It’s that time of year again…the holidays! A season to spend quality time with family and friends but also to give gifts to our loved ones. And I can surely tell you how hard it is to get gifts for people when you don’t know what they want. My intention with this list is that you can use it as a gift guide, both for the wargamers on your list, but also the list can be used by your significant others to get you something that you want.
This list is not intended to rank these offerings but only to provide several different types of wargames. The first few games on this list are solitaire games and then there are more traditional hex and counter wargames along with a few Card Driven Games. Some are intended for more hard core wargamers, such as Holland ’44 and Armageddon War, whiles others are for more entry level wargames that can be played by anyone and enjoyed (The Great War and Fort Sumter). I hope that you can find something on the list for those you care about or provide this list to those that buy for you so you can get something you want, not just another tie or some new socks!
Skies Above the Reich from GMT Games
If you are primarily a solo wargamer, this game is very rich in detail and creates an excellent narrative that keeps you engaged and on the edge of your seat. Skies Above the Reich depicts a Luftwaffe squadron of Bf109s struggling to deter and destroy the relentless daylight raids of the Allies over Germany during World War II. The player’s individual aircraft, each represented by a stickered block, must confront the mighty “combat box” formation of the United States Army Air Force, a deadly terrain of B-17 Flying Fortresses with multiple interlocking fields of fire.
The game is a broad strokes depiction that presents the arc of the desperate air war. Stretching from late 1942 to early 1945, Skies Above the Reich follows that trajectory in a series of missions strung together to make a campaign. Each mission will take a half hour or more to play, while a campaign can last anywhere between 6 to 60 missions. When the game is played each different fighter has a stance, either determined or evasive. As you may well imagine, an evasive fighter has a harder time hitting, but has a harder time being hit. The game has you cycle these individual fighters through a series of boxes on tracks on the game board that represent their approach position, elevation, and any delays from flying evasively. I really enjoyed the tactical puzzle of understanding where your best Attack angles and vectors are but also understanding where you are most vulnerable from the enemy fire. Damage is random as when hits are scored you pull a chit from a cup and assign a number of hits to that section of your target. Once you’ve hit them enough, they are shot down and you will score victory points.
The other really great part with the damage system is when you get hit by enemy fire. When hit, you draw a token in a similar way, but you don’t resolve the damage until the next turn. The important part here is that a unit with a damage marker on it may not move, and damage resolution is performed after the movement step. So what happens is – a fighter with a damage marker is effectively delayed an extra turn before it can get back into the fight. This becomes really problematic for your waves of efficient attacks as you will have fewer fighters able to attack and will therefore do less damage.
When it comes to resolving the damage counter you roll a d10 equal to or higher than the number to shake it off for no effect (other than that delaying effect). If you fail the roll you fighter is removed from the mission and put into a fate box. You wont know what happened to them until the mission concludes.
Fate boxes correspond to the written damage type on the counter, such as cockpit, fuselage, engines, etc. Each fate box has a series of die rolls to determine if the plane exploded, caught fire, crashed, or landed. They have subsequent bail out rolls as well for the pilots, so it is possible to lose the aircraft but save the pilot and their all important ace skills! Great game that is definitely built to give endless hours of tense and decision filled gaming for the solo gamer.
You won’t be able to get a copy directly from the GMT Games website as they are sold out (that should tell you something about the game) but you can find a copy on the Miniature Market website for $62.30 from the following link.
Here also is a link to Alexander’s review of the game: Skies Above the Reich
You can also check out the components in our unboxing video.
Nightfighter Ace: Air Defense Over Germany, 1943-1944 from Compass Games
I really enjoy games covering the air war in World War II and we have played and written about some of the best, including Bomber Command and Wing Leader: Supremacy from GMT Games, B-29 Superfortress from Legion Wargames and A Wing and a Prayer from Lock ‘n Load Publishing. In the recently released game Nightfighter Ace: Air Defense Over Germany, 1943-1944 from Compass Games players will have the solo experience of a tactical level game which places you in command of a German Nightfighter during World War II. Each turn consists of several days, during which a combat mission will be flown from one of many bases in Europe, attempting to intercept incoming British Bombers. Nightfighter Ace is based on the popular, action-packed Hunters game system by Gregory M. Smith with a strong narrative around the pilot as you look to increase your prestige, earn skills, and rise in rank through promotion and receive awards.
