Any form of a Top 10 list or ranking of games from a single year is an incredibly difficult and somewhat arbitrary task. What one might find interesting, another will find dull. What moves one gamer might seem overdone or gimmicky to another. It is also impossible to play every wargame that is published each year and this list will only be drawn from a few number of games that we were able to play. The other difficulty in making a ranking of wargames is that age old argument of what a wargame is in the first place. Is it only hex and counters that qualify? Do you fancy dice or cards to determine hits in combat? Can cards drive the action or only a regimented sequence of play? We also had that
argument discussion this year between us and contemplated doing two lists of our top wargames and top war themed games, but threw that idea in the trash and went with only one list.
In 2019, we played approximately 40 games that were published. We had another 20 or so that we didn’t get played and some of those would have probably made this list had we played them. But these are the games that I considered as contenders for inclusion in the list but in the end only 10 of them will be included. They are all good games but sometimes you just feel better about a certain game over another. Some of them we were able to get several plays in as well and this always help us feel more comfortable with the game.
Gandhi, Warfighter Pacific, Bleeding Kansas, Freeman’s Farm, The Battle of Kursk, Castle Itter, The Last Hundred Yards, Front Toward Enemy, Undaunted: Normandy, Fortress Europa, Watergate, Red Alert, Time of Crisis: The Age of Iron and Rust, Tango Down,
Brave Little Belgium, Commands & Colors: Medieval, Custer’s Last Stand, Antietam, Interceptor Ace, Zeppelin Raider, Campaigns of 1777, District Commander: Maracas, Escape from Hades, 1759 Siege of Quebec, Stalingrad ‘42, Nights of Fire: Battle for Budapest, Crowbar!, Tank Duel, Nevsky, Freedom! and Warfighter Shadow War
10. Castle Itter: The Strangest Battle of WWII from Dan Verssen Games
Castle Itter is a fantastic solitaire wargame in the Valiant Defense Series that includes Pavlov’s House from 2018 and an upcoming title Soldiers in Postman’s Uniforms which covers the assault on the Danzig Post Office during the first days of World War II. The setting for Castle Itter is during the final days of World War II as a motley crew of soldiers including Americans, Wehrmacht infantrymen, an SS officer, an Austrian resistance fighter, and recently freed French prisoners of war and a professional tennis player. The game uses a track system down which enemy units move through the play of cards from the SS Deck and if they ever breach the walls of the Castle the player loses. The game plays in about 60 minutes and has a few variants, including a deck of Tactics Cards that increase difficulty, so no two plays are ever the same.
The game is played as the defender has five actions each round and must move his units in the form of counters around the board to take actions to attack advancing German Waffen-SS counters as they progress up various colored assault tracks. Scoring is based on how well players did in defending the castle, and for bravery (did the Besotten Jenny get blown up?), and running away (as you get extra points for escaping the French tennis player).
I recorded a two part playthrough video to give you an idea how the mechanics work.
We also did an interview with designer David Thompson that you can read on our written blog at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2018/11/05/interview-with-david-thompson-designer-of-castle-itter-the-strangest-battle-of-world-war-ii-from-dan-verssen-games-coming-soon-to-kickstarter/
9. Brave Little Belgium from Hollandspiele
Brave Little Belgium is an introductory wargame that deals with the initial German push into Belgium on their way to France during World War I. The game uses a very well designed Chit Pull Activation system that never guarantees that all of your units will be pulled from the cup but the Germans can ignore this at their risk and take a chance on the Atrocities Chart and force their inactive units to move and attack. This forcing though leads to stressed soldiers and commanders and can lead to atrocities that will ultimately lose the battle for the Germans.
Players assume the role of either the Germans or the Entente (Belgians, French, and British) at the start of World War I. The game takes place over the period of time between August 4 and August 27, 1914 and each turn represents three days. The goal for the Germans is to quickly smash the Belgian defenders before they can be reinforced by the French and British, destroy the forts at Liege and Namur and occupy a city on the other side of the Victory Line with an Infantry unit. The Entente simply need to stop the Germans from accomplishing their goal by slowing their advance down. As I said, a fairly straightforward wargame with some of our favorite mechanics.
We really like the Chit Pull Activation as it creates a lot of uncertainty about when your units will be able to take actions. I really think that the hidden Garde Civique units (or roadblocks as I have referred to them as) are a nice historical touch to the design that adds in some uncertainty and I like that you have the choice to push your luck with activations as the Germans by taking your chances with the Atrocities Track. All in all, a very clever yet straightforward introductory wargame on the early days of World War I.
