Worry not, wary reader. This isn’t one of those articles where a small cabal of callow generalists pretend they know better than an army of grizzled specialists. Because this Top 50 will be shaped by your opinions not mine, it’s guaranteed to reveal truths more useful than “Tim still loves Sid Meier’s Gettysburg” and “Tim no longer has the patience for hexy heavyweights like Gary Grigsby’s War in the East 2”. Assuming you’re willing to do your bit, in a week or two’s time the list below should have morphed into both an invaluable purchasing aid, and a telling picture of the command sims we Cornerites play and prize.
To participate all you need to do is post a comment listing your five favourite historical PC wargames in order of preference. This act will cast the fifteen votes you have at your disposal (Your top choice will get five votes, your second choice four votes, third choice three votes, and so on.) It might take me a day or two to process your comment, but rest assured your ballot paper will eventually get counted.
If you’d like to explain or illuminate your choices with a pithy sentence or two, please do. Thumbnail ‘reviews’ and game descriptions I particularly like, I’ll add, with a credit, to the brief game descriptions within the table.
In order to keep the list to a manageable size I’ve clustered games into series and families where possible. Please don’t cast separate votes for, say, Close Combat: A Bridge Too Far and Close Combat 3. A single vote for ‘Close Combat’ will cover your deep affection for this pair. Clarify your votes with footnotes, by all means.
If you don’t see a favourite in the table, that doesn’t mean you can’t vote for it. Although I think I’ve included most potential vote magnets, some worthies have doubtless been overlooked. John Tiller Software’s prodigious output is, for example, under-represented. Want to profess your profound admiration for Serbia ’14 or Campaign Chickamauga? Be my guest.
As the presence of Total War and Steel Division indicates, my definition of ‘historical wargame’ is fairly elastic. If a game..
- is primarily strategic or tactical in character
- seeks to recreate a real conflict, op, or battle
- aspires to authenticity
…then, assuming it garners votes, it will be added to the list. Simulations and military/tactical FPSs will get their own Top 50s at some point, so please don’t lavish votes on things like IL-2 Sturmovik, Silent Hunter, and Brothers in Arms.
War-themed games that win votes, but fit more naturally in genres such as RPG, RTS, and adventure than ‘wargame’, I’ll add to ‘The Irregulars’, a separate table at the foot of this piece.
Obviously the voting system isn’t immune to abuse. In the unlikely event unscrupulous parties attempt to propel particular games to the top of the table with help from sock-puppet accounts, the cads responsible will get a visit from Kevin, the ex-Royal Marine who ran the ‘Decapitate the Rat’ stall at the last THC Fun Day.
Games can be sorted alphabetically and by popularity (Right now, only my votes are shown). While the table seems to display fine on a standard PC monitor, you may have problems viewing it on a phone or tablet. Sorry about that.
"A long-lived TBS series with a taste for the exotic. Conflicts covered included the Russian Revolution (Revolution Under Siege), Seven Years' War (Rise of Prussia) and American War of Independence (Birth of America and BoA II)." (Tim)
"What gives the game grip and longevity are aerodynamic nuances like g-force and stall modelling (Push too hard and pilots black-out, planes tumble from the blue) and table-turning texture like pilot skills and plane weaknesses." (Tim)
"This and “Over the Reich” are great for quick laptop games" (Vox)
Afghanistan '11 and Vietnam '65
"Singular COIN wargames with logistics and 'hearts and minds' at their cores. More, please, Johan!" (Tim)
Age of Rifles
"A 1996 gem that takes tacticians back to an era when battlefields bobbed with pith helmets, slouch hats and kepis. When lines of resolute riflemen spat lead at lines of resolute riflemen, and, sometimes, the sword and spear proved mightier than the Martini-Henry and the Gatling Gun. The scenario folder is a treasure trove of seldom-simmed 19th Century battles." (Tim)
"This top-down real-time wargame invites comparisons with Combat Mission and Close Combat, but is very much its own animal. Novelties include a clever campaign system in which battlefields are culled from a section of 'master map' drag-defined by the player at the start." (Tim)
"Nearly the perfect wargame for me, just let down by an AI that tends to buy random troops in bulk rather than in realistic unit compositions, and that can sometimes be a little too zerg in its approach." (badgerbadger)
"A nostalgic tank sim-cum-TBS for people weary of scripted campaigns and gatefold key lists" (Tim)
"Make no mistake, this is the moistest, smelliest, most granular tank combat sim out there.... 3D detail is traded for simple, but evocative ascii graphics, but very little is lost in intensity in the turn based tank battles." (TimePointFive)
"Found it at last! That perfect beginner's wargame. The one that doesn’t bury you in numbers or counters... is blessed with good fully integrated tutorials and a generous supply of tooltips... doesn’t expect you to remain at your post for hours at a time… offers competitive artificial opposition at several skill levels... doesn’t punish campaign failure too harshly… and doesn’t simplify to the point of insipidity" (Tim)
"Slitherine's 2010 hex shunner has aged astonishingly well. Behind distinctive easy-to-parse cartoon graphics and stirring sound effects, lurks a surprisingly sophisticated reality-rooted WW2 wargame. Because the grid squares are the size of tennis courts not communes, and units represent individual squads and vehicles not regiments or troops, BA has a knack for drama that Panzer General-likes like Order of Battle and Panzer Corps lack." (Tim)
Byzantine Games' oeuvre
"If you've lost weekends to wonderfully zesty battle sims like Pike and Shot: Campaigns, Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun, and Field of Glory II, this entry probably deserves to appear somewhere in your Top Five." (Tim)
"FoG: Empire is the indy Total War" (Blastaz)
Campaigns on the Danube
"In concept and feel it's far closer to Command Ops or Flashpoint Campaigns than John Tiller's Battleground. By modelling corps commanders as self-reliant semi-independent entities, and orders as slow-to-disseminate interceptable missives, creator Frank Hunter delivers a diversion that's as evocative and forward-looking as it is easy to learn and play." (Tim)
"Able AI combined with a host of historical subtleties mean Jarnot’s creation sims the high-stakes blind man’s buff that was WW2 carrier operations in the Pacific rather well." (Tim)
Carriers at War
"The cloud-complicated cat & mouse of manoeuvring taskforces. The tenterhooks waits as your strikes reach their targets and loose their eggs and eels. The dawning despair when you realise your refuelling SBDs are about to be caught on deck by a swarm of incoming Vals... It's all there." (Tim)
Cauldrons of War
"In Maestro Cinetik’s latest [CoW: Stalingrad], General Winter is a sadistic Schweinhund, the Bolsheviks are fast learners, and the steppes eat Panzers, half-tracks, and trucks for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s impossible to play the game’s absorbing 35-turn centrepiece as the Germans without thinking “This is madness. We should probably pack up and go home.” at regular intervals." (Tim)
Civil War Generals
"We made a kick-ass game. ... It wound up selling a lot. A lot more than they [Sierra] thought it would." (CWG2 producer, Steve Grammont, in a 2013 interview)
Clash of Steel
"This game has a few concepts that other wargames shy away from, like predetermined unit builds that are unique for each faction... You can’t just build anything, it's based on the army doctrine of the time." (pochepiller)
"The Market Garden and Eastern Front CCs offer pace, approachability and control elegance that none of their weightier 3D successors can rival. Preoccupied with LoS and morale, and happy to kill tanks with single shells, they are rich, turnless wargames designed to be played, not studied or respectfully admired from afar. Deeper realism and smarter CPU opponents are available elsewhere. Tighter, more exciting WW2 scraps are not." (Tim)
Combat Mission (first generation)
"Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord was the game I'd been waiting for my whole life. It took the rich, resonant combat drama of CC2 and made it 3D and twice as truthful. Here, finally was a game that delivered engagements like the ones I'd read about in extraordinary war memoirs such as Ken Tout's Tank! The confusion, the mistakes, the cruel twists of fate, the fearful suddenness of death... it was all there unfolding right in front of me." (Tim)
Combat Mission (second generation)
"Improved visuals, a real-time option, 1:1 infantry represention, and new order types, mean second-gen titles such as Shock Force 2, Red Thunder, and Fortress Italy feel quite different to the original trilogy. The best tactical wargames money can buy? There's sure to be THC readers who think so." (Tim)
"The increased complexity and lack of abstraction means it doesn’t capture the imagination quite like Gen 1, but it’s simply breathtaking in its realism and ability to create tension." (Oneknown)
"Grand grand strategy. When you can’t be bothered to move a division, move an army group." (pochepiller)
"For those unfamiliar with this turn and hexless series, CO2 and its forerunners are some of the smartest, most plausible operational wargames around. You can issue orders to any link in the command chain and capable subordinate AI entities will ensure those orders get passed down and executed intelligently." (Tim)
"I love the command delay and subordinate delegation mechanics which really force you to think like you are huddled in a staff headquarters somewhere miles behind the front lines with at best a limited ability to micromanage your units at the tip of the spear." (aviatorgoose)
Command: Modern Operations
"A godsend to anyone looking to turn their PC into a CIC." (Tim)
"Amazing flexibility and scope, great encyclopedia of equipment, and I love the integration with Tacview." (Sigwolf)
Conflict of Heroes
"Dice and cards are highly influential, knowledge of rules and unit stats sometimes more important than faith in historical tactics. There are definitely more realistic WW2 wargames out there, but if you're after taut tactical challenges, high replayability, and the illusion that you're sat across the table from a man who owns a counter clipping jig and a dice tower shaped like the Stalingrad grain elevator, then CoH:AtB might well be for you." (Tim)
"By the time SSG unveiled Decisive Battles of WW2: The Ardennes Offensive in 1997, they were already development veterans with dozens of strategy releases behind them. TAO's distinctive visuals, and loyalty to board wargaming conventions like dice rolls and strength 'steps', help set it apart, but it was the fiendish enemy AI that left the deepest impressions." (Tim)
"Offering tangled military politics and thought-provoking moral dilemmas in addition to chit shifting, DC: Barbarossa is about the closest thing we have to a role-playing wargame." (Tim)
Drive on Moscow
"The latest release from Shenandoah and Slitherine is a £7 delight. Clean of limb and brisk paced, Drive on Moscow abstracts aggressively yet delivers a recreation of the Battle of Moscow heavy with flavour and nuance." (Tim)
"Imagine Eugen’s Wargame series had a slower, smarter WeGo step-brother." (Tim)
"Does what it sets out to do in a fuss-free way, with a surprisingly straightforward interface (for a wargame). Nothing more satisfying than correctly setting an ATGM ambush using fragile TOW-M113s and taking out entire T-72 companies." (badgerbadger)
"Flight Commander 2 is a game that needs a sequel like I need a Rolls-Royce Armoured Car and a talking pet fox. Twenty-seven years young this year, Charles 'Combat Mission' Moylan's brilliant design still hastens heart rates and evaporates evenings more effectively than any other winged wargame I know." (Tim)
"A wargame sans war, this well-executed adaptation of a well-received GMT board game, turns the tense period of political manoeuvring that led up to the American Civil War into an intense, four-round Twilight Struggle-style area control game." (Tim)
Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day...
