Dave’s Essential Phone Games – Part 1 of 4 (Strategy, Runners, and Tower Defence)

Dave’s Essential Phone Games – Part 1 of 4 (Strategy, Runners, and Tower Defence)

Mobile games are fantastic. Over the years the mobile gaming industry has grown to the point where it has both the technology and the base market to provide a wonderful mix of titles. Whether you like light,  time filler experiences or fully fledged, engrossing titles, there’s bound to be something for you!

In this series I aim to provide you with a list detailing some of my favourite mobile games. Whether they are short experiences that stand out or longer ones that provide ongoing replay value, I’ll be including a range of titles I enjoy here. As my “short list” includes over 30 titles I will be  spliting this article into four segments. They won’t be ranked based on preference, as I believe that would be unfair;you can’t compare a light puzzle game with something like a simulation racer. For the first article, I will share my favourites from the strategy, runner, and tower defence genres.



What constitutes a “good” or “bad” game anyway? I’ve been playing mobile games a long time on all three major platforms (Android, iOS, and Windows). When determining whether a game is “good” there are a few things I take into consideration:

Platform Suitability

Mobile phones offer a unique method of control and I firmly believe games should be designed to accommodate this. If I want to play something like Super Meat Boy I’d rather use a controller than virtual touch controls on a phone screen. In some cases, games cross over well. Gemini Rue, for example, has a well designed interface that suits many platforms. Games like Rayman Origins do not – which is probably why they mofied the style and input methods when bringing the series across (more on that below).

Price (Microtransactions)

My favourite model for mobile game sales is free demo followed by flat charge. That said, I’m not adverse to micro-transactions if they’re implemented sensibly. By this I mean they’re not extortionate (Yahtzee asking $99 for some bonus rolls and a set of dice) and they shouldn’t provide a competitive edge – not in online competitive games at least. Finally, the game should be upfront about its pricing, provide non-intrusive integrationand not be a barrier to progression. It does  not feel fair to allow someone to sink hours into your game then increase difficulty to a point where they must pay ongoing charges for a continued experience.


This is a very subjective criterion but one I feel is very important. It refers to the quality of the product itself; things like having  a decent interface, low load time, well designed gameplay and, presenting a polished experience to the gamer. For every decent mobile game that is made, there are a plethora of crappy clones (usually buried beneath familiar, licensed imagery). Anyone can make a game – not everyone can make one that is engaging and fun!

Fun & Longevity

To be good, a game MUST be fun. I can appreciate a game that excels in the other criteria but, if I didn’t have fun playing it, I’m not going to mention it here. Exclusion doesn’t mean a game is not good – Crossy Road is an excellent game – it ticks all the boxes for price, quality and platform suitability, but wasn’t something I had fun with after the first week or so. Short lifespans are fine in puzzle games like The Room but feel detrimental in arcade-type titles such as Crossy Road. This is completely subjective of course.

Now that is out of the way, let’s get started!





iOS : $5.99 | ANDROID : $5.00



RYMDKAPSEL (Space Capsule) is easily one of my favourite mobile games. With minimalistic sound and visuals this real-time strategy game is perfect in its execution. The game has no story but relies on a basic starting tutorial and objective system to guide players towards goals. Gameplay is simple; expand your space station by dragging coloured tetrominoes to create rooms – each of which has a specific resource cost and serves a specific purpose. The game’s difficulty is derived from regular alien attacks, meaning you must carefully balance resource gathering, objective completion, and defence in order to be successful.

While RYMDKAPSEL doesn’t offer a great deal of variation in gameplay beyond this, it’s a title that I keep coming back to. Even after completing all objectives and “finishing” the game I find myself resetting my progress so I can play through again (one of the menu options allows you to do this). If you’re not a fan of games that don’t change much it may be wise to give this one a miss as, once you’re passed the tutorial section, you’ve seen pretty much everything the game has to offer. Depending on your skill, games usually last between thirty minutes and an hour. However the game auto-saves at regular intervals, meaning you’ll never suffer from lost progress if you decide to take a break.



Star Command
War Balloon Games

iOS : $4.49 | ANDROID : $4.16


 Star Command is another real-time space strategy game although, unlike RYMDKAPSEL, Star Command is mostly about combat. With well-tuned mechanics and a great sense of humour, players take on the roll of a newly appointed starship captain travelling the universe, conversing with aliens, getting into fights, and building the ultimate spaceship! It feels like a parody of Star Trek (which is probably why I like it so much) but the humorous conversations and encounters give it a unique style.

