Best Tabletop War Board Games – Ranked & Reviewed (2019)
“Only the dead have seen the end of the war.” ―Plato, 5th century BCE
Wargames have a deep-seated place in gaming history. Despite what many gamers think, a lot of various board game designs can be traced back to wargaming.
Before we get into this list, let’s talk definitions. What is a wargame? Is any game with a war theme a wargame? Does it just require conflict and head-to-head battle to be a wargame? What are the defining characteristics?
If you’re not interested or already have a firm idea of what a wargame is you can jump right into the list here.
A Brief History of Wargames
Wargames were originally a teaching tool to educate young men on the principles of war. Some of the earliest credited examples come from Prussia by a man named Johann Christian Ludwig Hellwig (1780s). For you history buffs out there, you’ll notice that Prussia no longer exists and is modern-day Germany (which is still known for developing highly-complex and enjoyable board games). This first version of a wargame was like an elaborate/expanded version of chess. This was purely a teaching tool and not for commercial or military use.
H.G. Wells later took these designs and created one of the first modern-day miniature wargames. Instead of dice, Wells used miniature cannons that would fire at miniature troops. If a troop was knocked over it was considered a casualty. As you can imagine the scale needed to shoot and play Little Wars took up quite a lot of space, and he had entire rooms dedicated to the game, or they had to play outside on the lawn. If you can imagine the tiny model villages that are sideshows for road stops, or if you’ve seen the ending to Hot Fuzz you can begin to imagine what these rooms looked like.
From there the past time evolved over several iterations as topographical maps were improved, and interest grew. One of the first commercially successful wargames was created by a man named Charles Roberts who would later found Avalon Hill Games.
So why did I pick these games specifically?
I chose games on this list that I felt fit the criteria above. I had to be able to trace the mechanics back to the original wargames in some way. This doesn’t mean that they all have a little cork cannon to knock down soldiers, but they needed to have troop movement and give the feel of warfare from at least a bird’s eye view.
There are several games on this list that maybe don’t fit the traditional view of a wargame, but I wanted to add them anyway. As we move into the modern era the face of warfare has changed drastically. With that, there are some games on this list that illustrate that point beautifully and I thought they deserved that recognition.
The other factor, which may or may not be controversial, is availability. There were several games on the larger list of wargames that I really wanted to include, but they were out-of-print or impossible to find without a huge collector’s price tag attached. I love games, and one of the most frustrating things to me is getting hyped for a game and not being able to find a copy of it.
Axis & Allies 1941
Axis & Allies is a true classic. Not only is it one of the best all-in-one box wargames out there, but it’s also created by Avalon Hill, one of the first commercial wargame companies out there. It’s usually one of the first wargames that get players into the genre. It has so much strategic value and replayability packed into one box, it’s not hard to see why it’s remained such a paradigm of the genre over the years.
This game has everything you could want in a WWII board game. Players will have to hold supply lines to keep units coming in while simultaneously worrying about air strikes, amphibious assaults and war on every front you can imagine.
Each player will take control of one of the major powers during WWII. The Anniversary Edition even added a sixth power to boost the player count to 6 if you really wanted to (I personally prefer 4 players).
A Vast Array of Combat Troops
Combat happens simultaneously and there are several weapons in your arsenal that can be used to destroy your enemies. Air raids are used to take out opponents’ industry. Submarines and ships can be used in naval and amphibious assaults. As players get into scraps, units are placed on the board on the appropriate unit’s place. As players continue with the skirmish, units will fire back and forth until all units are destroyed.
There’s a Reason It’s Number One
Axis & Allies: 1941 has everything you could possibly want from a wargame. Players can launch tactical strikes against industry, conduct air raids, sea battles, and of course, the ground war. There’s a reason why Avalon Hill has been synonymous with wargames for many years now. Not only have they been around since the beginning, but they are still putting out excellent wargames.
For the number of options and strategy, it’s hard for me to place Axis & Allies anywhere but number one.
Twilight Imperium (Fourth Edition)
The Emperor of the Galaxy that has been keeping the Empire together has died. In the galaxy-sized power vacuum left in his wake, who will step in to seize control, and who will be the new ruler of the Empire?
Twilight Imperium is a galaxy-wide brawl. There are few games that rival it for scope and size and is a tabletop classic in its own right. Twilight Imperium is an absolutely unique experience in board games. It is so much more than a simple area control or wargame where players with the most military units smash through. It’s a political struggle for a power vacuum at its finest, and it includes everything that goes along with it; conquest, treaties, intrigue, betrayal, and so much more.
