It is the time for lists again. As the year turns over, everyone makes a list of their favorite games from the year before. I do it too, so I don’t think it is a bad thing. My only hesitance with making such a Top 10 Games list is that I didn’t get to play EVERY wargame that was released in 2017, not even close. Heck, I didn’t even get to play all of the games that I wanted to from 2017. Just not enough time. Nor enough cash. I also hate having to leave games off a list because I am limiting that list to only 10 games. There were so many really good games that I just can’t fit all of them into a Top 10. I would most likely need to do a Top 25 to fit them all in and then would even have to leave some off. Frustrating!
With that being said, I played some really fantastic wargames in 2017. Some of the games that are on this list were going to be there anyway. They just have greatness in them. They are blue bloods and will make the list because they are just that good. But there were a few hidden gems that I didn’t have on my radar, but once I played them, I fell in love with them and had to find a space for them on this list. Without further stalling, I present to you Grant’s Top 10 Wargames Released in 2017!
10. Pub Battles: Antietam from Command Post Games
Pub Battles: Antietam (we actually played the limited Pub Battles: Sharpsburg version) from Command Post games was my most surprising game of the year and was one that I had to make sure found its way on this list. I was invited over to play this game at my friends house on a whim and I really didn’t know what to expect. First off, the production is amazing! The map is actual canvas, all of the units are these long thin wooden blocks with gorgeous gold leaf stickers and the game uses these cool little sticks of differing lengths to measure your units movement. The rules are very simple and once you get the hang of them, you can play this game in about 90 minutes. But aside from the beautiful production, this game is really good.
The game is really interactive and brings the elements of tension and uncertainty to bear on the players through its use of wooden blocks to represent formations and small wooden cubes to represent HQs. Players have to place HQs near forces that they wish to command to attack. The Union commands are limited to controlling only the units they are associated with but the CSA HQs can control any block within range. The game uses a Chit-Pull System to activate different HQs that can then activate units within range. Very simple mechanism that I have found works very well for wargames and simulates the difficulty of command. This really makes players have to work in order to get done what it is that they wish.
When the chits are pulled, the player controlling that Corps simply moves the units assigned, which can result in contact with the enemy and a later combat. This is an important point. Combat only occurs when units come in contact with each other. If they don’t have enough movement allowance to get all the way to contact, but are only millimeters away, they don’t get to attack. All combat takes place at the end of the round once all units have been activated. Units are moved using a set of sticks according to the type of units, either Mounted or Foot. These sticks are divided into thirds. The entire length of the sticks represents the full movement that each unit can perform each turn. But, various actions, including pivoting or moving through various terrains, take up 1/3 of that movement. At first, we were a little frustrated by the lack of precision in these movements but soon came to realize that it was best to use the sticks more as a guideline and eyeball movements. Once we became comfortable with the movement, it was simple and was no longer a source of worry or consternation. Great little system that captures the essence of the time!
Combat was also very good and boils down to the proper use of movement in order to outflank your opponent, gaining dice roll modifiers, and the shrew use of terrain. Overall, this game was a fantastic experience and we fell in love immediately. The only problem I have with the game is that it costs nearly $90, which is due to the amazing quality of the components. This will make this game a little out of reach of some but for those that this is not a concern, I recommend you find a copy and get it to the table as soon as possible. Great job Command Post games!
9. 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 was also a surprise game for me in 2017. I didn’t have it on my radar until I saw pictures of the game on Social Media shortly after its release. Once I saw what the game was, I had to have it. The game is a hybrid wargame where it combines more euro centric mechanics like deck building, area movement, area control and dice chucking into a light wargame that is very easy to play, easy to learn but has interesting and engaging strategy and game play.
