The Best Ancients & Medieval War Games

By Bill Gray 21 Oct 2019 5

Outside World War II, no other period of armed conflict offers as much variety and depth as does the ancient world, if for no other reason than the temporal length of the period. Using the time-honored Wargames Research Group miniatures rules convention, ‘ancients’ actually covers from 3000 BC to 1485 AD, although this is because the WRG lumps ‘ancient’ and ‘medieval’ together into one grouping. 1485 signifies a commonly accepted time where gunpowder use became widespread, and also marks the end of the War of the Roses, as it happens. That should provide enough armies to make everyone happy.

My picks for the best games in this category are below, and if you see a lot of famous titles missing, don’t despair. Excluded from the list are games that are primarily empire or nation building platforms, and pretty much anything with Total War in its title. With that in mind, let’s begin.

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There are probably more games out there than we've had a chance to play, or perhaps have a difference of opinion on how good they are. Still, it's good to try and represent a topic as thorough as possible, so we're going to list any games that haven't made the main list but are still worth considering:

Blocks! Richard III (Review)

Publisher/Developer: Avalon Digital
Tags: 
Turn-Based, Boardgame Port, Block Game, Strategic,
Purchase:
Steam

 

Richard III 4

Perhaps a technicality, but since the 'Ancients & Medieval' wargaming era ends with the conclusion of the War of the Roses, it's only fair that a game about that particular English Civil War get featured. Avalon Digital have expertly adapted Columbia Games' Block board-wargame to digital, and they're set to do it again with more titles in the coming months. Richard III is a decent game set during the Plantagenet crises, and while the AI could be more competent there's still plenty of challenge to be had across the three scenarios available.

This is a decent pick for both fans of the physical game and digital-only newcomers, just know that this is a modest experience with a limited amount of replayability. Still, we look forward to seeing more in this line.

Field of Glory: Empires (Review)

Publisher/Developer: Slitherine/Matrix Games/AGEOD
Tags:
Grand Strategy, Turn-Based, WEGO, 3D, Tactical Battles
Purchase: 
Direct, Steam

foge 6

Even though this is technically a grand-strategy game, having been designed by AGEOD there's still enough of their traditional war game falir to make this fit the bill. Coupled with the fact that you can play out key battles in Field of Glory II through an excellent battle importer mechanic, then in many ways this could be considered the ultimate ancients war game.

It's not quite that good, but it's still an excellent attempt at creating a mainstream strategy experience that retains AGEOD's identity and approach to simulating warfare. Innovative gameplay is also found through legacy and decadence mechanics which are a way of trying to measure how your empire will stand the test of time. It's a more complete experience than its immediate rival, Imperator: Rome, however it possibly lacks the same long-term potential. Only time will tell.

XIII Century Gold Edition (Review)

Publisher/Developer: 1C Entertainment / Unicorn Game Studios 
Tags:
Medieval, Real-Time, Tactical, 3D
Purchase: 
Steam

XIII Century Best Ancients

This one's towards the end of the time period we'd consider to fit within the definition, but we were reminded of this gem when Bill decided to dig it up from his archives. Back when Russian publisher 1C was making a decent attempt at strategy and war games, they helped release games like XIII Century as a more hardcore counter-point to the Total War series. XIII Century itself doesn't have a strategic layer (although one of Unicorn's later games, Real Warfare: Northern Crusades did), but it made up for it with some excellent detail and gritty tactical combat.

It's especially geared towards grogheads because a lot of emphasis is placed on your initial troops deployments and the robustness of your battleplan - once contact is made with the enemy it's hard to change things on the fly (unlike similar games). In true Bill fashion, it was also praised for its attention to detail with regards to the coats of arms displayed in the game. If you like that sort of thing. You'd be hard pressed to find a better real-time medieval war game in digital, and it's a shame we don't more like this today.

Hegemony III – Clash of the Ancients

Publisher/Developer: Longbow Games
Tags: ancients, tactical, operational, strategic, logistics, 3D, RTS, RTT, area, Pyrrhus.
Purchase: $29.99 digital direct and on Steam

best ancients hegemony 3

While it pains me immeasurably to admit my Editor was right, this game is a hidden gem. It does the same job as games at this level of play (as in Alea Jacta Est), but in a real time and 3D format. The player can seamlessly zoom from a strategic one-dimensional map of the entire area down to a very granular tactical resolution a la Cossacks III and similar games. At this point instead of an abstract battle resolution system with little player input, 3D units of soldiers appear, and you can move, turn, shoot and cleave heads as you would in any RTS game.

