A screenshot of Civilization 1 for DOS with icons from Windows 3.1 superimposed over it.
Content Type: Gaming News
Date: November 1, 2022

Ah, DOS. Who can forget the halcyon days of 320×200 resolution, teal-and-pink CGA graphics, and the hellish screams of the dial-up modem? It’s hard to believe that games that once required an entire beige box to run will now fit in a browser window. But a surprising number of your favourite childhood DOS games can and do run just fine on a modern browser. And since the manufacturers no longer sell them, you can legally play them for free online.

Here are the best DOS games you can play online, based on the most popular downloads on various DOS gaming sites. We’ve ranked how stable they are in a modern browser, how accessible they are to a modern gamer, and the highest critical review score we could find for each game. Most games have been listed because they score high in all three categories, but a few have been included because their historical significance outweighs their technical or gameplay issues.

Game Title
Genre
Release Date
Stability
(out of 5)
Accessibility
(out of 5)
Highest Critical
Review Score
Sid Meier’s Civilization
4X/Strategy
1991
⭐⭐⭐
👾👾
100/100 from Computer
Gaming World
Prince of Persia
Cinematic Platformer
1990
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
👾👾👾👾
9/10 from SCORE
Oregon Trail Deluxe
Historical Simulation
1992
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
👾👾👾👾👾
9th on Time’s list of 50
Best Games (2016)
Dune 2: Building of A Dynasty
Real-Time Strategy
1992
⭐⭐⭐⭐
👾👾👾👾
100/100 from Computer
Gaming World
Rogue
Roguelike RPG
1984
⭐⭐
👾👾
3.5/5 from Dragon Magazine
Lemmings
Puzzle Platformer
1991
⭐
👾👾👾👾
100 from PC-Spiele 92
The Incredible Machine
Construction Puzzle
1993
⭐⭐⭐
👾👾👾👾👾
10/10 from Top Secret
SimAnt
Ecological Simulation
1991
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
👾👾👾👾👾
93/100 from Zero
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
Educational Adventure
1990
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
👾👾👾👾👾
7/10 from TechRaptor
Adventure in Humongous Cave
Text Adventure
1993
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
👾👾👾
N/A

Civilization is one of those games you’ve got to try at least once in your life. It’s the great-granddaddy of the modern turn-based strategy game. Everything from Victoria 3 to Master of Orion owes this game a heavy debt. If you’d like to go back to where strategy as a genre began, you owe it to yourself to check this game out. It’s a fantastic workout for your strategic brain, as well as a charming retelling of the origins of human civilization. Building up your empire is both challenging and satisfying in its own right, and in the endgame you have to worry about a nuclear-powered Gandhi.

The game is not without its faults, however. Forget everything you think you know about 4X game UI — modern versions of the genre have added a lot of polish, and it can be a struggle to figure out the controls and menu. Second, this game doesn’t run that well in a browser — we had some emulation issues, including sound issues (with the emulated Tandy sound chip) and slowdown. Finally, most emulated versions still contain a copy protection quiz: you will need a copy of the manual or to look up a guide in order to bypass it, and if you don’t, you will lose soldiers that you can’t afford to lose in the early game.

Overall, Sid Meier’s Civilization is worth a playthrough, but it’s a challenge to get into if you’ve played any of the later games — or any of the 4X games that it inspired. If you’ve sunk a thousand hours into Civilization V, it’s worth playing Civilization I, but you probably won’t be sinking a thousand hours into it.

What’s Good About It

  • One of the most influential games ever
  • Addictive, challenging
  • Building your civilization is satisfying
  • Fantastic graphics and sound, especially for the time

What’s Bad About It

  • Not necessarily stable on browser DOSBox, sound issues and slowdown
  • Hard to get into for a modern gamer, especially without a tutorial
  • Copy protection check is annoying

Prince of Persia was a mind-blowing game for its time, and even today, it still holds up pretty well. It’s one of the first ‘cinematic’ platformers, where ease of motion takes a backseat to gorgeous animation based on classic movie stunts. You’re the titular Prince of Persia, imprisoned by the evil vizier Jaffar, and you have to escape his dungeons and save the princess. It’s simple stuff, but it works well. Navigating the dungeons is a nice challenge, a mix of puzzle-solving, memorization, and execution. Better still, this game runs perfectly in a modern browser, no installation of DOSBox required. If you do want to install DOSBox, Prince of Persia has an active modding community, including romhacks and an open-source level editor.

