If you’re on the move a lot, you’ll be used to long periods of time offline. Whether it’s another long-haul flight, overnight bus ride, or just too much time spent on the subway where radio waves fear to tread, having no Wi-Fi or cell service is common even in this day and age.
Thankfully, not having signal doesn’t mean you can’t play some of the best mobile games on the market. Intentionally or not, many developers have made great games that don’t need the internet at all.
I always keep a collection of them on my phone for whenever I have a bit of downtime and no internet, but these are the ones I’ve been returning to time and again.
Some of them are free, some aren’t. I’ve stayed away from those requiring continuous attention or spending a lot on in-app purchases to be enjoyable.
Without further ado, here are 12 of the best offline games to get you through your own long commutes or endless travel days. They’re all available on both iOS and Android.
Monument Valley 2
The original Monument Valley breathed fresh air into mobile gaming. It combined gorgeous graphics with challenging problems and wonderful, wordless storytelling in a way we’d never seen before.
Set in a colorful, Escher-inspired world, its only fault was that it was over all too quickly, leaving players desperately wanting more. Now they’ve got it.
The sequel delivers new levels and characters, but otherwise doesn’t tinker much with what made the first edition so good. It’s a mesmerizing experience, with puzzles that regularly convince you that you’ll never be able to solve them. Until you do.
Each level is different: sometimes you control both the mother and daughter characters, sometimes one or the other. Platforms move up and down, sections rotate, columns move around, and there’s suddenly a path to the exit that didn’t exist a second earlier.
It’s a game that’s far better to explore than to explain, easily worth the few dollars it costs. Don’t expect it to get you all the way through a transcontinental flight, though. Like the original, you’ll finish it in a few hours of dedicated play, and be left wanting more yet again.
So, when does the third version come out?
The Room: Old Sins
Released way back in the mists of time (ok, 2012), The Room quickly became a classic. One of those rare games that managed to be genuinely scary at times, the level of detail and difficulty meshed perfectly with the mysterious storyline, and made it arguably the best mobile puzzle game available.
This, the fourth edition in the series, follows right along from the previous three. An ambitious engineer and his wife have disappeared, and the trail leads right to the attic of their house. Inside lies a peculiar dollhouse… and that’s where the fun begins.
Every detail matters as you explore your new environment, and it’s easy to overlook something when you’re in a hurry. It almost feels like you’re really touching the objects you find, with hidden mechanisms and new clues waiting to be discovered as you examine them.
With its dark plot, atmospheric graphics, and haunting soundtrack, this is one game you’ll definitely want to play with headphones if you’ve got people around. Just try not to jump out of your seat too often, ok?
I first came across Carcassonne in its original board game form, a popular 2-5 player game where you join tiles to create roads, rivers, cities, and meadows, then make the best use of a limited number of pieces to outscore your opposition. It’s the perfect way to while away a rainy Sunday afternoon, and my girlfriend and I have played many, many hours of it.
Since the board game is a bit too large to fit in my carry-on or play on the train, I was very happy to discover the app-based version, and even happier to find out how good it was. Bright and colorful, the 3D landscapes look great, and the game is easy to pick up and play whether you’re a Carcassonne veteran or coming to it for the first time.
All of the usual features are there, including various expansion packs like Inns and Cathedrals and The Princess and the Dragon which bring fun new elements to the standard game. Multiplayer mode can be a bit buggy, but Solo mode (which works offline) has never given me any problems. In it, you can choose between one or two AI opponents and select their playing style. There’s a noticeable difference between Aggressive and Builder, for instance, and you’ll need to change your own approach to win.
The base game costs $5-$6, and you can unlock one of the expansions by creating an account. It’s perfectly playable like that for as long as you like, but if you want to mix things up with the other expansions, they’ll set you back a few dollars each.
Really Bad Chess
If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s play really bad chess. The developer of this game felt the same way, so decided to make his own version — with one big difference.
While the board and rules are all the same, the starting pieces are entirely different for both players. It looks a lot like what you’d get if you put a few hundred chess pieces in a bag, shook them around, and pulled them out at random. Three queens, six knights, and a scattering of pawns? Sure, sounds great.
Playing against the AI (or if you pay for the unlocked version, someone sitting beside you), the random assortment of pieces helps even things up, and lets even novice players have a decent chance of success.
As you get better, you rise up the rankings, which means that although the pieces stay random, their quality changes. The overwhelming advantage you had against the computer swings the other way, and winning gets much harder.
