How is Wargaming on a Mac?
One of the benefits of wargaming on a computer is the low hardware requirements when compared to most modern high-graphic games. It was one of the reasons I was willing to trade in several of my white-elephant audiophile gear and top-up some cash for a brand new MacBook Pro M1 2021 14″.
Now, this is not a sponsored post. Instead, I would like to share my experience gaming on Windows PC for most of my life, switching to a macOS, and trying out my favourite hobby; computer wargaming.
Despite some wargame developers preferring to publish their own wargames. Most other wargame publishers like Matrix/Slitherine, with a vault of fantastic wargames, prefer to leverage on the more extensive player base of Steam.
The most recent publisher to cave to Steam’s monopoly was Battlefront, the developers and publisher of the renowned Combat Mission series, and they have commercially benefited from it despite their previous assumption of the commercial viability of Steam.
The New M1 Processor
Before diving into the list of wargames, I’ve tried. I find it wise to inform the avid wargamers of the new M1 chip in my new MacBook’s processing core. Simply put, most computer processor chips are built on an x86 architecture. In contrast, the new M1 processor is built on an ARM architecture that is faster and used by your smartphones.
Most programs and wargames are built with the standard x86 architecture, leading to compatibility issues when running on the new M1 Processor. However, thanks to an internal translation program called Rosetta 2, that is already built-into into the system. Primarily, If not all, x86 wargames can run them without developers’ need to rebuild them for the ARM architecture.
Essentially, any wargames running on an M1 processor are considered highly compatible and versatile and are expected to run on other operating system configurations, including older MacBooks and iMacs.
Apple Wargaming Marketplace
Apple computers were never considered ideal for gaming, and that has not changed. A look at the limited list of available wargames on Steam came back with an even shorter list when filtered with the macOS category.
Out of 120 wargames, only 24 could work on a MacBook. That is only 10% of my wargaming Steam library. Not a good start for a new MacBook wargamer, but I persist.
As fast as the new MacBook can run, it still needs to run most of my wargaming library; however, this isn’t the case for any Apple operating system at the time of this writing.
On the bright side, a few notable wargames are available and are working well; some even load faster than their Windows operating system. Let’s have a further look into this.
Trying My Favourites
War on the Sea
My new MacBook boasts superb integrated graphic capability and unified memory built into the M1 chip and architecture. So I had to try War on the Sea. One of the newer modern wargames featuring realistic graphics with intensive naval warfare actions.
The game loaded up without any issue and took the same time as my high-end Intel i7 Windows PC. I then dive right into one of the pre-made battles available. Spun around and panned the camera around my 7th fleet of the Pacific at a smooth buttery rate. Not a bad start for wargaming on a Mac.
However, in fullscreen mode, I noticed the cursor and what was shown on the screen were not synced. The course was to hover the cursor above the elements I wanted to click outside of running on windows mode. It is not a game-breaking bug per-se, but it detracts from the enjoyment of defending my fleet from Japanese naval bombers.
Hearts of Iron 4
Next up was Hearts of Iron 4, a comfort wargame I always go back to while listening to Paradox edit on Roosevelt’s speech. Thankfully, most Paradox games are available on the macOS and work fine even with mods installed. On the other hand, their older titles like Hearts of Iron 3 are not available only available on Windows.
There were no problems running Hearts of Iron 4, and the loading speed was similar to my Windows desktop counterpart. The only noticeable difference in performance is the panning and zooming of the map, which has a minor but evident stutter. Luckily, these are not gameplay impeding and are the only negative among my otherwise positive experience running on my MacBook Pro.
The overhaul and ambitious Millennium Dawn mod was installed to push the hardware further to see if popular mods would work on the macOS. Playing as Ukraine in 2017 and mimicking the same actions I did before showed that the mods had no virtual impact on the gameplay and proved that the Paradox tech team ensured the same unified experience for vanilla and moded games. Kudos.
One glaring issue that only applies to the new MacBooks, like mine, with the top camera notch, that the game fails to recognise, blocking the small portion of the top bar UI from my vision and souring my overall experience. I tried posting on the forum for a solution, but nothing returned. It felt so close to an ideal wargaming experience.
The notch issue will be more common among wargames running on CrossOver, and the only solution is to run it off an external display monitor.
Unity of Command 2
To my surprise, Unity of Command 2 ran as smooth, if not better, than the one on my Windows PC. It presented the best results out of my test so far. Loading from the desktop to the menu and into the scenario took less than two minutes.
