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VOICE OVER: Tom Aglio WRITTEN BY: Jonathan Alexander
You better have a stretegic mind if you want to beat these games. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we'll be looking at the most difficult strategy simulators ever made. Our countdown of the hardest strategy games includes “Europa Universalis IV” (2013), “XCOM 2” (2016), “StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty” (2010), “Civilization VI” (2016), and more!
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be looking at the most difficult strategy simulators ever made.

#10: “StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty” (2010)

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No one said inciting an intergalactic revolution would be easy, and “StarCraft II” commits to that idea, and then some. The game’s nonlinear story structure allows you to choose which missions to pursue, which units to unlock, and which upgrades to prioritize. But, all that player freedom is a necessary evil to balance out some downright nail-biting stretches on the battlefield. The intense real-time combat means that, no matter how much you buff your squad, you’re never getting a victory screen without some serious casualties. But, the brilliance of “StarCraft II” is that there’s always an optimal way through - you just have to find it first.

#9: “Company of Heroes” (2006)

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Instead of employing dragons, aliens, or wizards, “Company of Heroes” takes place in the throngs of World War 2. And, like any real battlefield, once the action starts, it never lets up. Whether you’re in the trenches or storming a stronghold, these lengthy battles will push the limits of even the most well-thought-out strategies. The game’s satisfying focus on positioning keeps you re-evaluating and adjusting up until the final unit falls. Especially once tanks and other heavy artillery join the fray. Trust us, you’re going to have to make use of each and every ability if you want to deal with the enemy reinforcements. And they always have reinforcements.

#8: “Frozen Synapse” (2011)

This isn’t your average “turn-based” game. While you do get to meticulously re-arrange your troops each round, the catch is that your enemy moves at the exact same time. You’ll never know whether you’re running into the opposing team until it’s already too late. From there, each unit’s base stats and positioning determine the fight’s outcome. The mechanic is unique, it’s easy to understand, and most notably, it’s not for the faint of heart. The shared turn order adds an inherent tension to even the tiniest movement on the battlefield. Throw in a near-random map generator, and “Frozen Synapse” will have you questioning everything in the best way possible.

#7: “Civilization VI” (2016)

The best kind of strategy games force you to think several turns ahead. But, this one takes it a step further by making you think several battles ahead, too. The core of “Civilization VI” relies on how you structure your society. But, every advancement in one area means a concession in another. As a result, it’s not uncommon to enter a fight and find that you’re simply outclassed based on choices you made hours prior. That’s not to say tactics on the battlefield don’t matter, though. On the contrary, “Civilization VI’s” gameplay is as solid - and challenging - as ever. But, it’s that high-difficulty curve that makes becoming a world power oh-so sweet.

#6: “Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings” (1999)

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In this game, there’s thirteen playable civilizations and five separate story modes, each with their own unique objectives and units. But, despite that, there’s one thing they all have in common: the hair-pulling, out-of-this-world difficulty. The gameplay isn’t unfair by any means; there’s just a lot of it. There’s resource management, infrastructure development, unit recruitment, and the game expects you to keep track of it all. With that much on your mind, surviving a single fight can be a grueling affair, let alone actually advancing through the various ages. It’s hard enough to finish even one campaign. Trying to complete every single route is basically a fool’s errand.

#5: “Crusader Kings II” (2012)

Instead of straight conquering, the main objective of this strategy simulator is to garner enough prestige to outrank other famous dynasties. Naturally, that means buffing up your own by any means necessary. Sometimes by forging unlikely alliances, sometimes choosing a political marriage with good in-game traits, and sometimes by pillaging the nearest civilization for all their worth. Whichever one you choose, “Crusader Kings II” forces you to constantly think about the war, and not just the battle. While the actual skirmishes are nothing to shrug off, the real issue is finessing your way to the top without becoming public enemy number one - and that’s much easier said than done.

#4: “XCOM 2” (2016)

The only way to beat these alien overlords is to kill them before they kill you. If you end your turn with even one of them still alive, they’re bound to take some of your troops down with them. In a game as ruthless as “XCOM 2,” losing even one asset can send you through a long, agonizing spiral of defeat. As if that’s not bad enough, most campaign missions add extra requirements or strict turn limits, too. “XCOM 2” does have four different difficulty settings. But, with a combat system like this, they can only do so much. Let’s just say that you’ll be reloading saves even on the easiest mode.

#3: “Frostpunk” (2018)

In a world subjected to a never-ending winter, fear and discontent are as big an enemy as opposing factions. If “Frostpunk” is any indication, they’re also much harder to quell. There are no right answers to the game’s deep political questions, and no matter which you choose, you’re bound to make someone angry. Since viable workers are few and far between, that kind of outrage can spell the end of an entire run. That’s without even mentioning the random blizzards. All in all, “Frostpunk” can be described as a delicate balancing act of hope and practicality. Unless you master its many intricate systems, a cold, hard death is more a matter of when, not if.

#2: “Europa Universalis IV” (2013)

There’s a thousand ways to go about winning here, and a thousand more to lose it all. To propel your nation to the top, you have to balance war, technology, religion, politics, and beyond. Everything from the efficacy of your army to the morale of your people rely on how well you can shift between conquest and diplomacy. Even then, one bad move is all it takes for your nation to crumble. If you need even more tactical gameplay, developers Paradox Entertainment poured everything they learned here into “Hearts of Iron 4”. As its name implies, you’ll really need a steel will to make it through those battles alive.

#1: “Stellaris” (2016)

In “Stellaris,” you don’t just have a nation to run. You have a whole corner of the galaxy. And that’s just to start. As you explore and take over neighboring planets, the weight of developing part of the cosmos becomes a herculean task. Not just because of the frequent space battles or pulse-pounding trades. Although, those aren’t a breeze, either. No,“Stellaris” is a handful simply because there’s a borderline-egregious amount of factors to consider with any single choice. This is a whole universe, after all. It can take hours to fully grasp the basic gameplay loop, and even then, “Stellaris” doesn’t get any easier. You just start to understand why you lost. Which strategy game have you sunk the most hours into? Let us know in the comments below!

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