Illustration by Sam Woolley

Stop watching movies on your iPad. Stop browsing the web.

Well, okay. You don’t have to stop. But while you do all that stuff, don’t forget that your iPad can play some great games. Which games are best? Read on.

Papers, Please is billed as a “Dystopian Document Thriller,” which actually turns out to be an accurate description. It is dystopian, set in a fictional comminust state of Arstotzka in the 1980s. It involves documents, as it casts you as a border guard in charge of denying or granting entry to citizens and foreigners at your nation’s borders. And it is often thrilling, as the mundanity of your day-to-day gig gradually morphs into something more sinister, challenging, and intense. While fantastic on PCs, Papers, Please works just as well on a touch screen. Play it on the bus if you don’t mind occasionally missing your stop. Glory to Arstotzka.

A Good Match For: Wannabe bureaucrats, neat-freaks, people who really like following orders.

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Not a Good Match For: Those looking for something action-packed, or something easy to pick up and casually play for a few minutes.

Watch it in action.

Purchase from: The App Store

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You’re alone on an island, surrounded by puzzles. That’s The Witness, an extremely complicated game that is really very simple. Some of the puzzles are obvious: They’re on screens right in front of you, stacked in orderly rows. Other puzzles are much less easy to find. All of them will stymie and confound you, but over time you’ll gradually dismantle them until the game’s grand design is laid out in front of you like the workings of a finely crafted watch. Some games make you level up your character to access new areas; this one makes you level up yourself. There are few more satisfying feelings in gaming than when you finally realize the solution to a puzzle in The Witness. With a click, a new door opens. The Witness carries over all its brilliance to mobile devices, and works well on the go.

A Good Match For: Puzzle fiends, people who like a challenge, anyone who likedMyst and wants to see what a modern evolution would be like.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone wanting action, the easily frustrated, people who don’t like puzzles in games and generally just go look up the answers.

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Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase From: The App Store.

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If you’ve ever wondered how you’d do as a starship captain, FTL: Faster Than Light is your game. Though heads-up: You’d probably be a pretty lousy starship captain. As you assume control of your wee little in-game spaceship, your fingers will dance around the touch screen, adjusting your power systems, assigning tasks to your crew, and targeting pirate space cruisers with ease, almost as though the game was originally designed with a touchscreen in mind. As good as it was on PC, FTL: Faster Than Light might be even better on the iPad, all while retaining everything that made it special on PC. You’ll man your ship through countless space battles, explore countless sectors of deep space, and watch your crew die countless deaths in the vast and pitiless void of space. Oh, well.

A Good Match For: People who like deep simulations and challenging games, anyone who likes Firefly and Star Trek, people who like renaming their crew members after popular 90s teen idols.

Not a Good Match For: Those looking for a casual video-game fling, people who like to win, anyone who doesn’t care for randomly generated challenges that can sometimes seem unfair.

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Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store.

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In the six years since Civilization V came out, we managed to review it not once but twice. That’s how much these games lend themselves to playing and replaying, and Civ VI is no different. The latest entry adds a lot of new ideas to the Firaxis’s tried-and-true formula, and while some new ideas work better than others, the whole is as usual more than the sum of its parts. The mechanical tweaks and refinements are wrapped up in a subtle, board-game-like aesthetic that is as pleasing on your twentieth hour as it was on your tenth. The iPad version is a fully fledged version of the game, and works well with touch controls. Whether on PC or on a tablet, we’ll be playing this game for years.

A Good Match For: Civ fans, people who have never played a Civ game, basically anyone who doesn’t actively hate Civ.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone who actively hates Civ.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase From: The App Store

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Darkest Dungeon is familiar at first: you send a band of intrepid adventurers into the dungeon that lies beneath a huge, spooky mansion. It quickly drops the familiar fantasy RPG veneer and becomes an excruciating, enthralling plunge into the depths of the human psyche. Your characters will suffer traumas physical and psychological as they plumb the depths in search of truth and treasure, and you’ll be tasked with maintaining them as best you can before they inevitably die. Bleak and engrossing, Darkest Dungeon was named one of Kotaku’s favorite video games of 2016 when it was released on PC, and it hasn’t missed a beat on iPad.

A Good Match For: Fans of eldritch horror, those who like a challenge, people who thirst for turn-based combat.