To push it further, the game was set at maximum graphical settings and did not falter once, even during the destruction of Sicily! An already impressive game that’s optimised beyond my expectation.
However, a noticeable issue is the Hot Corners feature on the macOS that triggers LaunchPad or Mission Control or any other control function you assigned to the corners. Bringing your cursor to these corners will trigger these windows and minimise the game. So far, the fullscreen mode does not seem to solve this problem.
Running Windows Wargames on a Mac
The limited number of wargames available has forced me to seek an alternative to host my other favourite wargames. John Tiller Softwares and Combat Mission are a few that could not run on my Mac natively.
After scouring the internet and asking various computer wargaming groups for a solution, the consensus was Parallel Desktop, and CrossOver, which through their methods, enable the macOS to run Windows made wargames.
CrossOver is a compatibility platform that integrates a layer onto the system to install and play the games without virtualising the Windows operating system. I am pleased to report that John Tiller Software could run flawlessly, which is impressive for a relatively value-oriented option. Albeit with a quirky and old-fashioned user interface.
However, when it t came to running Steam off CrossOver, the platforms started to show some problems. For instance, booting Afghanistan 11′ did not present any issue. But units on the map seem to be missing, and the performance was sluggish, making it unplayable.
The Strategic Command series, both World War 1 and World At War faired no better, and could not even boot into the campaign without prompting an error. So far CrossOver was not a viable option for me as an Avid Wargamer.
Parallel Desktop 17
Parallel Desktop was the best option available by running a virtual environment off the Windows Operating system like Windows 11 on top of the platform. This, in theory, runs all of your wargames in a native virtual Windows environment. This translates to higher compatibility when running Windows wargames than CrossOver, and is the superior option.
Fortunately, I was able to play Combat Mission Black Sea using this solution. However, the game was not responsive during gameplay and stuttered when panning the camera. No matter how good a virtual platform is, the resources sacrificed and the non-native application will always lower the performance.
Compared to the native macOS version of Combat Mission series, which is available if you purchased it from Battlefront directly, the native version ran far better than the emulated one. It’s no surprise there, but it does limit Mac wargamers from buying it from Steam.
Compatible macOS Wagames
Native for macOS
These wargames are natively available on the macOS without needing a virtual Windows or compatibility layer.
- Unity fo Command 2
- War On The Sea
- Dominion 5
- Wargame Red Dragon
- Wars Across The World
- Hex of Steel
- Labyrinth: The War on Terro
- Pavlov’s house
- Radio Commander
- Radio General
- Order of Battle: World War 2
- Nations at War
- Lock ‘n Load Digital
- Libertad O Muerte!
- Fort Sumter
- Carrier Battle Guadalcanal – Pacific War Naval Warfare
- Axis & Allies 1942 Online
- Combat Mission (Non-Steam)
- All HexWar games
- All Blocks! series
- All SGS wargame series by Avalon Digital
Note: This is not an extensive, since I will only list wargames that I have tested personally.
- Afghanistan ’11 (CrossOver / Parallel Desktop)
- Armored Brigade (CrossOver / Parallel Desktop)
- Close Combat – Last Stand Arnhem (CrossOver / Parallel Desktop)
- John Tiller Softwares (CrossOver / Parallel Desktop)
- Graviteam Tactics: Mius-Front (Parallel Desktop)
- Gary Grigsby’s War in the East (Parallel Desktop)
- Panzer Corp 2 (Parallel Desktop)
- Strategic Command: World War 1 (Parallel Desktop)
- Syrian Warfare (Parallel Desktop)
- Decisive Campaign: Barbarossa (Parallel Desktop)
- Ultimate General: Civil War (Parallel Desktop)
- Commander: The Great War (Parallel Desktop)
- To End All Wars (CrossOver / Parallel Desktop)
It’s evident that the macOS wargaming development has a long way to go before I can comfortably ditch my Windows Desktop PC. Among the additional costs factored in when buying any of the virtual solutions mentioned, the fact is that most wargames do not run well or at all in some cases. When they do run well, there are still oddities that seemingly appear in different instances with varying solutions.
Unless you are stuck on a Mac, it’s far better to dedicate your wargaming on a Windows before rushing into the Apple ecosystem. If, in the future, more wargames are developed and supported for the macOS, then maybe I won’t have to juggle between two operating systems and hardware and be a happy Apple wargamer.