beststrategygameslikecivilization 1
Content Type: Gaming News
Date: December 4, 2022

If you like strategy games, you’ve probably played the Civilization series at some point. It’s everywhere. It was one of the games we featured on our list of DOS games you can play in your browser. Heck, you can play it on your phone. But if you’re tired of playing Civilization, and you want something like it — the same, but different — it can be a bit of a challenge to find. It can get overwhelming looking through online storefronts; you’ve got to weed out Civ 6’s slew of DLC and the plethora of games that are very clearly not strategy. (Looking at you, Persona 5; you’ve shown up three times in Steam’s “strategy game” recommendations now. Go sit with the other JRPGs and think about what you’ve done.)

So, here’s a list of seven strategy games that you might like if you like Civilization. Most of these games are, like Civilization, part of a genre called 4X Strategy. In a 4X game, you eXplore the world, eXpand your empire through empty space, eXploit resources, and eXterminate your foes as the overseer of an empire. But different games add their own twists to the formula: some have alien species; some have heavy fantasy theming, some stick to the historical setting but change the mechanics. If you like Civilization, the odds are good there’s another 4X game you’ll enjoy.

We’ve chosen games based on a few criteria: 1) their Metascore, as an ‘average’ measure of quality; 2) how much ‘like Civilization’ they are in terms of gameplay, 3) how accessible they are if the only strategy game you’ve ever played is Civilization. We’ve tried to avoid squad-based tactics games — they’re lovely, they’re just not the same subgenre — and games that require twitch reflexes. Most of the games on this list are turn-based, and the few that aren’t have limited real-time elements; none of these games are a full-on RTS.

Title
Metascore
Release Date
Genre
What’s Here To Love?
92
1999
4X Space Strategy
The guy who built Civilization built this game, too
90
2011
Historical Turn-Based Strategy
A step up in intensity with real-time battles
84
1996
4X Space Strategy
Vintage space 4X with colourful alien cast + shipbuilding
82
2014
4X Fantasy Strategy
Faction-based 4X with detailed and creative fantasy setting
80
2021
4X Historical Strategy
Historical 4X from a former Civilization game designer
78
2016
4X Space Pauseable Real-Time Strategy
Modern space 4X with customizable alien empires
77
2021
4X Historical Strategy
“Endless Legend” devs take on the Civilization formula!
Metascore
Release Date
Review Quote
92
1999
“Strategy gamers, the Holy Grail hath been found.” – PC Gameworld

It almost feels like cheating to start the list with a game made by the legendary developer behind Civilization. But it’s not a Civilization game, and it’s a must-play if you haven’t checked it out yet.

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri is somewhere between a direct sequel to Civilization 2 and a spiritual successor. In SMAC, you play as one of seven factions colonizing a planet that’s simply called Planet. Planet is a strange and hostile world filled with xenofungi, mindworms, and bizarre fauna. You must explore Planet, build bases and units, take on “secret projects” (the game’s equivalent of World Wonders), and compete with your neighbouring colonists. If you have the DLC — and in 2022, the games usually come bundled together — you can also play as, or against, aliens, with their own unique agendas.

This game has three stand-out features: the writing, the unit customization, and the unique and funky tech tree. The writing in this game is some of the best you’re going to find in the 4X space. Every faction leader has their own carefully-sketched personality; the moral choices you can make actually mean something, and the quotations scattered throughout this game’s encyclopedia flesh out the world beautifully.

As for the unit customization, you can customize every unit in the game with different parts, and there’s a huge number of part combinations. The first unit of a specific type you build is a “prototype” and is 50% more expensive… but after that, the sky’s the limit. And on top of all that, since the tech tree isn’t tied to the progress of a pseudohistorical civilization, the developers were able to do some wild things with it. I won’t spoil the game’s final ‘Secret Project’, but let’s just say things get weird.

Of all the games on this list, this is the most highly recommended. Metacritic calls it a Must Play; most reviews talk about how they stayed up til 4 or 5 AM because they lost all track of time while playing. Give it a shot if you haven’t already, and enjoy the spiritual successor to Civilization.