Pilots may use the experience gained to improve their odds of success by purchasing Major and Minor skills. As their prestige increases, they may request a transfer to other nightfighter bases in an attempt to get “closer to the action” or request a newer type of nightfighter. Awards and ace status help to narrate the player’s eventual goal – to become the top nightfighter ace of the war.
The system is packed with rich technical detail but without the complexity to capture the key historical facets of the night bombing campaign over Germany. In terms of nightfighters alone, there are 32 nightfighter models available to pilot. The families of nightfighters include:
- Bf110 (10 aircraft)
- Ju88 (5 aircraft)
- Do 215/217 (6 aircraft)
- He219 (10 aircraft)
- Ta154 (1 aircraft)
For each nightfighter, you will be tracking the date of availability, speed, area of operations based on originating base, individual weapon systems, electronic systems, damage, and crew status.
This game will be familiar to any who have played the likes of other games designed by Gregory Smith, such as The Hunters or Silent Victory published by Consim Press, as they generally use the same gaming system. The game system also lends itself very well to capturing the tense air defense over Germany. While Nightfighter Ace is designed as a solitaire gaming experience, additional options for play are provided for both multi-player cooperative and competitive gaming sessions. I really love this game and enjoy the press your luck style of play as you have the choice to continue your attack on the bombers, even though many of your systems are damaged and you are one or two hits away from being shot down. When you have found your quarry, and let me tell you it can be hard to depending on your weather, upgrades systems such as your radar or even the area you have to travel to in order to get into the action, you have to do damage while you can. Only the brave and brash will find success as a Nightfighter Ace!
You can find a copy on the Miniature Market website for $84.15 from the following link.
You can also check out the components in our unboxing video.
Pavlov’s House: The Battle of Stalingrad from Dan Verssen Games
Pavlov’s House: The Battle of Stalingrad is a very interesting solitaire game that focuses on the defense of the fortified apartment building that was nicknamed “Pavlov’s House” by the Soviet 62nd Army after they withstood two months of attempts at storming from the German Wehrmacht during the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II. The name came from one of the building’s heroic defenders named Yakov Pavlov and was a huge psychological victory for the Soviets during that difficult period.
The game board depicts three different views of the Stalingrad battlefield that all play a key role in the success or failure of the defenders in Pavlov’s House.
On the left side is a view of the inside of Pavlov’s House and covers the tactical-level movement and actions of the Soviet defenders in the form of counters. In the middle of the board is a view of the area immediately surrounding Pavlov’s House which mainly consists of the area called 9 January Square. This area shows the location of various colored tracks that are assault lanes for the German Wehrmacht counters and also provides for locations where the Soviet defender can place special Sapper units that act as a last line of defense. As German counters are drawn, they are placed on one of these 6 tracks via a die roll and as there are other units placed on each track the units advance toward Pavlov’s House. On the far right side of the board is the Volga River and the operational-level of the Soviet 62nd Army.
The player is charged with managing their array of counters located inside Pavlov’s House, including different weapons teams, commanders and weapons to fight off the advancing Wehrmacht soldiers before they can enter the base. The operational side of the game is also important as the player must try to get supplies across the river to the beleaguered apartment building while providing various assets to the defenders such as artillery strikes and extra actions through establishing a communications system. The player will have to make it through the Wehrmacht deck and survive to the end of the siege to win.
This game is a blast and plays in about 90 minutes. If you are interested, I have written a series of Action Points giving a look inside the game’s mechanics. In our 1st Action Point covering the solitaire game Pavlov’s House: The Battle of Stalingrad from Dan Verssen Games, we took a look at the Volga River operational-level board to understand how those actions hinder or help the defenders in Pavlov’s House. In Action Point 2, we took a closer look at the 9 January Square portion of the board and how the Wehrmacht Cards work. In Action Point 3, we took a look at the inside of Pavlov’s House and how the player can use the Soviet counters to ward off the Germans. In the 4th and final Action Point, we will examine the special Resupply/Storm Group Cards and understand how you score victory points.
You can find a copy of the Atomic Empire website for $47.99 at the following link.
Armageddon War: Platoon Level Combat in the End War from Flying Pig Games
Armageddon War is a platoon level scenario based game set in the near future. The first module focuses on the Mid-East, pitting Israelis, Russians, and Americans against age-old adversaries. The game feels very fresh and new as it adds a few new tricks to a tried and true system.
