I have played wargames most of my life but have not been into heavier wargames until the middle of the decade when my brother in law Alexander moved to this country from England. This set us off on a journey of discovery as we began playing various types of games from GMT Games, Victory Point Games, Compass Games and others that ultimately led us to our focused on medium of wargames. As we start a new decade with the turning of the clock to 2020, I wanted to look back on some of the most influential games that we have played. Influential to me and how they formed my tastes but also influential to the wargaming world and how they have changed the genre from just a hex and counter focused format to conflicts represented through all types of mediums from cubes, to blocks, to miniatures and cards.
In putting this list together, I tried to think of games from each of the years in the decade that I thought were unique and either introduced new mechanics, new systems or just looked at things from a different perspective and used existing mechanics or components in a new way. Some of the games on the list I didn’t actually play in the years they were released but found at a later time but still had an impact on me.
Most Grognards who read this list will be upset and say things like “That isn’t a wargame!” or “We don’t need that type of game in the genre!” and I would answer that with ‘That isn’t a wargame to you!’ and ‘
We You don’t need that type of game in the genre!’ I am open minded if nothing else and love to try out new games with a new format. Thus, this list has games that I enjoy and you might not like. But, please let me know what your most influential games from the past decade are to compare. I would guess that we have at least something in common.
Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? from GMT Games (2010)
Labyrinth was the third game from GMT Games that I ever played after playing Twilight Struggle and then Wilderness War. At first I was a little bit overwhelmed by the mechanics and keeping it all straight but once it kicked in it became quite addictive and gave me some insight into a conflict that I had seen play-out on the television screen.
Labyrinth is a really interesting game from a mechanical standpoint. The game is a Card Driven Game that uses cards to allow players to take various actions or take the event which is usually very good. The cards are faction aligned and playing your opponent’s card triggers the event for them so the games boils down to how to manage the pain in your hand yet accomplishing goals like removing (or placing if you are the Jihadist) WMD’s or bolstering (or destabilizing) a new government to stabilize a region.
Where the game taught me something new and changed my paradigm was that each faction is completely asymmetrical, meaning that both factions use different actions to achieve their different victory conditions. At first, this was the difficult part in playing the game and playing it well as you really have to learn both sides to be any good. But, this asymmetry was a mechanic that felt really good and that I enjoyed playing immensely. Since 2010 there has been one expansion for the game published (Labyrinth: The Awakening, 2010-?) and there is a 2nd expansion in the works that is nearing release (Labyrinth: The Forever War, 2015-?). A great system that has been very successful and that has changed the way I think about different sides and how they are represented in a wargame. A game that I also will never say no to playing…ever!
Nations at War: White Star Rising from Lock ‘n Load Publishing (2010)
I really enjoy games at a tactical level and am always looking for that next Combat Commander type game that really gets me immersed and gives me the tools to attack my objectives. I was a little late to the party with this one but I played a new 2nd Edition copy of White Star Rising in 2016 and really enjoyed the platoon level scale of this game that also provides combined arms with the addition of tanks, trucks and vehicles.
The activation is Chit Pull based and really relies on unit’s proximity to their formation HQ and encourages tight formations with units acting as one in a cohesive fashion. The best part about the Chit Pull activation is that there is no guarantee that a formation will activate as the draw cup has various end turn chits placed in it creating a real haze about who will activate and who won’t. It makes planning a bit more difficult and important at the same time.
I also really liked the combat rules where hits are rolled but the target has the ability to negate hits by rolling their defensive dice based on their armor rating. This made for another level of difficulty in scoring hits to your enemy and I enjoyed the experience. Another solid tactical platoon level game that bolstered the offerings to play.
Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan from GMT Games (2011)
A wargame that doesn’t use dice is a very rare thing in the gaming world and Sekigahara was one of the first that I played with no dice (Combat Commander was the first). The game uses cards to move the action, not like a traditional CDG, but more like a card assisted game.
The cards display a number and an allegiance and sometimes a special action icon. You simply match the icons on the cards to your blocks on the board in order to deploy them into battle. Losses are inflicted on both sides during the battle and the side with the lower overall score will retreat. Movement is divided into four categories and you pay a number of cards in order to buy into that movement category. The simplicity of these mechanics is a beautiful thing and makes this game playable by anyone, the salty Grognard or the newbie. As with all card based games, sometimes you will draw a bad hand but that shouldn’t stop you from showing your power through the movement and massing of your blocks to show force. Remember, that this is a hidden block wargame and your opponent won’t know what you actually have in your forces nor your cards to activate them. Bluffing is a big part of the game and is very tense and satisfying. Also, the Loyalty Challenge cards make for some really painful yet interesting swings to battles as well. You don’t have to worry about numbers crunching and searching your units for that one additional Combat Factor to make your attack a 4/1 versus only a 3/1 and that is one of the best parts of this design.
From this game, we journeyed into other block wargames, such as Richard III from Columbia Games among others and have really enjoyed the medium. I am glad that we finally gave Sekigahara a try in 2017; better late than never.
Andean Abyss: Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Columbia (COIN Series) from GMT Games (2012)
The 1st entry in the COIN Series but not the first entry that I played in the series. That honor goes to another game on this list Liberty or Death. I actually didn’t play Andean Abyss until the COINFest reprint in 2018 but once I did I could see that this game was special and had I played it in 2012, I would have become an advocate and fan for the COIN Series at a much early point in the decade.
