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A Beginner’s Guide to Computer Wargames

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Welcome to my intuitive guide to computer wargames. Whether you are a newbie looking into wargaming or a seasoned grognard, you should find this guide to help explore the type of computer wargames for you!

What is a Computer Wargame?

Computer wargames simulate any aspect of warfare with a goal of a realistic representation of war. Generally, most wargames are turn-based with a few real-time wargames. Players are in charge of commanding troops from a strategical, operational down to the tactical level. Focusing on realistic factors like troops’ morale, logistics, and combat effectiveness is considered key in wargames but are absent in typical Real-Time Strategy games. However, many people may have a different definition of the term. For example, some define realistic first-person shooters, tanks, and combat flight simulators as wargames.

Who is Computer Wargaming for?

Ever wonder how it felt like to be Napoleon or Patton, commanding hundreds of thousands of men to fight in epic battles and continental spanning military campaigns? How about going back in time to change the historical outcomes of conflicts? Could the Axis win World War Two if you were of their commanders? If you thought yes to any of them, then computer wargames are for you! If not, then your interest in military history may spark your budding interest in this niche hobby.

Are there any benefits to playing Computer Wargames?

Wargames are like chess games, but they are more fun because of the added historical context and immersive experience. Offering you the opportunity to prod the insights into your strategy and predicting your opponent’s next moves, not often seen in other games. Other than that it also offers:

  • Experience how it was like to be responsible for thousands of men.
  • Watch as your decisions unfolds the fates of not only your men but the conflict.
  • Learn historical conflicts simply from playing.
  • Challenge your problem solving skills and stratagems.

Where Should I Start?

It’s highly recommended to start on any of the three wargames below. They are carefully chosen for their authentic historical homage, easy learning curves and embody the best aspects of what computer wargames can provide—giving you a taste of a lesser-known genre of computer games

Top 3 Entry Level Wargames

Battle Academy 2- Eastern Front

  • Military Conflict: World War II
  • Series: Battle Academy
  • Developer: Slitherine Software

A highly regarded gateway title to computer wargaming. It’s a tactical wargame set in the familiar settings during WW II on the eastern front. Featuring an easy on the eyes visual that is both understandable to a newcomer and accessible gameplay to any age group. Its turn-based gameplay allows wargamers infinitely more time to think about their next moves instead of feverishly clicking all over the screen.

Ultimate General Civil War

  • Military Conflict: American Civil War
  • Series: Ultimate General
  • Developer: Game Labs

If you prefer real-time computer wargames, then Ultimate General: Civil War features the bloodiest period of U.S. history – the American Civil War of 1861-1865. It may look like a typical RTS, but it is not. Your units move, line up and shoot realistically with devastating results. There are no life bars here but only fallen men. Despite the real-time gameplay, battles are fought over a long period, and quick reflexes aren’t required to beat this game. Your strategies and tactics, on the other hand, play a more significant role.

Field of Glory 2

  • Military Conflict: Rise of Rome from 280 BC to 25 BC
  • Series: Field of Glory
  • Developer: Byzantine Games

Originally a tabletop wargame, Field of Glory 2 is another accessible computer wargame to learn but hard to master. It has a vibrant tournament scene among wargaming societies. You take command of ancient armies like the Roman legionaries and Goths with several other historical armies. Don’t be fooled by its colorful digital miniatures. As they clash with one another, dice rolls and positioning will determine the outcome of conflicts. Broken units retreat and are sometimes dispersed after a horrific battle.

What are the types of Computer Wargames?

This guide will focus on three types of Computer Wargames, Grand Strategy, Operational, and Tactical. These are based on the level of command the wargamer will have over their units. However, some of these wargames have a mix of two or even three types of command levels. Nonetheless, the below sections will elaborate on the key differences and showcase three entry wargames for each category.

Strategic Wargames

Strategicwargames can be challenging to define because wargames are often focused on warfare which can be out of the scope from a president or king’s perspective. However, most strategy wargames have economic and diplomatic aspects in their gameplay that influence the war’s decision-making process. Be it production or manpower recruitment. Another defining factor is the scope of conflict which can span wars across regions and countries.

Top 3 Entry Level Strategic Wargames

FIeld of Glory: Empires

  • Military Conflict: Rise of Rome from 280 BC to 25 BC
  • Series: Field of Glory
  • Developer: Byzantine Games

Set in a similar setting as the tactical counterpart. Field of Glory: Empires takes the familiar AGEOD engine and modernizes it to a newcomer-friendly standard. You are in charge of your empires in a time of Antiquity. Your responsibility covers building sufficient infrastructure to produce soldiers to fend off your border and conquer your enemy’s. The combat system is also compatible with Field of Glory 2 and can be transferred between games to control the tactical battles.

Strategic Command WWII: World at War

  • Military Conflict: World War II
  • Series: Strategic Command
  • Developer: Fury Software

You can’t go wrong with the Strategic Command series. A hex-based wargame encompassing the whole timeline of WW 2, you can either play as the Axis or Allies. And take charge of one nation or all from the belligerent sides. Wargamers should not be daunted by the multi-nation control, as You can give each country the AI to take charge. Historical events occur throughout the playthrough providing meaningful choices to the players that impact the conflicts.