In the box you’ll find a bunch of black, red and green dice with a varied number of hits and armour symbols on them. You roll the dice to see how effective your fire attack is. You only roll some of the dice however. You start with a pool of the black dice. There’s a series of combat modifiers from range, terrain, unit status, special abilities and many more. These modifiers are totaled and the net modifer adjusts the dice being rolled. A positive net modifier will upgrade that many black dice to the more potent red dice. A negative net modifier will downgrade that many black dice to the very weak green dice. That’s it. Pretty cool system that was a bit difficult to keep straight at first but which became easier as we played and really made you think about how you were going to attack.
Turn taking in combat games can often be the most important aspect. Some games are simply I-Go-You-Go. Others use some other random method. But most games have a beginning phase, actions/activations phase, and then clean up and admin. You then move to the next round and do it all over again. Not so with Armageddon War. This game uses a chit pull activation system, which is nothing new. What is new is that there are no traditional static game rounds; only a fixed number of activations. A scenario might be 30 activations long for example. The game uses a sort of rolling activation system. Once you pull the last chit from the bag and place it on the activation track you then pull all the ones behind it on the track and put them back into the bag.
We really liked the innovations used in the Armageddon War system and are keen to see them used in other games and periods as well.
Here is a link to Alexander’s review of the game: Armageddon War
You can find a copy for $50.00 (special sale price so hurry!) on the Flying Pig Games website at the following link.
Holland ’44: Operation Market-Garden from GMT Games
A more traditional hex and counter wargame Holland ’44 is an absolutely amazing gaming experience. A masterful game that focuses on the Allied invasion of the German occupied Netherlands in September 1944, the goal of the operation was to attack and capture three bridges, located in Arnhem, Nijmegen and Eindhoven, with surprise Airborne troop landings (Market) to secure a crossing of the Lower Rhine River into Germany in an December 1944. In addition to the Airborne landings, the plan called for massive ground forces led by XXX Corps (Garden) and General Montgomery to race up Hell’s Highway to capture and relieve the beleaguered Airborne troops before these key bridges could be destroyed.
Alexander and I both loved this game. I loved it so much that I included it at #8 on my Top 10 Wargames Released in 2017 list published in February (And it probably should have been higher!). Holland ’44 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.
One of the great things about this game is the ZOC Bond system that allows both the Allies and the Axis to use this mechanic to aid in the accomplishment of 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.
You can get a copy from the GMT Games website for $55.00 at the following link.
Here also is a link to my review of the game: Holland ’44
Lincoln from PSC Games
Lincoln is a fast-paced, light, two-player, card-driven strategy wargame set in the American Civil War that allows you to re-fight the entire American Civil War at a strategic level in under two hours.
Game play uses point-to-point movement and area control, hidden army strengths, and decks of cards providing the command choices and luck; there are no dice. The Union and Confederate players each have their own card decks, reflecting the relative strengths and weaknesses of both sides. The Union player must do all the running to win the game by the time they have cycled through the Union card deck for the third time, having accumulated the required amount of victory points by capturing Confederate controlled areas, as well as squeezing the Confederate player with a naval blockade. The Confederate player must hold on and thwart the North’s victory ambitions to win!
Each time the decks are cycled, the Union player adds some better quality cards, becoming stronger as the game progresses, where as the Confederate player adds lower quality cards, becoming weaker. The underlying game mechanism is one of “deck destruction” rather than the more normal deck-building.
Cards have multiple uses and can be recycled if used one way but during the course of the game you have to decide which cards are going to be permanently sacrificed from your deck cycle to allow you to build units.
We found that this game has a lot of strategic choices for both sides. As the Confederates you simply have to slow down the Union player from getting the appropriate number of VPs so sometimes you just want to attack lightly in key areas and draw his attention while playing your cards very carefully. The Union player has got to be aggressive and use their power to win the day but there also are many strategic choices such as how much they try to blockade the CSA which will limit their hand size and give them less choices. This is one of Martin Wallace’s finest games and we absolutely loved our few plays.
This is the only game on the list that you might have to pre-order and give as a future gift. You can pre-order a copy for $30.15 from the Miniature Market website at the following link.
To get a feel for what we liked about the game you can check out our video review.