"Dense but incomparably detailed strategic depictions of the Battle of Britain and the Allied strategic bombing campaign against Germany in World War II." (Tim)
"The interface clearly dislikes humans... Still, here I am, giving it one point. Because something I really want to work has been attempted, and many parts do work well." (Khare)
Gary Grigsby's War in the...
"...West, East, and East 2. If the Panzer Corps are nippy Pz IIs these are bridge-buckling Ferdinands. According to publishers Matrix Games, the latest release - WitE2 - is "the most comprehensive, most realistic, and most advanced wargame modeling Eastern Front warfare in World War Two."" (Tim)
"An ambitious dual-layer ACW wargame with a tactical side that makes me hanker for Sid Meier's Gettysburg and Ultimate General. Perhaps I need to give it another chance." (Tim)
"Why can't more games have campaign systems like Graviteam Tactics: Mius-Front? Where most wargames blindfold you, bundle you into the back of truck and drive you miles to a new unfamiliar battlefield, after every victory or defeat, Graviteam's creations force you to push on, and confront the sometimes-grim consequences of previous actions." (Tim)
Great Naval Battles
"Straddling the border between wargame and sim, the five-part GNB series introduced many to the delights of turnless naval wargaming in the Nineties." (Tim)
Hannibal: Rome and Carthage...
"A handsome board game port with a strong silicon opponent." (Tim)
"The turnless naval wargame franchise that inspired Command: Modern Operations. Judging by the eyewatering price of the 'Ultimate Edition', current publisher, Matrix Games, believe it hasn't been completely supplanted." (Tim)
Hearts of Iron
"According to Steamcharts dot com around 21 thousand people are playing HoI4 at this very moment. In theory this grand strategy A-lister should finish near the top of the THC Top 50." (Tim)
"The series has been uneven, but for effort, vision, getting it close to right, you’ve got to admire it. I might have passed the stage in my life where I can devote the time necessary to understand HoI4 and all of its DLC, but across the series it’s been a tremendous achievement." (poguedonkey)
Hex of Steel
"Globe-girdling and quick-witted, Hex of Steel has the potential to make a lot of Panzer Corps 2 deserters very happy." (Tim)
"Research new technologies, build up your nuclear stockpile and use a combination of ships, planes and missiles to strike at the heart of your opponents’ cities while keeping your population safe from harm." (Slitherine)
John Tiller's Campaign Series
"A series that is to PC wargaming what the Sherman tank was to the Allied war effort in WW2: dependable, effective, adaptable, cheap to produce, highly inflammable, slightly too tall." (Tim)
"Steel Panthers before Steel Panthers. Loved this game." (DingBat)
Lock 'n Load Tactical Digital
"Although LnLTD's rules were designed for the tabletop, I speak from experience when I say they are sufficiently sophisticated to bewitch a gamer accustomed to getting their turnbased mil-thrills from titles like Combat Mission and Squad Battles." (Tim)
"Become a Daimyo of the Warring States period of Japanese history in NOBUNAGA'S AMBITION, a historical simulation game of conquest and domination. It is the 30th anniversary of this series and this current release, NOBUNAGA'S AMBITION: Sphere of Influence, is the crown of the series." (Steam blurb)
"These games on the old Nintendo are what got me into wargaming in the first place." (chamoxil)
Order of Battle
"For satisfying supply line severing you need something like Unity of Command 2 or Order of Battle: World War II.. OoB:WW2 encourages pocketing with an easily understood supply mechanic, and is, for my money, a more interesting Panzer General-like than Panzer Corps in consequence." (Tim)
P. T. O.
"Players could assume one side of the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II, acting as naval commander, organizing fleets, building new ships, appropriating supplies and fuel, and even engaging in diplomacy." (Wikipedia)
"Scale-wise, the three PB titles nestle between John Tiller Software's Squad Battles and Panzer Campaigns series. In common with other JTS offerings, behind dowdy graphics lurk rock-solid fundamentals and rigorous research." (Tim)
"Combat Mission's inferior cousin? Not everyone thinks so." (Tim)
"Slitherine's pair of PG-likes have proved popular. Are they strong enough to win votes? We're about to find out." (Tim)
"Include the convenient Panzer Marshal or the colourful Open General in your Top 5 and this is where the votes will end up. Click the link below to remind yourself just how moreish the PGs were." (Tim)
"Every playthrough heaves with tough choices, emergent drama, and nailbiting I-just-can’t-watch dice rolls." (Tim)
"The Polish devs have transformed a fairly primitive RTT game with a disappointingly short, failure-intolerant campaign into an uncommonly engaging command sim by removing most of the labour-saving conveniences forty years of computer wargaming has conditioned us to expect. Cartography sprinkled with counters that automatically move when the units they represent move? AWOL. Counters that fill screen panels with helpful data when selected? AWOL. Units that always know precisely where they are? AWOL." (Tim)
"Radio General's central twist is also Radio Commander's. Rather than perpetuate The Helicopter Fallacy, a distortion inadvertently promulgated by hundreds of wargames over the years, RG strives to paint a more truthful picture of WW2 generalship. We are cast as slightly frustrated, slightly baffled microphone clutchers miles from the action, not omniscient whirlybird passengers marshalling armies the way grandmasters marshal chessmen." (Tim)
Rebel Inc: Escalation
"Ingenious, unflinching and startlingly topical, Rebel Inc: Escalation is the epitome of a modern wargame." (Tim)
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
"Shogun: Total War's Chinese grandmother." (Tim)
Rule the Waves
"Rule the Waves splices turnless top-down naval skirmishing with turnbased ship design, fleet management and politicking. It's the dreadnoughts game Creative Assembly would make if they ever lost their entire art department in a ghastly charabanc accident, fell head-over-heels in love with early 20th Century naval history, and went a bit mad. Surprisingly friendly and fast-paced, and rammed with fascinating decision-making, rarely in computer wargaming has the tactical and the strategic been blended with greater success." (Tim)
Scourge of War
"Anyone arriving dust-caked and sweaty from the Total Wars is likely to be disappointed by the sprite soldiery and so-so sounds, but bowled over by the multi-tiered, personality-infused AI and remarkable courier-based order distribution system." (Tim)
Sid Meier's Gettysburg!
"Firaxis' turnless American Civil War title is that very rare thing a historically credible wargame with the common touch. The complexity is perfectly judged, the interface, a masterpiece of ergonomy. Multiple AIs (every opponent has his own personality) all capable, ensure there are no cakewalks and no foolproof strategies. Meaningful formations and informative graphics and sounds give the game depth and legibility that more recent treatments of the same battle can't match." (Tim)
"Because counters represent individual commanders, or small 2-10 man teams, the intimacy that's often missing in higher-level grog fodder, is present in spades here. At times there's an almost Men of War feel to Squad Battles sessions. Lethality levels, morale modelling and automatic TacAI responses all feel spot-on. Close-quarters exchanges tend to be brief and brutal. At longer ranges there's often a lot of lead flying around, but very little of it actually connects with anything." (Tim)
"The most intense wargame distillation I’ve seen of the essential strategic (and political) choices for generals on both sides the Eastern Front. Maybe too distilled (read: simplified) for some tastes, but I find its tight elegance compelling." (honanhal)
"Steel Division 2's 'Army General' mode is the best thing to happen to the historical RTS since Creative Assembly creatively assembled Shogun: Total War" (Tim)
"I greatly prefer the replayability, ease of play, scope and scale of this series to all its contemporaries – including the Combat Mission (v2) series and Graviteam Tactics, which each might have one or two things they do better, but have far more things done worse (looking at you, User Interfaces)" (Hell-fish)
"Before Close Combat and Combat Mission arrived, SP was the undisputed ruler of the WW2 tactical roost. " (Tim)
"The best hex based game there is. I love the stats of shells bouncing off targets, and the lack of nasty chits!" (Nutfield)
"You will probably quit the first eight games on turn 2 and fiddle with the options before it gets enjoyable (after that: very!)" (Khare)
"Although I'd have appreciated a dash more fuzziness and humanity, I'm struggling to think of a Great War grand strategy offering that immerses and imitates better than Strategic Command: World War I. Logical and easily grasped, the rules governing things like combat, movement, and supply, conspire with capable AI and an intricate events system to produce ersatz history abuzz with echoes." (Tim)
The Operational Art of War
"TOAW4 is big, cosmopolitan, and cuts few cormers, but the dated UI is hard to ignore." (Tim)
Theatre of War
"Largely forgotten today, the ToWs utilised an engine capable of all manner of grog-pleasing party tricks. Tank duels were handled with particular aplomb." (Tim)
"Friendly, spectacular, and sporting the sort of rich, replay-friendly strat layers very few titles in this list offer, the TWs might not shine when it comes to realism, but there can't be many people reading this who haven't enjoyed their company at some point." (Tim)
"Adequate realism is supplemented by amazing settings, rich cultural overlays offering a level of immersion that transcends simple wargaming and lets you pursue ambitious goals of your own making." (cederic)
"This series has given me so much joy through the years, particularly the Shogun and Napoleonic iterations." (elanaibaKHG)
"Not only does it have impeccable mechanics as a GAME (let alone a wargame) - the kind that would appear in textbooks of good game design, were there such a thing- but as you become more skilled at the game, you will find yourself inexorably drawn into the very same strategic choices that the real US and USSR found themselves making during the Cold War. I can think of no higher compliment for a wargame." (CaptainKoloth)
"For me, Ultimate General: Civil War's best traits are its control elegance, its able AI, and its winsome looks. Having the ability to tell a drag-selected cluster of units how to arrange itself at a destination by scribing a serpentine battle-line directly onto a ridge, wood edge or river bank? Marvellous. Being able to route individual units with hand-dawn paths, and pause to issue orders? Brilliant. Most wargames studios could learn a thing or two about ergonomy and accessibility from Game-Labs." (Tim)
"I’m not American, and have no particular love for the Civil War… but UGCW’s easily readable, attractive dioramas have done much more than any other game to grab my attention. If only topographic height and LoS was more easy to read, and the campaign less obsessed with simulating famous battles." (badgerbadger)
Unity of Command
"Innovative treatments of things like supply and HQs together with unusually accomplished AI, give UoC2 the novelty, plausibility, and tough adversaries it needs to win-over most jaded grogs. Progress in the essentially linear campaigns can be challenging though as I recently (re)discovered during a brush with the Moscow '41 DLC" (Tim)
