Grand strategy or 4X games are games that take quite a bit of time to learn before you can play them effectively. However, with enough time and sheer, bullheaded effort, you can do so. This is especially true with the Civilization series, with the games having quite a bit of nuance to them. However, even though it is the premier go-to for grand strategy and 4X titles, we have a lot of games like Civilization. Today, we’re going to be talking about those games, as well as what makes games like Civilization tick.
What Are Games Like Civilization?
Games like Civilization belong to the category of grand strategy games, or more specifically, 4X games. We’ll talk more about what those four Xs mean below.
Understanding 4X Games
Games like Civilization are 4X strategy games that have a simple premise. You have a nation/civilization that you need to either take over the world or be more technologically advanced than everyone else. The four Xs stand for the following:
- Explore: Look all over the game world and check for interesting stuff for you to take.
- Expand: Increase your territory by creating cities, stations, outposts, etc.
- Exploit: Use anything and everything you find from dubious space dust to cinnamon to improve the quality of life of your empire.
- Exterminate: Use the resources and stuff you have to create an army and kill anything that isn’t you.
There are many ways to gain on games like Civilization. However, the most common method is usually through the extermination of all or most of the player’s opposition. That’s not the only way to gain victory though. 4X games usually have at least one or two victory conditions.
These can range in many different forms, like the ascent to the transcendence of Alpha Centauri, or uniting all of the galaxies under your banner until the game ends on Stellaris. If the player does any of the victory conditions that the game provides, they win. Of course, the AI, and other players will try to stop you, but that’s where the other Xs come into play.
Historical vs Non-Historical 4X Games
Now here’s the thing, Historical versions of games like the Civilization franchise usually go towards having Anachronism Stew. As to what Anachronism Stew is, it’s mixing a whole lot of things, specific periods, to the point of non-recognition. Do note that this is all at the direction of the game’s player. The biggest offender of this is, of course, Civilization, as you can somehow get tanks and battleships fielded even if it’s still not the 1800s.
This can be further agitated by having perhaps the ability to genetically modify themselves or perhaps getting psychic powers, while every other player hasn’t yet. However, that’s not the case with future-based 4X games as they tend to use more technical terms in their names and descriptions of various things.
Now that we’ve talked about the introductory things, let’s go with our list of the top 15 games like Civilization.
15 Games Like Civilization
The first of the games that we need to talk about is Stellaris. As you can probably tell, Stellaris ensures that the player’s no longer limited to just one world. They can now explore an entire galaxy full of wonders to claim as their own, make a unique and new space-faring species, or just go human.
After that, you then have to choose their political and social inclinations. Maybe they’re spiritualists that militarize themselves. Perhaps they’re a megacorporation? After that, you then take to the wider galaxy to spread your empire, randomly generated, of course. As per usual, the player will then have to compete for various resources and solar systems against other empires. That, and watching out for the actions and policies of long fallen superiors.
Stellaris took everything, including the kitchen sink method when they created this enthralling space 4X. The game has a slight dash of Europa Universalis IV, which is also part of this list and Paradox’s other grand strategy game. However, this dash is applied to a more sci-fi game that has a metric ton of science fiction tropes like space-faring aliens and robot rebellions.
Some people might say that the game tries to do a bit too much and lacks focus when compared to others in this article. However, as a real mecca of multiple interstellar sci-fi tropes and general awesomeness, there’s nothing that can ever come close. The game is a veritable sandbox that was deliberately designed by the developers to create multitudes of player stories and memories as they guide their species and empire throughout an increasingly hostile galaxy. From messing around with their genetics, creating AI, conquering other aliens, or just straight-up destroying everyone else.
Why Should You Play Stellaris?
The game is now over four years old since its release and has several DLCs available that add a bit of spice and options for the space empires you want to create. Not only that, the game’s modding community is still incredibly active, which is usual for Paradox games. It might not have the historical depth that the others have, but it’s focused more on allowing players to have new experiences with several sci-fi stereotypes and a lot of player customization.
Stellaris is available for PC, PS4, and the Xbox One. The game also released a new DLC called Nemesis, which allows players to become a galaxy-ending crisis. That, or go full Palpatine. Nevertheless, if you’re a 4X/grand strategy fan, you won’t miss it if you buy this one. Unfortunately, the console versions of the game’s DLC are late, with them only getting Distant Stars last year.
Check out Stellaris on Amazon today to start your own Empire in Space.
