Monday, March 1

Top 30 / Best Indie Strategy Games on Nintendo Switch


[Last Updated: 3/1/21] 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 [Image & Form] - 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 [Mega Crit Games] - 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.


Grindstone [Capy Games] - There’s nothing I like more than a surprise game that shows up, slaps you around a bit, and leaves you thirsting for more. With its pretty wacky (and seriously violent) cartoon-like style, smart mix of puzzling and strategy, and a terrific surprise specifically in the form of Daily Challenges that will ensure I keep coming back for more, Grindstone absolutely delivers the goods. If you’ve played a variety of puzzle titles before the base mechanic will be familiar, your typical goal is to try to chain as many enemies of the same color as possible. Past that though I can’t say I’ve played anything like this since Grindstones that are dropped for high enough combos then allow you to change to a new color in the same chain, leading to even bigger combos. Now add in a touch of temptation with chests that will coax you into lingering on a board longer to unlock a new blueprint for usable gear, special monsters that will demand you consider how to take them off the board, and even some wild boss battles and the 200+ levels will give you plenty to think about. The cherry on top is the Daily Greed Challenge though, which will challenge you to a sequence of tough levels, providing you with options for perks at each step and truly pushing your strategy and sense of daring to the max if you want to be competitive on the leaderboards. It’s rare that puzzle games are a treat from top to bottom, and add in that it is drenched in great cartoon carnage and Grindstone is a game you’ve got to at least give a moment to check out. 
 

Kingdom: Two Crowns [Noio] - 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 [Amplitude Studios] - 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 Origins [Ironhide Game Studio] - Finally the last unreleased version of the Kingdom Rush franchise is on the Switch, and Origins also happens to be my personal favorite of the bunch. While you could argue that there aren’t too many major differences in the core play between each entry there are enough elements that were introduced with the more fantasy-focused Origins that it stands apart from its peers with differences deeper than mere aesthetics. The big difference is the much more active environments you’ll find yourself in, featuring details that range from mere distractions in the background to flowers you’re able to activate to do a little extra damage to enemies, to your foes being able to surprise you by either creating or finding alternative paths mid-stage to throw off your plans a bit and perhaps require regrouping. As always once you get into the groove with a few heroes to choose from and the ability to max out your upgrades for each element of defense you construct you can really come up with an interesting variety of strategies for surviving the onslaught of your enemies. Since the game has such a wide menagerie of creatures to work with from stage to stage you’ll find the same strategy that got you through a few levels before won’t necessarily work once the enemy turns the screws on a later one. This mix of planning, careful use of your adhoc abilities, and figuring out when and how to adapt to the varied waves the game will throw at you is a consistent challenge and almost always satisfying when you’re able to pull it off. Highly approachable, best played with the touchscreen but workable with a controller, and full of small touches that show a genuine care in engaging your attention fully through some tough stages I’d say any of the games in this trilogy are worthwhile, which one you prefer will likely just be a matter of taste. 
 

Faeria [Abrakam SA] - 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 [Image & Form] - 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 [Subset Games] - 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 [Sharkbomb Studios] - 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 [Frozenbyte, Inc] - 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 [Dreadbit] - 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 [Maschinen-Mensch] - 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 [Defiant Development] - 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.


Through the Darkest of Times [Paintbucket Games] - While games are a great vehicle for departing from reality and enjoying an escape they’ve increasingly been used as a means to put players in sometimes uncomfortable situations in order to convey ideas and foster greater understanding. Through the Darkest of Times does just that, putting you in the position of leading a group of rebels during the rise of Nazi Germany, challenging you to handle both the minutia of everyday tasks but then also often making the tougher calls involving who you choose to trust and what courses you may choose to pursue, and they often can have grave consequences. The difficulty is that as you play you’ll learn that simply trying to avoid risk won’t tend to be sustainable as you’ll lose the morale of your team and the safety net of your supporters, this means that caution always needs to be balanced by a degree of aggression, though choosing your battles and areas of focus is always worthwhile. In particular each member of your team has their own background, strengths, and weaknesses, and as you get into tougher situations you’ll need to be mindful of who you’re sending where in order to maximize your results. Of course all of the missions are interspersed with personal stories from your team members as well as encounters you’ll have yourself that will challenge your morality and whether you may need to endure one bad outcome in the name of preserving your overall mission. It’s a very unique experience and one that will leave you to ponder life in that place in that time… and hopefully provide perspective on how things have changed as well as how some remain disturbingly the same.  
 

Sentinels of Freedom [Underbite Games] - 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.


X-Morph: Defense [EXOR Studios] - 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 [Ronimo Games] - 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 [PortaPlay] - 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 [Gambrinous] - 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.


Space Crew [Runner Duck] - When it comes to strategy games we’re finally to the point where the Switch has a fair amount of diversity. One of the more unusual entries in the genre was Bomber Crew, a strategic simulation where you’d take control of a flight crew on a bomber, trying to manage your people as well as the plane to successfully fly missions through what were usually quite hostile situations. Space Crew is the sequel to that outing and the move to the final frontier not only benefits the challenge and excitement with new aesthetics, it also brings quite a lot of variety to the missions and threats you’ll need to contend with… resulting in far more surprises and overall depth in the process. Probably the game’s biggest weakness is in the control scheme, which is admirably mapped to the controller (still sadly no touchscreen support) rather than a mouse and keyboard, but has a learning curve to it and when things get hectic. This can unfortunately add to the chaos as you try to move your crew around and keep your ship from being blown to bits, but carefully slowing the action down and trying to take a breath can help you keep it together. Since it deviates significantly from the rest of the strategy pack on the console and offers up plenty of customization options both in your gear and in aesthetics if you’re so inclined it makes for a compelling challenge if you’ve tired of X-Com clones.
 