Metascore
Release Date
Review Quote
90
2011
“…from the very first moments of the game to the last battle of Kyoto, you will be captivated and wanting more.” – ImpulseGamer

We talked a lot about accessibility and not including RTS games, and then we immediately throw a Total War game at you? Madness! But to be fair, if you like Civilization, want a more difficult and crunchy experience, and don’t mind a bit of real time gameplay, Total War is one of the long-running series you should probably try if you haven’t already.

Total War: Shogun 2 is a soft reboot of the series from 2011, designed to be more streamlined and welcoming to newcomers without putting off former fans of the series. It’s set during the 16th-century Ashikaga Shogunate, and you play as a clan leader trying to dominate all other clans and rule over all Japan. You alternate between turn-based grand strategy and real-time strategy battles. In the turn-based campaign, you manage bases, economics, diplomacy, intrigue, and religion, each with its own set of crunchy mechanics and each giving you bonuses in battle.

In the real-time battles, you take the role of general, maneuvering your units to fight other clans and meet certain objectives. Both modes play into each other, with your success in battle affecting your success in the campaign and vice versa. One of the most unique features of this game is its multiplayer: you can set up a cooperative campaign where one player takes on the role of a clan leader and other players are clan members. If you want to be a grand general, or want to ease into the game with the help of some friends, it’s perfect — and there’s very little out there like it.

This one’s on the difficult side, to put it mildly. It’s a lot more newbie-friendly than some of the other Total War games, especially some of the earlier ones. But there are still a lot of systems to keep track of, and if you’ve only played Civ and have never played an RTS, you might find yourself getting overwhelmed (although you can auto-resolve the RTS battles on easy and medium difficulty). Overall, though, it’s worth trying this one to see if you like it. Total War is a huge series, with entries themed around every strategy game setting you can think of, including Warhammer 40k. There’s a game out there for you if you like the Total War formula, and Shogun was designed to be your first taste of it.

Metascore
Release Date
Review Quote
84
1996
“It’s a high quality product that blends tactics, strategy and management into an accessible and playable game — just watch out for the appearance of any latent megalomaniac tendencies.” ~ TotalGames.net

Master of Orion I is the game the phrase 4X was coined to describe. It’s one of the longest-running strategy series out there, rivaled only by series like Civilization and Imperialism. Any game in the series — including the recent reboot, Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars — could have made this list easily. We chose Master of Orion II because of its Metascore and position as the yardstick by which all 90s 4Xes were judged, but any Master of Orion game is a good time.

Master of Orion II is a space 4X in which you take the role of the ruler of an interplanetary empire. You choose your species and your form of government, and you can design your own species if you want — some people consider species design a fundamental pillar of the game. There are three routes to beat the game: conquer all your opponents, win an election for Supreme Ruler of the Galaxy, or find and destroy the ancient Antaran homeworld.

No matter which goal you aim for, though, the game play is similar. You manage resources like food, money, population, and research. You explore the galaxy, spreading new colonies ever outward. You research a sprawling tech tree, design ships, form alliances, and ultimately, conquer your opponents — with open arms or open lasers. If you’ve played Civilization, a lot of the systems will be familiar; Master of Orion puts a spacey twist on them.

Ultimately, the biggest selling point of Master of Orion is the personality. The franchise has a gleefully irreverent view of its far future — in Conquer the Stars, alien “talking heads” sum up each round’s events with snarky jokes. The different alien races are all unique and well-characterized, with gorgeous sprite art in MoO II and well-animated 3D models in the later games. Whether you like the aggressive and artistic Mrrshan cat-people, the super-smart, fragile Psilon scientists, or the purple telepathic Elerian warriors, there’s a species here for you to fall in love with.

Metascore
Release Date
Review Quote
82
2014
“A gorgeous, smart and addictive game…” – Gamer.no

Endless Legend’s developers, Amplitude Studios, have quite the pedigree. Before Endless Legend, they built the Endless Space series of space 4X games, which have received high praise from critics and fans. They’ve also worked on a tower defense game called Endless Dungeon, and one of their latest projects shows up further down our list. Most of Amplitude’s games are set in the same setting, a far-future universe where factions squabble over the lost technology of an ancient empire known as the Endless. And despite Endless Legend’s fantastic coat of paint, it’s very much a part of that setting, down to the currency, “Dust”, being shared with Endless Space.

