Ever since its release in 2016, Stellaris has captured the imagination of many gamers. Being able to “play God” at a universal scale — literally so — is a thrilling prospect for anyone.
A game like Stellaris is generally categorized in two different ways. First and foremost, it’s a grand strategy game. The keyword here is “grand”, meaning that you must keep many different variables under control. Moreover, the whole game takes place across a very long time period, often spanning centuries or millennia.
This is also described as a 4X game. As odd as the acronym may be, it sums up its characteristics:
- eXplore: you discover territories (or planets and galaxies) by sending envoys out.
- eXpand: you claim territories by extending your influence, or creating settlements from scratch.
- eXploit: you take advantage of the resources available in the areas that you control.
- eXterminate: you get rid of opponents and rivals, either by attacking them, or rendering them inoffensive through diplomacy.
Second, it’s a space game, but a realistic one. While many things shown in the game are not currently possible with our real-world knowledge of physics (such as megastructures), your way to victory requires a plausible approach. It makes sense, for instance, that you have to acquire nuclear technology if you’re going to use a nuclear drive in your spaceship.
As such, players interested in more games like Stellaris may be interested in similar grand strategy games, even if the environment is different. Indeed, some may actually prefer that kind of variety!
1. Master of Orion: Conquer The Stars
The latest installment in a series that began in 1993 on MS-DOS, and is affectionately called “MoO” by its fans.
It allows you to control one out of ten available races into conquering the universe, but you may prefer a more peaceful technique to win. Or you may seize control of the economy, or become the best at research.
It’s generally considered one of the “gentlest” 4X games for newbies, but don’t let that fool you. Even if you’re coming from Stellaris, we know that you’re going to enjoy this. The graphics are spectacular and the voice acting is on point.
Where to play it: Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars on Steam, for Mac, Windows, and Linux.
2. Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth
It was only a matter of time for Sid Meier’s famous Civilization series to leave the planet. No, we don’t mean that Elon Musk pre-installed this onto the SpaceX spacecraft (even though we wouldn’t put that past him).
We are talking about how the game builds on Civilization’s foundation to expand into inter-galactic strategy. It’s more convoluted than a “Civ in Space” affair, though.
One of the main differences is that your choices at the beginning of the game have a strong effect on how it proceeds. After Earth is destroyed, you have to choose what ship was used to reach your first planet, who sponsored it, and so on. Technologies are also more interconnected than in a traditional tree.
Truth be told, this is not Sid Meier’s first foray into space. Another game called Alpha Centauri was released back in 1999, which also received very positive reviews. That’s virtually impossible to find nowadays though.
Where to play it: Civilization: Beyond Earth on Steam, for Mac, Windows, and Linux.
3. Polaris Sector
Not to be confused with Polaris, the arcade game from the 1980s! Polaris Sector’s reviews have always been mixed, but it does have its own peculiarities that make it worth a look, at the very least.
For instance, resources are accumulated and then used up, which means there’s waiting time to be factored in when planning ahead. Ships also consume resources, so you need to keep a fine balance between what you make and what you use. Interestingly, science itself is a resource, which is another thing to keep an eye on as you proceed.
It’s an interesting take on grand strategy games, whose quirks may make it or break it for some players. One thing is for sure: the alien races look… weird. We’re especially amused by the Drills!
Where to play it: Polaris Sector on Steam, for Windows.
4. Endless Space 2
Another turn-based game set in space, with the option of going multiplayer. If not, the AI will control up to seven of the opponents.
Similar to other games, the universe is procedurally generated, but each star system has only six planets at most. An interesting trait of the Endless Space saga is the presence of hero units, to whom the player can delegate certain tasks. The research trees are nothing new (exploration, science, military, and democracy) but the economy is based on four resources, one of which is Dust. Yes, go on, make that joke about Dyson Spheres…
Combat is quite complex. There are multiple levels of “closeness”, and it uses a system that’s reminiscent of rock-paper-scissors.
It’s definitely an interesting approach to the genre, and the updates add even more features to the base game.
Where to play it: Endless Space 2 Digital Deluxe Edition on Steam, for Mac and Windows.
5. Free Orion
Proving the power of open-source, a community of developers wrote this game entirely from scratch. It’s a somewhat odd mix of Master of Orion and Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth.
Even though it lacks the same level of complexity as other games on the list, it’s very well made and quite nice to play. There are two main resources to keep track of (research and industry), and six technology trees to choose from.
As is typical with open source games, development essentially never ends. This may be disappointing for some players, but it also means that everyone can contribute to how the game should improve.
Where to play it: Free Orion’s official download page, for Mac, Windows, and Linux.