Excellent Production Value
The different races you can play are all unique in strength, weaknesses, and technology. The gameplay involved with multiple races vying for supremacy makes this one of my favorite games. Fantasy Flight has recently updated the entirety of the game for their 4th edition and the production value and rule changes have only made the game better. If you haven’t looked into Twilight Imperium, I highly suggest giving it a try. It is a long game, but with 3 players it scales nicely and won’t take the whole day to finish.
For those of you who disagree with me that Twilight Imperium is a wargame, I have to disagree. Twilight Imperium is a complete wargame in my opinion in that it involves all of the political backlash and economic downturns of an actual war. Of course, you can’t be a pure aggressor like in other wargames, but as in life if a superpower becomes overly aggressive and started rampaging through the civilized you can imagine the economic and political ramifications that that would have.
B-17 Flying Fortress Leader
“The power of an air force is terrific when there is nothing to oppose it.” —Winston Churchill
B-17 Flying Fortress Leader is going to be a look at a more traditional wargame, and one that is actually a single-player game too. I really like the system and style of this game. It is pretty massive in scope (and takes up a bit of table space) which you don’t normally see in a solo game.
B-17 gives more of an overall mission view of the battlefield as opposed to some of the other games in the Air Leader System. During the game, you’ll be managing a wing of B-17’s during World War II. You’re responsible for completing missions and purchasing new fighters and bombers. As you progress you’ll have a lot of different missions coming your way and various targets that need to be destroyed. It’s not as easy as simply flying in a dropping a bomb, however. The Luftwaffe and anti-aircraft emplacements will be strewn throughout the region and are looking to take down your planes every chance that they get.
This game looks and feels so cool. It’s a single-player experience but combined with the map and all of the options that come with it, the game feels like a big box experience.
Yep, the bad guys level-up too
I’m always a huge fan of leveling mechanics and as your pilots progress they’ll be upgraded from rookie pilots to elite veterans throughout the campaign. Your squadron won’t be the only one leveling up either. As you progress you’ll find that the same tactics used on the first few missions won’t carry you through the entire game. As you play the German board AI will swap tactics and change their own defenses forcing you to adapt to each mission.
With thematic components like bombers, battles, and World War II, this game will definitely appeal to military buffs and history fans alike. I think B-17 Flying Fortress Leader does an excellent job of putting you in command. The board is full of reference charts and tables making it gorgeous to look at and really gives the feel of a commander looking down on the battlefield. The variety of targets and missions that can be flown will keep you busy for quite some time.
As a wargame, I think it does an outstanding job both historically and mechanically. Give this one a try, especially if you find it hard to get some of your other players in your group into wargames. It’s a fantastic solo game and a great way to spend an evening.
“I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” —Patrick Henry, speech in the Virginia Convention, 1775
The war between the American Colonies and the British Empire wages on. The elite military of the British Empire is fighting a rebellious colonial army full of farmers and settlers. They can’t lose… right?
1775: Rebellion does so many things right as a game. The combat tactics involved in 1775 are excellent. Each side has their own set of special dice using symbols instead of numbers. When fighting, players from each side will roll dice and results may vary. Hits could outright kill, units can completely withdraw from the attack, or there could even be some hit-and-run tactics put in play.
Dice System for Balance
The reason I really like the dice system is that each faction has different ratios of dice rolls. The elite British regulars, for example, will never retreat from battle. They hit harder and are unquestionably better than any other troops. Being elite does have its disadvantages, however. By definition, Elites are rare and British players will find they have trouble replacing troops quickly. The American side, on the other hand, continually finds themselves employing the traditional hit-and-run tactics of a militia.
Allies & Mercenaries
Wars are never as clear-cut as they seem: two powers vying for control or freedom, etc. They always end up bubbling over and involving others in the struggle. Whether by alliances, bribes, mercenaries, or accident, many other groups got involved in the war as well. In addition to usual suspects of participants (British vs. Colonists), each side can both recruit Natives Americans to help bolster their forces. The downside is that it will take some turns to reach them, and it may spread you too thin. There are also Hessian mercenaries that can be picked up too and remember, each one will have different strengths depending upon the dice they use.
For such a small board game, 1775: Rebellion packs a lot of strategy and fun all into one box. I’ll admit that as an American, I probably don’t know as much about the Revolutionary War as I should, but I still felt I was playing an excellent game that was true to the era.