"As someone who learned WWII from vapid manshoots like the original Medal of Honour, I was surprised to learn I love logistics!" (TV-PressPass)
V for Victory
"Abandonware hex strategy doesn't come much better than the V for Victory series... The reason the V4Vs (Market Garden, Velikiye Luki, Gold-Juno-Sword and Utah Beach) still feel so fresh today is primarily their reliance on simultaneous turn execution. A WeGo approach means more surprises, more chaos, more resonance. The interface has also stood the test of time well." (Tim)
"A series still unmatched, 30 years on. My personal favourite is the Stalingrad entry… I remember me and my brothers playing the Wintergewitter scenario in hotseat mode an unhealthy number of times." (BletchleyGeek)
Valor & Victory
"Just tossing this in as I’m one of the developers." (DingBat)
Victory and Glory
"From acclaimed boardgame designer Glenn Drover, a grand strategy game where you take the role of Napoleon Bonaparte and attempt to dominate the entire continent of Europe." (Steam blurb)
War in Europe: Computer Edition
"A computer-moderated simulation of the European Theater of Operations in World War II. There¹s no computer/AI player... human players make all the critical decisions." (Decision Games blurb)
War in the Pacific
"Not for the timorous, this incredibly detailed PTO TBS sims naval, air, and land warfare with equal diligence. Those willing to grapple with its labyrinthine complexities and ponder its vast maps, often end up friends for life." (Tim)
"Once I embraced the full campaign, I really had a different, better, understanding of the massiveness, complexity and the 'simultaneousliness' (sorry! but it fits so well) of WW2." (Khare)
"Don’t tell anyone else that I only play the small scenarios." (Chascarrillo)
"I actually prefered Uncommon Valour – its smaller older brother." (hal901212)
War on the Sea
"A great introduction to naval wargaming. Yes, it’s rather simplified but that's what makes it suitable for people new to the genre." (Hawkeye)
"There are Soviet T-55s and BMPs running amok in my rear echelons! My foe has used a wiggly coast road to bypass my carefully placed defences. I'm about to congratulate him on his canniness when I remember I've been playing solo for the last hour." (Tim)
"The “semi-dynamic campaigns” coupled with judicious use of the pause & slow motion commands turn this zippy blaster into a much more satisfying cold-war calculator. Suddenly I care a lot whether that helicopter successfully deposits its SAS payload and extracts itself successfully." (TV-PressPass)
Wars Across the World
"One of WatW's most endearing qualities is the way it persuades you that you're playing a medley of standalone titles rather than a homogenous heap of sibling skirmishes. Whether you're fighting over pre-Christian Sicily, or a tract of 19th Century Virginia or 1940s Normandy, although the basic turnbased play mechanics are the same, bespoke maps and card decks breathe a surprising amount of individuality and flavour into proceedings" (Tim)
"XIII Century and Real Warfare 2: Northern Crusades, two games not widely played, do as good a job as any I’ve seen in depicting Medieval warfare... The battles are brutal. Basically, beforehand, you lay out a plan, issue orders, and cross your fingers because once the swords cross and shields clash, C and C pretty much get thrown out with the bathwater. Sort of reminds me of a medieval Graviteam game." (KSBearski)
Company of Heroes
"Delivering a visceral WWII gaming experience, Company of Heroes redefines RTS by bringing the sacrifice of heroic soldiers, war-ravaged environments, and dynamic battlefields to life." (SEGA)
"A recreation of the nightmares of Cold War era commanders, it brings out not just sweat but paranoia." (Whistler)
Defender of the Crown
"For strategy challenges that made the player part of history, in the 80s there was one game that set the standard." (cederic)
"Is someone advancing through the dust and smoke stirred up by the grenade blast? 'Bandit' errs on the side of caution and fires another 40mm cylinder of HE into the murk. I think it's safe to say, we no longer have the element of surprise.
"It’s tactical fighting in the jungle with muskets, rapiers, and a Heroes of Might and Magic-type overworld." (Whistler)
"The first time I played this game I was coming down from a fantastic acid trip and I must have played it for like seven hours straight." (TimePointFive)
Men of War
"My second most played Steam game after CS GO (and given I have over 500 games, that says a lot). 2v2 infantry-only multiplayer really allows for a lot of tactics, with destroyable scenery and buildings and the ability to really micro-manage individual soldiers. A hugely underrated game." (AKACrimson)
"Any battlefield is recorded both as history and as myth. If you look past the shadowy organizations and panzersuits, you will find a physics model that is the envy of other wargames. Here you can shoot through the wall with a Sten at an enemy you just barely hear, only to get taken down by the ricochet." (Whistler)
This War of Mine
"A game at the heart of what it means to experience war. Other games reduce thousands of men to a counter. This one makes you really care about every single person who comes through your reinforced door." (Oneknown)
"Venti Mesi, a creation inspired by 20 stories from post-Cassibile, pre-Caserta Milan, is a haunting masterpiece, a game teeming with war's dreadful dilemmas, random cruelty, and unsung acts of courage." (Tim)
Victory at Sea
"Sure, it’s lacking the strategic depth of the Total War series but it offers that same strategic/tactical split, the campaign overlay elevating the nautical fight simulator above its limitations to create compelling and tense struggles across entire oceans." (cederic)
1st – Close Combat Series – Not much comes close for me in ease to pick up and play combined with depth of gameplay
2nd – Steel Panthers – The best hex based game there is, i love the stats of shells bouncing off targets, and the lack of nasty chits!
3rd – Total War Series – Very different to the other two, but scratches an itch, wish i could devote more time to it…
4th – Field of Glory 2 – I love the gameplay, but the campaign in the base game is far too simple, and the add on is too complex… Something like Close Combat or TW just do it so much better from a higher level meta
Then i start having problems, as everything else I have tried has been pretty deeply flawed. Too simple (Panzer General), too impenetrable (Decisive Campaigns or OAOW)…
So what do we have left…
5th – Unity of Command – I should love this but I hate the carrying over of units plus the tight victory conditions mean you feel you should replay missions to get the perfect results. This was also a huge issue in other games like Warhammer Shadow of the Horned Rat and Ultimate General or Fantasy General
Any recommendations on this list would be great!
1. Steel Panthers
2. Flight Commander
3. Combat Mission (first generation)
4. Armored Brigade
5. Panzer General
Tough choices to make Tim, here’s my votes:
1. V for Victory – A series still unmatched, 30 years on. My personal favourite is the Stalingrad entry… I remember me and my brothers playing the Wintergewitter scenario in hotseat mode an unhealthy number of times.
2. Combat Mission 2nd Gen – The only game ever I have been playing continously for ten years. The quick battle generator and the keen PBEM community have seen to it.
3. Field of Glory 2 – Great adaptation of a fun but eye wateringly expensive to get into miniature wargaming system. Very fun to play with other people. I remember a game of the Watling Road scenario which I won with the Britons. My opponent was so shocked by the outcome, after turns and turns of poking fun at my useless chariots over the chat, that I think he bursted into tears.
4. Flight Commander 2 – 30 years on, still unmatched.
5. Command Ops – You wrote it best mate.
1) Radio Commander — Not the best `game`, but representing best what you actually do. Shouting for status updates every 10 seconds like a maniac.
2) Steel Panthers — There is so much work in this. And some of the fan-made campaigns were incredibly detailed.
3) Close Combat — A gateway wargame.
4) Armored Brigade — A lack of a narrative campaign stops me from putting it way higher in the list. The dynamic campaign and the easy to use scenario editor are wonderful tools in a magnificent sandbox, but I miss some cohesion and immersion.
5) Ultimate General — A pleasure to use. Painting paths is just pure joy. Sadly, the well-crafted and dramatically speaking well-enacted campaign battles are only loosley tied together.
Honorary mention: Dragoon – The complete battles of Frederick the Great, by Boku Strategy Games. Graviteams´ output I do have respect for, but not a lot of love. Also, I did not rate the play-by-comment CM, as it would hardly be fair to all the lesser games.
PSA: I checked and, to my delight, you can play Steel Panthers World at War on a 4K monitor on Win10. For free. The key is `DxWnd`, it enforces windowed mode. Add a task and put the mech.exe (not the autorun.exe) under `path` and `launch`.
For the game itself, there is an upgraded and free fan version. Google `Enhanced FR Full Installation`. It will even run the (paid) MegaCampaigns of the original. Just copy->paste the MegaCam folder.
1. Steel Panthers
2. Age of Rifles
3. Decisive Battles of WWII: The Ardennes Offensive
4. Field of Glory II
5. War in the Pacific (Don’t tell anyone else that I only play the small scenarios.)
I fear my picks are more a reflection of my limited travels in wargame territory than any kind of comprehensive analysis, but here goes.
1. Unity of Command — I’ve never had an AI trounce me while so clearly laying bare the missteps I made to deserve it.
2. Total War — Not a lot of crunch, but seeing all my soldiers march out to fight in lines builds an emotional connection that’s harder to form in more detached control schemes. (Looking forward to Burden of Command!)
3. Hearts of Iron — Fight a war on all fronts, not just tactically. Classic.
4. Byzantine Games — Purely on the strength of playing Pike and Shot after reading C.V. Wedgewood’s The Thirty Years War
5. Eugen Wargame series — Once you work out the deployment strategies and the relative strenghts and weaknesses for different units they play more like a plain RTS, but I loved the learning curve on the way to that point.
What a marvellous list! While I’ve enjoyed discovering Tally Ho! Corner, and always looked forward to Fridays at your previous station, I’ve never really played any ‘wargames’ beyond half a handful of the above (is there a reason ‘Wargame’ isn’t in there? You mention it in one of the descriptions).
However, I’ve been reading the great blurbs above with great interest and now have a list of my own to look into getting…
1. Command: Modern Operations; you could probably throw in Harpoon with this, but CMO/CMANO are vast improvements. The fidelity, developer responsiveness, frequent updates, and freedom to create are unmatched by anything else in almost any genre of wargame.
2. Combat Mission (v1) – probably did more than anything else to make me a wargamer for life.
3. Hearts of Iron series. At times irritating, at times baffling, but almost always interesting. I wish there was another operational/strategic level game that included all services, all theaters of war (and some that historically didn’t exist) and let you create your own forces at the battalion, ship and squadron level, but there really isn’t. Even for all its generalizations, I think the HoI series is tops due to replayability, moddability, and available user preferences.
