There’s a lot to consider when compiling these sorts of lists, so just bear in mind I didn’t play all the wargames released in 2017. This list (and any list for that matter) isn’t a list of which games were objectively the best. Any list that claims to be so should be shunned. Rather, this list is my 10 favourite games from 2017. In other words, which ones I enjoyed playing the most. I also did not include reprints, or second editions, hence no Nemo’s War and no Fields of Fire appear on the list – which definitely were a couple of my favourites. Grant also did a Top 10 list earlier this year so you can check that out here to see how we compared. So, without further ado onto the games:
10. Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater – Hollandspiele
Supply Lines of the American Revolution is a fascinating little game that packs a big punch. Whilst this is a point-to-point movement map with cubes for armies, the real game is in the development and maintenance of supply lines. What were you expecting with the title? Without well established and continuous supply lines your forces simply will not be able to fight at all, let alone effectively. This is a very tense game that shifts the focus to how you go about waging a war, rather than the individual battles themselves. It is also a very, very unforgiving game. A single mistake early on can be devastating, so make sure you plan ahead. There can be a lot of AP in this one, but the pay off was worth it.
9. Fields of Despair: France 1914-1918 – GMT Games
A beautiful block war game from GMT Games. There’s a few smaller scenarios where the war is broken up, but the protracted campaign is glorious. It’s not overly complex and the hidden block movement means that you can bluff where you’re overloading forces in order to make big pushes and offensives. In this game there’s also a tech tree which is vital, as your aircraft will be your primary scouting forces to uncover enemy blocks. As such, the air war escalates and gets intense very quickly too. All in all this game is brilliant. It can run quite long for the campaign, but the components and game play are a blast.
8. Combat Infantry – Columbia Games
Another block war game! Combat Infantry gives you all the greatness of hidden units, fog of war, and deception that you would expect from a block war game. What I like the most about this one is the scale. You command a company, broken into platoons and then each block is a squad or special weapons team from battalion. The game is fun, and plays quickly, using Columbia’s familiar block combat mechanics. LOS is traced through hex-sides and stacking is strictly enforced, so you have to be very careful and tactical with your movement and decision making.
7. Rifles in the Ardennes – Tiny Battle Publishing
Rifles in the Ardennes is a solitaire only game. It’s very cost effective and you can play as either US, German, or Russian Forces – so the system has some good flexibility. You have 10 points to buy your squad with, and then embark on one of eight missions, or progress through them as a campaign. Random enemy placement tiles or action rolls mean that you’re never safe. You’ll need to be wily as you keep your forces close enough to support each other, but not too close where a lucky grenade can wipe out half the squad. This is basically Fields of Fire lite, which is very fun. The game’s foot print is small, and flirts the line of being a lunch hour desktop game for work as well! It’s sufficiently tense and also very replayable enough to make this a real gem for the price. This is a very nice, tidy game that scores a lot of points for being easy to pick up and instantly play.
6. Demyansk Shield: The Frozen Fortress – Legion War Games
Demyansk Shield is a game, where after I played it, I thought to myself; “That was a war game.” Without sounding too glib, DS just feels like a traditional WWII wargame. There’s very little chrome, and the game is entirely unpretentious. You have stacks of units and you total combat/defense values and using an odds based CRT roll dice for a combat outcome. Movement is exactly what you’d expect – movement points over different terrain types. In this one the Germans are trying to break Russian lines in order to relieve a surrounded pocket of Axis forces. I had a blast playing this game because the strategic situation is very, very fun to play around with. But more than that it was just really nice to not have to learn a billion new subsystems and just play a game where the mechanics felt very familiar right out of the box.
5. Wild Blue Yonder – GMT Games
Wild Blue Yonder is an exception to the majority of the wargames on this list, in that it is very, very short! Playing a single element dogfight will take you somewhere like 10 minutes to play if you know the rules, and only twice as long if you don’t. The game uses card orientation to represent relative positioning abstractly and a series of altitude counters to track three dimensional movement. The game play itself is a back and forth card playing game where you push your luck and try to pull off maneuvers whilst still having enough cards to attack and defend. It uses the Down in Flames system and this is a deluxe jumping off point. There is just so much in here, from campaigns, to bombing runs and everything in between. Wild Blue Yonder is as large or small as you want it to be and is really fun to play.