The reason that I put this game on the list is pretty simple and evident if you follow us; it created the system that really drew me into playing card assisted and Card Driven Games, which has become my favorite wargame medium by far. When you look at pictures of this game on the table, your breath will be taken away. It is a map of Columbia broken up into areas (no hexes) and has various faction cubes that are brightly colored representing the various factions involved in the conflict.
The factions all have their own victory conditions and have different tools in the form of Operations and Special Activities to accomplish their goals with amazingly detailed and well thought out event cards that tell the historical details of the conflict waging in the jungles of Central America between the Government, leftist FARC, the right-wing AUC, and the narco-trafficking cartels. This new system has now grown into 12 different volumes (9 of which are published and 3 that are announced and in the works) all taking a look at the different conflicts throughout history, both antiquity and modern, that have pitted factions against each other with different objectives. The birth of the COIN Series has altered the future of wargaming and has created a bridge over which new recruits to the genre can ease into the rigors of war. I will forever be grateful to Volko Ruhnke and GMT Games for this innovation that I think has been a welcome addition to our hobby.
1775: Rebellion from Academy Games (2013)
I still remember the first time I played this game with my brother. I was blown away by the simplicity of the system, using cards to take actions, and the fact that there were cubes on a board of the 13 Colonies. I have now played all three of the Birth of America Series Games from Academy Games including 1754: Conquest – The French and Indian War, 1812: The Invasion of Canada and 1775: Rebellion and all use a similar system of card play to activate units and perform actions. The game is a dudes on a map deal where players are trying to control key areas and cities. I really like this series as you can play it perfectly well with 2 players but it also allows for up to 4 players which involves some table talk and strategizing, which I really enjoy. 1775 is an introductory wargame designed so that families can play together, to learn about the history of the American Revolution, and that Geognards can enjoy as a light war game.
The card play is really why I added this game to the list as it is very well done and requires some planning. You wont be able to move all of the troops that you want to or might need in a certain battle so you have to be aware of what is in your hand prior to your turn. The really cool element to the management of your cards is that you will have the one Truce card for each of your factions, which must be used wisely, as it can lead to the end of the game when you don’t necessarily want it to end. You see, once an alliance has played all of their factions’ Truce cards, the game will end at the end of that turn. Remember, you may have to play a Truce card from your hand if it is the only Movement card that you drew so you must be careful.
I really enjoy that this game is light but has enough depth of strategy to keep my interest while I play with my kids. A great introductory wargame that is focused on history but plays really well and has since spawned a whole slew of historical games that are focused on the family.
Mound Builders from Victory Point Games (2014)
Mound Builders from Victory Point Games is a solitaire States of Siege game that to me has a very intriguing theme that hasn’t been gamed very often and really caught my eye. In Mound Builders, you represent the two largest pre-Columbian Indian “mound builder” cultures that dominated eastern North America from before the time of Christ until the coming of the European colonists in the 17th century. Your empire represents the earlier Hopewell culture and the later Mississippian culture that derived from it.
The game plays in two distinct sections 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. Each turn, a card will be drawn that tells you which of the 5 opposing cultures will move into your lands along a siege track. Sometimes only 1 will move but up to 3 can all move at once, and some can be moved more than once each turn. If you do not attack those cultures when they occupy one of your chiefdoms by the end of your turn and chase them off, your resource will be taken from you and you will no longer be able to produce or trade for that type of good, thereby weakening your economy. This States of Siege system is so very cool and has been replicated in may other additions to the series (such as Ottoman Sunset, Dawn of the Zeds and Hapsburg Eclipse but also has spawned, or at least inspired several other designers to create equally cool and interesting simulations (Pavlov’s House and Castle Itter). I now am reaping the benefits of this States of Siege Series and love me a good solo game with this cool mechanic.
Churchill: Big Three Struggle for Peace from GMT Games (2015)
Innovation in wargames seems to be a tagline that is synonymous with Mark Herman. The Godfather of the CDG mechanic, he has made some of the best wargames around including games such as For the People, Washington’s War, Empire of the Sun, Pericles and Fort Sumter to name just a few. In 2015, Alexander purchased Churchill and I distinctly remember thinking “What is this mess?”. A wargame where you focused on getting your support, and attacks and orders from a combined pool of issues at the center of an abstracted negotiation table? Boy was I wrong!
Each player will play as one of the United States of America led by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, England led by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Soviet Union led by the dictator Joseph Stalin. Each player has a leader for their faction that acts as a sort of trump card during the debates and a deck of Staff Cards. The Staff Cards are real historic politicians, aides, military leaders and lobbyists that all had their own motivations, personalities and agendas who were present during at least one of the conferences historically speaking. Over the course of 3-10 Conferences (depending on game length selected) players use those cards to move issues in the form of counters along the tracks toward their own seat. This represents their winning the argument and being able to enforce those issues, or alter the game in some other way.
The board sets up with the war already a few years into it’s progress. Players take turns in initiative order choosing two issues to place in the center of the table; already there’s decisions about what you need, versus what others need. Then you spend the Debate phase playing all of your staff cards to try and move those issues so you dictate how they play out on the abstracted military board. The game is so good because it allows the players to see how their negotiation and debate leads to how the war is conducted in either of two theaters. Once issues are won, you then play out the issues on the battlefield as you push each front forward with combat support, naval support or you focus on building up the system of clandestine governments that you will need to rule the continent after the war concludes. The game doesn’t appeal to everyone but it has shown me and the rest of the wargaming world the process of the decisions behind pushing around counters on the hexagonal board. Very unique game that has now spawned some other games along the same lines.
