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Best iPad games: supercharge your iPad gaming

28 games that deserve the big screen treatment

Best iPad games: supercharge your iPad gaming
Jon Mundy
27 October 2023

People often ask if Apple will ever made a games console. But in a way, it already has. You can play an incredible array of games on the iPad and Apple TV. Hook up a wireless controller and you are well on your way to video game bliss.

However, you often won't find the best stuff by simply looking at the App Store game charts, which are so often littered by free-to-play titles. These may be compulsive, addictive even, but today we're looking for the best iPad games, not just the ones that will end up sucking up the most hours of your life.

UPDATE: Our original 18-title list was nowhere near long enough to cover even a fraction of the highlights of iPad gaming, so we've added another 10. In this latest update we've covered some all-time classics a few of you may not even realise were on iPad, including Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Minecraft.

Returning to this topic is also a reminder of quite how many cracking console titles you can play on iPad, from the brilliant Divinity: Original Sin 2 to stone cold classics like Star Wars: KOTOR.

The iPad is generally the best place to play these console and PC mobile conversions too. Viewing a 10-inch display up close and hooking up your console controller much closer to the original full-sized experience.

With all that in mind, this is a completely different selection of games to our Best iPhone games list. These games either play significantly better or are exclusively available on iPad.

If you don't fancy paying out each time for some games, then head to our best Apple Arcade games list to see what you can get on subscription.

Additional reporting by John McCann

Best iPad games

Best iPad games

1. FTL: Faster Than Light

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Ever wanted to set off on your own spacefaring adventure? To actually be Han Solo? FTL: Faster Than Light offers that opportunity, but demands you take on all of the stuff that happens ‘off camera’ into the bargain. You’ll need to manage the power requirements and upgrade paths of your ship’s various systems, recruit new staff, put out deadly fires, and make tricky decisions on whether to explore a new region or warp on ahead of the pursuing armada. FTL is one of the most grippingly nuanced games on iOS, and it’s only playable on iPad, not iPhone.

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In the mysterious island setting of The Witness, creator Jonathan Blow has created one of the most beguiling environments in modern gaming. You’ll steadily explore this stunningly colourful rock in first person, tackling its many mysteries by solving countless maze-running conundrums.

Those line-drawing puzzles, which are as challenging as they are creative, work better on iPad than on any other platform. It’s a fundamental mechanical point that makes this the ultimate version of one of the finest puzzle games in recent years.

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Dead Cells is a fast-paced roguelike action-platformer built around a fluid, acrobatic combat system and a seemingly endless supply of destructive weapons. It started out life on PC and console before landing on iOS, perfectly formed.

That said, Dead Cells makes far more sense on iPad than it does on iPhone. It really benefits from being able to prop up the big screen and hook up a controller for the full console experience.

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Best iPad games

4. Sid Meier’s Civilization VI

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That someone has managed to squeeze the entire Civilization experience on to a tiny portable screen is one of the miracles of the modern age. OK, so perhaps that’s a little over the top. But fans of Sid Meier’s imperious strategy series tend to speak in such grand terms.

This is 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) strategy on an epic scale, a veritable empire-building simulator of unparalleled depth and scope. It’s a game to get lost in.

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Best iPad games

5. Divinity: Original Sin 2

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Divinity: Original Sin 2 isn’t your average RPG. Its sprawling world and deep interlocking systems mean you can approach its epic fantasy quest in your own way, not simply following a breadcrumb trail of prompts. Add in a highly detailed, decidedly zoomed-out graphics engine, and you can understand why developer Larian Studios (maker of Baldur’s Gate 3) made this an iPad-only affair. Hook up a controller, prop up your iPad, and dive into one of the richest game worlds it’s possible to access through the App Store.

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Best iPad games

6. RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic

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We’re a sucker for a theme park simulator, and sometimes the old ones are the best ones. While newer iterations in this genre tend to come loaded with wait times and in-app purchases, RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic brings the original PC game to the screen of your iPad. There are no pesky microtransactions, just pure ride-building joy. You can even build custom coasters, all with a retro aesthetic. Hours and hours and hours of fun.

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“Tommy Vercetti...Huh! Shit. Didn't think they'd ever let him out.” They’ve not just let Tommy out, they’ve let him loose on iPad. Yes, the iconic 80s throwback entry of the GTA series transports you to a suspiciously Miami-esque Vice City full of neon buildings, questionable fashion and an awful lot of trouble. Two decades on and Vice City still holds up as a fantastic game, and playing on a train, plane, or in the back of a car is quite simply epic.

