Our favorite free iPad RTS and turn-based strategy games, board games, and card games.
The Battle of Polytopia
The Battle of Polytopia is a turn-based strategy title where you rule a tribe that aims to conquer an isometric map. It resembles a stripped-back Civilization, retaining much of that game’s fun, depth and requirement for tactical thinking, but adding a dose of speed.
This is evident in Perfection mode, which limits you to 30 moves, and has a technology tree that cuts off progress before anyone invents guns and planes. However, with version two, Polytopia optionally makes things a touch more epic, in allowing endless matches on colossal maps with up to 14 opponents (either AI or real people).
With its balance of immediacy and efficiency, Polytopia remains an ideal on-the-go strategy title, but version two’s improvements make it a much better bet for long-term iPad play.
Void Tyrant is a card battler that mashes up role-playing, deck-building, and a stripped-back take on blackjack.
Missions involve a string of battles on various planets. You’ll face off against terrifying skull beasts in the desert and deranged robots on a spaceship. In all cases, you’re aiming to beat their totals in each round, and not go bust. Whoever loses gets a bloody nose – or worse.
If that was the entire game, it would be fun but throwaway – and a mite too random. So Void Tyrant wisely adds a slew of bonus cards you can strategically play to boost your chances, further damage your enemy, or protect yourself from harm.
With bold visuals, a smartly designed upgrade cycle, and an optional reasonably priced premium tier, this is an excellent free iPad game that’s far deeper than it initially appears.
Chessplode is a free iPad game that up-ends the rules of chess by adding explosions. Capture a piece and any others in its row or column are obliterated – including your own. The exception is when a king is in said row/column, in which case you get a standard chess capture.
To lead you gently into this oddball take, you get beginner setups designed to let you win easily. Beyond that, you’ll find yourself immersed in levels that look simple from the outset but that are anything but once some pieces have been taken, eradicating most of what’s on the board.
When you’re done with the game’s built-in levels, you can make your own in an editor – although it’s only possible to share them once you confirm they can be beaten. You can also pit your skills against online opponents, while mulling that standard chess will never feel quite the same again.
Pocket Cowboys is an online slice of multiplayer strategy that smartly marries immediacy and depth. It features gunslingers fighting it out on battlefields comprising hexagonal grids. Turns are taken simultaneously, with each player choosing between moving, shooting, or reloading.
The result is a bit like rock/paper/scissors, but with a tactical injection: sometimes you can second-guess what an opponent is going to do, and line up your shot accordingly. Further strategy and curveballs come from your upgradable gang (each gunslinger having their own unique abilities), and environmental hazards like dust storms and horses.
On iPad, the game works really well. The visuals look superb, and when making a move there’s much less chance of you prodding the wrong spot on the larger display.
Hexonia is a turn-based strategy game that comes across like a simplified, fast-paced take on Civilization. You start out surrounded by mist, and with a single city. You must carefully balance resources, research new technologies, conquer villages and stomp about the place, obliterating enemies.
This isn’t the most nuanced take on this particular genre. Even for a mobile game, your enemies are rather on the violent side, prone to stabbing first and not bothering to ask questions later. This means games can be a rush to more powerful weapons, not least each tribe’s distinctive, unique super unit.
Still, if you’re not fussed about being quickly pushed into combat, there’s a lot to like here. Hexonia looks and sounds superb, and scratches the turn-based strategy itch with aplomb.
King Crusher is a bite-sized, semi-randomized turn-based strategy game played in fast-forward. You and your merry band head out on adventures, most of which are scraps that take place on tiny grids. You swipe your team about, to get them in the best position to dish out some damage, but also to avoid getting shot, blasted, squashed or eaten.
Clearly, this is a game that was designed for iPhone, quickly flicking characters about in idle moments, but it works surprisingly well on the bigger screen of the iPad. The pixel art shines, and the extra space results in fewer erroneous swipes.
Also, despite the stripped-back nature of the game, there’s enough depth and longevity to keep you engrossed for lengthier sessions as you set out to obliterate your enemies in the name of the king.
Look, Your Loot!
Look, Your Loot! is a free-roaming RPG reworked as a sliding puzzler. It’s an odd combination, but it works brilliantly, mixing Threes!-style tile-shifting, scraps with monsters, and accumulating bling and skills.
You play as a mouse in a dungeon, surrounded by murdery foes. Flick and you move to an adjacent tile. The tiles behind follow, and something new appears at the other end of the grid. Attack an enemy and you win if your energy level’s high enough. Otherwise: bye bye, mouse.
The game feels more premium than freebie, and as you get better at planning your routes, you’ll survive to see dangers that force new approaches. One boss, Jack (as in O’ Lantern), unhelpfully turns nearby tiles into death-dealing pumpkins. In short, then, top stuff for RPG fans of all stripes.
Flipflop Solitaire is another of designer Zach Gage’s attempts at subverting a classic game. This time, spider solitaire caught his eye, and has been revolutionized by way of a couple of tweaks.
Like the original table-based card game, Flipflop Solitaire still has you arrange columns of cards in descending order. But now you can send cards to foundation piles, and also stack them in either order. (So a 4 or a 6 can be placed below a 5.)
These may seem like small changes, but they prove transformative. Every hand is possible to complete, if you can find the right combination of moves. This turns Flipflop Solitaire into a fascinating and surprisingly fresh puzzler, with you utilizing endless undos to untangle your web of cards.
With a name that sounds like something an angry railway employee would yell before slapping you, Conduct THIS! actually starts out as a fairly sedate railway management game. Little trains amble along, picking up passengers you have to direct to stations that match their color.
The controls are extremely simple: tap a train and it halts until you tap it again; and switches can be triggered to send a train the most optimum way at a junction.
However, the layouts you face very quickly become anything but simple, with multiple trains to control and vehicles to avoid – both of which sometimes unhelpfully disappear into tunnels.
This is a smart, colorful mix of arcade smarts and puzzling – even if it does have the capacity to drive you loco(motive).
With its chunky graphics and silly demeanor, Westy West isn’t an entirely accurate recreation of the Wild West – but it is a lot of fun.
You hop about tiny towns, deserts, and mines, shooting bad guys and being rewarded for being the kind of sheriff who doesn’t also shoot innocents.
Although the controls mirror Crossy Road (albeit with a tap to shoot rather than leap forward), progression is more akin to Looty Dungeon, with you having to complete each miniature room (as in, shoot all the bad guys) before moving on.
The net result is a game that’s ultimately an entertaining arcade title, but that somehow also feels like you’re exploring a tiny universe – and one with character. It’s amusing when you’re facing a duel, and a pianist is rather conspicuously outside, furiously playing an ominous score.
One of the most innovative multiplayer titles we've ever played, Spaceteam has you and a bunch of friends in a room, each staring at a rickety and oddball spaceship control panel on your device's display.
Instructions appear, which need a fast response if your ship is to avoid being swallowed up by an exploding star. But what you see might not relate to your screen and controls.
Spaceteam therefore rapidly descends into a cacophony of barked demands and frantic searches across control panels (which helpfully start falling to bits), in a last-ditch attempt to 'set the Copernicus Crane to 6' or 'activate the Twinmill' and avoid fiery death.