The Wargamer's Guide to...The Best Naval War Games

By Zach Zimmerman 25 Apr 2018 0

Naval warfare has a rich history dating back to ancient times, spanning countless conflicts that have relied on access to the world’s oceans. Fleets and flotillas have been crucial for the logistical transportation of materials, goods, treasures and troops. In combat, naval vessels have the capability to strike a decisive battle against the opponent or interdict against their supply lines. Undoubtedly, this is an important branch of a nation’s military, but how does this element of warfare translate to videogames?

Feeling a bit sea sick? We've got another great (mainly land-based) list looking at the best WW2 war games you might like.

Those who are looking for naval warfare can find games that are worth an investment, whether more arcade-style combat, or developing the strategy for an entire battlefleet. The following titles are absolute plays for the admiral-minded types looking to expand their naval-themed experiences.

Primarily, the games presented are of two sorts: the wargame-likes – where it is more about an arcade or pure battle experience, and the simulations – where understanding of mechanics and planning accordingly can take a whole afternoon if need be.

Atlantic Fleet (Review)

Developer/Publisher: KillerFish Games
Tags: Naval, Turn Based, Atlantic Theatre, Strategy, WW2, Arcade
Purchase:  Steam, iOS

Atlantic Fleet

Initially released on iOS as a sequel to Pacific Fleet in 2015, Atlantic Fleet excels as an arcade-style turn-based naval strategy game. Slug it out in single battles, scenarios or an Atlantic campaign as the Kriegsmarine or the Royal Navy. Both factions offer a wide variety of naval vessels, from famous ships such as the Hood and Bismarck, all the way to “paper” battleships such as the Lion-class and H-44! The use of land based or carrier aircraft for strikes against ships is also present and can give an edge over the enemy.

The turn-based combat is perfect for the surface ship engagements, but submarine and aircraft carriers are a bit sub-par. The price of admission is just right for the amount of content in the game.

Victory at Sea

Developer/Publisher: KillerFish Games
Tags: Naval, Real-Time, Various Theatres, Strategy, Arcade, Moddable, WW2
Purchase: Steam

Victory at Sea is an excellent game for those who want a fast-paced experience of WW2 naval warfare across multiple theatres of operation. Simplified combat controls and real time management allows for the action to be quick and engaging. Nation variety spans the traditional naval powers of British, American, Japanese and German fleets to the lesser represented Dutch, Italian and French forces for custom battles.

Victory at Sea

There is a lot of content for Victory at Sea due to free updates from the developers, coupled with a cheap purchase price. Along with modding tools that expand unit rosters (such as can be found here) and ship variety this is a great title for people looking to expand their naval libraries. What’s even better is the developers are taking experiences learned from this release and developing Victory at Sea 2.

Jutland – Pro Edition (Review)

Developer/Publisher: Storm Eagle Studios
Tags: Naval, Real Time, Atlantic Theatre, Tactical, Simulation, WW1
Purchase:  StormPowered

Storm Eagle Studios, now known as StormPowered, delivers an breathtakingly detailed surface fleet experience. Focused around the Battle of Jutland and its iconic dreadnought verse dreadnought fleet engagements, Jutland manages to take a unique focus and run with it. Manage your fleet of either the Royal Navy or Imperial German Navy. See the fantastic detail of each ship up close, or plan using an overhead map of the North Sea.

Jutland

This is a difficult game and requires the user to be patient and tactful with their planning. Even if you have naval supremacy in terms of numbers, the outcome of the battle can be very one sided if you are unable to manage your fleet. Still, this is one of the best naval battle simulations around. While compatible with older operating systems up to Windows 7, some might have difficulty on newer OS’s. The steep price means this is definitely ‘buyer beware’.

It also comes with an editor and mods are available to enhance the experience with new content on SubSim.com.

Silent Hunter 3

Developer/Publisher: Ubisoft
Tags: Naval, Real Time, Various Theatres, Strategy, Simulation, Submarine, WW2, Moddable
Purchase:  Steam, Direct

As a U-boat captain of the Kriegsmarine, you will find yourself prowling for unsuspecting targets, ambushing convoys, or fighting against aircraft as you’re surfaced. Interacting with the ships interior is also a major component of managing your submarine. Of the Silent Hunter series, Silent Hunter 3 easily remains the undisputed champion.

SH3

What pushes Silent Hunter 3 beyond it’s sequels is the incorporation of the GWX3 GOLD mod. This mod gives the game an even more immersive experience, with quality of life changes, environment improvements and added variety still unmatched by the later titles. If you can sacrifice the visual fidelity that the later versions have, you’ll find afternoons and evenings lost as you develop into a successful U-boat Commander. Alarm! Fluten!

Ironclads 2 Collection (Review)

Developer/Publisher: Totem Games
Tags: Naval, Real Time, Turn base, Various Theatres, Strategy, Simulation, 19th Century
Purchase: Steam

Where previous Totem Games releases can be considered misfires, the Ironclads 2 series of games bundled as a collection on Steam are a great addition for any Armchajr-Admiral out there. This collection of games has you fighting forgotten engagements in the late 19th century. While the strategic element is turn based, engagements are in real time. But don’t be fooled; managing ships can get complicated when you split columns or try and envelope an opponent’s fleet.