4. Steel Division. I greatly prefer the replayability, ease of play, scope and scale of this series to all its contemporaries – including the Combat Mission (v2) series and Graviteam Tactics, which each might have one or two things they do better, but have far more things done worse (looking at you, User Interfaces). With a handful of clicks I’m in a fantastically randomizable/customizable battle with a pretty good AI to fight and a realistic enough despite the tendency the games have towards multiplayer balance (whilst I play it solo). And it’s a complete, full game experience in 30 minutes if I want it to be (or an hour if I prefer). No waiting for turns to crunch. Add in the Army General operational game and it scratches so many itches.
5. The Operational Art of War. I don’t play it anymore (though I’ve bought every iteration of it in the lost hope of keeping development going – I seem to keep paying full price, but hardly see substantive development), but it was the first game that gave me the freedom to create and develop my own scenarios in a satisfying way. My favorite gaming creation is and probably always be one scenario I made for TOAW III a decade or so ago. Even now it’s something I could not create with anything else out there.
1. CM 2nd gen
As a Tedlet I futzed around with minis and settled on 1/300th WW2 and for me this series is the videogame embodiment of such entertainment
2. Command Ops
I love the planning aspect of this, plus the way the austere visuals force you to imagine the grunts’ dilemmas.
3. Flashpoint Campaigns
The asymmetric WEGO system is a clever yet easy to pick up game design
4. GG’s War in the…
Slightly overwhelming at times, yet so engrossing. I found the learning almost as fun as the playing
5. Scourge of War
To be honest still getting to grips with this one, but the HITS system is just so appealing as a concept
I’ve also spent a fair amount of quality time with Advance Tactics Gold – did this not make the list because it is not strictly historical?
Not sure I can manage 5, anot all will be that on-topic maybe, but ehre goes:
1) The Eugen Wargame series. Have hundreds of hours in 2 of the 3
2) Does Company of Heroes count? the first one in particular
3) The early Total Wars.
I’m more likely to be in a sim of some sort – DCS, Steel Beasts etc.
Company of Heroes is a tricky one. Call me a snob, but I’ve always thought of it as a military RTS rather than a true wargame. For me ‘wargame’ implies a certain reverence for realism – reverence that CoH, like Sudden Strike, Blitzkrieg, Codename Panzers etc, doesn’t exhibit (?). That said, it’s a very long time since I played it and I’m genuinely torn. I’d be interested to hear what others think. Should this Top 50 include ‘borderline’ wargames such as CoH, Silent Storm, and Men of War?
[EDIT – I’ve decided to give classification headaches like CoH their own table at the end of the article.]
As long as we’re on the topic, and maybe it’s not very groggy of me, but corner me in a dark alley and I’ll admit I’ve never had as much fun with a strategy/”war” game as with the combination of Sins of a Solar Empire and Alpha Centauri.
Yes, wouldn’t disagree with you Tim, it’s not exactly realistic but was one of the few games I had any experience with that I could sort-of shoehorn in! 🙂
1 – Age of Rifles
2 – Close Combat
3 – The Operational Art of War
4 – Flight Commander
5 – Civil War Generals 2
The biscuits are delightful but what do they convey?
I will sadly reveal my basic or rather Grand Strategy tastes:
1) Hearts of Iron, has changed how detailed it models the war part over the various iterations of the series from choosing the calibre of your gun in 1 to the very stripped back nature of 4, the most recent dlc adding trains and logistics looks pretty interesting actually.
2) Total War endless reinvents itself for an almost annual AAA series. Generally true to the spirit if not the detail of the period. Frequently beautiful. Loads of replayability.
3) Combat Mission (old) I was really proud of getting the first mail order from America after reading about it in PC Zone and showing it off about it to all the other nerds at school.
4) SM Gettysburg. Excellent game really deserves a remake. Is Grand Tactician the game I hope it is?
5) Byzantine games. FoGII empire is the Indy Total War when you put the two of them together.
Can’t be certain but recently there was a rather controversial ranking of “biscuits” released by Macmillan Cancer Support – perhaps a reference to that? Here’s The Register’s take on it: https://www.theregister.com/2021/09/21/macmillan_biscuit_list_furore/
>>The biscuits are delightful but what do they convey?
The Battle of Hobnob Hill, the first engagement of the Biscuit War, took place on October 8th, 1821. The pics were my way of marking the bicentenary.
1 – Total War
Adequate realism is supplemented by amazing settings, rich cultural overlays offering a level of immersion that transcends simple wargaming and lets you pursue ambitious goals of your own making. Add in the tremendous variety even within each game in the series, let alone across them all, and this is a wargame series that didn’t just define an entire genre, it continues to set the bar.
2 – Victory at Sea (inc. VaS: Pacific)
Sure, it’s lacking the strategic depth of the Total War series but it offers that same strategic/tactical split, the campaign overlay elevating the nautical fight simulator above its limitations to create compelling and tense struggles across entire oceans.
3 – Defender of the Crown
Look, I’m old. I’d have included Beach Head on the C64 or even Attack of the Mutant Camels* on the Vic-20 but both qualify as action rather than strategy games. Sure, there were war games on those platforms, but for strategy challenges that made the player part of history the 80s had one game that set the standard all other sought to meet.
Beyond that? I’m a filthy casual, the war games suggested aren’t my thing. I’ve played Atlantic Fleet, Sid Meier’s Gettysburg, Armored Brigade and Combat Mission and they’re all fine games but..I’d rather play a Company of Heroes, a Dawn of War or Total Annihilation.
*It was set in ancient Egypt and it was written by Jeff Minter. Of course it’s historical realism.
While this isn’t my particular flavour of game so I don’t recognise most of these (despite being a big fan of the Comment Commander series) I did want to say I think it’s a great idea. I look forward to the results and maybe other genres getting the same treatment at some later date if it all works out. Many thanks!
1) John Tiller, specifically Renaissance and the Squad Battles series.
2) Combat Mission First Generation.
3) The whole Ageod library, specifically Revolution Under Siege, Rise of Prussia and Alea Jacta Est.
4) Cauldrons of War, the only game (to my knowledge) to try and present the Eastern Front as the battleground where the war of ideology took its true, monstrous form.
5) Graviteam tactics.
Coming up with just 5 entries is actually harder than I thought it would be! Honestly all these games are pretty much up there, in my opinion… And I had a really hard time leaving out John Tiller Napoleonics and Flashpoint Campaigns.
Thank you for having of Cauldrons of War in your list!
Indeed, I couldn’t make a Barbaraossa game without putting in the light the monstruosity of this war.
What a great idea this top 50 is. Very excited to see how the final results shake out. My top 5 has been heavily influenced by religious consumption of both the Flare Path and THC over the last 8 or so years:
1. Graviteam Tactics.
While i understand people’s issues with the impenetrability of it’s interface and often vague campaign and ordinance (think mortars, artillery and air support) systems, for me this is wargaming at it’s zenith. Once you have taken the time to learn, you will realise you are faced with a stupendous simulation of the tactical decisions that took place between Moscow and Berlin during the single largest confrontation of arms in human history. Morale, fatigue, ammunition as well as battle damage are simulated and represented through what is rather unique in the genre of hardcore wargames: graphical fidelity. Sure it isn’t as slick as the modern Total War games but the ability to freely pan your camera around a convincing 3D representation of the battlespace really elevates the game. The price point is also a boon when you compare it to stablemate Combat Mission. If you are reading this comment and have a passing interest in the Eastern Front, play this game.
2. Command: Modern Operations.
The sheer breadth of what you can simulate in this game is a major selling point. US raids on Hanoi during the Vietnam War? Check. Israeli strikes on Egyptian airfields during the 6 Day War? Check. A modern hyper-war between the US and China in the South China Sea? Check. AI and interface improvements over it’s predecessor make this a must have for the serious wargaming enthusiast.
3. Command Ops 2
This one scratches a similar itch as Graviteam in that it is real time and plausible, but with a greatly increased scale and (visually appealing) 2D interface. I love the command delay and subordinate delegation mechanics which really force you to think like you are huddled in a staff headquarters somewhere miles behind the front lines with at best a limited ability to micromanage your units at the tip of the spear. You can plan all the contingencies you want but when the metal meets the meat you will be forced to think on the fly in an ever evolving combat situation.
4. Scourge of War (particularly Gettysburg)
My introduction to wargaming. Again, the orders delay system and fog of war really put you in the saddle of a Civil War general. The truly epic scale of the larger battles, with tens of thousands of troops marching, shooting, and everything in between truly immerse the player, despite the admittedly aged graphics. Play it with the soundtrack to the film Gettysburg in the background for maximum effect.
5. Unity of Command
While my list makes it apparent I err towards real time wargames, this is the pinnacle of turn based wargaming for me. Complaints I have seen from others here re. the puzzle-like nature of the game are entitely valid, but i feel are slightly mitigated by the sequel. With a logistics system that is both easy to understand and also a convincing representation of the supply dilemma faced by armies of the mid 20th century, coupled with a standout art style, the Unity of Command games hold a special place in my heart.
As an aside, this is my first comment on either the Flare Path or THC, and I just want to thank Tim for the years of enjoyment I have had reading his columms. I started reading in my mid teens and your unique and entertaining way with words has fostered a love of history I’m not sure I would have pursued if I had not read the Flare Path all those years ago. When my finances are in a slightly better state I have pledged to myself to donate so you can keep up the amazing work.
Morale +1. Thanks.
1. Combat Mission Gen 1
The We:Go system has brought around some of my favorite gaming moments ever. Shermans bouncing point-blank shots off of Tigers and Panzerschrecks appearing suddenly between two buildings are particularly notable ones. And while its common now, it’s the first game I remember where tanks didn’t just have hitpoints. In a word: revolutionary.
2. This War of Mine
A game at the heart of what it means to experience war. Other games reduce thousands of men to a counter. This one makes you really care about every single person who comes through your reinforced door.
3. Hearts of Iron 4
While it does feature wars and strategies, I contend that it’s not actually a wargame. It’s an alternate history simulator where Italy builds an empire spanning the Mediterranean, or the French communists ally with Russia to crush a fledgling German Republic. Endless possibilities.
4. Combat Mission Gen 2
The increased complexity and lack of abstraction means it doesn’t capture the imagination quite like Gen 1, but it’s simply breathtaking in its realism and ability to create tension.
5. Pride of Nations (AGEod)
No other game seems to focus so heavily on the act of preparing for war: building supply depots near conflict zones, blockading ports with fleets, years of investments in weapons, debating between building border forts or weapons factories. While in many ways its unplayable, it keeps me coming back time and again.
1) Armoured Commander II
Make no mistake, this is the moistest, smelliest, most granular tank combat sim out there (that doesn’t require usb dongle DRM). Three-Dimensional detail is instead traded for simple, but evocative ascii graphics, but very little is lost in intensity in the turn based tank battles.
