Let’s look at the top 12 wargames of 2018 that didn’t make my best of list. There were so many amazing games that came out this year. Any “Wargame of the Year” award is going to go to the game (or games) that were played most frequently. Sometimes reviewers, like myself, just don’t get enough plays in on a game to qualify for a review. That doesn’t mean they weren’t deserving.
As a result, this list will provide designers and publishers a little more recognition from WargameHQ for their excellent games in 2018. This list’s number 1 is the 4th best game of 2018. For my top 3 games of 2018, please check out the 2018 Game of the Year article I published.
EDIT: This list has been renumbered to reduce confusion. Thanks for understanding.
15 – Roads to Gettysburg II: Lee Strikes North (MMP)
My favorite American civil war series is, without question, Great Campaigns of the American Civil War (GCACW). This year, the GCACW series had two incredible releases. Number 20 on my list is Roads to Gettysburg II: Lee Strikes North. It was a re-release of sorts, but as with all of the 2nd edition GCACW products, this one had a lot of work done to it. The game includes Here Comes the Rebels (Antietam) AND the Gettysburg campaign.
In terms of value and entry point for the series I still think that Stonewall Jackson’s Way II is the best, but this is a close second. I was disappointed to see the new counter style from Stonewall Jackson’s Way II dropped in favor of a return to the old format. This seemed to freak out the crusty old timers who blew up CSW with complaints about it, but the new design was easier to read for me and DEFINITELY gave the game a needed facelift. That said, the game itself stands the test of time and the addition of new terrain types makes this a winner.
14 – Forgotten War: Korea 1950-1953 – ASL Module 15 (MMP)
When I got into ASL (the first time) back in the fall of 1998, I was an avid reader of the old ASLML. One of the titles that was bandied about with Armies of Oblivion as a wishlist was a Korean War module extension. Since then, the module has lived a sort of mythical life in the ASL community. There have been development updates sporadically and teases from MMP about it’s release.
As a result, the 2018 release of Forgotten War takes ASL beyond World War II. This is welcome news not just because it’s been lusted after for so long by many ASL fans. Critically, it was given the module 15 designation meaning it’s a part of the core game. That suggests that we’ll be seeing some great first and third party content. Already, Evan Sherry and his team in Florida have put out a Korean War focused Rally Point and next year will do the same. I suspect that we’ll see some HASL modules around Heartbreak Ridge or Pork Chop Hill if not Chosin or Inchon.
13 – Table Battles: War of the Roses (Hollandspiele)
If you haven’t checked out Table Battles from Hollandspiele, you should do yourself a favor and pick it up. There have been two expansions to this fast playing, small footprint tactical game. We saw both Alexander and Wars of the Roses this year and both were fantastic additions.
The beauty of this game is the flexibility that Tom built into it. This enables him to customize how the armies work without requiring the players to learn a bunch of new chrome with each release. Don’t take my word though, hear it straight from him in the design notes for this game.
The Battle of Tewkesbury is particularly compelling. The player controlling Somerset essentially gets a fragile super unit. It’s up to the player to employ this to the best possible advantage and is a true test for experienced players. This is the kind of punishing scenario that rewards deep understanding of the system and makes Table Battles so great.
12 – At Any Cost: Metz 1870 (GMT Games)
Hermann Luttmann’s Blind Swords series is showing up all over the place this year. Surprisingly, it was adapted to Metz 1870 in the Franco-Prussian War. While not a totally different era of combat, the jump to continental Europe was a welcome one.
One of the standout mechanics here are the random event chits that provide a level of uncertainty in every situation. Sometimes the chits do very little, but at other times, they can be devastating. This miscalculation and variability fit well in the American Civil War, and shines here as well.
The other awesome mechanic here is the out of command chit with a “random” order. Units that are considered out of command get a random face-down chit placed on them. At the end of the turn it’s flipped. As a result, the unit may act irrationally. That’s not always the case, but the threat is enough to try to keep your units inside the HQ’s command radius!
11 – Nemesis: Burma 1944 (Legion Wargames)
Admittedly, this is a game I only had the chance to push around counters with. This endorsement is largely based on the promise within the game rather than a deep understanding or appreciation of everything it has to offer at this point.
