Best free games for Android

We’ve compiled our favorite free strategy games, shooter games, sports games, action games, role-playing games, racing games, board games, simulation games, word games, and puzzle games for Android.

Lucky for us cheapskates, Google Play is chock-full of excellent free games. It can be hard to find them sometimes, and you’ve got to weather a barrage of prompts to pay for in-app purchases in the process, but ultimately it’s possible to have a ton of fun on your Android phone or tablet without spending a dime.

Now, a lot of these I’ve pulled from my list of favorite iOS games, but there are more than a few unique entries here, particularly among the NVIDIA-optimized titles. Like I said, the vast majority of these will have in-app purchases, which may be a deal-breaker for some of you. I’ve also excluded lite versions of games, since they rarely provide a rewarding experience on their own without an upgrade.

So, if you’re looking to stock up on Android games, take a look and get downloading.

Best free strategy games for Android

Plague Inc. - Download now

Plague Inc. is a decidedly dark strategy game where players gently guide a disease from tiny infection into a global pandemic. Players have to pick new ways in which the disease mutates, including symptoms, resistances, and vectors for infection. There are a wide variety of disease types to unlock, each with their own unique upgrades, which are acquired with DNA points picked up over the course of global infection. The neat thing about Plague Inc. is that world events can provide new opportunities or pose new challenges.

Plague Inc. holds back fast forwarding for those that pay for the premium version, and offers accelerated progress to pre-game mutations and new disease types after upgrades. You’ll also have to deal with a banner ad along the bottom of the screen.

Heroes of Order and Chaos - Download now

Heroes of Order and Chaos is a relatively new lane defense game that has evolved from Gameloft’s massively multiplayer online role-playing game. The MOBA title pits players against one another online in five-on-five combat. The teams of highly distinctive heroes have to defend against waves of incoming AI and human enemies to stop them from destroying defensive towers and the main base beyond. At the same time, they must push through to the enemy’s side to do the same while gaining experience points, leveling-up, earning gold, and purchasing new equipment. Between games, players also earn experience and can unlock perks for certain types of heroes.

Heroes of Order and Chaos leans almost exclusively on in-app purchases - you might have to deal with the odd pop-up banner upon launching the game. Players can pay for gems to unlock heroes rather than using the Emblems earned from games, or buy limited-time experience or emblem boosts. The heroes that are available for free cycle regularly, so if you want consistent access to a particular favorite, you’ll need to shell out some dough.

Radiant Defense - Download now

Radiant Defense is a nice twist on the old tower defense formula with with plenty of clever writing to keep things interesting between stages. As an intergalactic military officer, you must defend against incoming waves of various alien types by strategically placing attack turrets on a space structure. Additional panels are provided to block off the alien’s attack path to the core and lengthen the amount of time spent within turret range. Different types of shields force players to quickly adapt to incoming enemies, though you get a break between waves to plan things out. The neon art style is really signature, and lends itself well to the gameplay. The only real downside is that there are only 11 missions, each with up to three stars to earn, depending on performance.

For $0.99, players can unlock bonus packs with two new types of towers each.

Honorable mentions: Tiny Troopers, Royal Revolt!

Best free shooter games for Android

Nun Attack - Download now

Nun Attack is a decidedly unique tactical combat game where players have to quickly assign a team of deadly sisters to unload hot lead into waves of demonic creatures. Between rounds of Battleheart-style drag-and-release gameplay (complete with unique miracles), players also engage in reactionary flick-based mini-game while cruising through the world map. Each level is scored out of three bullets, depending on which win criteria you meet, and are awarded golden coins and achievements after all is said and done.

With those coins, players purchase new weapons which are unlocked as they level up and upgrade existing ones, though Nun Attack allows player to speed up the expansion of their holy armory through in-app purchases. You can just as easily get everything through diligent gameplay.

Dead Trigger - Download now

Dead Trigger is an absolutely gorgeous, goofy first-person shooter full of zombies. Players gun their way through a series of single-player campaign missions, earning cash to buy new equipment and weapons. There are also daily missions for premium rewards, and arena challenges for those that want to see how long they can last against endless waves of zombies.

Dead Trigger primarily pushes in-app purchases through its premium gold currency, which is required for a solid half of the guns for sale. There are also single-use boosters available for sale with gold currency, and a particularly devious slot machine mini-game where players can use gold to buy casino chips which are spent on a shot at some big money.