You pick from one of fourteen factions, and do all the 4X stuff you’ve come to expect — found cities, research techs, fight your opponents, build Wonders, the usual. The factions are insanely creative: the Broken Lords are spectral knights trapped inside their suits of armour, the Necrophages are plague-spreading insects who can control other creatures’ bodies, and the Cult of the Eternal End are fanatics who seek to destroy the Endless’ few remaining artifacts left on the planet.

Like in Civ, each of the factions are based around a specific playstyle, but because the setting is so fantastical, they’re able to hone in on much more specific aspects of that playstyle. If you’re playing the aggressive Necrophage faction, you don’t just get a stronger attack unit or a building that gives you more soldiers — you get cadaver stockpiles from killing enemies, gain an attack bonus from each war you’re fighting, and cannot pursue any diplomatic or trade technologies. The playstyle differences are granular and really affect all corners of gameplay, even into the late game.

Endless Legend has two more big mechanical differences from Civilization- regions and quests. Endless Legend’s map is split into regions. You can only build one city per region, and controlling a region’s city gives you control of the entire region. This adds a little more challenge to city building. You can’t just plonk down three cities right next to each other like you can in Civ; you need to be strategic about city placement. Trade routes, minor factions like Civ’s city-states, and warfare all tie into the region system. As for quests, every faction has a set of quests they can complete. These quests give you information about the lore of each faction, the world, and the faction’s leaders. Finishing all your faction’s quests, and building the associated Wonder, is one of the potential victory conditions.

Endless Legend is a creative fantasy take on the 4X formula, and whatever your preferred playstyle is, you’re going to find something interesting here.

Metascore
Release Date
Review Quote
80
2021
“…[the game proves] the great stories of empires aren’t about production rates per turn–they’re about the people who lived through them. And their pet monkeys.” – AusGamers

Old World was developed by a former developer of Civilization IV, which is one of the most highly regarded games in the franchise. But Old World isn’t just Civ IV with a fresh coat of paint; it takes advantage of all the advancements that have been made in strategy gaming since the 90s. It takes some influence from Paradox’s grand strategy and modern 4Xes to create an experience that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Old World mixes elements of classic 4X gameplay with the intrigue and machinations of Crusader Kings. You have leaders who age and die, and that means you have all the fun of raising your heirs, succession crises, arranging marriages and alliances, and getting attached to characters as you roleplay. All the fun of Crusader Kings, but with different stuff to manage in the background.

Old World also introduces more complicated resource management. You’re not just building a city to make abstract Hammer Resources to build wonders; you have to manage stockpiles of stone, wood, and and iron. The combination of more character-centric gameplay and more complicated resource management makes Old World incredibly immersive, and you can sink weeks of your life into this one.

Even with the lower Metascore (and some hiccups with production value), Old World is the game on this list we’d most strongly recommend if you like Civilization. It’s got elements of everything good about the 4X genre, from the 90s to today. And yes, you can raise a pet monkey and train it as an assassin. What other encouragement do you need to pick up this game?

Metascore
Release Date
Review Quote
78
2016
“Stellaris is almost as big as the universe itself, at the point that you risk losing yourself in a galaxy of info, menus and gameplay possibilities.” – The Games Machine

The other game we’re recommending that mixes generational grand strategy with 4X gameplay is Stellaris, Paradox’s take on the space opera. Stellaris takes a lot of cues from games like Stars!, Galactic Civilizations, and of course, Master of Orion. You create your own alien race, complete with its own form of government, aesthetic, and species traits. Then, you’re placed in a procedurally-generated galaxy. You face off against alien rivals, fallen imperial remnants, and ancient robotic threats, to explore, expand, exploit, exterminate — at this point on the list, you know the drill. However, there are two major things that set Stellaris apart from the other space strategy games on this list.