We have a few nitpicks about this one. The biggest is the time limit. Prince of Persia requires you to complete the game in 1 hour. It’s fairly easy to edit this limit in DOSBox; you just have to run the game with a cheat code. However, that can be finicky in a browser, so prepare to spend a little time figuring it out. This game’s also very much a product of its time in terms of its story and approach to non-Western cultures.

But honestly, if the worst thing about this game is that it makes you quote Regina George, it’s worth a playthrough. And if the difficulty is giving you grief- because it’s too easy or too hard, you can change it — it just requires a little thinking outside the browser.

What’s Good About It

  • Cinematic puzzle-platforming
  • Incredible graphics and animation for the time
  • Runs smoothly on modern browser
  • Active modding community

What’s Bad About It

  • Time limit is difficult to change without actual DOSBox access
  • A Product Of Its Time in terms of gameplay and cultural sensitivity

If you went to school in the 90s, you absolutely played a version of this game. It was so ubiquitous and influential that TIME Magazine featured it in its list of the 50 Best Games Ever Made. The DOS “deluxe” version is the full package, with a nice mix of interesting strategic choices and fun moment-to-moment gameplay. It’s easy to figure out what you need to do: prepare carefully, pace yourself, rest when people get tired or ill, and manage your supplies well. It can also be hard to master, especially with random events like sickness and broken wagons. The game’s presentation oozes with charm, especially its chiptune renditions of classic American folk songs.

There are a few things about this game that don’t hold up, though. In terms of gameplay, the biggest gripe is illness. This game is meant as edutainment, and plenty of the folks who traveled the Oregon Trail did die of horrible diseases. But from a gameplay perspective, it’s the kind of randomness that’s deeply frustrating. You can’t predict it; you can’t do anything about it but rest and hope it goes away. It’s very historically accurate, but it does curb your enthusiasm (and lead to savescumming). The Oregon Trail also takes an incredibly uncritical view of the myth of the American Pioneer settling the barren frontier — it’s worth considering what this game has to say about history and whether it’s a myth worth retelling.

Overall, The Oregon Trail is a fantastic nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up with it and a fine strategy/edutainment experience for anyone who didn’t. It’s absolutely a product of its time, in ways both charming and clunky, but it’s worth a browser playthrough.

What’s Good About It

  • An incredibly influential and important game
  • Easy to learn, hard to master
  • Oozes with charm, especially in the music

What’s Bad About It

  • You have died of dysentery
  • A Product Of Its Time re: American pioneer mythology

Licensed games are, traditionally, red-hot piles of garbage. Licensed sequels that don’t have anything to do with the previous game, even more so. By all rights, Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty should be a steaming dumpster fire. Instead, it was the birth of the RTS genre as we know it, incredibly innovative and limit-pushing, and a good time even today. Dune II is a fantastic RTS, especially for the time. The visuals are crazy good — there’s lip sync animations in the cutscenes, even when they’re not voiced. The music is dazzling, the controls are clean, and the gameplay is fast-paced.

It’s not without its faults, of course — by modern standards, the AI is less than bright. They just kind of send individual guys to wander towards your base, getting mowed down by your much-smarter human-controlled soldiers. It can make certain missions trivial, and if you play a lot of modern RTS titles, you’ll probably find this one laughably easy. Finally, there are some sound issues in browser emulation in the form of a lot of popping and hissing, which ruins the effect of the lovely music.

Overall, if you like RTSes and/or Dune, this is a playthrough worth your time. Even if you don’t, well, it’s still worth checking out just to see how the genre got its start.

What’s Good About It

  • First proper RTS game
  • Clean controls, fast-paced
  • Doesn’t compromise on the strategy OR the action
  • Incredible graphics and sound for the time

What’s Bad About It

  • Less than stellar AI by modern standards
  • Sound issues in emulation

Built as a test for UNIX PCs in the 1970s, this little dungeon crawler became wildly popular and was released on every system known to man. The game randomly generated a dungeon for you to explore — you’d fight monsters, gather treasure, and level up, until the dungeon got the better of you. Then you’d start all over again with a new character. If that sounds familiar, you’ve probably played one of the hundreds of ‘roguelike’ games inspired by Rogue; everything from Slay the Spire and The Binding of Isaac to Dwarf Fortress and Cult of the Lamb takes elements from Rogue and put their own spin on it.

Rogue is an incredible game — the combination of “uncovering the map”, “fighting monsters by walking into them”, and “gathering baffling treasure that you have to experiment with to figure out” is genuinely addictive. And this is a game that only gets better with a time investment. Every run, you learn a little more about how the game works; every run, you get a little better. Eventually, you’ll be able to claim the Amulet of Yendor, escape the dungeon, and beat the game.

Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and roses in Rogue land. The DOS emulator is spotty- it doesn’t always recognize your inputs, there’s a significant amount of sprite flicker, and there’s no indication of what the controls are. Most of us are trained, at this point, to take ‘enter’ as the default ‘accept’ button in a PC game; in this game, it’s “spacebar”. If you dig what Rogue’s doing, but want to play an online version with more modern sensibilities, you might be better off with JSRogue. The graphics won’t be the same, but it’s overall a smoother, easier experience.

What’s Good About It

  • All “roguelikes” are like Rogue
  • Exploration + leveling = incredible gameplay loop
  • Easy to pick up, hard to master
  • Lots of metagame progression

What’s Bad About It

  • Controls don’t necessarily translate to a modern PC
  • Some emulation hiccups: flicker, speedup and slowdown

What can I say about Lemmings that hasn’t already been said? It’s an incredibly popular game, with good reason. If you haven’t played it, someone you love definitely has. It’s a charming little puzzle game about getting bouncy, stupid little critters to safety. They will gladly walk right into danger if you let them, up to and including jumping off a cliff. Your job is to guide them, set them to tasks, and nudge them into the safe exit door.

It’s easy to pick up, and teaches you the mechanics you need to learn slowly and carefully, with the levels slowly getting more and more complicated as you go. The DOS original has a whopping 120 levels, and if you get through all of that, the game also features a multiplayer mode where you can cooperate or compete against your friends. If that doesn’t quench your Lemmingsmania, DOS Lemmings has an active fan community with romhackers and a level editor.

Unfortunately, many of the sites hosting this game online do not have the files configured properly, so you may have to look around to find a working version (or give up, download it, and get it running locally).

What’s Good About It

  • Lemmings was the original puzzler in its genre
  • Easy to pick up, teaches you the mechanics well
  • Multiplayer mode and expansion packs
  • Active fan community with ROMhacks and level editor

What’s Bad About It

  • Doesn’t work ‘out of the box’ on some sites
  • Emulation issues, including graphics glitches

The Incredible Machine really is incredible — if you’re willing to meet it on its own terms. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to put together a Rube Goldberg machine that can perform specific tasks. Throw the basketball through the hoop, turn on the fan, make the guns fire — that kind of thing. Watching the puzzle come together is genuinely satisfying, and all the visuals, from the bouncing balls to the running mice, are really appealing. The puzzles have a pretty smooth difficulty curve and an enjoyable zaniness to them.

All’s not incredible in this machine, however. The main trouble is that the interface is a little unintuitive. The lack of an undo button, the UI symbolism that doesn’t necessarily parse, and the clunky password system can make this game more difficult for a modern player than it might necessarily need to be. In addition, there are mechanics that are explained in the manual — things like ‘how to attach machine pieces together’ — that are not explained in game. While a good chunk of the game is the joy of discovery and figuring out how things work, basic mechanical features of a game being this difficult to figure out can be off-putting to a modern gamer.

The Incredible Machine is well worth your attention, and you can play it for free in your browser! If it sparks your interest in the genre, and you’d like to play a more modern take on the same concept — and support The Incredible Machine’s developers — you can pick up Contraption Maker on Steam.

What’s Good About It

  • What’s not to love about a Rube Goldberg Machine simulator?
  • Charming visuals/sound
  • Puzzles have a nice difficulty curve to them

What’s Bad About It

  • Interface is a little clunky by modern standards
  • Can be a bit less than intuitive to figure out how the pieces fit together
  • Some emulation hiccups in browser re: sound

SimAnt is a simulation game where you control a colony of ants. It’s part strategy game, part colony builder, part educational title — but you’ll be having so much fun playing this that you won’t even notice you’re learning. The gameplay’s pretty intuitive, even if you’re used to streamlined modern UX, and the game contains a full tutorial to help ease you into the action. In the “Quick Game” mode, you’re mostly fighting other ant colonies; in the main campaign, your mission is to drive the red ant colony out of your yard, and then infest a house so badly that a human and his dog have to move out.

If you’re used to far-future space opera or heroic fantasy in your wargames, shrinking them down this small can be a breath of fresh air. And for crying out loud, the manual contains a mini-encyclopedia about ants! What’s not to love? There’s not much to say about this game that’s negative. To be fair, the sound glitches in your browser because it wasn’t meant to be played on a modern computer, and once you’ve played the campaign once, there’s limited replay value. If that’s the worst you can say about a game — especially a game that’s this old — you’re in for a rare treat. Go play SimAnt in your browser. You won’t regret it.

