Gamer Koala

The 10 Hardest Strategy Games

You don’t have to be an armchair general to find strategy games entertaining. You only need critical thinking skills and enough stubbornness to learn from your mistakes. If you take just those two traits to these difficult-to-master games, you just might have a chance!

Whether you want to grow a civilization from scratch, inhabit and conquer the entire universe, or just out-think your enemy on the battlefield, these ten punishing strategy games will keep you coming back for more.

10. Command & Conquer

Command & Conquer
Westwood Studios | Steam

The oldest strategy game on our list, Command & Conquer was released in 1995. It was one of the first RTS (real-time strategy) games ever created. So, get ready for a sharp learning curve! Set in the near future, Earth becomes contaminated. There’s global war. Players construct a base and acquire resources. Be prepared for punishing gameplay.

9. Sid Meier’s Civilization 6

Sid Meier's Civilization 6
Firaxis | Steam

Sid Meier’s Civilization 6, released in 2016, carries on the tradition of the turn-based strategy series of adding more and more features. The additions like AI programming and online community competitiveness increase the challenge. But what makes this installment especially difficult is that there are more restrictions than in previous games, requiring players to take on more R&D.

8. Age of Empires 2

Age of Empires 2
Microsoft | Steam

Released in 1999, Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings is the second installment in the highly successful series. While not too hard to start, mastering the game and routinely defeating other players is where the difficulty lies. The game focuses on the historical events in Europe and Asia through the Middle Ages.

7. XCOM 2

2K | Steam

XCOM 2, released in 2016, remains one of the best-turn-based tactics ever made. Going for the easiest of difficulties in the game is quite a task. After all, the game takes nearly 80 hours to complete. However, the harder difficulties can feel impossible. Many have had trouble completing the game.

6. The Banner Saga

The Banner Saga
Versus Evil | Steam

While many games have used Norse mythology, 2014’s The Banner Saga uses it as the basis of an original story. It follows two playable characters whose separate stories merge. The game’s interactive story is split between traveling and battling phases. This game gets hard, so you may want to keep your finger on the difficulty setting (there’s no shame in “Easy” mode).

5. Crusader Kings II

Crusader Kings II
Paradox Interactive | Steam

Crusader Kings II is a grand strategy wargame released in 2012. It’s set in the Middle Ages. The player controls a medieval dynasty from 1066 to 1453. Every game in the series is tough to learn, hard to master, and nearly impossible to win. Still, the gameplay is enjoyable and worth the effort.

4. Distant Worlds: Universe

Distant Worlds: Universe
Matrix Games | Steam

Released in 2010, Distant Worlds: Universe puts the player in space to fend for themselves. What makes this complex game tough is its overwhelming amount of features and choices on the screen at once. One bit of solace to the game’s difficulty is that you can pause the game to give yourself a time out for contemplation.

3. Hearts of Iron IV

Hearts of Iron IV
Paradox Interactive | Steam

Among the best hard-core is 2016’s Hearts of Iron IV. Set during World War II, players can control any nation starting in 1936 or 1939. You can choose the nation’s historical path or lead a non-historical path. Luckily, the interface is user-friendly and easy to navigate. The tough part is mastering planning and making critical decisions.

2. Europa Universalis 4

Europa Universalis IV
Paradox Interactive | Steam

Europa Universalis IV is an epic strategy game from 2013 that is as challenging as they come. It’s another in the line of games that are difficult to learn, harder to play, and nearly impossible to win. Players control a nation from the Late Middle Ages and will need to conduct trade, diplomacy, colonization, and warfare.

1. Stellaris

Paradox Interactive | Steam

As you build an empire across the stars, 2016’s Stellaris will push your brainpower to the limit. It’s considered one of the most difficult strategy games ever. You’ll explore an endless number of planets and races as you create a civilization. The role-playing aspect of the game is nearly limitless.