Major Mayhem - Download now

Major Mayhem is a linear tap-based shooting game with a ton of style. Players take control of Major Mayhem through a variety of levels, where he has to take down ninjas, covert operatives, and other classic baddies on his presidentially-mandated mission to save his girlfriend. While blasting his way through a wide variety of landscapes, the major saves hostages that leave behind power-ups, such as extra armor and health. The occasional boss fight can really mix things up, and shows that even a cartoony game can have some pretty impressive effects. There’s a classic mode which takes you through the altogether silly storyline, as well as unlockable timebomb, arcade, and survival modes.

Every level is scored based on performance, and rewards players with coins that can be spent on a wide variety of consumable power-ups, ostentatious weapons, and stylish ridiculous clothes. Those coins can also be purchased directly with real money if you really can’t wait to get that mankini.

Honorable mentions: Contract Killer 2, PewPew, Sector Strike, Tank Hero, Shadowgun: DeadZone, Zombiewood

Best free sports games for Android

Baseball Superstars 2013 - Download now

Baseball Superstars 2013 is an over-the-top game with Japanese-style graphics and dialog. Players take on the role of a rookie pitcher or batter, and work their way through a series of quests and self-imposed performance goals to make a name for themselves in a professional league. Along the way, players have to train, recuperate, get equipment, and climb rankings in various cups until they make it to the playoffs.. Things get a little crazy when you start using explosive superpowers mid-game or don ridiculous outfits. Baseball Superstars 2013 has an extremely deep stats system and optional online player versus player matches, which will be welcome to hardcore baseball fans.

Baseball Superstars 2013 cashes in on impatience by giving only a few action points in a given period of time, so you can only play so many games, train so much, or even rest so much in any given day unless you shell out non-premium currency. The premium currency can be spent on some pretty ridiculous power-ups, such as permanently preventing all injuries and illnesses. .

NFL Pro 2013 - Download now

NFL Pro 2013 is a full-fledged football game complete with leagues, playbooks, and extensive rosters based on real players and teams. Your players gain experience and level up as you go, letting you improve their stats in a number of areas, like run blocking, catching, awareness, and agility. Every down, you pick a play available (either offensive or defensive), and while you manually control one player, the AI handles the rest. New from the 2012 version of the game is a pre-snap notepad, which allows you to tweak plays at the last second. There's also a great first-person view when making throws. Controls during play are dead simple, but most of your time will be spent flipping through and picking plays. On the downside, your selection is really limited to start, plus quarter lengths are limited to 2 minutes without digging into in-app purchases.

Every game you play uses up energy, which replenishes over time or through in-app purchases. Team points to level up your players can also be bought, along with credits to buy new playbooks, stadiums, gain access to new teams, divisions, and conferences.

Real Soccer 2013 - Download now

Real Soccer 2013 offers a wide variety of gameplay types in a fast-paced, realistic package. The core controls are laid out with a standard virtual joystick and sprint, pass and shoot buttons, with a few fancier maneuvers executed through taps and gestures on the playing area. Outside of the stadium, there's a lot of gameplay, too. Players have to build up a team roster, upgrade facilities and staff, increase revenue with merchandising and sponsorships, and make sure their team is well-rested and healthy.

Playing Real Soccer 2013 matches earns you coins which can be used to purchase many of those upgrades. Over the course of play, your team has to advance through various cups and leagues, earning rewards and experience no matter the outcome. "Cash" is Real Soccer 2012's premium currency, which can be traded in for the completion of certain roster tasks (which otherwise take a fair bit of real-world time).

Honorable mentions: Punch Hero, Homerun Battle 2, Big Win Hockey,Rugby Kicks

Best free action games for Android

Grabatron - Download now

Grabatron is an awesome alien abduction game where players use tilt or touch controls to move a UFO around and gestures to grab hapless citizens with a giant claw and wreak general havoc. Every stage, you’re given a bunch of abduction targets, and you have to suck them up with the claw without getting hit by irate shotgun-toting rednecks, cops, or surface-to-air missile sites. As players progress, they can upgrade parts of their ship, or get entirely new flying saucers with which to terrorize earthlings thanks to crystals gathered throughout gameplay. Those crystals can also be used to unlock up to five levels total.