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Best iPad games

8. EA Sports FC Mobile 24

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The mobile version of the popular EA Sports FC franchise (previously FIFA), allows you to indulge your Ultimate Team fixation on iPad. You can build your team, train players, set formations and play matches - you also get the 15,000 officially licensed players and over 650 licensed teams, allowing you to play as your favourite stars of the game. The on-screen controls do take a short while to get comfortable with, but you’ll soon be curling the ball into the top bin.

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Best iPad games

9. Slay the Spire

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One of the finest roguelike indie games of recent years comes to iOS after years wowing the PC and console crowd, and it feels good – at least if you own an iPad. It is possible to play Slay the Spire on iPhone, but it feels far too constricted. This is a card-based strategy game that needs a 10-inch or bigger screen to stretch its legs, as you put together a dazzling number of deck combinations and battle a succession of inventive baddies in a darkly playful fantasy land.

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Best iPad games

10. Bad North: Jotunn Edition

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This brilliant turn-based strategy game sees you fending off a succession of viking incursions across a string of tiny islets. While it’s not a native mobile experience, Bad North certainly feels at home on an iPad, with a finely streamlined take on the classic RTS blueprint married to a rinse-and-repeat roguelike structure. Rally your troops, set your defences and wage war on the encroaching hordes, all via an intuitive touchscreen UI. The game’s clean, concise isometric visuals help sell the whole thing as a tablet experience too.

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Roblox might be the kind of freewheeling, massively social digital Lego set that befuddles anyone over 30 years of age, but one thing’s clear – it makes so much more sense on an iPad that it does on iPhone. For the uninitiated, there’s no real purpose to Roblox, other than to let your imagination run wild and build whatever form of distraction you care to indulge in – like Minecraft, but with even less of a gamey structure. Failing all that, you can simply dive into one of the millions of worlds made by your fellow players.

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Best iPad games

12. Kingdom Rush Vengeance

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The tower defence genre isn’t as popular on mobile as it once was, but the Kingdom Rush series has a truly timeless quality to it. Your task, as always, is to carefully place defensive towers along the twisting approach to your home base, with the aim of fending off waves of attacks from enemy forces.

This latest edition inverts the typical fantasy tropes, so you’re now an arch villain battling against do-gooder humans and meddlesome dwarves. But the core gameplay is the same perfectly balanced Kingdom Rush experience - thank goodness.

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Best iPad games

13. Football Manager 23 Mobile

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There’s no game we’ve sunk more time into over the years than Football Manager. It’s the epitome of the ‘just one more’ mindset. The mobile version has been refined with every generation, and FM 23 Mobile provides a complete management experience on your iPad. With so much data at your fingertips, and a live match view, you’ll want the larger screen to play on. If you’re serious about your footy management sims, this is the ultimate offering.

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Best iPad games

14. Call of Duty Mobile

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Call of Duty is a household name. It’s no surprise there’s an iPad game for you to get your FPS fix from the comfort of your tablet. The larger screen on your iPad gives you a better field of view and more space for the on-screen controls, so your fingers aren’t covering the all-important action. With new content every month there’s always something new to try, unlock or complete, which gives it great replayability.

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Best iPad games

15. XCOM 2 Collection

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XCOM 2 is a hardcore PC game through and through, but it works startlingly well as an iPad game. Less so as an iPhone game, where its visually rich, turn-based battlefields feel claustrophobic and indistinct. With a 10-inch display on your side, there’s a combination of clarity and tactile joy as you pan around each squad-based encounter, looking for angles and planning your attack on the alien invaders. As the name suggests, XCOM 2 Collection gathers together all of the extended DLC content surrounding this impeccable strategy game.

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Best iPad games

16. Star Wars: KOTOR II

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Sure, you could play one of the finest RPGs ever made on your smartphone, but it really deserves the expansive treatment an iPad can provide. That’s not due to the graphics, which rather look their age, what with this being a port of a 2004 console and PC game. Rather, Star Wars: KOTOR II (and indeed its predecessor, which is also on iOS) offers an impeccable widescreen sci-fi adventure, with deeply involving turn-based battles that really demand a larger screen to enjoy to the fullest.

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Best iPad games

17. Sky: Children of the Light

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A stunning third-person adventure game from the makers of Journey, Sky: Children of the Light borrows some of that prior game’s ethereal magic and seamlessly social mechanics. You’ll explore a mysterious fantasy world where many of the beings you encounter are other players. This is no twitchy competitive game though, with the onus on cooperation rather than combat. The game’s wondrous visuals really steal the show here, though, and they’re best experienced on the biggest screen possible.