What sets this game apart is the unique “Active Combat” system. Players have input in each phase that align historically to their relative strengths. The retreat rules, in particular, provide an added dimension to combat. Units each have troop quality that affects their ability to “Enforce the Retreat.” The attacker must have at least the same troop quality as the defender or they will suffer the same step losses to enforce the retreat. As a result, if they cannot afford the step loss, then they will be unable to enforce the retreat.
It’s a simple little dynamic that goes a long way to reflecting the difficult terrain and the tenacity of the combat units in this theater of combat. This inventive design is also reflected in the Satisfaction points. How well you perform affects your general’s opinion of your work and consequently Churchill or Hirohito’s opinion. You can lose the game simply by suffering enough setbacks (regardless of losses) if you don’t attend to your general’s happiness!
The Lament Marker, used in non-performance, has fantastic counter art. Maybe in the running for “Counter of the Year?”
10 – Longstreet Attacks: The Second Day at Gettysburg (Revolution Games)
This is another entry from Hermann Luttmann on the list. It’s also a Blind Swords game. This title was originally scheduled for release by GMT Games, but in a good decision by everyone involved, Revolution Games has released it.
Longstreet Attacks narrows down Gettysburg to the most important day of the battle and only to the part of the battlefield where Longstreet’s corp was employed. That’s a little oversimplified since some of A.P. Hill’s Corps is also represented. The main union combatant is the frequently temporarily insane Dan Sickles.
Sickles is, of course, famous for both murdering the grandson of Francis Scott Key and for disobeying Meade at Gettysburg. Sickles was supposed to support the Union left flank on the round tops, but instead moved his men out to the Peach Orchard with resulted in the collapse of the 3rd Corps. Dan, “Instant Karma” Sickles lost his leg in the affair.
The game, in fact, includes a “What If” scenario that looks at what would have happened had Sickles stayed put. The meat of the game and why I love it is best seen in my thoughts on Thunder in the Ozarks which uses the same system for Pea Ridge.
9 – The Great Heathen Army (Hollandspiele)
I am new to the Shields and Swords II series from Hollandspiele. However, after watching season one of the Netflix series The Last Kingdom, I knew I needed this game.
The game provides a whopping EIGHT scenarios for players that cover 145 years of medieval combat in Britain. The variety of scenarios offered here and the changing leaders give players a lot of game and I have not yet played through all of them so I cannot comment on each in depth.
As a result, I will say that Tom’s approach to chit pull is not exactly like what you’re going to find elsewhere. The new-to-me concept of wing integrity added a lot to the game. Players need to be aware of the experience levels of their troops to keep together. Any wins NOT in cohesion are eliminated and count toward the opponent’s victory points.
This simple mechanic is emblematic of the kind of streamlined approach that keeps the game fast-paced.
8 – Gettysburg (C3i – RBM Studio)
Is this a THIRD Gettysburg game on the list? Yes. Mark Herman has delivered perhaps one of the best introductory wargames ever. The simplified ruleset offers wargamers a way to show off what’s great about our hobby to others within 10 minutes.
As I said previously on twitter, the 125th Anniversary Gettysburg hooked me on Wargaming back in 1988. I suspect that a lot of future wargamers will be roped in by this game as well. The struggle will be keeping this one in print for maximum effect.
The game plays a lot like Chess, of which Mark Herman is a prominent supporter. In fact, the alternating unit activation and 2 hex zone of influence make the choices players must make incredibly complicated. With only a handful of plays, I can tell this one is going to be a go-to game for introducing my son’s friends to wargaming.
7 – NATO Air Commander (Hollandspiele)
This is the third Hollandspiele title on the list. They produced some incredible games this year and the focus on games with a unique personality make their catalog irresistible!
NATO Air Commander is a solitaire game that has some of the feeling of Victory Point Games States of Siege series. The difference is, of course, that the card play isn’t quite as prominent. I LOVED that you got to put together strike packages that addressed the various phases of a solid strike. Players are challenged to attend to air cover, ground defenses, and still have sufficient force to affect the enemy’s position.