In-app purchases are employed to acquire crystals and missile launcher upgrades for the ships. No separate premium currency here, which is a nice change of pace.

Spell Sword - Download now

Spell Sword is a fast and furious fantasy-themed retro platformer game. Players have to run around a small map to gather cards imbued with elemental magic. For a brief period of time, those cards do lethal damage to the baddies that continually spawn into the level, but when that card runs out, you’re stuck with a mostly-ineffective sword. This creates a frenetic atmosphere where players are constantly on the move, dodging enemies, and leaping back into the fray. There are four worlds with 30 missions each, and three difficulties to pick from, or you can give the endless mode a shot. The slightly-pixellated graphics and solid chiptune soundtrack add a ton of excellent atmosphere.

Players earn Zelda-esque rupees and coins through each stage, which can be spent on upgrading the effectiveness of cards or permanent stat-boosting accessories. Both rupees and the more rare Dragon Coins can be bought through in-app purchases, though I’ve been able to have plenty of fun without spending a cent. You can also unlock the extra game modes early for $0.99, which would also wipe out the banner ads along the top.

Death Dome - Download now

Death Dome is an awesome post-apocalyptic one-on-one dueling game akin to Infinity Blade. Players take on the role of heroine Phoenix, who has been trapped in a forced quarantine in the city of Palamira. The M virus has turned many of its residents into monsters, but the physical incarnations of the disease, called Behemoths, stand to break free and cause quite a bit of trouble outside the bubble. Players fight against big bruisers throughout the city, employing split-second parry, block, dodge, and counter-attack maneuvers with decisive gestures. Between fights, players quickly scavenge for loot through a fast-tap mini-game. Death Dome’s graphics are really spectacular on all fronts; it’s worth downloading just to see how good-looking games can be on Android.

Players earn skull tokens throughout gameplay, which can be spent on various new gear, such as weapons, shields, charms, and armor. Glu also has their premium currency in place here, which is required for some of the fancier pieces of equipment. You can also buy revives, which allow you to come back from a particularly close fight without having to restart. For $7.99, you can permanently double the rate at which you gain XP and gold, which actually sounds worth it if you’re going to spend a lot of time playing Death Dome.

Honorable mentions: Fruit Ninja Free, Gyro, Juggernaut: Revenge of the Sovering, Eternity Warriors 2, Dungeon Hunter 3, Ready Steady Bang

Best free role-playing games for Android

Arcane Legends - Download now

Arcane Legends is easily the best online RPG on Android, and among the few that realistically qualify as a mobile MMO (all of the others are also made by Spacetime Studios). Players hop into a familiar RPG format where they pick one of three classes, embark on quests, find loot, level up, upgrade combat skills, and socialize with other players. There’s a whole guild, friending and chat system in place to make it easy to party up with your buds, but even if you just want to get right to the action, it’s easy to hook up with randoms to complete particularly tricky quests. Players also get pets which help in combat as well as handle menial tasks like picking up gold.

In addition to the usual stuff like currency and premium items being pushed through in-app purchases, Arcane Legends puts particular emphasis on performance-boosting potions so you can progress faster than usual.

Battleloot Adventure - Download now

Battleloot Adventure is a particularly inventive twist on RPG combat. Your party faces off against enemies along a 2D plane, and each side takes turns swiping at one another, but there’s a catch: real-time elements, such as tapping tapping your characters during the enemy’s turn to block, or tapping your allies just as you’re about to attack in order to provide back-up support. Battleloot Adventures employs an interesting paper/rock/scissors style structure whereby each class will be particularly powerful against another, but vulnerable against another. This puts a lot of emphasis on the front, flank, and rear positioning of your party as well as group composition. The usual spiel of leveling-up, unlocking powers, and sporting new gear are all a part of the package. On top of the innovative gameplay, the graphics are cartoony and unique, and are suitably paired with cute, tongue-in-cheek dialog.

The coins players earn through normal gameplay to buy gear can also be bought through in-app purchases to accelerate progress. No obnoxious premium currency here, thank goodness.