Triumph & Tragedy: European Balance of Power from GMT Games (2015)
A very unique experience where the war can be fought completely differently than historically is the best way I can think to describe Triumph & Tragedy. A sandbox game where the Soviets can ally themselves with the Germans or where the Germans can make peace with the West and fight against the Soviet player.
The game is designed as a 3-player game where each player controls one of the major countries of the time, including the USSR, the Axis (Germany and Italy) and the West (Great Britain and the USA). The only difficulty I have with the game is finding 3-players that have 4-5 free hours. The game has diplomatic, economic, technological and military elements, and can be won by gaining economic hegemony or technological supremacy (A-bomb), or by vanquishing a rival militarily by controlling several capitals or sub-capitals. Players use Action Cards to influence various countries though Europe in an attempt to bring them into their fold to gain Population or Resources. The Action Cards are actually well designed multi-use cards that have three pieces of key information contained on them. First, is the Command located in the middle of the card. These Commands are used to move a certain number of blocks on the board during the season that is called out on the card. The seasons are either Spring, Summer or Fall. The Command is assigned a letter along with a number value. The letter is the priority that the Command will be acted on. If your Command card was a D and your opponent played an F card, you the D will have first priority and will move their units first.
Players will spend the first few years of the game building up their economies and focusing on influencing countries to gain more resources to expand. The game includes various Euro characteristics in the cards as they are multi-use but there is also quite a set collection element with the technology and investment cards. But when it comes to combat, the game uses blocks and has a very simple and straight forward system that can easily be learned by any game player. In fact, our first play was won by our friend Matt who hates wargames but he focused on the elements of resource and set collection to win by creating the A-bomb. This game really exposed me to new elements for wargames and taught me that cards are very versatile and can be used in many different ways in the same design. A great addition to the wargaming family of games and a design that I hope will continue to be used and expanded upon.
Winter Thunder: The Battle of the Bulge from Tiny Battle Publishing (2015)
Winter Thunder is an historical simulation of one of the most famous battles of the European Theater of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge. The same as the historic conflict, the Germans catch the Allies off guard in this game and at first have them outclassed and overmatched. The game is intended to play out as a see-saw affair, with the first 3-4 rounds of the game swaying to the German side, as their mighty Panzer divisions simply roll over the weaker American units. Then, as the Allies recover from the initial shock and awe of the campaign, and begin to finally receive their better reinforcements over the course of the game (check out what they get in round 3!), the worm will turn and the Germans will be at a disadvantage and will begin to see their forces weakened through continual attrition after attack after attack. The key to the game is about effectively using the Mission Matrix Table to your benefit to get the results that works best for your situation, whether that is the Germans or the Allies.
When a combat is initiated from an adjacent hex, each player will secretly choose a chit from among those aligning with their posture, either from the red colored Attack Mission chits or the blue Defend Mission chits. The Attack Mission chits include actions such as Balanced Attack, Infiltrate, Blitz and Frontal Attack. The Defend Mission chits include actions such as Stand Fast, Balanced Defense, Defend in Depth, Counter Attack, Delay and Withdraw. These drawn chits are revealed and then located on the Mission Matrix Table and DRMs are given for attack and defend actions and whether one side or both will take casualties. Notice that sometimes, neither side will take casualties. This is very strategic as you must choose an action that has a realm of outcomes that you can live with after your attack. The worst thing is to choose an action chit only to find out that you chose poorly and lost a few steps, that you will be unable to recover only to gain one hex.
This system is really neat as each action chosen should be chosen for a specific purpose in mind and can go along with the strategy needed to win the game. During the early rounds as the Americans/Allies, I found myself choosing Delay or Withdraw often as I didn’t have the powerful units to stand up to the mighty German forces. This meant I was able to retreat without taking casualties in order to delay the German advance until my more powerful units, such as the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne units, would appear in round 3. Or I could even choose a Balanced Defense if I wanted to force the Germans to take casualties if I only had one step units defending, as their loss didn’t count toward Victory Points in the end but would hurt the Germans if they happened to lose a 2 step unit. These type of innovations in games are fairly common for Mr. Brian Train but I really liked this one and had a very interesting experience with thinking about combat differently.
Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (COIN Series) from GMT Games (2016)
The reason that this game appears on this list is because it was the first COIN Series game that I played. In early 2016, I began seeing lots of really amazing looking pictures of this game on Twitter and Facebook and I was immediately intrigued and ordered a copy not really knowing what to expect. I was not disappointed and since have played this game nearly 20 times, with most of those being solo. The game is a multi-faction asymmetrical treatment of the American Revolutionary War with players controlling one of four factions including the British, their Indian allies, the Patriots and their French allies. I also love the feel of this one as Harold Buchanan did a fantastic job of replicating the attrition of this type of warfare and the Winter Quarters round feel very well done as armies had to retreat to the safety of a fort over the winter for a source of food, water and ammunition and nobody fought through the winter. Well, Washington did at Princeton but that was out of the ordinary.