Total War: 3 Kingdoms
Total War: Three Kingdoms, is one of the latest historical entries in the series, and overall the best one by far. This is probably because the game took a few things from the other Total War games on this list, Total War: Warhammer 1 and 2. The game gives us a sprawling Chinese civil war that can erupt completely out of control and has a few familiar characters for players to use on and off the battlefield. It also helps that the characters in question are part of a confusing web of who knows who and relationships. These relationships then affect a metric ton of things from the game’s diplomacy to battle performance. Of course, like in Total War: Warhammer, they’re all warriors of superhuman strength.
When it was released, the game felt like a big leap for the series as a whole like the first Total War: Rome did. It brought a lot of fundamental changes to the combat, diplomacy, and trade mechanics that the game has. It also helps that the huge kerfuffle for China allowed for an interesting and compelling campaign. This was also helped by a pretty dynamic shift in storytelling and of course, interpersonal relationships between characters never seen on a Total War game before. Ever since the game’s launch, it’s also blessed with a lot of great DLC.
These DLC ranged from adding in a new format that gives players free rein on historical bookmarks that develop on different events from the game’s era. This is truly one of the best games that play out like Civilization.
Why Should You Play Total War: Three Kingdoms?
Overall, the game’s been a resounding success. Total War: Three Kingdoms made the campaign part of the game way better than it’s been on previous games. Not only does it have some incredibly meaningful character interactions and dynamics, but the gameplay itself is fun. Not to mention, there’s a whole ton of political intrigue between the various Chinese factions.
The game’s tactical combat is still done in real time and sits somewhere in the middle of other historical titles and Total War: Warhammer. Also, even if there’s a few aspects of the game that pretty much come down to player preference, it’s still a great game. One with an incredibly robust and good tactical battle engine that helps it give a decent heft to the backdoor political machinations that compromise the turn-based portions.
Europa Universalis IV
Europa Universalis IV is the fourth iteration of the Europa Universalis series. The series was adapted from an old-school board game, which is still being played to this day. The reason for this is the fact that you can do a whole lot of stuff right from the start of the game.
Europa Universalis 4 allows players to immediately change world history. For instance, perhaps Jeanne d’Arc didn’t exist and England proceeded to grind France to dust in the 100 Years’ War. Maybe the Sweden king Gustavus Adolphus managed to live the 30 Years’ War instead of dying. All that and a lot more is on Europa Universalis IV. The game is really big, complex, and thanks to a metric ton of expansions, keeps on getting bigger. It also helped that the game has a lot of modders as well.
The game is a bit hard sometimes, and there will be occasions where you’ll scratch your head and scream in frustration. However, it’s pretty awesome to just dive into a game, if only just to see where the shenanigans take you.
Why Should You Play Europa Universalis IV?
Overall, choose your nation, and help it pull through the times and utter chaos of the late 15th Century. Your job is to ensure that your nation is still alive and running until the end of the era. To do this, you must get better technology, sharpen your political acumen, and judge the actions of other nations accurately. All in all, the game wants you to turn the world into its head, with the only limit being your imagination on how it all ends.
Shadow Empire is a 4X game that puts players in the heels of a society that was once part of a galaxy-spanning empire. However, after a bad event, that empire collapsed, and your society needs to pick itself up from the ashes. Now that your planet’s nothing more but a relic of its former self, it’s up to you to bring it back up. Well, either you or everyone else that’s on the planet with you.
Half of the game’s fun factor is on its random planet generation options that it gives you before the player starts a game. After that, it’s the typical 4X grand strategy fare. There are, however, a few instances of internal mechanics and some individual characters that players have to manage efficiently. Do note, though, that even though this is a 4X game overall, it sets a few of its sights on being a wargame kind of 4X. Thus, make sure to set any expectations that you may have accordingly.
Why Should You Play Shadow Empire?
Overall, Shadow Empire is a bit on the hardcore side when compared to some on this list due to being a more military style of 4X. Then again, the game’s published by developers that made military wargames for a living. Shadow Empire isn’t a good example when it comes to cutting-edge graphics, decent, accessible UI, or even having a decent tutorial. However, it shows a compelling, and remarkable look at what will happen if you take grand strategy, logistics, post-apocalyptic settings, and a whole lot of grit, and then blends them.
If you’re not the kind of person who minds learning mechanics on their own and learns on the fly, then try out Shadow Empire.
Shadow Empire is available on Steam for PC and is one of the best games that are like Civilization.
