The Top Strategy and Tower Defense Games for the iPad

The iPad's intuitive touch-screen controls make strategy games a natural fit, and developers have provided would-be gamers with a great selection that range from games high on tactics to tactical games with a sense of humor.  These great games include traditional turn-based strategy games, real-time strategy games, and classic tower defense.   And while games like XCOM set a high standard for graphics, it's tough to ignore the retro-style awesomeness of a game like Faster than Light.

As the iPad has grown up, more and more complex games initially designed for other systems have been ported to the tablet. But XCOM: Enemy Unknown may have been the first current game designed for high-end systems to receive a full, feature-complete port to the iPad. This is great news for strategy fans. Regardless of platform, XCOM: Enemy Unknown was among the best strategy games to be released in the past few years. The turn-based tactics allow a greater depth of strategy and the alien invasion setting is a nice change of pace.

Oddly enough, 2K chose to remove Enemy Unknown from the App Store when the sequel was released.  But this makes perfect sense when you realize that Enemy Within contains everything from Enemy Unknown in addition to the new content of the sequel.  That's a great move on 2K's part.   More »

Civilization Revolution II

Sid Meier took strategy games to a new level when Civilization debuted for the PC in 1991, and the series has gone on to have five sequels.

Civilization Revolution is an attempt to bring the game back to its root, simplifying certain aspects of the game to create a game that appeals to both the casual gamer and the hardcore strategy nut. And it succeeded. Civilization Revolution has the same epic feel as the PC line of games and contains hours of fun for anyone who loves strategy games.

Civilization Revolution II expands on this with new technology and units.  There's also a new way to play: scenarios, which will put you right smack into historical events. More »

How about a strategy game that takes place on the Star Trek Enterprise? Okay, this isn't the real Enterprise, but it doesn't take long to figure out what inspired this game.  Faster than Light is a rogue-like game, which means each game features a random adventure.  There are also many different ways to play the game, which means you'll spend many nights at the command of your own starship.   More »

Plants vs Zombies was a refreshing take on the tower defense strategy game, and the sequel stays true to those roots.   This game is perfect for those who want the addiction of a strategy game without the need to spend hours on a single game session.  The levels get more intense as you go along, and you'll be able to play through different themes such as the Wild West and Ancient Egypt.

This is one of those rare entries when if you've never played the original Plants vs Zombies, the sequel is the best place to start. The free-to-play model used in the game isn't as aggressive or as annoying as some other apps that feature in-app purchases, so you can check it out without paying a dime.  And the original is so fully-featured and entertaining, you'll still have a ton of fun with it even if you play through the entire sequel first. More »

It might be hard to pronounce the name of this unique game, but it isn't hard to become addicted to it.  The minimalist graphics might normally turn some people off, but they really work for Rymdkapsel, adding to the atmosphere of the game.  The object of the game is to build a space station capable of warding off alien attacks while reaching out to research some strange monoliths.

In many ways, Rymdkapsel is reminiscent of the old Dungeon Keeper games, where you build a dungeon with different types of rooms while preparing your minions to ward off intruders.  It's unfortunate that the Dungeon Keeper remake went too heavy with in-app purchases, but for those that like that type of passive real-time strategy meets tower defense game, Rymdkapsel is a load of fun.  More »

Autumn Dynasty melds together some of the best parts of turn-based strategy and real-time strategy without going overboard on either.  In many ways, it is remindful of the classic Romance of Three Kingdoms series.  Instead of an overabundance of choices, the strategy is imbued at a more subtle level.  The game controls well on the iPad and the graphics have a distinct character.  This one is a definite must-download for fans of games like Total War. More »

If you've ever dreamed of captaining the Star Trek Enterprise, don't read any further.  Just go download Star Command and start playing it.  Designed for those who love the space-faring genre, Star Command gives you the mission of helping Earth defend its borders by commanding your own ship, allocating resources to different areas of the ship.  There are even red shirts in the game, and because red shirts are mainly tasked with the ship's defenses, they do tend to die a lot.  In addition to the red shirts, there are yellow shirts who serve as engineers and blue shirts who are science officers.

The retro-style graphics and light-hearted take on the genre only add to the fun.  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 story-line that makes playing through the game a second time something only hardcore fans will want to do. More »

This one will appeal to those who want to relive the old Heroes of Might and Magic strategy games, but the basic gameplay stands the test of time.  Heroes of Might and Magic helped define fantasy strategy games in the early 90s, and the third edition was widely considered one of the very best in the genre.   Those who played the series will enjoy reliving the good old days with slightly better but not-quite-HD graphics and those who never experienced them will enjoy some of the most refined and balanced gameplay available in a strategy game.   More »

TowerMadness HD

Perhaps the best tower defense game on the iPad, TowerMadness challenges you with humanity's most important task during the alien invasion: to save the sheep. It's a little-known fact that aliens really love sheep, so in order to save your flock, you'll need to pull out all the stops, including a tower that electrocutes aliens to make them run slower an artillery tower, and an amplification tower that improves surrounding towers.

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. More »

The Walking Dead: Assault

One of the best strategy games of 2012, The Walking Dead: Assault brings the AMC series to the touch screen in all of its glorious horror. Assault is a squad-based strategy game set in the zombie apocalypse that begins with Rick waking in the hospital and follows him through the story. For fans of the show, it's fun to play through some of the situations we watched, and for those who haven't watched The Walking Dead, the game does a great job of getting you into the story and into the action. More »


Wargaming enthusiasts will love Ravenmark Mercenaries.  The game cleans up some of the issues with Witching Hour's previous attempts at producing a complex strategy war game on the tablet, introducing the player to the mechanics through tutorials. But the sheer complexity of the game remains, which lends itself to being one of the deepest strategy games on the App Store. 