I really enjoyed the deck building and hand management elements of the game. Each player starts with very low powered cards with values of 1 and needs to build up those cards to be more efficient with each play as you can get more out of a 4 power card. These cards are then used to “buy” specific actions such as recruiting Legions, moving armies, placing Governors, building improvements or increasing support. Players select from their available hand of cards, 5 cards to start with and then can take actions to gain additional points to use to purchase more powerful cards at the end of their turn or discard 1 value cards to thin their decks and make them more efficient and powerful. This deck thinning was very well done and really makes the player think about what they want to do in the future. Are they going to focus on building large armies to take out the invading Barbarian hordes? Or are they going to focus on taking over the control of provincial senates through the use of subterfuge? Or will they focus on defense by building various buildings that will aid them? I believe that this game will appeal to both Euro gamers and heavy wargamers alike. Its design is tight and simply works well. The mechanics used, and the way they are used, particularly the deck building and the hand management, are simply sublime and really make the gaming experience enjoyable. I would recommend this game to anyone and believe that it has a place in any gamers collection.
If you are interested, we posted an unboxing video which will give you a more in-depth look at the components as well as a video review sharing our initial thoughts following our very first play of a 2-player game.
8. Holland ’44: Operation Market-Garden from GMT Games
The first real heavy wargame on the list is Holland 44′: Operation Market-Garden from GMT Games. And what a game it is! Designed by Mark Simonitch, using his vaunted 44′ system, the game is a fantastic ballet of mechanics that creates a very interesting and extremely challenging game for both the Allies, who are racing up Hell’s Highway to take three key bridges to enable an invasion over the Rhine River and into Germany proper, ending the war by December 1944, and the Germans who are desperately trying to prevent the Allies from reaching their goals through the use of explosives to blow bridges, and trying their best to envelope and eradicate the 1st Airborne desperately trying to capture Arnhem Bridge until the cavalry in the form of XXX Corps can arrive.
The greatness in this game is the ZOC Bond system that allows both the Allies and the Axis to use this mechanic to aid in their ultimate goals. The ZOC Bonds allows for a thinly spread line of troops to work together to prevent enemy units from simply blowing through gaps in the line. When two friendly units have an open hex in between them, this hex is in the middle of a ZOC Bond, or Zone of Control Bond that allows each unit to hold the hex from outside of the hex. Amazing design element as it is used equally as well by both sides, but at different parts of the battlefield. The surprised and relatively weak German units stationed at the south of the map have to delay the advance of XXX Corps for as long as they can and the ZOC Bonds really help them here. While in the north near Arnhem (the famous bridge too far), the 1st Airborne have to hold their own at their drop zone while being overmatched by the SS units until they get reinforcements later while simultaneously pushing to the east toward the bridge.
This game is fantastic and I have really enjoyed my two solo plays. Alexander and I have yet to get it to the table but we will soon. I can say that this game rewards aggressive action, both on the Allied part to move as fast they can toward the bridges and with the Germans as they receive reinforcements that must push to the east to fill the gaps and delay the Allies advance for as long as possible. I also really enjoy the Traffic Markers that can be placed by the Germans on the highway, simulating traffic jams and destroyed vehicles on small one lane country roads. Lots to like here that will be received well by many acolytes of the ’44 system.
7. Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 from Hollandspiele
I love eclectic games that are good. Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 from Hollandspiele fits this bill. This is a wargame. Make no mistake about that but this game is first and foremost a logistics game. 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 this 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 and 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 supplies produced will include 2 Food Supplies and 1 War Supply as long as it is occupied by an Army, has at least one Point (or green shaded square) adjacent not occupied by an Army or occupied by a friendly Army. This is key as you can attempt to cut off a city from producing Supply by simply threatening it with the presence of an Army on one of these adjacent Points. And this is where the strategy commonly found in wargames comes into play. The game is a continual dance between the two sides as they attempt to gain supply but also destroy the supply of their enemy.
There is also combat in the game, which relies on the differing types of supply to feed it. In order to Attack, the Attacker must have a Leader present. The Attacker must also spend Food Supply cubes in order to initiate an Attack. This will require 1 cube per 4 units activated. During battle, players determine the number of battle dice they roll based on the number of War Supply they spend. See. Supply is really at the heart of the game and becomes a game that you are focused on connecting routes, moving supply and positioning yourself to take out your opponent’s supply before you move in and attack. We really loved this game and cannot wait for its sequel Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy set to release in 2018.
If you are interested, we did an unboxing video showing the components and talking a little about the game.
6. Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 from GMT Games
I love the COIN Series from GMT Games. They are the vehicle through which I got back into heavy wargames and I love the system. I also really enjoy designs from Brian Train so this one was a no brainer for me. I have to say though, at first, I was not interested in the theme at all. But, once we played the game, and saw how the history from the conflict was played out in the design, I gained a new appreciation for the time period and for Brian’s ability to skillfully model various aspects that were prevalent in the struggle between the French Government and and FLN. 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.
The really neat part of the design though is the change up of the Initiative Track. This innovation, which takes the COIN Series from being relegated to 1-4 player games and opens up a lot of new possibilities, is the hallmark of this design. Very well done, it captures the struggle of choice between gaining initiative to control events and trying to play keep-away from your opponent. This new Initiative Track, which I first experienced when I played the War in the South scenario for Liberty or Death found in C3i Magazine Nr. 30, is simply revolutionary and really adds another strategic level to gameplay. We have always enjoyed the process of trying to hinder the other player by the actions we choose, but this takes that interplay to the next level and I look forward to seeing how this evolution can be used in other player counts such as a 3-player and maybe even into a 5-player game!
More so than in any other COIN Series game I have played to date, the theme of Colonial Twilight is very thick and ever present. Each action that you take with the FLN feels as if you are laying a trap. Each counterblow from the Government feels like it will be the decisive last. I love the depth that each of their actions has been given through the design and feel that I need each side’s actions in order to win. Sometimes in other COIN games, I have been able to minimize or almost ignore certain Ops and SAs but not here. You must use each of them to their fullest capacity if you hope to achieve victory. The Ops and SAs also are very well designed with the overall feeling of the time period in mind. The brutality and desperate nature of each side can be felt through the use of each of these actions and has been given commensurate penalties and detriments to each. User beware!
So, if you want to experience a two player game in the COIN Series, that is really thick with theme and a carefully thought out design, Colonial Twilight is your game. For the masterpiece that this game is, it is not for the feint of heart, the novice or even for everybody, as the game is deceivingly complex and not for those who are new to the COIN Series .I really am glad that I have this game in my collection and that it was such a window into the past that taught me a lot about a subject that I wasn’t familiar with.
For more information on the components please check out our unboxing video.
5. Demyansk Shield: The Frozen Fortress, February 1942 – May 1942 from Legion Wargames
Demyansk Shield: The Frozen Fortress is a hex and counter wargame designed by one of the best in the business Vance von Borries that 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.
This game is a pretty standard East Front game with a few exceptions that I thought were well done enough to earn its spot on this list, including the CRT and the Specialized Units. The Combat Results Table is one of the most interesting and unique that I have seen. It has some odds that are very uncommon but that make for a very interesting game. These odds are the 3-2 and 5-2. I have seen the 3-2 before but I cannot remember once ever seeing the 5-2 odds in a wargame. I would like to ask if there is anyone out there that can think of a game? Anyone?
Well, why is this CRT so unique in my opinion? It has to do with the odds for mainly the Attacker. If you look at the 1-1 column for example, you will notice that there are 5 results, out of a possible 6, that effect the Attacker. These results include A* (Special Loss), A2* (2 Unit step reductions and a Special Loss), A1s* (1 Unit step reduction and a Soviet only Special Loss), AR (Retreat) and A1 (1 Unit step reduction). That means at a 1-1 odds, the Attacker frankly shouldn’t attack. The asterisks are also a pretty interesting part of the game as it simply means that the player must take a Special Loss, which is defined as affecting all those units of one group that are participating in the combat. Each player has participating air and artillery units that can join in on combat. The air units are represented by such things as Stukas, Heinkels, Ju88’s and Yaks and can be used much more flexibly as they don’t have a range and are not tied to a unit represented in a hex. The artillery units are deployed on the board and have a range value that only allows them to support attacks within that range. These units are used to effectuate a column shift in either direction based upon who has the support superiority in a combat. More often than not, the Germans have the edge in this respect but when that Special Loss result comes up, it takes away their advantage and allows the Soviets to gain the column shift.