The real innovation in this entry into the COIN Series was the addition of a combat die for battles. Prior to that, you simply had to meet certain conditions to simply remove 1 or 2 of your opponents cubes or cylinders from the board. The other great innovation about the game is the way it treats the map. The map itself is so much more than just a component as it holds the fate of the 13 Colonies on its borders. The board is so beautiful and well done that it is a work of art. Relief drawings of trees, lakes and rivers can be found on the board and it creates an amazing experience as it is being played. This is a huge innovation that has created an arms race in the look and feel of boards in other wargames and I am really grateful for this element. Liberty or Death is a fantastic experience that is best with 4 players playing out each of the different factions. I love this game and will keep this one in my collection forever.
Old School Tactical: Eastern Front 1941-42 from Flying Pig Games (2016)
Volume 1 of Old School Tactical is a simulation of small unit combined arms engagements on the Eastern Front of World War II during 1941-1942. The game is a tactical battle game where historical units, weapons, armor and vehicles will duke it out on a beautifully crafted board full of hexes. During a turn, players will go back and forth using an Impulse Point System to activate units to either Move, Assault Move or Fire. The players will play through a predetermined amount of rounds and at the end, victory points and casualty points will determine which side is the victor.
The reason I added this one to the list is because of the very innovative Impulse Point (IP) system is very revolutionary in my opinion and attempts to model the difficulties and uncertainty of battlefield command. The amount of Impulse Points that each side has to work with each round is determined by a dice roll during the Turn Sequence (read more on this below). Each side either rolls 2 or 3 dice, depending on the scenario and its circumstances, and then marks that number on their Impulse Points track. This means that either side will have between 2-18 IP’s to use during that round. These points are then used in order to activate individual units or groups or stacks of units to take actions such as Move, Assault Move or Fire. Each of these actions costs 1 IP or if moving or firing an entire group, it will cost 2. The Impulse Point system is designed to simulate the rigors of battle including poor communication, lack of ammunition, fear or courage under fire and many other considerations that existed during combat. This system can be extremely frustrating at times, especially when you roll poorly and end up having only 2 or 3 points while your opponent rolled extremely well and has 15. This means that you will be able to take less actions this round while your opponent gets more. More actions leads to greater results on the battlefield and can truly determine the outcome of the game. If a player has less IP’s than his opponent, he can pass his turn and take no action without losing a point. If a player has more points and decides not to act, then they must sacrifice one point that round. This part of the system is really good as you have to decide how best to use those points. Do you wait to perform an Opportunity Fire on your opponents move when they come into range? Or do you seize the advantage and move across an open field in order to take up defensible positions in that small structure before your enemy can benefit from it? Great decision points with this system that create significant opportunities for strategy and definitely an aspect that doesn’t feel “old school” but more modern.
Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 from Hollandspiele (2017)
I love an interesting and different game. And I found both when we came into Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777. Supply Lines 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 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.
As mentioned, war is a part of the game as well and becomes a logistical challenge and exercise on how to manage your resources to do the most good. During battle, players determine the number of battle dice they roll based on the number of War Supply they spend. That’s what I really like in this one choices. Do I spend all my resources to ensure one massive attack or do I conduct a series of smaller attacks?
Supply is the name of the game though and managing those Supply Lines, while also attempting to ruin and disrupt those of your enemy, will lead to victory. This game becomes a very thinky battle between the two sides and I have found that when a mistake is made it must be jumped on and you must punish the side that makes it. Great fun and a game that focuses on a very different aspect of the war but also is grounded in the basic underlying issue of support versus opposition. I like this one a lot.
Armageddon War: Platoon Level Combat in the End War from Flying Pig Games (2018)
Set in the Middle East and surrounding region, Armageddon War is focused on a simulation of modern combat futuristic tech, in a what-if kind of scenario. The game focuses on the biblical end of time scenario where Middle Eastern countries are fighting each other and all nations stand against everyone.
The game has a couple of unique systems, the most obvious being the custom dice rolling for combat resolution. The game uses black, red and green dice with a varied number of hits and armor 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 which are the most basic and there there are a series of combat modifiers from things such as range, terrain, unit status, special abilities and more. These modifiers are totaled and the net modifier adjusts the color of 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. Very cool system that can be hard to remember but that is very interesting and unique.
The activation/initiative system is also very cool and revolutionary. 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. Very slick and easy and this game really pushes the envelope as to how wargames are going to be played in the future. I would really like to see this system used in other offerings and hopefully we will see that soon.
Root from Leder Games (2018)
I resisted playing Root because I fell prey to our Grognard sickness and didn’t see how a design this cute could have any merit. Boy was I wrong! The game focuses on the struggle of woodland creatures and their factions who each have a goal in the game and win very differently. What? Doesn’t this sound exactly like a COIN Series game? Why yes it does and there is combat, counterinsurgency and the like and it feels very similar to a COIN Series game just without the historical detail and the cards that assist in driving the action. But that doesn’t mean that the game is shallow or lacks depth as there is a story behind this game with a cast of characters all playing a role in a battle for control of the forest.
There are four basic factions in the game (more have been added through an expansion and more coming in the near future). The Cats are focused on engine building and logistics as they spread through the forest fighting the Eyrie. They collect wood and can build workshops, lumber mills, and barracks. They win by building new buildings and crafting items.
The Eyrie or birds muster their forces to take control. They must capture as much territory as possible and build roosts before they collapse. They have an interesting order of play that I don’t know that I fully understand as i have not played this faction but it looks to be the most complex.