P.S. It’s also available on Steam.
War of the Ring (Second Edition)
“In the black wind the stars shall die,
and still on gold here let them lie,
till the dark lord lifts his hand
over dead sea and withered land.”
―J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
For a bit of fantasy flair, you may want to try War of the Ring. Sauron’s troops are limitless and will constantly be pouring out of Mordor to wreak havoc on Middle Earth. The Free People will have a limited amount of troops to draw upon. A drawn-out war favors a Sauron, “but hope yet remains while company is true”. In the hands of a humble hobbit is a ring, the One Ring to rule them all.
A Well-Balanced Game…
War of the Ring allows players to relive their own version of the classic Tolkien series, The Lord of the Rings. Each player will pick a side and wage war against the other, all while the Fellowship of the Fing slowly makes its way to Mt. Doom to destroy the Ring. The forces of Sauron must juggle several elements while maintaining pressure across the board. Although the army of orcs is effectively limitless, they will always start in Mordor. This is an excellent balancing component in the game. Reinforcements are endless, but they still take a while to get into position on the board. Meanwhile, the Free People will be strengthening their fortresses preparing for the armies of Sauron to crash into the bastions.
…of Good vs. Evil
War of the Ring is just a fascinating, well-balanced game. There are so many elements being manipulated at any given time, and each one seems important. I’ve never felt like one set of actions was trivial. Sauron will need to press his attack throughout Middle Earth while simultaneously searching for the fellowship. The Free people will need to balance defense, drawing on reinforcements and protecting the citadels from Sauron.
It can be overwhelming at times, but every game is exciting, full of incredible moments where individual units can change the course of battles by holding to the last man or performing heroic charges.
Falling Sky: Gallic Revolt Against Caesar
“Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres.” —Julius Caesar, De Bello Gallico (Latin: “All Gaul is divided into three parts.”)
Falling Sky is the 6th in the COIN series of games. The COIN series heavily features guerrilla warfare and COunter INsurgency. In this addition to the series, Falling Sky takes us to 54 BC. The Gauls have been conquered and they’re not happy about it.
Each faction plays very differently, which I always appreciate in a game. Romans are, without a doubt, the strongest units in the field (both historically and in-game). But if too many of the elite troops die, they’re much harder to replace. The Gauls’ win condition involves slaughtering the other tribes, they have Vercingetorix as a leader and can amass a horde of troops to the field.
“Gallia est pacata.” —Julius Caesar, in a letter to the Senate, 59 BCE (Latin: “Gaul is subdued.”)
Flowcharts to the Rescue
There are a lot of charts here but they make the game run much more smoothly. The developers created flowcharts for just about everything and on the surface, it looks really intimidating, but it’s very easy to follow. Just follow along on the charts and you’ll be told how the flow of events for each round should go and if any special circumstances pop up. They’re very intuitive and work wonders for keeping the flow of the game moving.
The flow charts also work well if you need an AI controlled player or want to try playing a solo game. Sometimes it’s hard to find another wargaming buddy, and it works well for figuring out rules, scenarios, and strategies.
There are quite a few entries in the COIN series of games, but the theme and gameplay from Falling Sky make it my favorite so far. All of them are excellent, so if you can get your hands on one I highly suggest trying them out.
If you like trying out a digital version first there is a Steam version available on PC.
Star Wars: Rebellion
“So this is how liberty dies…with thunderous applause.” —Padme Amidala, Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith
In a galaxy far, far away… the war between the Empire and the Rebels rages on.
Star Wars: Rebellion has a ton of thematic elements built into the game and I’m a bit of a Star Wars nerd to begin with. Rebellion does an amazing job of putting players in the shoes of each faction; Rebel & Empire.
Each player controls a side, either Rebellion or the Empire. The tactics and win conditions for both sides are very different, and players will be able to utilize their specific strengths when attacking the other side.
“The Empire was far beyond subtle politicking now; they were desperate to crush the Rebellion, and desperate animals were always the most dangerous.” —Madeleine Roux, “Eclipse,” in Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View
The Empire has access to larger industry and overall better economics. It’ll be much easier for the Empire player to field larger armies and become the aggressors. The Rebellion, on the other hand, are very much the underdogs.
