War on the Sea: Review

Fundamentally, a good game is one which is easy to play whilst simultaneously offering compelling choices. The game itself should be easy, it is the decisions that should be hard. Killerfish Games’ latest release: War on the Sea succeeds in one sense but fails in the other. Like the Japanese after Midway, this failure is one that War on the Sea cannot recover from.

Midnight. August 10th 1942. 30 nautical miles east of Guadalcanal. Four old Japanese destroyers go into action against an unknown enemy force. Their commander assumes he faces a superior force. The plan: as soon as the enemy is spotted, launch torpedoes and then make good their escape. Their commander assumed wrong. The “superior” enemy force is in fact two destroyers and four transports. A good night for the Imperial Japanese Navy.

When War on the Sea works, it really works. Throughout the above engagement, I felt like I was playing something out of Tameichi Hara’s Japanese Destroyer Captain. My plan was written by my (possibly faulty) recollection of one of Hara’s own engagements. Such considerations are what War on the Sea could be – in a few more months or even a year.

War on the Sea is the ultimate evolution of Killerfish Games’ previous offerings. Its submarine warfare mechanics are more or less lifted from Cold Waters. Surface combat likewise owes much to Atlantic Fleet. With such an excellent pedigree, War on the Sea is a dream game for many. Naval combat in the Pacific theatre in “real” time? Who could ask for more? With the scope, scale and variety of actions on offer, I suspect it has been Killerfish’s dream all along. The design of the campaign suggests to me that Killerfish hopes to offer more campaigns in different theatres as well.

As it is, the single campaign currently on offer, Guadalcanal, playable from either side, is more than enough. One need only watch Drachinifel’s excellent series on that campaign to see why it is the perfect introduction to the format.

Unfortunately, it is the campaign where War on the Sea’s problems begin. It is too much of sandbox whilst simultaneously hamstringing player choice. At the start of a campaign the player has nothing. It is up to them to choose their ships. Great right? To an extent, but how is the new player meant to know what they should choose? For the veteran meanwhile, the decidedly unhelpful user interface means that organising your fleet is far more effort than it needs to be, especially when it comes to organising scouts.

So much for freedom, what about limitations? Put it this way. Your scouts are shadowing an enemy force. You send your torpedo bombers in. But they can’t engage. As far as I can guess, since the enemy fleet has already been identified and the game has given you a choice to attack, the game now decides that you don’t need that choice again. You’ll have to wait for the enemy to be lost in the fog of war again (a matter of hours) before you can attack. It would appear that War in the Sea somehow manages to discourage scouting. The same issue means that enemy scouts, once contacted, can’t be shot down by scrambling fighters.

Similar issues occur in organising your fleet. Whilst aircraft and ships in the same area will take part in the same battle, two groups of the same type (i.e. ships and ships or aircraft and aircraft) won’t. Possibly I’ve been unlucky – but it’s hard to argue with two formations being right on top of one another and then entering battle to find only one formation present. Specialised formations (say, having a flotilla of destroyers supporting your squadron of cruisers) thus appear to be not only useless but outright dangerous – as a cruiser squadron that is caught by an ambushing submarine will be sitting ducks. Similarly, while the AI has had no problem organising combined strikes of fighters and bombers, I for the life of me cannot order up more than one type at a time. Why it is impossible for an airfield or carrier to launch multiple types, together or separately, is unclear.

War on the Sea’s campaign holds so much promise. Its scope, format and freedom should make it the holy grail of naval wargaming. Yet these problems – and I’m cutting out a great many more – say to me that somewhere along the line things went very wrong. I cannot know whether time ran out, problems were not identified, beta testers were not attentive, the engine was too limited or some other fault, but the result is a campaign that, between glimmers of brilliance, is critically flawed.

War on the Sea’s campaign could have been saved by tactical combat. Although the battles are indeed a stronger experience, it’s not enough. The good first. The spirit of Cold Waters makes the submarine combat great fun. Hunting enemy fleets with destroyers circling makes every action exhilarating (though your submarine coming under air attack is dull as ditch water and needs a look at – see above – ahem). Similarly, the fundamentals of surface combat: gunnery, detection, damage control, feel right. Pretty, though not amazing, graphics hold up well. The smoke and star-shells of night battles are particularly impressive. Likewise, damage effects are also suitably impressive for what is happening below decks – but ironically are in some ways a come down from Atlantic Fleet.

