some features tied to advertising.

Modern Conflict has an intuitive one-touch control scheme that allows you to send battalions of tanks and helicopters against enemy bases without working up a sweat. It's a nice workaround to some of the navigational problems that face other real-time strategy games. We just wish the game had fewer paywalls and advertisements.

12
of 13

Great Little War Game

Great Little War Game

What We Like

  • Unique turn-based fun.

  • Great graphics, funny voices, clever dialogue.

What We Don't Like

  • No update since 2012.

  • Not compatible with iOS 11 and later.

Great Little War Game has some familiar real-time strategy elements but in a turn-based framework. You go around collecting gold and building troops as you would in a real-time game, but there's a need for complex strategy and planning that's more familiar to turn-based games.

The cartoon graphics add to the fun and as you progress you'll unlock new levels of strategy. Each scenario has its own goals, but most of the time you'll be blasting enemies into smithereens.

13
of 13

Risk: Global Domination

Risk: Global Domination

What We Like

  • Online multiplayer mode. Spectator mode.

  • Fast, satisfying gameplay.

  • Modeled after Risk board game.

What We Don't Like

  • Would benefit from more maps.

  • Takes a long time to set up.

  • Frequent crashes have been reported.

While not the best strategy game for the iPad, there's something to be said for sitting down to a classic game of Risk. This is a great game for those who remember sitting around the table, moving army pieces around the board, and hoping your strategy of taking over Australia will lead you up into Asia and the rest of the world. The graphics are great and the game really evokes its classic origins.