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)
1 Strategic Command WW1
2 AGEOD. Alea Jacta Est in particular. CW 2 if only it were slightly less complex.
3 Shadow Empire
4 Combat Mission (original cast)
5 Battle Academy
Pick your own list Tim! Stop sponging off your audience!
Can you provide a list sans Shadow Empire, Colm? It’s disqualified by its lack of interest in history.
Understood. It is pretty extraordinary though.
1 Strategic Command WW1
2 AGEOD. Alea Jacta Est in particular. CW 2 if only it were slightly less complex.
3 Combat Mission (original cast)
4 Battle Academy
5 Flashpoint Campaigns
Does Twilight Struggle count? If so, it’s my third place vote. 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 (if it is one). There is an excellent PC/mobile adaptation.
Twilight Struggle passes my personal/pedantic “Is it a wargame?” test. I’ll add it to the list.
Combat Mission (2nd Gen)
2. Scourge of War. The simulator of command during the Civil War that plops you down into the middle of chaos of the battlefield. Strong AI and historic authenticity.
3. War in the Pacific: Admiral’s Edition. Learn something new every time I play.
4. Gary Grigsby’s Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich. Oldie still being worked on.
5. Achtung Spitfire. This game and the earlier “Over the Reich” are great for quick laptop games. Ideal moblie game.
1. Byzantine’s releases.
They have only one notable flaw: they take a bit too long for the truly interesting things to happen in each battle. I’m not sure you could fix this without making the battles less interesting though.
2. Command Modern Operations/CMANO
I wouldn’t call the time I spend with CMO fun perhaps, but it is endlessly interesting and feels real in way no other wargame I’ve encountered does.
3. Rule the Waves
I played a lot of RtW for a week or so and didn’t touch it again, but that week provided the most pure enjoyment I’ve ever had wargaming.
4. Flashpoint Campaigns
A masterpiece in enjoyable frustration, and probably the one wargame I’ve returned to most frequently.
5. Close Combat
I still remember vividly that one time in CC2 when I with maybe a second to spare told one of my platoons to ambush and watched them annihilate the enemy approaching from the rear. That moment was my gateway drug into wargaming proper.
1. Combat Mission (1st gen)
2. Unity of Command
3. Twilight Struggle
4. Close Combat
5. Conflict of Heroes Awakening the Bear (https://store.steampowered.com/app/510320/Conflict_of_Heroes_Awakening_the_Bear/)
If my 5th item isn’t allowed I’ll vote for Panzer General instead please Tim
This is a great list already. I think of myself as a pretty light and fluffy wargamer, but I’m familiar and or experienced with lots more on this list than I had expected! My lack of grognardiness is reflected in my choices, but here they are anyway because damnit: I must exercise my democratic muscles and cast the ballots.
1. This War of Mine: I’ve supported real-world exercises as a civilian population role-player, and let me tell you: it’s no joke. 11-bit studios wins huge kudos from me for depicting a deeply replayable experience focussing on the under-represented but tragically overly common experience of civilians in conflict. This is one of those games that I carry with me for days afterward, suddenly aware of my home’s warm furnace and lavishly stacked tins of tuna.
2. Wargame – Red Dragon: Wait! All you who judge my rapid-clicky RTS choice! Multiplayer makes my head spin, but 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. Because I’m going to need those burly-boys not just this battle, but the next 4 or 5. I wanted to cast a vote for Steel Division, but the fact is I like the technology and settings of the Wargame series better. I just wish there were campaigns using the damned nationpacks…
3. Unity of Command: As someone who learned WWII from vapid manshoots like the original Medal of Honour, I was surprised to learn I love logistics! Unity of Command is beautiful to look at, easy to grasp, but a continual challenge for a player like myself to secure all objectives within the time allotted. It feels tactile in a way few wargames do to me.
4. Ultimate General: No hexes! Elevation lines! Smoke and fog and great bugling! I’m rubbish at it, but I love to play it.
