Wargames - elegant, absorbing, with a dash of historical flava (help me find more)
Thi Nguyen
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So I've been making the long slide into wargames. I am still, in my truest heart of hearts, a player of chess and go. These are my first, my deepest, and my last callings. I say this, not to diss on wargames, but to say - when I play 'em, I'm about 30 times more interested in the *game* than anything like pure truthful simulation.

So: after playing hella crap crap in my childhood, after hanging out here for a while, and after hanging out on BGG and learning all about El Grande and Knizia and all, I started trying out a few wargames.

And found, to my shock, that I dug 'em.

So, it seems to me that what I love are:

1. Relative elegance. This means that every rule has to have a lot of heft for gameplay.

2. Serious long-term strategic thinking. Which is not to say that there can't be any luck, randomness, and the like.

3. A sense of drama, long-term narrative

4. A sense of *particularity*. In my youth, I screwed around with miniatures. The (relatively dopey) wargames I played back then always struck me as very similar to each other - be they elven archers or Space Orks or riflemen, stuff was pretty similar. I dig out on Hannibal's emphasis on political control, on how dominant those Scottish winters are in Hammer of the Scots.

5. Little math. My least favorite part of gaming is modifiers, charts, all that stuff. I like, fer example, the Columbia block games for abstracting almost all the numbers into two or three simple stats - battle strength, health. Leaves my head open to think of the interesting stuff. I like to spend most of my time thinking about what my opponent is going to do, and how I'm going to stop him, thinking about connections between supply and position and range, than buried in the intricacies of algebra.

6. Total absorption. All my favorite games - go, El Grande, Taj Mahal, LOTR: The Confrontation, Hannibal, Hammer of the Scots, all these things

I guess what I mean to say is that I'm willing to learn some rules, but I prefer systems with the mininum number of rules to get the flavor *deeply*. I like that, in Hammer of the Scots, I don't have to monitor the exact temperature of the air, or the weather precisely, but that winter comes and then everybody has to go home. And, once in a while, winter comes early, when nobody's expecting it. That's simple; that's deep.

I like these games because they're absorbing, because they have flavor and drama, because they're deeply, deeply *different*. The struggle over provinces in Hannibal is utterly different from the desperate struggle for any *time* between winters in Hammer, is different from that brutal, desperate supply-line and resources slog of EastFront.

I guess it's like - you know how certain actors, when they portray some real person, they miticulously imitate every little characterstic, and others, they just brush aside all the little stuff and grab the soul?

I like the soul-grab.

I've got Rommel in the Desert on order. And I played my first half-game of EastFront last night, which was truly, truly beautiful. I've got Breakout: Normandy sitting in my closet, but right now my wargamign partner is far more interested in the larger-scale stuff. Maybe later.

Please help me pick. I'll explain what I like about my few favorites, then offer other ones I'm thinking about. I should probably stick to only one that's a real day-long (6-12 hour range), and mostly otherwise keep around the 3-4 hour range.
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1. Board Game: Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage [Average Rating:7.82 Overall Rank:135]
Thi Nguyen
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Salt Lake City
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You know, it actually took me a few games to groove in on Hannibal. At first, I treated it like an abstract; the presence of the cards just frustrated me. It took a bit of convincing before I saw what they were supposed to simulate - the vagaries of command structure - and that they weren't some fluffy silliness, but a level of randomness that had to be controlled, planned around.

It took me a while, too, to see how fluid this game was. That establishing a hard border of line was impossible, that it was armies dancing past each other, slipping around, wreaking havoc, running back home to end the siege on Rome.
 
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2. Board Game: Hammer of the Scots [Average Rating:7.56 Overall Rank:299]
Thi Nguyen
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A very emotionally different experience from Hannibal, for its striking superficial similarity. Both are games without hard and fast boundaries, of a smaller guerilla force dancing around a heavier, stronger force; both require strikingly interesting strategic thinking.

There's also a fascinating sense of narrative - in large part, I think, to those precious powerful irreplaceable pieces. When I think back on a game of Hammer, I don't remember any exhausting calculations, I remember how I stupidly let Wallace get surrounded and killed, then cleverly slipped around his knights to get Comyn to the coronation ground, and harried his flanks with the Norse and worried the hell out of him before I set up camp in the middle and just wouldn't budge and let my armies grow…
 
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3. Board Game: Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815 [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:1015]
Thi Nguyen
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Now, Napoleon bores me. It's small, it's tight, it's calculative… basically, it feels to me like chess, but less varied. It's got none of the logistical interest of Hammer of the Scots or East Front, it's got very little bluff….