With the fundamentals of naval combat so strong, it’s too bad it’s let down by all the clicking. One example: every ship, even ones in a formation, must be given a target individually. In order to fire, I must then order each and every ship individually. If a formation is ordered to fire – only the first ship will open up. The rest will sit and watch. In a game like Atlantic Fleet, where battles were turn-based and small, this was fine. In real time, with much larger forces, not so much. These issues extend to how the player directs gunfire and even into how air combat works. Exciting as it is to have bomb-skipping and other techniques in a naval game, at heart War on the Sea is weighted down by far, far, far too much micromanagement. Even with generous use of the pause button, it just isn’t any fun. I am left with the distinct suspicion that War on the Sea was designed and tested by a culture that plays these kinds of games in a very specific way – one alien to everyone outside the club.

All the issues described above can be solved. Maybe in a year, maybe in six months, the odds are that every issue I’ve covered will be fixed. I sincerely hope they are.

Since I began writing this review at least two small updates have appeared. The fundamentals are there. War on the Sea has the power to be a very good game, but I can only review what I have in front of me. For the moment, a critically flawed campaign and naval combat that is complicated for the sake of it makes it a game that, I cannot recommend at full price. The only consolation I can offer is that, if Cold Waters is anything to go by, War on the Sea can look forward to a lot of work going forward. It needs it.

-Charles Ellis

Field of Glory II: Medieval – The Battle of Crug Mawr

One of my favourite features in Field of Glory II: Medieval is the included historical battles. I’m no medievalist, so most of the battles covered here, except for the extremely famous ones like Hastings or The Battle on Lake Peipus, are new to me. It’s a wonderful excuse to pop open wikipedia and start doing some reading to go along with playing the scenario. (Modern Edutainment!) Since research is twice as fun when you share it with people (or so I keep telling myself) here’s my after action report of the Battle of Crug Mawr, where in reality the Welsh pushed back the Anglo-Normans in 1136. Will I do as good a job?

Beautiful Wales

Crug Mawr: Field of Glory II: Medieval and Historical Recreation

In 1135 King Henry I of England died without a male heir, his only legitimate son having drowned in 1120. He nominated his daughter, Empress Matilda to take the throne, but a succession crisis quickly broke out leading to a civil war known as the Anarchy.

In Wales, already uneasy about Anglo-Norman advances into their land, the tiny Welsh kingdoms took the opportunity to act. In Southern Wales a large scale revolt wrest control of the region from Norman forces. An attempt to reestablish control by Ricahrd Fitz Gilbert de Clare, the Norman Lord of Ceredigion, was met with another defeat and de Clare’s death. Things were looking up for the Welsh.

De Clare’s death sparked further action by the Welsh Kings, and a combined force set out to plunder Norman holdings in the region, which they managed without much trouble. In the fall of 1136, the combined Welsh force set out again and moved on towards the town of Cardigan.

Outside the town the Welsh force encountered a Norman army that had set out to stop their advance. Meeting on the slopes of a great hill battle was joined and ended in a decisive Welsh Victory. Demonstrating the importance of the Welsh longbow as a battlefield weapon, Crug Mawr was an overwhelming victory and saw the Norman forces pursued to the River Teifi where hundreds apparently drowned.

The great hill (probably)

Why Doesn’t Mine Look Like That!? An After Action Report of Crug Mawr

Firing up the scenario in Fields of Glory II: Medieval leads to a straight forward engagement. The Welsh army, longbows arrayed before spearmen and flanked by cavalry, face off against a line of Norman troops, complete with Flemish mercenaries, atop a steep slope. The lines are long and there isn’t much room to maneuver, so I decide to trust in my longbow and advance towards the enemy.

