I love Christmas! I love board games and especially wargames! When my wife starts the annual process of shopping, she always asks me what I want. I think she asks because she is hoping that I will mention anything other than board games. What happens is that I give her a list of 4-5 games that I want to own and she then makes the decision what I get from Santa and orders them from the North Pole (or whatever online gaming resource is the cheapest at the time!). Wouldn’t it be great if she could find a list online of the best wargames out there so that she didn’t need to ask me and there might be a little surprise waiting for me under the tree on Christmas morning? Well, never fear. I have decided that I am going to put together a list of 10 Wargames to Buy for Christmas for your Wargamer! This list will include some older games and some newer games for you to choose from. Believe me, if you simply buy from this list for your significant other who is really into wargames, you cannot fail and they will not be asking for the receipt so they can return them either! That is a guarantee. So without further ado, here is the list:
10. Richard III: The Wars of the Roses by Columbia Games
Richard III: The Wars of the Roses is an epic two-player game concerning the long and bloody dynastic struggle between the houses of Lancaster and York for the throne of England. The game depicts both the vicious military campaigns and the rich political struggles that surrounded the late rule of the mad-king Henry VI, the Yorkist usurper Edward IV, the bloody rule of Richard III, and the early years of the first Tudor king, Henry VII. Also strutting across the game’s stage and toward the throne is Richard of York, the patriarch of the house of Plantagenet; Richard Neville, the notorious “Kingmaker”; the iron-queen of Lancaster, Margaret of Anjou, and the would-be Lancastrian king Edward, the Prince of Wales.
This block wargame from Columbia Games covers the conflict over 3 separate scenarios, each lasting only 30-45 minutes, so you’re able to play just one scenario that’s short, fresh and can be bashed out quickly, or play the protracted campaign across all 3 scenarios in about 90-120 mins, which for a wargame is a real sweet spot. There are lots of great strategic choices and the hidden units in the form of wooden blocks are genius as your opponent doesn’t quite know what you have there confronting him. The game can be purchased from the Columbia Games website for $64.98. Here is a link to our review of the game: Richard III The Wars of the Roses
9. The Scheldt Campaign by Hollandspiele Games
When it was first published in 2012, Brian Train’s The Scheldt Campaign was the first game to focus on the 1944 clearing operations in the Scheldt Estuary. The subtle interplay of the game’s mechanisms artfully captures the feel and nuance of the historical battle.
In late 1944, Allied advances are rapidly outstripping their ability to keep their fighting men in supply. The recently liberated port of Antwerp would alleviate this, but German coastal artillery and mines along the narrow eighty mile Scheldt River render it unusable. The First Canadian Army, which had been in continuous combat since D-Day, is tasked with clearing the Scheldt and opening Antwerp. They’re opposed by the 15th German Army, whose under-strength Divisions are composed mostly of new recruits or badly-battered veterans. Confusion, limited logistical depth, and poor communications put the Germans in a desperate situation. With their backs against the wall, the Germans were defeated but fought ferociously, dealing significant casualties, with the brunt of them taken by Canadian soldiers.
Aspects of bluff and tempo figure heavily into competitive play strategy, yet the game remains a viable candidate for “play both sides” solitaire study. Typical of Mr. Train’s designs, there are a number of optional units and rules that allow players to color outside the lines of history, and thus arrive at a clearer picture of the essential nature of the situation and its possibilities.
The Scheldt Campaign provides insight into an important, and often overlooked, piece of military history over the course of an evening’s entertainment. The game can be purchased from the Hollandspiele Games website for $45.00. Here is a link to our recent interview with the game’s designer Brian Train: Interview on The Scheldt Campaign
8. Wilderness War by GMT Games
Wilderness War takes two players into the French & Indian War, 1755-1760, the climactic struggle between France and Britain for control of North America. It uses strategy cards and a point-to-point map similar to GMT’s award winning For the People and Paths of Glory. Players maneuver and fight over a map stretching from Northern Virginia to Canada. As the leader of French or British forces in North America, you will need to defend your frontier, raid your enemy’s frontier, build fortification networks through the harsh wilderness, recruit Indian allies, besiege forts and fortresses, and deal with events occurring in Europe that are above and beyond your control.