Here is a look at our video review of the game: Video Review for Brave Little Belgium
Here also are links to a series of Action Points on the various aspects of the game:
We also did an interview with designers Ryan Heilman and Dave Shaw that you can read on our written blog at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2018/09/25/interview-with-ryan-heilman-and-dave-shaw-designers-of-brave-little-belgium-from-hollandspiele/
8. Antietam 1862 from Worthington Publishing
Sometimes a very simple and straightforward game just hits the spot. And this new Civil War Brigade Battle Series from Worthington Publishing is a fairly straightforward I-Go-You-Go system that just felt right. It feels like you spend time maneuvering your men into position, taking advantage of terrain such as the sunken road, and then simply throw your stacks against the enemy time and time again until you find a weak spot or a hole that you can exploit.
One of my favorite parts of the design was the concept of Defensive Fire happening before Offensive Fire. This fits perfectly into the American Civil War and really created some interesting choices about moving into position to attack, being attacked prior to your ability to attack, and how that then would potentially change the desired outcome because your offensive force might have lost a step or two and therefore would be using a less favorable row on the CRT.
I also really liked the formation system used here and how Leaders have a large Command Range and add value to attacks. This requires the player to think about placement of units and how they might effected by enemy attacks and possible routing. Keeping those nice tight formations are very important and will lead to improved results.
Overall a very fun game and as the introductory game to the system it didn’t utilize all of the series rules such as fortifications, rail head demolition, etc. as these will be used in later editions to replicate the history of those battles. A very introductory ACW game that was fun to play and kept us entertained for an evening.
Here is a look at our unboxing video so you can get a good look at the components: Unboxing Video for Antietam 1862
Here is a look at our video review of the game: Video Review for Antietam 1862
7. Bleeding Kansas from Decision Games
Bleeding Kansas is a very well designed 2-player game that deals with the violence and politics of pre-statehood Kansas from 1854-1861. The game focuses on the tensions between pro-slave and abolitionist parties and their attempts to win over emigrants to Kansas to their cause and thereby influence the outcome of elections to move the state toward their leaning on the issue. The game has four elections that players will fight over trying to have the most influence in Kansas counties to score victory points.
The core mechanism in the game is the cards. Each of these cards is tied to an historical event, important person or other factor involved in the conflict and allows players to choose their actions for that immediate turn. The game proceeds as players alternate the play of one of the cards from their hand to take various actions from symbols that appear on the cards. These symbols provide actions such as influencing new settlers to the region to join their side in the conflict, build up forces for the coming battle, take control of counties by moving these forces around or displacing those of your opponent, attacking the opposition, burning down their population centers, enticing settlers to migrate to their areas or request intervention from the Federal Garrison stationed at Leavenworth. The cards carry out the plans of players and create a historical narrative of the conflict.
But don’t let the game’s simplicity fool you. This is a knock down drag out bare knuckle fight for supremacy in the Kansas Territory and will test you’re meddle as you fight back and forth undoing what your opponent has just done. The game boils down to staying the course and playing your cards smartly to gain the upper hand in elections. You have to be able to judge where control stands as you play each card and you have to plan as scoring elections can really sneak up on you if you are not paying attention.
Many of you might be upset that this game is included on the list as it more akin to a Euro game than a hex and counter wargame, but I loved this game and its history. It simply doesn’t use hexes and CRT’s but there is still maneuvering, fighting and control and these are some of the most basic principles of wargaming.
Here is a look at our unboxing video so you can get a good look at the components: Unboxing Video for Bleeding Kansas
Here is a look at our video review of the game: Video Review for Bleeding Kansas
Here also are links to a series of Action Points on the various aspects of the game:
We also did an interview with designer John Poniske that you can read on our written blog at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2019/07/08/interview-with-john-poniske-designer-of-bleeding-kansas-from-decision-games/
6. Platoon Commander Deluxe: The Battle of Kursk from Flying Pig Games
The deluxe version of the Platoon Commander Deluxe series published by Tiny Battle Publishing with the Flying Pig Games treatment including huge counters, well produced maps and a good and solid tactical system that is very fun to play. This game focuses on the famous tank battles at Kursk during World War II and gives you lots of toys to play with with an amazing choice of tanks including Tigers, Panthers, T-34s and others. There are also leg units but the focus is definitely the tanks.
One of the coolest things with the system is the range. Each counter has a different color that determines their range. You simply refer to the player aid to determine how far you can shoot and then roll your dice. The attack system is also very interesting as each counter has an attack value and their target has an armor value. This armor value is subtracted from the attack value and determines which column on the CRT is consulted. The game is very similar to other platoon level games we have played such as the Nations at War series and has a similar feel. We really enjoyed this one and look forward to the upcoming The Long Road in late 2020/early 2021.
