Conflict Games


A wargame is a game that simulates or represents a military operation. Wargaming is the hobby dedicated to the play of such games, which can also be called conflict simulations, or consims for short. The somewhat similar, professional study of war is generally known as a military exercise or "war game," (note that wargamers have traditionally run the two words together, but the military has generally kept them separate; it is not a hard and fast rule, however). Although there may be disagreements as to whether a particular game qualifies as a wargame or not, a general consensus exists that all such games must explore and illuminate or simulate some feature or aspect of human behaviour directly bearing on the conduct of war, even if the game subject itself does not concern organized violent conflict or warfare.

Wargames are generally categorized as "historical", "hypothetical", "fantasy", or "science fiction". Historical games by far form the largest group. These games are based upon real events and attempt to represent a reasonable approximation of the actual forces, terrain, and other material factors faced by the actual participants. Hypothetical games are games grounded in historical fact but concern battles or conflicts that did not actually happen. Fantasy and science fiction wargames either draw their inspiration from works of fiction or provide their own imaginary setting. Highly stylized conflict games such as chess are not generally considered wargames. Games involving conflict in other arenas than the battlefield, such as business, sports or natural environment are similarly usually excluded.

The wargaming hobby has its origins at the beginning of the 20th century, with the invention of miniatures games in which two or more players simulated a battle as a pastime. During the 1950s the first large scale, mass produced board games depicting military conflicts were published. These games were at the height of their popularity during the 1970s, and become quite complex and technical in that time. Wargaming has changed dramatically over the years, from its roots in miniatures and board wargaming, to contemporary computer and computer assisted wargames. Light wargames with accessible rules and high quality plastic components, such as Memoir '44, have also become popular in recent years.


Like all games, wargames exist in a range of different complexities. Some are fundamentally simple—often called "beer-and-pretzel" games—whereas others attempt to simulate a high level of historical realism. These latter games may produce long rulebooks that encompass a large variety of actions and details. These games often require a considerable study of the rules before they can be played. Wargames also feature a range of scales, from games that simulate individual soldiers, to ones that chart the course of an entire global or even galactic war.

Wargames are generally a representational art form. Usually, this is of a fairly concrete historical subject (such as the Battle of Gettysburg, one of several popular topics in the genre), but it can also be extended to non-historical ones as well. The Cold War provided fuel for many games that attempted to show what a non-nuclear (or, in a very few cases, nuclear) World War III would be like, moving from a re-creation to a predictive model in the process. Fantasy and science fiction subjects are sometimes not considered wargames because there is nothing in the real world to model, however, conflict in a self-consistent fictional world lends itself to exactly the same types of games and game designs as does military history.

Because of these attitudes, there are many games and types of games that may appear to be a wargame at first glance, but are not accepted as such by members of the hobby, and many that would be considered debatable. Risk could be considered a wargame; it uses an area map of the Earth and is unabashedly about sending out armies to conquer the world. However, it has no readily-discernible timeframe, and combat is extremely abstract, leading many to not consider it as an actual wargame, or only tangentially as one.

The highest percentage of war-themed games that are not wargames come from the video game industry. Most markedly real-time strategy games (such as Starcraft) deal with combat nearly exclusively, but the gameplay enhancing conventions of the genre also destroy realism. For example, in actual combat, vehicle armor is generally a binary proposition. Either the round penetrates and the vehicle is knocked out, or it does not and the vehicle is unaffected. RTS games make a habit of giving a vehicle a "health bar" that generally allows it to survive even powerful single shots, but each hit reduces its health by some amount, allowing a high volume of rifle fire to knock out a well armored tank. Other notable genre conventions include the construction of buildings and vehicles within the timeframe of a battle (i.e., hours, if not less) and a lack of any command and control, supply, or morale systems.

A major determinant of the complexity and size of a wargame is how realistic it is intended to be. Some games constitute a serious study of the subject at hand, whereas others are intended to be light entertainment. In general, a more serious study will have longer, more detailed rules, more complexity, and more record keeping. More casual games may only bear a passing resemblance to the subject, although many still try to encourage the same types of decision making as the player's historical counterparts, and thereby bring forth the "feel" of the conflict.

