Tuesday, May 19

Top 20 Indie Strategy Games on Nintendo Switch


Last Updated: 8/19/20! While in the early days strategy titles had anemic support on the system in the past 2 years it has picked up quite a bit of steam. Now not only are there quite a number of top-shelf strategy titles available, they span an impressive number of subgenres and styles as well, making for exciting times for strategy lovers of all kinds.

SteamWorld Heist - With multiple skill levels available SteamWorld Heist is a game that anyone, from a tactical strategy newbie to a grizzled veteran, should be able to enjoy. Well-designed, looking fabulous on Switch, and thoroughly engaging it offers a rewarding combination of careful planning and then execution in aiming that I can’t get enough of. Pulling off a tricky ricochet shot from across the room is such a rush, just remember that when you inadvertently end up blowing up a crewmate a little later because you didn’t plan it out well. While battles can be aggravating at times the great news is that every time you try placements and layouts will tend to vary either a little or a lot so you may have just had a bad break. If you haven’t yet checked out SteamWorld Heist you owe it to yourself to give it a shot, it is unquestionably one of the best games on the Switch.


Slay The Spire - While deck building games would usually fall into the category of titles I’d file under “an acquired taste” the Switch now has 2 rock solid titles with that style of play that have proven mainstream friendly this year. While SteamWorld Quest went more story-driven and static though, Slay the Spire very much embraces a roguelike approach instead that keeps it challenging and surprising across many attempts you’ll make with its heroes that each have a very different style. There’s definitely a learning curve here, as you’ll need to experiment with different combinations of cards to work out which synergize the most effectively together and which you’re better off without. For true roguelike or strategy fans this is absolutely a title you won’t want to miss out on, it easily lives up to the positive buzz it has been receiving.


Kingdom: Two Crowns - Since I was already a pretty big fan of the first installment of the Kingdom series (New Lands) that arrived on the system I suppose it’s not a great surprise I’m an even bigger fan of its more refined and content-laden follow-up. I somehow missed it when it arrived on the eShop but now with the release of the free Dead Lands DLC I’ve finally gotten the chance to see how much the title has grown while retaining pretty well everything I appreciated about the original. This remains a very subdued, at times a bit slow, but also somewhat tranquil and often outright beautiful title filled with discovery, experimentation, and a fair amount of failure as you try to maintain a critical balance of your human and monetary resources, as always trying to expand, build, and survive in what can often be a hostile world. All of the different flavors you can choose from, each with not only their own art style but also variety in what you’ll encounter and need to work out how to utilize properly for success, really take the core gameplay that was already solid and satisfying to a new level. If you enjoy slow burn strategy where you’ll need to work out how best to proceed without much direction this should absolutely be your jam.


Dungeon of the Endless - I’ll admit that when I first started playing this title it was a struggle since there’s a distinct lack of explanation to much of what you need to do. That said, with experimentation (and quite a bit of failure) I slowly was able to understand what I was playing and it started to grow on me. Mixing together elements of dungeon crawling with tower defense, and topped off with what can sometimes be a crushing roguelike mentality, I can’t say I’ve played anything like it and that really makes it interesting. Your goal is to slowly proceed through each level of the random ship you’ve found yourself crashed into, carefully scoping out each individual room and clearing them out. Using what resources you find and power available to you you’ll be able to enhance rooms you clear, either setting them to help build resources or have various defensive properties to help for what comes next. The tricky part is that once you find the way to the next floor one of your party will need to move the core, leaving them vulnerable, while you hope your created defenses or other crewmembers help keep them alive. The indirect control you have over your crew takes some getting used to, especially when things get tense, but once you’ve got a handle on it all this can be a unique and challenging experience.


Kingdom Rush - While one of the sequels in the series has already been released on the system (Frontiers), the OG Kingdom Rush has now arrived on the Switch. For the uninitiated, this is really what I’d consider to be one of the best examples of great games to emerge from mobile platforms, pretty well defining how to make an engaging tower defense game that’s smart, challenging, and even throws in some humor. The stages are generally well-designed, the enemy units you’ll face are varied, and you’ll be pushed to develop strategies to address specific units and bosses that will show up on some levels, forcing you to often abandon your well-worn default plans or at least play enough to upgrade those tower types so they’ll be more effective. While I’d still consider touchscreen play to be your best bet, the console controls in docked mode are still generally effective, just when things get tense you may struggle to highlight the proper spot at times. For the budget price this game delivers a truckload of great content that’s battle-worn and has been refined over time, making it an easy choice for strategy fans if you’ve not already picked it up on other platforms already.


