You won’t need to log hundreds of actions per minute and risk repetitive strain injuries with these more leisurely RTS games.
Slow-paced RTS games
The best slow-paced RTS games include Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance, Northgard, Stronghold, and Age of Empires II. Although I admit I’ve stretched the definition of real-time strategy a little bit here and there, this list should help you scratch your slow-paced RTS itch.
The best slow-paced strategy games (overall)
- Age of Empires II
- The Settlers III
- Supreme Commander
And now for the full list (in no particular order):
Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance
Forged Alliance is the standalone expansion to the RTS classic Supreme Commander and features plenty of additional content.
The scale of the game (the maps are huge) slows the pace down considerably compared to the chaos of, say, ranked Starcraft 2 and each matchup can easily last several hours.
Turtling is definitely a viable strategy and you’ll have ample time to tinker with your economy and base building without being rushed to death.
This game is old but definitely gold. Plus, the online multiplayer and forums are still pretty active over at FAForever.
I felt that the learning curve for Northgard was a little steeper than for your typical RTS but, trust me, it’s well worth it when you do get past beginner frustrations.
Northgard makes use of some super interesting game mechanics which, in their own way, actually make it pretty much impossible to rush. I find it looks and sounds extremely relaxing, too.
It borrows a lot of ideas from 4X strategy games, the PvE is engaging and the PvP actually feels quite nicely balanced.
Of all the games on this list, Northgard is my personal favorite and the one I’ve logged the most hours on. I think it’s one of the most underrated RTS games out there.
If you’re a fan of casual turn-based strategy games and you’re looking for an easy entry into the world of real-time strategy, Northgard is the game for you.
The Settlers III
For lots of ’90s kids, The Settlers was the first game they ever played on the PC. That’s a shame because that means for many of those ’90s kids, it’s been downhill ever since.
The original game is essentially a city builder/colony sim with some combat on the side and it remains the gold standard for the genre.
The Settlers III introduced a little more combat into the mix as the mechanics allowed for a bit more freedom (no roads required).
The ninth title in the mainline series, a 2022 reboot, received terrible feedback during its closed beta and has yet to be released.
In my opinion, stick to the games released last millennium – The Settlers III (1998) is my pick of the bunch for old-school, chillout RTS action.
Cossacks 3 is a classic isometric real-time strategy game. It will appeal to fans of the Age of Empires series but is different enough to be worth playing in its own right (population caps are way higher, for a start).
Climbing your way up the research tree and advancing to the next era gets extremely expensive as your game gets more advanced.
Each faction has its own unique units to be learned that suit vastly different playstyles which also gives Cossacks 3 heaps of replayability.
This all lends itself very well to much longer games and matches lasting more than an hour are common.
They Are Billions
They Are Billions is not an RTS in the classic sense – it is a survival base builder. However, once you’ve tried it, I think you’ll thank me for listing it here.
In general, the aim is to develop your base, army, and defenses (working your way up an extensive research tree as you go) to survive a set amount of days against zombie hordes.
There are several different modes to keep you busy – story mode, survival mode, and challenge mode. There’s also a pause button that you can use to stop time while you fine-tune your building placement.
I would say They Are Billions is easy to learn but hard to master – you don’t get extensive detailed tutorials but the basic mechanics are very easy to grasp.
Plus, once you’ve started on a tower defense RTS game, it’s hard to stop.
This list is, for the most part, a trip down memory lane because all the greatest RTS games were released around the turn of the millennium.
Stronghold, released in 2001, is the self-styled ‘Original Castle Sim’ and was a commercial hit. That means there’s been plenty of sequels, but the first game remains the best.
You start off each game by placing your keep. If the people who live at your castle like you, more residents will arrive until you reach your population cap.
A really nice mechanic for people who don’t want to get flustered with micromanaging is that other than soldiers in combat, you don’t need to directly control any of your population. Instead, they automatically fulfill roles like building and resource collection as required.
There’s amazing attention to detail and I think Stronghold is well worth playing today.
Anno 1404/Dawn of Discovery
Anno 1404 is a city builder at heart but it squeaks its way onto my list of slow-paced RTS games because it does have (indirect) real-time combat.
Your aim in this game is to colonize new islands, develop settlements, manage diplomacy and, if the need arises, crush the enemy in battle.
The quest system is quite a neat way to earn yourself additional resources and upgrades and it’s satisfying to tick off the in-game achievements.
The graphics have aged very well and it’s sometimes hard to believe it was released as long ago as 2009.
There are a huge number of good free indie games on Steam, including piles of strategy games. Free and free-to-play games are a bit hit-and-miss, but War Selection is definitely a hit.
War Selection is classic base-building, resource collection, and combat real-time strategy with surprising depth for a free game.
The resources and time required to develop new buildings and units increase exponentially over time, which helps to keep the pace of the gameplay down. The focus is more on building and economy management than micro combat.
Check it out – there’s literally nothing to lose.
Becastled is, well, a tower defense game that’s currently in Early Access on Steam.
Tower defense is a sub-category of real-time strategy at best, but Becastled makes the list because it hits that slow-paced real-time spot just as well as any of the classic RTS titles I included.
It plays a bit like They Are Billions, in the sense that you build, manage resources and develop an army in order to survive waves of sieges against your castle.
The first few waves are a cakewalk, and that will give you plenty of time to get your bearings and learn the ins and outs.
The low-poly visuals are an absolute joy, as is the soundtrack.
Age of Empires II
Last – but most certainly not least – is Age of Empires II. In my opinion, this is still the GOAT real-time strategy game.
At the higher levels of online multiplayer, as well as against the downright cheating AI on the hardest difficulty settling, AoE II can be unbelievably stressful. There’s also no treaty mode like in Age of Empires III.
However, turn the difficulty dial down a notch or two or get lost in the wonderfully immersive campaign and this game can be played as slow as you like. You really can learn more about history from this strategy game than at school – I know I did.
Most Age of Empires games would fit on this list, but I like II the best. It was incredible when it was released in 1999; it’s still incredible now.
A few final suggestions
This list could have been a lot longer but I’ve got other stuff to do (like play the best casual RTS games). If you’re still on the hunt for some relaxed real-time gameplay, here are a couple of additional suggestions:
Anything on easy difficulty AI
Once you’ve got the basic mechanics down, most real-time strategy games can be played without breaking a sweat on the lowest difficulty setting.
Play a city builder instead
If you’re willing to look beyond RTS and 4X games, then city builders should be up your slow-paced street. Check out classics like Sim City and Cities: Skylines, or survival builders like Banished and Farthest Frontier.
Try an RTS FPS hybrid game
There aren’t many out, but a good RTS FPS hybrid game might strike the right balance for you between strategic micromanagement and less strenuous first-person bullet-spraying.
Slow-paced RTS games – conclusion
Some of the best slow-paced RTS games are more than two decades old, which just goes to show that good gameplay is rarely beaten by great graphics alone. Stronghold, Age of Empires II, and Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance are my favorites in this category. Northgard is the best slow-paced game to be released in recent years.