The game is very easy to control and can be broken into three distinct sections; conversations, crew battles, and ship battles. Battles play out like mini games and during conversations outcomes are determined based on your responses to multiple choice questions. The game hints that these decisions will affect the story later however, that never comes to pass. In fact there are quite a few areas of the game where you’ll find obvious placeholders for “coming soon!” features that never eventuated. This is most likely because the developer moved on to Star Command Galaxies instead of continuing development of this game. Despite that it’s still a blast to play and an excellent addition to your library. In fact, if you’re thinking of getting Galaxies instead… don’t. It’s still in early access, but feels unnecessarily complicated. Star Command on your phone feels like a superior game, as it gets the mix of content and complexity just right.



Warhammer 40k: Deathwatch – Tyranid Invasion
Rodeo Games

iOS : $2.99


If you’re a fan of turn-based strategy, then this is most definitely a game you will want to check out. With a forty mission campaign, as well as online multiplayer, Deathwatch contains  a surprising amount of content for such a cheap title. Decent map design coupled with the overwatch mechanic (sacrifice moves to have a unit “stand guard” and shoot enemies that come into line of sight) allow for satisfying variation in the strategy you apply to win. Outside of the missions, you can spend time upgrading and  customising your marines and team. There’s a lot of troop variety and plenty of weapons andskills to play with. Deathwatch does have microtransactions however, in my mind, they’re not necessary to purchase in order to fully enjoy the game. You get random items after each mission but they feel balanced enough that there doesn’t seem to be much of a need to go and spend money to get new stuff faster –  unless you’re lazy of course but, if that’s the case, you really shouldn’t be playing a slow paced strategy game like Deathwatch.

For those new to the genre (or Warhammer series) it’s worth noting that no prior knowledge of the Warhammer 40,000 universe is required in order to enjoy Deathwatch. Deathwatch­ also has a nice, interactive tutorial that gradually introduces you to the game mechanics and should bring you up to speed in no time. Unfortunately, these aren’t skippable which can make the first 10-15 missions a bit slow for those familiar with the genre.



Mika Mobile

iOS : $4.49 | ANDROID : $2.84


Battleheart is a light RPG fighting game that looks fantastic and is a joy to play! There is no story mode or overworld in this game – players simply progress through arena style battles, and fight to defeat all the enemies. Battles are extremely simple – hold your finger on a character and drag to indicate where you want them to go, or who you want them to attack. The character will walk to the location indicated and attack all enemies in the vicinity, or follow the enemy if a specific enemy was selected. Outside of battle, you can manage your party by recruiting new members, levelling them up, and equipping them with items. Class variance is fantastic in Battleheart with none feeling too overpowered… although I do always tend to fall back on the standard party – a fighter to draw aggro and attack, a ranged high DPS character, someone to buff, and someone to heal. Each class has a variety of upgradable skills that can be used during battle. These have a variety of benefits suited to the class you select, and recharge on a timer to prevent overuse.

Battleheart feels very well balanced and there’s much fun to be had replaying old missions to level up characters, or experiment with new teams. Want to use a mage for some super powerful fireballs? Or maybe switch over to a witch and turn people into frogs? Protect your weaker characters with the warrior’s “draw aggro” skill or maybe use a rogue stun skill to allow them time to heal. There are an amazing number of combinations that make this game continually varied and interesting. It would be considered basic for fans of “heavy” RPGs but feels just right for a mobile game such as this.





Rayman Jungle Run
Ubisoft Entertainment

iOS : $3.79 | ANDROID : $4.49 | WM : $3.09


It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the recent Rayman games. So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I approached Rayman Jungle Run, fearing that Ubisoft would just try to wedge a platformer onto a mobile platform. Fortunately, they didn’t, and what we have instead is a fantastic runner with easy-to-use controls, great art, catchy music, and engaging gameplay.

The simple gameplay mixed with a medium level of difficultymeans it’s a game both myself (late 30s) and my kids (4-9) enjoy. You begin with a basic jump ability, but are quickly introduced to gliding, punching, and wall running, giving the game continual variety to keep things interesting and new. Collecting all the Lums on a level grants you access to the “Land of the Dead” levels – the most difficult levels in the game, designed for those who enjoy a challenge. This game’s successor – Rayman Fiesta Run – is just as good. It introduces boosters (microtransactions) and is considerably larger butJungle Run feels like the superior title… marginally. Both these games were followed by Rayman Adventures, but I strongly recommend you avoid that one, as it tries too hard to replicate the console version, is rife with microstransactions, intrusive side tasks, and just isn’t enjoyable! Fear not though – Jungle Run and Fiesta Run are still available and will provide hours of surprisingly addictive fun!