A War of Attrition
At the beginning of the game, the Rebel players choose a single planet on which to hide the Rebel Base. They will lose the game if the Empire ever discovers the hidden base and takes it over. It’s a war of attrition for the Rebels. The Rebel goal is to simply outlast the Empire and to complete objectives. The Empire must destroy the Rebel base in order to win. The game has a lot of thematic flair that will show up throughout the game and you’ll see many familiar faces from the movies.
Special Event cards are put into play throughout the game, causing major upsets throughout the board. The Rebels will be able to incite rebellions and completely take over occupied planets, but the empire does have access to the Death Star, which is fully operational.
A Galactic Game of Cat & Mouse
If you don’t like Star Wars… well, first of all, you’re a monster, and second, please do not pass up this game over the theme. Rebellion plays like a very tense game of cat and mouse. Rebel players will be hiding throughout the galaxy striking back as they can and avoid the monstrous guns of the Empire, all while the Empire is blowing up planets and narrowing down the location of the hidden rebel base. It creates an amazing experience regardless of your favorite fandom.
If you do like Star Wars… you should definitely check out our round-up of best Star Wars board games here.
878: Vikings – Invasions of England
“Here terrible portents came about over the land of Northumbria, and miserably frightened the people: these were immense flashes of lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air. A great famine immediately followed these signs…” And then… “on the sixth day before the ides of January, the woeful inroads of heathen men destroyed God’s church in Lindisfarne island by fierce robbery and slaughter.” —793 AD, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Peterborough MS)
878: Vikings – Invasions of England is a team-based wargame where two sides will face-off, controlling either the English nobles or the invading Vikings. As the English, teams can choose to play as either the English Housecarls (the king’s household troops) or Thegns (regional leaders). Whereas the Viking team can opt to play as the Norse freemen or as the infamous Viking Berserkers, the fearless warriors who fought in a trance-like fury.
Each faction feels completely distinct and has their own strategies to contend with. One of the great things about 878: Vikings – Invasions of England is that no matter what side you’re playing on, you will always feel hard-pressed. There’s no faction with a distinct advantage over the other.
Combat & Thematic Dice
Combat is handled primarily through dice, but that doesn’t mean that whoever rolls highest wins. 878 uses custom dice that really brings a thematic flair to each side.
Wait, what? How do dice add thematic flair…they’re just dice, aren’t they?
Each faction will receive their own set of custom dice which have no numbers on them. Results of dice can be a successful attack that kills a unit, a loss of the unit, or a tactical retreat. Units that retreat live to fight another day and can be returned to the board during a later phase. This brings battle to a much more exciting and tense conclusion than simply rolling some dice. Adding more to the thematic flair of the game, each faction within the game has different ratios of dice. The Viking invaders may be able to inflict casualties more often, but the defenders will be able to easily attack, retreat, and return to the map. Battles can become quite tense from these elements alone.
Team English or Team Viking?
878: Vikings – Invasions of England is very much a team game. You’ll find yourself strategizing and talking with your teammates, trying to find the best approach to take down your opponents. Do you have enough manpower to push through and cut off reinforcements, or are you spreading yourself too thin? Do you allow some of your territories to be taken, while performing a fighting withdrawal? There are quite a few options here and it all combines into an excellent experience. The game creates real drama when fighting, and is one of my favorites.
Hannibal and Hamilcar: Rome vs. Carthage
“Aut inveniam viam aut faciam.” —Hannibal Barca, 2nd century BCE (Latin: “I shall either find a way or make one.”)
Hannibal & Hamilcar is a 2-player wargame in which Rome and Carthage face-off for control of the ancient world during the Punic Wars. In this dueling wargame, each player chooses either the Roman side or the Carthaginian side. If the game looks familiar, it’s because it is the successor to Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. Everything from the previous game has since been updated and is a much more polished game.
Combat is super cool
The combat system here is pretty unique. It reminds me of elements from several games, but I’ve never seen anything quite like it. When players finally square off in battle, each player will draw battle cards according to their strength. The more factors boosting combat strength = more cards during a battle. You’re going to want as many cards as possible because it gives you a definite advantage in combat.
The way combat works here is whichever player has the initiative in battle goes first and they will play a card. The cards all have different formations and combat maneuvers; left flank, right flank, double envelopment, frontal assault, and reserve troops. The second player then needs to match the card played and roll a die to take initiative. If a player ever cannot match the card, they lose the battle.
It’s a very simple mechanic, but it really works well. There’s a lot of strategy that goes into it. Should you continue to play on the left flank? Do you spread out strategies and hope your opponent runs out of cards? Did that smirk mean he has a handful of reserve cards? It becomes a psychological game amid the battle… keep your poker face on.