This game is the third game in the series, the others being Hegemony Rome (header image) and Hegemony Gold Ancient GreeceClash of the Ancients looks at the rise of the Roman Republic against sundry adversaries like the Etruscans, and this may not interest a lot of would be players. There is, however, The Eagle King DLC that shifts the time-frame forward to Pyrrhus of Epirus, with an amazing looking naval model.

DLC-Expansion Modules:  The Eagle King

Field of Glory II (Review)

Publisher/Developer: Matrix Games/Byzantine Games
Tags: ancients, tactical, grid, 3D, miniatures, turn based IGOUGO
Purchase: $29.99 direct, also on Steam and Amazon

best ancients fog2

This game is the current standard in ancient’s computer gaming. It is an uber faithful direct port of the Field of Glory miniature rules, also published by Matrix/Slitherine. The game uses accurately detailed 3D units that mimic the tabletop version down to having in grid the same number of figures by type as the corresponding stand of miniatures in the pewter version. Aside from the ubiquitous Hobbit hovels and dwarf forests, the visuals rival some of the best miniature painting. Unlike the tabletop edition, the game features campaigns and lots of historical battles.

There are 281 army lists in support while the base game comes with a free DLC, the Rise of Rome. The most recent DLC is Wolves at the Gate.

DLC-Expansion Modules: Check out our DLC guide for the full list!

Sengoku Jidai (Review)

Publisher/Developer: Matrix Games/Byzantine Games
Tags: ancients, tactical, grid, miniatures, China, Japan, turn based IGOUGO
Purchase: $29.99 direct, also on Steam and Amazon

best ancients sengoku

Developed by the same team as Field of Glory II, this older game mimics Pike & Shot in its presentation. Rather than a miniatures look; the game has 3D units that look like actual troops on the ground, resembling a (historical and realistic) Hollywood reenactment with thousands of extras. Like Field of Glory II, the software uses the Battle Academy engine which provides for easy learning, simple play as well as realistic results.

The base rules expansion Genko campaign of 1281 (Mongol invasion of Japan) and the Gempai Kessan 1180 campaign DLC allow entry into our period of interest. Byzantine Games, BTW, is one Richard Bodley Scott, the original author of the Field of Glory miniatures product line to include Field of Glory Rennaissance.

DLC-Expansion Modules:  Gempei Kassen, Mandate of Heaven

Mare Nostrvm (Review)

Publisher/Developer: Matrix Games/Turnopia
Tags: ancients, tactical, hex, miniatures, naval, Trireme, Mediterranean, turn based WEGO
Purchase: $19.99 direct, also on Steam and Amazon

best ancients nostrvm

Outside Peter Turcan’s buggy Trireme Commander, this game stands unique because of its maritime perspective. Mare Nostrvm uses 14 types of individual ships to fight 24 historical battles including Salamis, the defeat of Xerxes’ Persian navy, and Actium, downfall of Anthony and Cleopatra. There is also a point system for skirmish battles as well as a command apparatus similar the line command concept in many board games. Under the hood perks include fatigue, variable wind and fog. Unfortunately, no, Eva Green is not featured in the Salamis scenario as Artemesia.

DLC-Expansion Modules: None.

Alea Jacta Est

Publisher/Developer: Matrix Games/AGEOD
Tags: ancients, operational, strategic, area, Rome, turn based WEGO
Purchase: $24.99 direct, also on Steam and Amazon

best ancients AJE

This game uses the venerable but reliable Adaptive Game Engine Online Distribution (AGEOD, get it) core to simulate five different campaigns 87 BC to 197 AD allowing for battles against the likes of Sertorius and Mithridates. Players manage diplomacy, recruitment and supply for their armies as they move from region to region simultaneously with the AI. Alea Jacta Est has a very professional looking presentation using leader portraits that gives it a more serious feel while the wealth of detail is truly impressive.

Status and record keeping for things such as battle losses are by individual units such as Legions, Auxilia or similar. The title is Latin for “the die is cast,” supposedly muttered by Julius Caesar when he crossed the Rubicon and the game won the Bronze award for Best Strategy Game at Strategycon Interactive 2012.