Faeria - Truth be told only recently have I been able to play deck-building games of any kind that I’ve found interesting. Usually the inclusion of roguelike elements is what hooks me but as some other strategy card games have come along they’ve begun deviating more and more from the traditional mold and that has made them more interesting. Faeria falls into that “more interesting” category for me by throwing an element of strategy into the mix with land management that adds a layer of complexity to the more traditional aspects of these card battlers. Now you can not only defeat your enemies through sheer force with a better deck (or perhaps some luck), you can outmaneuver them by controlling energy points and with some patience and planning even dodge or divide some of their defensive resources, leaving their hero vulnerable. My main complaint is that the console controls take some getting used to, and though they do ultimately make sense I do think they could have been handled more thoughtfully or at least initially explained better since the right trigger use in particular threw me off initially a few times. If you’re a deck building fan or just appreciate smartly-designed strategy games Faeria is absolutely worth a look and rises above the norm with some new ideas that really add depth to play.



SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech - Despite my feeling that it lost some steam towards the conclusion, SteamWorld Quest is easy to count among the most polished and engaging games on the system. Similarly to Heist it has managed to take a style of play that may not be as familiar to people and that may seem intimidating at first and make it highly accessible. There’s just so much potential in the decks you can put together that with some determination not to repeat yourself you could easily replay the game and have it feel very different due to your change in tactics. Yet again Image and Form have managed to take their SteamWorld universe to another very different place and yet deliver the same sort of high quality experience people have come to expect from the series.


Into The Breach - Coming from the people behind the infamous FTL (which somehow still isn't on Switch), this bite-sized strategy title works in pretty quick and concise rounds that will demand your careful attention. Progress will come slowly at first and you'll likely need to make some sacrifices in order to ultimately succeed but this is a well-designed strategy title that will make you work for your success.


Nowhere Prophet - In the last generation I’ve been surprised to see the deck-building strategy genre not only move from the fringes into the mainstream on the back of titles like Slay the Spire or the more casual SteamWorld Quest, but also continue to find ways to crank up their associated degree of challenge. While the frustration that tends to come hand in hand with that is sure to turn a portion of the audience away, for everyone else it tends to lead to deeper and more satisfying play. That’s what has happened with Nowhere Prophet, a roguelike strategy deck-builder that stacks more potential for failure onto you than normal as an additional layer of risk and reward comes into play. Your units who fall will still be able to be used, as a bonus even at a lower action point cost, but if they fall a second time they’re gone for good. This absolutely throws a wrench into your plans at times, but when the planets align it also opens the door to decisive wins if you can capitalize on hurt units while minimizing your opponent’s ability to punish you for it. As always there will undoubtedly be quite a bit of initial grinding as you get accustomed to the nuances of the game’s strategy, and its sometimes devastating consequences, but since you’ll be earning new cards you’ll need as you go your progress tends to turn around pretty quickly once everything clicks. Sure, you’ll curse the RNG gods at times for their cruelty, but that makes the satisfaction of success all the more sweet.


Has-Been Heroes - It seems appropriate include this first game I reviewed for the system and prepared a pretty extensive tips and tricks guide for. Dismissed by much of the games press for its substantial level of challenge before its Day 1 Patch looking through many of the complaints about it I think the biggest issue was too many people didn’t understand its mechanics and were trying to smash their way through. This is a deep strategy roguelike and once you understand its systems defeating its bosses is a supremely satisfying feeling. Pair that with post-launch patches that have refined the difficulty and added additional content there's a staggering amount of terrific content in this game!


Ironcast - Somewhat picking up the mantle from the popular Puzzle Quest series, Ironcast constructed a very compelling, though unlikely, combination of Victorian era England, steampunk mechs, roguelike elements, and strategic gem matching. Through the campaign you’ll be challenged to manage your various systems to keep your mech operational while you try to pinpoint the weaknesses of your opponents to take them down. A great mix of genres made this something worth checking out.


Curious Expedition - If you were to try to give The Curious Expedition an elevator pitch it would best be described as the love child of classic Civilization and The Oregon Trail in my mind. Your goal is to choose a figure from history, understanding their various perks and weaknesses, and set out on an adventure in search of fortune and glory, but understanding that inevitably bad things are likely to happen as well. In terms of presentation it definitely shows its age, and that may put some people off, but if you put that aside and come to understand things like the game’s unusual approach to combat (you’ll need to hit the tutorial or you may be very confused jumping right in) its charms can sneak up on you. Considering there’s nothing quite like it on the Switch, this budget-friendly exploration title offers plenty of surprises and occasional silliness, testing your strategic decision-making and, no doubt, your luck.


Hand of Fate 2 - Part card-based game of chance, part classic D&D-esque dungeon exploration, and part action game Hand of Fate 2 has a style all its own. I thoroughly enjoyed the original and was pleased with the refinements they threw into the sequel, mainly in the form of making the action much more varied and challenging. There are runs where it will feel like the Dealer's cards are simply not on your side but when you can then get on a good tear with some luck and decent equipment it can be a thrill as well. Just a unique title worth checking out.