Wargames tend to have a few fundamental problems. Notably, both player knowledge, and player action are much less limited than what would be available to the player's real-life counterparts. Some games have rules for command and control and fog of war, using various methods. While results vary, many of these mechanisms can be cumbersome and onerous in traditional games. The "edge of world problem" raises the issue of what to do at the artificial boundary of the physical edge of a board game, in contrast to real life where there is no "edge" and units off-board can have a tangible effect on a scenario. Computer wargames can more easily incorporate these features because the computer can conceal information from players and act as an impartial judge (even while playing one side). However, due to interface issues, these can still be found to be as frustrating to the player as traditional methods.

History of wargaming

Modern wargaming originated with the military need to study warfare and to 'reenact' old battles for instructional purposes. The stunning Prussian victory over the Second French Empire in the Franco-Prussian War 1870-1871 is sometimes partly credited to the training of Prussian officers with the game Kriegspiel, which was invented around 1811 and gained popularity with many officers in the Prussian army. These first wargames were played with dice which represented "friction", or the intrusion of less than ideal circumstances during a real war (including morale, weather, the fog of war, etc.), though this was usually replaced by an umpire who used his own combat experience to determine the results.

The first specific non-military wargame club was started in Oxford, England, in the 19th century. Naval enthusiast and analyst Fred T. Jane came up with a set of rules for depicting naval actions with the use of model ships, or miniatures around 1898. The 1905/6 edition of Jane's Fighting Ships includes a revised edition for "The Naval War Game".

H.G. Wells' books Floor Games (1911) and Little Wars (1913) were attempts to codify rules for fighting battles with toy soldiers (miniatures), and make them available to the general public. They were very simple games, and in some ways just provide a context for shooting spring-loaded toy cannons at toy soldiers, but "in his Appendix to Little Wars, Wells speaks of the changes required to convert his admittedly simplistic rules into a more rigorous Kriegspiel. However, Wells also states in his rules that combat "should be by actual gun and rifle fire and not by computation. Things should happen and not be decided," in opposition to the general nature of Kriegspiel play.

In 1940 Fletcher Pratt's Naval War Game was published. This was a more arbitrary system than Jane's (but generally gave more realistic results), and was played by many clubs at that time. Jack Coggins was invited by Pratt to participate, and recalled that Pratt's game involved dozens of tiny wooden ships - built to a scale of about one inch to 50 feet - spread over the living room floor of his apartment. Their maneuvers and the results of their battles were calculated via a complex mathematical formula, with scale distances marked off with tape measures. Although many of the rules were arbitrary, they were based on such deep knowledge of the history of naval strategy that Pratt was able to reproduce the 1939 destruction of the German pocket battleship Graf Spee with incredibly accurate results.

All of these games were meant to be accessible to the general public, but actual play was made difficult owing to the expense of purchasing an army or navy's worth of miniatures. As leisure time and disposable income generally rose through the 20th Century, miniatures games slowly gained a following. Most gaming groups informally wrote and/or revised their own rules, which were never published. In 1955 Jack Scruby started producing miniatures using RTV rubber molds, which greatly reduced their expense, and he turned this into a business (Scruby Miniatures) in 1957 and started publishing War Game Digest. It, and its successors, put fellow miniatures enthusiasts in touch with each other, and provided a forum for ideas and locally-produced rules to be shared with the rest of the hobby.

Meanwhile, the first modern mass-market wargame, based on cardboard counters and maps, was designed and published by Charles S. Roberts in 1952. After nearly breaking even on Tactics, he decided to found the Avalon Hill Game Company as a publisher of intelligent games for adults, and is called "The father of board wargaming". The modern commercial board wargaming industry is considered to have begun with the publication of Tactics II in 1958, and the founding of The General Magazine by Avalon Hill in 1964. In 1961, AH published Roberts' Gettysburg, which is considered to be the first board wargame based entirely on a historical battle. D-Day and Chancellorsville, the first commercial games to use a hexagonal mapboard, were also published that year.