DLC-Expansion Modules:  Hannibal: Terror of Rome, Parthian Wars, Cantabrian Wars, Spartacus Revolt, Birth of Rome

Ancient Warfare: Punic Wars

Publisher/Developer: HPS Simulations
Tags: ancients, tactical, hex, miniatures, John Tiller, turn based WEGO, Hannibal.
Purchase: $39.95 digital direct

best ancients punic

Part of the company’s Ancient Warfare series, this game is based on John Tiller design concepts, but uses a WEGO turn system rather than the normal alternating turn sequence. Each hex is 20 meters while each turn represents 15 minutes of real time. There are 41 scenarios (17 historical, 8 hypothetical, 16 Table Top Series) covering actions such as Cannae, Asculum, Heraclea & Trebbia.

Table Top series engagements provide equally matched armies based on miniature wargaming points systems. The graphics are dated, and really no one has every matched the old Talonsoft painted look, but the game does allow for modification of both units and terrain under a “Paint Your Own Army” option.

DLC-Expansion Modules: None.

Ancient Warfare: Gallic Wars

Publisher/Developer: HPS Simulations
Tags: ancients, tactical, hex, miniatures, John Tiller, turn based WEGO, Julius Caesar.
Purchase: $49.95 direct

best ancients gallic

This game is part of the company’s Ancient Warfare series. There are 52 scenarios included (21 historical, 9 hypothetical & 22 from the Table Top Series) covering actions such as Alesia, Sambre, Vosges & Chaeronea. Siege warfare plays a much bigger role in this game vice others in the series.

DLC-Expansion Modules: Two free expansion packs for download, adding a total of 40 new scenarios.

Ancient Warfare: Alexandrian Wars

Publisher/Developer: HPS Simulations
Tags: ancients, tactical, hex, 3D, miniatures, John Tiller, turn based WEGO, Alexander the Great.
Purchase: $49.95 direct

best ancients alexandrian

Another in the series, there are 44 scenarios included (20 historical, 16 hypothetical & eight from the Table Top Series) covering actions such as Chaeronea, Pelium, Gabai and Hydaspes.

DLC-Expansion Modules: None.

Ancient Warfare: Greek Wars

Publisher/Developer: HPS Simulations
Tags: ancients, tactical, hex, 3D, miniatures, John Tiller, turn based WEGO, Phalanx
Purchase: $39.95 digital direct

 

best ancients greek

This game series entry includes 60 scenarios covering the Persian Wars and various Greek vs Greek conflicts such as the Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta. This allows for battles such as Marathon, Thermopylae (and as with Salamis, no Gerard Butler as Leonidas) and Plataea. Like all the other games mentioned, there is an option to play  battles  from an overhead perspective with NATO unit symbology.

DLC-Expansion Modules: None.

Ancient Warfare: Roman Civil War

Publisher/Developer: HPS Simulations
Tags: ancients, tactical, hex regulated, miniatures, John Tiller, turn based WEGO, Julius Caesar, miniatures
Purchase: $39.95 digital direct

best ancients rome civil

This game is listed only in the left sidebar of the HPS Ancient Warfare downloads page, so its availability is uncertain as is that of another product in the series, Diadochi covering the wars of Alexander’s successors. Roman Civil War covers the time frame of the Republic and Early Empire, 55 BC to 10 AD.

DLC-Expansion Modules: Two free expansion packs for download, one on the German Wars with 15 new scenarios, the other on the Jerusalem Wars with five new scenarios.

Great Battles Collector’s Edition

Publisher/Developer: Erudite Software/iEntertainment Network via GOG
Tags: ancients, tactical, hex, miniatures, GMT, turn based IGOUGO, Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Alexander the Great
Purchase: $5.99 digital direct from GOG

best ancients great battles

This game includes all three 1997 computer games – the Great Battles of Caesar, the Great Battles of Alexander and the Great Battles of Hannibal. It was a port of the GMT Great Battles of History series from cardboard to PC and was known for its attention to detail and accuracy, with particular emphasis on troop cohesion and routing.

One review summed it up by noting anyone can figure out Total War, “but if you want to replicate Hannibal's exploits, you'll need to put in the work!” Contains 30 scenarios and be advised the software defaults to Windows 95 Compatibility Mode automatically.

DLC-Expansion Modules: None.

What are your favourite war and strategy games covering this (admittedly expansive) period? Let us know in the comments!

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