Wilderness War includes a deck of strategy cards for conducting campaigns and incorporating the many events and personalities of the war. The French player can recruit up to sixteen different Indian tribes as allies, secure a continental alliance in Europe against Great Britain, sortie his squadron at Louisbourg, force a ministerial crisis in London, and work toward draining support for the war from the provincial assemblies. The British player can recruit Mohawks and Cherokees, plan for and conduct amphibious operations, implement a global strategy via William Pitt, destroy the French fleet at Quiberon Bay, and expel the Acadians. Relive the history of this exciting time when the fate of Canada hung in the balance. The game can currently be found on coolstuffinc.com for $40.49. You can read our After Action Reports from our playthroughs here Preview, AAR #1, AAR #2 and a little about French Strategy.
7. D-Day at Tarawa by Decision Games
Based on John Butterfield’s groundbreaking D-Day at Omaha Beach system, this solitaire game presents the critical days of fighting at platoon and company scale at Tarawa Atoll in the Pacific Theater of Operations. You command the invading American forces against dug-in Japanese defenders, which are controlled by the game system. Tarawa covers the landings on Betio Island in November 1943, and the operations of the US 2nd Marine and 27th Infantry Divisions to clear it — the first heavily contested landing of the Pacific War. The battle for the tiny Island raged for four days and, when it was finally over, fewer than 200 of the 5,000 Japanese defenders remained alive. The game is fairly straight forward and comes with one large paper map, two counter-sheets and 55 playing cards. Here is a preview I did when I first purchased the game in June at Origins. You can purchase it on Amazon for around $130.00 but I would recommend going to Board Game Geek and checking out the GeekMarket as there are several copies available for sale starting at $60.
6. They Come Unseen by Osprey Games
In They Come Unseen published by Osprey Games, you get a submarine game designed by a Royal Navy Submarine Captain in Commander Andrew Benford. Commander Benford started the design of his Magnum opus in the 1970’s while serving on various submarines in the Royal Navy for 21 years (25 years of total service including training). The game was released in 2015 and was nominated as the “Best Wargame for 2015” by Board Game Geek but eventually lost out to Churchill by GMT Games for this award. I also did an interview with Commander Benford on the blog several months back and you can read that to get greater insight into this interesting and very strategic hidden movement, secret unit deployment asymmetrical game.
From the publishers website, we read: Facing each other across a divided Europe, NATO and the Soviet Union have reached a stalemate. Two vast militaries, two opposing ideologies, two emerging nuclear powers. NATO players must use their submarines to infiltrate enemy ports, destroying vital strategic targets, while the Soviet team deploys a surface fleet to hunt down the subs and protect their crucial supply lines. Designed by retired Royal Navy Officer and submarine commander Andy Benford, and developed deep beneath the waves, They Come Unseen is an asymmetrical strategy game of bluff and deception that uses two boards, one for action on the surface, seen by both sides, and one for movement underwater, seen only by the submarine commanders. The game also comes with specially designed control panels to help keep track of vital information such as fuel, ammunition and current cruising depth. WAR HAS NOT ENDED. WAR IS NOW SILENT. EFFECTIVE. UNSEEN.
At its heart, They Come Unseen is a secret unit deployment and hidden movement game with asymmetric victory conditions. Asymmetric is a fancy way of saying that each side has different conditions for victory. This game is great fun and is also a great looking game with very well made components and pieces. Read my review here on the blog. You can find this game on Amazon right now for $37.84. A great buy that is sure to be played for years to come.
5. The Fog of War by Stronghold Games
The Fog of War, designed by Geoff Engelstein, is a new two player strategy game covering the European Theater of Operations during World War II from 1940 to 1945. The game will focus less on the battling (I tend to really like games that focus on other aspects than just combat) and more on the intelligence and planning aspects of the war. In the game you will have to commit to your operations in advance using a unique mechanic called the “Operation Wheel”, but what you commit is secret so you can bluff your opponent. This is also #4 in Stronghold Games “Great Designer Series”, which has created really great games such as Porta Nigra, 504, Kraftwagen and Great Western Trail so the game should be really interesting and it seems a little lighter than some of the other games on this list. You can purchase it on coolstuffinc.com for $39.49.
