Old release: The Battle for Wesnoth
The Battle for Wesnoth is a bit of a classic. It was first developed by David White and released for free back in 2003; because the game is open source, however, it has been further developed and extended by a small army of people over the intervening years. Wesnoth is so old that it gets the designation “old release” here, but it’s good enough that if you haven’t heard of it yet, I consider it my duty to inform you to check it out.
There isn’t a single premise to offer you here, because Wesnoth comes with roughly a bazillion different campaigns, each with its own separate characters and plot line.
The way to go here, I think, is to summarize the mechanics. Wesnoth is highly similar to the Sega CD turn-based strategy RPG Dark Wizard. If you ever played that game and liked it, it is quite likely that you will enjoy Wesnoth as well. Like Dark Wizard, Wesnoth features big hex-based maps, a wide variety of recruitable creatures that you can hire on castle tiles with your hero unit, a requirement that you pay to support your army, and the ability to level up and carry over units between battles.
As for the look and feel of the game, the trailer does a pretty decent job conveying it:
My only beef with Wesnoth is that for a game of this sort, it falls quite far on the “random” side of the determinism-randomness spectrum. Even in favorable conditions, your units are going to miss their attacks a lot. I recently recorded an IndieRPGs.com Checks Out episode with this game, so you’ll get to see for yourself later today. Still, despite moments of frustration occasioned by its heavy reliance on randomized results, Wesnoth is ultimately quite fun.
The Battle for Wesnoth is free: you can grab it for Windows and Mac, as well as Linux (though you’ll need to compile the binaries yourself for the Linux one). Impressively, there are also mobile ports of Wesnoth, though these are decidedly less free than the PC versions. You can get the Android port on Google Play for $3.99, or try a free demo. There are also iPhone and iPad versions on iTunes for $3.99 a pop.