Our favorite free iPhone RTS and turn-based strategy games, board games, and card games.
Void Tyrant is a semi-randomized card-based adventure, where you scoot about the galaxy, giving bad guys on various planets a jolly good kicking. At first, it seems quite basic, more or less being based on blackjack – only here you go bust when you hit 13. Quickly, though, you’re hurled down a bonus-deck rabbit-hole.
It’s these additional cards where most of the strategy lies. Each requires energy to play, and has a unique effect. You need to time your plays right to ensure you defeat your enemy. And because a string of victories is required for you to successfully get back to your ship, Void Tyrant becomes a constant balancing act of risk versus reward.
There’s no risk in trying the game, though, because this free iPhone game is very rewarding – one of the best card battlers around.
Bounty Hunter Space Lizard
Bounty Hunter Space Lizard is a bite-sized turn-based strategy game, with a smattering of RPG. It features the titular reptile, previously down on its luck, but now having a go at being a bounty hunter as a way to “feel alive”.
Naturally, feeling alive (and staying alive) means killing everyone else – and that requires brainpower. You must with your limited number of moves figure out how to off your foes, and position yourself so you’ll take no damage when they get to move.
The visuals are crude, but there’s a lot going on here, with cleverly designed rules, and plenty of variety in the challenges you face. The mission is also finite, meaning that when you’ve put in the hours to crack level 20, you’ll discover whether this previously despondent – and now rather murdery – lizard gets a happy ending.
Chessplode is of the opinion that what chess really needs is a whole lot of explosions. But this isn’t some kind of Battlechess with dynamite. The big bangs in this game aren’t just aesthetic – they shake up everything you knew about chess.
Capturing a piece is what leads to the explosions – friends and enemies alike in the taken piece’s row and column are obliterated. The exception is when a king is in the same row or column as a captured piece, at which point you get the standard chess capture.
To rewire your brain, Chessplode offers basic levels to get you started, and then a bunch of puzzle-like set pieces. A level editor lets you upload your own creations – once you win – and multiplayer bouts are in the mix, too. This isn’t the first mobile alternative take on chess, but it might well be the best.
Pocket Cowboys is a strategy game in a Wild West that exists in a permanent state of high noon. You pit your trio of gunslingers against those controlled by other humans, the aim being to be the first to rack up three kills.
Where Pocket Cowboys excels is in its mix of immediacy and depth. Each turn gives you the option to move, shoot, or reload – and everyone takes their turn at the same time. The mix of strategy and guesswork proves a lot of fun, in what ultimately amounts to four-player rock/paper/scissors.
The game of course also comes lumbered with the usual in-game currencies and upgrades. But it always seems to place you in fair fights, rather than giving you no chance to avoid pushing up the daisies.
King Crusher comes across like someone compressed an epic fantasy RPG and turn-based strategy into a shoebox and squirted the result into your iPhone. It has all the trappings of its more expansive cousins, but is perfectly streamlined for mobile play.
Your little band embarks on quests that mostly take the form of grid-based battles. As adversaries try to shoot, flatten or even eat the heroes, you must swipe them about, getting them into the best positions to mete out some punishment of their own.
With dozens of events and 12 character classes, there’s plenty to discover in King Crushe, but its bite-sized nature means it won’t rule over your day, instead filling odd moments with tiny procedurally-generated adventures fit for a king.
Sneak Ops is a stealth game that wants you to “get to the chopper”. The snag: between you and your airborne escape route are rooms packed with enemy soldiers, traps, and – occasionally – inconveniently unbreathable air. Also, you’re unarmed. Thanks, budget cutbacks!
You must therefore sneak about, avoid detection and unsportingly wallop enemies over the head whenever you get the chance. Along the way, you grab floppy disks, which for some reason are used to buy restart points. Perhaps evil dudes are all retro gamers at heart.
It’s tense, pacy stuff, with some fab visuals. Even better: there’s a new mission every day – and everyone gets the same one, thereby pitting you against many thousands of other wannabe strategic operators.
Look, Your Loot!
Look, Your Loot! takes the basics of free-roaming RPGs and shoves them into a grid-based interface not dissimilar from puzzlers like Threes!
The rodent protagonist – a heavily armed mouse – moves about the grid as you swipe, his energy being depleted during battles or replenished on grabbing elixirs and shields. Whenever you enter a new tile, something new appears from the opposite side of the grid.
The key to survival – and a high-score – is carefully planning your route, ensuring you don’t end up trapped between a number of powerful and angry adversaries. It’s the sort of RPG-lite that’s perfect to quickly fire up during a few minutes of downtime; but multiple level layouts and surprising depth in the mechanics also make Look, Your Loot! a rewarding game to master over the longer term.
Flipflop Solitaire reasons that a card game you play on an iPhone should be designed for its screen and mobile play rather than a table. To that end, it takes spider solitaire as a basic framework, then messes around with the formula.
You’re still working with stacks of cards, aiming to sort them back into suits. However, in this game you have only five columns to work with and the height of your iPhone’s display provides a vertical limit.
Flipflop Solitaire shakes things up more by letting you stack cards in increasing or decreasing value. This single change proves transformative, turning every deal into a solvable puzzle, and games with a single suit into frantic, entertaining speed-runs.
The Battle of Polytopia
The Battle of Polytopia is more or less a classic version of Civilization played in fast-forward. You start off with a single city, surrounded by the unknown. You then explore, research technologies, and give anyone who gets in your way a serious kicking.
Unlike the sprawling Civilization games, Polytopia is focused and sleek. The technology tree stops before guns arrive, the standard game mode limits you to 30 moves, and new cities cannot be founded – only conquered.
For the more bloodthirsty, there’s a domination mode, where you aim to be the last tribe standing. The maximum map size expands and online asynchronous multiplayer opens up if you pay for more tribes. However you play, this is a furiously addictive, brilliantly realized slice of mobile strategy.
Spaceteam is the best multi-device party game for iPhone. The backstory is that you’re attempting to outrun an exploding star, in a ship that’s seen better days. Unhelpfully, the control panel for your craft was seemingly designed by an engineer who considers user-friendliness an offensive abomination.
The system provides instructions, but they’re usually not related to controls on your display. Games therefore turn into people desperately screaming “will someone turn on the dangling shunter?”, while combing every inch of their own screen for an elusive ‘eigenthrottle’ switch.
With Spaceteam offering cross-device play, up to eight players can immerse themselves in this madness, as long as they’re on the same Wi-Fi network.
Hearthstone is a one-on-one card battler set in a magical world of mystics and warriors. You and an opponent take it in turns to attack, using cards that unleash spells, minions, and other acquired skills.
Given how complicated card games of this sort can be, Hearthstone proves intuitive and welcoming to the newcomer – and it’s also extremely well balanced. It’s possible, if you take the time and effort to master the game, to top the leaderboards without splashing out IAP on new cards – although such temptation might get the better of you anyway once you’re immersed in this engaging world of strategy, chance, and fantasy.