6. Interstellar Space: Genesis
One of the best-rated games like Stellaris, even though it clearly draws a lot from the Master of Orion franchise, and more.
A very intriguing characteristic of Interstellar Space: Genesis is that it also takes some ideas from games such as Civilization (the one set on Earth!). For instance, it introduces a concept of Space Culture points that lead to further perks.
The way the game handles leaders is well developed, as each one in the game feels “alive”. This leads to a broader organizational chart of people in power, which in turn can influence the game’s progress in surprising ways.
The visuals in space are not as polished as those found elsewhere, but the views of settlements on planets are a joy to behold.
Where to play it: Interstellar Space: Genesis on Steam, for Windows.
7. Europa Universalis IV
As we said above, games like Stellaris don’t necessarily need to be set in space. Indeed, Paradox Interactive, the maker of Stellaris, also developed other grand strategy games set on our own pale blue dot. They all share a similar concept, differing mostly in scale.
Europa Universalis IV, or EU4 to its friends, allows you to control a country from the late Middle Ages until just before the Second Industrial Revolution. Over the course of those four centuries, you can choose how to proceed towards conquering the world. You can opt for diplomacy and choose to peacefully resolve conflicts. Or you may decide that war is the best option, and build on your military.
Just like Stellaris, and in some ways even more so, EU4 is incredibly convoluted. Keeping track of provinces, religions, supply lines, friends and foes, money, trade, and whatnot can be overwhelming for new players. Yet that’s where the beauty lies, and if you’re looking for games like Stellaris, why not try to conquer Earth from the inside as well?
Where to play it: Europa Universalis IV on Steam for, Mac, Windows, and Linux
8. Hearts of Iron IV
Also developed by Paradox Interactive, Heart of Iron IV is very intriguing.
On one hand, you have a much smaller time scale to deal with. If EU4 felt small compared to the millennia that other games offer you, HOI4 may feel cramped. The game focuses on World War II, so you only have a decade or so to enact your strategy.
On the other hand, that allows for much deeper control of how events unfold. Whereas in games like Stellaris you may run an action that takes several in-game years before it’s completed, here things may unfold in a matter of weeks, days, or even hours. Ceteris paribus, you have a much greater granularity.
Unlike other games, this is a war game. Diplomacy has its role, but don’t expect to get out of this without blood on your hands, one way or another. You may try to keep international tensions to a minimum, but you may just end up dealing with civil wars.
Where to play it: Hearts of Iron IV on Steam for Mac, Windows, and Linux
9. Imperator: Rome
On the other side of the timeline, Imperator: Rome lets you explore, and change, the era of the Roman Empire.
The game’s story actually begins well before Rome gave birth to its Empire, and indeed goes all the way back to the Roman Republic. It’s probably more of a niche game compared to others, even though it doesn’t require a deep knowledge of the Eternal City.
After all, with any of these games, you can make your own history, and it does share the same general strategy mechanics as Stellaris. The fact that it differs from it may be an asset, and an excuse to try something new.
Where to play it: Imperator: Rome on Steam for Mac, Windows, and Linux
10. Victoria II
Also from Paradox Interactive, another historic grand strategy game with its own special flavor.
As the name suggests, it takes place in the broader Victorian era. Its timeline starts in 1836, the year before Queen Victoria’s coronation, and ends in 1936. That gives you some leeway compared to our own actual timeline, as Queen Victoria died in 1901.
As with other games by Paradox Interactive, you’re not limited to controlling one country (in this case England). You can pick and choose any country you want, and you can even have a go at rewriting the dark pages of colonization, making them possibly even darker, if you so desire. Not to mention that there’s also the Great War to go through unless you manage to avoid it.
Some gamers consider Victoria II something of a “lesser” game compared to its cousins, but we think that that’s a little unfair. Many things happened during that century, and navigating the event requires solid diplomatic and military skills.
Where to play it: Victoria II on Steam for Windows
Finding the Best Grand Strategy Games like Stellaris
Stellaris made a mark in the history of grand strategy games, that’s impossible to deny. Betting on the fact that it will remain a staple of the genre for years to come would be an easy win.
You may love it because it enables your dreams of traveling through the cosmos, or because it fuels your desire to be in control of the world. Either way, its very nature allows you to replay it over and over again, in a million different ways. Indeed, as the vibrant community shows, the fact that there’s no “right” way to play it is its main strength.
If you want to branch out and try something with a similar but distinct flavor, we’re sure you’ll find something here. In particular, we encourage the more space-oriented players to look at historical simulations and vice versa. You may just fall in love with something you would have never even tried.