5. Combat Mission: The original series. We-Go is a great wargame concept that deserves a place in the history books. I struggle often to commit to a full playthrough in one go, and would probably benefit from the new upgraded engine entries, but the original holds a real soft spot in my heart. The first Communal Combat Mission captured my imagination in a way no wargame has since. I spent the most hours on the original Shock Force at a time when I was just starting to understand what was really going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Battlefront are a puzzling bunch, but I want more CM games in the world.
1. Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm
2. Total War (even though its against the rules, I would like specify only editions where you are able to re-establish some form of the roman empire)
3. Wargame (Air Land Battle is my favourite implementation of basic CAS and SEAD in a real time game ever)
4. Fields of Glory II
5. Hearts of Iron (who doesnt want to win the war in 1942 as the USA, then turn your own government fascist and invade Canada out of boredom, only to see bundeswehr tanks romp down the eastern seaboard in defence of the free world)
Can I just say how heartwarming the number of comments on this post is. Good to see so many people here!
I couldn’t agree more! Thank you to everyone who has voted thus far. The emerging picture is fascinating.
Just want to add some titles that I enjoyed playing and deserve mentioning (not in my top 5 but top 10 for sure):
Blitzkrieg 1 series, especially with mods like Barbarossa, Green Devils, Rolling Thunder, Kursk
spinoffs: Frontline Fields of Thunder and Cuban Missile Crisis The Aftermath
Codename Panzer series: Phase One, Phase Two and Cold War
Panzer Command – Winter Offensive
I have a few sci-fi wargames / sims titles that comes to mind but do not qualify for this article.
…I forgot about Avalon HiIl’s Squad Leader
1. Hannibal: Rome & Carthage in the Second Punic War
2. Carrier Battles 4 Guadalcanal – Pacific War Naval Warfare
3. Rule the Waves
4. Campaigns on the Danube
5. Field of Glory: Pike & Shot Campaigns
1. Combat Mission First Gen
2. Combat Mission Second Gen
3. Armoured Brigade
4. Command Ops
5. Steel Panthers
1 Command Ops
2 Combat Mission (second generation)
3 ultimate general
4 Radio Commander
5 Silent Storm
1. Command Ops
2. Rule the Waves
3. Hearts of Iron
4. AGEod’s oeuvre
5. Byzantine Games’ oeuvre
I don’t think it goes in my top 5, but Ground Control (the original more so than the sequel) has always held a place in my heart. A real-time strategy game with a strong emphasis on battlefield tactics by the expedient of dropping base building and on-map production of reinforcements altogether, it was tense in the extreme. How carefully can I afford to scout? Do I risk sending in my air units to bail out my under-fire ground forces, without knowing if there’s nearby anti-air? Can I win this mission with the handful of units I have left? And so forth.
… on re-reading, I see ‘recreates a real event’ is among the criteria for the list, so I guess Ground Control is ineligible, but I stand by my recollection that it was good.
1. Close Combat. CC2 was the game that got me into real time wargames and online gaming
2. Combat Mission 2nd Gen
3. Panzer General – I believe I actually first had this on Playstation 1. Panzer Corps definitely scratches the itch though PG1 was the game to start it all.
4. Rule the Waves – addictive!
5. Hearts of Iron – HoI2 and Darkest Hour have eaten inordinate hours of my life!
So happy to see Darkest Hour, its such a gem that dont get talk about.
1. Strategic Command
2. Unity of Command
3. Hearts of Iron
4. Panzer General
5. Total War
Given that this “top 50 war games” vote was inspired by PC Gamers recent top 100, and specifically their lack of any real wargames featuring, it’s interesting that Total War is topping the list so far.
I’m assuming (haven’t actually seen PC Gamers top 100 yet) that one of the Total War series is probably about the only game out of all these wargames listed above that that actually feature. Also one of the only “AAA” games on the list (I guess HOI is the other, which also is near the top) It just goes to show what a difference a decent UI, decent graphics, and a big development team can make, something that most wargames are sadly lacking.
It’s a shame then that wargames are a bit too niche for any of the top publishers to take a punt on. I would love to see what Battlefront or Slitherine could do with say £100m+ to chuck at the next Combat Mission or whatever.