People with no chess experience say it’s helped them learn the (proper) game, and as someone who has played a bit in the past, I’ve found myself enjoying the new approach a lot more than I’d expected. If you’ve always liked the idea of chess, but never managed to get into it, it’s well worth the download.
Ever had a strange desire to run your own subway system? No, neither have I, but that hasn’t seemed to stop me playing a lot of Mini Metro.
Based very loosely around the maps of various major cities like London, New York, and Paris, the idea is to build a functioning metro to service your ever-growing population. You start with a limited number of trains, carriages, lines, and tunnels, and need to intelligently deploy them as the city grows. You’ll gain a few extras and upgrades if you last long enough, but they never quite feel like enough to get ahead for long.
It’s deceptively simple in the early stages, but that changes quickly as new population centers pop up. With more people using the network, it gets progressively harder to avoid the overcrowding that ends the standard game. You can also play in endless mode, which switches off overcrowding for a more relaxing experience.
The minimalist graphics and soundtrack do their job well, and once you’ve bought the game, there are no ads or in-app purchases to contend with. Each game is randomly generated for endless replayability, and the developers have even included colorblind and night modes.
Also available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, Mini Metro has won a bunch of awards and sold over a million copies on mobile alone. It’s not hard to see why.
Two Dots is one of those games that sounds simple, perhaps even a little dull on paper, and then turns into a multi-hour gaming marathon that only ends when your phone battery goes flat.
Successor to the popular “Dots” game from a decade or so ago, the basic game mechanics couldn’t be more straightforward: join dots of the same color. That’s it. Connecting two or more dots makes them disappear, and joining them up in a square (or other shape) makes all dots of that color disappear.
Where things get interesting is the wide variety of levels, quests, and side games, and the dozens of different critters and obstacles that also inhabit your game board. In the main part of the game, you have a certain number of moves to complete each level, and a number of tasks to perform before the counter reaches zero. The faster you do it, the more points you get and stars you receive for that level.
Head off to the side quests, though, and things work a bit differently. These change every few days, and usually consist of clearing around seven levels of increasing difficulty, based around a particular theme. You can also compete for the highest score against other players, and there are even “Where’s Waldo?”-style levels where you have to identify dozens of specific items on a beautiful, highly-detailed board that’s chock-full of distractions.
Powerups abound, either earned through gameplay and stringing level wins together, or purchased in-app. The nagging to spend real money isn’t excessive, at least by the standards of apps like these, and there’s no need to pay anything to progress.
Throw in a chilled-out soundtrack and regular updates, and you’ve got a recipe for a game that you’ll keep coming back to time and time again. I know I do.
RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic
Did you ever play any of the games in the RollerCoaster Tycoon series? Released nearly two decades ago, you played the part of an amusement park owner.
Your job was designing the perfect combination of rides, facilities, and experiences to keep customers happy and money rolling in. Or making evil roller coasters that terrified their riders and make them throw up all over the park. I know which one I went for.
Many, many years later, we’ve finally got a good mobile version. Unlike so many adaptions of classic games to the small screen, this one isn’t awful. In fact, it’s really surprisingly good.
It combines the first two games in the series, staying very faithful to the original gameplay and graphical style. Expansion packs are available via in-app purchase, but thankfully there are no other IAP once you’ve bought the game. The fun factor and value for money are off the charts.
You can use pre-made roller coasters or design your own piece by piece, as you work your way through close to 100 different scenarios.
Throw in all the other parts of the game, from footpaths to food and drink stands, dozens of different kinds of rides (including water-based ones), hiring and firing staff, and trying to turn a profit, and you’ve got a game that’ll likely stay installed on your phone or tablet for years.
For those who like role-playing games (RPG), long-time favorite Eternium still ranks as one of the best offline options several years after its release.
Developed by old-school RPG fans, it’s received consistent, major updates ever since it first came out. Even better, it stays away from the annoying pay-to-win approach of many of its competitors.
If you enjoyed any of the Diablo games, you’ll be in your element here. Choosing to play as a warrior, bounty hunter, or mage, you battle a vast array of enemies to gain experience and level up, opening chests to get gold, gems, and equipment along the way.
Joining up with NPC characters, upgrading your gear, crafting unwanted items into things you actually need, it’s all there.
The game has three different worlds, each with different quests and enemies. There are endless randomly-generated levels, with most game features accessible offline after the initial download.
