Best Games Like Civilization

When it comes to the best strategy games, few series have as rich of a history as Sid Meier’s Civilization, which dates back to the early 1990s.

Now three decades in, the hit turn-based strategy game is still going strong and continues to improve with every new release.

While Civilization has become the top pick for anyone looking to tap into the strategy genre, there are plenty of alternatives for longtime Civ fans who want something new.

In this list, we’ll be recommending the best games like Civilization to check out in 2020. Make sure to check back as we continue to update this list with new games in the future.

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Set during the Three Kingdoms period in China lasting from 220-280 AD, Total War: Three Kingdoms has you playing as one of eleven rivaling factions tasked with defeating the remaining ones to become China’s new ruler.

Whereas the Civilization games prioritize growing and developing nations of people who need food, shelter, and protection, Three Kingdoms is more concerned with all-out warfare as you try to conquer enemy territories and hold on to your own.

It makes several improvements to Total War’s UI and enemy AI behavior, resulting in immersive RTS battles with less time spent in menus and more on the actual battlefield. If you’re a Civilization fan, chances are you’ll feel right at home controlling units and resources on the battlefield while spreading influence throughout China.

Released into Steam Early Access, Kingdoms Reborn is a medieval city builder inspired by the likes of Banished, Anno, and Civilization. It offers challenging resource management gameplay that’s complemented by robust skill and upgrade trees.

You’ll be managing your people’s daily lives, sending them to work, making sure they eat and get enough rest to be productive members of society. The game uses procedural generation to create its open world and offers seven distinct biomes with unique flora and fauna.

In addition to single-player, an included multiplayer mode lets you work together or compete with friends. While it still has a ways to go in terms of features (as of now, there are no military units), the developer has provided a solid enough foundation to make it worth checking out in its current form.

Sigma Theory may not look very much like Civilization but is centered on streamlined 4X gameplay. In it, you play as a nation battling with others for futuristic technology while trying to maintain diplomacy.

Doing so requires you to send out secret agents to gather intel and sometimes forge alliances with the very nations you’re trying to surpass. This gives the game a constant ‘push and pull’ feeling that makes for exciting and emergent gameplay.

Much like Civ, the game tries to boil down many of its systems and concepts into more digestible tips that the average player can understand. That being said, it will take a lot of practice until you’re making ‘9000 IQ’ plays in Sigma Theory.

Like Civilization, the Warhammer games have managed to stand the test of time and are recognized as a strategy game staple. While there are plenty of entries that stand out, Gladius inches its way closer to Civ through its dynamic 4X structure.

What you end up with is the refined combat of the Warhammer games and streamlined resource gathering. The only downside is that it’s impossible to play the game diplomatically, with many scenarios requiring you to retaliate or initiate violence.

This may make it less appealing to 4X veterans but is perfect for novices looking to dip their toes in the genre. That aside, Gladius offers a ton of flexibility when it comes to strategizing and building your army. There’s a wide array of combat units to combine, including special creatures who can be trained to fight for you. 

Amplitude is nearly unmatched when it comes to challenging 4X gameplay with plenty of depth and variety, especially in the case of Endless Legend. Thematically, it’s very far from Civilization, presenting mystical kingdoms and fantastical creatures that can be commanded. 

In it, you play as one of several factions looking to overthrow the current regime in place and rise to power. The only way to do so is to sneak your army into the kingdom and build a following before the leaders become wise to your plan.

Units are assigned unique stats and behaviors, depending on the faction. However, you should know that combat in Endless Legend isn’t directly carried out by the player. Instead, you pick your strategy at the beginning of a battle and watch it play out, which may not mesh well with every player.

Paradox Interactive is one of the most well-known names in the strategy genre and has published just as many, if not more 4X titles than Civilization publisher Firaxis. However, the company’s most significant success to date would have to be the space-themed grand strategy game Stellaris.

Compared to most games that fall under the 4X umbrella, grand strategy prioritizes both combat and diplomacy but may also allow for other playstyles. With that in mind, it’s no wonder Stellaris has received extensive praise for its approach to building diplomatic relations.

The alien races you encounter benefit from dynamic AI that allows them to make thoughtful and often bold decisions based on your previous actions. And just like with the Civ series, there’s no shortage of Stellaris expansions and add-ons to keep the fun going once you’re done with the base game. 