Zenonia 5 - Download now

Zenonia 5 is the latest iteration of an ongoing series of Korean-style role-playing games. It mixes real-time combat with large over-arching storylines and standard classes and abilities. Zenonia 5 follows an unlikely hero from humble beginnings who witnesses a great neighboring city being attacked in a dream. After awaking, he’s clutched by a mission to uncover the corrupted elite and see if this vision comes true. The game’s graphics, though cartoony and 2D, are extremely crisp and characters are highly emotive throughout dialog.

Players earn in-game gold in the usual way, but that can be supplemented through in-app purchases. There is also a premium Zen currency which is used to purchase unique treasure boxes, helpful gems, inventory expansions, or deck out your character in some sweet vanity costumes.

The online player-versus-player section should keep you busy after making your way through the single-player game.

Honorable mentions: Six-Guns, Epic Raiders

Best free racing games for Android

Forever Drive - Download now

Forever Drive is a sharp top-down racing game with a cool abstract art style. The controls are simple and fluid, with options for tilt, tap, or d-pad. You're scored based on how many stars you pick up and how tightly you hug highlighted shoulders, but don't get too wild; you have a limited amount of time to get through as many tracks as possible. That means you need to drive smart and avoid the civilian traffic that explode in a Tron-esque display if you so much as nudge them. One of the core elements of Forever Drive is the track builder.

It's pretty simple - you draw a line from one end of a square to the other, pepper some scenery along the sides, and the highlighted turns, stars, and extra traffic are added in automatically. You then have the option to share these tracks online, which then randomly compose the arcade mode of other players. When you play, you get fed a series of user-built tracks one after another, which you can rate up or down after you're done driving them. There are also weekly leagues where you have a chance to win in-game currency, with which you can buy a few unlocks, but the vast majority of car bodies, model variations, and paint jobs are earned by gaining experience points throughout gameplay. If you're impatient, you can always buy credits through in-app purchases.

Beach Buggy Blitz - Download now

Beach Buggy Blitz is an endless racer with highly polished 3D graphics a ton of character. Players drive through a lush landscape with tap or tilt controls trying to collect coins while reaching consecutive waypoints before the clock runs out. There are lots of optional branching paths, though they’re often of the high risk/high reward variety. The coins gathered through each stage can be spent on new buggies, upgrading the ones you have, or hiring on new drivers. Coins can also be spent on unlocking and upgrading the types of power-ups that appear throughout your ride, or on one-shot gadget power-ups.

Of course, coins can also be purchased directly, or you can permanently double the number of coins you get from each pick-up for $1.99.

GT Racing: Motor Academy Free+ - Download now

Motor Academy Free is a more down-to-earth, mostly-realistic racing game. Starting off, you earn various licenses by learning how to drive different classes of cars. After that, you're off to the races, winning tours, special invitation events, and completing contracts. The coins you earn there let you buy a variety of recognized brand-name cars, like Bugatti, BMW, Bentley, Jaguar, Ford, Chevrolet, and Audi. They even kindly give you the option to rent cars for a round if you don't have enough to buy it outright.

Even this racing game has some RPG mechanics in it, including quests and leveling up to unlock new cars and courses. Coins are earned through regular gameplay, while in-game cash is mostly bought through in-app purchases. Cash be traded in for new cars or select upgrades to parts like brakes and suspension.

Honorable mentions: Subway Surfers, Jetpack Joyride, Cordy Sky, Wind-up Knight, Temple Run, Agent Dash

Best free board games for Android

Zynga Poker - Download now

Zynga Poker is a simple but polished Texas Hold 'em game for iPad and plays cross-platform with folks on Facebook. The game has been out for a long time, so boasts a full feature set - you can add friends, find tables within your comfort range, and even give other players gifts for display, like drinks, or a box of tissues if they're having a particularly rough run.

Though you're given a stack of chips to start, and can earn more through various ads and daily giveaways, you'll have to shell out real cash for chips when you run out, just like a real casino.

Shadow Era - Download now

Shadow Era is an unabashed homage to Magic: The Gathering, a fantasy-themed tradeable card game where two heroes command armies and arcane powers to slay their opcponents. Every turn, you're given the option to discard a card, which adds to your resource pile. The more resources you have, the more allies you can summon and spells you can cast from your hand. Creatures under your control have power and health values which can be influenced with enchantments, but the real fight is between each side's individual hero cards.