With gorgeous graphics and an intuitive interface, including drawing symbols on the screen to cast spells instead of mashing buttons, you can tell a lot of work has gone into this game. If you’re into genuine RPGs without endless micro-transactions, give it a try.
Want to play something relaxing to take your mind off the mayhem all around you? Infinity Loop is the answer. The concept is very simple: tap on puzzle pieces to rotate them, connect all the lines, and close the loops.
The graphics and sounds are about as minimalist as it gets. That suits the game perfectly and means it doesn’t drain your battery. There’s a very basic tutorial, and then you’re on your own. With such simple gameplay and controls, there’s no need for anything more.
Levels get slowly more difficult up to a point, and developers say there’s an infinite number of them. There’s also a “dark mode” that gets you to break all the loops instead of creating them. Suffice to say you’ll never get bored, no matter how long you’re stuck in the transit lounge for.
You can play for as long as you like without spending any money, making this one of the best free offline games out there. If you’re enjoying it, though, you’ve got the option of paying anything from $1.99 upwards to remove ads and support the developers.
Bloons TD 6
Tower defense games are a popular genre on the app stores, where you place units along a pre-defined track and use them to battle increasingly-powerful waves of oncoming forces.
Obviously there’s a lot more to it than that, and each game adds its own unique spin on things, some successfully, some less so. The Bloons series has long been one of my favorites, where the relaxed early rounds soon become a screen full of superpowered monkeys, exploding bombs, and vicious attack helicopters unleashing their mayhem. Those balloons never had a chance.
Bloons TD is up to version six, which adds 3D maps, new towers, abilities, and upgrade paths, monkey heroes, and more. If you want to save a couple of bucks, the previous version is still available and remains a load of fun to play.
Whichever one you choose, there are dozens of maps to unlock, special events, co-op play, endless play modes, and more. Later rounds get genuinely difficult, and just when you think you can relax, a bunch of camo balloons sneak through your defenses before you can act to stop them. Back to the drawing board you go.
Fire up Bloons, and those 15 hours in economy class will disappear in a flash. Perhaps.
The Battle of Polytopia
I don’t even want to know how many hours of my life I’ve lost to various Civilization games, but it has to be well into the thousands. For years, I’ve been looking for an equivalent world builder on mobile, and not finding it. Even the official Civ apps weren’t that great. Sad face.
And then I discovered The Battle of Polytopia. It’s not Civilization, and it doesn’t try to be, but it’s a fun and engrossing strategy game in its own right, and a great way to kill a few hours.
You start out with a handful of tribes to choose between, each of which starts with a particular technology. Other tribes can be unlocked for a dollar or two, with more advanced tech or other advantages.
Whatever you choose, you’ll be dropped into a land you can only see a small part of, with a single unit and city. You’ll then go about exploring the world, exploiting resources, upgrading your technology, and interacting with (ie, attacking) other tribes.
There’s a 30-turn version for quick games, and an endless mode ideal for long-haul flights, where the goal is to take over every city on the map.
Unusually for these type of games, it doesn’t suffer from being squeezed into the confines of a phone screen. The graphics are colorful and easy to understand, and the control mechanism is straightforward even on a large, busy map.
I don’t remember Polytopia ever crashing on me in several dozen of hours of gameplay. If you’re into world-building games, download it now.
I wouldn’t usually include Plague Inc in this group, since it’s been around for so many years. It keeps getting regular updates, however, and after reinstalling it recently, I was impressed by the latest additions. It’s definitely as addictive as it ever was, with an unfortunate new relevance in 2020.
Rather than trying to save the world, you’re attempting to do the exact opposite: use a pathogen to kill everybody on the planet. Each of the dozen unlockable disease types has different strengths and weaknesses, and the game plays very differently depending on which one you’ve chosen.
As your disease spreads from country to country by air, land, and sea, you’ll need to keep carefully evolving it to stay one step ahead of the medical researchers desperately trying to develop a cure.
Graphics and sounds are functional rather than beautiful, but it’s the addictive gameplay, perfect difficulty curve, and dark sense of humour that have made it one of the most popular games on both app stores, downloaded millions of times. You can play a limited version for free, but it’s worth paying for at least one of the extras to unlock the full edition.
Any other games you love that don’t need Wi-Fi? Tell me all about them!
Main image via StockSnap, all others via the respective game developers.