Little Town Hero [Game Freak] - When you’re a game studio responsible for what may be arguably one of the biggest and most successful franchises in the world it must be challenging to break away and do something very different. They’ve proven themselves in the past by making some smaller titles like the excellent HarmoKnight in particular, and in the case of Little Town Hero they’ve again plotted out a pretty unique direction and made something worthwhile. The emphasis in the game is on strategic turn-based combat against some pretty intimidating monsters who mean to do your town and friends harm. The hook is that while elements of the battle system may feel familiar and similar to concepts in some tactical RPGs or even deck-building games there’s nothing I’ve ever played quite like this. Getting up to speed with this takes time, as do the battles themselves which tend to be a pretty drawn out affair, but the result tends to be quite rewarding if you have patience and the right mind for it. Layer in a pretty light-hearted story with fun characters, a great art style, and plenty of charming polish and this is absolutely a unique title that stands out on its own and should be rewarding for the right audience.


OTTTD [SMG Studio] - 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.


When Ski Lifts Go Wrong [Huge Calf Studios] - 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.


Wintermoor Tactics Club [EVC] - When you think of the tactical RPG genre the words “accessible” don’t normally come to mind but Wintermoor Tactics Club is just that sort of surprise. Not only does it offer up a pretty friendly and well-crafted introduction to many traditional tactics concepts, it does so with a roughly relatable (well, to a degree at least) core crew of nerds who just want to be able to keep their role-playing club going. Having a challenge thrown at their feet with the need to defeat all rival clubs at head-to-head battles (relax, it’s just some snowball fighting) the group initially despairs but then realizes that the strategic lessons they’ve learned dungeon-crawling could pay off in real life if they treat it as one of their gaming sessions. With great (and some weird) characters, a steady but fair progression in concepts and difficulty, and some pretty smart overall battles to be won along the way this is a great introductory tactics game that just about anyone should be able to follow and perhaps develop an initial love for the genre with. For veterans, yeah, it may be a bit too simple for your tastes, but even then there’s still the enjoyable story of people you may well find something in common with who are worth rooting for.


Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game [Fantasy Flight Games] - While deck building and card battling games have made their appearance on the Switch in a few different forms, none of them has been quite like this. A common approach is for these titles to go the “freemium” route with things like loot boxes, random drops, and incentives to invest some money to improve your chances. Instead, LotRACG opts for an up-front price where you’ll have access to everything and will be able to build your deck strategically as you progress rather than having to figure out how best to work with that new hot drop you got that doesn’t fit well into any of your decks. Of course, the other massive leg up this title has is the benefit of grounding in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, with characters, races, creatures, and stories both familiar and new. If the slow burn of deck building and strategy are in your wheelhouse you’ll want to give this title a look as it shows both polish and care, opening the door to plenty of challenging and rewarding play.


Hard West [CreativeForge Games] - All things considered, for the price Hard West is a surprisingly competent tactical turn-based shooter than gets more right than it gets wrong. It somehow manages to channel many elements of the X-Com formula for combat properly while also setting itself apart with new ideas of its own. While I wish its overall story were more cohesive and would allow for greater carried consequences for choices you make along the way, the degree to which you feel like your choices can matter is still appreciated. If you’ve been frustrated with the somewhat lacking quality of the other indie titles on Switch in this genre to date, rest assured that Hard West is currently the best of the bunch by a fair margin.


Tower of Time [Event Horizon Software] - Genre-blending is one of the things I appreciate most in the indie space, at least when it is well-executed. In the RPG space there have been multiple takes on turn-based tactical action, many with traditional strictly-defined grid and some allowing for more freeform movement around the field. I’m not sure any have set themselves up quite like Tower of Time though, taking on more of a straight-up RTS feel in many ways. If you’re a strategy fan this will likely be a huge win, and an opportunity to enjoy a better story and general structure than you’d normally get. If you’re an RPG fan hopefully you’ll like taking combat elements that can often feel stale and overdone and replace them with something that should provide a new challenge. Throw in some well-defined characters, ample rewards for taking the time to wander around an explore, and some challenging battles as you try to optimize your skills against varied foes, and it is a package with its own distinct flavor, trying to set itself apart from its competition… and finding success for better or worse depending on how traditional your tastes may be.


Space War Arena [Playchemy] - While overall Space War Arena is only a middle of the road strategic challenge, it fits into the Switch lineup pretty nicely without too many competitors in the same semi-casual space. Well-suited to playing on the go or in docked, and managing to do a fair job of balancing being accessible while still satisfying genre fans it sits in a nice sweet spot where either could likely get some enjoyment out of it. Managing to counter your enemy, turn the tide, and squeak out a tight win is always a thrill, and helps make the game suitable for just about anyone.


Ganbare! Super Strikers [rese] - This is one of those titles that I like to imagine back to its initial elevator pitch: “OK, so you really love sports, right, and soccer (or football, depending) is a worldwide phenomenon game. So you take soccer, and you combine it with turn-based tactical strategy like you may see in those X-Com games you love. Won’t that be awesome?” You know what, I have to admit it is weird but in many ways it really is unique and quite a bit of fun! You’ll set up your players in the formation you prefer, hit the pitch, and methodically move your players and ball around the field trying to score. You’ll have to keep an eye on your players stats, not relying on anyone too constantly so that when their chance comes they won’t falter in the numbers game play plays out for whether your player manages to evade their opponent or even control a tough pass someone made to them. As things move on you’ll then additionally concern yourself with equipment that can provide stat boosts but also can essentially give players special attacks and defensive moves as well, layering on even more variety and opportunities for smart management of resources. While this may not be a combination everyone will appreciate it’s a smart hybrid I wouldn’t have anticipated that works far better than I would have expected.


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!