Each one has 20 health, and whoever dies first loses. Shadow Era sells booster packs and whole decks of cards through in-app purchases, which you can mix and match as you like to create a deck best suited to your play style. You can also earn the premium in-game currency just by playing and leveling up. On a tablet, there's a ton of screen real estate which allows you to see the whole board at once with minimal camera angle switching.

Chess Online - Download now

Android Central

Chess Online is one of a family of games available for players to enjoy the classic board games. The graphics are simple, but the user interface is fully Holo’d up, and the online functions are full-bodied with complete online profiles, ratings, chat rooms, and friending mechanisms in place. The games themselves include a full move history with user-set timers. Of course, you can always have a go offline with another friend locally or against the computer with a broad range of difficulty levels.

The developer, Resonos, is trying to build up a board game network that spans several different popular games, including Checkers, Connect4, and Reversi. Though each of the games are available individually for free, you can get all four games bundled together for $2.49.

Honorable mentions: Live Hold’em Poker Pro, Neuroshima Hex Lite

Best free word games for Android

Shortyz Crosswords - Download now

Android Central

Shortyz Crosswords is a simple but up-to-date crossword collection that pulls in the latest puzzles from a variety of publications, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Onion AV Club, USA Today, and plenty of others - you can even get the New York Times if you have a subscription. Your crosswords collection can be sorted by the date they were published or by source. Once you’re playing, the game quietly keeps track of how long it takes for you to finish the crossword, and can provide hints if you’re getting stuck. The options are pretty impressive too, as they can handle when to download new crosswords, set the cursor behavior after typing, and all sorts of minutae. The user interface is tablet-optimized with all the Holo goodness you could want.

So far, I haven’t seen a single ad or prompt for in-app purchase, which is awesome.

Scrabble Free - Download now

The original word game has been adapted to mobile by EA, and they do a pretty solid job of it. The board layout is just as you remember it, and the user interface is nicely streamlined and clutter-free. It’s particularly handy to have shortcuts at the top to jump to the next game you’re ready to play. Players are given a random assortment of seven letter tiles, and they have to place them on a grid to form a word. Every letter has a certain score value, and some squares provide bonuses to the final product. When players run out of tiles to draw, the final score is tallied up and the player with the higher score wins.

Basically every second turn you’ll be blasted with a pop-up ad for one of EA’s other games, and a small banner along the bottom will have more generic ads. It doesn’t seem like there’s an in-app option to upgrade and get rid of those ads, unfortunately.

WordHero - Download now

WordHero is a really great online multiplayer word game where a group tries to churn out as many words from a grid of random letters as possible within a limited amount of time. Once the two minutes are up, players are ranked on a leaderboard, shown all of the possible words, and other quick facts before launching into the next round. I particularly like WordHero because unlike most asynchronous word games where you’ve got enough time to pump words into some outside automated engine that gives you the best outcome, WordHero relies on pure speediness and wordsmithing skill.

Apparently there’s somewhere you can upgrade to a pro version, but I haven’t been able to find it. The ad placements aren’t obtrusive and I’ve yet to be pestered to make in-app purchases yet, in any case.

Honorable mentions: Words with Friends Free, WordSearch Unlimited

Best free simulation games for Android

Townsmen - Download now

For anyone that played the old Settlers game, this is a real treat. The game is a mix of sim and strategy. The main focus is on creating a sustainable community with an ongoing supply chain that ultimately results in building soldiers to conquer nearby enemies. Though that sounds simple, it can get quite complex; workers in the mine have to be fed with bread (and other food), which is made by bringing grain from farms to mills, which makes flour, which has to then in turn be brought to the baker. Each part of that process requires specific buildings built with other resources and properly manned by citizens of the town. All the while, your community’s morale has to be kept high by meeting basic needs and making various luxury goods available.

It’s a really deep game with cutely stylized graphics. The only real drawback is that there are quite a few freemium trappings, such as an ongoing banner, tap-to-collect mechanics, occasional pop-up ads, and premium currency which is doled out sparingly as you progress, or through in-app purchases. Those Prestige points can be spent on speeding up construction and adding time to the fast-forward mechanism. Luckily, you can get ads removed simply by installing a game from a partner, which is a nice touch.

