The onset of 16-bit computers was the tipping point for the popularity of real-time strategy (RTS) games, along with the ability to fully realise their potential.
Although the genre's roots go back further (notable early examples include Stonkers on the ZX Spectrum and The Ancient Art of War on the Apple IIe), the Amiga, Atari ST and - later - PC provided the graphical capabilities and under-the-hood grunt to ensure RTS games had a suitable mix of depth, scope and visual clout.
The 1990s subsequently saw classic RTS series emerge, but when the dust eventually settled, Warcraft, Starcraft and Command & Conquer reigned supreme, providing a mix of resource gathering and micro-management, building and unit construction, and real-time warfare.
Command & Conquer found its way to iOS through Command & Conquer Red Alert (£2.99, iPhone; £2.99, iPad), and it's a reasonable effort in fashioning a mobile take on the PC original.
The controls work surprisingly well, enabling you to create structures and then recruit units to deploy and command, although there are wayfinding issues (units lurking in front of trees like idiots, rather than moving on to their destinations), and fans of the PC series might be a little irked by the relative lack of depth and number of missions. Consider this a budget mobile version of Command & Conquer - grab it in one of EA's regular sales and you won't be disappointed.
While Blizzard's sci-fi RTS Starcraft hasn't yet made it to iOS, Gameloft's Starfront Collision (£2.99, iPhone; £4.99, iPad) apes its look and storyline, pitching alien races against each other on a faraway world, scrapping for rare Xenodium crystals.
Like C&C, long-time RTS fans might find themselves hankering for the AI and depth of its PC-based inspiration, but for a mobile title, Starfront Collision is impressive, with a lengthy solo campaign and a decent amount of control regarding unit patrols, automation and retreats.
Each of these hurls you back to mankind's past, with the former goal-based title enabling you to control Romans, Vikings and Mayans, build a little civilisation and then give the neighbours a good old-fashioned kicking. Rather like its cousin on the PC, Settlers IV, this iOS game is complex, demanding mastery of resource management and economic relationships within settlements, but initial missions ease you in gently.
By contrast, Autumn Dynasty dumps you in medieval Japan with the task of quelling a rebellion uprising. It's more streamlined compared to those mentioned so far, and limitations regarding plots to build on and the number of units you can control initially frustrate; however, perseverance reveals a satisfying, challenging game that also rewards anyone who loves battlefield tactics.
Several RTS efforts take Autumn Dynasty's streamlining much further, most typically in a direction that could be labelled 'a bit arcadey'. Tiny Troopers (69p, Universal) is an iOS take on Cannon Fodder, eschewing resource micro-management and unit building, instead placing emphasis on a little squad of soldiers on various simple missions. At times, this quirky, fun game is almost as bloodthirsty and darkly comic as its inspiration, although it lacks the ability to split squads, thereby limiting its potential from a strategic standpoint during gunfights.
Eufloria HD (£2.99, iPad) is also high on quirk and enjoyment, although its abstract visuals are a mile away from the cartoonish Tiny Troopers. Your 'troops' in Eufloria are instead space seedlings aiming to colonise asteroids. Long-term, it's samey (tactically, we generally found bombardment was a better idea than subtlety), but it's also pure, absorbing and frequently beautiful, too.
Also removing the human element from warfare is Amoebattle (£2.99, Universal), which finds amoeba brawling in a microscopic world. Simple combat more or less amounts to a free-for-all, but the colourful environment provides scope for tactics, such as forcing groups of foes into a corridor to pick them off more easily. We were also amused by the way you get new units (eat lots, and then engage in a little mitosis).
Ant Raid (69p, iPhone; £1.99, iPad) and Anthill (£1.49, Universal) zoom things out a little, but we're still talking domination of a small patch of dirt rather than an entire planet. Neither game is a pure RTS - both are castle defence-oriented, demanding you protect your home from a relentless horde of beasties; but both are also hugely enjoyable.
The final pair of games we're recommending flip RTS on its side; instead of a top-down perspective, action is viewed side-on. Total War Battles (£2.99, Universal) borrows a little from The Settlers, in terms of a strict 'tech tree' for creating buildings that output units, but combat is more reminiscent of Plants vs. Zombies.
Units can never move back, and restrictions are even placed on the frequency with which they can change 'lanes'. It's a far cry from Total War's roots (another PC wargame, and a hugely ambitious one at that), but as a stripped-down chess-like take on RTS, it's enthralling - at least if you're a patient, thoughtful gamer.
And then there's Swords and Soldiers (£1.99, iPhone; £2.99, iPad), which is anything but considered and meticulous. You're in command of crazed Vikings, magical Aztecs and crafty Chinese guys, fighting their way from left to right while gathering gold and casting spells, in order to pulverise whoever happens to be lurking at the other end of the level.
In among the chaos, there's strategy to rival the other games we've mentioned. Steaming in all guns, axes or spells blazing will only ever get you so far if you want to take over the world. As all of history's top strategists would undoubtedly agree, even angry cartoon Vikings need to be a little bit sneaky.
Article continues below