It isn’t easy commanding troops on the battlefield. For many, though, leading an entire army and carrying their lives on your shoulders is part of the thrill.
War games let players feel like real squad leaders, commanders, and generals by letting players strategize wars from both near and afar on the battlefield. From XCOM 2 to Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy, the best war games bridge the best of both the tabletop wargaming genre while expanding on its limitations. These days, most war games feature their own troop morale system, running dozens of calculations on the fly about your units’ supplies, combat readiness, tactical positioning, and overall combat effectiveness, just to name a few.
War games aren’t just relegated to the past either. The genre runs the gamut from sci-fi settings to alternate history storylines about the Cold War, World War II, and early modern Europe. If you’re interested in becoming an armchair commander, here’s our top recommendations for the best war games on PC.
Before reading on, feel free to check out our top six games, separated based on category.
|Best Party War Game||Worms Armageddon|
|Best Asymmetrical War Game||XCOM 2|
|Best Nuclear War Game||DEFCON|
|Best Grand Strategy War Game||Europa Universalis IV|
|Best Realistic War Game||Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy|
|Best Overall War Game||Arma 3|
Best Party War Game: Worms Armageddon
|Release Date||May 31, 1999|
|Where to Buy||Steam|
|Reason to Try||Fun, chaotic, yet oddly strategic, Worms Armageddon brings that classic turn-based war gaming experience to a world populated by earthworms armed to the teeth. Whether you’re playing for fun or for glory, this is the best title in the series.|
War games don’t necessarily have to be realistic, immersive, or historically accurate. In fact, one of the best turn-based strategy games around doesn’t take itself seriously at all. In Worms Armageddon you don’t even command human soldiers. Instead, your troops are earthworms.
That’s right, armed worms.
In Worms Armageddon, players take turns bludgeoning, shooting, and exploding their enemy players’ worms until one team is left standing. The format should sound familiar to any war game fans who are used to tabletop strategy games or hardcore sims, except there’s one major difference with Worms: The game’s arsenal is just as light-hearted as its theme, and the game’s foul-mouthed troops scream, cuss, curse, and gloat in high-pitched falsettos while players launch explodable sheep and Holy Hand Grenades at their foes.
Worms is hectic, chaotic, and most of all, fun. It’s a great couch multiplayer game or LAN party title for that reason alone. So get your Bananas ready and pull out your Bazooka, it’s time to revisit one of the gaming world’s best turn-based strategy war games.
Best Asymmetrical War Game: XCOM 2
|Release Date||Feb. 5, 2016|
|Where to Buy||Steam|
|Reason to Try||Fight back against an alien infestation by managing a resistance organization spread around the globe. In XCOM 2, every decision on the battlefield causes a ripple effect that can help (or hinder) your entire campaign.|
Not every war game focuses on two equally powerful armies heading into combat on the battlefield. Sometimes the best strategy titles center on resistance fighters working against a much larger foe, like an alien menace colonizing humanity. Oh, and if that’s the kind of war game you’re looking for, then Firaxis’ XCOM 2 may just peak your interest.
XCOM 2 picks up from Firaxis’ 2012 hit XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which was originally designed as a reboot of 1994’s X-COM: UFO Defense. The first Firaxis XCOM game was still asymmetrical, but XCOM 2 turns things up a couple notches by putting the player in control of a human resistance army that escorts VIPs, attacks supply trains, and raids alien outposts in an attempt to weaken the dominant aliens’ control over humanity.
In-game, this transfers to base building, operation planning, resource management, training soldiers based on their abilities and skills, and turn-by-turn strategic command over your soldiers on the battlefield. In XCOM 2, you’ll choose where to place troops and how to carry out attacks, manage soldiers with low morale, and try to keep your troops alive when the alien counter-attack starts coming. Just remember, your actions in combat can cause ripple effects across your long-term war plans—Just because you won a battle doesn’t mean you’ve won the war.
Best Nuclear War Game: DEFCON
|Release Date||Sept. 29, 2006|
|Where to Buy||Steam|
|Reason to Try||Protect your nation from nuclear warheads while firing nukes of your own against your enemy’s major cities. In DEFCON: Everybody Dies, millions are bound to die, and everyone is responsible.|
There are few games out there that are interested in showing both the tactical side of nuclear warfare as well as its sheer destructive capabilities. Introversion Software’s DEFCON is one of the few war games that doesn’t hold back.
