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Top Mobile Strategy Games That Won't Kill Your Wallet

Fallout, XCOM, and Deus Ex; mutants, aliens, and robots.

Apps in this Guide

Mobile strategy games have a bad rep, because many require costly microtransactions for maximum enjoyment. This "free to play, but not really" revenue model is so lucrative and pervasive that it canmore

Mobile strategy games have a bad rep, because many require costly microtransactions for maximum enjoyment. This "free to play, but not really" revenue model is so lucrative and pervasive that it can actually be hard to find games in this genre that won't ask you for more and more money. After some extensive foraging through the Forests of F2P, we've come back with several gems that won't break the bank card.

Frequently Asked Questions

If I decide I don't like one of these games, can I get a refund?
With Android games, you have a two-hour window in which you can get an automatic refund, performed within the Play Store app. Between two and 48 hours, you need to go to the Play Store website while logged in to your Google account and access your account settings. After 48 hours, you can request a refund, but it's up to the app publisher to give one to you. Meanwhile, Apple does not have a time frame for app refunds. You can ask for one at any time, but they’ll decide on a case-by-case basis whether to give it to you.
Are any of these games inappropriate for kids?
XCOM: Enemy Within is rated M for Mature, for blood and gore, violence, and strong language. But Deus Ex GO and Fallout Shelter are T for Teen, and Battle of Polytopia should be fine for all ages.

The Best Mobile Strategy Games Without Crappy Microtransactions

The Battle of Polytopia

The Battle of Polytopia

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The Battle of Polytopia should look familiar to anyone who's played a Civilization game. It's a turn-based empire expansion game where you start with one modest city and must explore the land, gather resources, research tech, and do some light combat. It's not nearly as complicated as Civ can get; the tech research, city management, and military strategy are greatly simplified. But that simplicity makes it more digestible as a mobile game. You can download it for free, and it contains no ads. Instead, developers sell extra civilizations for $1-2 each (after four to start with).

You can play single-player with varying difficulty levels, in either a "Perfection" mode where you try to get the most points within 30 turns or a "Domination" mode where you win by eliminating all the competition, and you have local multiplayer where you pass your phone along to each participant. The game can also be played holding your phone vertically or horizontally. Each map is randomly generated, so your experience will be different every time.

Deus Ex GO

Deus Ex GO

Deus Ex GO is one of several games in Eidos' stylish turn-based GO series where you have to figure out how to get from point A to point B unscathed, with increasing complexity and beefier enemies as the game progresses. You'll have to decide whether to sneak around, run away, or open fire.

It contains no ads, and in-app purchases are not necessary, though they are present. You also don't need to be familiar with the Deus Ex franchise to enjoy this atmospheric game. You can create, share, and play community-made maps -- of which there are over 5,000 -- and there are daily challenge maps as well. DEGO is regularly priced at $5 but is frequently on sale for much less.

Fallout Shelter

Fallout Shelter

Fallout Shelter is a free base-building game in the Fallout franchise and developed by its owner Bethesda. (Mobile spinoffs are frequently done by a third party, but not here). In it, you create and expand your own Vault, with the intention of taking in a steady supply of people wandering in from the wasteland aboveground -- and fighting off a variety of nasties. You'll also need to send your people out into the wasteland to collect supplies and loot, find them activities that match their abilities, and generally help them grow and flourish. In-app purchases are available but not necessary to enjoy the game. The game is also regularly updated to add new content, features, and bug fixes.

XCOM: Enemy Within

XCOM: Enemy Within

XCOM: Enemy Within is a standalone expansion of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which itself is a reboot of the original classic tactical game. Your job is to fight off an invasion of nasty aliens, which seems like a daunting proposition because of their advanced tech. So one of your jobs will be to "liberate" it and adapt it to your needs, if you want to survive. You'll have scientists and engineers at your disposal as you build out a base of operations (not unlike Fallout Shelter, actually), and you'll have to make some tough decisions about what to make and who to save. While Enemy Within runs a pricey $10, you will get the whole experience of the regular version on a mobile device, though we do recommend a tablet instead of a phone for maximum enjoyment.