Strategy Games That Will Make Your Brain Feel Good

If you’re in need of a strategy for dealing with self-isolation, strategy games are a great retreat. They keep you focused enough where you can’t be distracted, but you can still listen to something else while playing them like a podcast or TV show (even though they might have banging music). Here’s a list of some of my favorites that I’ve been thinking about and playing recently:

Slay The Spire

The Silent faces off against a boss with a poison-focused build.

Slay the Spire was one of my Games of the Year in 2019. It’s one of the games credited with the current deck-building rogue-like boom. In it, you play as one of several characters and ascend The Spire. You mainly battle enemies using cards you collect on your ascension. You do this while building a deck and trying to preserve your health as much as you can. In each battle, you’re shown what the enemy’s next action will be, so you can plan ahead. If the enemy is going to hit you for 18 damage, you can use your cards that give you block, for example. Past that, you fight bosses and pick up potions and relics that will affect how you play in different ways. The game feels quick while you slay enemies and often change strategies to live longer. The newest character, The Watcher, was also just released on consoles too (for free!!) so there hasn’t been a better time to pick it up.

Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami is famous as that extremely gore-y, stylized, top down shooter from Dennaton Games. It’s a game where you play as a hitman who quickly goes through buildings and kills everyone. If you’re hit too much, you die and you instantly go back to the beginning of the floor you’re on. You’re able to quickly fail and repeat. Once you get a handle on the combat, you’ll realize that you need to establish a strategy for getting through the floors. You’ll pick up a weapon laying on the ground, use it a couple times, then throw it at an enemy and get shot by another. So, the next try you throw your weapon at the enemy with the gun, then grab the gun and use it to blast your way to the end of the floor.

You stand in a room covered in blood as you plan your next move, likely starting with killing the gunman a room over.

Hotline Miami is fast-paced and feels good when you figure out the proper way for you to proceed. You’ll find that the challenge isn’t always lining up your shot but knowing which enemy to shoot, which enemy to throw your gun at, then which enemy to hit with a crowbar you pick up immediately after throwing said gun. Hotline Miami is an extremely satisfying game to play that was originally supposed to be uncomfortable for the player because of how much gore was in it. With the state of gaming in 2020 however, it doesn’t feel much out of place anymore.

Into the Breach

Into the Breach is a game that I’ve had on my radar for years but didn’t pick up until a couple months ago. If you enjoy Slay the Spire, this game should satisfy you in a similar way. It is a turn-and-tile-based strategy game where you control mechs that destroy giant bug-like creatures called The Vek. You don’t have to kill The Vek though; your focus on each stage is to defend certain buildings from being destroyed for a certain amount of turns. It’s very different from Slay the Spire, but each turn you can see what the enemies are going to do next. So, if an enemy is going to attack a building, you can attack it and push it over a tile so it’ll attack one of it’s teammates in some friendly fire. You could also just block that building from being attacked and take the hit instead of the building.

You manipulate where enemies are at to control the battlefield in Into the Breach.

Each stage has optional sub-objectives to complete as well that you’ll be rewarded for. You can then use what you gain to buy new mech parts to give your mechs different types of attacks. It’s also a rogue-like so it’s fast and iterative, and if you fail it’s okay! You can just try again with some different starting mechs that might click with your gameplay style better.

Golf Games

Alright, hear me out.

Golf games are very strategy based. You need to look at the course, plan where you’re going to hit the ball, then adjust as you go. They’re also extremely satisfying when you execute a plan perfectly and hectic when you mess it up. My two favorites currently are Kirby’s Dream Course and Golf Story. Kirby’s Dream Course is a SNES game you can play on the SNES Nintendo Switch Online app where you hit Kirby like a golf ball and use copy abilities to get in the hole. It’s a different type of golf game, but very fun. It can be a bit frustrating as you don’t get precise predictions like in most golf games, but if playing on a Nintendo Switch you can rewind the game and fix your mistakes if you’re inclined.

Golf Story is more of a tried-and-true golf game. The catch is that it is in 2D and it is a role-playing game. There are a variety of golf courses and each one is fun to play. You’re able to “Tee up Anywhere” ( as advertised) and hit the ball into holes you find in the overworld. You can just hit balls into NPCs for fun and see their reactions too. It is loaded with quirky side-quests and even frisbee-golfing, keeping the player busy with fun activities. The game never feels unfair like Kirby’s Dream Course can because you can always accurately predict where the ball is going to land, as long as you hit it the right way. It’s very fun and the developer is coming out with a follow-up, Sports Story, that is much like Golf Story, but with, you guessed it, more sports. Golf Story is one of my favorite indie games on the Nintendo Switch.

Dicey Dungeons

You place your dice into different boxes for different abilities.

In another deck-building rogue-like, Dicey Dungeons, you play as a six-sided die that has been forced into playing in Lady Luck’s game show. You’re trying to escape, but Lady Luck is most definitely not on your side. It’s extremely charming, with cute art and a catchy soundtrack. You’ll go through a dungeon battling enemies by rolling six-sided dice. Each turn you will insert your rolled dice into your weapons, with the number you roll not always affecting how much damage you’re doing. It’s very fun trying out the different characters who each have their own personality while also trying to figure out a build that works for you and the different weapons you’ve found in your journey. It’s quick and especially fun if you have a computer with a touchscreen.

Katana Zero

Katana Zero is like Hotline Miami except you have a sword and you see the game from the side. You’ll quickly hack and cut your way through enemies, get shot once, then have to restrategize and adjust. You can also slow down time and hit bullets back at enemies, which feels really good. It starts off a bit slow, but once it picks up, it picks up. The story is also excellent, focusing on how the government throws away individuals used for war once it is done with them. The story does, however, end unfinished, but there is DLC in development to finish it up.

This felt as cool as it looks I promise

Kingdom: Two Crowns

You can play in Shogun mode for a more Japanese-themed look.

Kingdom: Two Crowns is the latest game in the Kingdom series. It’s a game where you play as a monarch who rides around on their horse and puts money into different structures to build and support your kingdom. It is extremely simple at its core, which is part of what makes it so great. Conflict arises when The Greed, small greenish creatures, come out of portals at night to attack your kingdom. To protect your kingdom, you must arm the townsfolk and create walls to defend your people. You progress by destroying The Greed’s portals and continuing onto other islands. Colonization aside, the game is by far the most peaceful game on this list, and the graphics are beautiful. It only gets stressful much later once The Greed become overwhelming. Until the late game it has the ability to quickly eat up days as you attempt to protect your people and stave off The Greed. The big kicker for Two Crowns is you can also play multiplayer, which makes the game a bit easier as you don’t have to worry so much about where you’re at on the map when the other monarch can assist.

Originally published at on April 16, 2020.

Tech worker and indie game developer who sometimes writes about games they enjoy. You can find them on twitter @blade_kissed.

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