Christmas is definitely my favorite holiday of the year! I love to get gifts and really love to give gifts, especially to someone that isn’t expecting it. Last year, we surprised my son with a great gift Christmas morning by playing a prank on him. We all came downstairs to open our gifts from Santa, and we had intentionally left the one gift he really wanted in our closet unwrapped, hidden in plain sight. It was a Play Station 4. As we all started opening in order, he got things like socks, underwear, a book, etc. and you could just see that it was starting to get to him…but he was still holding out hope that he would get what he wanted, fighting back tears the entire time (I know we are terrible parents!). Near the end or our opening session, I got up and went into the kitchen to start cooking my famous sausage gravy for breakfast and acted as if I had spilled the milk all over the floor. I yelled for my son to go upstairs to get some paper towels that we keep in our food storage in our large closet. As a dutiful son, he did as I asked and about 30 seconds later came down with the paper towels but with this look on his face. He was totally had by our elaborate ruse but didn’t know if he could say anything. So I asked him what was wrong and he said he saw a Play Station 4 in the closet. I said, “That’s nice!” and went back to what it was that I was doing with him just standing there. I finally gave in and said that of course it was for him and Merry Christmas. He literally broke out in tears, ran upstairs and we both started getting it set up. What sadistic good times as a family! I love it.
So, I am writing up this list with the hope that you can use it to get a great wargame this Christmas for your wargaming friend, associate, family member or spouse that will take them by surprise. There is nothing quite like being genuinely surprised on Christmas. The games I will highlight are mostly newer games that came out in 2017 but there will be some older ones mixed in. Good luck with choosing one, and if you need some help, just let me know. Onto the list:
10. Mound Builders from Victory Point Games
The first game on my list is a solitaire only game, as every wargamer needs to have a few true solo plays in their collections for those times when they just can’t find a live opponent. Mound Builders from Victory Point Games is a great little game that takes you back to Ancient North America to take on the role of the dominant civilization among the early Native Americans, the Hopewell culture and later the Mississippian culture that derived from it. In the game, you will attempt to stave off the cultural attacks of your enemy tribes and retain your identify as you conquer neighboring chiefdoms and provide them an opportunity to join your growing civilization through trading and intermarriage. The game is played out over two separate periods of time or modules. The first module deals with the Hopewell culture, which is the earlier of the two cultures in the game. During this phase of the game, your goal is to simply expand the influence of your empire across the land, trading with various chiefdoms and trying to incorporate their dominions into your own in order to increase your economic power through the accumulation of various types of resources. As time passes, your empire will grow and regress due to various factors including warfare, disease and drought, but more often than not, the real threat to your culture is simply that of the existence of other ways of life and beliefs that will ultimately mix with your own culture.During the second phase of the game, you will be beset on all sides by competing tribes as well as the nasty Spaniards and will watch as the empire that you worked so hard to build during the Hopewell Era simply disappears from history.
Players will have access to Action Points or APs that are derived from the historical card drawn for the turn, or later in the game, from the number of goods that you have been able to secure and produce, and these points must be used to build mounds, attack their enemies, build up their defenses for the capital city of Cahokia or to repair damage done from invaders. I have found that the game is very challenging and have only won once in 5 or 6 tries, but, in my humble opinion, a good solo play game is one that is a challenge and will not be a cake walk.
You can purchase a copy directly from the Victory Point Games website for the price of $31.19 at the following link: https://www.victorypointgames.com/mound-builders.html
Here is also a link to our review of the game: Mound Builders
You can also check out the components in our unboxing video.
9. Demyansk Shield: The Frozen Fortress, January – May, 1942 from Legion Wargames
I love real wargames, being defined as having a lot of counters, that require you to use tweezers or risk destroying stack after stack, a large hex based map to move those counters around on and rules that are dense and very detailed. Demyansk Shield: The Frozen Fortress, January – May, 1942 from Legion Wargames is just that…a real wargame. The game focuses on the fighting between the Germans and Soviets in the Valday Hills area as Army Group North was pushing toward Leningrad. Here, fighting began to settle down in early fall 1941 and by January 1942 had become static. Then the Soviets attacked and by late January, the Soviet 11th Army had broken the German front in several sectors and threatened to surround perhaps 80,000 Germans around Demyansk. When 3rd Shock Army broke the southern wing of the German 16th Army, Soviet advances threatened now to destroy 16th Army and open the flank to Leningrad. It is at this stage that game-play begins.
Demyansk Shield is a very interesting and unique treatment of a struggle that has been gamed since the beginning of the hobby. The famous Eastern Front of World War II. This game is focused on a smaller area within that overall struggle and is really interesting. In this game, the Soviets are not as overmatched as your normally would think and are actually able to hold their own with some shrewd use of terrain and support from their various specialized units such as Ski Infantry and Katyusha Rockets.