Alto’s Adventure
by Snowman

iOS : $4.49


Alto’s Adventure is one of the best 2D runners I’ve ever played. Essentially a 2D, side-scrolling, endless snowboarding game, it combines great visuals, an engrossing incentive system, and simple controls to make each experience both satisfying and enjoyable. Initially tasked with just collecting your runaway llamas, you’ll soon find yourself trying to beat your best distance or score. Once the novelty of this wears off, a goal system comes into play which is where Alto’s Adventure’s lure really kicks in. By introducing staggered goals, and the ability to purchase basic upgrades, Alto’s Adventure makes each run worthwhile. Even if you only lasted 20 seconds, the coins you grabbed will add to an overall total allowing for additional customisation.

Alto’s Adventure looks and sounds absolutely amazing. It’s the perfect example of how a simple, yet well implemented, style can couple with special effects to make a beautiful visual experience. Screenshots may make the game appear simplistic, but the attention to detail is really quite amazing. Everything from the staggered goals, down to little visual effects, like tiles falling off a roof as your grind, proves that this games has been finely tuned to create a great experience.



Jetpack Joyride
by Halfbrick Studios

iOS : Free | ANDROID : Free | WINDOWS : Free



Jetpack Joyride is, hands down, the best endless runner I have ever played. I remember hearing one of the devs talk at PAX about the detailed product testing procedures Halfbrick use to refine their game. When creating the game, things may go from concept to proof as quickly as  a week, but Halfbrick would then spend months tweaking the way a piece of fruit moved when sliced, or how strong Barry’s jump should be, and it shows. Jetpack Joyride is an extremely polished game that is loaded full of reasons to go back and play again. At its core the game controls well –  players tap the screen to fire Barry’s jetpack and make him fly. Hold your finger on the screen for an increase in velocity. Avoid all the various hazards and see how far you can go before Barry dies – then start again. Simple controls, coupled with the on screen responses feeling “right” make this a fun title.

What makes Jetpack Joyride so addictive is the wealth of addons and sub-objectives the game provides. During the course of Barry’s adventure, you find various machines . These range from a “Bad As Hog” (motorbike), to a giant flying robot dragon called Mr Cuddles. Each lasts for just a short period (depending on your skill) but serves the purpose of making your run feel varied. In addition to machines, there are a welath of addons you can purchase.Some modify the way you play, and some are cosmetic, but each feels well researched and at home in the game world. As with Alto’s Adventure, Jetpack Joyride has a well-thought-out objective system. Coupled with levels and achievements, it provides plenty of incentive to keep playing. With a catchy soundtrack and impressive visuals, Jetpack Joyride provides you with amazing “bang for your buck”… espeically as it’s free! The game does have microtransactions, but they’re never necessary for progression and are really just a way to cosmetically spice up your experience (or a means of saying “thanks” to the developers in my case)





Plants vs Zombies
by PopCap Games

iOS : $1.49 | ANDROID : $1.29 | WINDOWS : $3.69
Free demo available


Plants vs. Zombies provides the perfect mix of accessibility, enjoyable gameplay and unique style. You begin with the single player campaign, which has no real “story”, but staggers the introduction of different plants and environments to keep things feeling fresh. The difficulty scales nicely and the mixture of enemies and modes suits the game perfectly –  ensuring that it never feels repetetive. Outside the single player experience, there are a host of alternate modes, mini games, and fun achievements to try for. The achievements are particularly worth mentioning as they’re well designed, not tied to the platform’s achievement system, and are actually really fun to attempt –  no grinding to “kill 500 zombies using the Ice Pea” for example.

Plants vs. Zombies is one of those titles that just ticks every box for me. It’s presentation is amazing, with well design menus, fantasticly styled visuals, and perfect sound effects; but it’s also supplemented by perfect gameplay and difficulty scaling. I’m also a fan of the sequel (Plants vs. Zombies 2) however, I felt it relied too much on microtransactions and time based “play me incentives” to take the top spot. I also found the inconsistent objective difficulty a deterrant for continued play.. My son would disagree with me but this is my list, not his, so he can go eat a bag of brains!



I’d love to hear your thoughts on my suggestions and would be keen to try out any suggestions you may have. Did I miss any of your favourite strategy, tower defence or runner games? Let me know in the comments below, or on the forums. Just because I didn’t mention it doesn’t mean it didn’t make my top list; maybe I just haven’t played it yet…

Up next:

Part 2 – Racing and Puzzle Games
Part 3 – Virtual Tabletop, and Simulation
Part 4 – Miscellaneous and the Runners-Up

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There are two things I love in life... playing games and my family. I work three jobs; one to pay the bills, another as a video game designer at C117 Games, and, of course, here - at Another Dungeon. I own almost every console since the Atari 7800 and am proud of my extensive collection of games. I'm more of a single or coop player but I do dabble in multiplayer on the odd occasion. Tabletop wise I prefer strategic games like Five Tribes or Small World. If you want to have a game or just chat feel free to add me, PM me or email me.

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