Welsh Longbows quickly scattered the Norman skirmishers

In the beginning, I was quite proud of them. They quickly scattered the enemy’s skirmishers and began doing some real damage to the armoured Flemish mercenaries. I was sure to focus as much fire as I could on the same units to maximize the amount of morale rolls I could get them to take, but they managed to hold firm, despite a few of them becoming disordered and fragmented.

My flanks were not so great, I didn’t think my horsemen could take their levy’s without assistance from the spearman line, but there were so many units I found it difficult to position them meaningfully. Instead I focused on the center, hoping to do enough damage to nullify the armoured Flemish before allowing my spearmen to take the hill.

The Norman line, including the heavy cavalry, waiting for my advance.

It worked…for a few turns. Eventually my supply of arrows ran low and the damage each unit was doing dropped significantly. Perhaps I shouldn’t have even bothered with the skirmishers, and saved my arrows for closer range? Eventually the Normans got tired of being shot and charged downwards, forcing my bowmen to fall back, mostly in good order, to behind the spearmen. Here I thought I could meet them head on, but in a series of disastrous rolls, (even earning me an achievement for rolling double ones on a morale test) the Flemish mercenaries rallied and broke my archers and spearmen.

Then the Norman knights arrived. At first held in reserve, they managed to smash my already wavering spearmen and drive them from the center. The wings soon collapsed and the battle was over.

It only got worse from here

Sorry Wales, I failed you this time! I guess I’ll have to reload and go at it again! Though I think I’ll try and be a little smarter with my deployment and engagement ranges.

Field of Glory II: Medieval Review

Check out our Review of Slitherine’s latest addition to the Field of Glory series, Field of Glory II: Medieval. Does it live up to its predecessors? Joe finds out!

A flurry of arrows sink into the shield and flesh. The cries of wounded men rend the air drowning out the relentless marching of the approaching infantry. Spearmen grip their weapons tighter, bracing for the oncoming impact, the bright livery and shining armour of the enemy’s foot knights shaking even the toughest veteran to the core.

But then, from the right, the sound of hooves. The Prince has arrived with his battle, leading a bloody host of household knights atop monstrous warhorses. Their left must have crumbled, and now the seemingly unstoppable wave of steel and mail before the spearmen hesitate. With a cry the Prince charges down the hill and into the quickly reforming flank of the foot knights. The spearmen roar in victory before rushing to join their lord. The day is theirs!

Behold the flower of French Nobility!

The decision to release a Field of Glory game covering the middle ages sparked some discussion across wargaming forums. Would it be too similar to Field of Glory II? Would the middle ages provide enough variety and interesting strategic decisions for a full fledged game? What kind of material would be included anyways? Well, after spending a good few days with Field of Glory II: Medieval, I’m excited to say that the base game is exactly the kind of thing I wanted a new Field of Glory game to be, and I believe will satisfy any naysayers worried about the above. I’ll tell you why.

How Does Field of Glory II: Medieval Play?

I’m a big fan of the Field of Glory ruleset, first and foremost. A classic of the tabletop gaming world, Field of Glory has a long series of PC adaptations. Pike & Shot was one of my first interactions with a digital wargame that attempted to implement a tabletop ruleset. The graphics, while quaint, did a good job representing a bright and colorful tabletop complete with miniatures. I’m happy that FoG II: Medieval continues the trend with beautiful oversized figures, these days well animated, that carry on the spirit of a tabletop wargame brought to life.

Mechanically FoGII: Medieval does not shy away from its tabletop heritage. Units have set stats, which can be presented as granularly or abstractly as one likes, and the way players position units and how they choose to engage the enemy with those units will win or lose them the day. Dice rolls rule over all, with a healthy dose of randomization to keep things interesting. The rules work well to properly integrate command and control issues, and I’m quite happy with how the randomized numbers seem to play out. Casualty counts, for example, seem to mirror real life casualties quite well.

As for unit control, Players instruct individual units or groups to move and engage the enemy across a square gridded board representing the battlefields of Northern Europe. When units fire at each other or engage, the terrain, their relative qualities, numbers, and armaments are calculated using Points of Advantage to generate the conclusion. Once engaged, the player tends to lose control over their forces, placing greater emphasis on initial positioning and the commitment of reserves.

