Wednesday 7 January 2015

My Favourite PC Games for Wargamers

PC gaming and wargaming are not mutually exclusive hobbies. Here's some of my favourite tactical games or those with a similar theme to wargames.

I've ignored most turn-based strategy games, as I don't really want to play the exact same game as a normal boardgame, and I've tended towards more accessible titles - ones you might be able to con your kids/spouse into playing with you.  I've also excluded shooters (that may require good - aka young - reflexes) as well as overt RPGs as they don't really fit the wargame-esque genre I'm trying to focus upon.

The Total War series are not only good strategy games, but some of the best PC games ever made.

The Total War Series ($20ea)
These amazing games have two levels - a strategic turn-based level where you can build castles, raise units and travel to foreign locals (and then kill them).  Then you fight battles in real-time. Your commanders have a RPG aspect to them, as they gain skills and attributes (sometimes randomly, sometimes as a result of their actions in battle).  There are 3 noteworthy games:

Medieval 2 - awesome medieval warfare from 1100-1400. My favourite, but solo only.

Napoleon/Empire Total War - muskets and all that from ~1800.  Empire is worldwide (i.e. Indian Wars etc) while Napoleon is focussed on Europe and allows you to fight with/against friends.  Also allows you to fight age of sail naval battles. 

Shogun 2
- Unsurprisingly, this is about becoming Shogun of Japan.  Also allows you to play with/against friends. 

These games have lots of "mods" - game files you can copy & paste in order to transform the game - i.e. Medieval 2 can be modded so you can wage war Middle Earth.

World of Tanks (free)
The ultimate "Dad game"- you only need to learn    a few buttons to play.  It's a simple concept - a 12v12 deathmatch with WW2 tanks from all nations mixed up.  It's simplicity is chess-like - experienced players who can angle their tanks armour, hull down and ambush effectively can swing a game.  Although the game is free you may have to play 100s of hours to get a specific tank depednign on their power (i.e. a Tiger might take 100s of hours and a Pz. 38 only an hour to "unlock.")

IL2: 1946 ($10 + $30 joystick)
I haven't really found any "good" aerial wargames.  Luckily I have Il2:1946.  400+ planes with historically accurate performance and detail.  You can make your own missions.  Even better, you can change the difficulty from super easy to full simulation.   Note: a cheap twist-stick joystick is necessary.

Rise of Flight (free, + joystick)
The WW1 aerial game.  You get a few planes free, but need to pony up ~$10 per plane if you want more variety.  It's simple to fly (WW1 planes weren't known for their complexity.)

Wargame: AirLand Battle ($20)
A brilliant modern game based in 1985.  Recon is very important as is air defence and protecting your supply trucks and command vehicles.  Red Dragon is a newer version of the game with warships added, but is not quite as well balanced.

Mechwarrior Online (free)
3 lances (12 mechs) per side face off, to capture areas or destroy enemy mechs.   Only your first mech is free - the rest cost ~$10 each or many hours of gameplay to "earn" them. If you love Battletech and customizing mechs but don't enjoy the record keeping, this is the game for you.  You control a single mech, in a game that is more a sim/slow paced shooter than a tactical game.  Teaming up with friends isn't recommended as you will be put into the "competitive" league. 

Warhammer 40,000 Dawn of War ($20+)
This allows you to play 40K in real-time.  A surprisingly good game - but expect to pay $15 for "expansions" as the original game doesn't have all the factions. Games Workshop - oh how we love you.  Can play multiplayer games as well as single-player campaigns. 

Company of Heroes ($10)
Pretty much Bolt Action on a PC. Also uses the same engine as Dawn of War.  It''s a better game than its sci fi counterpart.  Also needs an expansion ($10) if you want to use British troops.

Men at War: Assault Squad ($20)
The hardcore WW2 platoon game with more realism than CoH.  There is a Vietnam spin-off, and a WW1 version is being worked on.

Sins of a Solar Empire ($20)
A space strategy game. It can get a bit "blobby" when fleets get big - kinda "throw everyone in to the fight" but AI allies actually help you which can make for some cool 3-way fights.  Multiplayer as well.

Silent Hunter III ($10)
Amazing sub-sim - roam the entire Atlantic looking for convoys.  Difficulty can be changed, and there are some impressive updates available online such as Grey Wolves which significantly update the graphics and gameplay.

X-COM: Enemy Unknown ($20)

I promised no turn-based games, but X-COM is very accessible, and allows Mordhiem-style progression as you upgrade your squad which is tasked with rooting out alien incursions. 

Running with Rifles ($10 on Steam)
Cos running with scissors is for sissies.  Remember those plastic green, brown and grey army men you had as a kid?  This game makes you one of these army men. You control a single guy and a squad of friendlies, as you try to influence one of the many battles that rage over capture points. You aren't "special"or "the Chosen One" and your abilities are the same as the other 300 guys- you're just a little guy in a big war. Unexpectedly deep game.  You will be overconfident, and you will die. Repeatedly. Cartoonish graphics, amusing speech bubbles - great fun, especially with friends.

ADDED: Homeworld ($10)
An awesome RTS in space with real 3D warfare. A bit long in the tooth now, but vertical battles , protecting your mothership and mining ships whilst scouting and raiding your opponents = awesome fun.   Wings of fighters zipping around, an interesting mix of spaceship classes - I don't think it's strategic spacefleet combat has ever been beaten.