Not A Good Match For: Those who get frustrated by failure, anyone looking for a happy or fanciful adventure, people who like to see the good guys win in the end.

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Read our review of the PC version.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store

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Monument Valley is a profoundly relaxing game. It will occupy only an hour or so of your time, but it’ll be a really nice hour. As the princess Ida makes her way through a lonesome and troubled kingdom, you’ll flip and rotate Escher-esque perspective puzzles to allow her to pass through beautiful, mysterious structures. In its brief runtime, Monument Valley manages to combine aspects of games like Fez, The Unfinished Swan and even Journey, while wrapping it all up in art that’s, well… look at the gif, man.

A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a unique, memorable experience, people who like relaxing games.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want a challenge or a long game. Monument Valley is a brief experience, and it’s all pretty straightforward.

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Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store.

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The Room: Old Sins is just the latest in Fireproof Games’ tremendous Room series. While it expands the “puzzles, except creepy” aesthetic of the first three games, it’s really just the latest in a series that we think you should check out in its entirety. The very first Room is just as fascinating as it was when it came out, and you can’t go wrong downloading the entire collection. Old Sins builds on the sturdy foundation laid by The Room Three as you explore yet another spooky, puzzle-filled old house. Play this game, but really, play all of them.

A Good Match For: Puzzle fans, people who like occult stuff, those who liked any of the other Room games.

Not A Good Match For: The easily frustrated, anyone looking for an action game, those looking for a video game adaptation of a Tommy Wiseau film.

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Watch us play the game, and read some initial impressions.

Purchase From: The App Store

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By boat, by land, by airship, by giant mechanized city with legs, do you have what it takes to make it… Around the World in 80 Days? That’s the question at the heart of 80 Days, a fantastical re-imagining of Jules Verne’s famous novel that casts you as Passepartout, manservant to the gentleman Phileas Fogg. As a valet, you are responsible for packing the bags, negotiating at markets, and planning the itinerary on your journey ‘round the globe. Each trip will be different from the one before it, and thanks to the game’s peppy writing and frequent surprise detours, each trip will be great deal of fun. 80 Days captures the joy and melancholy of travel with unusual wit and humanity.

A Good Match For: People who like interactive stories, geography buffs, fans of travel.

Not a Good Match For: Anyone looking for a low-investment, pick up/put down action game. Also, those who hate to read—the majority of 80 Days is text-based interactive fiction.

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Watch it in action.

Purchase from: The App Store.

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Hitman games are famous for their open-ended sandboxes. At their best, they let you creep around a party or a museum, find your target, and creatively take them out. Hitman GO… doesn’t really do that. What it does do, however, is offer a bunch of smart, tightly designed puzzles that gradually become more complicated as you go, but are never too complicated to finish off in the space of a single bus ride. With its stripped down board-game aesthetic and abstract violence, it may not look much like a Hitman game, but it still manages to capture the series’ meticulous, satisfying nature.

A Good Match For: Hitman fans, puzzle fiends, people who like imagining what it means when one board game piece “assassinates” another board game piece.

Not A Good Match For: Those looking for an actual portable Hitman game.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store

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Neo Scavenger doesn’t look like much at first glance, but it’s one of the best survival games out there. It’s a complicated, systems-driven post-apocalyptic adventure game that does most of its work with written text, rather than beautiful visuals. As your survivor awakes in a medical facility outside Detroit, you’ll have to figure out your next moves from there. What follows is an intense, complicated, and often hilarious adventure where your tiniest victories feel snatched from the jaws of cruel fate. Rather than showing you what’s happening, the game will often just describe it to you, letting your imagination do most of the heavy lifting. It’s not the most user-friendly game on the App Store, but it is well worth getting over the initial learning curve.

A Good Match For: Those who like their survival games dense, difficult, and with a steep learning curve. Fans of post-apocalyptic fiction.

Not A Good Match For: The easily frustrated, those who don’t like reading lots of small text, anyone looking for something simple to just pick up and play.

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Read our impressions of the PC version.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store

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Remember Magic: The Gathering? Sure you do. Blizzard’s new card game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a lot like that, albeit streamlined and easier to pick up and play... and way more addictive. Like FTL, Hearthstone is another game that began on PC but seemed destined for tablets, and boy oh boy does it fit right in. After an hour or two you’ll be building your own custom decks and challenging your friends and strangers to matches, either online or, if you’ve both got iPads in the same room, in person. Each match is over in a matter of minutes, making it easy to fit into your everyday life. And while eventually you might feel tempted to start paying for the random card booster packs, you can wring a whole lot of enjoyment out of Hearthstone without paying a nickel.