The Alliance (mice) hide in the shadows, recruiting forces and hatching conspiracies. They begin slowly and build towards a late-game presence–but only if they can manage to keep the other players in check. This is the typical insurgent faction and is very interesting. Finally, the Vagabond plays all sides of the conflict for their own gain, while hiding a mysterious quest. Explore the board, fight other factions, and work towards achieving their hidden goal.
Each of these factions is very unique and presents their own set of challenging mechanics and abilities for the players to master. We have now played the game 5 times and really enjoy it. It is very chaotic with 4 players and can get out of control long with 6 players (by using the expansions) but is always a good time. I have been very impressed by Cole Wehrle’s design abilities as we have also enjoyed Pax Pamir. I look forward to more games in this line and from this designer as they are definitely interesting and play to both sides of the gaming world.
The Last Hundred Yards from GMT Games (2019)
We love tactical games as I mentioned before in this post. We play them all as they come out and many of them just feel the same with different elements. Not so though with our experience with The Last Hundred Yards designed by Mike Denson.
The Last Hundred Yards attempts to look at the battles from the perspective of the soldier and their abilities. One of the most unique aspects of the game is the scoring system. It takes into account traditional scoring points such as casualty difference and objectives taken but also looks at the time it took to accomplish the mission. At the end of each combat round, a random 10 sided die is rolled and a table is consulted which will add from 2-5 minutes to the mission timer. Once the timer reaches a certain number when combined with casualties the game will come to an end. I really like this element as it forces the action and rewards aggression. Too often players are very careful and move at a snail’s pace because they are afraid to lose. In this game you have to get up and move to take objectives and kill the enemy.
The other unique element is the Initiative system. In a typical tactical game, each game turn includes two equal player turns. In LHY, it is not equal, as there is only one player turn in each game turn. The player winning the initiative (the Active Player) is in essence the only player turn. The Active player with initiative can activate all his units, but the non-active player cannot. The player without the initiative (the Inactive Player) is limited to reactions only and only those units with LOS to an Active players’ unit that conducted an action. Initiative is very important. This represents the fact that life is not always fair and is a really interesting take on the genre. We need to explore more of the game but this one is good and is very unique. There is at least one expansion announced (Airborne) with others in the planning stages so look for this one over the next decade.
I hope that you enjoyed my list and also understood why I included each volume. I thought about this list for a while and it has changed many times over the past few weeks but I feel confident that it is a solid list of the most influential wargames of the past decade. What do you think should have made the list? Let me know so we can discuss. Thanks for reading!
Thanks for writing this up, still very new to wargames, so can’t make a meaningful contribution. A few of these I’ve heard of (probably from your channel), but a few I need to investigate. Our game group will be dipping our toes into the water with Genesis: Bronze Age very soon. Thanks again.
Great list, Grant! All of these sound so intriguing, and I even have one of them! (Liberty or Death, though I haven’t played it yet).
One of these days I will actually get some wargaming in.
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You plan to attend GenCon anytime in the future?
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It’s on my to-do list. I’m hoping in the next couple of years (not this year, unfortunately)
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We will definitely meet up and get a multiplayer wargame in.
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Some day, you, Dave, and I will play a wargame together! Should I ever make it to a US convention, I’ll let you know!
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That is why I am no longer following this new wargame trend. I am going to stop and putting me off this list too..
FIRST of all: SOLO gaming has been booming over the last decade. and the fact not even ONE Butterfield game is on that list is UNBELIEVABLE.
No DDay at Series (DDay at Omaha Beach stands still number 4 of ALL wargames on BGG).
NO enemy Action Ardennes
NO Conflict of Heroes SOLO expansion.
No Battalion level game from Dean Essig either.
And what do we get in this list .
ROOT: are you kidding us ? frankly …
I am done, out for good. Play Monopoly and think you simulate WW3…
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Alright Ben. First off the list is my opinion and I am glad that you are sharing yours. I’ve played DDay at Tarawa and Iwo Jima and love that system. RAF is a fantastic game but came out in 2009 (not this past decade).
Sorry to hear you are jumping ship. Not what I wanted. We play lots of great games but these were the ones I thought did something new.
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I think Ben needs a hug.
Would be very interested to see your list Ben.
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Ben I believe Armageddon War, Liberty or Death, Andean Abyss and Labyrinth can all be played solo. Not sure about the rest of them.
Thanks, firstly, for your – and your brother-in-law’s – invaluable work within the hobby, really do appreciate. Let me please take the liberty of citing your thoughts:
“[…] have not been into heavier wargames until the middle of the decade”.
Great, as great as it gets, and do welcome. Let me please just submit that heavy (let alone, heavier) wargames are just quite a different thing.
Please, check World in Flames, the ASL system, Empires in Arms, Vietnam 1965-1975, Wacht am Rhein, Highway to the Reich, LaBat system (to name just but a few) to really appreciate what ‘heavy wargaming’ is.
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Yes. I own Vietnam 1965-1975 and know those are very deep games. I have played a few big games such as Imperium Romanum, Gallipoli 1915, etc. but not played most of the older heavies. I would like to though and am growing toward that deep end of the pool! Thanks
Great stuff guys – an honor to be included. Looking forward to seeing you at Gen Con!
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Thanks for the list it is very interesting and open minded. A hard subject to do a list on but I like what you have included. Especially the games without dice rolling what one is really use to doing in a wargame. Thank you for the post.