Avalon Hill had a very conservative publishing schedule, typically about two titles a year, and wargames were only about half their line. By the end of the 1960s, a number of small magazines dedicated to the hobby were springing up, along with new game companies. The most important of these were undoubtedly Strategy & Tactics, and the company founded to save it from failing: Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI). Under SPI, S&T started including a new game in every issue of the magazine, which along with the regular games SPI was publishing vastly increased the number of wargames available.

Coupled with an aggressive advertising campaign, this caused a tremendous rise in the popularity of wargaming in the early 1970s, with a large number of new companies starting up. Two of these would last for some years: Game Designers' Workshop (GDW), and Tactical Studies Rules (TSR). TSR's fantasy miniatures game, Chainmail (1971) led to a new phenomenon that would become much bigger than its parent hobby, role-playing games. (For a better look at these developments see the history of role-playing games.)

The seventies can be considered the 'Golden Age of Wargaming', with a large number of new companies publishing an even larger number of games throughout the decade, powered by an explosive rise in the number of people playing wargames. Avalon Hill's PanzerBlitz (1970), Panzer Leader (1974), and Squad Leader (1977) were particularly popular during this time, with their innovative geomorphic mapboard system. Wargames also diversified in subject, with the first science-fiction wargame appearing in 1974; and in size with both microgames such as Steve Jackson's Ogre, and "monster games" appearing during the decade.

The boom came to an end, and was followed by the usual bust in the early 1980s, most markedly with the acquisition of SPI by TSR in 1982. The hobby never truly recovered from this, and is today much smaller than it was during the seventies. Numerous factors have been implicated in the decline, including the rise of gaming alternatives (such as RPGs), the ever increasing complexity of wargames, and changing demographics and lifestyles.

During the 1980s, much of the market for wargames was dominated by roleplaying games. Then, when personal computers became available, gamers could simply "sit down and play" without learning masses of rules, clearing physical space, and finding and coordinating schedules with opponents. However, in 1983 Games Workshop published Warhammer Fantasy Battle, initially as a "Mass-combat Role Playing Game", which quickly moved to dominate the fantasy wargaming market. When collectible card games arrived in the 1990s, the gaming market became even more competitive. By this time, many wargame publishers were already long gone.

Despite the decline, wargaming continues to survive in different forms. Advanced Squad Leader (1985) became a niche hobby in and of itself, and Axis and Allies (1984) was very popular with the mass market audience and Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy Battle (1983) spawned a long-lasting line popular miniatures games including the successive editions of Warhammer and the science-fantasy Warhammer 40,000 game. In 1994 the first card-driven wargame, We the People, was published. Battle Cry (2000) and Memoir '44 (2004) proved that light wargames can still be commercially successful, as long as the rules are clear and accessible, and the components are high in quality. Block wargames, such as those published by Columbia Games remain quite popular. Companies like GMT Games and Multi-Man Publishing continue to survive and publish highly detailed, hex and counter wargames.

Miniature wargaming

Miniature wargaming typically involves the use of 6-54 mm painted metal or plastic miniatures for units, and model scenery placed on a tabletop or floor as a playing surface, although other open areas such as gardens and sandboxes are sometimes used. Games with miniatures are sometimes called tabletop games, tabletop wargames, miniature wargames, or simply wargames. Miniatures games generally measure distance for movement and range with a string or tape measure.

Miniature wargamers generally prefer rule sets that can be used for any battle in a particular era or war, instead of a specific event, as is common in board wargames. Because armies and terrain can be combined in all possible ways, miniatures wargaming is generally more varied and flexible than other forms of wargaming. The preparation also tends to be more time consuming and expensive. Miniature wargamers typically enjoy painting miniatures and constructing terrain, and this is an important part of the hobby for them.

Because information cannot be displayed on a miniature figure as conveniently as on a cardboard counter, miniature wargames often lack the complexity and detail of some of the heavier board wargames.

The popularity of miniatures wargaming stayed relatively stable during the boom and bust of board wargames. Today, games such as Warhammer Fantasy Battle and the newer collectible miniatures games continue to recruit new interest into the oldest form of the wargaming hobby.

