Innovative wargames of the last 20 years
Tom Grant
United States
Washington
DC
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Thanks to an infuriating article at <a href="http://www.wargamer.com" title="www.wargamer.com" target="_blank">www.wargamer.com<;/a>, my mind started filling with the names of innovative wargames. To purge my fevered brain, I decided to start a geeklist on the topic.

Here are the criteria:

(1) The game must have successfully provided a way to simulate something that was either already part of traditional wargames, but not well handled, or missing from them.
(2) The game you choose does not have to be the first title to include the mechanic you want to highlight.
(3) Bonus points, however, go to innovations that did get incorporated into other games by other designers.

Here's the link to the article that got me sufficiently fired up to start this list:

<a href="http://www.wargamer.com/articles/groping_new_paradigm_1/" title="http://www.wargamer.com/articles/groping_new_paradigm_1/" target="_blank">http://www.wargamer.com/articles/groping_new_paradigm_1/<;/a>

And here's my rebuttal:

<a href="http://www.wargamer.com/forums/tm.asp?m=113341" title="http://www.wargamer.com/forums/tm.asp?m=113341" target="_blank">http://www.wargamer.com/forums/tm.asp?m=113341<;/a>

Please add any games that fit the criteria above, but let's keep the list limited to one game per innovation.
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1. Board Game: Up Front [Average Rating:7.84 Overall Rank:197]
Tom Grant
United States
Washington
DC
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What wasn't innovative about this game? No map, interesting ways to depict morale and cohesion, every situation from small arms fire to minefield clearing decided by flipping the same set of cards...The only problems have been (1) Up Front! and its expansions have been out of print too long, and (2) no one else really has used UF as a template for other games. Yet.
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2. Board Game: Across 5 Aprils [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:1758]
Tom Grant
United States
Washington
DC
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The chit pull games, like Across Five Aprils, neatly roll two realities of warfare into a single mechanic: (1) friction, the Murphy's Law of warfare, which applies to when different units get on the move, and (2) quality of command, which some chit pull games depict by having more chits for units commanded by superior leaders. For anyone complaining that wargames give you perfect control over your forces, I submit to them the chit pull games as a rebuttal.
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3. Board Game: Western Front Tank Leader [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:3218]
Tom Grant
United States
Washington
DC
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The Tank Leader games by John Hill had a very neat mechanic for C3 (command, control, and communications). Each unit/formation had a command rating, as listed on a card you played to activate it. However, your opponent could always "trump" you by playing a card for a better commander, which you could then trump in return...Again, a mechanic that (1) really worked, and (2) really needs to be incorporated into future wargames.
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4. Board Game: The Great Battles of Alexander: Deluxe Edition [Average Rating:7.72 Overall Rank:866]
Tom Grant
United States
Washington
DC
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The Great Battles series resurrected interest in pre-gunpowder battles, at a time when WWII and the American Civil War dominated boardgaming. What previous ancient and medieval tactical simulations missed were some of the important aspects of "the art of war" of these periods.

Berg's basic design for the GBOH series fixed that problem, making the series a runaway hit. The GBOH mechanics for command and control, the morale and cohesion of units, and the overall ability of the army to stand and fight in the face of losses, made a heckuva lot more sense for students of this period of history than the often pedestrian simulations that preceded them.
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5. Board Game: Rise of the Luftwaffe [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:1469]
Tom Grant
United States
Washington
DC
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The Down in Flames series took another subject rendered dull and unconvincing in previous designs and made it exciting and more credible as wargames. WWII air combat, as depicted in games like Air Force, was slow and mechanistic. Verssen's design for the Down in Flames series not only was more exciting for dogfighting, but it also worked as the basis for the advanced game, adding mission objectives, bombers, flak, you name it.
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6. Board Game: Thunderbolt/Apache Leader [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:2277]
Tom Grant
United States
Washington
DC
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In the same vein, the two "Leader" games showed, for the first time, how important planning was for the success of air missions. Same designer, too, as the Down in Flames series.
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7. Board Game: For the People [Average Rating:7.63 Overall Rank:490]
Tom Grant
United States
Washington
DC
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Of course, no list of innovative wargames would be complete without the "card driven" titles, starting with We the People. The cards handle several aspects of strategic warfare simultaneously, including the importance of politics in defining the battlefield, supply and logistics (using the cards for your "build point" pool, as in Paths of Glory), command (different leaders are rated in ways that make it harder to find a card to activate the worst commanders), and other incidentals that different designers have seen fit to throw into the cards.