We did an interview with the designer Vance von Borries about a year ago and you can also get a good look at the components in our unboxing video. For a little deeper look at the game and some of its mechanics, check out our Action Point 1, where you will get a look at the CRT used for the game, as well as a deeper look at the specialized units, and Action Point 2 where we run through a simple example of combat.
You can purchase a copy directly from the Legion Wargames website for the price of $52.00 at the following link: http://www.legionwargames.com/legion_DMS.html
8. Time of Crisis: The Roman Empire in Turmoil, 235-284 AD from GMT Games
Time of Crisis: The Roman Empire in Turmoil 235-284 AD, designed by the team of Wray Ferrel (Sword of Rome) and Brad Johnson (City Planning, Conspiracy), takes a non traditional wargame approach to civil war in the late Roman Empire. The game sees 2-4 players (best with 4 IMHO) control competing Roman dynasties, attempting to rule the vast Mediterranean Empire that has otherwise fallen on hard times through the use of skillful consolidation of power among various provinces. This consolidation will be accomplished through the direct influence of the local provincial senates, gaining the military leaders cooperation and assistance as you attempt to take over control and oust pretenders to the throne, and most importantly convincing the common people of Rome that their future still exists and will be remembered throughout the annals of history, if you are allowed to be their Emperor. Remember that the other guy is going to be doing and saying the same things as you, you simply must do them better to prevail!
Time of Crisis is really very easy to learn and playable in about 2-3 hours. It incorporates popular game mechanisms such as deckbuilding and hand management, but also delivers a true light wargame experience. This game finally fully closes the loop between deckbuilding card games and board games. Your cards are used to fuel actions and players can purchase or trash cards from their decks to make them more powerful and efficient for plans in later turns. The game is such strategically that you have many decisions to make about how you will go about building your very own empire. You can specialize in polishing your silvery tongue to manipulate the local Senates of provinces that you have designs on conquering, or you can simply go for it through the use of brute force as you wield the raw power of your Legions and Militia to dominate your opponents. You also can take more of a passive road to conquering the Mediterranean by being a man of the People. The key is choosing a strategy and then building your deck to accomplish that strategy. But beware as you cannot focus on only one aspect and expect to reign.
You can check out our unboxing video for the game and get a look at the great hybrid euro components with the great looking cards and also get a better feel for the game by reading our review here: Time of Crisis
You can purchase a copy directly from the GMT Games website for the price of $65.00 at the following link: http://www.gmtgames.com/p-513-time-of-crisis.aspx
7. Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire from GMT Games
The second solitaire only game to make this list is Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire from GMT Games. I am not a huge fan of solitaire only games but when I find a good one, I play it, and this game is that good. The player will try to skillfully guide the Comanche Nation through 275 years of their history from 1700-1875 where they will have to fight off or work with competing tribes and deal with settlers who are encroaching on their land, hunting grounds and their very way of life. The player plays from the Native American point of view and must guide their tribe through these perilous times making sure to expand, start new Rancherias from which they can secure their borders, hunt to gather resources, trade for superior items such as food and weapons, and develop their culture and abilities through the purchase of various cards. The game is really a great challenge, as I have played 5 times now and only secured victory once, but is so well done that I don’t ever really care whether I win or lose. The mechanic that controls your Artificial Intelligence opponent is so good that you might say it is divine and really allows the player to have to struggle as it learns from your actions and uses your aggression against you.
You can purchase a copy directly from the GMT Games website for the price of $60.00 at the following link: http://www.gmtgames.com/p-517-comanchera-the-rise-and-fall-of-the-comanche-empire.aspx
6. Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 from Hollandspiele
Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 is a two-player game focused on the supply and logistics aspect of the Patriots and their struggle for independence during the first three years of the American Revolutionary War. The game is a struggle between the two sides of the war, the Patriots and the mighty Crown forces. The game does a fantastic job of focusing on the logistical side of war and makes it readily apparent to players why logistics is important as moving and attacking are specifically tied to possessing a certain type of supply. Green cubes, representing Food Supply, are used by each side to move their troops around the board to position them for battle while natural cubes, representing War Supply, such as ammunition and powder, are used to gain battle dice to be rolled in combat. If you don’t have the type of supply required to fund the actions you desire to take, you will find that you are not doing anything and will need to quickly change your tactics to address this problem.
The goal of the game is for each side to control cities such as Baltimore, York, Morristown, New York, Albany, Boston and Providence in order to have that city produce Supply each round. If the city is occupied by at least 1 Unit counter representing an Army, it will produce Supply during the Supply Phase of each round. The game is very thinky and mixes euro game mechanics with those of a wargame, as you don’t just simply move cubes around the board, but get to roll dice and slug it out for control of key points after moving the cubes.
