|Matt Throwers' Top Ten Wargames
Although I play a variety of game styles, Paul asked me for my top ten wargames. So for those of you who might not have dipped a toe into this section of the hobby before be aware: all of my choices are highly accessible, none having more than 10 pages of rules and only one taking more than 3 hours to play. Many are significantly lower on both counts. So don’t let an unfamiliarity with wargames generally keep you away from these gaming gems!
#10 Battle For Germany
To start off we’ve got the one and only traditional hex and counter wargame on the list. Or is it? After all, in this sector of the hobby there’s nothing “traditional” about a game with just 4 pages of rules and a 3-hour play time. To say nothing about the fact the game can accommodate multiple players with the Germans trying desperately to prolong the defence of Berlin while an allied player closes in from one side and a Russian player from the other.
#9 Frontline D-Day
Frontline attempts the ambitious task of modelling World War 2 combat on the level of individual soldiers using nothing but cards. On the whole it does a very good job, being a lot deeper and a lot more thematic than you might expect reading the rules and looking at the components. But the real joy of this is the replay value: with 19 historical scenarios, more on the web and a potentially limitless number of combinations for creating custom scenarios on the fly this has the potential to be taking up your gaming table for a long time.
A most unusual game about a most unusual war, Freidrich offers the extraordinary site of gamers sitting round the table and duking it out with decks of ordinary playing cards. This is cheifly interesting for the set-up which sees three players allied against one (Prussia), but with only a single victor at game end, leading to a fiendish balancing act which involves keeping as much of your own strength in reserve whilst encouraging others to counteract the Prussian threat and all the while making sure the Prussians don’t actually pull off a win.
#7 Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage
Hannibal is a game of hits and misses. When it’s firing on all cylinders it’s basically matchless as a 2-player gaming experience blending strategy, narrative and excitement with an element of genuine strategic bluff which is quite rare in a war game. The trouble is that it has a tendency to blow up in your face on a bad dice roll or hand of cards, which can be frustrating and means the game only rarely hits the heights of which it’s capable. But I keep being drawn back into this, hoping it’ll deliver another perfect game.
#6 Napoleon’s Triumph
Possibly the most innovative game I’ve ever played, the unfamiliar system offers a steep learning curve but ultimately manages to capture the linear nature of, and importance of maneuver in, Napoleonic Warfare in a beautifully elegant and simple system which ties movement and combat together into one glorious whole. Add in stunning visual design, a most unusual chain-of-command team option for multiple players and very deep strategy and you have a winner. Indeed it’s a little too deep for my liking, else it would rank higher than six.
#5 Richard III: Wars of the Roses
Richard III is possibly the best introduction to wargaming around. Easy to pick up and play, tremendously exciting, sitting on a real sweet spot between strategy and random thrills and with a variety of scenarios that lasts from just 30 minutes up to 2 hours, this is the historical game the masses have been longing for. Or it would be if it didn’t deal with a relatively obscure bit of Medieval English monarch-squabbling.
#4 Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear
Strategically deep and demanding? Check. Multi-player and solo options? Check. Historically accurate? Check. Tense and exciting? Check. Plays in an evening? Check I’m not sure there is any other game that balances various aspects and styles of play quite as well as the Conflict of Heroes series and the result is truly breathtaking. There are several titles released in the system already with more on the cards and this could easily rise in my rankings once it hits the Western Front.
#3 Hammer of the Scots
Ever seen Braveheart? This is the game based on the film. Or at least it would be if the film had any historical credibility whatsoever. Jerry Taylor (who scores a second entry with this, also being the mind behind Richard III), read rather more history books than Mel Gibson did and yet still managed to produce something just as widely accessible, just as entertaining and with a damn sight more re-use value.
#2 Memoir '44
Curious one this because I was, and remain, pretty lukewarm about the merits of the base game. The appeal here is the wider game system and for that you need expansions: add in the Campaign Book, and the Eastern Front and Terrain Pack box sets and you’ll find a hugely accessible game that allows you to re-fight Operation Barbarossa in a manner that simultaneously tickles your strategic muscles and your desire to play with toy soliders.
#1 Twilight Struggle
Not only my favourite wargame, but my favourite game overall. What can I say about this? It’s a cold war simulation that some people say is badly imbalanced toward the USSR and way too prone to swinging on random factors. They could be right and this would still be my #1 game because the hand of cards you get dealt every turn offers the biggest ecstasy of agonising decision-making I’ve ever come across in a game. Brilliant.