The 5 Best Grand Strategy Games to Know

Last updated: 2/13/2024
5 minutes read

Some video games have you fighting a one-man war, where you, as an individual soldier, turn the tides of battle. Others, like grand strategy games, take the opposite approach by focusing on the macro instead of the micro. The best grand strategy games are those which provide a high level of freedom, while also allowing flair of genius to give players an edge.

Read on to discover what makes grand strategy games special, and read our list of some of the most popular games available in this subgenre. From fantasy games to those placed in real history, let’s check out what sets grand strategy games apart.

1. Crusader Kings 3

Winner of an enormous number of best strategy game awards, Crusader Kings 3 is widely regarded as one of the best in its genre. Players in Crusader Kings 3 take their throne in the Middle Ages, fighting as they expand their legacy and bloodline. CK3 is a perfect illustration of what makes grand strategy games special, and that includes a long learning period.

CK3 players can expect intrigue, domination, betrayal, and the occasional funny glitch that makes it through playtesting. Send out spies, go to war, and trade for economic might on the journey to rule all corners of Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia. Crusader Kings 3 also features several DLC packs and mod support through Steam, so players can take their vainglorious rule even further.

2. Stellaris

Stellaris takes a different direction, with its players heading out from Earth and into the depths of space. Set in the distant future, Stellaris leans into science fiction as the player sets out into the darkness following the discovery of faster-than-light travel.

The lifeforms players can expect to experience on their journeys vary wildly, from the peaceful species who dream only of coexistence to those hellbent on ruling all living creatures. Starting from a single planet, Stellaris will have you expand to cover systems and then the entire galaxy.

Stellaris is also one of the best grand strategy games available on consoles. Originally released on PS4 and Xbox One, backward compatibility and continued DLC support mean this title is just as great now as it was on release.

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3. Total War: Warhammer 2

The Warhammer tabletop game is no stranger to video game incarnations, from MOBA games to first-personal titles, and now even grand strategy games. Though it’s not the most recent title in the series, Total War: Warhammer 2 is often regarded by fans as more beginner-friendly while enjoying a better overall reputation.

Set in the fantasy Warhammer universe, this title has more of a focus on action than others in this list. Available only on desktop systems, Total War: Warhammer 2 places you in control of one of the series' most famous races as they fight the forces of Chaos.

With elements of horror and strong inspiration taken from the works of Tolkien, TW: WH2 is a great introduction to the elements of what makes grand strategy games great. This is another title that saw years of updates to extend the gameplay into new frontiers. It also offers co-op play, so you can enjoy the campaign with friends.

4. Civilization 6

The original Civilization game set the tone for grand strategy games back in 1991, and today its 6th iteration dominates the genre discussion. Civilization takes place over the entire world, where you select a historical leader, and work your way into leading or conquering the globe. These include names like Catherine de Medici, Qin Shi Huang, and Pericles, each with their own special abilities and features.

Players work to evolve their civilizations over time, earning new technologies, forging new relationships, and working towards the all-important atomic bomb. Just be sure to be wary of the nuke-happy Gandhi – originally the result of a glitch that became a gaming legend.

If you like, you can also explore how to play Flash games today to check out the original Civilization too!

5. Total War: Shogun 2

While we didn't want to include two games from the game series on this list, we'd be remiss if we didn't include the best illustration of the grand strategy games set, especially in Asia. Total War: Shogun 2 takes place in 16th century Japan during the Warring States period. Warlords ruled the lands, with each clan fighting to install their ruling Shogun.

Simplifying what was then seen as bloat in the Total War formula, Shogun 2 takes place entirely in Japan and its islands. With famous clans like the Date, Oda, and Tokugawa all available to control, Shogun 2 has stood the test of time better than most. Still infinitely playable more than a decade after its initial 2011 release, check out Shogun 2 to see why many still consider it the best in the series, even if ganking through ninjas isn't your thing.

Grand Strategy Games FAQs

What is a grand strategy game?

A grand strategy game focuses on the highest level of strategy on a governmental level. Instead of an individual deathmatch which you might see in an FPS, these games mean taking control of an entire nation, its resources, military might, and diplomatic relations.

Are 4X games grand strategy?

Grand strategy titles are typically seen as a subtype of 4X games, as Souls like games are to action-adventures. Grand strategy tends to be more asymmetrical than 4X titles, where starting positions and unit setups can be very different.

What is the difference between RTS and grand strategy games?

RTS games are one of the videogame genres that emphasize real-time play, hence the term real-time strategy. Grand strategy games typically involve a large number of turn-based decisions and nationwide tactics, where only battles are played out in real-time.

What is the difference between strategy games and grand strategy games?

The difference between these two types of games is one of scale. Strategy games can emphasize individual battles with high levels of control, grand strategy will tend to include more aspects outside of direct fighting. This includes trade, diplomacy, and a longer timescale.

Grand strategy games are a genre that requires significant time investment, but for those who leap, they can also be the immersive experience available in the world of gaming. Planning for the short and long term can turn minutes into hours, so don't be surprised to see these titles having you up until the rising of the sun. Just remember, even the best leaders need their sleep!