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Hey Grant…I find your list to be very thoughtful. When I think about games that “influenced” me, and made me dig a deeper and more expensive hole into gaming, I imagine it would take some serious contemplation. I agree with some of your list… Armageddon War, Last Hundred Yards (though I’ve yet to play it), Sekighara (intrigued by the system), Labyrinth, and Old School Tactical. LOOK, any list is a personal list! I got the memo! Let me respond with the games that deepened and expanded my thinking on war games: (no particular order)
1) Armageddon War: The production quality, OFF the charts… but it’s the DICE mechanism that really sets it apart. I WANT to see more of this!
2) Combat Infantry (Columbia): I was hesitant about this “block” thing, though I did own “Napoleon” by AH for some time. To my surprise and excitement, the Columbia system hacked back all the usual bookkeeping I had been used to… the games were easy to set up, easy to take down (IF you set up your plastic storage boxes correctly). The blocks, themselves, were solid and easy to move about the board. I have since purchase ALL of the Civil War games, VICTORY (all colors), and Crusaders from Columbia. I’m currently looking forward to either Combat Infantry: North Africa OR Combat Infantry: Far East. BEST FOG OF WAR ANYWHERE!
3) Commands and Colors: Richard Borg has reset war gaming, whether you feel he’s “Light” or not. He’s taken Toy Soldiers (let’s be real, that’s what they are!) and given us the FUN back in our war gaming. I started out with “Battle Cry” (even from the very first creation of it), went to Memoir 44, and have been buying and expanding with this game system… all the way up to his space game. Borg DESERVES the respect of the gaming community for reaching out and making this part of the hobby truly inclusive! I’ve even bought EVERY “Ancients” variation out, Medieval.
4) Space 1889 (GDW/Frank Chadwick): YES… it is an RPG system, BUT, no game, to that time, was so well supported and fleshed out! From the pewter figures (Ral Partha) to the companion books, to the ship plans, to the plastic ships and maps. This was and IS the ultimate sandbox game.
5) “Warfighter” (and Saint Dan/DVG): IF you are a solo player (and YOU KNOW who you are), the world of war gaming was pretty dismal. YES, you could play most games being of two minds, but the challenge was limited. When I first played U-Boat Leader, this CHANGED EVERYTHING! Whether it was in the sky, in a Sub, fighting Martian invaders, OR squad to squad fighting… Warfighter created the ultimate sandbox for tactical gamers! I bought it ALL, and will continue to pour as much money into the decks as I have resource for. The universe Saint Dan has created will eventually span Fantasy, WWII, Modern, and wherever it might go… a TRUE “desert Island game”!
6) PanzerBlitz/Panzer Leader/Squad Leader (AH): Over the decades, I’ve seen nearly everyone either try to re-define, re-structure, or re-furbish these three games. These designers have indeed streamlined the system, created new mechanisms (Academy Games CoH/Storms of Steel), and “tidied up” what was the progenitor to a great number of modern tactical war games. I STILL PLAY these three original games and have purchased expansion units (thanks to guys like Louis IV), to keep the games fresh. It is still very playable, gritty, and open to new options/campaigns. One day I’d like to see a group of reviewers (Stuka Joe, The Players Aid, Ardwolf, and others) compare and contrast the original from that which followed.
7) Wings of Glory (Ares): Without this concept and the physical planes, there would be NO X-Wing, and any number of other games! Currently, I went in BIG for “Triplanes and “Tripods”, the new Martian game… genuinely a game changer.. quality through and through! … and YES, I played “Rhictoffen’s War” (SP!)
8) Operation Tannhauser (FF): This first person “shooter” is one of the best sandbox games. From the painted miniatures, to the boards and the overall thinking, this game is as easy or tough as you want to make it. It is a genuinely innovative system, a challenge, and a thrill (solo or multiplayer). Why it never quite took off, is still a mystery to me… it is the essence of fun!
9) “First Nation” war games (Poniske, etc): For a lot of war gamers, all they seem to know is Stalingrad, Gettysburg, D-Day and Waterloo! It seems every company and designer resembles EVERY California wine producer, in this regard. EVERYONE of these folks is “required” to produce a Merlot or Chablis! When I first heard of “Navajo Wars” and then “Commanceria”, I was entirely intrigued! Here was not only a thoughtful game about Indian Wars, but whole chapters of American history (and world history.. Maori Wars) that had NOT been explored. Not only have I learned a great deal about these wars, but have been moved to change my thinking about the nature of strategy, to some degree. BRAVO!!
10) Tiny Battle Publishing (Rifles in the Ardennes/Pacific: Remaldi, Rogue Nation, etc): For most of my war gaming, there have been either cards (MTG, DVG, etc), or massive efforts to push cardboard all over (hopefully) mounted maps. After seriously looking over reviews of Rifles in the Ardennes/Pacific… I jumped in. WHAT a breath of genuinely fresh air! Here was a game that had a small footprint, minimal rules, and had SERIOUS strategy. It didn’t take a long time to play, but could KICK some serious ass! As a solo player… THANK YOU!!!!!
*** I want to give a couple of “shout outs” to a handful of games that have always kept me into war gaming, even though NO ONE seems to play them anymore:
“1914” (AH): One day I’d like to play this game with “Blind Squares and Dummy Counters”… one of the first WWI games out there.