For the People also added national will as a measure of a combatant's ability to fight, so that the Union and Confederacy didn't have to fight each other to total subjugation, or the conquest of some arbitrary geographical objective (Washington or Richmond), to defeat each other.
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8. Board Game: Blue vs. Gray [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:2020]
Tom Grant
United States
Washington
DC
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Another great game about the quality of command, one of the defining characteristics of the American Civil War. Blue Vs. Grey also showed the command structure in a way that's truly original and important for simulating a conflict.
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9. Board Game: EastFront [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:790]
 
Tom Grant
United States
Washington
DC
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The block games handled fog of war in the simplest possible way.
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10. Board Game: Battle Cry [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:403]
Tom Grant
United States
Washington
DC
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The Richard Borg titles, Battle Cry and Memoir '44, showed something important about the wargame market:

Make the game physically attractive.
Make it simple.
Throw in something that adds spice, while keeping the suspension of disbelief intact. (I'm talking about the use of cards in this game to activate units.)
Build these games, and they will come. (In other words, a lot of people bought these games, in some cases as their first wargame.)
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11. Board Game: Europe Aflame [Average Rating:5.48 Overall Rank:9374]
Robert Wesley
Nepal
Aberdeen
Washington
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I place THIS upon many LISTS for the explicit 'reasons' given time and time again: it was a decent 'means' of introducing some unique 'aspects' NOT seen very often in many other games, including others that are very similiar in 'scale' as this one! It has: 'fog of war' with the 'standup counters' of which they also involve 'step reduction' for these(and they can be anywhere from '1' up to '8' in STRENGTH for some Countries-NOT presently available as a 'range' for UNITS in the 'Block Games'!); there are 'Terrain Effects' that are woefully 'ignored or discounted' in SOME games dealing with the same exact 'Theatre'; there are *Specialized* Units for ALL 'sides' involved in this; they have introduced 'Initiative' and 'Activation' of Armies in 'areas', as well as Passing/LOSING/Transferring this ability to the OTHER 'side' either 'voluntarily' or worse~'IN-voluntarily'! Excepting the *Special* Unit types, there are also 'Game Counters' for ALL 'sides' representing: "Ground Support"; "Fighter Interceptors"; "Forts"; "SUB Warfare"; "Anti-SUB Warfare"; "Partisans", and a few others. Even the COMBAT 'system' is of a 'unique' manner as you USE the 'strength' of your UNIT to determine the 'range' in which you can obtain RESULTS. In COMBAT, then the '0' on the d10 is considered BELOW the '1' and the '0' will cause a HIT, while getting a '1' causes a "Retreat/Repulse" in addition to a HIT, for Units so affected with that. When you "get a 'natural 9' ", then it is an "Automatic MISS" no matter what 'modifiers' are applicable.

It is with THIS, that I'd advocate exposing to the usual "Axis & Allies" crowd, in order to SHOW them something that is 'lacking' in those-"indecision" based upon the 'unknown'! WHY any others have NOT been able to utilize these 'functions' again and again in yet other 'applications', is beyond ME! I may have 'asked & answered' my OWN question on this, since most folks can't HANDLE the 'stresses' of the unknown even in something as 'simple' as these games. I have not seen anything ELSE produced that is along these same exact 'lines', although "The Hunt for Red October", "Red Storm Rising", and "A Line in the Sand" closely approximate THIS-yet they do NOT 'duplicate' the many innovations presented here in this Game.
 
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12. Board Game: Bonaparte at Marengo [Average Rating:7.41 Overall Rank:688]
Andrew Wright
United States
North Andover
Massachusetts
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I am not the first person to recognize the presence of this game, but I will be the first one to interject it here. It just came out, and based on a reading of the rules it drips with innovation. I ordered it immediately, because I think it is capable of being very interesting to play at least, and greatly affect how we think about wargames at most.