Sentinels of Freedom - While the Switch has been enjoying a fair selection of quality turn-based strategy games more recently, there’s nothing out there quite like Sentinels of Freedom. Most obviously the fact that it involves you controlling a group of superheroes who are determined to defeat evildoers big and small is thematically different, but the fact that you’re able to construct your own custom hero in terms of aesthetics and powers really ups the ante and stands apart from most of the competition in the space. Now, I may have a weakness for the title since it makes me nostalgic for a very similar game from years ago on PC called Freedom Force, but I think the effort here is sufficient that this game can stand proudly on its own merits, something that doesn’t always happen. What makes it fun is the comic book style of art, some of the silliness that comes along with the heroes versus villains cheesy dialogue, and the variety offered by how you construct your hero. With experimentation comes an element of the unexpected, and I don’t doubt that some combinations will work better than others, but being able to put your own stamp on a hero for me is a great creative touch that easily got me invested. In terms of downsides I’d say the typical mission can be a bit overlong, with the game simply throwing waves of enemies at you at times, paired with the fact that sometimes the specifics of what you need to do aren’t maybe as clear as they should be. Still, even with its faults there’s an energy and spirit to the game I appreciate and if you’re patient with its shortcomings there’s a lot of fun to be had with it.


When Ski Lifts Go Wrong - While the system has a number of bridge building physics games, this one takes that general premise and does some new things with it. The most obvious difference is in the structures you’ll build, replacing the roadway with chair lifts, gondolas, and ski jumps. To further add to the fun there are scenarios where you’ll get a small degree of control over your specific target skier, working to nail tough jumps and to grab bonus coins. While it’s not perfect it’s also a welcome aggressive attempt to get the genre moving in newer and more creative directions.


X-Morph: Defense - I’m really impressed by everything the folks behind this game have put together. The campaign is challenging and at a satisfying length, and if you really want more there’s already additional DLC content available as well. The mix of strategy and action it offers is pretty unique and in general the presentation of the destruction and carnage really helps make it all exciting. You’ll need to make some tough choices at times, and if you get too distracted by the action your defenses can really fall apart, but that all adds to the challenge and fun. If you’ve ever had any affection for tower defense games you owe it to yourself to see this example of the genre being taken to a new and more exciting level.


Swords & Soldiers 2: Shawarmageddon - All in all Sword & Soldiers 2 is a clear step up from its predecessor in pretty well every way. Artistically it is far more elaborate and full of character, the campaign storyline is as odd and silly as ever, the units are far more diverse and interesting, and the inclusion of online multiplayer is a cherry on top. While it may err a bit on catering to the lighter side of strategy make no mistake, the game is capable of being as complex as you can handle if you’re playing against another human, even if the solo challenge may not be as impressive. It’s well worth adding to your library if you’re in search of something fun but still satisfying in between bigger titles.


Broken Lines - Let’s face it, while there have been quite a few titles out there that have decided to try to take on the likes of X-Com and its well-regarded tactical strategy combat, none have really come close. Either wisely looking to sidestep the issues others have had, or simply wanting to innovate and come up with something similar but unique, the developers behind Broken Lines use tactics in a similar way but with the action playing out more dynamically once you’ve set it up. Now, this made the tutorial a little rough around the edges at first (at least for me) as understanding how movement and actions are managed, as well as mechanically how you need to specify them as you intend requires some orientation. Once it clicked though I was really impressed with the result. While it may not be perfect, your units each have different roles and appropriate skills to match. You’ll need to learn how to use them each effectively and appropriately, moving carefully to be sure the right people are in the right places once you’ve made visual contact with the enemy. The end product is refreshing and new, generally feels fair, and makes combat feel quite dynamic. If you’ve been disappointed by the lack of X-Com on Switch and that to date no indie titles have really come close to the mark it has set you should give Broken Lines a look. It goes in a new direction, but in general it feels like a good one, and I’d love to see it explored further in the future.


Cardpocalypse - While deck building and battling games were never something I got into physically, I’ll admit that in the digital space they’ve managed to get me pretty hooked. While we’re still somehow waiting on the well-known Hearthstone to make its way to Switch (I hope), with smart titles like Cardpocalypse available it hasn’t been too painful to wait. What makes the title notable is the schoolyard RPG aspect of it, where you’ll play the new kid in town trying to make friends and build a solid deck along the way. If you’re just looking to get down to business you’ll have the option to do that as well to a degree, but the joy here is in navigating Jess through the travails of Elementary School clique politics with some smart deck building and opportunities for customization along the way.


OTTTD - Tower defense titles are extremely common in the mobile space (for good reason, they’re well-suited to touchscreen controls), and have found success, but can sometimes be lacking on the more dedicated Switch. OTTTD, or Over-the-Top Tower Defense, is an aptly named title that tries to use a little personality, multiple controllable units, and more varied strategic choices than usual in order to get some attention. Where many more generic titles in the genre fall flat and feel predictable, OTTTD likes to throw periodic surprises at you and ends up being pretty entertaining in the process.


This list will continue to grow and be pruned as time goes on, as well as numerous other lists that try to keep track of all of the best titles the Nintendo Switch has to offer in the Indie space!