The big selling point of Mercenaries is the multiplayer gameplay and the tactical turn-based gameplay.  Each of your units has its own strength and weaknesses, and it is up to you to link them together to exploit those strengths while shoring up those weaknesses. More »


For those that love mixing up some role-playing in their strategy games, Battleheart starts you out as a single knight, but you'll soon be able to recruit more mercenaries to your side. The intuitive swipe controls allow you to control the action on the screen, which is a hybrid between action RPGs and real-time strategy. Played out as a series of battles, the missions are highlighted with intense boss battles like the one depicted in this video. More »

Hero Academy

Hero Academy is the turn-based strategy game for those who don't have time for turn-based strategy. Divided into easily digestible chunks, Hero Academy bares a striking resemblance to a fantasy version of chess. With rocket launchers. The game includes multiple factions from which you draw your team, and part of the skill involves knowing watch each character can do and how they can be put to best use on the battlefield. More »

Sentinel 3: Homeworld

Sentinel 3: Homeworld HD

The Sentinel series of tower defense games keeps getting better, with Sentinel 3: Homeworld adding a commander mech to an already great series. The commander mech levels up between stages, allowing you to customize your mech by choosing different attributes to improve.

The game also adds a new level of strategy to the series by limiting the number of units you can bring into the action. Now, you'll need to plan your tactics in advance based on the map and your enemy.

Army of Darkness Defense

"Shop smart. Shop S-mart." If you loved Bruce Campbell in Sam Raimi's classic Army of Darkness, you'll love this game. Army of Darkness Defense takes place after Ash "sort of" says all of the words over the Necronomicon and unleashes an army of undead soldiers that lay siege to the castle. And, befittingly, it contains ample quotes from the movie.

The gameplay consists of your standard castle defense with some RPG elements in the form of upgraded units and special abilities gained by the main character, Ash. The abilities include using your Boomstick and tricking the enemy with a false version of the Book of the Dead.

The combination of setting, character, quotes and strategic gameplay make this one a real winner. More »

Modern Conflict HD

The real-time strategy genre has a difficult time making the jump from the PC to gaming consoles and tablets. There's just something about a mouse and keyboard that makes flying around a map selecting groups of units and ordering them into battle an intuitive exercise rather than a competition of manual dexterity. Modern Conflict gets around this with a one-touch control scheme that will let you send battalions of tanks and helicopters against enemy bases without working up a sweat. More »

Tower Defense: Lost Earth

Com2uS Inc took some flack from developers after trademarking the tower defense name, but one thing few people argue with is the execution of that trademark in Tower Defense: Lost Earth. Easily one of the top tower defense games on the app store, Lost Earth doesn't break much new ground in the genre, but it does do a great job in almost every aspect of classic tower defense games.

Some gamers may want to shy away from the title simply from Com2uS's move to trademark a genre name -- though the real guilty party there might be the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for allowing such an injustice. But if you have no qualms about it, Tower Defense: Lost Earth is a great strategy game. More »

Sid Meier's Pirates

Sid Meier's Pirates made its debut back in the glory days of the Commodore 64 and the Apple II, opening the doors to pirate hood with a strategy game unlike any other at the time. And this reboot of the classic hasn't lost any of the magic from that first voyage. The iPad version has crisp graphics and varied gameplay that will have you swinging your sword one moment and undertaking a daring sea-based rescue the next minute.

This is a great strategy game for anyone that looks forward to Talk Like a Pirate day as much as they look forward to Christmas or their Birthday. More »

Legendary Wars

While some castle defense games have emerged as hybrids by employing more role-playing methods within the game, Legendary Wars has taken a different route by implementing some real-time strategy ideas. In addition to building up the best army, this side-scrolling strategy game will have you mining gems to build your troops.

The gameplay is both simple and involving, with the type of micromanagement that is not often seen in this genre. The graphics are cute if not spectacular, and the game offers a frantic pace of challenge. This one is great for those that love castle defense but would like to see it done with a little twist. More »

Crimson: Steam Pirates

If Sid Meier's Pirates doesn't quite fill your pirating needs, Crimson: Steam Pirates will. This strategy game allows you to plot out your strategy using turn-based mechanics and then see the action happen in real time. This means you'll have to think about your strategy to make sure you have all of your cannons aimed at the enemy, otherwise you might find yourself going down with your ship.

But it isn't all about seeing who's got the best ship on the open waters. Crimson: Steam Pirates ties the action together with an engaging story, making the game one-part strategy and one-part interactive novel. The freemium model gives you the first chapter of the game for free, while additional chapters must be purchased within the app. More »

Great Little War Game

Great Little War Game is what a really good real-time strategy game would be if it were turned into a turn-based game. The standard elements of collecting gold and building troops that you might find in a real-time strategy game are here, along with the importance of building smartly instead of just going for brute force. But the action happens in a turn-based environment, allowing you to take your time and plan out your moves.

The cartoon graphics just add to the fun, and as you progress, you'll unlock new levels of strategy as the game throws more at you. Each scenario has its own goals, but most of the time you'll be simply blasting the opponent into smithereens. More »

Medieval HD

Medieval HD takes your castle defense formula and combines it with the same physics-based combat that we saw in games like Scorched Earth. This nice combination will have you alternating between building new troops and lining up your arrow fire just right to have the biggest impact on the incoming troops. The act of switching back and forth between firing your ballista and storming the opposing castle with your troops provides interesting decision making as you must make the choice between building that cavalry unit or simply buying a better arrow for your main weapon. More »

Risk HD

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

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