I love tactical squad level combat. I will say that I am partial to World War II tactical games but am always open and willing to play other time periods. There is just something about the strategy, the tension and fear inherent in the game that really draws me in. What is going to happen when I run my squad out from their comfortable and relatively safe building to cross a field, offering little to no cover, in order to get into position to eliminate the enemy? I don’t know but whatever it is it will be fun!
So what is considered a tactical wargame? Tactical wargames model military conflict at a tactical level. In other words, it focuses on individual units, which can range from vehicles and squads all the way up to platoons or companies. These units are assigned rating factors based on what types of individual weaponry the units carry, reflected in firepower, range and usually movement. Tactical games are usually designed so that a rudimentary knowledge of military tactics will facilitate good gameplay.
I have played many versions of tactical goodness and it is most definitely my favorite brand of wargame. The reason it is my favorite genre is that the rules are generally simple and straight forward, the action is always hot and heavy, the games are generally scenario based and play fast and it is always fun as literally anything can happen. In this post, I want to take a look at the best games that include tactical combat. There are a lot of pretenders out there but there are only a few that I feel are simply the best….better than all the rest!
3. 65′: Squad-Level Combat in the Jungles of Vietnam from Flying Pig Games
65′ is a squad-level, tactical wargame that takes players to the early battles of the Vietnam War, from Ia Drang to Operation Starlight, and most everything between. The game uses large 1″ counters that represent squads, Leaders, Heroes, Snipers, M-48 and Pt-76 tanks, and more.
Players move and fight their units over three geomorphic game boards as you try to get the best of your opponent in one of eight historical scenarios. The game is card-driven and uses a system from Flying Pig’s Night of Man that makes the game play fun and exciting, as well as a little bit uncertain, as you never quite know what cards you will draw or what cards your enemy has lurking in their hand just waiting for the right moment to use. Can I run my sappers up to attack or does the enemy have a fire card he’s been holding for the last three rounds?
I also really liked the special abilities or “Powers” that different types of units and Leaders have. These powers can be set off by playing the right type of card (see below pictured card with the word POWER shown) and really pay off when you can get them played. This element really added some variety to the game play and had me really thinking about how I needed to effectively build my squads. The rules are pretty light for a squad level tactical game, especially a Vietnam game with all of the potential complexities from that War, which makes the game really quite accessible and I’d recommend it for those looking to enter the tactical side of the hobby. Great fun, with beautiful counters and simple gameplay, is the reason this game made my list. It also has a very good set of solo rules so you don’t even need to find a friend to play.
2. Combat Infantry from Columbia Games
Combat Infantry is a World War II block tactical wargame that takes the genre in a new and interesting direction. The game was funded on Kickstarter earlier this summer and has yet to reach the market but we were lucky enough to play it at Gen Con 50. So, you might be asking why is a game you have only played once on this list?
Well, the simple answer is that IT IS THAT GOOD! The game builds upon familiar tactical elements and gameplay but throws in the new variable of units being wooden blocks as opposed to the normal cardboard counters. This means that the units are actually hidden as you only reveal those units when they fire so you will never actually know what forces are arrayed against you as they approach, until it is too late. The game still focuses on the tactical scale and each block represents an individual unit and the rules are really familiar. The reason this game made the list is that the “Fog of War” element that the use of blocks introduces just takes the game to the next notch of tension. In a traditional tactical game, I can see what units are coming at me and I can plan on how to best attack them, but not in this game. This hidden unit aspect just adds some really cool elements to an already proven system.
As an example of what I am talking about, in our play at Gen Con, playing as the Americans, I had approached a bridge with a squad consisting of two Riflemen and a Leader. I was approaching a German group that was defending the other side of the bridge but I couldn’t tell what the units were. There were only two blocks in the hex so I wasn’t that worried. So, upon reaching my objective, I attacked and it was the worst case scenario, a few tank units that my Rifleman were nearly unable to damage. I had to roll 1’s on a 10 side die to hit and luckily for me, over a 2 round period, actually rolled several ones which destroyed the units and allowed me to take the bridge. Great fun! This game is supposedly going to hit the market later this year and I would recommend that you get a copy as it is very well made, with fantastic art and components, and plays very well. We even really enjoyed the movement aspect even though it was really congested and caused lots of bottlenecks on those one lane French roads.