Hearts of Iron IV

  • Military Conflict: World War II
  • Series: Hearts of Iron
  • Developer: Paradox

Hearts of Iron 4 is the easiest in the whole series to start. If you are interested in alternate histories, then it is one of the few games that cater to that demand. Although it centers around WW 2, wargamers can make political alliance shifting decisions that will send your history textbook spinning into irrelevance. The game consists of the player’s economic, social, and military choices to support the inevitable total war. This ranges from building military and civilian factories deep in the nations and recruiting able bodies to throw in the grinder. Battles are dictated by army composition and war plans, with AI responsible for more minor tactical decisions.

Operational Wargames

Operational level wargames occupy roughly the middle ground between the campaign’s strategic focus and the tactics of an engagement. Wargamers are tasked to command and operate within the operational confines of the conflict. Diplomacy and economic management are primarily left to be managed automatically. Supply lines and logistics play a crucial aspect in operational wargames more than tactical combat, albeit some wargames allow influence over it. Most hex-based wargames lie within this category.

Top 3 Entry Level Operational Wargames

Panzer Corp 2

  • Military Conflict: World War 2
  • Series: Panzer Corp
  • Developer: Flashback Games

Panzer Corps series is the spiritual successor to Panzer General, a well-beloved wargame by many old-timers. A classic hex turn-based wargame where you move your units across the maps to take over critical objectives across historical scenarios This is a good entry operational wargame for anyone.

Wars Across the World

  • Military Conflict: Various Military Conflicts
  • Series: Wars Across the World
  • Developer: Strategiae

WAW is a unique turn-based historical operational game, with the soul of a board game, whose objective is to simulate in a single system ALL kinds of wars and conflicts throughout the world (and beyond) from Prehistory to the present day, in the operational or strategic levels

Unity of Command 2

  • Military Conflict: World War 2
  • Series: Unity of Command
  • Developer: 2X2 Games

One of the best-looking wargames out there, Unity Command 2, can be easy to learn but hard to master. Supply lines have to be gained and guarded to prevent supply disruption to your army. The mechanics are similar to other operational wargames, but it has won a unique genre.

Tactical Wargames

Tactical wargames consist of squad level up to brigade levels command. Unit movement and orientation play a crucial aspect in tactical wargames. Most real-time wargames are also tactical since you can view the battles that play out in real-time and give direct commands to your units.

Top 3 Entry Level Tactical Wargames

Combat Mission: Shock Force 2

  • Military Conflict: Modern Conflict
  • Series: Combat Mission
  • Developer: Battlefront

Way before the actual civil war in Syria, Battlefront predicted the conflict and belligerents back in 2007. Shock Force is one of the many titles under Combat Mission. Their games mostly play the same way, but every equipment and vehicle is proper to its timeline, and every shot fired is calculated by an outstanding engine. The same game engine is also used by the British defense force among other nations for its officer’s training.

Close Combat – Last Stand Arnhem

  • Military Conflict: World War 2
  • Series: Close Combat
  • Developer: Atomic Games / Strategy 3 Games

Close Combat Last Stand Arnhem, like its siblings in the series, are all real-time wargames. However, it’s not your typical RTS. Your squads and platoon can get pinned and retreat if they get fired on too much. The top-down view of its beautifully rendered maps with destroyed houses and pockmark holes from artillery shots immerse wargamers like no other.

John Tiller’s Campaign Series

  • Military Conflict: World War 2
  • Series: Campaign Series
  • Developer: TalonSoft / CS Legion

The late John Tiller developed the well-known JTS engine back when he was in TalonSoft Inc. John TIller’s Campaign Series includes all three WW2 theatres of conflict, West Front, East Front, and Rising Sun, combined into one great bargain for your buck! In addition, the game allows wargamers to stack units which is not often the case in other wargames. There’s also an active tournament scene and a strong following. Currently, the series is being upgraded and developed by CS Legion.

Conclusion

I hope this guide has served well to intrepid gamers and explorers of our niche hobby – computer wargaming. The wargames listed here are only a few out of the hundred available in Matrix, Steam, Battlefront, Shrapnel Games, to list a few. There are also thriving wargaming communities like WCGC and The Wargamign Society.

The treasure trove for any wargamers is deep and wide. My advice is to pick one or two games and try it out yourselves. If it does not stick then move to the next one. You may also pick based on the military era that you are most interested in.

Lastly, this guide is not a definitive guide but will be updated from time to time and may be further expanded. If you like to show your support, please leave a comment below or your feedback and share it with anyone who you think may benefit from this guide.

Max Chee

Max Chee considers himself an avid wargamer, which inspired him to create this site. He has a burning passion for history and advocates computer wargaming for the masses. He believes one can derive knowledge from learning and playing out history,

4 Comments

  1. Great article on PC wargames, and the suggestions for each type are excellent in their variety.

    Keep on writing, the site looks great.

  2. Campaigns on the Danube 1805 1809 from Adanac.command studies still one of the best operational wargames

    Also do you cover old wargames on this site – do’s era wargames are some of the best

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