The Great War – Centenary Edition from PSC Games
The Great War, the latest adaptation of Richard Borg’s Command & Colors system, brings the epic battles of World War I to the gaming table, allowing players to portray important engagements throughout WWI history. The battles, included in the scenario booklet, focus on the historical deployment of forces and important terrain features of trench fighting in scale with the game system. The scale of the game is flexible and varies from battle to battle. For some scenarios, a few infantry units may represent an entire wing of a larger battle, while in other scenarios a unit may represent just a few brave soldiers going over the top.
The Command card system drives movement, creates a “fog of war”, and presents players with many interesting opportunities, while the battle dice resolve combat quickly and efficiently. The Combat cards add an element of suspense and will challenge players to coordinate their use in a timely manner. Overall, the battlefield tactics players will need to execute to gain victory conform remarkably well to the strengths and limitations of the various types of WWI units, their weapons, battlefield terrain, and written history.
In this core game, the main focus is on a number of WWI trench warfare battles. However, a series of expansions, which will feature early war, Eastern Front scenarios, tanks, airplanes, other national armies, plus more special personnel figures, are already either in the planning stage or have already been released and will enhance your WWI gaming experience.
You can get a copy from the PSC Games website for the price of $90.00 at the following link. I will warn you though it will be shipped from England so postage might be a bit steep. The game is really good and is a perfect introductory wargame with some really great mechanics.
Fort Sumter: The Secession Crisis, 1860-61 from GMT Games
Fort Sumter: The Secession Crisis, 1860-61 from GMT Games is a fast playing Card Driven Game that focuses on the events leading up to the eventual secession from the Union of the State of South Carolina on December 20, 1860 and the commencement of hostilities in the American Civil War as the CSA began the bombardment of Fort Sumter located in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 12-14, 1861. The game is not a traditional wargame but a historically themed battle of the wills as players will use cards to place Political Capital Tokens in various colored spaces located on the map in order to gain control over those aspects of the crisis.
The central concept of the game is that of manipulating the various spaces on the map by playing Strategy cards, either for their event or for the number of Political Capital Tokens that can be placed. The number in the upper left hand corner of each card is what is referenced when playing a card for the Political Capital Tokens. The picture below shows three cards, two of which offer 2 Political Capital Tokens that can be placed in any space and one that offers 3. You will also notice that behind the numbers are colored boxes which are important in relation to the printed events on the cards. If the square matches your role, either that of the Unionist (blue) or the Secessionist (gray), rather than simply using the card for the points, you then are granted access to the printed event, which typically is more powerful than the numbers.
Each round, players will be dealt 4 cards. Only 3 of these cards will be used at this time, with one card being reserved for the Final Crisis round. After three rounds have passed, the players will have played 9 cards while reserving 3.
Along the left side of the game board lies the Crisis Track, which consists of two separate tracks that represent the Unionist and the Secessionist player’s handling of the Secession Crisis. From this track, players will gain Political Capital Tokens that can be used through card play to be placed on the board in various map spaces to attempt to control individual spaces or even an entire Crisis Dimension. This Crisis Track is made up of four different zones including Starting, Escalation, Tension and Final Crisis. These are marked clearly with different colors to aid players in knowing when they are about to enter into them. These zones are where all Political Capital Tokens start and once retrieved from the track and placed in zones, are never returned. When card play requires the player to take the first Political Capital Token from one of the Crisis Track Zones, this is referred to as a breach. Don’t worry though, the first breach of the first zone is “free” and there is no inherent penalty with entering Escalation. This just means that the game is progressing and players are getting into the political debates over the various issues.
I could go on about how to play the game but I really want to let you know that this game is a really great gateway to get your non gamer friends it even your spouse into games. It plays in about 25 minutes and is very quick to learn. There is good strategy to the game as well and it really grows on you. My wife and I have played together about 25 times. I really like this game and think that you will as well.
You can get a copy of Fort Sumter from the GMT Games website for $42.00 at the following link.
Here our links to the various Action Point posts from this last summer that go in depth into the different parts of the game and how to play.
Action Point 1 – a look at the map spaces and makeup of a Crisis Dimension along with Strategy card play.
Action Point 2 – a look at the Crisis Track and how it affects the game.
Action Point 3 – a look at the different ways to score VPs.
Action Point 4 – a look at the Final Crisis round and some bits of strategy for how to play it.