You know, Tim, there’s so many thoughtful comments here that I’d love to engage more with. I wonder whether this exercise shows that there might be some value in a THC forum of some sort?
It’ll probably be some work to moderate: I’m under no illusions about some of the seedier, alt-righty types that wargaming can sometimes attract. Do other commenters / you think it would be worth a go?
+1 to this idea. It’s really cool to be seeing such an engaged comment section, a forum could be great.
It’s a nice idea, but unlikely to happen unless THC grows into a multi-person operation. Right now preparing the Friday feature, and the two weekly foxers keeps me pretty busy.
Forums tend to happen to sites as they grow, but you know, I enjoy the size of the comment section. I can check it when I come back for my one article on a Friday and can read or scan through everything. It feels satisfying in the way that reading a newspaper cover to cover did.
Say, Tim, the ‘Latest comments’ sidebar is a little small only showing the latest five. I’ve no idea how to command internet weather, but I picture a ‘cloud’ in its place showing all the articles that have received comments in the past seven days, perhaps with a count of the comments. Would make it easy to return to older articles and conversations.
I’ve doubled the size of “Latest Comments”, and will look into replacing the ‘Recent Posts’ widget with something more useful.
1. Combat Mission 2
2. Command: Modern Operations
3. Flashpoint Campaigns
4. Lock n Load Tactical Digital
5. Armored Brigade
Before I add five votes to 2nd Generation Combat Mission on your behalf, your favourite wargame isn’t CMBB is it? (Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin was sold as CM2 in some countries IIRC).
I guess it’s more properly titled Combat Misson Shock Force 2. Although Black Sea is a close contender. But I didn’t think it was fair to populate all five spots with CM games. 🙂 Lock n Load is definitely not getting the love it deserves though.
1. Close Combat
2. Steel Panthers
3. Decisive Campaigns
4. Armoured Commander II
5. Battle Academy
1. Combat Mission (first gen)
2. Steel Panthers
3. Decisive Campaigns
4. Total War
5. This War of Mine
Hello Tim, sorry for being late to the party, first class idea.
Well than, at the enemy:
1. Gary Grigsby’s War in the Pacific
a.k.a.: Pacific Logistics Simulator
WitP has taught me that wargames are not only an enjoyable pastime, but can be a valuable source for understanding history. Better than any book (and trust me, there are many having my back right now) or other medium, WitP has helped me understand one aspect of WW2 much better: scale.
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.
2. Steel Panthers
a.k.a. you will probably quit the first eight games on turn 2 and fiddle with the options before it gets enjoyable (after that: very!)
3. Field of Glory II
a.k.a. human-psychology-meets-chaos-theory simulator
4. Age of Rifles
a.k.a. with #2s random battle creator, I would be #2 (What a massively missed opportunity. Nevertheless excellent)
5. Alright: Gary Grigsby’s Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich
a.k.a. sadly not a good game.
Hach! The Airwar over Europe. Relevant and fascinating. Nachtjaegers stalking Lancs, Messerschmidt Zerstoerers running up against the lead walls of Boeing made castles. And still I have to find a strategy wargame that covers that in a way I can enjoy. Bombing the Reich actually gets very close, there are great things here.
However, too many other things are all over the place to allow me to really recommend it to anyone.
The interface clearly dislikes humans (and that is from yours truly, who genuinely believes that War in the Pacific has an interface that is not just very intuitive, but frankly quite beautiful). Also some moving parts are just too off-putting, or not working or do not make sense (Casualties? Who cares about casualties, we are the Allies!)
Still, here I am, giving it one point. Because something I really want to work has been attempted, and as said, many parts do work well, I do not regret any of the hours I spent. Just that no additional hours will flow into this anymore because I hit too many walls is what the sad news is.
Will the fine 3 gentlemen that brought us all kinds of WW2 shenanigans take a heart and go once more to battle for this? I really hope so. I think based on what is here, they could actually make a great European Airwar Strategy Wargame. One can hope. One can dream.
Oh, and I think I have not written that yet (again late to the party):
So good to have you back Tim.
Morale +1. Thanks.