Politics Plays a Role
Another really neat touch to the game is the way they deal with Roman generals. The Roman side will be constantly shuffling through generals representing Senate elections. As the game progresses, the Romans general powers will be constantly shifting.
The production value of the game is pretty impressive. The generals all have a corresponding miniature with their stats printed on the side. The board looks very impressive and has a lot of charts and graphs that make for easy reference placed around the edges, which also streamline game progress.
The rules can be a bit intimidating here, but the gameplay isn’t as complex as it looks at first sight. Once you get a game under your belt, you’ll have the rules down.
“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped, and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.” —Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address to Allied soldiers on June 6, 1944
Memoir ‘44 is a historical board game in which players will clash in some of the most famous battles of World War II, such as Omaha Beach, Pegasus Bridge, Operation Cobra, and the Ardennes. This is another staple in wargaming and one where most players cut their teeth. It’s a 2-player duel (that can be played with teams to add players) that has numerous expansions to fill out your board with all kinds of scenarios and units.
Ready for orders, sir!
One of the most interesting mechanics of Memoir ‘44 is the card-based orders system. Each player will have a hand of cards that allow them to issue orders to 1 of 3 sections of the board. The board is divided into 3 parts; left flank, right flank, and center. To actually move units you’ll need to have the right cards in your hand. This simulates the breakdown in communication lines during battle. You may have all of the perfect units ready and in position, but if you can’t send them the order, they’re basically meat shields.
Quick Reference FTW
Memoir ‘44 comes with several additional cards that act as a quick reference, so instead of a bunch of charts printed on the board, you can simply place the reference cards around the board. I think that’s an ingenious workaround because it frees up board space and much less wasted space. The rules combined with the reference cards make it a very easy game to learn.
If you somehow manage to get bored with the base box, Memoir ‘44 has tons of expansions that add new units, scenarios, and campaigns, giving it a huge lifespan for a wargame.
As an introductory wargame or a complete war-in-a-box, Memoir ‘44 is hard to beat. The rules and mechanics are simple to learn, the strategy will have you scratching your head, and the games don’t take longer than an hour, so it won’t be a huge investment of time. It’s so much fun and easy to play that it will be taken down from your shelf and placed on your table again and again.
“Alea iacta est.” —Julius Caesar when crossing Rubicon river to attack Rome, 49 BCE (Latin: “The die is cast.”)
Julius Caesar uses block troops similar to a style like Stratego. Blocks will stand on their sides and only visible to one player during troop movements. They are only revealed during combat. As far as the components for the troops I really liked the blocks. They feel hefty and sturdy in your hands, and they look really cool on the board when everything is set up. When troops are injured and heal all you need to do is rotate the blocks to have the current health of the unit pointed up, which I also thought was a really neat way of keeping track of units.
A realistic, slogging campaign
The game itself takes five years. No, not five actual years, but five rounds in-game, which equal one year of the campaign apiece.
I really like the level of realism that comes with a lot of wargames. In order to mimic real-world events and logistics. Julius Caesar uses a card system for troop movement, and the way they handle these elements is really cool in my opinion. If troops want to move quickly then they won’t be able to replenish troops, but if they stay and fortify their position they’ll be able to bolster troop numbers considerably compared to when they’re on the march. It’s these little elements of life mimicking art that has always fascinated me about board game mechanics and Julius Caesar is full of them.
The influence of the gods
During the course of the game, there are several God cards that can be called upon for bonuses. They are very powerful as you may imagine. For example, Mars allows a sneak attack on an opponent. The player who uses it will be able to move and attack before the defenders even get a chance to respond. They are powerful, but not game breaking. To use one of these players will basically forfeit the rest of their turn which keeps everything balanced. You won’t be able to simply call upon the guards multiple times during a turn.
This game is amazing! The rules are clean and the strategies are complex. The game is perfect for beginners and pros alike, and the production value of the game is very well done. I love the historical theme as well, and I honestly can’t think of a single complaint I have with this game.
“Now the trumpet summons us again, not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are – but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle…” —John F. Kennedy
Twilight Struggle focuses on the Cold War conflict between the USSR and the United States in the 20th century. Players fight for control of influence throughout the world in order to stave off thermonuclear war.
Simple Rules, Complex Card Mechanics
The rules are relatively simple to learn, but the strategies involved are hard to master. There’s always a ton of actions that players can do on any given turn, but knowing when to issue specific actions will take some strategy and learning of the game.
