BoardGameGeek War Game Top 60: #40-31

Welcome back to the third part of the series on the top 60 games in BoardGameGeek’s war game list! The first and second part have generated a lot of replies from you on the blog as well as on Twitter – and that’s exactly what I set out for. So, thanks for all your responses, and I’m looking forward to more comments as the series goes on! Without further ado, here are games #50-41 of the list.

40: Star Wars: Armada (James Kniffen/Christian T. Petersen, Fantasy Flight Games)

Large-spaceship miniatures game set in the Star Wars universe.

This is Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game’s bigger sibling. Instead of slender space fighters, you command capital vessels – more powerful, but much less maneuverable, so you need to plan ahead a lot more. That is something I find alluring about Armada – maybe because it reminds me of the naval battles fought in the 18th and early 19th centuries (which seem to be an inspiration for Armada). Except for that, my opinion on Armada is pretty much the same as the one on X-Wing in my previous post: Collectible games require a lot of financial commitment, and when there is painting involved, a lot of time commitment as well. But when it comes to games, I like the playing much better than the buying and painting.

39: The Battle of Five Armies (Roberto Di Meglio/Marco Maggi/Francesco Nepitello, Ares Games)

Tactical game on the Battle of the Five Armies from Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

I haven’t played The Battle of the Five Armies, but its sister game The War of the Ring is one of my favorite games. I’m also willing to bet that I’ll prefer The War of the Ring: Strategic games beat tactical games for me, and The Lord of the Rings beats The Hobbit for me. Would I still try out The Battle of Five Armies if I had the chance? Sure thing. Would I buy it? Unless my playthrough really blew me away, no. There are so many good games out there, and so little opportunity to play them (at least for me). Getting two games which basically scratch the same itch does not get me any additional plays (just plays of one at the expense of the other), while still requiring the players to spend money twice and learn two rulesets. Expanding on my statement above, I also prefer playing to learning rules.

38: Cuba Libre (Jeff Grossman/Volko Ruhnke, GMT Games)

The second instalment of the COIN series takes the system to 1950s Cuba.

Let’s talk about “beginner” games. Many games are published in series linked together by a framework of rules. For the outsider, this of course begs the question: Which game is best to first dip one’s toes into the series? Obviously, there are different answers for that. Some choose the game with the purest, most straightforward rules, others to a short playtime or a limited field of operations. In all those respects, Cuba Libre is the quintessential COIN starter game. However, there is also another answer: Choose the one whose theme appeals to you the most. And that’s the answer I prefer. When I want to spend my brain cells on a new game, it better excite me. And thus, while I wouldn’t turn down any offers of playing Cuba Libre, I think I’ll start my COIN journey elsewhere – likely in one of the decolonization conflicts on which I have read and written much. Gandhi, Colonial Twilight, and Liberty or Death softly whisper my name in the distance.

37: Ardennes ’44 (Tony Curtis/Mark Simonitch, GMT Games)

Regimental-level game on the Battle of the Bulge.

The first Battle of the Bulge game on the list! It is surprising how many games have been dedicated to this battle.  Sure, like the Normandy landings, it has Americans (popular heroes) and Nazi Germans (evocative villains). But unlike Normandy, it was a minor event in the war. (The Battle of the Bulge’s main result was that the eastern front was denuded of troops which helped the Soviets in their January 1945 offensive through Poland.) However, in the American war experience, the Bulge is a big deal, as it was the only time they faced a German offensive on a major front. And so stories of heroic resistance in the face of adversity are linked to the Bulge more than to any other battle in the war. The popularity of Bulge games therefore shows us two things: First, war games are still predominantly an American affair. Second, they are intimately tied to the narrative dimension of history, and the best of them feel like a story in their own right.

36: Churchill (Mark Herman, GMT Games)

The Big Three of the World War II Allies negotiate to defeat the Axis and shape the post-war order.

A rare beast of a war game! First of all, it is optimized for three players. Then, it handles the war at the most zoomed-out grand strategic scale: The game follows a series of conferences in which Stalin, Roosevelt (later Truman), and of course Churchill make top-level decisions. Will the Western Allies advance through Italy or land in France early? Does the Soviet Union get more American material assistance? And so on. I’d love to try Churchill, but I am not sure if I could get it to the table (pandemic or no) with its specific requirement of players.

35: Falling Sky (Volko Ruhnke/Andrew Ruhnke, GMT Games)

COIN game on Caesar’s Gallic War.

Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres… Or so I read many years ago in my Latin classes. They did not only teach me that Gaul was divided in three parts, but also that all three of them were a pickle to deal with. You whack one of those long-haired, pants-wearing Barbarians over the head, two others pop up from thin air behind you. Now not all of those different Gauls were always allied to another, as Caesar found to his advantage at times, and they had an agenda of their own. This is where Falling Sky sets in – the first game to transport the COIN system to antiquity. It’s remarkable how adaptable that system is. Three COIN titles in this list so far prove its success.

34: Wilderness War (Volko Ruhnke, GMT Games)

Card-driven game on the North American part of the Seven Years’ War.

I am an unapologetic CDG lover. Every major conflict from antiquity to yesterday should get its CDG. Good thing Volko Ruhnke has me covered for the French and Indian War. Wilderness War is a pretty classic design inspired by We The People and Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, but it adapts that framework to its own peculiar conflict characterized by its broad spectrum of regular and irregular warfare – from redcoat line infantry to Native American light skirmishers. A textbook example of mixing existing rules (to ease learning) with new twists (for an adequate understanding of the conflict at hand).

33: Thunderbolt Apache Leader (Dan Verssen, Dan Verssen Games)

Solo game of close air support missions.

There is a curious divide between the broad popular appeal of the military (and war gaming) and what actually makes a military organization successful. The former is the promise of daring deeds executed by sharp minds calling for the flanking attack and sure hands pulling the trigger, the latter is a lot of unglamorous drill to make sure soldiers do what they need to in the most stressful situations on the one hand and the organization of supplies lest nobody has to go into battle with a rifle likely to jam and nothing but three crackers as sustenance for the next week on the other. Thunderbolt Apache Leader deftly straddles this divide and sits comfortably on both sides: While the combat missions are a tactical shoot-‘em-up, the mission planning before them deals e.g. with deciding if to send a greenhorn pilot who might not be up to the mission (but would benefit from gaining some experience), or your squadron’s ace pilot (who is so exhausted that they might crack anytime). Less glitzy, but just as important.

32: No Retreat! The Russian Front (Carl Paradis, GMT Games)

Card-assisted Eastern Front game.

This is a game I’ve been wanting to try out for some time: The Eastern Front on a not-too-granular scale (and thus an accessible play time). Michal from The Boardgames Chronicle has put up a few illustrated session reports which look very exciting – full of advances, flanking maneuvers, concentration of forces and operations against the enemy supply lines. The game also comes with scenarios ranging from 1941 to 1945 (and of course the entire affair), so it’s easily customizable in length and feeling (Axis steamroller, Soviet steamroller, and everything in between). Writing these lines has gotten me ever more interested. Maybe I’ll try this one out soon!

31: 1775: Rebellion (Beau Beckett/Jeph Stahl, Academy Games)

Light war game on the American War of Independence.

Can games be educational? Of course they can. On a very general level, they teach waiting one’s turn, understanding and accepting rules, winning and losing with grace. Depending on the mechanics, they might teach probabilities, negotiation, planning, and a host of other skills and knowledges. Historical games, of course, can teach about their subject matter – from simply mentioning people and events to the geographical instruction map-styled game boards offer, and, ideally, from their gameplay they shine light on the opportunities and limitations of the historical agents. 1775: Rebellion goes a bit further than that and offers a teacher’s manual (not included with the base game) on how to use this game to teach the American Revolution (usable both for a classroom and homeschooling). An intriguing prospect, and, as I hope, an indication that games will claim their spot as a teaching medium next to written text, pictures, films, and the like.

Have you played these games? Would you like to? What do you think of them? Let me know in the comments!

11 thoughts on “BoardGameGeek War Game Top 60: #40-31

  1. Pete S/ SP

    Played Falling Sky twice and liked it, although I’m a fan of the COIN system in general I preferred the games sets in the 20th C.

    Played one mission of Thunderbolt Apache leader- did very badly.Would like to give it another go through.



    Liked by 2 people

  2. cliosboardgames Post author

    You’re still one COIN game ahead of me!
    And don’t get me wrong – I would certainly not turn down a game of Cuba Libre if someone offered, it just wouldn’t be my first choice from the entire COIN catalog 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Boardgames Chronicle

    I was waiting for another article in the series and here it is! Among mentioned titles I played “Churchill” (probably still my favorite Great Statements series title), “Falling Sky” (you know I love that COIN, don’t you? 🙂 ) and “No retreat!” (that was a pretty late discovery for me but one of the best strategy level games of Eastern Front, with low-density of counters and ingenious Red Army development mechanics). As I am discovering recently the DVG games, I was pondering on their highest-ranked title “Thunderbolt Apache Leader”. Probably will get it one day…

    Liked by 1 person

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