I’m a simple man, with simple votes:
Total War – This series has given me so much joy along the years, particularly the Shogun and Napoleonic iterations.
Unity of Command – focused properly on logistics while keeping the fun and quick play at hand. The old guy in me appreciated that!
Close Combat – innovative for its time, presented morale, suppression, proper maneuvering and did it in real time!
Panzer General – the original tank geardo fave. Should I get Panzer IIIs or IVs? Oh, sir, but what models? What Year? Its never simple
Company of Heroes – not the most realistic but one that presents realism bits in a very playable fashion. Lots of game design lessons to be learned there, but suffice to say I had more fun and did more cool stuff in MP in this than I was able to do in more pretentious titles.
Fantastic idea! My picks:
1. Command: Modern Operations. Takes Harpoon, already excellent, and infinitely deepens and improves it. Nuff said.
2. Sid Meier’s Gettysburg. Probably the single best all-around wargame of all time, emphasis on “game.” Perfectly balanced and crafted, endlessly addictive.
3. Total War. Nothing can beat it for spectacle and sense of scale.
4. Unity of Command. The most Swiss watch-like wargame ever (maybe ironic given the inherent chaos of the conflict it’s based on!). Everything fits together perfectly, nothing at all is superfluous.
5. STAVKA-OKH (http://www.rodvik.com/rodgames/STAVKA-OKH.html). 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.
Oh yeah, good pick. Rod Humble has some interesting games.
The more I think about it, the more I find it is inappropriate that Total war figure on this list. I have played those games to death, but they are not attempts at being ‘wargames’ or realistic depictions of historical outcomes or even realistic depictions of tactics. They are RTS games which are built around a game system that they have invented. Troops move in blocks etc. You cannot in good conscience say that after playing for example the Rome series that you know more about Roman warfare that you did before. They do not set out to teach.
The Total Wars sit very close to my wargames-non-wargames dividing line, but I feel they are just about wargamey enough to qualify for this Top 50. I reckon you can learn as much about historical warfare from Empire: Total War or Medieval: Total War as you can from Panzer General, especially if you apply a few realism-boosting mods before playing.
That’s a good point you make there.
You know, these aren’t top 50 picks but there are two games not widely played that do as good a job as any I’ve seen in depicting Medieval warfare – XIII Century and Real Warfare 2: Northern Crusades. XIII Century is a battler simulator, RW2:NC has a strategic level, ala TW, but has the same type of battle simulator as XIII Century. And the battles are brutal. Basically, before the battle, you lay out a plan, issue orders, and cross your fingers because once the swords cross and shields clash, C and C pretty much gets thrown out with the bathwater Sort of reminds me of a medeival Graviteam game LOL.
Gary Grigsby’s War in the
Scourge of War
I’m a bit torn in regards to Combat Mission. The old series is a bonafide classic and a v e r y important series. However, I don’t think the games have stood the test of time in regards to controls and working well with modern systems. They could really do with a remaster in the way that Command & Conquer 1995 had to bring them up to modern standards of resolution and controls. Which speaks to the quality of them as games. —– The newer series is stingier with content, covers less ground, and has really staked itself on MORE DETAIL!!!!. Which I think makes for a worse series than the original games.
So given that I don’t think I can put the old series on this list and that the new series is worse than the old I can’t very well put either of them on here, can I?
It might be worth consider combining War in the Pacific/War in the West/War in the East together into a single item? The War in the …. series broadly shares themes and styles. Covering the entire front from beginning to end in minute detail. WITP is different than WITE/WITW but they also share a lot of similarities similar to the CM games and Byzantine games.
I wonder how much overlap there is between the War in the Pacific community and the War in the East/West community. From browsing forums I get the impression that players of WitP often (?) have little interest in GG’s other monster wargames. Having two separate entries was my (possibly ill-conceived) attempt to reflect that split.