1. Combat Commander from GMT Games
I definitely saved the best for last! Combat Commander is a card-driven strategy game (I love CDG’s if you didn’t know!) covering tactical infantry combat in the European and Pacific Theater of World War II made for 2 players, although there are several ways to play solo if you search on Board Game Geek. One player takes the role of the Axis (Germany, Italy or Japan) while another player is one of the major Allies, including the United States of America, Britain, France or Russia.
The players will take turns playing one or more “Fate” cards (each side has a deck of 72 available cards) from their hands in order to activate units on the map to perform military functions such as fire, move, request artillery support, recover, dig-in, etc. Each of these actions can be countered at the appropriate time with the playing of a card from your opponent’s hand that acts as an instant or interrupt, changing the conditions of the battlefield and affecting the results of the originally played card.
Players attempt to achieve victory by moving their units across the game map to attack their opponent’s combat units and occupy as many objectives as possible before the final time check is triggered or a “Surrender” condition is met which is typically a preset number of unit losses allowed. The degree to which a player succeeds or fails is measured by specific “Objective” chits (some that are known and some that are hidden), the destruction of enemy units (scores are given for the size of the defeated troops), and the exiting of friendly units off the opponent’s board edge.
I love Combat Commander! There are two main reasons that this game is number 1 on this list, and in my opinion, the best tactical level game ever created. One is that it is a card-driven strategy game. The cards are what you rely on to take actions, and if you do not wisely manage those cards, you may not have the card you need, such as a fire or advance in your hand when you need it! Some would complain that this is randomness and doesn’t belong in a strategy game but I disagree. I have never been in the service nor had to participate in a battle, but I can only imagine that there is chaos. This chaos changes all of the best laid battle plans and there are certain factors that contribute to that chaos, such as running out of ammo, your guns jamming, being pinned down by a sniper or having your units morale drop leaving them hugging the ground and keeping their heads down, that make battle difficult. The cards represent this part of the chaos and is a genius addition to the game. I also enjoy the way the designer chose to address rolling using the dice printed at the bottom of each order card. This is a very solid way of handling this necessary random determination of combat.
The other favorite part for me is the narrative that is told as the battles unfold! As I have played Combat Commander, I imagine that I can feel what the squads felt in combat. I have felt as if I was Sergeant Kaminsky trying to inspire his men to move up on a well defended building to engage the enemy and knock them out of that fortification. I have experienced the disappointment of Sergeant Ganz as his troops were forced to retreat to try to repel the Russians who were threatening the German troops in the buildings. I have felt the disgust in my unit’s performance when a very powerful infantry gun or heavy artillery continues to miss its targets. The narrative is the best part and allows my mind to participate in the battle, even though I am not there. It is a similar feeling to a well written book that forces you to take the role of characters and experience their feelings as you read the pages. If a game can do all that, it is definitely good!
I hope you enjoyed my look at the Best 3 Games with…Tactical Combat! With these Best 3 posts, it can be very difficult to choose just three games. I haven’t played every tactical game out there so please keep that in mind. These are simply games that I have really liked. Honorable mentions could also go to Nations at War: White Star Rising from Lock ‘n Load Publishing and Old School Tactical from Flying Pig Games. I also have played and have enjoyed several tactical miniatures games such as Conan from Monolith Editions, Time of Legends: Joan of Arc from Mythic Games and Dark Souls from Steamforged Games (maybe I should do another Best 3 post focusing on Tactical Miniatures?!?). Let me know what games you think are better at integrating Tactical Combat than the three that I chose.