Published on November 11th, 2013 | by Across the Board Games Staff
Top 3 Modern Era War Games
War games have always been a popular genre for board games. In days before comuputer simulations, maps with tokens representing units would be pushed around a map to help generals visualize the battlefield and the tactics their army should use. Though many war games have evolved into real-time video games, the war genre offers a very easy and straight forward thematic reason for conflict in board games so it is still frequently used.
If you are interested in war games and live in the Seattle area please check out “Hex & Violence“, the weekly war game tutorial session ran by Jake Waltier (a contributor and sometime author at Across the Board Games). You can find the Hex & Violence sessions on Sundays at Noon inside the venerable Raygun Lounge. And now, our staff picks for the best modern-era war themed board games on the market:
Combat Commander – Nick
Although many games still exist that have evolved little from the days of Advanced Squad Leader or Sniper, the real heyday of the Hex and Chit genre was during the waning decade of the Cold War. What remains these days are basically simple reproductions of those old games. GMT’s Combat Commander is both an homage to the golden age of Hex and Chit games and a perfection of the genre that is so well engineered that it essentially renders the entire rest of the genre obsolete.
Combat Commander is set in World War II, which itself represents a golden age in global military power and conflict. It uses only infantry and distant artillery support. No tanks, no planes, no boats. The box is full of all sorts of interesting maps that bristle with challenging tactical situations. Oh and the chits! There are hundreds of little chits to represent an assortment of units and obstacles. There are also chits used to track various game data on a expertly laid out tracking sheet that provides all the important information at a glance.
The real genius is that the game is entirely card-driven. Each nation represented (Germany, US and USSR in the main game) has its own deck that is designed to reflect the strengths and weaknesses of each nation’s armed forces beyond the stats on the unit chits. In addition, all random rolls are generated by a pair of dice printed on the cards. This has the subtle advantage of giving the player a sense of where their luck is headed overall as the game progresses. If you see a 12 early in the deck, chances are it won’t be there when you need it later so take note.
Another strong innovation is a very well designed random scenario generator. The huge variety of scenarios that the scenario generator spits out creates infinite replay value. This is all supported by well-crafted rules for leaders and hero units. The handling of morale is brilliant. Also, fortifications like bunkers and landmines add a lot of flavor and customization to what is already a healthy variety of maps. There are almost no weak spots in the rules and design of the game. The line-of-sight rules could stand a little more simplification and you’ll often find yourself looking through the rulebook in your first few games to figure out how a complex situation is resolved. Luckily, the game has a relatively easy to use rules guide with a logical index that makes the moments as short as they can be.
When it comes to games about war, Hex-and-Chit games are the beating heart of the genre and almost a hobby unto themselves. When it comes to Hex-and-Chit games, Combat Commander sits atop the stack as the most balanced and innovative execution of the style as well as being the most accessible game in the genre.
A Few Acres of Snow – Raj
A Few Acres of Snow is a card-driven two-player board game by Martin Wallace about the battle between Britain and France for what is now Canada. The title comes from a dismissive quote by Voltaire about the futility of the war (the winner gets nothing more than “a few acres of snow”). In AFAoS, players use their cards to execute raids, initiate sieges, and acquire money through a clever combination of deck-building and resource management. When players conquer a city, they get that city’s card, and they can also add army cards or other resources to their deck as well. Some of the cities add important resources, others are just dead cards. The French and British are highly asymmetric, much like the real conflict was. The British have army strength, the French are better at raiding. It is a tense couple of hours that requires both wargaming and deck-building strategy.
There are various ways to win, either by conquering the opponent’s key city or by taking over many smaller cities. The French might want to expand rapidly into numerous cities, the British might just go for the jugular. It’s a fantastic game, one I definitely don’t play enough.
An important note: if you look up the game you will find a thorough discussion of the so-called “Halifax Hammer” strategy. It is a strategy that increases the British chances of victory considerably. More recent changes to the rules fix this somewhat, and between new players this will likely not come up.
Memoir ’44 – Kyle
Memoir ’44 is a deceptively simple two-player game that’s typically 20-45 minutes per match. The complexity of the game can increase or decrease as the players desire, based, of course, on the complexity of the scenario chosen. The difficulty ramps up well for the players, and a tremendous amount of player aides on cards keeps the complexity from getting out of hand quickly. Memoir ’44 is easy for kids to learn and succeed and complex enough to keep adults (like my co-worker and I, who have played twice-a-week for over three years now) coming back for more.
I’ve heard it before, “It’s not a wargame – it relies on chance.” Sure, yes, but if you don’t apply strategy, you’re sunk. I’ve seen it in person. Memoir ’44 is not a crunchy wargame. It’s not even really a mid-weight wargame. But here’s the thing: every genre needs an entry point. Even “alternative” board games themselves need an entry point.Every board game genre needs a solid, easy-to-learn portal for new players (a true statement unless you’re a snob), and Memoir ’44 fits the bill. This makes the game an essential entry in to the Wargame Hall o’ Fame.