I suspect this is the type of thing the person who wrote the Wargamer article wants to see. Or not...he might like the soapbox for all I know.
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13. Board Game: Austerlitz [Average Rating:6.52 Overall Rank:4925]
Andrew Wright
United States
North Andover
Massachusetts
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While I am at it, Dean Essig's command system is innovative and succeeds, largely because it represents the challenge of command well, and it doesn't feel like another layer of rules that stops you from doing certain things.
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14. Board Game: Grant Takes Command [Average Rating:7.93 Overall Rank:1651]
Chris Farrell
United States
Cupertino
California
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This is the sort of thing I'd use for a counter-example. It uses the dice for movement, but does it in a way that does an excellent job of conveying the difficulties of ACW campaigns and is unlike any other game I've played. It's straightforward, it's playable, and it's a great game. This is the sort of thing I'd like to see more of.
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15. Board Game: We the People [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:626]
Eric Landes
United States
Hillsboro
Oregon
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I don't think any wargame innovation list is complete without the addition of We the People.

The addition of a deck of cards to boardgaming wasn't entirely new. However, making the cards within the deck serve multiple purposes according to the player's choice was a landmark breakthrough. It essentially spawned an entire genre of wargames.

Further games in the series modified and added to the basic system, but the original is still a highly-rated classic.

High points in the series since WtP have been Hannibal: RvC, Paths of Glory, Sword of Rome, and many others. The next game of this genre will be Empire of the Sun coming out very soon from GMT.
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16. Board Game: Squad Leader [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:308]
Loris GIANADDA
France
Paris
Ile de France
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The mechanic I want to highlight with this is:

Non-dedicated system/material: SL (and ASL, and probably others before or after them) have generic "tactical ww2" rules, generic counters, geomorphic boards. So you can reenact any skirmish of ww2.
Most wargames are designed to reenact a precise battle, or two (or war), with predefinite forces or setup.
Here, you take some geomorphic boards, set up what is asked for and go.
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17. Board Game: Lightning: D-Day [Average Rating:6.00 Overall Rank:4466]
Henry Vogel
United States
Raleigh
North Carolina
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I played this for the first time last night. I have few questions, but my friend and I both found the game very enjoyable and very different from any wargame we'd ever played. It may not be your cup of tea, but it's definitely not in the same vein as the wargames of the '60s and '70s!
 
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18. Board Game: Storm over Arnhem [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:1073]
Richard Irving
United States
Salinas
California
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This game started "Area-Impulse" system of games including Turnming Point Stalingrad and Breakout Normandy, although it is a little outside of the time frame of 20 years.

- CRT-less combat.
- Spent units that need time to rest/refit
- Area movement: Instead of designing the map with obstacles that hinder movement/firing which cost more to enter/block line of sight, designing a map where the "hindrances" are incorporated into the design of the map by the shape of the areas. Greatly simplify movement and firing rules.
- Impulse turns: Require playing only a limited number of pieces per turn giving a realistic act/react feel.
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19. Board Game: 8th Army: Operation Crusader [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:4102]
Robert Wesley
Nepal
Aberdeen
Washington
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Well, how could we neglect to include THIS, and the others that were 'spawned' from it? It has to be THE "most popular" of them ALL(of this 'kind' at least), and also 'created' the TERM of "Double-blind" Game. Whereas the 'system' or a variation of this, had been around for some time-ala "Midway", "Battleship", "Stratego", etc., you get the general 'idea'.
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20. Board Game: Downtown: Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 [Average Rating:7.78 Overall Rank:1232]
THE MAVERICK
United States
Herald
California
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I missed a point here (and you thought I was out of ammo?)

Downtown illustrates an important point in response to the claim that recycled style makes for recycled Wargames. Downtown shows how a change in focus (abstract the combat, concentrate on an operational scale) can make a "new" game out of an "old" subject. This is true regardless of whether you go with new mechanics, or stick with tried and true mechanics seen in Wargames from the 50's-80's.