Also known as DEFCON: Everybody Dies, this 2006 indie strategy title puts players in control of a war room based on the U.S. Army’s nuclear defense readiness system. Players start by choosing a region, such as Eastern Europe or the U.S., and installing radars, nuclear silos, and armed forces around their region. From there, gameplay slowly shifts into full-on nuclear war between players. Land a nuke on one of your player’s cities, and the game will let you know just how many people died during the initial blast. How many millions of people, that is.
While DEFCON clearly has a chilling message about nuclear warfare and its devastating capabilities on the world stage, it’s also a pretty easy war game to learn, making it a great beginner’s pick for playing solo or with friends. Just be prepared to lose plenty of cities when you play. More often than not, nuclear war tends to end in millions of deaths across the world in this game, not just a couple downed airplanes.
Best Grand Strategy War Game: Europa Universalis IV
|Release Date||Aug. 13, 2013|
|Where to Buy||Steam|
|Reason to Try||Become a military power to be feared in Europa Universalis IV, an incredibly in-depth real-time strategy game that blends early modern Europe with the continent’s thirst for dominance.|
There’s nothing in the world quite like Europa Universalis IV. For one, the series is difficult. There’s a lot going under the hood in this game, from diplomatic management to full-scale war. For some, that’s more than enough reason to head on over to Steam and pick it up.
The Europa Universalis series focuses on early modern European history, spanning from the tail end of the Middle Ages to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. That means there’s a lot more going on in Europa Universalis IV than just engaging in war, even though the armed conflicts you enter will make or break your survival through one of the most chaotic time periods in world history.
Europa Universalis IV lets players take control of a nation and manage their place on the world stage, whether that means becoming a colonial power or simply building as many alliances as possible that will come to your aid in times of crisis. Keep your nation’s economy and political influence afloat, and military success will follow, theoretically speaking.
While Europa Universalis IV is one of the most immersive and complex war games around, the game is also known for its incredibly high skill curve and impressive sandbox for political mayhem. If you’d like to learn how to play, we recommend watching Quill18’s tutorial series on the game, which goes over politics, the game’s military system, and more.
Best Realistic War Game: Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy
|Release Date||May 2011|
|Where to Buy||Official website|
|Reason to Try||Experience the American offensive’s Battle for Normandy in this incredibly realistic war game focused on troop movement, morale, and experience, from the very top to individual squads.|
Most war games are interested in showing off military conflicts from a grand scale, barely focusing on the individual struggles that soldiers face on the battlefield. Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy is different. Released as part of the larger Combat Mission series, Battle for Normandy lets players experience the United States’ Operation Overlord during World War II, commencing after the start of the Allied offensive against Nazi Germany’s stronghold on Western Europe.
In Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy, players choose between either the American or German armies and command troops across the battlefield in both real-time movement and turn-based action. Players can lead their armies on a large or small scale, and the game allows for orders down to specific squads or tanks. Not to mention, Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy also simulates soldiers’ morale and leadership capabilities, so units that feel fatigued by the war’s start will naturally struggle against a powerful enemy battalion led by an experienced and empowered commander.
These days, Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy is showing its age; The game was released in 2011, and its graphics aren’t quite as impressive as some of our other recommendations. Yet for war game fans looking for one of the best realistic World War II games on the market, Combat Mission shouldn’t be missed.
Best Overall War Game: Arma 3
|Release Date||Sept. 12, 2013|
|Where to Buy||Steam|
|Reason to Try||Command troops, order vehicles, and fire realistic weaponry in one of the best war sims around. Arma 3 remains the best of the war gaming genre to date because it captures what it really feels like to fight in a modern military skirmish.|
There’s something about Arma 3 that just delights every single war gamer. Maybe it’s Bohemia Interactive’s realistic combat physics, the squad-based command system it offers, or the intense multiplayer clan structure that communities have embraced, mirroring real military chains of command. Maybe it’s just the fact that Arma 3’s weapons look, act, and fire like their real-life counterparts. Either way, we can’t help but recommend Arma 3 as one of the best war games available to date.
Arma 3 is part of the long-running Armed Assault series, which first began with Bohemia Interactive and Codemasters’ hit PC shooter Operation Flashpoint in 2001. Arma 3 was released in 2013 and remains the series’ most recent iteration, and the game has plenty of features for players that want the most realistic war sim experience possible. Fire realistic weapons, drive and fly dozens of vehicles, and outsmart enemy forces as either a lone wolf, a squad leader, or a commander for dozens.
While every game on this list provides some sort of war gaming experience, Arma 3 really makes players feel like they’re caught in military conflict. It’s immersive, it’s deep, and most of all, the game tries to emulate how real troops engage in military combat through tactical positioning and a chain of command structure. If there’s one game to buy on this list, it’s this one. Just don’t be surprised by the game’s steep learning curve.