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The Best Free Online Strategy Games and Tower Defense Games For The PC

Updated on October 20, 2013
Desktop Tower Defense Game
Desktop Tower Defense Game

Welcome to part two of an ongoing look at the best free-to-play online video games. Our last installment focused on free role-playing games, while this week we take a look at some of the best strategy games you can play on an empty wallet.

Strategy games are a big business, and one of the few genres that keep PC gaming afloat. With Blizzard's StarCraft 2 slated to come out, uh, some day and some great games like Company of Heroes and Sins of a Solar Empire selling strong, player interest in strategy games has remained strong and genre loyalists have driven even obscure titles to modest but respectable financial success.

So, how can you get in on the action? There are a number of ways to play without pay, and I'll help you go straight to the best the internet has to offer.

Warlords: Battlecry III
Warlords: Battlecry III

Free Real Time Strategy (RTS)

The RTS might be the type of strategy game players are most familiar with. Games like Starcraft and Command and Conquer introduced the strategy genre to millions, and created the demand for fast paced strategy games that require quick unit movement and production as well as managing resources and planning for opponents strengths and weaknesses.

Some great older RTS's are now available for free, and some new, home brewed ones are making waves too. It is an exciting time to be a fan of the genre.

Warlords: Battlecry III

The Warlords series has a finger in many pots, ranging from turn-based strategy to puzzle games. Battlecry, their entry into the real-time strategy arena mixes RPG elements such as stat building and finding loot with RTS staples like unit management and tight control of individual units. Originally released in 2004, the entire retail game is now available for free on Gametap.

The gameplay is a little stiff, and the difficulty starts high and stays high, but the series has rightfully earned a niche following. The game play is non-linear and will likely be different every time you start a new game depending on the type of character you choose. Race doesn't just determine your stats units stats: it determines the way individual towns and regions will react to your army and how much support they'll provide. If you get upset over racism against Orcs, this might not be the game for you.

Warfare: 1917

In this browser-based flash game, take on the role of a World War I general. Focusing on trench warfare, you have to keep your defenses strong while leapfrogging from trench to trench, slowly taking enemy ground. Managing assault teams and artillery, you have to keep your army perfect in order to advance.

Just as important, though, is maintaining troop morale. World War I was a bloody war that killed millions, and if your troops see too many of their buddies die in failed attempts to take out entrenched enemy soldiers, there's a good chance they just might surrender rather than die themselves.

Desktop Tower Defense
Desktop Tower Defense

An example of how to "maze" using the WC3 Gem Tower Defense

Tower Defense

Tower Defense games originated as custom maps in Starcraft and came of age in Warcraft 3. Now, they're a browser-based hit and there are hundreds of different variations to choose from. In a Tower Defense game, you build towers to fend off wave after wave of enemy, the ultimate goal being to kill them before they breach your defenses.

Tower Defense (or TD) games come in two main varieties: games where you are required to "maze" the opponent and ones where they walk a predefined path and ones where the path is already set for you. Mazing requires you to construct your towers in such a way that the invading creeps and critters have to take the longest possible path to the exit. These games require the most strategy and planning, but can quickly become frustrating to newcomers.

There are some great Tower Defense Strategy games, and I've chosen the ones that I personally have played the most and found to be the most challenging and entertaining.

Desktop Tower Defense

Desktop Tower Defense is probably the "big papa" of TD games. Not the first, but maybe the best. Literally taking place on a desktop, this is a game in the mazing category, and requires you to manage two lines of adorable invaders coming from different directions. Money management and creating the perfect maze are essential to victory.

The graphics are adorable and hand-drawn, and even the most difficult game will leave you wanting more. Check out the latest version now.

Bloons Tower Defense 3

What's more fun than popping balloons? How about monkeys popping balloons? Using darts, tacks, trebuchets, and boomerangs, take whatever sharp object you can get your monkey hands on and stop those balloons from making it to the finish line of your predetermined path.

A nice, moderate difficulty level that scales well as you increase in levels, Bloons 3 is a great time waster with a playful attitude that's great for filling a few empty minutes in your day.

Flash Gem Tower Defence

Poorly spelled, but great fun. A straight conversion of one of my favorite Warcraft 3 maps, Gem Tower Defense combines mazing with a predefined path, encouraging you to block off and create winding paths that prevent the creep onslaught from tagging each of the six points on the map for as long as possible. Place magical gems with elemental properties, and combine them to create more powerful, rare towers with special abilities.

The flash version is low-tech, but the spirit of the game remains the same. Check it out!

Towering Forever

A tough game to place, eventually I decided Towering Forever belongs in the tower defense category. Mixing elements of side-scrolling action with traditional TD game play, Towering Forever is unique. The game plays in a 2D, side-scrolling format and your character can jump, double-jump, and perform multi-hit combos on your enemies.

But, this is a tower defense game at heart, and you have to build and upgrade magical trees to help take the pressure off yourself while you're beating up your enemies. Or, you can opt to spend your money on yourself instead, upgrading your attacks or foot speed.

The concept is somewhat inexplicable (a robot is defending the Yggridsil, the tree of life from other robots? Ooooooooookay).Occasionally frustrating, it seems the enemy units have far more health than is fair sometimes, Towering Forever is still worth a look if you're interested in playing a new defense game but are tired of the same ol', same ol'. And heck, how often do you get to mix Norse mythology with robots?*

*Answer: Here and in the truly awful Too Human. Ugh.

Battalion Strategy Game
Battalion Strategy Game

Turn Based Strategy

Sit back, relax, and take your time to think over the best move possible. Turn-Based Strategy allow each side of the battle take a single turn to move all their units and attack. Popular turn based series include Civilization and Heroes of Might and Magic.

Battalion: Nemesis

Inspired by the great Advanced Wars series available on Nintendo portable consoles like the Game Boy and the DS, Battalion: Nemesis is a great free alternative to these games. Control tanks and other military vehicles and take down some opposing jerks.

Good graphics, and a decent attempt at a story bolster this amusing flash game.


A long-form turn based multiplayer strategy game, you are vying against thousands of other players in Dominon. Build an army, build up your lands, and then go to war. Most games take months to complete, and become very competitive. You're placed into a kingdom and these other players are your allies. Elect a leader, attack other kingdoms to add to your holdings, and maybe even go into all out war.

This game is very difficult if you're not careful, and since you're playing against other real human beings, don't be shocked if they take advantage of every mistake you make.

Zoo Empire
Zoo Empire

Free Online Sims

Finally, some free online simulation games. You know, like SimCity? SimEarth? SimBrothel?

Pandemic 2

Become a virus and try to infect the entire world. Build up your deadliness without becoming so noticeable that doctors and officials are able to shut down your point of entry into foreign lands. Personally, I always wanted to be a parasite that causes dementia and vomiting, and Pandemic 2 gave me just the chance.

Have fun trying to infect isolated island nations like Madagascar.

Zoo Empire

Another free game from Gametap, Zoo Empire lets you become the manager of an up-and-coming new city zoo. Buy animals, attract crowds, and make sure nobody gets eaten by lions. An easy but fun respite from intense war games, Zoo Empire is great for fans of games like Rollercoaster Tycoon and The Sims.

Stay Tuned. . . .

That's all for today, but stay tuned for the next installments which will cover Puzzle games and Adventure games!


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