Board wargaming

In the United States, board wargames are often equated with the entire hobby of wargaming. In Europe, and especially Britain, they are a relatively minor part of the hobby. The genre is known for a number of common conventions that were developed early on, but these do not necessarily appear in all board wargames.

The early history of board wargaming was dominated by Avalon Hill, even though other companies, such as SPI, left their own permanent marks on the industry. With the purchase of Avalon Hill by Hasbro, many wargamers long for 'the old Avalon Hill', and no one company is identified with the hobby as a whole. GMT and Decision Games are two of the more influential board wargame companies in existence today.

Card wargaming

Card games are not generally well suited for wargames. Because of their nature, cards are well suited for abstract games, as opposed to the simulation aspects of wargames. Even when nominally about the same subject (such as the game War), traditional card games could not be considered a wargame in even the broadest sense. This does not mean there are no card wargames however.

An early card wargame would be Nuclear War, a 'tongue-in-cheek game of the end of the world', first published in 1966 and still published today by Flying Buffalo. It does not simulate how any actual nuclear exchange would happen, but it is still structured unlike most card games because of the way it deals with its subject.

In the late 1970s Battleline Publications (a board wargame company) produced two card games, Naval War and Armor Supremacy. The first was fairly popular in wargaming circles, and is a light system of naval combat, though again not depicting any 'real' situation (players may operate ships from opposing navies side-by-side). Armor Supremacy was not as successful, but is a look at the constant design and development of new types of tanks during World War II.

The most successful card wargame (as a card game and as a wargame) would almost certainly be Up Front, a card game about tactical combat in World War II published by Avalon Hill in 1983. The abstractness is harnessed in the game by having the deck produce random terrain, and chances to fire, and the like, simulating uncertainty as to the local conditions (nature of the terrain, etc).

Also, card driven games (CDGs), first introduced in 1993, use a deck of (custom) cards to drive most elements of the game, such as unit movement (activation) and random events. These are, however, distinctly board games, the deck is merely one of the most important elements of the game.

Computer wargaming

As in all aspects of modern life, personal computers have had a profound impact on wargaming. Computers allow gamers separated by many miles to play a game. They also handle many of the tedious aspects of wargaming, such as highly technical rules and record keeping. Finally, with the development of artificial intelligence, computers can actually serve as opponents, and thus provide opportunities for solitaire gaming.

Computer wargames

In the video game industry, "wargames" are considered a subgenre of strategy game that emphasizes strategic or tactical warfare on a map. These wargames generally take one of four archetypal forms, depending on whether the game is turn-based or real-time and whether the game's focus is upon military strategy or tactics.

Comparison with traditional wargames

Many contemporary computer strategy games can be considered wargames, in the sense that they are a simulation of warfare on some level. The mechanics and language have little in common with board and miniature games, but the general subject matter is popular. That said, most war-themed computer and video games are generally not considered wargames by the wargaming hobby. Considering that computer games regularly include much more detail than the most complex board or miniature games could ever have, this may seem counter-intuitive, but most computer 'wargames' are not nearly as realistic as their boardgame counterparts.

This generally occurs because mass-market video (most notably here, real-time strategy) games are meant to be easier to get into, and quick to play. This makes certain genre conventions popular, and there is a perception that slavish attention 'realism' will cause a game to be rejected as 'uninteresting' or boring.

On the other hand, many 'unrealistic' video games do include fog of war, meaning that what is visible on the map is limited to what is within a certain range of the player's units. This is a feature often talked about in traditional wargames, but traditionally impractical to implement outside of a computer. And not all games are equally 'unrealistic'. For example, the Total War games are a currently successful RTS series that is historically based.

Computers used in traditional wargaming

Play-by-Mail (PBM)

Due to the scarcity of opponents for some people, wargaming has a tradition of people playing games by sending lists of moves, or orders, to each other through the mail. This meant that it was not so strange for the first use of computers with wargaming to be a computer-moderated game where people mailed in orders, the computer determined the outcome, and the results were then mailed back to all the players.