A Good Match For: Fans of card games like Magic: The Gathering, people who like Blizzard games, anyone looking for a fun (free!) online multiplayer game for iPad.

Not a Good Match For: High-level perfectionists who don’t want to pay extra, people hoping for an offline option. Hearthstone will do a good job of matching you up against random online players of a similar level, but if you want to build a deck full of rare, powerful cards, you’ll have to sink in some cash.

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Read our thoughts on the iPad version.

Watch it in action.

Download From: The App Store.

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There it is: proof that a multiplatform game released in 2012 can recapture the glories of a 1994 PC classic. The re-imagined XCOM delivers graphical upgrades and interface refinements like you might expect but what really makes it sing is the added attachment that you feel to the battles and the soldiers who fight them. Touch screen controls—pinch to zoom, sliding for camera control and movement and commands done by tapping or double-tapping—feel great on the mobile version, making it feel like very little was sacrificed to bring this accomplished re-imagining to your fingertips. The latest version also adds the excellent Enemy Within expansion, giving you even more ways to fail and watch your while team die screaming.

A Good Match for: Efficiency lovers. This version of human-vs-aliens warfare streamlines gameplay when compared to its predecessor. And the importance of cover in combat and clever deployment of perks makes you consider every decision intensely.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want quick skirmishes. The combat in 2012 XCOM can stretch on way longer than is necessary. Because the battles require active engagement, you can feel chained to a session.

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Read our review, and our review of the Enemy Within expansion.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase From: The App Store.

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How has this list changed? Read back through our update history:

Update 2/02/2018: We’ve added Darkest Dungeon, Civilization VI, The Witness, The Room: Old Sins, and Neo Scavenger in place of The Room 3, The Walking Dead, Sword & Sworcery EP, Vaingory, and Kingdom Rush. 

Update 1/13/2016: The list gets an overdue update: The Room Three bumps off its predecessor The Room Two, and Hitman GO replaces list stalwart Spelltower. Expect more iPad updates in 2016 than we had in 2015. (2018 Update: Well, that was overly optimistic.) 

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Update 1/15/2015: Our list gets a healthy update as Papers, Please, 80 Days and Vainglory edge off Infinity Blade III, République, and SpaceChem. The expanded XCOM: Enemy Within replaces its predecessor, XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Update 4/23/2014: The iPad has had a hell of a couple of months, with three new games earning a place on this list. Newcomers FTL: Faster Than Light, Monument Valley and Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft push Device 6, World of Goo and Blek off the list.

Update 2/04/14: With a new design comes an opportunity to overhaul our list, adding some games that should’ve been on here while making room for some new ones. Hundreds, Beat Sneak Bandit, Knightmare Tower and The Room all clear out for The Walking Dead, République, Blek and The Room Two.

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Update 11/01/13: Two new iPad models come out today. Maybe you’re getting one. Good for you! In the spirit of new stuff, we’re adding some recently released games to the list of games that we think are best for Apple’s tablets. Simogo’s excellent Device 6 takes the spot of Ghost Trick and Infinity Blade III bumps off predecessor Infinity Blade.

Update 08/13/13: Mirrors of Albion and Mirror’s Edge shatter in a billion pieces to make way for the simple, addictive fun of Knightmare Tower and the complex strategy of XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Update 11/16/2012: Osmos HD gives way to The Room and Mirrors of Albion knocks off Quarrel Deluxe in this latest revision of our list of Bests for the iPad.

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Want more of the best games on each system? Check out our complete directory:

The Best PC GamesThe Best PS4 GamesThe Best Xbox One GamesThe Best Nintendo Switch GamesThe Best Wii U GamesThe Best 3DS GamesThe Best PS Vita GamesThe Best Xbox 360 GamesThe Best PS3 GamesThe Best Wii GamesThe Best iPhone GamesThe Best iPad GamesThe Best Android GamesThe Best PSP GamesThe Best Facebook GamesThe Best DS GamesThe Best Mac GamesThe Best Browser GamesThe Best PC Mods

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Note: If you buy any of these games through the links in this post, our parent company may get a small share of the sale through the retailers’ affiliates program.