With 2020 coming to an end, I can confidently say that 2020 was a good year for turn-based games, particularly my favorite subgenre of tactical turn-based RPGs. Many of these games had a successful launch this year, and when looking at games that just entered into Early Access or got funded on Kickstarter, it looks like 2021 and 2022 will be good years as well.
After much deliberation, I have put together my Top 10 Turn-Based Games of 2020 list. Early access games were not considered for this list unless they hit their full game release this year. Despite the overall focus of this site, not all of my Top 10 are turn-based games. There is only one exception though! For each game, I will be listing its rank and there will be a link to my review (if I have one), as well as a summary of my perspective of the game.
10. Stirring Abyss (24 hours played)
Stirring Abyss is a compact game, but an enjoyable one, featuring a compact story focused on finding out what happened to your submarine and ship’s captain in a horrific submerged city. The influence of HP Lovecraft is felt heavily throughout the story, while XCOM 2 inspires the mechanical side. Together they create quite a combo in the time spent with the game. Read my review
9. Crusader Kings 3 (50 hours played)
Crusader Kings 3 is a good step forward for the Crusader King’s franchise. The interface is smooth and intuitive, and the developers have done a good job of refining the game to the point where it can achieve even wider play and acclaim. The game is about as easy to exploit as earlier iterations have been, but as long as you approach the game from a role-playing perspective, Crusader Kings 3 is a great time.
8. Crown Trick (24 hours played)
Crown Trick was one of the two big surprises of the year for me. I did not expect much of it going in, and it exceeded my expectations. This is a good entry-level roguelike, with fun, snappy gameplay and lots of interesting tactical and strategic decisions to make with each run. The only downside is it lacks some of the replayability of other games in the genre, but I hope that with the success this game has had that devs will expand it at some point in the future. Read my review
7. XCOM: Chimera Squad (39 hours played)
XCOM: Chimera Squad is a spin-off game from the main XCOM series, with a focus on a smaller story set in a single city. It introduces some mechanical innovations such as breaching, which allows for a fun simplification of the engagement phase of XCOM 2 maps while fitting well with the idea of the squad essentially being a SWATteam. This narrower focus allows for soldiers with actual personalities and a few graphical and mechanical flourishes that pay off. I actually prefer Chimera Squad to base XCOM 2 and hope they include some of what they came up with in future games in the series. Read our review
6. Tenderfoot Tactics (59 hours played)
Author’s Note: I was a playtester for Tenderfoot Tactics. The second of two great Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT) style games released in 2020, Tenderfoot Tactic’s most standout features is the environmental manipulation system. You can create pits and mountains, raging forest fires and lakes, all within the confines of a single battle. It pairs this with a somewhat meandering open world which worries more about bathing you in a sea of rich and dreamy imagery and battles than it does keeping you bathed in a density of narrative development. Our review here
5. The Wind and Wilting Blossom (62 hours played)
Games with an FTL-style map system are not exactly unusual, and there are even a few with tactical turn-based systems, but none of them quite compare to the quality of The Wind and Wilting Blossom. While I don’t find anything about this game to be exceptionally innovative, what it does it does very well resulting in a fun and rewarding experience. Part of this is driven by variety; there are a ton of different leaders to start with, allies to recruit, and weapons to collect and even with taking the same general path through Japan every run presents distinct challenges and encounters. The developers are still actively working on it too, and it looks like it is only going to get better with time. My review
4. Fae Tactics (121 hours played)
Fae Tactics gets credit for both a tight and effective story and some of the most entertaining and interesting boss fights I have seen. Character customization is not immense, however, it still offers interesting decisions. Teams are small, but the options are wide enough that it is quite possible to do multiple playthroughs with completely different capabilities and experiences. However, on the downside, the UI is a little rough., Certain mechanics are not explained well which can be frustrating if you need everything to be explicit. I had a ton of fun with Fae Tactics and will almost certainly play it again in the next few months. My review
3. Horizon’s Gate (141 hours played)
The third in Rad Codex’s series of turn-based tactical RPGs, Horizon’s Gate is also their best featuring a dynamic and interesting Final Fantasy Tactics-style class system, and an open world that effectively presents a world dominated by naval trade routes and the ocean that connects them. This is another one still being actively updated by the developer, and each update deepens both the options and experience that the game presents. My only complaint is that Horizon’s Gate makes me wish for some of the elevation-based dynamism that is present in other FFT-style games. Regardless this is an excellent experience and one of my Top 5 tactical turn-based RPGs of the modern era. Read our review
2. Troubleshooter: Abandoned Children (263 hours played)
Finally exiting early access, Dandylion’s near masterpiece is one of the most satisfying tactical turn-based RPGs that I have played. Featuring a seamless intertwining of interesting level design, expansive character customization, and distinct and interesting protagonist ability sets, I find Troubleshooter to be endlessly satisfying and would likely be my number 1 in any other year. It is held back a bit by needless hand-holding during the early game and some unnecessary systems, but in the end, it does not really matter. Troubleshooter is great and deserves wider attention than it has received. My review here
1. Shadow Empire (288 hours+ played)
I have found 4X games to be a largely tired and uninspired genre for the last half a decade, with minimal innovations that do little to separate them from their predecessors in a meaningful genre. In fact, I had largely rejected the genre outright – until I played Shadow Empire. Combining logistics, simulation, character-driven government, and a truly clever civilization aspect system in a post-galactic civil war setting, Shadow Empire rapidly shifts from Mad-Max inspired battles with raiders, to alien wildlife, battles over control of terrain, and even other regimes featuring jet pack infantry, tanks, and mechs. Everything makes sense and engages in a way I thought 4X games were no longer capable of. This game is a masterpiece and deserves all of the positive attention it is getting. Read my review
2020 was a fantastic year for games, and I am pretty optimistic for 2021 too! Caves of Qud (theoretically), Wildermyth, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, and Solasta are titles that I am excited for that should be coming out in the next year and I am sure that I will have just as many, if not more, pleasant surprises as in 2020. Keep reading turnbasedlovers.com for all sorts of upcoming previews and reviews!