With a medieval battlefield, players must learn when and how to deploy the heavy hitters of their forces: Knights. The wonderfully colourful centerpieces of this digital tabletop, Knights and other heavy cavalry can turn the tide when correctly utilized. When put up against a poor match, or when outmaneuvered through an opponent’s use of terrain, they can quickly become a burden. Their implementation goes a long way to separate FoG II: Medeival from the earlier FoG II, I’m happy to report.

What is included in Field of Glory II: Medieval?

There’s quite a lot out of the box. It seems Field of Glory II: Medieval is trying to pack as much as possible into this first release, but there are some notable gaps in campaigns and army lists that allow one to reasonably speculate what future DLCs might cover. There seems to be a suspicious absence of Mediterranean, North African, Middle Eastern, and Byzantine forces that usually make the rounds in medieval wargames. I’d expect them to show up soon.

Right now, FoG II: Medieval has over 50 army lists covering most of northern Europe, including the British Iles, France and the Low Countries, German states, most of Eastern Europe and Russia, including the Mongols. There’s certainly a lot to work with, and while some units can seem familiar across different army lists (Because, as a rule, they were similar) the available composition of armies is different enough to make playing Swedes feel very different from playing the Welsh

There are 12 Historical scenarios at the time of writing, from Hastings in 1066 to Kressenbrunn in 1260. Each scenario is playable from both sides and comes with a nice write up detailing the historical significance of the battle. Personally, in the past, I’ve spent most of my time fighting and refighting Field of Glory‘s historical battles, as that is my favourite aspect of the game, and there is plenty of replayability for most of the scenarios. Some, like Hastings, may be difficult to game out differently each time, but there is plenty of variety for those looking for it.

I’m also a fan of the campaign system, introduced in Field of Glory II, that throws either a succession of historical or hypothetical battles at players. There are also the usual suspects of quick historical battles, customizable battles (for those Swedes vs. Tartar matchups you’ve always wanted to try) and a random ‘get fighting now’ button to get you right into the action. Multiplayer, using an integrated Play by E-mail system, is quick and efficient in my experience. I would have liked to see a live multiplayer option, but as long as both players are chatting though some other means, the PBEM system can be used for a game in an evening.

Field of Glory II: Medieval offers quite a bit of content out of the gate, and while some may lament the lack of certain army lists and historical campaigns, if you have any interest in Northern Europe’s many medieval battles, there’s content aplenty.

Conclusion: Should You Play Field of Glory II: Medieval?

Well, I think so, but really it comes down to a few factors. Are you looking for a pile of Medieval wargaming content? Are you content to play through campaigns and battles focused around northern Europe? Are you already a fan of the Field of Glory ruleset or any of the games in the series? Then yes, of course you should pick it up. If you’re on the fence, or haven’t experienced any of these games yet and the Medieval setting intrigues you, this is definitely an excellent starting point. I’ve already sunk quite a few hours into this gem and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.

An excellent addition to an excellent series. Just needs more Mediterranean content and it will be near perfect!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Joe Fonseca

Total War: Warhammer 3 Trailer and Facts

So, Total War: Warhammer 3 has been announced! Cool! We saw this one coming from a ways off. Here’s a quick primer on what we know is coming in the third instalment of the Warhammer Total War games.

New Factions!

So off the bat, we have Kislev, the notable Russo-Poles with Winged Hussars and polar bear mounts available to us. Cool! We also see what seem to be some Chaos Dwarves in the trailer, although it looks like they might not be their own faction, as CA has said that the four Chaos Gods will be represented, but not the Chaos Dwarves specifically.

The other big news is that Grand Cathay will be in the game! Cathay is a less-known name in the Warhammer fantasy universe, but a lot of people were very excited for them, the fantasy equivalent to ancient China as the Empire is to the HRE.

New Map!

We don’t know the exact details but there is a map shown in the trailer that shows a path to Grand Cathay itself, which notably exists far to the east of where the previous games took place. We can rest assured that we’ll be seeing new places when we get to stomping around again.

Mortal Empires… 2!

At some point, preumably after launch, the map will be merged with the existing maps from Total Warhammers 1 and 2, creating an absolutely gigantic map for any owners of both previous games. This will be a crazy-big map, and we’re looking forward to running around bashing heads in on it.