Total War: Rome II
Total War: Rome II is considered to be one of the best Total War games out there. At least, until 3 Kingdoms and Warhammer II were released. It was, bar none, the most-played historical strategy game by a good margin when it was released. Even now, it has a loyal, hardcore following of players for most of its game life. Something that inspired its developers to add in more support for the game even though it’s getting on the years.
Why Should You Play Total War: Rome II?
Don’t get us wrong, Total War: Rome II had a rough start when it was released. However, after a few TLC and some spit and polish, the game is actually in a good place these days. Compared with its predecessor, Rome: Total War, Rome II is more expansive. The game’s not perfect, and the graphics aren’t the cutting edge that people are used to today. But if those are things that you don’t mind, then you have to try Total War: Rome II out.
Check out Total War: Rome II on Amazon today to start your own campaign.
Crusader Kings III
Crusader Kings III was released back in September 2020 as a sequel to Crusader Kings II (2011). What makes the Crusader Kings series unique amongst the other games on this list? Well, as the fans can tell you, players aren’t just ensuring that they won’t screw up their nation/kingdom. They need to make sure that their royal line, their family, was hale and hearty as well.
This is something that you’ll need to do even if you’re just a hedge knight with a plot of land smaller than your pinkie, or a nation-spanning empire. You, the player, are in charge of a whole dynasty of various individuals. Your mission? To ensure that the nation, and the family, continue to succeed, thrive, and dominate throughout the chaos of Medieval Europe. The latest game of the series pretty much took this idea and ran down the street with it. Somehow, they managed to combine not only the map-based aspects but also the RPG elements.
Also, it’s only inevitable for the game to get even bigger and ambitious as DLCs keep getting released. However, even the game’s vanilla version is a wellspring of good fun as it has a metric ton of support from a lot of different systems. Thanks to that, players can have a storyline of their own while playing the game, and while it does take some time getting used to, there’s now a good tooltip system and a decent tutorial. All of this is compounded by a hilarious soap opera-esque dynastic drama that carries the player along with it. You can just go along the life of a nobleman and still find yourself in the middle of five love affairs, three assassinations, and arson.
Why Should You Play Crusader Kings III?
If you’re the kind of person who wants to lead a particular individual to glory, then Crusader Kings III might be for you. Not only is it a great way to start playing 4X and grand strategy games, but the tutorial is easy to get into. Also, the UI design is a great one as well, which helps in finding your way around the game.
Total War: Warhammer II
There are a lot of Total War fans that usually agree that Total War: Warhammer 2 is the best Total War game ever made. Now that might be something of a stretch, given the studio’s long history, but after several historical Total War games, we’re due for something more fantastical. The first game of the miniseries, Total War: Warhammer, is the ultimate trip to the often forgotten Warhammer Fantasy universe.
Very few people even remember that Warhammer Fantasy existed after Age of Sigmar (and the huge disappointment that was its 7th to 8th edition). However, there’s a pretty good argument to be made on the fact that the game’s tactical part isn’t as best as it could’ve been.
The first Total War: Warhammer game showed everyone that its universe was a great match for the massive battles and awesomely detailed units that Creative Assembly makes itself known for. Meanwhile, the next game of the series, Total War: Warhammer 2 adds in a metric ton of improvements.
These improvements are usually on its interface, various balancing tweaks to various heroes, the armies and factions, and so much more. The four main factions of the series are the High Elves, Skaven. Dark Elves and lastly Lizardmen. Each of these factions is different from the other in meaningful ways. With each one having roots from the various parts of old Warhammer fantasy lore. Of course, you also play the Brettonians, and a few others when you have the game’s DLC.
The battles and logistics offering players an engaging and diverse experience compared to some of the Total War games.
Why Should You Get Total War: Warhammer II?
The reason why you should get Total War: Warhammer II is because of its active community and great gameplay. Not only that but there are also a few DLC expansions that add to the base game and some really good mods with dedicated updates. There’s also the Mortal Empires add-on, which turns the entire game into a paradox grand strategy, which is also a good thing. This is one of the games like Civilization that you have to check out.
Hearts of Iron IV
Next up on the list is Hearts of Iron IV, a game that gives you the best grand strategy WW2 gameplay experience. Similar to Europa Universalis IV (which is also on this list), players can choose what nation they wish to play on, and you’re not limited to Europe as well. The game’s political climate is pretty much what the world looks like when it’s near to a World War event. The objective? Well, as per usual with these games in the genre, ensure that your nation survives and profits.