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Best iPad games

18. Cultist Simulator

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Cultist Simulator really requires an iPad to do its strange concepts justice. It’s a deeply involved narrative card game that effectively lays out a complete deck of arcane cards before you, with multiple rows of occult symbols and tiny fonts calling for your attention. The devil really is in the detail here – quite literally, as it turns out – which means that the game becomes much more playable (though not necessarily any easier to grasp) on a larger canvas. If you like your games to provide moments of hard-earned revelation, this is the iPad game for you.

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Best iPad games

19. Darkest Dungeon: Tablet Edition

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Darkest Dungeon is a horrible, miserable game, and we mean that in the best way possible. It’s an iPad-only dungeon crawling roguelike RPG with one of the most downbeat dispositions in all of gaming. Developer Red Hook Studios Inc. clearly wants you to suffer, whether by throwing a near-impossible series of calamitous challenges at you, sending a member of your party insane (there’s literally a sanity meter), or simply revelling in a relentlessly grim Lovecraftian narrative. For all that, you’ll struggle to put it down.

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Best iPad games

20. Hyper Light Drifter

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Here’s one of several recent console and PC indie gems to have landed on iOS in nigh-on perfect condition. Hook up a wireless controller from your home console (which is a doddle to do) and you’ll enjoy a brutally exacting top-down action adventure.

Think of it as being a bit like old school Zelda, only with the focus on a kinetic and weighty combat system over puzzle solving. Oh, and it looks an absolute treat too, with a neon-soaked sci-fi-fantasy setting shot through with melancholy and mystery.

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Best iPad games

21. Fallout Shelter

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The mobile spin-off of the popular series, this iPad game allows you to scratch your Fallout itch when away from your PC or console. In Fallout Shelter you’re tasked with building an underground vault. There are myriad rooms and features available to keep inhabitants entertained, employed and safe (it’s not all plain sailing underground). As your vault expands, you’ll be thankful you’re playing on iPad, as you’ll get a great overview of your commune.

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Best iPad games

22. Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga

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We’re big fans of Lego and Star Wars here at Shortlist, so it’s no surprise this is one of our favourite iPad games. Lego’s spin on the classic movie franchise bring a tongue-in-cheek play style that is not only fun, but also challenging enough to keep you engaged. You can play episodes one through six (the first one is free to play), and relive some of the biggest movie moments, only in brick form.

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If you enjoy a tower defence game, look no further. Ninja Kiwi has been knocking this genre out of the park for generations, and its sixth iteration continues its excellent pedigree here. There are a huge number of towers, upgrades and special items for you to explore, unlock, upgrade and master. And with over 70 different maps, there’s an awful lot of life in this iPad game (which can be played offline), making it more than worth the price of admission.

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A game that transcends generations. Minecraft has something for everyone, and can be as complex as you want it to be. Your simple goal is to survive, so you better start harvesting materials and building a shelter before nightfall - however, once you’ve got the basics out the way Minecraft opens up to a seemingly limitless level of possibility, where your imagination is the only thing holding you back. Explore, craft, create, play - there is so much to do, you’ve just got to go find it.

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It’s not just extremely complex games and hardcore PC ports that suit the iPad better. Hidden Folks is a classic hidden object game that simply requires you to pour over its highly detailed black-and-white scenes, looking for key items and people. It’s Where’s Wally for the iPhone generation, and it’ll enthusiastically hoover up all the screen real estate you can spare. Don’t let the simple black-and-white art style fool you either – this one makes a massive visual impact.

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Blizzard’s collectible card game Hearthstone was a massive hit on PC but, if anything, feels more at home on iPad. Take it in turns with your opponent - either AI or real life - to summon fantastical beasts and warriors onto the game board, damaging your opponent’s life bar while protecting your own.

The number of tactical permutations brought about by the game’s rich card ecosystem, each one with its own individual quirks, is frankly scary. This is the kind of game you can lose hundreds of hours to, so it’s a good job you can play it in bed.

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Best iPad games

27. The Sims FreePlay

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When it comes to building your virtual dream home, you’ll want a big screen to work on it. Plus, you get to play puppet master to over 30 sims as you build a community, create jobs and provide entertainment for those you oversee. Gameplay is a little slower than the PC version, with wait times and ads, but considering you can play for free without needing to dive into the microtraction offerings, there’s a lot to love here. Now we’ve got to get back to our sims, a couple of them could really do with a shower.

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Best iPad games

28. The Room: Old Sins

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We’ve selected the latest in The Room tetralogy here, but really you should aim to play through all four games. Each entry is delightfully packed with the most intricate locked-box puzzles on the App Store.

In The Room: Old Sins, as with the previous games, you’ll encounter a series of elaborate Victorian-era contraptions hiding clues to an overarching metaphysical mystery. Sliding, clicking, unlocking and deciphering your way through these elaborate 3D puzzles is one of the most rewardingly tactile experiences in gaming.

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