Welcome to another installment in “My Top 3 Wargames” series. I am usually presenting here the titles which follow the common theme, mechanics or historical subject. Creating such materials gives me a lot of fun and in the past oftentimes allowed me to familiarize with great titles.
Today I will follow a different approach. I would like to focus on creations of one author, whom you can treat as a whole wargaming history in microscale. Whom I have in mind? Of course Mark Herman!
A short disclaimer to below article. I have not been able to play all the games by this author, and some of them not enough to justify entering “Top 3”. Still, my subjective feelings are pretty strong about those positions and I will share in details why thy hit the podium 🙂 One unique thing which make playing those games so special are all the historical or designer notes you can find in the rulebooks!
So let us see the titles in my selection!
Other articles in the series:
Pericles (published 2017)
Surprise, surprise! Yes, Pericles is my top 1 game due to many factors – mechanics, theme, epoch – but also the fantastic way of gradually introducing you to the game! Couple of words about the game now.
Pericles takes the players to the 5th century BC and spans from 460 to 400 BC. It covers times of two great conflicts – First and Second Peloponnese Wars – between land super-power – Sparta and dominant naval state – Athens. It uses really innovatory system of play – there are four players, two representing factions in Athens and two factions in Sparta. They debate and fight each other internally (Debate Phase) while cooperate against other City State externally (Theater Phase).
This creates enormous amount of interesting decisions, tension, scheming as well as forced cooperation. It definitely feels like real politics – because Pericles is in essence not a pure wargame, but a political grand strategy, where military force is only one of the elements to gain domination.
Let me now point to specific areas which I appreciate mostly – to name only a few:
- Climate & theme – this is a wargame which in fantastic way depicts the period and you can simply feel immersed in an ancient Greece
- The game allows for tons of scenarios, from very short (10 minutes) to a full, 10 turns campaign; really, you can see that author went to great lengths to make this game accessible to a broad audience, allowing for everybody to choose what suits him best
- Internal political struggle & external war; This is the first time when I had a chance to play a game so well depicting the internal tension between political parties which in the end have to unite to face external threat; but once the threat is contained, they again start to fight each other. Sounds like real life?
More about game:
Empire of the Sun (published 2005)
The second place in my personal ranking is taken by Empire of the Sun (EotS) – a strategic level look at the entire War in the Pacific from the attack on Pearl Harbor until the surrender of Japan. EotS is the one of the Card Driven Games (CDG) Which moves the system closer to a classic hexagon wargame, while retaining all of the tension and uncertainty people have come to expect from a CDG – I simply love this! Players will play roles of MacArthur, Yamamoto, Nimitz, or Mountbatten and direct their underlying forces across the breadth of the globe from India to Hawaii and from Alaska to Australia.
As always in CDG system, players try to maximize the impact of their cards even as they hide their intentions and traps from their opponent – and believe me, the space for bluffing is really vast here! The player is always faced with a pretty wide set of strategic choices. The focus of EotS is on directing major offensive axes of advance – which might result (bear in mind) in strategic level amount of causalities!
What I would like to specifically underline is the way of determining strategic victory – based on the level of US political will. The Japanese win the game by forcing the US into a negotiated peace, which was not achieved historically. The Japanese achieve this by knocking countries like India, China, and Australia out of the war, while inflicting massive consequences on the United States. The delivery of the A-bomb on its historical schedule is not a guarantee, often necessitating Operation Olympic and the invasion of Japan. It is often in its darkest hour that the Japanese find victory in EotS.
Again, let me stipulate what I especially like about this game:
- Theme – this title is a fantastic lesson of the World War II Pacific Theater struggle between Allies and Japan. The cards events are very much attached to the historical incidents, the rules depict in fantastic way all the complexities of the Naval and Land warfare. I especially appreciate how the “forgotten war” topic was handled (China/Burma/India) .
- Scenarios – as said before, full campaign can take many hours. But the scenarios make this game so much more accessible and enjoyable. Let us analyze the 1943 scenario – this is a perfect example of a 2-3 hours set-up, with both sides commanding reasonably large forces and giving a lot of fun and joy to the belligerents.
- Balance – in reality, there was not a moment of doubt who will win the war in the long term. In the game Mark Herman went to great lengths to create a position which is enjoyable for both sides. The concept of Political Will – so important in this war – allows for both sides to achieve victory in the game terms – Allies to crush aggressors, or Japan to sign a favorable peace which will allow them to keep control of at least some of the occupied territories.
- Cards mechanics – I love Card Driven Games. The concept of being able to utilize your resources (=cards) for various uses and in various manners gives so much choice, options, strategies – shall I play an event with long-lasting effect or rather focus on immediate gains of the Operation? And what if my Operation will be intercepted? And so on, and so forth. Tough and tense decisions!
More about game:
Churchill (published 2015)
This is a game about “big three” – players take the roles of Churchill, Roosevelt, or Stalin and try to maneuver their allies into the best direction for them. Of course, while still defeating their enemies (Japan, Germany). In the end this is not a game “if” (the Allies will defeat Axis) but “who” (will rule the world after World War II).
It is hard to classify that position – at one hand this is political game – a lot of negotiations, hidden agendas, political plotting, etc. On the other, kind of a wargame as at the end, all that negotiation translates into the real forces which are being used on three fronts in Europe (Western, Eastern and Mediterranean) and four in Asia (Burma, The far East, Central and South-West Pacific) to crush the Axis.
The play is pretty quick, each of the nations has special abilities and in the background, the twilight struggle over who will have A-Bomb first rages on.
A couple of specific elements which I appreciate greatly:
- First and foremost – perfect game for three players, designed so and planned from the conception till the final production. We do not have many such products!
- Climate and historical accuracy – this is a political game which in great way depicts the “struggle for peace” of three allied nations.
- Novelty – this is game about three allies shaping the world stage after the War. Axis are merely a background to their struggle, not main side in the game or the real opponent. Have you seen such approach earlier?
- Victory conditions – some of the players say they are too complicated or ambiguous; I cannot disagree more – either we win as allies respecting each other interests or an anti-hegemon coalition will be formed after war. In worst case, when Axis are not defeated, an unpredictable events can happen…
From my perspective, Churchill is best 3-players game which I have ever played. Designed to be 3 players not “just” having such variant! It has great although straightforward mechanics, a lot of nuances and plays quickly.
More about game:
I know I had to put aside some great titles like Pacific War (just learning this game) or Fire in the Lake (did not play enough yet). Still, the restriction of my article was clear – to limit myself to 3 positions only and the choices were tough 🙂
All above titles are highly recommended – hope you will find some interesting inspirations here. As always, any comments are welcome!