I can’t quite put my finger on this one. It’s an indelible feeling having that rifle in front of you. It’s 2011 and things are going to be okay. The brown haze over Takistan shrouds positively ACE encounters. The green hills of Chernogorsk hold more than queefy zeds, on tenterhooks on Overwatch. More a moment than a game.
3) Holdfast: Nations at War
The silliest fun available online, I’m a flautist main. Linebattles and Squaredancing and Waterloo. If you’ve played any of the Mount & Blade multiplayer mods or games that have guns, this will feel instantly familiar.
The first time I played this game I was coming down from a fantastic acid trip and I must have played it for like seven hours straight and then I got a bunch of spaghetti and lasagna and panzanella delivered and I was just like giggling and building guns and loading my truck and delivering goods and dudes to the front line while eating dope pasta and my truck got disabled and some Blueberries (like a squad of 6) sorta ordered me out of the truck by waving their guns and they like took me into the woods as a POW and I was just giggling.
5) Il2: Battles Over Whuddevva
I cannot put this game down. The only mark against the game is that the best addon requires Java to be installed to build the missions and operates outside the game itself, an annoyance in VR (Pat Wilson’s Campaign Generator is ESSENTIAL). There is nothing close in this generation to this one.
I’m going to organise a simulations Top 50 at some point and ARMA II and IL-2 will grace that list, not this one. Classifying Holdfast: Nations at War as a wargame also feels like a bit of a stretch. If there’s ever a THC Top 50 military shooters, that will be its moment to shine.
Would you be willing to provide replacements for these three genre benders?
1 – Combat Mission 2nd Generation. the first generation is good, but the 2nd generation and the super hot rig I had when I played were a perfect symphony of fidelity in visuals and gameplay. superb. yes the AI could be a little less flakey then it is sometimes. but nothing that has ruined it in anyway.
2- Rule the Waves. just an amazing homage to the complexity and bare force of early to mid modern naval combat. but the political and logistical game tie all of it together your design and plans can be verified or woefully exposed if you get caught in a development gap. wonderful. love the photos and diagrams as events and technology breakthroughs occur. wonderful slice of historical clout. I actually love the air combat planning and coordination in the late game of RTW2 as well.
3- Sid Meier’s Gettysburg. bringing all my childhood history books to life. no more blocks and strange symbols, but actual bodies battling and body counts to drive home the cost of a vicious war. Antietem is also good.
4- close combat. a classic in early pcwargaming. so much going on as you try to filter out your flanks going down, how to counter, and what is hiding in the fog of war just behind that farmhouse.
5-Total War – Nothing captures the Elan of ancient or even Napoleonic combat like Total War. some iffy decisions on interface and realism. but always a good throw down in the battles. I always felt the combat map and logistics could have been better executed. still a good romp.
This an excellent idea. I am going to limit my comments to the first-place nomination, and otherwise list the balance which I think are better understood.
1. Graviteam Tactics – it took me literally years to fully realise what a masterpiece this game is on multiple levels. I think part of that is that it can be difficult to understand at first, but part of it is the developers have been constantly working on this series for over a decade. For that reason, I am going to include some substantive remarks about Graviteam Tactics, that I don’t intend to mirror for the balance of the nominations. Call this evangelical if you will.
A TLDR: constant refinement has produced a masterpiece, download Tank Warfare: Tunisia 1943, it will make sense to you (assuming you are from the Anglo-sphere and know a little bit about the battle of Tunisia) and teach you the systems of the game.
Once you work this game out, it starts to become incredibly deep and insightful, dramatic, suspenseful and ultimately terrifying. This game gives no quarter. It reeks of pitiless terror, waste, men dying for a patch of godforsaken frozen dirt, the arbitrary hard luck of combat operations on the Eastern Front. It forces you into some hard calculations. This is not Hogan’s Heroes or even Saving Private Ryan. You cannot achieve exceptionalism through micromanagement, this is not a puzzle game (looking at you CM2). You must work at stacking the odds in your favour because lady luck will deal you out an uneven hand. Sometimes, despite all your best laid plans, it will just end in storm of artillery fire and mechanized assault. This game can show you Storm of Steel on your monitor. It will turn you into more of a pacifist over time.
If you are up to the task, and subject to some limitations in the artillery systems let you put together a thoughtful and well organised operation. It will model everything from your ability to manage the ammunition state of individual vehicles down into the penetration of individual warheads, the time it takes to repair and recover damaged vehicles, and the morale state of your often heavily shot-up infantry formations. It is heavily detailed. Sometimes you can spend your time marvelling at how your T-34s got shot-up, but ultimately, to get control you have to give up a little control. This is I think where many people have got lost along the way. It is not combat mission, you will have only slightly more agency than an company commander with radio net and a magic map.
As you start to understand the briefings (which is a task with some of the Eastern Front operations) and cross-reference the operational briefings to the actual operations in question, you start to understand that the developers have conducted very deep research into the operations depicted. This extends to accurately modelling the terrain and orders of battle. This is not your fat mid-western boomer ASL’s fantasy OOB. You find yourself working with a needs must approach. You spend a lot of time thinking about combat mass, over-reach, keeping units in the fight on a sustained basis. On occasion you can smash Das Reich through a poorly equipped Soviet infantry regiment if that is your thing more often than not you are trying to make-do. Will the 10.5cm guns stop the T-34s? Can I get a mobility kill with the 45mm on the Panther? Where should I even send the ATG plt, given I need four and I have one? Should I reatreat now or later? Can i consolidate?
In learning about uneven encounters and poorly thought-out plans, part of this game is learning about post-Soviet historiography as you dive through various little know Soviet operations, some of which were covered up or glossed over for many years.
Graviteam will do from 1941 to 1986 and do it a higher degree of visual fidelity than anything else of equivalent quality. The Operation Modular DLC in particular is an excellent starting point for some of the modern features of the game. It will make you appreciate the BMP-1 and T-55 like never before. It will teach you a little bit about why the AT-3 was so world changing. I understand Sword of the Prophet (Soviets v Iran) may be on its way into the current series as well, which will be an excellent little cold-war themed outing, and a good chance to learn about the T-62 v Chieftain match up you’ve always been curious about.
Once you get into the swing of this, it starts to show you some actual insight into combat operations. The more you understand what is going on, the more terrifying some of these engagements become in human terms. Sometimes where there is chaos, that is because the Eastern Front was characterised by chaos. Chaos is how you end up with mass casualties and missing divisions.
For those of you who have tried this and glanced off (like I did at first), I would suggest a revisitation, perhaps via Tank Warfare Tunisia 1943. The first reason I suggest this title is that you have some relatively easy to understand armour heavy clashes (like Hill 290, Sidi Bouzid/Fruhlingswind) where playing as the Germans there is sufficient margin for error to get the training wheels off and your logistical challenges are manageable. The second reason is that the orders of battle and depicted operations are well known and easy to understand. You get the drift a lot faster when you’ve read about it before. The third reason I suggest this title is that on occasion it is appallingly cheap.
Personally, my road to Damascus moment was playing Tank Warfare’s Longstop Hill DLC. Finally, I had a force structure that I understood and that was accurate, a battle and battleground that was familiar to me and an idea about how you might go about assaulting that feature. So, with about 5 minutes of refreshing my memory as to the UI, I embarked upon Longstop Hill DLC which cost something like AU$4.99 on special. It all came together as the Buffs and Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders got cut to pieces under a storm of artillery and machine gun fire as they worked their way up the hill, and then clung onto it. It was sufficiently close to what historically occurred in terms of the order of the battle the course and outcome of the real assault that I had to stop playing. Eventually one of my platoons stumbled into a mine field and then came under sustained MG and mortar fire. It was just all too much, just too sad, too intense, too futile. Just an epic of suffering and senseless death. Just like the real thing. Which is what the developers are trying to do, simulate battles with all that entails. With that warning, go for it.
2. Close Combat – where it mostly all started. Johnny Frost held Arnhem Bridge, 1st Airborne defended the LZs, XXX Corps arrived on time, the 101st captured the Son and Veghel bridges in one piece, the 82nd stormed the Hunnerpark first go. All this while humming the march from A Bridge Too Far over and over. The war was over by Christmas (me, age 15).
3. CM2 – close to greatness, but utterly surpassed by Graviteam at most things. This is a control freaks’ wargame. The scenarios are too small, often oddly set-up, you just end up working the flanks, the coding creaks at 1440p on my overclocked i9 and 2800ti, the graphics are about 15 years behind the time. Cheesey flank mechanics. I’ll fight it out in textbook style only to find that mysteriously a company of T-72s has driven onto the map from an odd angle. Those T-72s also have low detail textures for (reasons?). No matter how solid your plan, you need to think about cheesey stuff. You end up thinking about what the overweight MAGA loving boomer who designed the scenario would think is a cool twist. Apparently often you just drive your key combat formation into the teeth of a prepared defence of an equivalent force without recon of any kind. The premise seems to be that the person who designed the scenario knows where the enemy will be and has then tweaked it to make it challenging on their playthrough. Often the scenarios and campaign design makes you suspect the key audience is not neurotypical.
The armour modelling is good, but not great. It wont’ tell you what penetrated who. You’re left looking at decals trying to work out what was disabling and what was not. The infantry combat is creaky. It’s stuck in an uncanny valley where the abstraction doesn’t match the control on offer. Occasionally I’d like to get my infantry platoon on line and spread out, but they are stuck in action spots as the 122mm airbursts rain in.
Sometimes you suspect they’ve tried to balance the modern games – a tweak here so 125mm penetrates an M1A2 head on at 1250m, a tweak there so the F-16s fly in within range of the SRAD, another tweak here so the Russian MLRSs doesn’t flatten a grid square. Maybe a little bit of work to make sure the 155mm Copperhead rounds won’t kill a T-72B3. Given the gritty detail, the suspicion that the mechanics have been messed around with for balance reasons is a bitter pill.
But I come back, I think it’s pretty good. You find a good scenario, like Bill Mac’s ones. You get some room to manoeuvre and there are realistic approach marches for reinforcements. Your force structure isn’t cheese. You are given some reasonable briefing and a bit of flexibility about what you are going to do. You think the developers have done a tremendous job predicting the broad trends and conflict zones. The OOB system (which the ASL boomers hated, is a great feature). When it works, it is magic and top fun. You think, why did I think all these negative things about CM2, this is tremendous. Like that ex-girlfriend you realise was unsuitable in many respects but still have fond memories of.
4. Steel Panthers – I can’t remember if Modern Battles that was free or close to free, but for sheer breadth and accessibility it couldn’t be surpassed. Want to fight out the valley of tears, sure. Interested in TF Smith, no problems, see if that super bazooka team really can stop a company of T-34/85s. How about the Sino-Vietnamese war – sure. USMC invades Japan circa 1998 – no dramas. Supremely flexible. Within the limitations of the mechanics it could do everything and anything. Better yet, it cost virtually nothing.