Here is a look at our unboxing video so you can get a good look at the components: Unboxing Video for Platoon Commander Deluxe: The Battle of Kursk
Here is a look at our video review of the game: Platoon Commander Deluxe: The Battle of Kursk
5. Nevsky: Teutons and Rus in Collision, 1240-1241 from GMT Games
I have played a lot of different types of wargames and do not turn my nose up at anything. I like to expand my horizons though and try something new from time to time. Nevsky is definitely something new and different and I really had a good time exploring the system in this one as it is focused on logistics and planning.
Nevsky is a wargame about the age old struggle between Latin Teutonic and Orthodox Russian powers along the Baltic frontier of the mid-thirteenth century. The game is the first entry in a new series called the Levy & Campaign Series which focuses on pre-industrial age conflicts and, as you can see from the name of the series, requires players to focus on some of the logistics aspects of warfare including providing for the payment and feeding of your vassals and their troops as well as planning out the length of service of your hirelings. This game is a very new experience for me as we had to think differently about how to go about prosecuting a war in a foreign land where you are far from your supply sources and have only a limited time to accomplish your goals before your time is up. Well, now that I think about it, that statement isn’t actually true as I have played lots of East Front WWII games where the Germans are invading Russia. This game is kind of that situation just 700 years earlier before there were tanks. But rather than tanks, carts and sleds are your mobile units.
I have really been impressed with this system and how it has taken something as mundane as supply that we are all so familiar with from our play of operational games and turned it into an exercise of planning for the players. It has added the minutiae to the game and forced you to consider so much about the terrain, the season, your troops and their Lords and how you are going to do everything that you have to do in a 40 day season. Plan poorly and you will find that you don’t have the ability to move any further because you can’t feed your army. Not having the Coin or Loot to pay your Vassals to stay in the field can also be devastating. If I had one complaint about the focus on the logistics and how important they are I would say that it is a bit delicate and requires several plays to master this basic function. This isn’t a bad thing in general because it provides new lessons each time you play but a new player will almost always struggle and be destroyed by a seasoned player.
We need to play this one some more as we really just bit into it and didn’t have a chance to play some of the longer scenarios. As a side note, the 2nd Volume in the series was announced a few months ago and it focuses on Medieval Spain and is called Almoravid.
Here is a look at our unboxing video so you can get a good look at the components: Unboxing Video for Nevsky
Here also are links to a series of Action Points that I am still in the process of writing on the various aspects of the game:
Here is a look at our video review of the game: Video Review for Nevsky
We also did an interview with designer Volko Ruhnke that you can read on our written blog at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2018/07/09/interview-with-volko-ruhnke-designer-of-nevsky-teutons-and-rus-in-collision-1240-1242-from-gmt-games/
4. Warfighter Pacific from Dan Verssen Games
We had kind of let the Warfighter wave pass us by as we were simply not sure that the game would be for us. Well, I can admit when I am wrong and Warfighter Pacific is amazing. The game is very flexible and can be played solo or cooperative and I really like that as I have played it both ways several times.
The game uses cards and the player controls a squad of Marines who carry various weapons, and pieces of equipment and have special skills and abilities. So there is a bit of customization possible and one of the best parts of the game is making up your team. At the start of each mission, you select your team while staying within the confines of the Resource limit. You then fight your way through hostile territory and engage enemy soldiers, as you attempt to reach and complete your mission objective. As you progress along the path, players will lay down various terrain cards that have advantages and disadvantages and sometimes you simply have to choose the lesser of two evils as you will be hurt by the cards you have in your hand. You can always wait to see if you draw more favorable terrain, but there is a timer on the mission and speed is key. The game is very fun, very flexible, very customizable as there are about 50 different expansions and engaging. We really liked this one for sure and wholeheartedly recommend this one to anyone that likes an interesting game with choices.
Here is a look at our unboxing video so you can get a good look at the components: Unboxing Video for Warfighter Pacific
Alexander also filmed a playthrough so you can get an idea for how the game works: Playthrough Video for Warfighter Pacific
Here is a look at our video review of the game: Video Review for Warfighter Pacific
3. Undaunted: Normandy from Osprey Games
I love a good historically themed game….that also is a bit of a wargame with combat, tactics and the need for planning. I also love it when a designer takes an uncommon mechanic, such as deckbuilding, and builds a war themed game around it that ends up working really well and mimicking some of the difficulties and confusion of the battlefield.