What’s Good About It

  • A Maxis simulation gem from a time when that meant something
  • Gameplay is intuitive even for modern gamers
  • “Unconventional, provocative” strategy gameplay
  • Manual contains a mini-encyclopedia on ants

What’s Bad About It

  • Limited replay value
  • Sound glitches in browser

If you were a kid in the 90s, you probably spent some time hunting down Carmen Sandiego. The villainous master thief and her gang of V.I.L.E. henchman have stolen treasures from all around the world (including, implausibly, the Rockettes) and, as an INTERPOL agent, you’ve got to track them down. You travel from country to country, gathering clues so you can put together an arrest warrant, and using your knowledge of geography to track down Carmen’s henchmen. Eventually, you apprehend the master thief herself!

In short, the game is charming. The graphics are dated, and the sound is almost nonexistent, but there’s a winsomeness to them; they’re from a simpler time. You’ll enjoy seeing a cartoon thief scuttle across an inch of screen and hearing the message, “A VILE agent! You must be on the right track!” The cast of thieves are colourful and quirky, and the game does a nice job of making you feel like you’re on the case.

However, it’s got its drawbacks. For one thing, the game’s aged enough that it’s no longer as educational as it could be. When Carmen Sandiego was released, the Soviet Union was still a major global power, Ukraine didn’t exist, and Japan was still an exotic foreign locale. You’ll need to remember the geography of the late 80s, not the geography of today. Another thing to keep in mind is that older editions of this game require the 1985 World Almanac as a form of copy protection — every time you get a promotion, you have to answer a question from that book. Of course, you can just look up the answers online, but it’s an annoyance you might not want while playing a game.

If you have any nostalgia for this game at all, or you want to play an easy, 90s-era geographical puzzler, you won’t regret your search for Carmen Sandiego.


What’s Good About It

  • Charming graphics
  • Nostalgia value for older gamers
  • Fun little time-waster if you know a thing or two about geography

What’s Bad About It

  • Graphics and sound are primitive by modern standards
  • Earlier editions require a dated version of the year’s corresponding World Almanac for copy protection
  • Educational value is very limited

If you’ve ever played a story-driven game like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Silent Hill, or even Stardew Valley, you owe a debt of gratitude to Adventure. This text adventure, also known as Colossal Cave Adventure or Adventure in Colossal Cave, was one of the first games ever to feature text-based gameplay with exploration, combat, and puzzles. It told a story — albeit a very simple story — and paved the way for literally every story-driven game that came after. You play by giving the game parser commands (usually simple, two-word sentences like “go north” or “take lamp”) as you explore the world, and find your way into and out of a massive cave complex.

The original Adventure was written in the late 70s. This version of Adventure is an updated DOS version from the 90s. It’s got some expanded puzzles, a higher point score to achieve, and a scavenger hunt to find secret messages. At the time, it was the largest text adventure ever to run on a PC, and a brilliant showcase of the author’s Adventure Game Toolkit. If you like puzzling your way through a massive virtual world, using commands like “EXAMINE CLOCK” , you will probably enjoy this game. If you get stuck, the game has a built-in hint system; the original author also created a complete walkthrough.

However, there are a few caveats. First, this is very much a classic text adventure, and if you’re not used to parser commands, it’s going to take some time to get the hang of it. If you find it’s your cup of tea, people are still writing parser-driven text adventures to this day, ranging from rollicking good fun to highly experimental and somber. This guide can help you get started finding and playing new interactive fiction, if you’re interested — there are many similar titles in this subgenre, including a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure written by Douglas Adams himself.

What’s Good About It

  • It’s very much a classic adventure game
  • Expanded version of the original, with higher point score to achieve
  • One of the first story-driven games ever

What’s Bad About It

  • It’s very much a classic adventure game
  • Parser commands take some getting used to
  • Some parts of the interface don’t work because the site uses the same controls

We hope you enjoy the DOS games we’ve listed! A lot of games from this era have been abandoned by their developers, or their developers have gone out of business. These games are therefore in a legal grey area, and you can emulate them in your browser without worrying about screwing over the developers. Game preservation is a contentious topic right now, but we think it’s worth keeping these old games alive. You can rediscover your favorites, and maybe find a new hidden gem or two along the way.

Are there any classic DOS games you can play online that you think deserve to be on the list? Let us know in the comments.

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