You can check out our unboxing video to get a better feel for what comes with the game (it is very simple but well done as that map is simply gorgeous!) and you can check out our video review to hear what we liked about it. To get a better feel for the mechanics, you can check out our Action Point 1 that takes a look at building your supply lines and then Action Point 2 which takes a look at what you do with those supplies and how they effect combat.
You can purchase a copy directly from the Hollandspiele website for the price of $35.00 at the following link: https://hollandspiele.com/products/supply-lines-of-the-american-revolution-the-northern-theater-1775-1777
5. Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 from GMT Games
Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 is the most recent game in the COIN Series from GMT Games. The game covers the struggle between the insurgent Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN), who are seeking independence from France, and the French Government using locally trained Algerian Troops and Police to keep the peace and try desperately to hold onto one of their colonies. The game is very much asymmetric, with each side having very different approaches to their differing victory conditions as well as different abilities in the form of Operations and Special Activities.
I really enjoy Colonial Twilight and feel that it is now firmly entrenched in my top 3 favorite COIN Series games. I was pleasantly surprised by the game, as at first, I didn’t necessarily feel drawn into the theme or time period as I have with other entries in the series. But after playing for the first time, I definitely could feel the allure of the design and became interested in the time period which lead me to some internet reading on the war itself and the many issues and problems inherent with it. (That is one of the reasons that I love historic themed games!) I was really impressed with the integration of the theme into the gameplay and the care given to make sure players actually feel the consequences of their actions. As I have played the game, I have paused many times to simply think about things, either my actions during the game, the moral turpitude of the two combatants (who is the good guy? Is there even a good guy?), the purpose and meaning of it all, etc. I truly believe that this is Brian Train’s masterpiece, his Mona Lisa, David or Sistine Chapel as it were. The skill with which he has weaved the bitter elements of the struggle together in a playable and enjoyable way is nothing short of triumphant. And any game that can make you think about things is a good thing.
For a better look at the components, check out our unboxing video
You can purchase a copy directly from the GMT Games website for the price of $75.00 at the following link: http://www.gmtgames.com/p-548-colonial-twilight-the-french-algerian-war-1954-62.aspx
4. Old School Tactical: Volume II West Front 1944-45 from Flying Pig Games
I actually just got this game in the mail and haven’t even had a chance to open it, much less play it. But, the reason that it made this list is that I really like Old School Tactical Volume I and this volume takes us to the West Front and gives us Germans vs. Americans. The system is great, easy to learn, easy to play, with enough complexity and variety to make it really interesting. I really have enjoyed what Flying Pig Games has done with this series. The combat is absolutely brutal and I love that there are tanks, trucks and other vehicles to intermix with my leg units. This increases the fun factor and this game is already fun. Plus, I like the fact that they use large gorgeous counters, large hex maps and that the rules are pretty straightforward.
You can purchase a copy directly from the Flying Pig Games website for $80.00 at the following link: https://flyingpiggames.com/products/old-school-tactical-volume-ii-west-front-1944-45
3. Saipan: The Bloody Rock from Compass Games
Saipan The Bloody Rock is a new war game released this year by Compass Games that covers the invasion of the island of Saipan in the Marianas Island chain during June-July 1944 during World War II. This is the first game to utilize the new Company Scale System (CSS) developed by Adam Starkweather and comes with two 22″ x 34″ beautifully illustrated maps.
One of the elements that we really enjoyed were the activation chit draws and the confusion and uncertainty that this mechanic brought to a pretty straight forward system for modeling this scale combat. Having to draw the activation chit for each formation prior to them taking their actions adds a lot to the system and makes it very tense. We also really enjoyed the Support Weapons and how they interact with formations. These weapons are very powerful and can really aid an attack into a prepared defense. But, they have to be moved from the rear or relocated from adjacent units in order to be used. We could actually hear the leaders screaming out for the bazooka team to get up to the front and take out that bunker. Great part of the game! The game also includes illumination flares, whiskey, as well as naval bombardment to soften up the dug in Japanese troops.
You can purchase a copy directly from the Compass Games website for $125.00 at the following link: https://www.compassgames.com/military-simulations/saipan-the-bloody-rock.html This game is by-far the most expensive on this list but I can tell you that the number of counters, including 6 full sheets, and gorgeously illustrated maps, make this game worth the price.
2. Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars from GMT Games
We are unabashedly and unashamed fans of Mark Herman. His designs are glorious and we have enjoyed many of them, ranging from Empire of the Sun, to Churchill, from Fire in the Lake to South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier. A new glorious design that we can safely add to that list is Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars from GMT Games.