The card system can be particularly difficult to master. You’ll have cards in your hand that inevitably help the opposing side. It’s going to happen. You’ll have to decide when you are going to play them. At some point, you’re going to have to play them and help your opponent, so the strategy is to play them at the opportune time to give them the least amount of benefit possible.
Coups can also rapidly fill influence and take over territory, but difficult to succeed at and if you fail, the opposing sides take the territory.
As in real life, the game ends if thermonuclear war is declared.
So why is this a wargame if when you get to the big war (nukes) the game ends? Well, on BGG it is one of the highest rated wargames and is classified as a wargame. However, depending on who you’re talking to, Twilight Struggle is highly debated on whether it actually classifies as a wargame. This game is about the Cold War, a historical conflict. As with most things, we have to deal with evolving definitions Some people will say that the Cold War was not a war at all.
In modern conflicts, troops no longer stand in neat disciplined lines, trading volleys with each other across a field. The game is very much about war, and instead of fighting with troops and soldiers, you’re fighting for influence and power using other countries. The idea of creating a board game about such a volatile time in American/World history is highly unique and by my own definition, this definitely fits into the category of a wargame.
The Battle of Five Armies
“So began a battle that none had expected, and it was called the Battle of the Five Armies, and it was very terrible. Upon one side were the Goblins and the Wild Wolves, and upon the other were Elves and Men and Dwarves.” —J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
The Battle of Five Armies is the successor to the War of the Ring board game. Players will take part in the Battle of Five Armies, which takes place during the finale of The Hobbit.
There’s a lot of shared similarities between mechanics in The Battle of Five Armies and War of the Ring, but the gameplay feels completely different between the two games. The War of the Ring takes place on a grand scale and encompasses the full scope of the war. The Battle of Five Armies focuses more on the tactical level and functions on a smaller scale, as it is a battle, instead of a war.
How does it work?
The orc forces must take the region before the allied armies can bring out enough reinforcements to push the orc armies back. Strongholds are spread throughout the map and are worth points for the orc armies. If the orcs are able to take and control 10 points worth of strongholds, they’ll win.
The forces of light struggle to hold back the flood of orcs and as the game goes on, they’ll receive more powerful reinforcements in the form of heroic characters.
The game is very well balanced and it uses similar dice mechanics to those in War of the Ring. Instead of just moving and attacking a set number of times each turn, players will roll a handful of special dice for the turn. Each side of the dice corresponds to an action that they’ll be able to take. I really think that adds a flair to how armies move and attack. The orc forces will start out having more dice, but leader abilities and special actions that happen throughout the game will shift the number of dice players will be able to roll. I think this adds a lot more excitement and tension to actions. You may not always get exactly what you need on a roll, but there’s nothing better than getting the perfect roll at the exact moment you need it.
One of the mechanics I really like is mustering. Players will reinforce their armies through mustering actions. As you use the action dice to muster your armies, face down tokens will be placed on the boards and as they are activated, the tokens are flipped. Players won’t actually know what units they’ll be getting until they are activated, adding a bit of RNG to the strategy as well.
Combat is dice-driven and the number of units on a space determine the number of dice rolled. Each unit has a corresponding card. During combat, you’ll also be playing cards to boost effects. Each unit will have their own special abilities that when activated add powerful bonuses to a side like extra dice or easier success rolls.
The Battle of Five Armies does an amazing job of bringing the end of The Hobbit to life in an epic way. The game is brutal and will ruthlessly push opponents against each other without time to rest and reorganize. There is an artificial timer built into the game, using the fate track, forcing players to crash into each other and push lines quickly. The Tolkienesque thematic elements look really cool and the game is a fantastic face-off between good and evil. It’s a more streamlined version of War of the Ring which allows players to get in and start butting heads right away. If you thought War of the Ring was too heavy or simply don’t have enough time to play, you may want to give this one a try.
My first game of Risk was at my cousins’ house where we spent hours and hours playing. The thing is, we only played one game, and we didn’t even finish it.
If you open up my family’s copy of Risk, you’ll still find a notebook filled with carefully laid out notes of where each player’s pieces are, in a foolish pipe dream that someday we might actually go back and finish it.
Risk has always had a special place in my heart. It’s partially from nostalgia and partially because I actually really enjoy the game. Risk is relatively simple by today’s standards. Players will take turns choosing countries on a global map to start, and then expand their territories out in global conquest. There is no diplomacy. At the beginning of each turn, players will receive more units based on the number of territories they control. It’s very simple, but I always enjoy it.