5. HoI – this is a cumulative award. The series has been uneven, but for effort, vision, getting it close to right, you’ve got to admire it. I might have passed the stage in my life where I can devote the time necessary to understand HoI4 and all of its DLC (in fact I can only win as the French if I cheat up a storm), across the series it’s been a tremendous achievement.
Honourable mentions: Unity of Command. Probably more a puzzle game and owes more than a little to Panzer General, but great fun. Ultimate General – clean, sensible, well thought out but very limited.
Thanks for recommending Tank Warfare: Tunisia 1943 as a way in to Graviteam – I have Tactics but had bounced off it in previous timid approaches to it.
It’s on sale this weekend too at @-93%, that’s a measly £4.80 if you live in a mystreriously-short-of-labour monarchic theocracy.
I bounced, I’ll give £4.80 a go though!
Ok your pusher-man (Pusha Donkey) has a few tips:
1. Have a read of this: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=1274077022
2. Tank Warfare is all on epic sale, grab Chewy Gooey Pass DLC. It is AU$2.19, so GBP1 maybe? This DLC is a clash between US 1st Tank Bn and 2 companies of the 90th LID. Very short, very simple. Can you find a way to stop a company of PZ4s using the M3s . In real life, the US tankers ambushed the PZ4s, knocking out a heap and generating a favourable exchange ratio. Once you work out formations, deployment, fire arcs it is a super easy taster of the tactical combat. Just remember, the M6 37mm is basically a 2 pounder. One thing to focus on is you are giving general orders. You can’t micro. Put your units in the right place at sort of the right time. Don’t intervene with priority targetting or fire arcs unless it’s critical. Reverse is your micro-order friend. When things go badly, reverse is super useful. When giving move orders, use the radial menu and do it by platoons. I’d set up an advance order you like (for instance, no formation, buttoned up, fast) and an attack order (look at the manual re how the formation modifiers work). Do not chop and change your orders. No amount of clicking will win the battle for you. Try and give a minimum of orders, make them thoughful. Think about the terrain, your force, the enemy force and how you best profit given those factors.
3. When you get to Operation Fruhlingswind as the Germans:
a. The only way you are going to lose is via attrition or going black on ammo. While parts of this operation are a bit ahistorical in the lead-up, the US forces in real life found themsleves strung out in penny packets and picked apart. The game reflects this. After getting absolutely thrashed, the next day, a Sherman BN counter-attacked and went right into the teeth of the guns. That went as you would expect.
b. You need to briefly learn the resupply rules (which is HQs provide resupply, the HQ has a shaded zone, there is mobile resupply and dumps etc). The manual has a good section at section 2.3. Read section 3 of the manual. Have a look at section 2.1 as well. It’s not long, it is not complicated. The trick here is to get a decent enough grasp of the operational phase that you get the right forces to the tactical phase.
c. The battlegroups are all basically reinforced company groups. If you have a spare slot, click it and see what you can slot in. If you have a platoon that is shot-up or combat ineffective, click it and see if you can replace it with something from reserves. You will see a reinforcement strategy icon on the battlegroup screen. Here you can do things like add reinforced support (artillery), firepower (mgs/mortars), anit-tank weapons or truck. If you go up to the parent formation (whatever higher hqs are displayed), you will see a line for reinforcement squads. If you go to the tooltip you will see what is on offer. Sometimes you need to pull back to re-arm. Keep an eye on ammo state.
d. When organising your assaults, focus on combat mass. You want to hit the Americans with a concentrated force. Don’t push your Tigers or long-barrel PZ4s too far out front. The 75mm Shermans will do serious damage if you let them. They are good tanks for early 1943. Do not underestimate them. Sherman 75mm AP ammo will punch through the front of a PZ4 easily. Tigers are dead from the side, and can be mission killed head on at 500m. The GMC 75mm TD halftracks are shit, but they can and do get lucky. The 105mm guns have limited heat rounds. If they hit your tank with a heat round it will probably blow up. So with that warning about respecting your opponents given, you need to get all your combat mass to the right place at the right time and apply overwheming force at the decisive point. That is the German way of warfare, that is what the formations you have are set up to do, you are not going to do well slogging it out 1 to 1. Focus your force on objectives or pocketing enemy forces. If you do slog it out, your key combat units will end immobile, have smashed sights, no ammo early on then things get harder. The death of a 1000 cuts is a real problem for the Germans in this operation. You need enough of your tanks and atg working in the one place at the end of the operation to beat back a fairly serious counter-attack. If you do get that right, it’s a turket-shoot.
e. The name of the game tactically is to pick off the penny pockets in the north, capture the town, wait for the counter-attack and in the south to break through and encircle the infantry, defeat the armour and be ready to meet the counter-attacks that will come. If you can, keep your AT guns forward. They will take names.
f. Once you’ve mastered it as the Germans, play as the Americans. Pull your comabt mass back, concentrate it, and focus on working out your engagement zones. The disposition you’ve been given at the outset is terrible. Don’t be afraid to withdraw from battles if you need to. No point dying on particular hills. If you can draw the German armour into pitched battles against your concentrated forces and hold out until the 2nd battalion gets into the fight, then victory is very possible. If you can win as the Americans you are ready for Mius Front.
Longstop is also an interesting starting point, but I’d recommend starting with the stock operations and Chewy Gooey.
One final crib note – with artillery. If you have enough rank on map, you can call and adjust all sorts of guns. If you get into set up you can call missions (pre-planned and not). It’s a bit crude, but if you can fire a zero in it gives you a TRP that speeds up calling artillery during the battle proper. Set your TRPs up where you think you will need them. Flares are your friend at night. If you are pre-planned then think about what you really want to achieve. Do you need illumination? Can you plaster key terrain. You can even set up crude rolling barrages by layer missions out in a linear grid over terrain (very useful where you don’t have tanks and are fighting infantry only).
By rank on the map, sometimes you want BN commanders on map, even if just way out the back.
On the defence do you want to fire a curtain in front of some part of your line, do you want to just call it in your main engagement zones on the basis that either the enemy is fixed in that zone or you are done? Scripted fire missions on the defence are hard and a matter of luck unless you just have a heap of ammo or a good idea about what is coming for you and from where.
I TOTALLY FORGOT ARMOURED COMMANDER 2!!! I don’t think I’m going to be able to forgive myself
1) Close Combat
2) Battle Academy
3) John Tiller’s Campaign Series
4) The Operational Art of War
5) Order of Battle
2) Operational Art of War
3) AGEod (esp. BoA and WiA)
4) Sid Meier’s Gettysburg
5) Carriers at War (SSG)
6) V for Victory
FWIW, the games I included and my relative rankings are based on the joy the games provided and time I spent playing them in their heyday – not the games I choose to play today. (and I confess I could not reduce to 5, but know you will do what you must). #1 = my top choice (i.e. 5 points)
1) total war. I played the heck out of medieval 2 and empire. In fact empire was the reason I got a steam account.
2) hearts of iron. This feels like a cheat as most of what I played was non historical mods. But I do like 3 the best.
3)Command. What a great game. so much community content and so much great official stuff. It even go’s on sale.
4) does age of empires 2 count as historical? Never touched multi player just went through the campaigns over and over again.
5) afghan 11/Vietnam 65. Both very fun. I think vietnam lacks a certain amount of replay value but it can’t be beat for ten bucks.
An honorary award does to combat mission 1st gen and armored brigade.
As these things often go, my original list reflected sentimental value more than actual playability and was badly rose-tinted in general. Here goes my attempt at a more useful assessment:
1.- Gary Grigsby’s War in the East / West
2.- Command: Modern Operations
3.- Decisive Campaigns
4. AGEOD games
5.- Flashpoint Campaigns
AGEOD games are a bit like Dwarf Fortress: buggy and messy and ugly and horribly broken, but irreplaceable in their niche and more evocative than most other games. Similar games have been developed (read Wars Across the World and derivatives) but they somehow feel decaffeinated.
I couldn’t choose between the presumptively common options, so I’ll swing for the fences with esoterica. Elastic boundaries you say? Let’s see how far they stretch.
1) Red Orchestra 2 – At its best RO2 reifies the simultaneous naivete and nihilism of the battlefield. It is the moment after the soldier now buried in an unnamed grave wrote a letter home. The pursuit of winning the battle bonds players together against that corroder of camaraderie that is kill counts. The drive to run and gun gives way to patience under capable commanders. And then at any moment, and often enough to dispel them, the Spielbergian moments are cut by a single shot, unheard and unseen, or the rain of mortar, ubiquitous and unexpected.
This will require a friend or two to have someone to talk to in the battlefield, and the ‘movie’ will not play without a commander who engages in the command and tactical layer.
2) DEFCON – A recreation of the nightmares of Cold War era commanders. DEFCON brings out not just sweat but paranoia.
3) Romance of the Three Kingdoms (& Dynasty Warriors) – Most wargames are reduced to numbers games in the mind. These wargames highlight the personalities of a period. Instead of DRMs and CRTs, the player thinks of the opponets by name. Each of these games is a strategy (RoTK) or tactical fighting (DW)focused retelling of the same story. What changes is the handling of the paint brush by the behemoth developer which you must battle to get the best bits to fall in place.
4) Silent Storm – Any battlefield is recorded both as history and as myth. If you look past the shadowy organizations and panzersuits, you will find a physics model that is the envy of other wargames. Here you can shoot through the wall with a Sten at an enemy you just barely hear, only to get taken down by the ricochet. Where other games require the use of doors or roads, here you can accurately portray the effects of explosives on brick buildings.
5) Expeditions: Conquistador – It’s tactical fighting in the jungle with muskets and rapiers. The Heroes of Might and Magic -type overworld was more in than along the way, but the period is brought to life in the writing. Shame about the AI, but at least the music is good.
Interesting choices, but I’m going to veto Red Orchestra and Expeditions: Conquistador. If we’re going to classify military shooters and tactical RPGs as ‘wargames’ – a term traditionally reserved for turn-based and real-time strategy/tactics games – this Top 50 risks losing focus.
I’m still undecided about Silent Storm. A great game, but the Panzerkleins seriously compromise the historicity.
Care to provide some less controversial substitutes or try to convince me I’m wrong?
I don’t know about Whistler but there were definitely mods for Silent Storm that removed the Panzerkleins and lasers, and that’s how I always played it.