Blitzkrieg, Tactics II, and Kriegspiel (AH): Yes… I love VICTORY (Columbia), but when it comes down to being an abstracted “armchair general”, these games have me intrigued! Expansion units for Blitzkrieg are still being made.
“Trench Foot” (can’t remember the design house): A small box fame that took on trench warfare all over the world. It’s not much on production quality, but it’s a solid game.
“Las Barracades” (Compass): A great tactical Spanish Civil War Game! Production quality through the roof. From “Reds” from GMT, to all the other Spanish Civil War games… this is a crazy fun from two civil wars NOT well appreciated for their strategic and tactical nature.
AGAIN… thanks for all the effort and thought you and Alexander put into your reviews! You two really DO make war games a distinctly better place.
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Thanks Jim. Boiling down 10 years of games to 15 total is a challenge. I hated leaving games off. I like your list as well. Warfighter is sublime and Comancheria is amazing.
Honestly, I really like your lists. They show a great amount of thought and variety. I own many COIN games, but honestly, it’s tough to get anyone, in my circle, to play. I feel the same way about A&A… great game, good mechanics, but here I am… the solo player. I’d like to thank both you and Alexander for “pushing me” into KS’ing “Wearing the Purple”, “Dual Powers” and many more games. Without seeing the game set up and getting more info, I might NOT have KS’ed it. Looking forward to more reviews…
I like this! You’ll be able to see my response on my blog Thursday. Spoiler Alert – Looks like we only have a 4-game overlap!
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That is one of the things that makes our hobby so great. Lots of good games that appeal to different tastes. I’m looking forward to seeing your list!
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Just a friendly “nudge” to anyone who hasn’t taken a look… “Once we moved like the wind” is a killer game.
Warfighter Series and the Leader series need to be on that list.
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We love both. Hard to argue.
Good list; have 5 of them on my shelf, and they’re games I still revisit. Here’s hoping for more free time in the coming decade to revisit them more frequently!
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Like the list a lot. I’ve been in the hobby since the 70’s and having battled my way through “heavy” games (Air War, War in the Pacific War in North Africa) I have no nostalgia for heavy gaming at all. I think it’s good that the hobby has moved on. I would have included Time of Crisis on the list, again as a great crossover game
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I actually returned to serious wargaming about 15 years ago after a 20+ year hiatus. My list of games that have influenced my gaming choices boils down to which ones I pull off the shelf and play over and over again. I fully embrace trying all the novel approaches to gaming – some I like, some I can appreciate and some haven’t done much for me.
COIN – I can really appreciate the impact these games have had on wargaming – I own 4 of them (including your favorite, Liberty or Death) and have played two others – very deep (for me) and challenging games that I need to be in the correct frame of mind to play… which leads to
Empire of the Sun – such a fantastic and for me frustratingly difficult game
GBoH – I have them all and play at least one (usually SPQR or Alexander) once a month – I have 100’s of plays of these games – these games sucked me back into hardcore gaming
GCACW – I have all of these also (except for the incredibly expensive reissues by MultiMan) – second series that pulled me back into wargaming
Labyrinth – totally agree with you here
Root – totally agree – great game and challenging until you learn how each faction plays, family loves this one (as an aside the family plays only Euro-type games – Terraforming Mars is our favorite and is a masterful example of a Euro)
many games from Hollandspiele – these hit the sweet spot for me – favorites are Table Battles and Wars of Marcus Aurelius
many from Revolution Games – these also hit a sweet spot, Celles is one of my most played games
Enemy Action: Ardennes – truly the epitome of a solitaire game – one of my top 5 games
OST – agree with you here – my most played tactical game(s) – also enjoy Combat Commander
No Retreat! The Russian Front – great card assisted game – Carl Paradis’ masterpiece
Unconditional Surrender – my go to grand strategic game – so pleasing to play
Great list! It’s funny how certain games give us that “warm ” feeling, and they are always close, when we look for a game. One of my “go-to” games is “Battle Cry” (C&C). It’s pretty easy to set up and I feel “at home” with creating my own firefights. There’s something about physically moving the “toy soldiers” around the board, that really drags me into game play. I’d have to say Warfighter might be the other… you can run one mission a day, create your own squad, and create your own firefight… something I look forward to. Another series of games that are endearing comes from SPI and their old Quad Series… easy to slap on the table, small footprint, and very few mechanisms (for SPI, LOL).
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Thanks for you work and also to have the guts to publish your list putting yourself as a target to the rage so common on the web!
Root was my first “wargame”. Although some may disagreed with the classification, it was my gateway to the coin series and wargame genre. After Root came Cuba Libre, Fire in the Lake and Labyrinth! A amazing “cute” game to hook your family and friends (euro or risk lovers) to try something more dense.
Unconditional Surrender and Cataclysm are in my wishlist, but as skeptical that they will ever find a place over the table.
Others games on this list that i would love to play: Liberty or Death, Last Hundred Yards, Triumph & Tragedy and Churchill.
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I appreciate the effort and the approach is interesting, since it’s less about a top something and more about the reasons behind what games you play.
It made me think, even more so since I hesitate to call myself a war gamer and still many of my games probably are seen as war games. The decade in question is as well the decade I became aware and thus interested in board games.
On one side I’m very interested in history and its political and religious intrigues, on the other side I despise the human weakness to take up arms and I’m neutral when it comes to politics. Hence, while reading about warfare feels OK, it’s usually not something I see as a game for fun. Despite this some games in my collection cross this boarder when the game becomes historically more interesting than its war elements, and distinction probably seen by most such games being operational and not tactical.