First: your game is different every time, in ways that Master of Orion and Alpha Centauri couldn’t hope to be. The galaxy, and the aliens within it, are procedurally generated. This means that you’ll never meet the exact same alien species twice. You can create and save aliens, and the game will occasionally put a species you’ve created in your game, but by and large, you’ll be meeting random civilizations. This paradoxically means the game has a little bit less personality than a game like Master of Orion that has premade species. If you talk to a MoO fan about Mrrshans or Silicoids, they’ll immediately know who you’re talking about; if you talk to a Stellaris fan, they’ll be describing species you know nothing about.

Second: there’s less micromanagement than in a lot of other space 4Xes, and a lot less focus on win conditions. Stellaris definitely still has win conditions, don’t get me wrong, but you’re primarily working towards surviving the specific conditions you’re in. Less “rushing wonders to get the Wonder victory condition” and more “okay, the endgame threat is coming in 40 years, do I have everything I need to survive?” The gameplay can be incredibly asymmetric, especially if you start out near a Fallen Empire. And because Stellaris is built on the Clausewitz engine, you have access to a lot of other choices you don’t normally have in a 4X — for example, you can vassalize and enslave defeated enemies instead of destroying them. You can definitely see the grand strategy DNA in Stellaris, and the more DLC you have, the more options you have.

Overall, Stellaris is a great playthrough. It updates and modernizes the space 4X formula, and adds enough twists of its own to keep things interesting.

Metascore
Release Date
Review Quote
77
2021
“Humankind may not have invented hot water, but it is sufficiently different from Civilization. And that results in a rock-solid game, not least because of its scale.” – Het Nieuwsblad

If you like most of what Civilization’s put on the menu, Humankind’s cooking in the same kitchen. The Endless Legend/Endless Space team worked on this one; it uses their version of the 4X formula and a lot of their gameplay updates, but it borrows heavily from Civilization in terms of look, feel, gameplay, and aesthetic.

Humankind is a history-themed 4X where you take control of a civilization and play it through a succession of eras, from the neolithic period to the modern day. You start with a nameless tribe, help them settle a city, and hunt mammoths and sabertoothed tigers around your new home. When you fill out your tech tree, a smooth-voiced narrator will share a quote or bit of wisdom. And as you grow — say it with me — you explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. It’s all very familiar, but the Endless Legend devs know their way around a 4X, and they’ve added a couple of wrinkles to the formula that keep it from being a simple Civ clone.

For starters, at the start of each era, you can choose to become a new civilization, or “culture”. Each era has its own stable of cultures- you might play as Rome in the Classical Era, become the Bulgarians in the Medieval Era, and switch to the Swiss in the Early Modern Era. Just like in Civ, you get different bonuses from each culture; unlike Civ, they stack throughout the game. Instead of the thing Civ has going on where your starting selection of civilization makes you really good at one era and a bit pants at all the others, your culture selections in each era give you advantages that last throughout the game. And worry not — if you really want to play through the whole game as the Romans, you can do that. You’ll miss out on the stacking bonuses from choosing a new culture, but you’ll get a higher score from playing with a disadvantage.

In addition, Humankind adds the region system from Endless Legend, though it gives that a few tweaks too. You can build a small settlement called an outpost or upgrade it to a city. You can build as many outposts as you like within a region, though the cost of each outpost goes up the more that you build. But you can only build one city per region, and choosing which outposts to build and upgrade is an interesting strategic choice.

If you’re so bored of Civilization that you need a completely different gameplay loop, you should probably play one of the other games on this list. But if what you want out of a strategy game is “more Civilization, but with enough to shake up the formula that it doesn’t feel stale”, Humankind’s got your back.


There are so many good strategy games like Civilization out there that, even if you only limit yourself to 4X Strategy, we couldn’t fit them all onto one list. The late 90s and early 2000s gave us so many classic 4Xes that you could play the genre for the rest of your life and never run out.

What classic 4Xes you love did we miss? Let us know in the comments, or give us a shout on Twitter if it’s still around @eipofficial!

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