The game is punishing for the player and I’ve only managed to win the Build-Up scenario. The third, and arguably most difficult scenario pits you against almost overwhelming odds where you’re taken by complete surprise. As a result, the choices you make aren’t about saving everywhere…they’re about hanging on by your fingernails in enough locations.
I have a ton of respect for this design and when I need a break from Command: Modern Air and Naval on the PC, this is a go-to solitaire game!
6 – Atlanta is Ours (MMP)
While this might seem like a bit of a cop-out…I actually love the GBACW series. This game in particular, I was a playtester for until real-life intervened for a while. The GBACW is putting together an incredible run of campaigns from Tennessee into Georgia so you can march on Atlanta and burn it to the ground from the start.
Atlanta is Ours is only the ~8th game specifically about the Atlanta campaign. One of the great things about this title and why I added it so highly is that the game features an unthinkable 14 scenarios including a few pithy ones like “Marching on Tara.”
The terrain here is a prominent player and more than other GBACW games, I found myself having to plan out far in advance where and what gaps to hold or attack. Given the anachronistic roll-for-movement mechanic in the game there are some nail-biter moments when the Confederates and Union are both racing for a key chokepoint. While the series is largely about maneuver of armies, Atlanta is Ours truly puts an emphasis on strong planning.
5 – Great War Commander (Hexasim)
I gave this game a warm, but not glowing review. As a result, I received some criticism. Let me reassure everyone that Great War Commander is a WORTHY successor to Combat Commander. It features a nice turn to World War I even if I’m still a bit skeptical of the artillery procedure.
The game’s variable nature make it replayable and enjoyable well past the first blush with each scenario. The game also features gorgeous graphic design. This, I’ve found, is a hallmark of Hexasim games which consistently produce some of the best and best looking games around.
The one thing that held this back, a little, for me is that I didn’t get the British. I understand that this MUST have been a conversation with the design team. Given the Brit’s prominence it seems fitting that they will receive their own expansion (hopefully in 2019). That said, when I play World War I games, I’m not super enthusiastic about playing the Americans. That’s MY hang up though and has nothing to do with the series as a whole.
In fact, I wholeheartedly recommend you check this one out if you’ve not already been lucky enough to do so!
4 – Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT)
Cataclysm didn’t make my top 3 and folks pretty consistently pointed that out on social media. The honest truth is that I never got enough people to enjoy this one sufficiently to rate it that high. There are only a few grand strategic World War II games that cover both theaters which merit any mention.
Axis & Allies (Hasbro) – A beer & pretzels take that serves as a gateway game for many wargamers.
A World at War (GMT Games) – The result of decades of love for Advanced Third Reich and Rising Sun by competitive players.
World in Flames (Australian Design Group) – The result of decades of development, expansions, and love by players and developers.
Cataclysm (GMT Games) – Perhaps 2018’s most posted and read AAR’d wargame.
The game presents players with the opportunity for an alternate history of World War II. This is a feature of Days of Decision for World in Flames and Gathering Storm for A World at War. Both of these expansion add a significant rules overhead for players and both can be games unto themselves.
Cataclysm is a crowning achievement by combining this build-up and strategic direction when it was still possible to affect the early phases of the war. Further, it affords countries the latitude to enter the war in ahistorical ways. As a result, the game’s narrative is often far more compelling than a simple slog through World War II.
I’m going to end with my favorite quote from any review of this game.
Playing this game is like falling in love with a proud, kind, intelligent woman. If you’re well-matched and you work hard at trying to understand her, you’ll be wildly rewarded, but the adventure is not for the faint of heart. Argothair _Bialyvich on BoardGameGeek
Wrapping it up
There you have it!
2018 was another monumental year for wargamers who benefited from some of the best games that designers, developers, and publishers had to offer. There are others that warrant mention. Most notably, I’d say Mark Herman’s Fort Sumter: The Succession Crisis, 1860-61 from GMT Games. Unfortunately, this game just didn’t make it to my table this year with so many other fantastic titles that interested me more. That’s not a knock on the game by any means. It simply underscores how crowded the market is right now and how much time is invested in enjoying those games.
I can’t predict the future, but I have a good gut feeling about 2019 and what lies ahead for our hobby!