The first of these was Nuclear Destruction, by the Flying Buffalo company in 1970. The most popular game of this type would be their later game, Starweb from 1976. This type of game enjoyed a burst of popularity for a few years, with several competing companies and games springing up. One of the games arrising in this period is the Origins Award Hall-of-Fame member Middle-earth PBM which is still active today.

E-mail and traditional wargaming

Since e-mail is faster than the standard postal service, the rise of the Internet saw a shift of people playing board wargames from play-by-mail (PBM) to play-by-email (PBEM) or play-by-web (PBW). The mechanics were the same, merely the medium was faster.

At this time, turn-based strategy computer games still had a decent amount of popularity, and many started explicitly supporting the sending of saved-game files through email (instead of needing to find the file to send to the opponent by hand). As with all types of video games, the rise in home networking solutions and Internet access has also meant that networked games are now common and easy to set up.

Computer-assisted wargaming

In recent years, programs have been developed for computer-assisted gaming as regards to wargaming. Two different categories can be distinguished: local computer assisted wargames and remote computer assisted wargames.

Local computer assisted wargames are mostly not designed toward recreating the battlefield inside computer memory, but simply employing the computer to track unit status and to resolve combat. Flow of play is simple: each turn, the units come up in a random order. When a unit comes up, the commander specifies an order and if offensive action is being taken, a target, along with details about distance. The results of the order, base move distance and effect to target, are reported, and the unit is moved on the tabletop. All distance relationships are tracked on the tabletop. All record-keeping is tracked by the computer. Examples of these systems are 'Active Armor WWII' and more recently 'Panzer Combat II', which is a voice-enabled computer-assisted miniature wargame of World War II ground combat.

Remote computer assisted wargames can be considered as extensions to the concept of PBEM gaming, however the presentation and actual capabilities are completely different. They have been designed to replicate the look and feel of existing board or miniatures wargames on the computer. The map and counters are presented to the user who can then manipulate these, more-or-less as if he were playing the physical game, and send a saved file off to his opponent, who can review what has been done without having to duplicate everything on his physical set-up of the game, and respond. Some allow for both players to get on-line and see each other's moves in real-time.

These systems are generally set up so that while one can play the game, the program has no knowledge of the rules, and cannot enforce them. The human players must have a knowledge of the rules themselves. The idea is to promote the playing of the games (by making play against a remote opponent easier), while supporting the industry (and reducing copyright issues) by ensuring that the players have access to the actual physical game.

The three main programs that can be used to play a number of games each are Aide de Camp, Cyberboard, and Vassal. All of these date from the mid- to late-'90s and have their own followings. Aide de Camp is available for purchase, while the other two are offered free. Vassal is in turn an outgrowth of the VASL (Virtual ASL) project, and uses Java, making it accessible to any computer that can run a modern JVM, while the other two are Microsoft Windows programs.

Types of wargaming

While wargaming is a genre itself, it can be categorized into a number of sub-genres. The most obvious division is by the categories given above. i.e., miniatures, board, computer, etc. This is so obvious, in fact, that most people verbally (and mentally) skip over it. A person might discuss (depending on context) 'board games' or 'wargames' and assume the other element without feeling any need to state 'board wargames'.

Beyond this, there are a few other characteristics that are used to define wargames. Another element that tends to be assumed is the environment, or type of warfare (land, naval, air) depicted, at least if the subject matter is land warfare (a game on naval or air warfare will specify such if not immediately obvious). The most common genres that categories are explicitly based on is the period or era of the game, and then the scale of the game. Naturally, games concerned with a particular combination of period, scale and environment tend to emphasize similar features.


The bulk of wargames concentrate on land warfare, the oldest of all types of warfare, and generally the easiest to simulate. Naval warfare and naval wargames are also popular, and go all the way back to the beginnings of the hobby. Air combat is relatively recent, and wargames on the subject are usually tactical games simulating dogfights, there are relatively few dealing with just the air war of a larger conflict. Dealing with multiple elements complicates the model of the simulation side of a wargame, so games with a true combined arms approach tend to be strategic in nature, where all aspects are abstracted to a greater degree. While there are some near-future possibilities for space warfare, there are very few 'serious' games on the subject, and wargames in set in space are almost purely in the genre of science fiction.

