Release Date: 24th June 2014
Innogames aren't newcomers to the real-time strategy genre (though the original Tribal Wars plays like a game whose developer's intentions are in the right place but result in a slightly lacklustre outcome), and Tribal Wars 2 bears all the hallmarks of a game that's been drastically improved. You're given a barebones settlement to start and must manage its resources, build defences, and raise an army whilst levelling up your buildings in order to stoke the fires of your resource production. It's progress to fuel progress essentially, but it's quite the entertaining little cycle to be involved in.
Tribal Wars 2 has drastically improved visuals that immediately put it ahead of its predecessor, as well as a few new features and building types to interest the veterans of the game. Annoyingly, the combat system still cannot be accurately described as anything other than a number-crunching affair; your battles with other players unfold through a table of numbers, pitting your tribal level (calculated by the sum of your building levels plus the state of your military) against theirs in a glorified numbers table. This is a disappointment, particularly when you consider that Forge of Empires allows you to actually experience the battlefield.
This game still deserves to be on this list because it's addictive, but its combat system still needs improving and it can be a little too time-intensive when you run out of your initial stock of money/resources.
Release Date: 17th April 2012
Forge of Empires is a browser-based medieval strategy game that seemingly came out of nowhere overnight, rising to substantial success to the extent that the game, whose presence on the internet was known almost exclusively by word of mouth, was able to afford its own TV adverts (that's the dream, right?). Mixing a wonderfully-rendered depiction of a Stone-Age settlement's progress through the different ages of man right through to the late and high middle ages with some dynamic battlefield action and even a social element, this game is hugely accessible and of course can be played for free if one so wishes.
Being given your very own patch of land at the outset of the game and getting lumped with the task of building an empire from the ground up is not a new concept. We've seen this before countless times in games like Total War: Rome II and Crusader Kings. What hasn't been achieved by other titles is the extent to which Forge of Empires is accessible to new players, with gameplay that is engrossing but not overwhelming, challenging but not frustrating, and detailed but not overly so.
You've got the usual micromanagement of your settlement's political, social, and economic domains, balancing your time between resource production, house building, population-placating, and territory expanding. The latter is done through a system that involves some trading with your neighbours but usually expansion through force. What makes this game better than ones like Tribal Wars 2 is the ability to get down on the battlefield and command your troops to a satisfying extent, guiding them over terrain and seeing the battle play out in front of your eyes and at the command of your very own fingertips. Your army is only as good as the technology that props it up however.
This brings me to the research tree, which apart from the turn-based combat system is probably the most entertaining and appealing aspect of Forge of Empires. Research involves spending research points (these are accumulated over time or can be purchased instantly with diamonds, the game's premium currency) as well as resources on discovering new things, unlocking different branches on the research tree such as various refining and buildings techniques. The passage of time is indicated by right-wards movement across the research tree, moving you from the Stone Age to the Bronze and Iron Ages, right the way through to mathematical and scientific discoveries of the Medieval Age, Early Modern Age, and beyond.
Release Date: 28th May 2009
This MMO version of what has to be one of the most memorable and consistently entertaining castle-building game series on the PC game market is quite the experience. Stronghold: Kingdoms has the advantage over its competitors because it is one of the few MMO games that actually involves the building, defense, and assault of fortifications in any detail at all. The previous Stronghold games were all concerned with the castle building/defense/assault aspect, and this one simply mixes it a little more with the whole settlement-management aspect as well.
Stronghold Kingdoms has you existing in a world where you are surrounded by others players around your map's perimeter, reminding you that you're involved in an experience that is more directly engrossing than many other games can possibly manage to make the medieval-based experience. The wait times in Stronghold Kingdoms are a little exhausting after a while so you may end up coming up with a bit of cash to fast-forward some things, but it's not necessary: you can enjoy this game for free, experiencing all it has to offer as a castle-building, settlement-managing experience.