As I glanced down at the prices I realised how much we play wargames for the hobby/tactile aspect of it - it certainly does not make sense financially!  Imagine being able to buy every Warhammer army for a total of $40 - or even 400+ 1:300 aircraft for $10....  and being able to change paint schemes at the click of a button....   It's even easier to "meet up"with friends and game online from home.  (Which is why I don't understand people who field unpainted minis - if they don't care about that aspect of the hobby,why are they even playing a miniatures game?)

Anyway, the purpose of this article was a "tester"to see if there is interest (either in comments, or by number of hits) in doing a few PC game reviews - or even simple "at a glance" two paragraph summaries of how gameplay works.

ADDED: Feel free to "friend" me on Steam - evilleMonkeigh
Steam is the #1 online service that allows you to buy games digitally, and also network with other players. It's very polished, popular and professional, and they often have sales with 50-75% off as well as many excellent free games. I highly recommend downloading Steam (it's free) if you do any PC gaming at all.


  1. I'd love to see some game reviews provided they are strategy titles. (And a big fan of both running wih rifles and XCOM (old and new)

  2. There's some titles I haven't heard of there. And some I have heard of I haven't played. Do you want to know more? Yes. Yes I do. Thank you.

    1. Any preferences, Mr Hunt?

      What questions do you want answered about a game. When I consider a game, I tend to want to know:

      What is the game about?
      How hard is it to learn?
      What is the gameplay like? How do I avoid sucking?
      Will I get a lot of hours of fun out of it, or will I only play it twice (replay value)?
      How good is the sound/graphics?

      Are there any other questions YOU would like answered before you buy a game? (I haven't finalized my categories yet, but I'd try to endeavour to answer some of the questions above)...

  3. Add another vote for XCOM: Enermy Unknown and its expansion XCOM Enemy Within, gameplay is very intuitive and easy to learn yet hard to master, endless tactical and strategic choices all without being too complex in terms of interface, and HIGHLY addictive. Playing it now...

  4. Slitherine has many many games for wargamers. I'm currently playing Battle Academy 2 and it's really good.
    I love X-Com games (old and new) but not friend of real time strategy games like Shogun though I played a bit years ago.

    1. Storm Eagle Studios is similar. But many of them I dismissed as "inaccessible" to a wargamer who might only have a passing interest in PC games - I'm picking "easy to like/play" the rest of the family might be conned into (successfully, in my case.)

      There's some obscure stuff - the Distant Guns series of predreadnought naval combat I enjoyed but I wouldn't recommend it except to an enthusiast.

    2. I see what you mean but I think Battle Academy easy and accesible IMHO, and turn based :)

    3. Thanks for posting this. I've just upgraded to my first smart phone and have been considering picking up a hand held wargame for those odd hours of the day when I have a few minutes to kill. Haven't had a chance to sort through the chaff to find the wheat yet, so that Slitherine recommendation is much appreciated.

    4. I'm upgrading to a new smartphone, too. Perhaps I could do a spin-off on mobile games sometimes (I don't tend to buy any atm, as I have an castoff iPhone and as a Mac hater I don't want to encourage the "bleeps" by buying anything from iTunes!)

  5. I smiled to see you made an exception for XCOM as it was the first game that crossed my mind when I saw the post title.

    I found your remark about the tactile aspect of miniature games interesting. I keep drafting an opinion post about how miniature games fall somewhere between board games (more abstract) and computer games (more simulation-like), and how this is one of its main features that attract people. I was thinking more in terms of the rules, but the aesthetics (in particular, for painted minis) might be another point in this argument.

    1. Please do that post, and link it - I''d love to see it.

      My 10c - it's about the "ready to go" aspect of boardgames rather than the rules. From my experience boardgames can both be far more simulation (or at least far more complicated!), AND far more abstract - they cover a very wide range. Wargames tend to sit more in the middle.

      My friends who have boardgames tend to have them as they are portable and require little room and preparation; they are all about games nights, and whilst they like minis, you can tell they are not enthusiastic about painting/scenery. What wargames they have tend to be prepaints like Wings of War etc.

    2. That's one of the reasons we've been playing a lot of ASL: A large, urban battlefield without the prep time of setting that all up.

    3. Finally finished that post:

    4. Thanks! A different angle than I'm coming from, but some interesting thoughts.

  6. I tend not to play too many computer games (which is lucky, as I have a Mac!) but when I do its typically games like Civ or Rome Total War. I am also enjoying the latest release of Space Hulk however! At least you can play that for a short period and not loose days...and days...and days.

  7. The PC game that comes closest to a wargame for me is Ground Control (available free from fileplanet). Its a sci-fi armour game, that has you leading a company-sized force. It plays like an RTS, but there is no building or unit replenishment. You get what you're given (although you can customise your force) and are expected to get the job done with just that.

    It would work well on a tabletop in 6mm, and I've been thinking about game it with Dirtside.

    1. Hmmm - I think it's an oldie from the guys who did Homeworld? (*smacks head* and adds Homeworld to the list)

  8. Yes, I think so. Relic entertainment maybe?

    I love all 3 of the homeworld games (ok, maybe I love homeworld 2 a little less, than the others...). I remember statting the fleets for starmada, and even making some minis. Another project that didn't come to anything :-(