David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin have accomplished just that with this masterpiece Undaunted: Normandy which is a tactical card based game that uses very interesting mechanics to simulate small squads of soldiers from the 30th Infantry Division and their enemies the defending Germans in and around Normandy, France as you battle over Control of various Objectives on a modular board of the French countryside.
The game play is very smart and really strategic as you have to assess the overall situation, determine what units under your control you need, add them to your deck to increase your chances of drawing them out when you need them and then figure out how to foil your opponent as you chase control of objectives for victory points.
This is the perfect filler type wargame as it is a more casual play experience with most scenarios playing in 30-45 minutes and can be a great introduction into historical themed games for children or your friends that aren’t huge gamers.
Here also are links to a series of Action Points on the various aspects of the game:
Here is a look at our video review of the game: Video Review of Undaunted: Normandy
We also did an interview with designer David Thompson that you can read on our written blog at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2019/09/16/interview-with-david-thompson-co-designer-of-undaunted-normandy-from-osprey-games/
2. Stalingrad ’42: Southern Russia, June-December, 1942 from GMT Games
I have really liked the ‘4X Series designed by Mark Simonitch and this entry in the series is also really good. After playing Holland ’44 two years ago, this one was highly anticipated for me and it didn’t disappoint. The name thought can be a bit misleading as the game doesn’t focus on the siege of the city of Stalingrad but more the drive up to it and the southern front of the East Front.
Stalingrad ’42 uses the same scale and nearly all the rules of Ukraine ’43. The system has seen some modifications and really works smoothly. I truly enjoyed the combat and similar to many of our East Front gaming experiences the Soviets are relegated to biding their time, falling back to a defensible position and looking for those few opportunities to counterattack and make it hurt. I also truly enjoy the ZOC Bond System and feel that it is such an interesting way to deal with overwhelming force up against only a few defenders. Another home run for Mark Simonitch and I can’t wait for his rumored upcoming Salerno ’43.
Here is a look at our unboxing video so you can get a good look at the components: Unboxing Video for Stalingrad ’42
Here is a Battle Report from our session: Battle Report Video for Stalingrad ’42
Here is a look at our video review of the game: Video Review for Stalingrad ’42
1. The Last Hundred Yards from GMT Games
You know that we love Tactical scale games. The up close nature of small arms fire, the brutality of charges and melee attacks and the choices about how to best attack your opponent. We love the scale and it is the most interesting in my opinion. There are a lot of Tactical games out there though and we had to ask the question why did we need another one?
The Last Hundred Yards is unlike any tactical wargame published to date. It introduces innovative systems intended to model Small Unit Behavior in Combat during World War II. The most interesting new element is that that casualties as well as time is accounted into your victory conditions. This causes you have to have to make a move and try your best to make progress of you risk losing based on time. I really enjoyed this mechanic as it reminded me of the superior issues in Nemesis ’44 from Legion Wargames.
I also really found the initiative system to be interesting as the player that wins initiative will be able to do pretty much what they want while the other player will only be able to react. It can be difficult to explain this but if the active player conducts actions such as fire, maneuver, or recover) with the units of the active platoon, after all units of the active platoon have completed their actions, units of the non-active player may react to units of the active player if units of the active player conducted actions in their LOS. This in LOS requirement takes away the God’s eye view of the battlefield and I really liked that as it made for some tense situations where you know what is happening but your men don’t.
The Fire mechanics are also very interesting and use a series of modifier chits that are attached to the units that are targeted and make their future attacks, after they have reacted to the fire, less powerful. This was fascinating to me and I really liked it after we figured it out. All in all, I have’t seen these type of innovations in many designs for years now and I really look forward to playing this one more. There also is a follow up effort focused on Airborne units that is currently on the P500 at GMT Games.
Here is a look at our unboxing video so you can get a good look at the components: Unboxing Video for The Last Hundred Yards
Here is a look at our video review of the game: Video Review for The Last Hundred Yards
We also did an interview with designer Mike Denson that you can read on our written blog at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2016/10/20/interview-with-mike-denson-designer-of-the-last-hundred-yards-by-gmt-games/
A few games that I wanted to add to the list but just couldn’t bring myself to because we had only played them once were Gandhi and Front Toward Enemy. Both of these games are very good and we will get back to the table and give you more information on them.
I also wanted to point out a few other Honorable Mentions that were really hard to keep off the list but ultimately landed just outside of my Top 10.
Interceptor Ace from Compass Games
But that is it. My list of the Top 10 Wargames published in 2019. I had fun playing them and putting this list together as I got to revisit each of the games and thank about why they were included on this list.
Alexander will also be publishing his own list soon so keep any eye out for that one. Let me know why I am wrong and what games I should have included on the list.