It is that time of year again, and everyone is going gaga with gift ideas and gift needs. Board games have become wildly popular with all of us in quarantine these days. They can be played over Zoom, VASSAL, or Tabletop Simulator, to name a few mediums that immediately come to mind. They are all a one-stop-shopping package, unlike miniatures where you are buying bits here and there to fill out an army. I am not decrying it. Certainly, I am a miniatures gamer, so I rather enjoy that aspect of the hobby. But for all the hex-and-counter fans or their significant others casting about for a hobby gift idea this year? This one’s for you.
For those older grognards who haunt eBay, BoardGameGeek, or CONSIM World, do not fear as I will be doing a similar writeup for out of print games one can still find on those places. What you might pay for them is another matter!
Twilight Struggle by GMT
If you have not heard of Twilight Struggle, well, my friend, you might have been hiding under a rock. For a while, this game was the game on BoardGameGeek. I mean, look at the awards this thing has won?
- Charles S. Roberts Award for Best Modern Era Board Game 2005
- The International Gamers Award for General Strategy, Two-Player 2006
- The International Gamers Award for Historical Simulation, 2006
- The BoardGameGeek, Golden Geek Award for Best Wargame 2006
- The BoardGameGeek, Golden Geek Award for Best 2 player game.
- Nominee Games Magazine Best Historical Simulation 2007
- Nominee Origins Awards Historical Board Game of the Year 2005
- #5 on 3 Minute Board Games List of Top 100 Games of All Time
But it is not just about the awards. Twilight Struggle is my go-to game for when a bunch of us wargamers get together and just want to play something. The rules are not that hard to pick up, and even better, there is a mobile version and a PC version out there that play virtually identical to the board game. In short, this game took the board gaming world by storm?
It did so because it had a compelling subject, and its card-driven mechanics make every game different and tense. I have never won a game of Twilight Struggle, but the game is so compelling, and for a “wargame,” it really discourages war (Though you can dance close to the brink. Glen, you maniac! You blew it all up! Sorry, flashbacks to a game I almost won). The game’s simple but genius design makes you always come back for more. It presents players with the same options that presented the United States and the Soviet Union during the length of the Cold War and does so with surprising fidelity, but it never plays the same way twice.
In short, if you do not already have this game and love the Cold War, it is the game to get. GMT is on its 7th Printing and has released multiple variants and other bells and whistles for this game. And, at $65.00, it is a steal!
This has become one of my favorite “Cold War Gone Hot” games. The Standard Combat Series rules have always been a hit with me due to being fast, violent, and simple to play. All I can say after having played this thing is: Why didn’t this happen sooner?! We have all read my review, and you know what I think of this game. I think for all of you Cold War gamers, this is the game to get for your Christmas shopping. MMP has a real hit on their hands in this game, and it is my new favorite SCS game, even supplanting Yom Kippur, which is a tough feat. (Speaking of which, MMP is selling copies of Yom Kippur in Ziploc (no boxes) for $20, so I would strike while the iron is hot, folks!)
But that said, I would encourage folks to get this game. There is a VASSAL module, and I am sure Tabletop Simulator is coming shortly, so quarantine play is very possible for this game. Heck, my own review was based on a VASSAL playthrough. I really liked it, and while MMP’s price tag of $85.00 is a bit high, you can bargain hunt and find the game for cheaper with all sorts of outlets and Black Friday deals. I personally encourage Naval Wargames Store. Curt runs a great shop, and he has never failed to meet my wargaming needs (which in this current COVID environment is a tough thing to do.)
You could not go wrong purchasing this game for the Cold War wargamer. You could do a lot worse than buy this for Christmas!
The Kaiser’s Pirates
What can I say about this game? It is simple and great fun and is probably one of the best World War I naval games I have ever played. The basis of the game is simple. Each player is playing both the surface raiders and the British fleet hunting them. The idea is to get your merchants safely to port while hunting down the other fellow’s merchants and capturing/destroying them. It really has a lot to offer. The system is quick, simple, and has a ton of chrome and random events. I like the split nature of the game, as it forces you to think in both roles as the hunter and the hunted (which, considering the nature of the war at sea, could often switch roles).
It’s been recently reprinted and is going for $59.00 at GMT, so it’s pretty affordable as wargames go these days. It has got living rules online for download, and I happen to like that there are VASSAL and Tabletop Simulator modules, as well as solitaire rules. It is the ultimate quarantine friendly wargame. I very much encourage folks to buy this game as it’s worth the cash and is very repayable.
Undaunted is, in my mind, one of the cleverer wargames I have come across. I have only played it a few times, but it plays like a firefight should. Set in the heart of the bocage fighting that characterized the Normandy campaign, the game is everything it should be. It is wild, wooly, and with a simple deck-building premise and some beautiful geomorphic maps, this game is a great way to introduce younger gamers to wargaming. The action is fierce from the start, and the game can often go down to the last die roll.
I rather like the game, but I will admit, I have been lax in picking up a copy. I have often played it with friends, and there’s not been the impetus to pick up the game as much as I probably would have with other titles, but the Osprey sale is offering it at $28.00 from it’s usual $40.00, and I would say, this is a great game for chasing away the quarantine blues. Furthermore, they’re releasing a North African variant that has piqued my interest, as it’s featuring the SAS and their raids in North Africa.
I have seen a couple of Tabletop Simulator modules if you want to play online, but, unfortunately, nothing for VASSAL as of yet. Hopefully, someone will rectify that!
Paths of Glory
Paths of Glory is a lot like Twilight Struggle and almost as popular, considering the subject matter. It gives you the entire European theatre of the First World War and makes it an exciting and playable game. It may take a bit of time, but it is worth the investment. I used to own a copy but lost it to my everlasting regret in a move. But I have plenty of friends who own the game, so I am not in any real hurry to get a new copy. That said, it really does have it all, with a fairly simple system of cards and operation points to make you make decisions that have real strategic weight.
It’s a popular game amongst wargamers, and though the price tag is a bit weighty ($79.00), it’s worth every penny. There is a huge community online, and there are VASSAL and Tabletop Simulator modules to be found so you can play online. Make the investment; this game is worth it.
A Note to Readers:
Hello all, COVID’s been a rough time for us all. And economic times for some have been hard, and many game companies, even before the pandemic, were kind enough to put their rules online in a living format so people could get the latest copies with the errata included. Sadly, some souls have taken to downloading the rules and the VASSAL or Tabletop Simulator modules and then not buying the game.
Might I ask a favor? Please do not do that. These companies operate close to the margin as it is. If you like a game, buy it if you can, and if you can’t, then at least game with a friend who does have a copy, so the game publisher and the designer get the money they’re due. We can all use a little extra help this holiday, so support your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS) and your wargame companies.
At SJR Research, we specialize in creating compelling narratives and provide research to give your game the kind of details that engage your players and create a resonant world they want to spend time in. If you are interested in learning more about our gaming research services, you can browse SJR Research’s service on our site at SJR Research.
(This article is credited to Jason Weiser. Jason is a long-time wargamer with published works in the Journal of the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers; Miniature Wargames Magazine; and Wargames, Strategy, and Soldier.)