There's no shortage of games like Civilization. Sid Meier did, after all, spark a strategy revolution with the first game in the long-running series, and there have been plenty of competitors in the years since. What we're looking at here are some of the best 4X games, which is to say, games that are built around Exploring, Expanding, Exploiting and Exterminating.
If you're done with Civilization 6 and are looking for something new to play that will test your brain, give one of these 10 great strategy games like Civilization a play.
Age of Wonders: Planetfall
Developer: Triumph Studios
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
The Age of Wonders series, around since 1999, aimed at taking 4X games away from historical conflicts on earth to make things a little more whimsical. The first Age of Wonders used a classic high fantasy setting, including elves, orcs and other races. Planetfall takes us – you guessed it – to space. Age of Wonders and Civ are very similar to each other when it comes to the actual civilisation building process, but there’s a notable difference in combat systems – in Planetfall, battles generally occur more often and thus needed to be represented to an appropriately fun, turn-based system. This led to XCOM-style ground battles, which offer a welcome break from number crunching and look great to boot.
Total War: Three Kingdoms
Developer: Creative Assembly
I’ve you’ve ever wanted to take control of some of the most well-known armies in human history, you can’t get around the aptly named Total War series. Whether it’s Attila or Napoleon, here you’re taking history to the grand, virtual stage. Total War: Three Kingdoms (opens in new tab) gives many of us Western players the opportunity to learn about the Three Kingdoms period in China and meet its heroic generals. While Civilization is more inward-focused, more occupied with the growth of your people, here you know eventually you get to the heart of the matter – massive real-time battles in which armies clash. In Three Kingdoms, your generals play a bigger role than ever before, so if you’re looking for something that, while grand, also lets you interact with characters on a personal level, this the best option.
Developer: The Freeciv Project
Platform(s): PC, iOS, Android
Development on Freeciv started as a hobby between three students all the way back in 1996. Today in 2020, the game still has an avid player base. The reasons to play it today are simple: it’s free, open source and thus customisable, and it runs on near-everything from anywhere, and it plays like Civilization 2. It still does exactly what it was designed for all those years ago, offering a fun multiplayer alternative to anyone who wants to play one of the good ol’ Civ games with no hassle. It’s also great for anyone new to the genre who simply wants to dip their toes in first.
Europa Universalis 4
Whereas Total War offers a lot of different historical events to explore via the means of, well, war, Civ always kept things as global and neutral as possible. Europa Universalis restricts itself to Europe, with all the historical imbalances that exist between nations. Because of this, no faction starts off under the same conditions. Overall, gameplay is similar to Civilization, but EU IV offers decision-making on a much more granular level, while at the same time removing some pressure by having no endgame. Basically, Europa Universalis is a more detailed, more challenging Civ, due to its many management options.
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Paradox Interactive, who releases the most strategy and 4X games next to Civ publisher Firaxis, struck gold with Stellaris, its deep space grand strategy game. Compared to 4X titles, grand strategy is more about waging war and fostering diplomacy, although depending on the game this difference can be fairly academic. All you need to know is that thanks to Stellaris' great diplomacy system, you get to meet and deal with intricately and lovingly designed alien races. Before you get into it however, be aware that Paradox games in particular don’t let the fun end with the base game. Stellaris boasts 11 DLCs and content packs, including story missions, species and much more.
Developer: Amplitude Studios
Space is all fine and dandy, but maybe you do want something like a modern Age of Wonders. Enter Endless Legend, part of the Endless series that also includes Endless Space I and II. Like Stellaris, Endless Legend has factions that force you to be uncompromising in your play-style. Stats and behaviour are completely different for each faction. Battles in Endless Legend happen without direct intervention – you plan a strategy at the beginning, then watch it play out with minimal options to make changes, which can be slightly boring to watch.
Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
Maybe it’s cheating to put a game on this list that the Civilization developers designed to be a space age version of their own game, but Alpha Centauri is more than that. It’s about terraforming an inhospitable environment, creating a civilisation that’s ready to do what’s necessary. You’re often dealing with morally uncharted territory, and instead of just “Civ but with spaceships”, Alpha Centauri was ahead of its time with its vision of the future and the problems humans might face. What a great narrative achievement for a strategy game.
Warhammer 40,000: Gladius - Relics of War
Developer: Proxy Studios
While there are plenty of turn-based strategy games in the 40k universe, Gladius is the only one attempting to throw the 4X formula into the mix. Combat is terrific, which feels like it should be a given for a game about war. Resource gathering on the other hand is kind of simple and there isn’t any way for you to be diplomatic. While this doesn’t sound like Gladius has much to stand on, this makes it a great entry level game for those interested in 4X, but find the many systems daunting. It’s also the perfect game if you like the X for eXterminate the most.
Sigma Theory: Global Cold War
Developer: Mi-Clos Studio
This one is your best bet if you’d like to try a game roughly based on 4X gameplay ideas, but is much simpler in its execution. In Sigma Theory, you chose a nation to battle other nations for the technology of the future. To do that, you send out undercover agents on your turn to steal secrets for you. All the while you’re working on diplomatic ties with the very nations you’re spying on. It’s a simple concept, but it takes the often enjoyable portion of diplomacy in strategy games and puts it at centre stage, leading to interesting narratives.
Developer: Amplitude Studios
Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One
Humankind is a love letter to the Sid Meier games of old. It's one of the best strategy games available on console, and it's a truly fantastic alternative to Civilization 5 and Civilization 6. Whether you want to get lost in the deep systemic gameplay, or just want to lead armies into some truly massive turn-based tactical battles over territory, Humankind does it all.