Naval strategy games occupy a real niche in the gaming market. My first introduction was with Civilization II. Once I realized how exciting it was controlling trade and supplies via the seas, I found myself hooked. But do you know how many naval games there currently are?
With the explosion of mobile gaming, Naval simulators are bigger than ever. From piracy to pacific conflicts, we count down our pick of the best Naval warfare games.
Best Naval Warfare Games
World of Warships is a huge online MMO. Created by the Wargaming group, it has been around since 2015. The same company is also responsible for World of Tanks and World of Warplanes.
The game does what all others in its family do so well. They blend historical accuracy and realism with entertaining strategy action. Lashings of artistic license lets you command vessels from across history in your campaigns.
The game starts off by selecting your first ship. From here, you will have a choice of missions to partake in and each battle contains two teams. You will pair up with another player with who you can interact and build strategies.
One of the main differences between this game and others in the series is the realism of the controls. You can’t perform turns and shots at a whim, like real naval warfare. Instead, everything needs preempting and prepping in advance.
In standard strategy game style, once you start to win battles you can outfit your fleet and upgrade. With over 300 vessels to choose from, you are spoilt for choice.
The customization does not stop there. Flags, naval staff, paint schemes, and weapon modifications all mean World of Warships becomes a behemoth of a game. It is free to play and currently has over one million active players worldwide, adding to its mass appeal even further.
Port Royale Four takes you back to the battle for the Caribbean in the colonial era. Gone are the heavy cruisers and destroyers inherent in many naval combat games. Instead, it is sails and cannons as you take to the high seas.
You can choose from one of four empires: English, Spanish, Dutch, and French. From here, you can build a fleet from 18 historically accurate ships. By assigning captains, you can take on your rivals in turn-based combat.
One of the most interesting features of the game is that it is not solely about your military prowess. You can appoint leaders from four different classes: Merchant, Buccaneer, Explorer, and Pirate. From here, you must build an empire in a multitude of different ways.
The game has 60 Caribbean cities for you to take control of. You can build rum distilleries and create other luxuries by setting up production sites. As you build cities on land as well as taking over the water, your reputation will begin to grow.
Released in 2020, the game is still new. To date, it has had one DLC package, the Buccaneers expansion. For anyone who wants to blend a naval and land-based strategy game, this is a must-play title.
King of Seas forgoes historical accuracy for all-out fun and adventure. Blending a naval strategy game with a role-playing narrative, you plunge into a world of pirates and treasure. The constantly generating world means you are never short of a new challenge or quest.
This environment is integral to the narrative of the game. It is ripe with beautiful, lush features that you can interact with. One of my favorite pastimes was fishing schools of fish and selling them at a port to gain money.
You can even land on an island and uncover treasure when you see an X marking the spot. The world reacts to your every action. You will find it increasing in difficulty and quests will change depending on the decisions you make.
In fact, the world is one of the biggest enemies you will face. Set sail in a storm and you can find yourself dashed against the rocks. Wind changes in battles can make you lose control. A giant octopus even took hold and try to destroy my fleet at one point.
With a choice of more than 20 combat skills, fighting is as much about tactics as it is weaponry. This makes it a great choice for anyone who wants all-around trading, combat and strategy building gameplay.
Author Tom Clancy’s forays into gaming usually begin and end with the Rainbow Six franchise. Cold Waters takes his 1986 Soviet-era thriller and transforms it into an exciting submarine simulator. By no means is it a sprawling, expansive game, but by following the book with a slice of period action, it is better for it.
Prior to playing this game, my knowledge of Submarine simulators ran to 688 Attack Sub on the Sega Genesis. It is safe to say that my expectations were low. However, Cold Waters does a great job of teaching you the complex systems you need to command your single submarine in easy chunks.
You don’t get much choice in the game, and you definitely don’t get customization options. What you do get is a crash course on how to master a submarine.
The mission is to remain undetected while chasing down Russian ships. This is where the game comes into its own. The enemy uses meticulously researched real Soviet navy tactics. They also command over forty different types of ships and submarines, all from the period.
At your disposal are cruise and anti-ship missiles, torpedoes, and Navy SEAL squads. You can play long-range games and risk counterattacks or get right in and cause chaos. It may not be the biggest game on offer, but it is one of the most in-depth and realistic submarine games out there.
Killerfish are also responsible for the game Cold Waters. Once again, they set their game in a modern history timeframe. This time they are recreating the Battle of the Atlantic in WWII instead of the cold war.