When I want a quick, hidden-units game, a tightly tactical game, a game where I really play the hell out of my opponent, I'll play Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation.

I know, that's not really a wargame. But, then again, neither is this.

Is it?
 
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4. Board Game: Paths of Glory [Average Rating:8.00 Overall Rank:100]
Thi Nguyen
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Now, which games should I get next?

I should probably restrict myself to one massive game. I've consulted those BGGers I trust, for a shortlist. So which one: Paths of Glory...
 
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5. Board Game: World War II: Barbarossa to Berlin [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:1208]
Thi Nguyen
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...World War 2: Barbarossa to Berlin...
 
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6. Board Game: Europe Engulfed [Average Rating:7.51 Overall Rank:888]
Thi Nguyen
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Salt Lake City
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...Europe Engulfed...

(I've seen very little directly comparing Europe Engulfed to WW2 B2B - whaddya all think?)
 
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7. Board Game: Sword of Rome [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:846]
Thi Nguyen
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or Sword of Rome? Which, for your money, is the most intense, absorbing, elegant, and yet poppy-chock full of historical flava?
 
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8. Board Game: Age of Napoleon [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:1654]
Thi Nguyen
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And I can probably spring for one more less massive yet still intense game. Age of Napoleon? (whaddya all think, is the card play unbalanced?)...
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9. Board Game: Wilderness War [Average Rating:7.75 Overall Rank:570]
Thi Nguyen
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Salt Lake City
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...the swing and heft Wilderness War...
 
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10. Board Game: A House Divided [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:946]
Thi Nguyen
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...the old classic, A House Divided...
 
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11. Board Game: Gettysburg: Badges of Courage [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:3812]
Thi Nguyen
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...or the slow, intense march on Gettysburg?
 
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12. Board Game: Britannia [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:540]
David Williams
Australia
Ebor
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Watch out for Brit II... real soon now!
 
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13. Board Game: Alexander the Great [Average Rating:6.13 Overall Rank:5174]
Michael Von Ahnen
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Dallas
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One of my favorites, the rules are pretty simple but the tactics are the key to the game. Morale is handled very cleaverly, although you have to keep up with the combat results to maintain it.

It is out of print, but I have been finding more OOP games on Ebay and other sources (like www.secondchancegames.com).
 
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14. Board Game: For the People [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:713]
Tim
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Washington
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For the People is an example of elegant design with great historical flavor. It is the best of the card driven wargames.

The rules are a bit wargamey but the cards add flavor, uncertainty and tension.

I was never interested one iota in the American Civil War until playing this game.
 
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15. Board Game: Liberty: The American Revolution 1775-83 [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:2089]
Dane Peacock
United States
Stansbury Park
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I heartily recommend Liberty. This one meets all of your requirements beautifully. It plays similarly to other Columbia titles, which you seem to enjoy, yet it is more streamlined and 'clean'. If you have any interest in the American Revolution, this one is a great choice.
 
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16. Board Game: Successors (second edition) [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:2395]
Nate Sandall
United States
Portland
Oregon
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First thing about Successors you must realize: It's not four player Hannibal!

However, Successors has a lot of what you're looking for. It's a good three or four player wargame that includes an automatic and intriguing gang-up-on-the-leader mechanism and multiple paths to victory. Players take the roll of two of Alexander the Great's generals after his death and attempt to establish themselves as the legitimate government of the vast empire that Alexander conquered.

The political control works very differently and the Tyche cards are different in scope and feel from the action cards of Hannibal and at first it cheesed me off some. But after getting into the game and seeing just how varied and how many paths to victory there are I came to really appreciate it. Now if I could only play it without forgetting 9 or 10 rules I'd be in great shape!
 
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17. Board Game: Bonaparte at Marengo [Average Rating:7.40 Overall Rank:1175]
Dick Jarvinen
United States
Corvallis
Oregon
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"Bonaparte at Marengo"

'Innovative and elegant' defines it for me.

No CRT, no die rolls, no Terrain Effect Chart. All these functions are either built into the mechanics or the mapboard (or both).

It also uses a 'period' map (1800 Napoleonic) for the battlefield (1" = 350' if I remember correctly) which adds a lot to the flavor.

The play of the game is significantly different than many wargames in that is more about maneuver and flanking, as direct assaults are usually doomed to failure unless you have been able to soften up the defense either with artillery or prior assaults.

While the rules seem to be somewhat simplistic, there are many nuances that must be mastered to get to be able fully utilize a unit's capabilities.

Certainly worth exploring, based on your criteria.

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