Hearts of Iron 4 is a combo of grand strategy and a bit of 4X. Its comfortable combination of warfare, logistics, and battle plans weirdly fit with sandbox situations and diplomacy. Thus, even if the game is about World War 2, expect a metric ton of weird things happening due to the game letting you do whatever you want. An example of this is the democratic Soviet Union conquering the entirety of Europe. Or, maybe it was Great Britain that became the haven for Nazis? Perhaps Germany won the first World War? Also possible. It helps that the game has a lot of fleshed-out concepts and gameplay mechanics, from naval battles to espionage.
Should You Get Hearts of Iron 4?
Well, now is a good time to get the game. The game’s going on a transition at this point due to the wishes of the player base. As you’ve read already, they want a pretty freeform game, so you can see some cool alternate histories as you play well. If you’re a guy that wants to forge a new history through battle and bloodshed, then try out Hearts of Iron 4.
Distant Worlds: Universe
Distant Worlds: Universe is a 4X grand strategy game that, like Stellaris, is set in space. However, some might say that this game is a bit chunkier and content-filled compared to its Paradox counterpart. If you’re someone that looks at Stellaris and sees it as a bit too easy, or you don’t like the game but love the concept, then this one is worth checking. Distant Worlds is an incredibly complex game that demands a real commitment and effort to learn.
However, the game also has a pretty cool mechanic that allows players to give almost all game functions to an AI handler, for optimization. This allows players the ability to focus on what aspects of their Empire interests them the most. Hell, for those that want to do so, they can essentially give control over all of their empire to an AI regent. Meanwhile, they can take control of either a single spaceship or an entire contingent of ships, and then go on a space exploration spree. Nothing can be cooler than going full-stop Star Trek, and then boldly going where no one has ever gone before.
Should You Get Distant Worlds: Universe?
Distant Worlds: Universe is an older game when compared to some of the games on this list. However, the optimizations and other benefits, make it one of the 4X games that’s recommended no matter when you talk about it.
Endless Legend is one of those games that some people think is a bit on the weird side but works well. After all, this is a game that audaciously mixes fantasy and sci-fi near seamlessly. Hell, one of the main races in the game is magical souls trapped in suits of armor, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Added into the awesomeness is the absolute visual treat of a hex-based world that the game has. The game overall looks incredibly gorgeous, graphics-wise.
There are a lot of really cool factions that want to dominate the post-apocalyptic world that they’re in. Each of the factions in question has some unique and cool mechanics that differentiate them from the other factions, as well as give hints on how they play. Examples of this would be the Broken Lords, the aforementioned souls trapped in armor, and the Vaulters, which are humans trapped in their habitat for years before managing to escape to the outside world.
In addition to all this, Endless Legend also has a really good narrative that adds a lot of story and flavor to the game. Each of the factions in the game has a few story quests that inform the player about possible decisions without railroading them. There are also a few side-quests that they can take that make you feel you’re not only managing a faction but leading them.
Should You Get Endless Legend?
Endless Legend is pretty much the evidence that developers don’t need to exchange stories to create a good 4X game. All of the game’s factions have various unique traits that differentiate them from each other. Thus, you’re going to find a lot of good roleplay fodder when you play this game.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall
Any of the Age of Wonders games that are out there will immediately be on this list because they’re all pretty good. You can’t go wrong with any of them. However, you might notice that a few of the games here have a sci-fi bent. And if we’re talking about sci-fi, we need to talk about Age of Wonders: Planetfall.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall is set on a galaxy that’s recovering after the decline of an interstellar empire. After they’re gone, your faction has to squabble between a world free from said empire against other factions that are living there. Said factions include amazons that ride dinosaurs, psychic bugs, humans, and a few more that should be seen to believe.
The game also features a really good and methodical empire-building gameplay that’s a really big improvement when compared to previous entries. However, there’s also a lot of good things to be said about the turn-based tactical battles between the game’s incredibly customizable units. You wanna put lasers on dinosaurs? Sure, why not. What about jetpacks? Knock yourself out. Want to have flying dinosaurs that shoot lasers? Very possible.
Should You Get Age of Wonders: Planetfall?
If you’re a fan of the Age of Wonders series, you probably already have this on your PC. However, for those still on the fence, just remember that you can customize the various units you’ll get. That alone would be a good reason to buy the game. However, the great gameplay and empire management should be a good draw for those that want to build an empire.
Check out Age of Wonders: Planetfall on Amazon and start your conquest today!