Historical period

As wargames are generally historical, games are generally grouped into periods. These divisions mirror the scholarly divisions of history to some extent, but as certain subjects are very popular, certain wars are a category all by themselves. World War II, the American Civil War, and the Napoleonic Wars are the most popular historical categories, with other subjects generally being broken down as Ancients, Middle Ages, Early Gunpowder, and Modern. Note that much of history from 1800-1950 is often not reflected well in general parlance as they are overshadowed by the 'big three', games on other subjects in this era are often referred to by the actual war they deal with.

In the early days, wargames were either historical, or somewhat abstract. Tactics II, the first general commercial board wargame, featured a fictional landscape with two made up countries but whose armies had capabilities based on contemporary conventional forces. Analogous to those, are the 'contemporary' games, ones that simulate current forces and postulate what an actual war involving them would be like. These were popular during the Cold War, but have faded with the fall of Communism. During the 1970s, fantasy and science fiction made themselves felt as genres that could work inside of wargames. These tend to be more varied, as different assumptions can lead to vastly different types of warfare, but there has been no real concern with subdividing the genres more closely.

Finally, wargames do not necessarily have to involve traditional concepts of warfare and battles and games can enact typical film genres such as gang battles, crime and law enforcement. Similarly martial arts or even non-combat situations and adventures can be gamed where there are other objectives that require strategy combined with the elements of chance (dice/cards etc) to be achieved.

Unit or map scale

  • Grand strategy — military strategy at the level of movement and use of an entire nation state or empire's resources. focus is on a war or series of wars, often over a long period of time. Individual units, even armies, may not be represented; instead, attention is given to theaters of operation. All of the resources of the nations involved may be mobilized as part of a long-term struggle. The simulation typically involves political and economic as well as military conflict. At the most extreme end of this is the branch of strategy games in which the player assumes the role of the government of an entire nation-state and in which not conducting war is a possibility. Risk (game) and Empires in Arms are both examples of this type of wargame.
  • Strategic — military units are typically division, corps, or army-sized, and they are rated based upon raw strength. At this scale, economic production and diplomacy are significant. The simulation typically involves all branches, and often the entire forces of the nations involved, and covers entire wars or long campaigns
  • Operational — units are typically battalion to divisional size, and are rated based on their average overall strengths and weaknesses. Weather and logistics are significant. The simulation typically focuses on one branch of the military forces, with others somewhat abstracted, and usually covers a single campaign.
  • Tactical — units range from individual vehicles and squads to platoons or companies, and are rated based on types and ranges of individual weaponry. The simulation almost always focuses on a single branch, occasionally with others abstracted, and usually covers a single battle or part of a large battle.
  • Skirmish — units represent individual soldiers, with possible tracking of wounds and ammunition. The simulation usually covers a small firefight. Also known as "man-to-man" scale, the first such games in the modern era of board wargames include Patrol and Sniper!. Early role-playing games were derived from skirmish wargames, and many are still played as such.

Notable wargamers


  • H.G. Wells - Pioneer in miniature wargaming, author of Little Wars.
  • Jack Scruby - After H.G. Wells, he did the most to make miniature wargaming a respectable hobby. He also popularized miniatures wargaming with a cheaper production process for miniature figures, publishing the first miniature wargaming magazine, the War Game Digest, and community building. Jack Scruby, an American, is the true heir of H.G. Wells and thus is the father of the modern miniature wargaming hobby.
  • Don Featherstone - Known in the UK as the "co-father" of modern miniature wargaming.
  • Phil Dunn - founder of the Naval Wargames Society, the only international organisation of naval wargaming to date, and author of "Sea Battle Games"
  • Charles S. Roberts - Known as the "Father of modern board wargaming", designed the first modern wargame, as well as the company most identified with modern wargames (Avalon Hill).