1. Flight Commander 2
2. Steel Panthers
3. Achtung Spitfire!
4. Panzer General
5. Battle Academy
1 Close Combat – my entry drug into war gaming. CC3 still my fav, but lets not talk about most recent release.
2 Strategic Command – easy to pick up with good scale of conflict and replayibility
3 Hex of Steel – for the content produced still can’t believe it’s just one guy
4 Atlantic Fleet – for when you’re warmongering needs to be watery
5 Flashpoint Campaigns – WeeeeeeeeeeGo!
Does a vote for Harpoon count as a vote for Command: Modern Air Naval Operations? I played a lot of Harpoon around 1994 and it’s probably my favourite wargames experience but I’ve never played C:MANO, so it’d seem odd to vote for it. My top 5 is:
2. Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm
4. Rule The Waves
5. Pavlov’s House
If the Total War games had done anything at all to address the fundamental failings of the early versions I might have snuck in a vote, but the relentless lack of battle AI improvements turned me off years ago. It’d be nice to know if anyone thinks that modern versions are substantially better, though.
1)Pacific Theatre of Operations(PTO)(koei)(snes)
2)computer war in europe(cWIE)(decision games)(pc)
4)Romance of the Three Kingdoms(RoTK)(koei)(ps1)
You know, these aren’t top 50 picks but there are two games not widely played that do as good a job as any I’ve seen in depicting Medieval warfare – XIII Century and Real Warfare 2: Northern Crusades. XIII Century is a battler simulator, RW2:NC has a strategic level, ala TW, but has the same type of battle simulator as XIII Century. And the battles are brutal. Basically, before the battle, 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 LOL.
I don’t believe I’ve played Real Warfare 2 but I reviewed XIII for PC Gamer (UK) back in 2008 and was sufficiently impressed to award it 70%:
“While XIII’s approach, interface and units are all incredibly familiar, the AI and choice of historical scraps, give the game sufficient personality to survive the inevitable unflattering comparisons [with Medieval 2]”
“To call any of the scenarios simulations would be to misuse the word, but the designers have plainly done some homework. Take the Battle of Falkirk (episode 2, English campaign) for example. While the venue has a slightly stylised RTS feel and the troop numbers are distorted to guarantee challenge, the terrain, army compositions and positions all echo the events of July 22nd, 1298. After using my mounted knights to shred William Wallace’s archer screen, and my bowmen to break-up his four hedgehogs of schiltrom-ing spearmen, I went to Wiki to read about the real engagement. It turns out it developed along with very similar lines. Impressive.”
However, I clearly didn’t think much of the castle assault / siege side:
“On the website feature list there’s mention of “mangonels and trebuchets”. Don’t be taken-in. Siege engines and sieges look to have been cut at the eleventh hour. The few fortresses that did make it in are either decorative or scandalously permeable. Penetrating Lincoln’s lovely battlements involves sauntering in through one of four open and unguarded gates.”
I agree with everything you wrote. I especially agree with your first paragraph, because I do believe the AI does the game and era justice. You are correct that the lack of siege equipment and the forts being “permeable” are the huge downside. But I do like the way the battles play out. Your 70% is just about right on the nose.
PS, Sorry about the double post. And thanks for the reply.
1. Rule the Waves
Have (and still am) playing the living daylight out of that game. The combination of strategy with juggling your budget, designing and building ships, your government making completely boneheaded decisions (per random events) and then fighting wars with those ships and managing them in tactical battles is just sooooo up my alley!
2. Panzer General
Nostalgia might play a role here, but hell did I love that game!
3. SSI’s Great Naval Battles
The role Panzer General played for me with re. to land combat, Great Naval Battles did for naval combat.
(Honorable Mention: Task Force 1942)
4. War in the Pacific
An absolute MONSTER of a game, but that’s what made it so attractive to me. Unfortunately, I never managed to finish a campaign – maybe it _is_ a little to massive for me after all, lol.
5. War on the Sea
Great introduction to naval wargaming. Yes, it’s rather simplified but that is what makes it suitable for people new to the genre.
#1: Unity of Command
#2: Rule the Waves
#3: Combat Mission (second gen)
#4: Field of Glory
#5: Total War
If you’re going to add Ultimate Admiral: Dreadnoughts, it gets my fourth place vote.
Comments are closed.