Other Stuff!

There are other things that CA mentioned in the aforementioned FAQ, which you can find here.

Let us know what you’re most excited for in the comments below!

Jack Trumbull

Starship Troopers: Terran Command

Today there was a burst of excitment surrounding the upcoming Real Time Strategy game Starship Troopers: Terran Command, and since Slitherine was kind enough to send us a press package, I thought I’d take some time to talk about the game, my thoughts on Starship Troopers in general, and show off some screenshots.

Starship Troopers (1959): The Book that Launched 40,000 Power Armour Suits

Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is an important piece of science fiction literature, not least of all for helping to pioneer the concept of space marines, acting as infantry in powered armour, that we all know and love today. It also, like most good science fiction, tried to engage with interesting political and social hypotheticals.

Starship Troopers envisions a world in which participation in government is gated behind civic service. While this can be done through other means, the primary way for individuals to earn their citizenship is through service in the military, and it is clear from the book that there is quite a lot of propagandizing and motivating factors encouraging the youth of the world to seek citizenship this way.

Heinlein does not shy away from discussing his ideas throughout the book. In fact a large chunk of it focuses on the training and education of the protagonist Juan Rico (notably revealed to be Filipino at the end of the book, suggesting that Heinlein’s Federation has abandoned racial and gender prejudice, but that’s another topic) enroute to becoming an infantryman. This talk can get a bit heavy handed, idealistic, and bizarre by modern standards, but it is still presented well.

The war against the Arachnids honestly feels like background noise to Heinlein’s philosophical discourse, though I admit that Starship Troopers does an incredible job of writing believable science fiction military talk.

Starship Troopers (1997): Biting Satire and Biting Bugs

The Paul Verhoeven and Edward Neumeier film, released in 1997, went in quite a different direction. The two read Heinlein’s futuristic military society as overly fascistic and set out to make a parody. They certainly succeeded, potentially moreso than they realized, when Starship Troopers became a hit not just for its biting satire, but also for it’s goofy and over the top depictions of futuristic warfare.

The intent to satirize was certainly dead center though. The film’s opening mirrors shots from 1935’s Triumph of the Will. The overly bombastic way the film represents life in the Mobile Infantry, right alongside the horrors of combat and the brutality of the Terran Federation’s war against the Arachnids, create an impossible clash of tone that…is frankly just perfect.

Michael Ironside, according to a certain widely sourced internet encyclopedia, in a 2014 interview stated he asked Verhoeven, “Why are you doing a right-wing fascist movie?” Verhoeven replied, “If I tell the world that a right-wing, fascist way of doing things doesn’t work, no one will listen to me. So I’m going to make a perfect fascist world: everyone is beautiful, everything is shiny, everything has big guns and fancy ships but it’s only good for killing fucking Bugs!”

Starship Troopers: Terran Command (2021) Would You Like to Know More?

It is the film version of Starship Troopers that Slitherine and developer The Aristocrats are bringing to player’s monitors this year, and it looks to be carrying the spirit of the 1997 film about as well as I could have hoped.

Promising “a genuine Starship Troopers feel” the game brings horrible violence to life as you send boisterous and gung-ho soldiers repeatedly into the meat grinder. It looks like dismemberment (for everyone involved) terrified screams, and all manner of explosions will really get you in the mood to earn your citizenship. Honestly it looks like they’re faithfully bringing the tongue-in-cheek patriotism along for the ride, and I’m glad to see it.

As far as gameplay is concerned, as players are in control of the Terran Federation soldiers, there is an emphasis on holding the line, maneuvering through terrain to best nullify Arachnid advantages, while simultaneously building up your forces to bring the fight to the bugs. There is a full 21 mission single player campaign with an overarching narrative, emergent missions, and a pacing script that should work to keep things fresh.

With missions spanning the infamous attack on Klendathu from the film, to the desert planet Kwalasha, I’m hoping there will be enough varied content to keep the gameplay fresh. As the developers have stated they’re pulling from all of the films in the series (I’ve seen none of the sequels) it sounds like there’s a lot for them to work with. I for one am pretty eager to see how they handle such lopsided forces.