Notable wargames

Board wargames

While a comprehensive list will show the variety of titles, the following games are notable for the reasons indicated:

  • Diplomacy - (1954) a classic multi-player game from the "golden age" of wargames in which strategy is exercised off the game board as well as on it.
  • Tactics II (Avalon Hill, 1958) - the wargame that launched Avalon Hill.
  • Risk (Parker Brothers, 1959) - Widely accepted as the first mainstream wargame.
  • Gettysburg (Avalon Hill, 1961) - the first modern era wargame intended to model an actual historical event, published after the success of Tactics II, which was a non-representative strategic game.
  • Tactical Game 3 (Strategy & Tactics Magazine game, 1969); re-released as PanzerBlitz by Avalon Hill in 1970. The very first tactical wargame. The game pioneered the use of "geomorphic mapboards" and PanzerBlitz was a game system rather than just a game in that forces could be used to depict any number of actual tactical situations rather than one specific scenario. Pioneered several ground-breaking features, such as use of various types of weapons fire to reflect battlefield conditions. Also created new level of realism in reflecting tactical armored vehicles.
  • Sniper! (SPI, 1973) - along with Patrol, the first Man to Man wargames where game pieces depicted a single soldier. An adaptation of Sniper! also became one of the first multi-player computer wargames.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men (Battleline Publications, 1974 Avalon Hill, 1976) - the definitive game of Age of Sail warfare for many years.
  • Rise and Decline of the Third Reich (Avalon Hill, 1974) - The first serious attempt to model WWII in Europe in its entirety, including (in a limited way) the economic and industrial production of the nations involved. It has seen numerous versions and editions, and is currently available as John Prados' Third Reich from Avalanche Press, and as a far more complex descendant game, A World at War, published by GMT Games.
  • Squad Leader (Avalon Hill, 1977) and Advanced Squad Leader (1985) have become the most prolific series of wargames, including 3 add-on modules for the former, and 12 for the latter, with additional Historical modules and Deluxe modules also having been released. ASL also sets the record for sheer volume of playing components, with thousands of official counters and 60+ "geomorphic mapboards" not counting Deluxe and Historical maps.
  • Star Fleet Battles - (Task Force Games, 1978) one of the older still actively played wargames today, it is also one of the few successful tactical space combat systems that does not rely on miniatures.
  • Storm Over Arnhem (Avalon Hill, 1981) - pioneered the use of "point to point" or "area movement" in tactical wargames.
  • Axis and Allies - (Nova Games, 1981) the most successful of Milton Bradley's (1984) 'GameMaster' line in an attempt to bring wargaming into the mainstream by appealing to non-wargamers through simplicity and attractive components.
  • Ambush! - (Victory Games, 1983) the first solitaire board wargame depicting man to man combat, in which each game piece represented a single person.
  • Blue Max - (GDW, 1983) is a multi-player game of World War I aerial combat over the Western Front during 1917 and 1918 with an extremely easy to play mechanism but allow the development of complex strategies.
  • We the People - (Avalon Hill, 1994) this game started the Card-Driven wargame movement, which is very influential in current wargame design.