If you play by the new rules it’s quite streamlined and doesn’t take 10 hours to play. All of the newer versions of Risk have built-in timers to the rules that will give the game a definite end.
I enjoy all games of Risk, but possibly the coolest version is Risk: Legacy. It was recently reprinted, so you’ll actually be able to find it in stores again. Risk: Legacy was the first legacy game to hit the board game scene and greatly enhances the entire Risk experience. Certain countries, over the course of the game, can become so damaged that they become hazardous or unreachable. There are upgraded units for the victors, and even the losers of a round get power-ups for an advantage in the next game.
I’ve always been a fan of Risk and have nothing but excellent memories playing it. If you’re a fan of Risk, I highly suggest checking out the Legacy version. Don’t be afraid of the expiration on legacy games. You’re going to get your money’s worth.
In the future, near-unstoppable battle tanks rampage through the field. It’ll take everything you’ve got to stop one of these behemoths in their tracks, and even then, victory is never guaranteed.
Ogre is a classic game by Steve Jackson, originally published in 1977. It’s since been given several official makeovers, and many fans have published homemade rules and models for years. A game that is still talked about in gaming circles after 40 years is definitely worth a look and gets an honorary spot on our list.
For a game about massive battle tanks, the rules are surprisingly simple. It’s actually quite easy to learn and can have new players up-and-running relatively quickly. Don’t let the simplicity fool you. The game itself is quite challenging. The newer editions have been upgraded with new scenarios and components that add to the original game, which add tons of replayability to the game.
A Longlived Classic Board Game
The original release scenario was pretty bare-bones compared to today’s board game standards. One massive Ogre battle tank would rampage across the map and attempt to take out a base. The second player would command a small battlegroup to disable the Ogre before it can destroy the base. With the newer editions, you can look forward to new terrain types, a bunch of new Ogre designs, and scenario enhancers like train routes and new troops. If you’re feeling particularly froggy you can track down the Designer’s version of the game which is absolutely massive. It’s so big and jammed full of terrain and expansion you’ll actually have trouble finding a place to store it.
Ogre is a lighter game. That’s not a bad thing. It’s perfect for introducing inexperienced players to the genre and it’s an excellent game to play with younger kids. Personally, I still love the design of the game and think the cardboard Ogre tanks are a great design for a classic game.
Ogre has also been re-released on Steam as a digital PC version of the game.
Battles of Westeros
“Some knights are dark and full of terror, my lady. War makes monsters of us all.” ―George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire
Dragons, intrigue, betrayal, and war… and that’s just the beginning. Battles of Westeros is a wargame set in George R.R. Martin’s Westeros from the popular Song of Ice and Fire novel series (or Game of Thrones TV series to non-readers).
Relive Scenarios from the Books… Or Create Your Own
The rulebook is full of scenarios to recreate battles from the world of Westeros. Players will be able to face-off as one of the Great Houses of Westeros. Play as the Lannisters or the Starks, each side with leaders that can drastically shift the field of battle. The game allows players to recreate battles straight from the books or to design their own. The win conditions for the game can change, depending on what a certain battle requires, such as victory points or holding strategic positions on the battlefield. This aspect adds a lot of replayability, variation, and added strategy. I really enjoy how no two games are ever the same.
Interesting Dice System
I really liked the dice system for this game. To move, players will need to roll a handful of 8-sided dice, and whatever colors appear will determine what units can be moved. Units will have 3 colors to them: green, blue, and red. If a red shows up, you’ll be able to move a red unit that turn, and so on. The same system works for attacking. When attacking, you’ll roll a number of dice and if a color rolled matches the color you’re attacking, the attack succeeds. Not all colors are equal on the dice, though. Green appears more often than blue, and blue appears more often than red, simulating fast attack troops vs. heavy elites. A green unit will theoretically be much quicker than a blue or red, but also much squishier. There’s always a bit of room for heroics shown through a wild dice roll. Wilds, as you might guess, can count for any color.
Battles of Westeros also adds a morale mechanic to the game. A morale track keeps track of overall morale for the army. If at any point it drops to zero, the army is considered broken. It then routs, flees, and loses. This really adds an interesting addition of strategy to an already in-depth game.
