Because you know you missed someone!
It’s a feeling that’s all too common. It’s Christmas Eve, and you’ve suddenly realized that you’ve forgotten to buy something for the ardent wargamer on your list. What will you do!? Head to Steam of course and send them a wargame digitally. Here are some of (but not all of) our favourite wargame picks this year. You can’t go wrong grabbing any of them for yourself or loved ones.
We have no affiliation or links and won’t earn a cent from this. We just like these games in particular and want to amplify them. Happy gaming!
Unity of Command 2/ Unity of Command 2: Blitzkrieg (Jack)
I very much like Unity of Command 2 and its recent expansion, Blitzkrieg. In terms of operational level command in a WW2 game, it’s hard to beat these. UoC had a bit of a problem with being more “puzzle-y” than wargame-y, but UoC2 has solved that issue. There are lots of ways to successfully complete your objectives in this turn-based bad boy, coupled with a solid logistics system that will beat the hell out of you/ your opponent if you’re not careful.
I’m also fond of the persistent units in UoC2, your veteran units will gain experience through multiple scenarios and you can upgrade them with various specialist “steps”, or reinforce them with things get bloody. And they will! Every mission has a timetable you have to meet, and you will have to spill some of your own blood to complete objectives on time. Tick Tock, capture Warsaw please.
Partisans: 1941 (Jack)
This one was something of a sleeper hit for wargamers this year. Something normally out of our element, as it is a stealth-based real-time tactics game, but it’s probably the most fun you’ll have being a guerrilla in WW2.
You’ve got a squad of partisans (duh) that you can order around on missions during the start of Barbarossa, sabotaging tanks, poisoning supplies, all sorts of very partisan-y things, and boy is it fun to do. Your partisans all specialize in different areas, meaning you can pull off some interesting combos to take down a patrol silently or, when required, go loud and shoot down a whole square of Nazis at once. The controls are a bit finicky at points, but the experience makes up for that handily.
Crusader Kings 3 (Jack)
Technically, yes, CK3 is more of a grand strategy game, I know. BUT it does have a lot of very strong wargame elements when it comes to the composition of armies, placement of forces, and logistics to support your men. Warring isn’t easy in CK3, which is why it’s good to be good at the politicking side of it as well.
Your character will be the ruler of a house, fully realized as an independent player on the map, and all other landed rulers are modeled as well. So, schmooze up to some friends and have them help you in your wars… or just assassinate people in the line of succession until you take their lands. There’s a lot of options here! It’s great! Buy it!
Total War: Warhammer 2 (Jack)
Total Warhammer 2 is a very fun (and relatively light) wargame, packaged with a nice strategy game layer. Send your fantasy beastmen against the cities of the treacherous elves, throw skeletons at alligator men, and call down a meteor against the enemy dwarves. It’s like getting to be a kid again and smashing your toys against each other in imagined epic fantasy battles, but realized on your PC. Or, you know, if you play the Warhammer tabletop game, it’s pretty cool too, I guess.
Total Warhammer 2 did not come out this year, but it’s had consistent updates and new DLCs pretty regularly since its release. Couple that with the fact that it integrates with Total Warhammer 1 and presumably will with Total Warhammer 3, if Total War interests you, it’s a good time to pick it up.
John Tiller Games (Joe)
So John Tiller Software is kind of an eternal presence in the world of digital wargaming. They’ve been making games with (virtually) the same tools for decades now. There are games to cover the Napoleonic Wars, The two World Wars, and a lot of other conflicts that are less common, like the Spanish Civil War.
Their recent collaboration with Wargames Design Studio has breathed some life into the old games, with new releases coming along with a fancier engine and some classics getting a remake. There’s really no better time to check JTS/WDS out.
My most recent playthrough was Sheldt ‘44 which covers the campaigns through the low countries, but I’ve also sunk a lot of time into Japan ‘45 and Japan ‘46 two games that cover the planned invasion of Kyushu and the Kanto region as part of Operation Downfall.
Once you get a handle on the system’s controls, you’ll be blazing through the games and enjoying a deep, but relaxed, operational level campaign. These games are also great for those interested in Orders of Battle and maps, as both are exceptionally researched and well presented within the games.
Cauldrons of War: Barbarossa (Joe)
This one came out of nowhere for me. An indie strategic game of the Eastern Front of WWII, Cauldrons forces players to make crucial decisions about how their armies will interact with conquered areas as they advance. This means confronting the horrors of war head on.
The gameplay is straightforward and abstract. Players assign armies and corps to different fronts and then give them broad orders. The actual conduct of battles is fed back to players through a text ticker. It might take a while to get used to, but it is quite the unique experience.
Strategic command: WWI (Joe)
This has become my new favourite “comfy” wargame. The Strategic Command series offers a high level strategic view of both WWI and WWII but I’ve found Strategic Command WWI to be my favourite. Players control an entire alliance and attempt to win the war through research, diplomacy, production, and the actual control of units.
Once players have gotten the hang of the system, which shouldn’t take very long, they’ll be digging trenches in the west and launching cavalry charges in the east in no time. The ease with which this game operates has made it a favourite for me after long work days. I can settle in and play a few months worth of turns without my brain frying, all while still getting a convincing recreation of the First World War.
Armoured Commander II (Joe)
Armoured Commander definitely flew under the radar for a lot of people, but I’m hoping more will check it out. A unique experience, Armoured Commander II puts players in command of a tank squadron in WWII. More of an RPG than a strategy experience, there’s real tension in deciding how your tank will operate, how to upgrade your crew members, and how to tackle each day.
Armoured Commander II doesn’t pull any punches either. A solid hit will knock your tank out and might even kill some crew members. Having to replace a lost driver hurts after you’ve spent several missions with him and leveled him up. There’s a certain narrative flair to Armoured Commander II that you don’t really get with some higher level games.
The simplistic graphics shouldn’t put anyone off, as they mean there are dozens of tanks, campaigns, and other support units to engage with. There’s a lot of content in a small package here for quite a cheap price.
Operation Citadel (Joe)
Another indie entry, Operation Citadel is reminiscent of the classic Panzer General games. The base package includes campaigns from all across WWII but the main draw is the included modding tools.
While there is a lot of fun to be had fighting gigantic campaigns using the built in maps of Asia and Europe, as well as individual missions all over the place, the integrated tools let your imagination run wild.
I’m currently in the process of trying to build a squad level mod for Operation Citadel set in the Pacific Theatre, and it’s coming together remarkably well considering my less-than-stellar game design knowledge. Check it out, there’s a lot of content and if you’re crafty, the sky’s the limit.
JACK’s BONUS NON-WARGAME RECOMMENDATION
Hades is super, very, extremely good. It’s a roguelike game where you play Hades’ son, Zagreus, who for reasons not stated initially, really wants to get the hell out of… Hell. You will fail, and fail often, but luckily, since our star Zag is a god of the Underworld, he just pops right back out at the bottom of the river Styx to make another climb out. The combat has a lot of options in it, with 6 different weapons to choose from, all of which have a bunch of different modes you can run with. Not to mention on your many, many runs, there are several Olympian gods who will grant you boons to aid you with your escape. The way that these mix into the gameplay feels very satisfying, and those of you with strategy-focused brains can think of some pretty clever combinations to make a run go well.
The story is one of the best I’ve seen in any game from the past 10 years (and was robbed at the Game Awards, to be frank), with stellar writing, music, and voice acting making you feel strongly for all the characters you run into. It’s a great story about family, love, betrayal, and determination that knows how to balance between a drama and a comedy. Do yourself a favor and play Hades.
Happy Holidays Everyone!