Usually, we don’t play many games on World War I. But a few years ago, we had this great idea that during the month of August, which is the first month of The Great War, we would play 5 or 6 games on the subject and then shoot a summary video of our thoughts after the fact. Well, that is not how it went as we created a huge list of games that were resting squarely on our “Shelves of Shame” or games that we had recently acquired and decided we wanted to play. This led to us playing quite a few more games than was originally expected. Ultimately, we ended up playing 11 different WWI games and really fell in love with the wide variety of games, scales and approaches to such a deadly and involved war. As I think about the games that we have played on WWI, and what I liked about those games, I am always drawn back to a few things. I really prefer a Grand Strategic scale for these games because then you get into all different types of aspects that normally are not covered in an Operational or Tactical game such as technology development, economic considerations, political machinations and things like blockades, submarine warfare and other aspects that are so ingrained in World War I. I also really like the games to focus on the attritional aspect of the fighting and the slow pace of combat, particularly on the Western Front. In this piece, I wanted to share my thoughts on the WWI genre and the offerings out there by sharing my Best 3 Games with…World War I.

3. The Lamps are Going Out: World War I from Compass Games

The Lamps are Going Out: World War I came out with a 2nd Edition in 2021 that we just had to get our hands on and give a go as it is a very well thought of game on the subject. The game is a strategic level look at the entirety of World War I and uses cards in several very interesting ways with each faction having their own Event Deck. At the beginning of each turn, each side draws a card and then an event will trigger. These cards are pretty interesting and insert various historical events into the narrative which creates a pretty historic outcome. I also really enjoyed the technology element and how you have to build up certain advantages to realize their beneficial effects during gameplay.

The combat in this one is really interesting as units are all the same and it has an element of Risk as armies can move from several adjacent areas into a single area to make an attack. This really creates a meat grinder and causes lots of losses that feels very attritional and WWI like as combats are not meaningless but are often fought against the odds and results in lots of losses for both sides.

This game is an instant classic and the updated mounted mapboard is pretty sweet as well. Overall, this was one of my favorite games we played during our WWI Guns of August event in 2021 and I am frankly itching to get it back to the table.

Here is a link to our video review of the game:

2. Fields of Despair: France 1914-1918 from GMT Games

Fields of Despair: France 1914-1918 and is a medium weight 2 player hex-based strategic level block war game set on the Western Front of World War I. Players take control of either the Allies, including France, England, Belgium, the United States and an abstracted Russia or the mighty Central Powers fighting the war not only on land, but also at sea, and most importantly and probably one of the better and more interesting parts of the game, in the air all while having to focus on and make tough decisions about your economic and technological progression.

Fields of Despair uses a very unique and revolutionary block system designed to maintain the confusion and uncertainty of the Fog of War throughout the entire game. The reason that I consider this system revolutionary is that in most block games, the combat values of individual blocks usually range from one to four, so as you scan the battlefield and after a quick calculation in your head you can come up with a pretty good guesstimate of what force power is arrayed against you, while in FoD the combat value of blocks ranges from zero (dummy blocks) all the way to a maximum of twenty. This difference in value ranges alone has completely changed the block wargame and has created a very strategic game that can be quite deceptive and difficult to play well. The reason for this deception is that you can build up one block in a hex to 20 when in other block games this would require 4 or 5 blocks that have tipped your hand and help your opponent to gauge your strategy and react more effectively to counter that. But, this deception does have its limits as air reconnaissance, one of the best parts of the design, allows players to scout out the strength of units and remove that deception. But, you cannot simply scout with no opposition as your opponent can place their air units in that hex you are scouting to initiate aerial dogfights that will ruin your recon attempt.

Movement in the game is also very straightforward and simple and can be used as a deceptive tool as well in addition to the use of dummy blocks. Players are allowed to “make change” during the movement phase, which means a larger block can be broken apart into 2 separate blocks or can even be done in reverse by consolidating a few smaller blocks into a larger force.  So after the movement phase, you will not be 100% confident in your enemy’s strength and will have to sometimes just throw your hesitancy out the window and attack. The Fog of War also isn’t lost after first contact with the enemy. Blocks remain hidden even when enemies occupy the same hex and stay hidden until one player decides to allocate an air squadron for reconnaissance or sends his men across no man’s land to attack.

I love that this game is so unique with the Strategic Reorganization element as well as the continuous battle for reconnaissance with the airplanes. I have played several block wargames and the way this is handled is very revolutionary and I am sure will be replicated in future block wargame designs. I also am very impressed with the tightness of the rules and how easy they were to understand and apply. For an ambitious wargame covering the entirety of the Western Front of World War I, a 24 page rule book was a shocker. But it is done very well and has very few rules problems.

Here is a link to our video review of the game:

1. Paths of Glory: The First World War, 1914-1918 from GMT Games

Paths of Glory is widely thought to be a masterpiece on WWI and after just our initial play of the introductory scenario I can definitely see why people feel that way. Even though we just played the introductory scenario, it took us nearly 4 hours to get through 4 turns. This game is long and you generally are going to have to play this one over a long weekend to get it all in and enjoy it properly. After our play and looking back on the experience, I really enjoyed the mix of historical events and the choices that I had to wage the war in a way that I felt was appropriate. But, my message to everyone who plays this game is beware of supply. Even in our short game, supply was an issue and we had to make sure we didn’t make a fatal mistake that would get us in trouble.

This design is just a prime example of what a Card Driven Game can be on The Great War. It is so very well implemented with historical accuracy and information that it creates a deep and engaging experience when played.

The cards and game seem to work together seamlessly to create a constant feeling of tension and worry as you are going about moving your forces around and building up in certain areas for future offensives. The cards also are very multiuse and functional as they have four different game functions. Of the four functions, two are used more sparingly than the others but are still very important if not a bit more niche. One is the concept of strategic redeployment, which is the movement of troops across the map or out of the off board reserve to important fronts or areas which are in distress. The other use is for the accumulation of Replacement Points which are used to maintain your current forces in the field. Both of these functions are important, but the game’s mechanics prevent players from abusing them and cause them to have to consider carefully how they will use each scarce card as there are always things that need to be done.

The most commonly used function for the cards are Operation Points that allow units to move or fight. The other function they are mostly used for are the printed events. Some of the events grant victory points. Some are used for reinforcements, and still others are important simply because they raise the War Status level. The War Status is a really nice addition to the system as it replicates the gradual build up of the war effort and avoids a situation where certain technologies, such as poison gas, is being used before it was available.

Here is a link to our initial impressions video of the game:

Those were my 3 Favorite games focused on World War I. There are so many games out there on the subject and I am always going to play new ones that come up so I am sure that this list will change in the future. I always have a great time with WWI games and have enjoyed other games like An Attrition of Souls from Compass Games, Decisive Victory 1918: Volume One – Soissons from Legion Wargames, At All Costs! The Great War in the East from Hollandspiele and Devil Dogs: Belleau Wood 1918 from Worthington Publishing. What games do you like covering The Great War?