You can choose to take control of the British Royal Navy or the German Kriegsmarine. You fight for control of the shipping lanes, around Britain.
Unlike its younger sibling, Cold Water, this game gives you a plethora of choices to equip your fleet. It has 630 ships and 350 submarines. Not only do you have ships, but you can also command submarines, carriers, and planes.
The game contains some very famous real-life vessels. The HMS King George and HMS Prince of Wales are two included. With its huge 10 ships per side battles, you can wage some epic warfare.
Combat also gives you a huge range of experiences and is one of the best Navy combat interfaces I have played. You get first-person periscope and binocular views with zoom. From here you can command primary and secondary gun batteries, torpedo salvos, and send out wolfpacks of submarines.
For a game that is five years old, the graphics remain crisp. The environments are lush and realistic, even allowing for visual damage on targets you have hit. Nothing could be more satisfying.
A great WWII simulator with bags of options and playability. If you are looking for a realistic WWII game, then this has to be on your list.
Silent Hunter 3 is another WWII strategy simulator. In this game, you are a German U-Boat Captain of the Kriegsmarine. Your tasks are to sabotage shipping, take on enemy planes, and ambush convoys.
This incarnation was a big step up compared to other installments. This was down to the 3d engine the game took on. Now up to its fifth version, 3 remains the fan favorite.
Part of that appeal is down to the realism the game manages to create. Not only do you experience the graphically sound battles provided by the game engine, but you spend time in the U-Boat itself. This allows you to feel the claustrophobia of the cabin and creates tension lacking in other simulators.
This realism is further enhanced with night and day cycles and changing weather. The interior is actually designed on a real U-Boat. With a huge array of enemy ships, aircraft, and your choice of U-Boat, it is hard to see how the game could pack in any more realism.
This should not put beginners or people new to the franchise off. The game is easy to play, but hard to master. As far as submarine simulators go, you won’t find one much better.
Carrier Battles 4 takes its theatre of conflict to the Pacific Ocean, spanning the Guadalcanal during WWII. It uses a hex tile system, immediately giving it a much more of a strategy board game feel compared to many games on the list. Each Hex tile covers a 30-mile radius, letting you play the game on an epic scale.
Your objectives come from historically accurate scenarios. From the Battle of Midway to the Coral Sea, you can change the course of history playing against the US or Japanese AI. You can decide to attack in advance and save your carriers or clear the way for your amphibious forces.
The board game feel enhances with the use of tiles to show your fleet and damage taken after battles. This great damage system lets you see all the chaos you have unleashed on enemies as well. The turn-based system allows battles on water and land.
The obligatory fog of war hides enemy ships from your view unless spotted by one of your fleet. This amps up the tension. Sometimes, it can feel like the board game Battleships supercharged up to ten.
And for board game fans, it is a great choice. It does not have the real-time action feel of many others on the list, but it does offer hours of playability. For a PC game taken from a mobile, it is surprisingly in-depth.
It is hard to find a software developer who pours more into historical accuracy than John Tiller Software. Since 1995 they have been perfecting wargames from all eras of history. You just need to read the blurb on their website to see how in-depth they go.
The game concentrates on the defense (or attack) of Britain’s shipping supplies during WWII. You can play as both the U-Boat commanders and the British in the North Sea. There are two campaigns to play, spread over 50 different scenarios.
One great feature is the real-time game engine which lets you speed or slowdown from x 1 to x 10. Pausing also gives you an opportunity to delve into the genuine history of the battles. You can repeat cunning tactics from history or work upon correcting fatal mistakes.
Weapons are also historically accurate and vast. From homing torpedoes to depth chargers, you will never be short of ways to destroy your enemy. You can even design your own scenarios using the editor and play out any number of real or created campaigns.
The real joy is in multiplayer gameplay. With up to five players, you each get a station on the U-Boat. The captain, the helmsman, the dive officer, the radioman, and the navigator each have their own specific task. If one member of your team is not pulling their weight, you will soon know about it.
Another excellent, accurate U-Boat game that trumps its competitors in the multiplayer stakes. It also has a thriving online community to share scenarios and created games with.
Choosing a Naval Simulator
In summary, there are a lot more Naval simulators than you would at first think. Decide what platform you are playing on, what period of history you want, and if you want accuracy or good old-fashioned fantasy fun. After this, you are ready to take to the high seas and claim the glory that awaits you!