Though there’s no multiplayer, the included skirmish maps will hopefully offer some longevity. These maps include Kill Count, Advanced Skill Tests, and Survival Missions, and I’m personally looking forward to keeping my poor guys and girls alive for as long as I can.

Joe Fonseca

LTAW’s Last Minute Christmas Gift Guide

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.



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!

DEFCON – The Scariest Wargame

Tick, Tock. Dozens of fighter squadrons dogfight in three-way fights, some thousands of feet in the air above a border town. Tick, Tock. A wolfpack of submarines has popped up in the middle of a carrier group and is violently hunting the vulnerable ships down, sending each one to the bottom of the sea. Tick. A notification appears: DEFCON 1. Tock. Hundreds of nuclear-equipped missiles are launched at the major air bases, fleets, radar stations, nuclear silos, and cities of the world. Tick. Some are intercepted by air-defense systems, but there are so many missiles and so few still-operational defenses that it’s almost pointless. Tock. An explosion of white consumes a huge area. A notification appears: 17.3 million dead. That was just one missile. There are dozens more on their way.

DEFCON provides nothing more but the most abstract look at the horrors of nuclear war, but it’s the most intense and terrifying wargame devised. You will lose millions upon millions of people every playthrough. Your carefully devised military setup will in the end be destroyed by overwhelming numbers, and at that point, you can only pray that the cities being targeted have air defense shelters. After all, you just need to lose less people to win. Every hit you take is points deducted at the end of the game, but I can never shake that dreadful feeling when I see that a city has been reduced to a series of craters, with only a few survivors managing to stumble from the wreckage.

Compounding this dread is that DEFCON can be played in real-time, so you can watch a missile appear on the horizon, dodge all intercepting attacks, and slowly descend into a metropolis over the course of 10 minutes. The waiting makes it worse. Tick, Tock.

Do not go near DEFCON if nuclear war freaks you out, because this game will make you lose your mind. It is without a doubt, the most terrifying wargame ever, but will hopefully remain purely hypothetical. Tick. Tock.


Combat Mission’s Mission: Inclusivity

Back in September, the devs behind Combat Mission put out a request for diverse voice actors for their games, citing the Derby House Principles and a wish to make the soldiers in their new game reflective of the service members in the British military. The UK’s Ministry of Defense actually uses Combat Mission in an official capacity, and the addition of these voice actors is viewed as a way to further “promote diversity and drive change” in the industry. This is certainly a positive decision, there’s no way anyone could be upset about that!

…is what I’d say if there weren’t people upset about that. Wargamers mad that women, LGBT, and non-white people exist have been complaining that games that have shown almost exclusively white straight men in the past are “kowtowing to PC culture”. The UK Armed Forces Biannual Diversity Statistics survey for 2018 showed that over 10% of the military was female, and around 8% were non-white service members. This is certainly much whiter than the US military (which is only 57% white, and really should be even more diverse in games), but with numbers around 10% for both women and non-white service members, NOT seeing someone who isn’t a white man should be more striking than seeing someone who is in those groups. This is especially the case since all military positions are open to women in the UK, and the UK recruits from many of its former colonies, which are largely non-white. 

So really, the question boils down to this: why are people mad that video game characters look different from them? It’s an important question to ask, especially since the wargaming field itself is largely older, straight, white men. Many others who have shown interest in wargaming can be and have been turned off by a community that doesn’t represent them, and repeatedly has shown to be hostile to outsiders. It’s very easy to see when booting up a multiplayer wargame or visiting the subreddit for a wargame that bigotry in many different shades exists pervasively in the field. I don’t want to attempt the fool’s errand of appealing to bigots’ sense of decency, but i do want to point out that newcomers are the lifeblood of every hobby, and by letting wargaming become more diverse, we’re more likely to have new players, friends, and game developers from different walks of life join us in the hobby. Bigotry should have no place in our community, so big kudos to the people at Battlefront and Slitherine for spearheading this initiative.

– Jack

Do you know of other wargame studios promoting diversity and inclusivity? Let us know!