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.

XCOM: Enemy Within

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 »

Screenshot of Civ VI

Perhaps the best way to demonstrate just how far the iPad has come in gaming is to look at Civilization VI.  This isn't a mobile-sized version of the long-revered strategy game that plops you down in 3000 BC and lets you control a civilization through the ages. This is the entire just-like-the-PC-version game. And it works like a charm. 

Turn-based strategy games have always gone hand-in-hand with tablets. There's something about the thin devices and actually touching the map to move around it that makes a strategy game really come to life. Combine that with one of the best strategy game series in gaming history, and you have quite a combination.

If there is a problem with Civilization, it is with complexity. Players familiar with the other editions of this game know what to expect, but if this is your first full-fledged Civilization, be prepared to spend your first hours with it trying to get your head around just how much detail there is in the game. It should also be noted that Civilization VI has the same $59.99 price tag you'll find on the PC, which is understandable when you consider it is the entire PC game. As a bonus, you can play for a limited number of turns for free. More »

Faster Than Light

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.

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

Screenshot of Rome: Total War

Taking over the Roman empire harkens back to the earliest days of computer strategy, but perhaps no one did it better than The Creative Assembly when they released Rome: Total War back in 2004.  A mixture of turn-based strategy on the map and real-time strategy within the battles, the Total War series successfully knitted together the two genres to create something epic.

Rome: Total War is one of many classic games to see rebirth on tablets, and it has lost none of the magic that made it such a great strategy game. The bundles includes the classic Rome:Total War, the Barbarian Invasion and the Alexander variants. Each can also be be purchased separately. More »

Civilization Revolution II

It may seem odd to have two different Civilization games on the list, but that's just it: these are two different takes on the Civilization theme.

Civilization Revolution is an attempt to bring the game back to its roots, 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.

There's no doubt that Civilization VI is the super-sized version. It also has a super-sized price tag. If you are unfamiliar with the Civilization games, Civilization Revolution II is a great place to get your feet wet before you move on to the more complex Civilization VI. More »

Plants vs Zombies 2

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 theoriginal 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 RTS

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 reminiscent 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 »

Star Command

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 »

Heroes of Might and Magic III

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 »


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 what each character can do and how they can be put to best use on the battlefield. More »

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. 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 »

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 »

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