I believe the criteria at first said something like ‘evokes period’ and not “authenticity”, and they didn’t specifically expect a recreation of a conflict, op or battle. We’ll save Red Orchestra for the shooter list. Expeditions is definitely out, but in that case then so is Silent Storm – both evoke a period, but the characters and events depicted are entirely fictitious and any similarity to conflicts is coincidental. Subjected to the same scrutiny, shouldn’t DEFCON be omitted as well? It’s only ever happened in nightmares. And Romance of the Three Kingdoms, well… how sure are we of this history? My impression is that it’s the fancy of local nationbuilders.
Oh my, I’m flattered to have spawned so many irregulars. I’m sorry to cause you double work, but I do have this play-nice list:
1) AGEod’s oeuvre
2) Cauldrons of War
3) Rebel Inc: Escalation
4) Radio General
5) Drive on Moscow
I leave it in the judge’s hands and will accept any outcome.
Your readership has come out in force for this list! A top 50 of historically set shooters and rpgs to accompany the inevitable sim list? Hope so, though boundary setting may be even more difficult there.
The original criteria wording was:
“If a game is primarily strategic or tactical in character, and seeks to recreate a real period, conflict, op, or battle, then, assuming it garners votes, it will be added to the list.”
I tweaked it, and added the irregulars section, because the list was beginning to sprawl.
Does Romance of the Three Kingdoms include magic (I’ve never played it)? If it does even a place on the Irregulars list may be out of the question.
No spell casting, but the fantastical does poke through in places. Have some Total War games had commander abilities like ‘increase unit range’ or some such? I think I remember shamans who could chant to boost morale. I would put ‘magic’ in ROTK on par with that.
Spirit and chi represented as bonuses and lighting effects is definitely part of how the history is romanticized, but it’s no Final Fantasy or Witcher.
There something here to be written about eastern and western conceptions of ‘natural’ and ‘magical’. Now that I think about it, the most easterly of wargame developers I can think of are Russian. In the cardboard wargame sector I can think of a Japanese man. Are there any video wargames by Chinese, Indian or Egyptian teams? I wonder if they’re different.
1- Total War. Between Medieval 2, Shogun 2 and the Rome games, I’ve put more hours into this series than any other game in my life.
2- battle academy. What I thought was a simple beer and pretzels Wargame turned out to be incredibly captivating tactical game system which required learning real tactics in order to succeed.
3- combat mission (2nd). I never got a chance to dabble in the first gen version, but this game is utterly compelling and so realistic. Only game where I’ve literally thrown my mouse across the room in fury.
4- Steel Panthers. This would be higher if the graphics weren’t so old fashioned and I could turn off the turn limits on scenarios. Love this game otherwise.
5- nobunaga’s ambition/romance of the three kingdoms. These games on the old Nintendo are what got me into wargaming in the first place.
1. Total war
2. Steel Division
3. Ultimate General
4. Rebel inc.
1. IL2 Sturmovick
2. Close Combat
3. Panzer General
4. Silent Hunter
5. Luftwaffe Commander
Honourably mentions: Blitzkrieg, Theatre of War, Panzer Elite, European Air War, F19 Stealth Fighter, LHX & i’Panzer 44
IL-2 Sturmovik, Silent Hunter, and Luftwaffe Commander are ineligible for this Top 50, I’m afraid. They’ll appear in a ‘sims’ one. If you fancy replacing them with things equally realistic but strategic/tactical, then be my guest.
Thanks for clarifying. I’ve updated my top five:
1. Close Combat
2. Panzer General
3. Afghanistan ’11/Vietnam ’65
4. Achtung Spitfire! / Over the Reich OR Down in Flames by Battlefront
5. Ultimate General Civil War
I notice you’ve left out the sim-games from the list, is that by design?
It’s hard to rank a list: I feel I’ve only played relatively few of the hex-and-counter titles, and my top choices are partly because of my own preference for Cold War theatres rather than WW2 titles.
1. Combat Mission (2nd Gen) – I wanted to rank this lower, but I realise my time-played indicates otherwise. I dislike the lack of innovation and the underlying sense of ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ complacency in Battlefront’s practices, but there’s really nothing else like it. Especially if you’re trying to play with more modern equipment and ATGMs at a company-level. I’ve never played Graviteam Tactics though…
2. Flashpoint Campaigns – Does what it sets out to do in a fuss-free way, with a surprisingly straightforward interface (for a wargame). Nothing more satisfying than correctly setting an ATGM ambush using fragile TOW-M113s and taking out entire T-72 companies.
3. Armoured Brigade – Nearly the perfect wargame for me, just let down by an AI that tends to buy random troops in bulk rather than in realistic unit compositions, and that can sometimes be a little too zerg in its approach.
4. Ultimate General – I’m not American, and have no particular love for the Civil War… but UGCW’s easily readable, attractive dioramas have done much more than any other game to grab my attention. If only topographic height and LoS was more easy to read, and the campaign less obsessed with simulating famous battles.
5. Wargame – It’s basically as realistic as Pokemon, just swap in BMPs and Longbows instead. In what other Cold War wargame would the meta favour Yugoslavia over the United States? But I’ll always have a soft spot because it was my gateway into modern warfare.
6. BONUS HYPOTHETICAL GAME – It doesn’t exist (I have asked repeatedly in multiple places), but I would dearly dearly love to play a reverse-Vietnam ’65 (or a reverse-Afghanistan ’85). To this day I have no idea why wargame developers haven’t seriously grappled with gamifying a nascent insurgency that fights an overwhelming foe and wins. It worked for XCOM, didn’t it? Said hypothetical game would recognise that insurgencies are more than just moving-troops-on-a-map, and that direct military confrontation is suicide.
OTHER TITLES I’VE PLAYED FOR COMPARISON
Vietnam ’65 / Afghanistan ’11
Hearts of Iron
Unity of Command 1 and 2
Company of Heroes
Men at War
Since it says “top 50 wargames” I do expect to see a “top 50 sims” in the future.
I am therefor 100% convinced the ommision is by design.
That sounds right. It does mean there’s a small grey area: is Silent Hunter a sim or a war game? What about Gunner, Heat, PC? Or High Fleet?
HighFleet fails the ‘historical’ test. GHPC and Silent Hunter will be candidates in the ‘Top 50 Sims’ election I plan to run early next year.
In no particular order:
1. Combat Mission (1+2) I guess this is the gold standard at tactical level for me. They’ve spurred a lot of nerdy interest and research, certianly aided and abetted by FP and THC comment commanding. I’ve not manged to get into graviteam titles to date but comments here are encouraging me to do so.
2. Close Combat – extraordinary intimate battles where i’ve ended up hunting an immobilised panzer with a sole remaining half company of infantry.
3. Hearts of Iron – I’ve only played HoI4 but for me this provides a near unique: “that’s how to do it grandpa/pépé” fantasy. I love the alternate history options, especially through mods (Kaissereich, for mad alt history, and Old world blues, for a Fallout theme, are amazing), and the global campaign options too – although some remain beyond the pale to me (i am terrified of the micro required to play USA). I could only once bring myself to play axis Germany and have otherwise done so through the anti-fascist paths.
4. Total war – the series, from Shogun 1 and on, were my gateway drug into wargames/tactical combat. Mods have provided more challenge and (supposedly) realism, incl a particlaur favourite which was the Lordz Napoleon total war mod. I also fondly remember the spat between Paradox and CA when TW:Empire was cricitsed for it’s lack of AI by a paradox dev – ironic given recent issues with certian paradox grand strategy titles.
5. Men of War – admitedly more of an RTS, I remember it producing tense skirmishes akin to close-combat. I reckon sceanios where you didn’t get many reinforcements and no base building were quite similar to softer/more accessible tactical wargames.
The order is significant! As things stand your 15 votes will be distributed like this:
5 votes to Combat Mission first generation or Combat Mission, second generation (Do you have a favourite CM title?)
4 votes to Close Combat
3 votes to Hearts of Iron
2 votes to Total War
1 vote to Men of War
Cripes, sorry old bean. What have you got yourself in for tallying this lot up Tim? I bet you’re doing it by hand too.
The New order would be:
5 votes to Hearts of Iron
4 votes to CM1 – played it more than 2
3 votes to Total War
2 votes to Close Combat
1 vote to Men of War
I will add my list here soon. Should Steel Beasts be on this list? It is a simulator yes, but also very much a wargame…
I reckon Steel Beasts fits more naturally in the ‘sims’ category. It will appear in the ‘Top 50 Simulations’ table (ETA Q1 2022).
1. Close Combat – because I got a lot of value playing and replaying A bridge too far.
2. War in the Pacific – I am actually not very good at it, like someone else said I stick to small scenarios – I actually prefered Uncommon Valour – its smaller older brother.
3. Combat Mission 1st gen
4. Rule the Waves
5. Strategic Command
Soft spot/special mention for RT Smith’s – Arnhem, Desert Rats & Vulcan, brilliant works for the time, and still hold up quite well!
Think I’ve only played six of the series from that list! I’ll give my picks anyway, somewhat ordered by how good I think they are as wargames.
1. Combat Mission (1st gen)
2. Graviteam Tactics
3. Field of Glory 2/Pike & Shot
4. Total War
5. Wargame series (Eugen)
This was tough:
1. Field of Glory II – Nothing beats the “please hold, please hold” edge of your seat hoping and praying when you are just about to complete your masterful flanking maneuver and start a battle winning rout. I love this game and look forward to playing it over the holidays ever year. I am eternally grateful to Tim for bring it to my attention.
2. Silent Storm – Those physics, that chaos, the scrounging and the inventory system. I want a modern take on Silent Storm so very badly.
3. Door Kickers – A perfect wargames as puzzles title. Really looking forward to the sequel.
4. Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! – Accessible even for a young teen, and that pre-battle voice over was excellent
5. Total War (Rome) – An amazing campaign map to battle map system for it’s time (I wish the modern game’s battle maps worked the same). It might not have been particularly historically accurate, but no other game and it’s mods have gotten me into history like this one.
Jagged Alliance 2 – Like Silent Storm above, a good modern take is badly needed (here’s hoping on the announced #3).
Ultimate General: Civil War – It was a toss up with Sid Meier’s, I really loved the campaign system and art style.
Hearts of Iron – I have enjoyed both the 2nd and 4th iterations (bounced hard off the 3rd), but really I credit this game mainly for getting me into Paradox’s other titles, most of which are among my favorites of all time.