4. Target for Today – Legion Wargames
Target for Today, is effectively the re-make of B-17 Queen of the Skies we have all been waiting for. Many have been waiting since Avalon Hill closed up shop to get a new and reasonably priced copy of the nostalgic classic. And others, like myself, have been waiting for fewer years on the advice of the former! TfT doesn’t include a significant amount of tactical decision making. For me, it’s more of a story/narrative generator. Without getting into the great tactics vs. story debate, TfT is like playing a game of Memphis Belle. If you’ve ever read Wild Blue by Stephen Ambrose, then you can now play it out yourself in this game. You’ll name your crew, get to know them, and try to get them through a tour of duty, running mission after mission. Some of you won’t make it back. Many of you won’t make it back. But the game oozes tension as those German fighters come in and you pray to the gods that you can drive them off with your machine guns.
3. Holland ’44: Operation Market-Garden – GMT Games
Wow! Just so you know, this is operation Market Garden in a box. It uses Simonitch’s ’44 system, and is just so fun. I’m biased on this one in that I find the West Front a very engaging topic and A Bridge Too Far is one of my favourite films. From making the initial paratroop landings to racing 30th Corps northwards to relieve Arnhem, Holland ’44 offers both deep, rich tactical decision making, some randomness with wired bridges blowing, and also great historicity with the German reinforcements and scattered forces that eventually come together cohesively. Between bridges blowing and poor paratroop drops the tides can turn very quickly for the allies from the offing. But as you punch through with 30th Corps making sure to avoid traffic jams the game becomes a furious race to the British 1st Paras before they collapse. I will play this game anytime it’s offered and we have the length of time needed.
2. Saipan: The Bloody Rock – Compass Games
The games in this list seem to be getting bigger as we go along! Saipan: The Bloody Rock was my first game in the CSS system from Compass Games. If I had one complaint about this game it’s that there’s a lot of counters, and the stacking can get a bit unwieldy. You’ll definitely want a pair of tweezers for this one. With a game this big though, it’s fascinating to play with company scaled units, because you get huge grand strategy, but also micromanagement of heavy weapons teams and mortar platoons from battalion. The landing and initial fighting are furious, but the eventual Banzai death charges really bring this game to a solemn and reflective close. To me the way this game played out was not only very enjoyable as a game, but I felt some real gravitas for the terrors of war whilst playing this one.
1. Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain – GMT Games
Pendragon was a game that I was grateful to like. I enjoy the COIN series and the mechanics in each game are very fun to play with. Pendragon was a game that, even from the site of the earliest playtest pictures, looked amazing on paper. Also – who doesn’t like little wooden castles/forts?! But I’ll be honest, after playing Falling Sky, I was hesitant. Not that Falling Sky is a bad game, I just couldn’t connect with the theme/historical period as much as I do the other titles. The theme is a very strong component of what I like in the COIN series. So, yes, I was worried that Pendragon would fall into this category as well. Luckily I was wrong to worry, and the game is a very, very fun one to play. It’s one of the larger COIN games (Liberty or Death, Fire in the Lake) and comes with a significant amount of changes from previous titles in the series. There’s a larger economic focus for one, and the combat has some extras in it as well. But playing with those Raiders and Barbarians is one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had in the COIN series. They’re such unique factions in the way that they operate, with a good degree of freedom of movement they can show up almost anywhere, and they land with a splash, but soon their power peters out if you are not careful. Pendragon is a triumph from a gameplay standpoint, that masks the fact that I’d basically never heard of any of the historical figures in the game!
So that’s it!
Honourable mentions: Pericles, Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid
Obviously there were a ton of other games from 2017 that came out I couldn’t put on the list. For me 2017 was a difficult year to make this list for because there was a plethora of good games and it was hard going to make the list. So any games not on the list are by no means bad games. Again, these are the 10 that I enjoyed playing the most!