Warhammer 40K: Gladius – Relic of War
Next up on this list is Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relic of War. This game is Civilization on 40K, which is pretty much the only thing you need to know about it. There’s just one thing different about it; there’s no diplomacy, and your job is to ensure that the world is yours and no one else’s. See that Tyranid hive soldier? I want that hive to drown in the last fire by the end of the day! That, and a few others are the flavor of the day, and you want to kill everything that isn’t your faction. There’s no peace in the grim darkness of the 41’s Millennium, only war, and the laughter of thirsting gods.
In addition to this, Warhammer 40K: Gladius – Relic of War is a great example of how to make a clean, concise UI. The game’s tutorial is also one of, if not the, best ones that you’ll ever have, teaching you how to play this 4X strategy game. The graphics are also one to behold, which is something that should be obvious given that the game is a 40K game.
Each of the factions has its unique bent to them as well, and there’s a lot of them when you include the DLCs. You can play as Space Marines, the Astra Militarum, the Necrons, and Tyranids in the main game. After that, you have the Tyranids, Chaos Space Marines, the Ta’u, and the Aeldari.
Should You Get Warhammer 40K: Gladius – Relic of War?
If you’re a really big Warhammer 40K fan, then yes. There are a sad few of these games out there, and most of them came out years ago. The fact that this exists should be celebrated and enjoyed.
Next up on this list is Sigma Theory, which is probably the most unique 4X game that you’ll ever see. The game has some of the weirdly unique graphics that look incredibly cyberpunk. Yes, it’s still Earth, but everything’s in neon and a whole lot of purple. It’s like you’re on a PC in the far future or something.
The game, unlike some of the 4X games in here, actually has a structured storyline that puts your chosen nation against others. Unlike other 4X games on this list, the player doesn’t have to make soldiers for battle. Instead, they have a team of agents sent undercover. Their mission? To steal intelligence, secrets, and more from other nations. It’s like James Bond, but in the cyberpunk future with megacorps and police with high-tech guns.
Of course, you can’t let other nations know that you’re stealing from them, which is a given. You’re not only stealing info, but you should also ensure that you’re maintaining a good relationship with them while doing so. Now, this adds a delicate balance to the game’s gameplay, which is great.
Should You Get Sigma Theory?
If you want a unique take on games like the Civilization series with more emphasis on espionage and information, then yes, Sigma Theory is a must-buy. The game’s incredibly good too, which adds to the value. There’s nothing to be lost to just trying out the game.
You’re probably not expecting FreeCiv to be here, but yes, they’re here, and for good reason. The game started as a hobby that three students created way back in 1996. However, the game slowly, and surely, gained a solid player base that ensured that the game lives to this day. In addition to this, the game’s free and open-source, which allows those with some modding skills to customize the game for themselves and others.
In addition, the game also has a good tutorial and is easy enough that those with little or no experience of 4X games can start on the genre.
Should You Play FreeCiv?
The fact that its FreeCiv should be reason alone, but the game’s development is nothing short of a miracle or a fairytale.
Warlock: Master of the Arcane
Last on this list, but not the least, is Warlock: Master of the Arcane. The game, for those not in the know, was created by 1C: Ino-co Plus. However, the game was published by a very familiar name for this list, Paradox Interactive.
This game, however, has more similarity to Civ 5, which is surprising, but one that feels appropriate. When a player starts a game, they have a choice to make by selecting a Great Mage. Each of these Mages has its buffs, debuffs, and backstory, with the ability to customize them. Of course, the usual ways to win a 4X game are here. These include the last nation standing and a diplomatic victory. However, there’s also ensuring that you own and maintain 50% of all holy sites, and even killing a God’s avatar.
Should You Get Warlock: Master of the Arcane?
If you’re someone that wants to have a more mystical bent on games like Civilization, then yes, you should try to get Warlock: Master of the Arcane.
Warlock: Master of the Arcane is available on Steam for PC.
Should You Play Games Like Civilization Today?
If you’re someone with a strategic bent to themselves, who wants to manage things on a macro scale, then yes. You should play games like the Civilization series. This is because they test you on how much you can adapt to certain situations and events. Maybe you’re the kind of gamer who wants to build something that can stand the test of time. Maybe you just want to conquer the whole world or galaxy? Perhaps you just want to watch it all burn?
Nevertheless, you’re here for one thing: you want to Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate. Those four words are enough to create empires and destroy nations. All in all, if you’re any of the things we’ve mentioned above, then you should try out the games like Civilization on this list.