The Sims FreePlay - Download now

The Sims FreePlay is a classic life simulation game where you tend to a collection of virtual people, each with a variety of needs and colorful spectrum of personality quirks. You do everything from steering their conversations with other Sims, decorating their home, getting them to work, and making sure they bathe regularly. You can even play as and care for child Sims. As you guide your Sim to accomplish daily tasks, you gain experience points, level up, and unlock new items for purchase.

Unlike the old Sims games that had a handy fast-forward button, activities in The Sims FreePlay all happen in real-time, so when you put your little people to sleep, they're gone for 8 real hours. As you play, you earn Lifestyle Points, which can be used to immediately satisfy your Sim's needs and quickly complete tasks. Those can be bought through in-app purchases, alongside the game's currency, Simoleans, which your Sims earn through various kinds of work.

Order Up!! To Go - Download now

Order Up!! To Go is a great restaurant simulation game. Players pick their menus, prepare meals, and earn tips depending on how well they're made. If you've ever played Cooking Mama on the Wii, a lot of the gameplay will be familiar. Various types of gestures translate to preparing ingredients, but cooking times must be precise, and that can be a real challenge when juggling multiple orders that have to stay hot by the time they're served up.

The art style is cartoony, with plenty of goofy references to real-world food brands. As players progress, they gain access to new, swankier restaurants, fancier dishes, and bigger paydays. Just be sure to properly stock up on enough ingredients for different kinds of dishes, otherwise customers will have to pick stuff they don't like, and reduce your restautant's review rating on Yarp. If things get a little too hectic, you can always invest in new equipment or hire helpers to take care of certain jobs. Order Up!! To Go is a colorful, hectic, multifaceted game that is sure to scratch your itch for a business sim.

Honorable mentions: Beastie Bay, The Tribez, Pocket Planes

Best free puzzle games for Android

Triple Town - Download now

Triple Town is a classic, cute puzzle game where players negotiate a constantly-shifting grid of plants, houses, and angry bears. You’re fed a random tile, such as a bush, that you must place somewhere on a 6 x 6 grid. If three of the same types of tiles connected via their edges, they merge together into an object of the next higher tier (three bushes make a tree, for example). If you can link up four, you get a fancier version of the next-tier object which is worth more points. Players continue on this vein as long as possible before running out of room to place tiles. It doesn’t help that there are occasionally bears that wander the open areas, simply taking up space, but if you can trap them to one square, they turn into a gravestone, which can then be broken down or linked to other gravestones to make churches. When you do run out of squares, you’re scored based on just how nice your little village is, and are awarded coins accordingly.

Coins can be bought through in-app purchases, and can be spent on getting batches of specific tiles drawn. Triple Town really cashes in by limiting how many tiles you can place, and gradually doling out more turns over time. If you’re willing to drop $3.99, you can have as many turns as you like.

To-Fu 2 - Download now

To-Fu 2 is a stylish, challenging puzzle game where players have to fling a tiny cube of vegetable matter through a treacherous maze to the big pink fortune cookie at the end. Every stage awards up to three stars for either completing the level under a certain number of flings, collecting all of the Chi orbs throughout the stage, and simply getting to the end in one piece. The obstacles in each stage are very challenging, ranging from spikes to laser beams. Flipping paddles, ricochet plates, switches, and plenty of other stage elements complicate the completion of each level.

In-app purchases are almost entirely vanity costumes, with all items available for an extremely reasonable $1.99. The bigger downer are the banner ads that run along the bottom until you decide to buy something.

Flow Free - Download now

Flow Free is a deceptively plain-looking tracing game where players need to draw clear paths on a grid between corresponding colored dots while not crossing them over one another. In order to do this, players have to carefully plot which paths they will trace in which order. That can get more challenging than you’d think once you give the much larger tablet-optimized stages a shot or race against the clock in time trials.

Though you get a whooping 750 puzzles for free, you can unlock seven additional map packs for between $0.99 and $1.99 a pop, or get the whole shebang for $3.99. Buying anything also clears out the banner ad along the bottom of the screen.

Honorable mentions: Angry Birds Star Wars, Bad Piggies, Trainyard Express, Huebrix Free

What are your favorite free Android games?

Of course, it’s a big app ecosystem and new stuff is coming out all the time. What are your favorite titles? Drop a comment, and we may very well include your suggestion the next time we update this list.