4. Combat Commander: Europe by GMT Games
Combat Commander: Europe (read my preview at the link) is a card-driven board game covering tactical infantry combat in the European Theater of World War II. One player takes the role of the Axis (Germany) while another player commands the Allies (America or Russia). With additional Battle Packs and Big Box releases (Combat Commander: Mediterranean), the game has expanded into other theaters of war including Africa and the Pacific and introduces additional countries including France, Italy and England. I love Combat Commander and definitely believe this one is a good one for any serious wargamer as it has lots of replayability with a dozen scenarios in the base game as well as nearly 40 others in other releases. You can purchase Combat Commander: Europe coolstuffinc.com for $52.99 and believe me, this is a great value at even twice the price.
3. Cry Havoc by Portal Games
Cry Havoc is an assymetrical, card driven, area control game, where players battle for control of regions on a planet. These regions are valued by the number of crystals on the region. Each player controls one of four unique factions including the Humans, Trogs, Machines and Pilgrims with special abilities and tactics that suit their strengths. The game comes with 54 custom plastic miniatures that are beautifully sculpted, a large format board and over one hundred unique cards. So what does asymmetrical mean in Cry Havoc and what is meant by Card Driven?
Assymetric is not a simple thing to describe. Asymmetric means by definition not the same but in gaming it is much more than this. It means that each faction starts with different setups and has very different end goals for victory and generally will take different routes to get there. This can make the process of balancing a game very difficult for a designer but creates a gameplay experience that is unique and varied and can be experienced from many different viewpoints. It can also create a very tense play experience as well as you don’t always know how your opponent will act during the game.
Card Driven means that actions are taken using cards. The cards typically are used in multiple ways including for actions, events and for use in determining the outcome of battles. So when you see these fancy game terms just know that the meanings in terms of gameplay are more simple than they sound. So, this one is a very unique game that is really fun and that has some very new and fresh takes on combat using a battleboard where you might have other goals other than just killing your opponents. Read my look at the game here and my interview with designer Grant Rodiek. Cry Havoc can be purchased on Amazon for $59.89.
2. Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection by GMT Games
Volume V in GMT’s COIN Series takes us back to the struggle of the American Patriots against their parent British government. A unique multi-faction treatment of the American Revolution, Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection will take 1 to 4 players between lines of clashing red and blue infantry, Indian raids, European politics, British control of the seas, French intervention, and the propaganda war.
Building off the good works of COIN Series Creator Volko Ruhnke and Series Designers Jeff Grossman, Brian Train, Mark Herman, and Andrew Ruhnke, Designer Harold Buchanan applies his knowledge of the American Revolutionary period to take a new look at the struggle that built a nation. I love this game and have played numerous times since purchasing it in February this year. The game is a little hard to find right now but is on GMT Games P500 list for a reprint that is scheduled for February 2017. There are several copies of the game on Board Game Geek in the GeekMarket for sale starting at $50. Here is my interview with the game’s designer Harold Buchanan.
1. Fire in the Lake: Insurgency in Vietnam by GMT Games
Volume IV in GMT’s COIN Series dives headlong into the momentous and complex battle for South Vietnam. A unique multi-faction treatment of the Vietnam War, Fire in the Lake will take 1 to 4 players on US heliborne sweeps of the jungle and Communist infiltration of the South, and into inter-allied conferences, Saigon politics, interdiction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, air defense of Northern infrastructure, graduated escalation, and media war.
Renowned designer and modern warfare expert Mark Herman joins COIN Series creator Volko Ruhnke for a collaborative production not to be missed. Fire in the Lake features the same card-assisted counterinsurgency game system as GMT’s Andean Abyss, Cuba Libre, and A Distant Plain, with a pack of twists that take the Series to another level. We love this game so very much. I have played it several times and have immensely enjoyed it each time. You can purchase Fire in the Lake on EBay or once again on the GeekMarket on Board Game Geek for around $60.00.
Plus these stocking stuffers are good as well:
13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis by Ultra Pro – the little brother to Twilight Struggle. This Cold War struggle between Russia and the United States is a great time in a small box. Available on Fun Again Games for $32.00. Read our take on 13 Days here and see our unboxing video.
Combat Commander Battlepack #1 Paratroopers by GMT Games – extra goodness for Combat Commander: Europe including more scenarios. Read our preview here. Available on Fun Again Games for $15.99.
Merril’s Marauders: Commandos in Burma 1943-1944 by Decision Games – a small folio series game that is solitaire only. Comes in an adorable ziplock baggie with great components and even better solitaire game play. Available on Decision Games website for $12.50.
I hope you have a great time purchasing wargames for your loved one and I hope that they have a great Christmas morning!