In no particular order:
1. War in the Pacific
2. Command: Modern operations
3. Rule the Seas.
4. Hearts of Iron
Would you mind arranging these in order of preference, Brasshat? Left as it is, your ballot paper will mean…
+5 votes to War in the Pacific
+4 votes to Command: Modern Operations
+3 votes to Rule the Waves
+2 votes to Hearts of Iron
+1 vote to Grand Tactician
In that case:
+5 votes to Command: Modern Operations
+4 votes to Rule the Waves
+3 votes to Hearts of Iron
+2 votes to War in the Pacific
+1 vote to Grand Tactician
1. Hannibal: Rome and Carthage
2. Decisive Campaigns
3. Fort Sumter
4. Victory and Glory
5. Pavlov’s House
I’m just going to comment on two:
1) Hearts of Iron IV. To me, this is basically a perfect game. Its systems contain the best compromise between abstraction and realism I have ever seen in a game. For example, factories improve efficiency slowly over time if you have them making the same thing- but switch products, and it takes time for them to regain their previous adroitness. You can design ships. You can mount a communist revolution in 1930s Britain or Japan. You can fight an accurate recreation of America’s island-hopping Pacific campaign, or, with mods, take a nuclear-armed Israel or India or Uruguay into the Cold War and challenge the US and USSR to be the first to Mars. Its an endlessly moddable “what-if” simulator, capable of groggy-accurate conflcit recreation or Turtledovian alt-history nuttiness, that can be played at the highest level of elite political abstraction, or that can be zoomed in to count every plane and ship lost in each act of combat. I don’t know that it can ever be matched, even by a HOI V.
2) Sid Meier’s Gettysburg- what can I add to this game that has not already been said? It was Meier’s attempt to make playable the picture books and dioramas of this conflict that we all know so well- and it succeeds gloriously.
Tim, please do one of these for sims in the future! I love this format.
Thanks. A THC Top 50 Sims is inevitable.
Too late to vote? Too late to point out a potentially relevant omission? I’ve limited exposure to this genre, as I’ve spent countless hours immersed in WOW, EQ, Diablo, WOT, Civ, and others.
Of those you’ve listed, I’d vote for:
(1) Close Combat
(2) Combat Mission (2nd generation)
(3) Graviteam Tactics
I’m curious why Tigers on the Hunt was excluded.
Tigers on the Hunt was left out for the same reason Drive on Moscow, Commander: The Great War, WarPlan, Panzer Command, Pavlov’s House etc. missed the cut. Practicality. If I’d included every possible vote winner the table would have ended up as long as a Bangalore torpedo, and I’d have missed my Friday deadline by a country mile. If you fancy voting for TotH (and something else?), please do. Adding specific games is simpler than trying to cover everything from the get-go.
Voting will remain open for weeks – possibly months.
Can we hope to read some more about WarPlan by you? There’s no shortage of direct competition, but are we to assume from the lack of coverage that WarPlan is not up to weight standards?
The lack of WarPlan coverage on THC is the result of forum scrutiny, review perusal, and personal prejudice* rather than play experience. While apparently solid the games appear to lack originality and good, unscripted AI, two things that might have persuaded me to overcome my natural inclinations.
That said, a slot in a future 3×3 isn’t out of the question.
* I prefer tactical fare
1. Close Combat – the series that really got me into wargames, and I still enjoy them today.
2. Command: Modern Operations – amazing flexibility and scope, great encyclopedia of equipment, and love the integration with Tacview.
3. Command Ops 2 – One of the most innovative approaches to a wargame, and practically a one man show done by an all around good guy to deal with.
4. Flight Commander 2 – So want a sequel or remake for this amazing game… at the very least a GoG release. Have the boxed version hiding somewhere in my house, but don’t have any idea if I could even get it to run on a modern system.
5. Combat Mission (2nd gen) – loved all three first gen games, but the graphics were rough, and never liked the abstracted 3 man squads. Just wish they would resume the Steam releases, because I am beyond done with Battlefront’s installation/activation hassles.
Honorable mention to all things JTS… Squad Battles, Panzer Battles, Campaign Series. Tiller games are always entertaining for me.
“don’t have any idea if I could even get it to run on a modern system”
DOSBox is, in my opinion, the only post-Apollo accomplishment by human civilization that is worthy of note. In fact I have personally run FC2 on my modern rig in DOSBox (with Win 3.1 running inside it).
1) Age of Rifles : I spent so much time on this one, playing and tinkering with the editor. This is the kind of game that made me wanting to craft my own video games.
2) Steel Panthers : This one was quite exhaustive, and had an editor too
3) Close Combat (the one set in Arnhem) : The AI was not so good, but that game was so tense and immersive. I admit that as every junky, I never had again the effects of that first take with any oher games of the serie.
4) The Total War serie : Mostly Warhammer Total War II…
5) Hearts of Iron 4 : That game is far from perfect, but I can’t have so many hours playing it without adding it to the list!
Is Total War Warhammer not Historical ????
Damn I though so! That Lore is so convincing!
(Change if for Rome Total War or Medieval Total War 2)
I suppose you could construct an argument that the world map for Total Warhammer2 is historical, if you made a few baseline assumptions, such as squinting heavily, taking acid and turning the blood-for-the-blood-god knob up to 12?
Clash of steel
Hearts of Iron 2 Mod Darkest Hour
For more details:
1. Clash of Steel: Old ass pc game that simulate a grand strategy ww2. This game has few concept that other wargame stay shy from, like predetermined unit build that is unique for each faction. Britain has mobile army and no dedicated tank unit, France gradually grow stronger but has limited build and one tank unit, USSR has army that conduct themselve like corps, etc. You can’t just build anything, its based on the army doctrine of the time. Nice game to simulate what-if scenario also. https://grognard.com/info1/steel.pdf
2. Hearts of Iron 2 mod Darkest Hour: A really great paid mod for HOI2, it surpasses all other HOI game. There are also great mod for this mod.
3. TOAW 4: With the right scenario size this game is a gem. I like the way it mixes long term planning with flexibility.
4. People’s General: The pinnacle of the Panzer General 2 concept, great depiction of a modern battlefield. It’s more puzzle like that the others entry but its more immediatly fun also.
5. Command H.Q. : Grand Grand strategy, when you can’t be bothered to move division, lets move army group.
Wow. I loved People’s General.
Lovely stuff Tim!
1) Combat Mission BlackSea/Shock Force 2 – Cant believe I am voting for a game that my 2070 Super only gets 15-20 FPS in. But imo nothing really comes close, despite the terrible framerate. I love all the camera options and watching the action unfold after my careful planning, even if I do just turtle my way across the map every time.
2) Men of War – My second most played Steam game after CS GO (and given I have over 500 games, says a lot) 2 v 2 infantry only multiplayer really allows for a lot of tactics, with destroyable scenery and buildings and the ability to really micro manage individual soldiers, hugely underrated game
3) Gary Grisbys War in the East 2 – Very different scale to CM2/MOW and nothing comes close to capturing the staggering scale and loss of life in ww2.
4) Armoured Brigade – Probably the better game to Combat Mission really, its just the atmosphere is not there with the 2d view point. Easy to pick up, hard to master.
5) Command Modern: operations – No idea how to play this but playing a scenario in real time is a surprisingly authentic bit of military role playing.
About Combat Mission: for some reason, the Steam versions sometimes cause the game to default to the integrated GPU instead of any fancy graphics card you have. Going to your graphics settings, finding the Combat Mission .exe, and forcing it to launch with the correct GPU fixed the issue for me.
There’s still terrible lag on the biggest maps, but 15-20 fps isn’t my experience for most games.
To be fair I did exaggerate a smidge, on most maps it’s nearer 40-50 fps. Things improve significantly as well with trees turned off.
Thanks for the top tip though, I’ll look into that just in case.
My top 5….
1. All the Graviteam games, all of them, Mius, Op Star, Steel Fury, Tunisia, Steel Armor. All are challenging and fun, after you put in the work to learn them. Mius, Op Star, Tunisia, there is no better battalion commander battle simulator(s) out there…period.
2.Total War Empires/Napoleon…when you want to get your Napoleonic era war on.
3. Command Ops 2, best operational level wargame IMO.
4. Grand Tactician Civil War, probably the best US Civil War game ever.
5. The Hearts of Iron series…because you can fight the war the way you want. No script, just balls to the wall national command authority simulation.
Viet Nam ’65/Afghanistan ’11 – Tough to win hearts and minds, interesting take on asymmetrical/guerilla warfare…
Field of Glory 2/ Pike and Shot Campaigns…when you just don’t have the money and time to paint the miniature army…
Command Modern Ops…Harpoon on steroids…and then some…
Any Gary Grigsby Game…back in the heyday of board wargaming his titles would have been categorized as “Monster wargames”. Fun to play, but be warned, they are more a lifestyle than a game.
Steel Division 1 and 2….for RTS, very fun. Good tactics win here…
1 – Graviteam Tactics
2 – Command:Modern Operations
3 – Command Ops
4 – Grand Tactician: The Civil War
5 – War in the East 2
These aren’t “official votes” but I wanted to name a few more obscure ones sort of in my second tier for those who may be scouring this thread in the decades to come:
1) Ultimate Admiral: Dreadnoughts- still early in development and not clear how it will all eventually shape up, but I’ve been having a surprising bit of fun with its early access incarnation. Basically Rule the Waves with nice graphics.
2) Jane’s Fleet Command- what “CMANO with nice graphics” was in 1999. It has some flaws, but no one done a 3D modern naval combat strategy game since. Fingers crossed that the upcoming Sea Power will scratch that itch.
Waves of nostalgia here.
1. Flight Commander 2.
My friends and I used to play endless games of SPI’s Air War and FC2 helped with the withdrawal after we all went away to university.
2. Gary Grigsby’s Kampfgruppe
Steel Panthers before Steel Panthers. Loved this game.
3. V for Victory (Stalingrad)
Another source of major distraction when I should have been studying or doing something productive.
4. Decisive Campaigns
Just the right scale and speed for an older guy with limited time.
5. Valor and Victory
Just tossing this in as I’m one of the developers.
I have loved reading everyone’s replies. A couple of takeaways for me, I must download this free version of Steel Panthers a few have mentioned and give that a shot and I also should revisit Graviteam Mius-front, especially as everyone seems to prefer it to Combat Mission.
I have bounced off it so many times though, when people said the UI was bad, I was expecting the in game controls to be fiddly (they are) but I wasn’t expecting the main menus to be as bad as they were! hell I cant even figure out how to save it’s that bad
Hey, my tankoviki cap is here! Cheers, Tim!
1) Unity of Command
2) Armoured Commander
3) Civil War Generals
4) Total War, mostly Medieval and Rome
5) Silent Storm with the Panzerkleins modded out
Taught me how to act like any leader promoted beyond their level of competence i.e. when in doubt, demand constant updates from your subordinates – “Orange, send me your battle report”.
101: The Airborne Invasion of Normandy
Carefully equip and arrange stick; lose officers to parachute failure; lose NCOs to broken limbs; discover that all your equipment has landed in the most heavily defended part of your target; accidentally shoot cow.
No Greater Glory
“Mum, what’s habeas corpus?”
“I just suspended it.”
Comments are closed.