Gameplay-wise, Europa Universalis IV has a lot in common with Civilization. It demands you plan out strategies ahead of time in order to prevent your opponent from gaining a foothold. Additionally, characters are well-detailed, and battles are varied enough to keep you engaged.

Since the game is about overcoming historical imbalances, you’ll have to work tirelessly to keep other nations in check while still providing for your own people. The campaign can be quite lengthy, giving you plenty of time to come to grips with its systems and figure out how to outsmart the AI.

Its scale is a bit more zoomed in than Civ and often requires you to micromanage units rather than issue general commands. Additionally, the graphics are slightly outdated compared to more recent strategy releases like Civilization VI. 

While it may not be as popular Civ, the Age of Wonders series has always been an excellent 4X alternative that shifts its focus from Earth’s historical events to a high fantasy setting in space where elves, orcs, and the likes coexist peacefully and not-so-peacefully.

Both series implore a similar approach to developing civilizations from the ground up. There’s no shortage of tactics to explore, and you’re free to approach things as aggressively or passively as you wish. Additionally, enemies possess distinct strengths and weaknesses that must be dealt with accordingly.

With that said, combat is where Planetfall separates itself from the Sid Meier series. Battles are more frequent and mainly modeled after XCOM’s ground battles. It also sports better-looking graphics and sound design than many Civ entries, depending on personal taste.

Based on a physical tabletop game, Scythe is a turn-based strategy game that transports you to an alternate version of 1920s Europa left in shambles by WWI. You’re tasked with leading one of five factions on a quest to conquer territories and gain control over ‘The Factory.’

This coveted city-state is responsible for producing some of the best advanced weaponry known to man, namely giant mechs that are known to dominate battles and have begun shaping society’s future. However, you’re not the only group vying for power as the remaining factions all have a stake in carving out their own empire.

Like in Civilization, success entails exploring and invading new territories as well as recruiting and training the finest soldiers. In addition, you’ll need an army of combat mechs and advanced machines to ensure you can compete with your enemies. 

Another physical board game adapted to a video game, Gloomhaven is currently in Early Access on Steam. While it’s probably the most different game on this list compared to Civ, we decided to include it for any strategy players who also enjoy RPG mechanics and dungeon crawling.

The game takes place in a fantasy-themed world overrun with bandits, demons, zombies, and more. As a result, people have shied away from leaving the safety of their homes, and the economy is on its last leg. Enter in you, the Guildmaster, the one who will reconnect the world and make a ton of money in the process.

You’re tasked with reopening trade routes throughout the land and exterminating any monsters that get in your way. There is a wide selection of recruitable mercenaries with unique abilities, upgrades, and perks to unlock by purchasing new gear for your party.

Amplitude’s next project is Humankind, a 4X strategy game that sees you rewriting history by establishing unique civilizations based on 60 historical periods starting with the Bronze Age up until the modern era.

Players will influence societies by making tough moral decisions, reacting to historical events, and spearheading scientific breakthroughs. The game shares some obvious similarities with Civilization but seems to have a graphical leg up on the Sid Meier games.

While we’re in no hurry to dethrone Civ as the go-to 4X game, after 30 years of dominating the strategy landscape, it’s about time we saw a new throw their hat in the race. Still no word on an official release date, but with Sega’s financial backing, you can expect Humankind to release sometime next year.

Right up there with Civ, Age of Empires is considered one of the best long-running strategy series still around. While the original focused on human history throughout the Stone and Iron Ages, later installments have shifted their focus to the Middle Ages, a trend that appears to be continuing in the next game.

Age of Empires IV will attempt to recapture the original trilogy’s magic while offering new experiences tailored for both veterans and newcomers to the series. In it, players are tasked with managing their civilization’s workers and military units, eventually turning their small population into a mighty nation. 

The game is expected to feature a lengthy campaign that will see you advancing through the ages as you collect resources, wage war with enemies, and unlock new technologies. It’s unclear when fans will get their hands on Age of Empires IV, but with Microsoft’s involvement, we’re confident it will get the support it needs.

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Justin Fernandez
Justin Fernandez

As a fan of both indie and triple-A games, Justin finds joy in discovering and sharing hidden gems with other passionate gamers. In addition to reporting on the latest and greatest titles, he manages GamingScan’s social media channels.

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