Age of Empires Online
Release Date: 16th August 2011
AoE is an age-old strategy game that's been around for many years, but Age of Empires Online offers up the experience in a free-to-play package and on the grandest scale seen with the series yet. It's the usual mix of the series' real-time strategy activities with the whole MMO dimension that involves levelling up and looting your enemies for spoils. It's nothing new, but then again, neither are most of the other games on this list either.
Where AoE online truly excels is in its appearance. No matter how money-grabbing or unoriginal the gameplay itself may be, getting to experience the gameplay of the legendary Age of Empires series for free and in such stunning aesthetic wonder is reason enough to involve yourself in the game. The game was closed down on 1st July 2014
Kings Bounty: Legions
Release Date: 25th May 2011
Kings Bounty: Legions takes the appeal of turn-based strategy and turns it into somewhat of a social experience, and with a wonderful 3D aesthetic to please the visuals-hungry people out there. The ability to command a series of units that wield magical powers and interesting abilities makes for some entertaining gameplay that other games based in the boring old natural medieval world don't quite match up to. Still, it's a fairly specific genre of game and many strategy-goers won't even give it a look-in. They'd be missing out on the game's unique action however, which involves either playing as a recluse or joining factions
Release Date: 20th July 2012
It's pretty forward of a developer to suggest that their games are "good" in their titles, don't you think? Well, thankfully its games are more often than not quite good, if a little generic and predictable in their approach. Goodgame Empire is just one in a series of management-style games that Goodgame Studios. You'll immediately notice the game's appearance, which can only be described as overly twee considering the relatively brutal nature of actually establishing and expanding an empire.
Good Game Empire does manage to walk the line between being accessible and casual enough for less-than-serious strategy gamers to enjoy it and being able to interest those that are looking for a bit more depth and difficulty in their gaming life. Since it's free to play, the establishment, expansion, and general running of your mini-empire is quite time-sensitive, meaning that once you've initiated the construction of a certain number of buildings, the production of resources, or the training of an army, you must then wait a certain amount of time (or fork over some cash for the premium currency) in order for these tasks to be completed. Good Game Empire isn't going to please everyone, but its casual nature is attractive to some. It's a shame its aesthetics are too clean and colourful to make it feel like you're actually struggling for prosperity in the medieval period however.
Release Date: 23rd December 2013
Experienced strategy gamers may scoff at this selection, slapped directly in the face by the mere cheek of me suggesting that Kingdom Rush Frontiers is anything but a stunningly brilliant tower defense game. You'll have to get over this narrow-mindedness however and see this game for the incredible experience it really is. Plus, no one said anywhere that this list is concerned only with real-time strategy only, did they? No, they didn't, and I'd know: I wrote it.
Frontiers is the second iteration of Ironhide Games' incredible medieval-tinged tower defense game that plays by the genre's rules but somehow exceeds by miles its usual standards. The tower system isn't new but the towers themselves are incredible; heroes with RPG-like progression have been done before as a gameplay mechanic, but here they are simply divine; every game has enemies, but Frontiers has memorable foes that force you to change your tower-building and fortress-upgrading strategy in order to prevail. Real-time strategy it is not, but it is strategy that's really worth a lot of your time. See what I did there?
Release Date: 29th July 2011
It makes sense that the predecessor to the above successor is mentioned here because, well, it is simply that good. It is also the title that took the internet and app stores by storm because of its incredible gameplay and delightfully detailed, cartoon-like artwork that has "great sense of humour" written all over it.
This is the game that started it all for Ironhide Games, and it's easy to see why the start was such an explosive one that catapulted it to the fame that the series currently enjoys today: highly distinguished artwork that is unbelievably detailed and a design that leaves competitors eating its dust; four tower types, each of which can be upgraded into two final forms; a host of challenging enemies and a range of heroes to combat them with; there's even multiple items you can purchase to aid your efforts mid-round. Though not quite as good as Frontiers, Kingdom Rush thoroughly deserves its place on this list because it's just that good.