Fangames tend to flourish like wildflowers in hayfields, above all when they involve games that teeter dangerously close to becoming abandonware. PC strategy games, given their demanding nature, are timeless for most fans of the genre, thus we dedicate to all you aficionados out there this collection of freeware game inspired or directly adapted from some of the most iconic games in the genre.
(Windows) A spin-off that can run an improved version of the popular Westwood Studios saga and that allows team play. It also has graphics adapted to the high resolutions of Tiberian Dawn, Red Alert, and Dune 2000, no joke. From the game client itself you can freely download the sources to play the campaigns from those games, on top of being able to play online. It’s high time to heed that famous military march all over again.
UFO Alien Invasion (UFO/X-COM)
(Windows, Mac, Linux, Android) This one’s still fresh in our collective memory thanks to the remake by the studio Firaxis. UFO Alien Invasion is a turn-based strategy game inspired on the popular saga of strategy battles against alien invaders. Having chalked up more than 15 years of history, this free open-source project allows you to play in planetary defense mode as well as manage your operations base, with fixed campaigns and sequential missions. Interesting tidbit: its engine is a highly modified version of the one used by id Software for Quake II.
0 A.D (Age of Empires)
(Windows, Linux) This isn’t the first time we mention this doozie of a game that’s openly inspired on the Age of Empires saga. It’s actually hard to highlight anything in particular given the colossal amount of content contained in this project, with its dozen factions and hundreds of buildings and units for each—not to mention the number of settings, custom campaigns based on real historic events, and both single- and multi-player game modes. And to top it all off, it’s gorgeous, as if to prove that free games can also be incredibly awesome.
(Windows, Android) There used to be a time when your average ambitious teenager preferred to build an efficient roman sewage network instead of becoming a hit YouTuber. If you’re like me, Caesar III, alongside the aforementioned Age of Empires, made it way more interesting to study history at school. This remake, still in its alpha phase, aims to be a mostly faithful adaptation of that game, but takes a bit of artistic license to make it more accessible and interesting for contemporary gamers.
(Windows, Mac, Linux, Android) Civilization has always been there, reminding you with each new installment of the number of successful careers you could have built with the hours you’ve dedicated to overseeing the most prosperous civilization out there (although for many people that prosperity basically comes down to the possibility of eradicating competitors with nuclear bombs). Freeciv is based, in terms of both its gameplay and its graphics, on Civilization II. What this free adaptation does have, after having passed through countless incarnations since its inception by three Danish IT students (in 1996!), is history.
OpenTTD (Transport Tycoon)
(Windows, Mac, Linux, Android) The Transport Tycoon series has always been the stuff of wet dreams for fans of trainspotting and model-building. Creating a transport infrastructure for a large city might seem like a masochistic pleasure, but nothing could be further from the truth. OpenTTD is based on Transport Tycoon Deluxe and offers a free multiplatform game that, besides allowing greater screen resolution than the original, can generate larger land plots and lets you play online in games with dozens of players participating cooperatively. Those mini highways are just as adorable as ever.
FreeOrion (Master of Orion)
(Windows, Mac) One of the most provocative branches of the genre is 4X space strategy games, which revolve around the main pillars of exploring, expanding, exploiting, and exterminating. Master of Orion II should be studied in every single video game design school, as it’s a major point of reference in the genre. Those complex space routes and intricate development menus aren’t to everyone’s taste, but those who know how to appreciate it will find lots of enjoyment in this free adaptation.
(Windows, Mac, Linux) It’s no coincidence that we have to mention another of the many sagas that are the brainchildren of the genius Sid Meier. Colonization puts you in the shoes of the European conquistadors and explorers on their mission to conquer the new world, creating trade routes, swapping tobacco for cotton, and getting rid of a few indigenous people here and there. This adaptation brings back this friendly historic period for your colonization pleasure.