Even though it’s marketed as a Battlelore game, there’s not a whole lot of overlap between the games. Battlelore is another game from the same company that is a mashup between history and fantasy battles. Battles of Westeros is reminiscent of the Battlelore games in theme only. A lot of the rules and systems used in Westeros are different so you won’t need to have any knowledge of previous games in order to play. I think it was more of a marketing gimmick than anything else.
The only real downside I see in this game are the miniatures. There are a lot of them and they’re really cool looking, but they don’t come attached to the bases. Before even attempting to play, you’ll have to spend some time gluing, which seemed a little lazy on the publisher’s part.
With the discovery of Rubium a new type of ore the face of the world has been utterly changed.
In this Sci-Fi battle royale, players fight on a small, hexagonal field. Players will compete for the valuable Rubium resource and draft units in order to take over the board.
All players have access to the same units: humans, fungus monsters, giant insects, and dragons. The miniatures are smaller, mass-produced quality, but they still look very detailed, and I thought they did an excellent job with them.
During the game, players must first draft units to their side of the board. Then they can move and explore the colony, fight for contested squares, and mine areas they control on the board for additional resources.
Nexus Ops is a fast-paced brawl for control of resources. As players win battles, they’ll receive battle victory points. The first player to 12 victory points is the winner.
Nexus Ops is very simple to get into and a lot of fun to play. For this reason, I added it to the list as one of the best introductory wargames. The units are straightforward but each adds enough strategy that each unit feels different. It’s one of those games that players at your table will keep coming back to again and again. Avalon Hill created an instant classic when they first published this one in 2005.
Warhammer 40k Kill Team
When most people think of miniature wargaming, the first thing that comes to mind is Games Workshop. It’s kind of hard to start looking into the hobby without being broadsided by Space Marines or Chaos. Luckily, they’ve made it much easier to get into the hobby.
Instead of having to purchase a massive army, Kill Team instead focuses on smaller sized battles. This is much cheaper to get into and all models are compatible with the larger army-sized battles.
Granted, Kill Team is more of a skirmish game than a wargame, but I still think it’s the best entry point if you’re considering getting into 40k.
Dust Tactics is another miniature wargame and let me tell you, the models look awesome. WWII always gets a lot of showcase in wargames.
In the fictional world of Dust, the war has gone on far longer than anyone anticipated (much like real life), and 3 major powers have emerged. The allies have formed a massive coalition behind the USA. Germany, Italy, and Japan have risen from the ashes as one totalitarian state. Finally, the USSR and China have come together to create the Sino-Soviet Union pushing their views on any that come under their fold.
During the conflict, Germany has found a rare ore called VK which has transformed the face of warfare. With the discovery of this ore, massive war machines and mechs are no longer fantasy. All sides now scramble to keep up in the mech arms race as everyone is too far committed to back down.
Dust does some things very well. I really enjoy the altered timeline of WWII. WWII is already an unreal time in history, but I appreciate the slight sci-fi alterations. As a sci-fi fan, these adaptations really make this game an incredible experience.
I had a lot of trouble coming up with this list. There are a ton of awesome looking wargames out there and I spent hours searching through lists and forums. Many of the games that people said were the very best or their favorites were out-of-print or had a huge collector’s price tag. I had to cut a lot out and showcase games that people could actually find.
On top of that, I make a distinction between wargames and miniature wargaming which has its own set of criteria, definitions, and rules. I spent a lot of time doing research and reading rulebooks on this one, so I hope it shows.
I think wargamers get a bad rap in the gaming community because the stereotypical wargame is supposed to be full of rules, deeply intricate, and tedious. That’s not at all the case. Wargames still have that sense of valor and glory that took hold of people pre-WWI. Honor and glory emerged from the moment when the cavalry charged. I much prefer the gaming version of it to the real thing, personally.
Wargames are fun. They pit us strategically against other players and AI and are like an elaborate puzzle. How do you take control with a limited number of resources in the most efficient way possible? What resources do you sacrifice to accomplish that goal? How do you maneuver your units into position?
For those of you who made it through this monstrous article with me, you may have noticed 2 games on this list that aren’t like the others. Warhammer 40k and Dust Tactics. These two are miniature war games which I differentiate from wargames as a whole different subcategory of wargames. I added these two for people who may not know about the hobby and wanted to offer a good starting point.
I hope you enjoyed this list. As with most lists, a lot of the items are going to be highly subjective, especially when it comes to wargames.
We’d love to hear from you. If you have any comments or just want to talk board games leave us a comment below.