Anyway, when trying to pinpoint some kind of starting point I would say that it’s the political game “Twilight struggle”, which perfectly fitted my interest in the Cold War, or more precisely that Cold War, which predates the current one. This game got me looking through the GMT catalog of games, which mainly are, yes war games, and it has become several over the years.
My next step contradicts what I wrote above about my view on war, and that’s “Command & Colors: Ancients”. Nevertheless it’s not a total contradiction, because I don’t have any interest in any other implementation of the system. It might sound irrational, but “Ancients” feels less like some battling dudes on a map and based on the scenarios more as a historical drama and who wins or loses isn’t that important.
When GMT announced Mark Simonitch’s game “The U.S. Civil War” I was astounded by beautiful map and decided to use it as a way to read up on the subject. As a European it hasn’t been the hottest topic. Hence I’ve only played it solo (playing and reading), but it opened up the door for more games in the genre and for the same reasons. And now I need a bigger table for Simonitch’s “Stalingrad ’42”.
Before the COIN-games I suppose “Twilight Struggle” led me to “Wir Sind das Volk!”, which led me to another Histogame production, a war game, “Maria”. It’s a quite unique game with a card management having like another twist to “Sekigahara” plus politics.
Then there are all these sandboxy games like “Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars” which might be classified as a war game, but are beasts beyond that. In my case what influenced me to even get interested in such games are “Pax Pamir” (1st edition), “Pax Renaissance” and so on.
In total I have three of the games in your list. “Root”, right, that’s a funny addition to the list and it’s a lot of fun to play and I wish I had more time to test different factions (soon the latest expansion will show up at my door step). My idea is to take one group of friends one step further to “Time of Crisis: The Roman Empire in Turmoil, 235-284 AD”. Let’s see how that plays out.
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Hmmm…an interesting take on this genre of games. I’ve always had an interest in history, in fact, I used to teach it. Far from all this “supposed” bloodletting, what attracts me to war gaming is how some of the wars and battles seem predicated on a mistake or assumption. There is always a very real, human reason why one side prevailed. How do you read “The German General’s speak”, by H. Lindell Hart, and NOT come away with any number of reasons HOW the Germans DON’T lose the war. THIS is where the war game really comes into its own! Is any conflict about things like “Supply” (North Africa), “Morale” (Stalingrad), a particular bit of geography (Gettysburg), or better placement of forces (D-Day, according to Rommel)? How many historians feel that Lee should have simply determined to fight “somewhere else” (Gettysburg)? The war game CAN answer these questions, and depending upon the designer, it can highlight WHY everything went array. I think about C&C Ancients (and Medieval), and use it as a “what IF” scenario… given this historical situation, how was victory or defeat achieved? Recently, in my monthly game group, we played Medieval and, based upon the physical limitations of the units, we poured all over the board, back and forth. There was a sense, a very real sense, that SOMETHING had to happen to break the line. You move your leader, and see IF you can roll your opponent and cause a change of fortune. Another expression of this is Academy Game’s “CoH” and “Storms of Steel”, where you draw damage chits from a bag and never let your enemy know how badly you are hurting… a pretty interesting point of reality. These games also stress, pretty well, that every tank and infantry group didn’t “automatically” jump to their feet and fight… there are mechanical breakdowns, jammed weapons, and troops that are too frightened to fight. As a fiction writer, playing war games helps me put my characters in very real situations, and imagine what might be going through their minds. In the new game “Nevsky”, the designer asks a great question… IF you don’t pay the soldiers, or entice a warlord… you can’t use his troops to fight! It is an intriguing concept… WHEN does any armed body of soldiers just walk away from a war? Like most people, I learned to play CHESS and Cribbage before I was ten. Until you set up a war game, everything is pretty abstract… it’s about winning… no blood, no destruction, nothing more than being a better tactician. YOU CAN WIN a war game, and then look at the stacks of soldiers who simply “ate it” in the process. Makes you think a little. In this steps games like “Donning the Purple”, and “Duel Powers”… where you begin to really sweat the large and small details. It isn’t easy… as Grant admitted, attempting to be Emperor in “purple”… everyone is either expecting you “grease the palm” or is trying to kill you. You simply don’t stay the leader for that many turns. IN THE END… I find that war games “scratch an itch” I can’t get with your typical Euro game. Your choices DO make a world of difference, and when you lose, you take a lot of people down with you. Ultimately, this reminds me a bit of “B-17, Queen of the Skies”, where you have your crew… hoping to land without being killed, shot down or shot to bits. Unlike shooting “pixels” in a video game… it’s somehow more real and terrifying.
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Thank you so much for the exceptional boardgame reviews.
I share the same passion for wargames.
Thanks to your game evaluations (via the players aid videos on youtube) I have purchased:
Empire of the Sun, Fire in the Lake, The Dark Valley, Pendregon, Nevsky.
You are my guide to ensure I will purchase the right games to suits my preferences : 100% satisfaction guarantee.
I will also point out that I agree that in my opinion Root is a war boardgame disguised in an animal kingdom.
It is on my “bucket list” to have the priviledge to play with both you and Alexander to enjoy a common passion for wargaming.
Please keep up making videos with Alexander: it’s a “therapy” to detach from the stress of some challenging work days.
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We will keep on doing what we do. We would love to play a game with you someday.