In Pericles, players control one of several factions amongst the Athenians and the Spartans. In a 2-player game, each player controls one faction from both the Athenians (either the Aristicrats or Demogauge) and the Spartans (either the Agiad or Eurypontid) or you can play the game solo, which I haven’t yet done.
The game consists of a political struggle over various issues that affect the way the Peloponnesian War is conducted. The Political phase is played out in the Assembly while War is then raged in the Theaters and is directed by the placement of issues by each side in various boxes representing locations in the Aegean Sea and Greece. This game is a wargame but I really like the conference mechanic where you are vying for control over the various issues in the Political phase. This reminds me of Churchill and I simply love it. I love this game so much that it is #1B in my Wargame of the Year contest, narrowly behind the next entry by only marginal decimal points.
You can purchase a copy directly from the GMT Games website for $85.00 at the following link: http://www.gmtgames.com/p-587-pericles-the-peloponnesian-wars-460-400-bc.aspx
1. Fields of Despair: France 1914-1918 from GMT Games
Fields of Despair: France 1914-1918 from GMT Games is a medium weight 2 player hex-based strategic level block war game set on the Western Front of World War I. Players take control of either the Allies, including France, England, Belgium, the United States and an abstracted Russia or the mighty Central Powers fighting the war not only on land, but also at sea, and most importantly and probably one of the better and more interesting parts of the game, in the air all while having to focus on and make tough decisions about your economic and technological progression.
FoD uses a very unique and revolutionary block system designed to maintain the confusion and uncertainty of the Fog of War throughout the entire game. The reason that I consider this system revolutionary is that in most block games, the combat values of individual blocks usually range from one to four, so as you scan the battlefield and after a quick calculation in your head you can come up with a pretty good guesstimate of what force power is arrayed against you, while in FoD the combat value of blocks ranges from zero (dummy blocks) all the way to a maximum of twenty. This difference in value ranges alone has completely changed the block wargame and has created a very strategic game that can be quite deceptive and difficult to play well. The reason for this deception is that you can build up one block in a hex to 20 when in other block games this would require 4 or 5 blocks that have tipped your hand and help your opponent to gauge your strategy and react more effectively to counter that. But, this deception does have its limits as air reconnaissance, one of the best parts of the design, allows players to scout out the strength of units and remove that deception. But, you cannot simply scout with no opposition as your opponent can place his air units in that hex you are scouting to initiate aerial dogfights that will ruin your recon attempt.
This game is frankly awesome. I love it and it is definitely my choice for Wargame of the Year for 2017. I would recommend that this game be in every wargamer’s collection….period!
If you are interested, I was able to do an interview with the game’s designer Kurt Lewis Keckley that gives some great insight into the game and his thoughts on the war and we also shot a quick Video Review sharing our initial thoughts after our first play through of the game. We also did an unboxing video as well so you can get a clearer look at the various components. You can also read our full and in-depth review of the game: Fields of Despair
You can purchase a copy directly from the GMT Games website for $99.00 at the following link: http://www.gmtgames.com/p-473-fields-of-despair.aspx
Thanks for bearing with me. It takes a little bit of time and some words to help you get a real glimpse into these games. I would also add that these following games make good “stocking stuffers” as well:
Iron Curtain from Ultra PRO – a card game that simulates the struggle during the Cold War between the United States and Russia. Great quick playing wargame that is easy to pick up and very affordable. You can get a copy on most online boardgame outlets for under $20.00.
Red Horde 1920 from Tiny Battle Publishing – This game simulates the Russian advance into Poland as the Germans left after surrendering at the end of World War I. Hex and counter wargame that looks really interesting and tackles a less often gamed subject. Copies can be purchased from the Tiny Battle Publishing website for $29.00 at the following link: https://tinybattlepublishing.com/products/red-horde-1920
Operation Icarus from Tiny Battle Publishing – A What If style game where Germany invades Iceland before the British can get there in World War II setting up a possible invasion of England from the north. Copies can be purchased from the Tiny Battle Publishing website for $29.00 at the following link: https://tinybattlepublishing.com/products/operation-Icarus
Kekionga!: A Dark and Bloody Battleground, 1790 and St. Clair’s Folly: The Battle of the Wabash, 1791 both from High Flying Dice Games – these games are simple playing small format folio games that depict battles from the Old Northwest Territory as our new nation began to expand to the west. Copies can be purchased from the HFDG website for $11.95 (an additional $5 for mounted counters) at the following link: http://www.hfdgames.com/dabb.html
I hope you have a great time purchasing wargames for your loved one and I hope that they have a great Christmas morning!