Wild Blue Yonder: The Air War in Europe, 1940-1944 from GMT Games
As you know from following the blog, we love any wargame that involves planes. Wild Blue Yonder: The Air War in Europe, 1940-1944 from GMT Games is an amalgamation of several classic World War II aerial combat games released over the past 20+ years in the Down in Flames Series. Starting with Rise of the Luftwaffe in 1993, followed by Eight Air Force: The Air War over Europe, 1942-1945 in 1995, Zero!: The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Air Force in 2001 and Corsairs and Hellcats: WWII Air Combat in the Pacific Theatre, 1942-1945 in 2003 along with a host of other aircraft packs and inserts in C3i Magazine, this series has been beloved for awhile. But, the early games were all out of print and there was definitely interest in players getting their hands on copies. So, with that in mind, GMT decided to not simply reprint the early editions but somehow synthesize the games down into what was best and not just reprint them but make them deluxe by adding several other options including campaigns.
The game is a card game and is played as players control an “Element” consisting of two aircraft, a Leader plus his Wingman. These aircraft are fighters and we all know what the role of fighters is – to simply shoot down enemy aircraft. Players have total control over the Leader with the cards that they are allowed to draw and keep in their hand but less control over the Wingman as they will draw a temporary mini-hand whenever it attacks or is attacked.
There is no board with Wild Blue Yonder, as cards are simply laid out on the table facing each other and two mechanisms are used to represent the spatial relationship between aircraft. First is Altitude. At the beginning of the game, each player will take an Altitude counter of their choosing to reveal simultaneously to identify their starting altitude. If aircraft are at differing Altitudes, an Attack card cannot be played until they are at the same level. This can be accomplished by the active player simply adjusting their Altitude at the start of their turn. This will however have a cost, or even a possible benefit. In order to adjust your Altitude up one level, you must discard a card. If you are adjusting down, you will pick up an extra card. Once the opposing aircraft are at the same level, then an Attack card can be played.
The second mechanism used to represent this spatial relationship ballet between the two enemies is Position. There are three types of Position that players will need to focus on and remember including Unengaged, Engaged (including both Advantaged and Disadvantaged) and Engaged (Tailed). This game is fast paced and plays in about 10-15 minutes. We find ourselves making machine gun sounds and diving whines as we play and it is always a really good time.
Here also is a link to Alexander’s review of the game: Wild Blue Yonder.
Here also is our video review.
Cataclysm: A Second World War from GMT Games
Cataclysm: A Second World War is not your typical game about World War II. The game begins in 1933, not 1939, and is global in scope. Germany is far from dominating Europe. Japan is on the march in Asia. Every crisis is an unexpected opportunity. There is no hindsight and anything can happen.
Truly grand strategic in scope, Cataclysm requires players to lead nations, not just armies or fleets. You must craft a diplomatic strategy, develop political support for your policies at home, shift your economy to a war footing, and build up the forces you need to deter or vanquish your enemies.
There is no traditional I-go-you-go turn structure in Cataclysm. Counters representing political actions, military actions, units, and possible events are drawn at random from an action cup. As each counter comes out, the owning player resolves it, and play swiftly moves on to the next draw. You have to make plans to execute when your chance comes up, but you have no idea when, or in what order, events will transpire.
A game about global war gives every nation armies, air forces, and fleets. But in Cataclysm, military pieces have no numeric values. You know what forces you have and where they are deployed. To resolve combat, each side rolls up to three dice and compares their single highest die. You can devote more resources to a campaign (generating more dice or bonuses), but that does not guarantee a favorable outcome. Your efforts can lead to triumph… or to disaster.
In Cataclysm you are free to explore alternatives. The Soviets can construct a massive long-range bomber force. Japan can build powerful armored forces to overrun Siberia. Germany can invade Britain, or France can take Berlin, provided you craft a strategy that gets you there.
We have only been able to play once but man it was awesome. This is a big game with lots of learning curve but man it is good.
You can get a copy of Cataclysm for $79.00 from the GMT Games website at the following link.
You can also check out or initial review video after our first play to get an idea of our thoughts.
Just a few more stocking stuffer ideas for smaller games that still pack a punch.
The Battle for Ramadi from Tiny Battle Publishing – solo folio game that depicts the climatic seven days of the assault on this key town. You are the commander of the Iraqi Security Forces, and must capture the Government Complex to secure the political victory, but your ultimate objective is to liberate the city and its inhabitants. You have elite Counter Terrorism Service troops supported by army, police and militia units. Combat is brutal and unpredictable. The city is full of IEDs, ISIS fighters, and innocent civilians.