Miniature wargames

  • Rules for the Jane Naval War Game (S. Low, Marston, 1898) - The first published miniature wargame. A 26 page rule set limited to naval miniature battles. It came in a crate measuring 4 ft. X 4 ft. X 2 ft. Written by Fred Jane. As only a handful of these games survive, they are highly collectible.
  • Little Wars (H.G. Wells, 1913) - The first popular published wargame rules. Includes the common miniature wargaming mechanics of dice rolling, range, line of sight, and moving in alternate turns. This game earned Wells the title "The Father of Miniature Wargaming".
  • Miniature Wargames du temps de Napoleon (John Chandler, 1964) - First period-specific historical miniature wargame. Also the first in a long line of Napoleonic miniature wargames.
  • Chainmail (Guidon Games, 1971) - An extension and distillation of rules previously published in various periodicals. Major elements of this game were adopted by the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Unlike Dungeons & Dragons, Chainmail used two six-sided dice to resolve combat. Previous fantasy miniature wargames had been written, but this was the first one published. Drawing on the popularity of Lord of the Rings, this game featured the novelties of combat magic and fantastic creatures as combatants.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Battle (Games Workshop, 1983) - An internationally successful fantasy miniature wargame. The First Edition rules introduced innovative open unit design rules, however later editions eliminated the option to build custom units and make use of standard army lists mandatory. Warhammer was one of the first newly-developed miniature wargames to enjoy popularity after role-playing games came to market in 1974.
  • Warhammer 40,000 (Games Workshop, 1987) - A futuristic wargame featuring rival armies with different fighting styles. This wargame has very conceptual artwork suggesting a post-apocalyptic neo-gothic universe gone awry. Arguably the most profitable miniature wargame ever, it has popularized competitive tournament gameplay in large, international events sanctioned by Games Workshop.
  • De Bellis Antiquitatis (Wargames Research Group, 1990) - Radically minimalist rules differentiate this game from other notable miniature wargames. A number of systems have been strongly influenced by DBA.
  • Mage Knight (WizKids Inc., 2001) - Innovative game popularizing the combat dial, pre-painted plastic miniatures, and the collectible miniatures games. Mage Knight has inspired numerous collectible, skirmish miniature wargames.
  • Warmachine (Privateer Press, 2003) - A steampunk-inspired miniatures game featuring steam-powered robots fighting under the direction of powerful wizards. Also has a sister game, Hordes, which features trolls and dinosaurs instead of robots.
  • Heroscape (Milton Bradley Company, 2004) - An inexpensive, simple wargame that has been successfully mass marketed to both younger wargamers and adults. As miniature wargaming is often an expensive hobby, Heroscape and the collectible miniatures games have opened the miniature wargaming hobby to a new demographic.
  • BrikWars is a wargame that uses Lego bricks as miniatures and scenery and is steadily growing in popularity mostly due to how loose the rules are, anything could happen.

See also List of miniature wargames.

Computer wargames

  • Panzer General - (Strategic Simulations, Inc., 1994) - probably the most widely popular computer game that is recognizably a traditional wargame. It spawned several sequels, some of which explored different subject matter.
  • Steel Panthers - (Strategic Simulations, Inc., 1995) - an early tactical wargame on the same scale as Squad Leader, which led to two sequels, and a complete revision of the title for free release.
  • Close Combat - (Microsoft, 1996) - not the first wargame to break out from hexes, and still presented in a 2-dimensional format, Close Combat nonetheless uniquely addressed factors such as individual morale and reluctance to carry out orders. The original title led to 5 very successful sequels for the general public, as well as being developed into a training tool for military use only. Close Combat stemmed from an early attempt to translate the Squad Leader boardgame to the computer.
  • Combat Mission - (Big Time Software, 2000) - not the first 3D tactical wargame (titles such as Muzzle Velocity preceded it), but a groundbreaking game series featuring simultaneous order resolution, complete orders of battle for numerous nationalities, with three titles based on the original game engine. As of 2006, a campaign layer is in testing as well as a revised game engine to be released before 2007. CM's genesis was also as a failed attempt by Avalon Hill to translate Squad Leader to the computer.

Unique Game Systems

  • Ace of Aces - (Nova Games, 1980) - this flip-book system has long been considered one of the best simulations of aerial dogfighting.
  • BattleTech - (FASA, 1984) - initially printed as a board game, it primarily exists as a set miniatures rules today.
  • Car Wars - (Steve Jackson Games, 1982) - initially printed as a board game, it quickly evolved to work as a mix of both.
  • Up Front - (Avalon Hill, 1983) - the most popular of the very small class of card wargames.

Books About Wargaming

Jim Dunnigan, The Complete Wargames Handbook: How to Play, Design, and Find Them, Quill 1992. ISBN 0-688-10368-5 This is available online at (verified August 2007).

Jon Freeman, The Complete Book of Wargames, Simon and Schuster 1980. ISBN 0-671-25374-3

Nicholas Palmer, The Comprehensive Guide to Board Wargaming, Arthur Baker Limited London 1977. ISBN 0-213-16646-1

Nicholas Palmer, The Best of Board Wargaming, Hippocrene Books, Inc. New York, NY 1980. ISBN 0-882-54525-6

Phil Dunn, Sea Battle Games, MAP 1980, ISBN 0-853-44042-5

Donald Featherstone War Games, Lulu 2008, ISBN 978-1-4092-1676-6


See also

External links

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