A "same old" hex and counter game can choose to focus on command issues, or fog of war, or "hard issues" (i.e. accurate interaction of weapons), or "soft issues" (i.e. morale), or doctrine, or a different scales for units, time, distance, etc. There really isn't room to do everything in a board wargame (and I don't think there is even a computer game that "does it all" yet either), so there is almost always a new way to look at an old subject, which leaves the designer in the position to pick and choose which aspects of the conflict the designer wishes to emphasize. As I see it, the "same old" mechanics have not resulted solely in a field of cookie-cutter games that are all the same except for the name on the box and the values on the units, as the article seems to suggest at points. If you look beyond the superficial complaint, I agree with the author of this list that the article's cry for innovation (solely for the sake of innovation?) seems to have missed some things...

Sure, a lot of the "holy trinity" Bulge/Waterloo/Gettysburg games are a LOT alike (copious "borrowing" is a well entrenched tradition in the board Wargame field), but then there are plenty that are different enough to justify their existence. The sheer number of games on these topics alone is an excellent illustration of the impact that a designer's FOCUS makes on the Wargame experience. Thus, the "same old" mechanics can be stretched to fit different purposes, and the straw man argument that "same mechanics = same games" doesn't hold up if you look at the ways those mechanics have actually been used, rather than myopically lumping everything that uses hexes, counters, and CRT's into the "same mechanics" bin.

It's really almost like saying "dice, pawns, cards, and a board - games that recycle these old features are not innovative". I think this is why (in the haze of the midnight hour) Compton's article struck me as particularly superficial. I didn't see it as a very insightful analysis, it seemed that the intent was more along the lines of "let's slant some facts to make a controversial point" (or, as this was part one, to set up the author's conclusions in the later installments).

It seems to me that Compton's article would have been more timely in the mid to late sixties (in fact, I have seen some articles like this of that vintage), when the original board Wargame mechanics literally were being recycled for just about any topic. But I have a hard time with the suggestion that the current crop of hex and counter games are lacking in creativity and innovation, where appropriate. As stated elsewhere, if it ain't broke - don't fix it.

Ok, now I may be out of ammo on the topic.
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21. Board Game: Napoleon at Bay: The Campaign in France [Average Rating:6.94 Overall Rank:2942]
Tom Swider
United States
Harrisburg
Pennsylvania
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Kevin Zucker's Napoleonic system managed to have low unit densities and excellent leadership rules. Sides get automatic activity points to ensure that specific leaders and units under their command can move. Then all other leaders, one at a time, rolled to see if they could move or not. In a simple way, this system was amongst the first to show that leaders didn't always move when they were told to do so.
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22. Board Game: Kingmaker [Average Rating:6.43 Overall Rank:1374]
Jim Kiefer
United States
Fremont
California
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Kingmaker. I remember when I first saw it on the shelf. I love that game. The innovative factor for me was movement over terrain. The terrain size changed in indicate forests, mountains, etc. Nice rolling flatlands were big. Mountains squares were small. Roads could be traversed from end to end on one turn. All you had to do was defeat about dozen castles so they'd let you pass.

mmm. That might be more than 20 years ago, however.

Jim
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23. Board Game: Ambush! [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:488]
Jonathan Evans
United States
Unspecified
Indiana
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Though not the first hex & counter game to use the paragraph format -- SPI's ARES magazine, Dwarfstar games and others used them -- Ambush is one of the first historical wargames to make reading pre-programmed texts an essential function of game play. While the mechanic tends to limit re-playability it does not preclude the possibility of designing a game for more than one player.
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24. Board Game: A House Divided [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:631]
Robert Wesley
Nepal
Aberdeen
Washington
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surprise W@W! I'm surprised that NO ONE had entered this here as of yet! Well, there's been others too like "Soldier King" & "Attack in the Ardennes" by 'GDW', and "Give me Liberty" by '3-W', as well as some "Russian Front" games, while there are many innovations of which this has 'spawned' for another.
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25. Board Game: Horse Soldiers: Forrest at Bay [Average Rating:6.04 Overall Rank:7406]
Kevin Roach
Canada
Brandon
Manitoba
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As far as I know, this was my first intro to TCT, turn contiuation track, or something like that. Which I enjoyed.
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