Specialized Units can raise player interest and raise the stakes in proper game-play to get the most out of these units. To this end, the designer Vance von Borries included several Specialized Units from the battle that I think are pretty neat inclusions. It can be a real challenge to figure out how to best utilize each type of unit but they are definitely interesting and fun to try out. The Specialized Units included in the game are Ski Infantry and Rocket Artillery. Lot of really neat and interesting aspects to this design, plus the game is very good looking, especially for a snow covered East Front map that is pretty striking. Alexander wrote up a review on this game that I would recommend you also check out.
4. Saipan The Bloody Rock from Compass Games
Saipan The Bloody Rock from Compass Games 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.
This game is a bloody amphibious invasion of a well defended and dug-in Japanese army. As you might imagine, the Americans have the tougher time of it as they must approach the beach zones in their amphibious landing craft all the while taking fire from Japanese bunkers and artillery. Each wave of the invasion will leave many Marines bloodied and combat ineffective and the American player will have to be dogged to make any progress. This game uses the new Company Scale System and has some really awesome design elements.
First off, the Company assets such as bazookas and other special weapons, can be moved around the battlefield to get these units where they are most needed. The simple rules governing this element are well done and add some very interesting choices to the players about how and when to deploy these assets.
I also really liked the various tactical elements that were included in the design such as Banzai charges, illumination rounds and various type of opportunity fire. We also really enjoyed the Heroes, although they were only single use, but could make a huge difference by tipping the odds of an assault in your favor at a key moment. We still need to explore this game more, as there are multiple scenarios, as well as a campaign game that can take upwards of 40 hours to play, but it is good. The game is huge but actually feels much more up close and personal than I expected.
3. Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars from GMT Games
Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars from GMT Games is the 2nd game in the Great Statesman Series designed by Mark Herman. Churchill was the first in the series, and it’s one of our favourite games. It’s very unconventional, in that the focus is on the political debates and interactions between the statesmen, and then how the outcomes of these debates shape the war. Pericles builds on that system and gives you a lot more meat, as well as intrigue.
But Pericles, unlike Churchill is more of a wargame and pits 2 sides, the Athenians and the Spartans, against one another. The real game-changer is that each side is made up of two factions. As such it plays best with 4 players, each working to not only have their side win, but to have their faction within that side end with the most honour, and thus be victorious overall. The good news for most of us, is that there’s bots for solitaire, or 3 player games and there’s a fascinating 2 player variant, where each player plays a faction on each side. That’s what we played, and you really have to wrap your head around pitting forces against each other that you control, whilst still trying to defeat the other player.
The heart of this game is the Assembly Debates. Before we first played the game, we were expecting to debate between the Spartans and Athenians at a peace conference each time, but in actuality, the debates in the game are factional disputes within your side. You debate the person in your faction only, and do so in order to dictate how and hopefully where the war against the opposing side is waged. Conveniently, the game prints each factions cards on on the same deck, they’re dual usage and you just flip them around if you’re looking at the wrong color.
The physical war is fought on the Theater Map, and shows many different connected locations in the form of boxes. You’ll place the various issues that are won by your side secretly into Theaters you wish them to resolve in. There’s a lot of strategy and interaction during this placement phase and then the subsequent resolution order, let alone in the actual issue resolution. On top of all the issues that you won, and any given to you to place by your faction compatriot, each player gains rumour tokens to use as decoys. After all issues are placed they are resolved in turn order.
Many issues have multiple uses, and there can be a lot to consider for each token that gets revealed. Clearly this game rewards investment of time, but from our first dealings with it, Pericles is well worth that input. The combat in this game is simple at its heart. You have land units, and naval units that participate in different battles respectively. At first, the visual chart for losses was a little hard to decipher, because I’m used to CRT charts being numbers instead of pictograms. After we agreed on how to inflict losses and conducted our first combat it became simple, and intuitive. The battle system accounts for troops, bases, treachery tokens, strategos tokens and a random card draw as well. With all of these variables, you’ll never be totaly out of a fight, and it’ll be difficult to completely wipe armies off the board unless you catch them completely off guard.
I love Pericles! I love the debating and I love that those debates lead to war in the theater map. Great design that has a lot of depth, and is frankly one of the more complex games that I have played over the past few years. But, I promise you, for all of its complexity and its associated learning curve, it is worth the time needed to get the rules down and understand the nuances. I would have loved to put this game higher on my list, but the top three is really competitive.
2. Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain from GMT Games
My most anticipated game for 2017 was Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain and boy did it not disappoint. Pendragon is a huge and deep game that takes players into the 4th and 5th century and the Isle of Britannia. Volume VIII of GMT’s COIN Series covers a century of history from the first large-scale raids of Irish, Pict, and Saxon raiders, to the establishment of successor kingdoms, both Celtic and Germanic. While this entry in the series is a little less conventional when it comes to the use of counterinsurgency in the design, there are many elements that are modeled as asymmetric and include the political, military, religious, and economic struggles of Dark Ages Britain. One of my favorite parts of the COIN Series is the use of dual event cards that capture the major happenings of the time depicted and assist the game in moving forward while each side has a very different set of victory conditions and a different approach to reaching those conditions. Pendragon does an excellent job of delving into the differences between each faction and captures the thematic feel of each.
I did a series of Action Points recently sharing my thoughts about various aspects of the design. Action Point 1 took a look at Raid, a new Command for the Barbarian tribes. Action Point 2 took a look at the Battle mechanic, which is one of the more complex mechanics in the COIN Series, but its complexity and thematic integration is what makes it awesome. Action Point 3 took a look at the Pivotal Event cards, which are very well done and incorporate many elements of the Isles history, including the Arthurian Legend.
This game is dripping with theme and the design is really deep and draws you into the struggle. Marc has done such a great job with this game and I really look forward to his other upcoming designs as he has a lot of story to tell. I feel that Pendragon is near the top in terms of complexity of the games in the COIN Series. But, the complexity is not there to give it a badge of honor. It is there so that it takes multiple plays to discover and understand the nuances that are not on the surface. I have yet to play this game multiple times but want to start a solo game soon. I put this game in this slot because it is simply that good.
1. Fields of Despair: France 1914-1918 from GMT Games
I have never really been a fan of World War I. I have been more drawn to World War II and its blitzkrieg, Paratroopers and air war. But, you know what, I now realize after playing Fields of Despair, that my preconceived notions of World War I were totally incorrect. Thank you Kurt Keckley for designing such as great game to change my mind!
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.
Movement in the game is also very straightforward and simple and can be used as a deceptive tool as well in addition to the use of dummy blocks. Players are allowed to “make change” during the movement phase, which means a larger block can be broken apart into 2 separate blocks or can even be done in reverse by consolidating a few smaller blocks into a larger force. So after the movement phase, you will not be 100% confident in your enemy’s strength and will have to sometimes just throw your hesitancy out the window and attack.
The Fog of War also isn’t lost after first contact with the enemy. Blocks remain hidden even when enemies occupy the same hex and stay hidden until one player decides to allocate an air squadron for reconnaissance or sends his men across no man’s land to attack. If you can’t tell, I love this game and that is why it is my choice for 2017 Wargame of the Year. I love that it is so unique with the Strategic Reorganization element as well as the continuous battle for reconnaissance with the airplanes. I have played several block wargames and the way this is handled is very revolutionary and I am sure will be replicated in future block wargame designs.
Fields of Despair has single handedly opened the door for future innovations to the block wargame, a medium that I tend to enjoy for the Fog of War and strategery in its play. Kurt’s innovations with this design are really fresh and have made me excited about World War I for the first time.
Well, there you have my Top 10 Wargames of 2017. This list only had room for 10 games, which is only a fraction of what we played in 2017. So, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the other games that I have played and really enjoyed. Those include the following: Rifles in the Ardennes from Tiny Battle Publishing, Old School Tactical Vol. II from Flying Pig Games, 878 Vikings from Academy Games, Kekionga!: A Dark and Bloody Battleground, 1790 from High Flying Dice Games, Fortunate Sons from High Flying Dice Games, Operation Icarus from Tiny Battle Publishing, Nemo’s War from Victory Point Games, Combat Infantry from Columbia Games, Sherman Leader from DVG (this would have made it but I only got one play in) and Wing Leader: Supremacy from GMT Games.
Thanks for spending some time with me reading this list. Look out for Alexander’s list coming up in the next few weeks.