Ironclads 2

Opponent AI, ship models and unique settings allow these naval engagements to really come alive and provide wonderfully varied experiences. However impatient players or newcomers might be frustrated by the lack of tutorials (other than just a manual) and hardcore sim fans might be disappointed by the basic mechanics for tactical engagements. However, for the price of four games, and the unique setting each brings, these titles definitely deserve the attention they get.

Cold Waters (Review)

Developer/Publisher: Killerfish Games
Tags: Naval, Real Time, Various Theatres, Strategy, Simulation, Submarine
Purchase:  Steam

Cold Waters

Killerfish Games manages to hold two titles on this list, and with good reason. Cold Waters manages to walk a perfect line between arcade and simulation with this submarine-based naval game. Establishing itself in a modern setting, the player sets out in nuclear submarine and strike against surface targets and warships while evading modern ASW countermeasures. Great mission and unit variety, outstanding visuals and intuitive UI enables Cold Waters to stand tall among the greatest naval wargames out there.

Content for Cold Waters is still being released, with the latest addition being a South China Sea campaign. Those looking for a more immersive sub sim, please note that this isn’t Silent Hunter – you may be disappointed if that’s what you’re looking for here.

Dangerous Waters

Developer/Publisher: Sonalysts Combat Simulations / Strategy First
Tags: Naval, Real Time, Various Theatres, Strategy, Simulation, Submarine, Moddable
Purchase:  Steam

Dangerous Waters, or by its alternative title, S.C.S. Dangerous Waters, is a naval sim classic. Controlling either the US Navy, Russian Federation Navy or the People's Liberation Army Navy of China, you have the option to use surface ships, submarines or some aircraft to engage in a variety of mission types. Tactical thinking, monitoring of ship components and capabilities are an important factor for this sim. While the graphics are dated, the variety of systems available in Dangerous Waters keeps it an immersive naval sim and still as intuitive as it was on release.

Dangerous Waters

Because of the age of the game, there may be some compatibility issues with modern operating systems, but there are work arounds for this. Another interesting element is that Dangerous Waters allows for importation of event scripting (or scenarios) from old Jane’s series of games (688(I) Hunter/Killer and Sub/Fleet Command). In addition, there is a large amount of extra content and mods to further extend what can be done in Dangerous Waters. A great library for mods, patches and tools can be found here.

Command: Modern Air / Naval Operations WOTY (Review)

Developer/Publisher: WarfareSims / Matrix Games
Tags: Naval, Real Time, Various Theatres, Strategy, Simulation, Grand Strategy
Purchase:  Steam, Direct

You would be hard pressed to find something as intricate and detailed as Command: Modern Air/ Naval Operations is, apart from maybe the Harpoon series. Aspects to manage are satellites, aircraft wings, and navy fleets while the database includes WW2 era ships all the way into modern future weapons. This gives an excellent overview of what you are going to be working with through what spans almost a century of air and naval warfare. The base game has over 40 scenarios, and further DLC and expansions have been released in the years since.

Command Modern Air Naval Operations

While older titles rely on a flat image, or map, CMANO is globe based, delivering even greater immersion for the armchair commander. The amount of management and systems available is staggering. Realism is a cornerstone of CMANO and while other naval sims and wargames are more approachable due to their low price or lesser complex systems, CMANO revels in its ability to be a serious simulation. For those who are willing the opportunities are near limitless.

Fleet Command

Developer/Publisher: Sonalysts Combat Simulations / Strategy First
Tags: Naval, Real Time, Various Theatres, Strategy, Simulation,
Purchase:  Steam, StormPowered

The Jane’s Command (now just known as Command) series are classic naval simulations that are still playable and enjoyable by today’s standards. While the titles of each game give away what is to be expected, Fleet Command’s use of modern units and a variety of scenarios makes it slightly above its Sub Command sequel, which focuses primarily on modern submarine combat.

Fleet Command

Although Fleet Command is graphically dated and may struggle to run on modern operating systems (there are work arounds out there), it is still a classic and must have for its niche genre. Released in 1999, it could be many veteran player’s first, and it has yet to be topped in some respects by modern releases. Manage air assets, naval battlegroups and engage in naval scenarios, with an intuitive editor that allows users to create new content.

Battlestations: Pacific

Developer/Publisher: Eidos Hungary, Eidos Interactive
Tags: Naval, Real Time, Pacific Theatre, Strategy, Arcade, WW2
Purchase:  Steam

The Battlestations ‘series’ was short lived and spanned two games. They utilized combined operations of aircraft, surface ships and submarines set in the Pacific in WW2. Where Battlestations: Midway tried its best to tell a unique story that was a bit flat, Pacific focused just on the combat experience. Fantastic level, unit and faction variety enabled plenty of action packed moments to be had. Features two campaigns with bonus missions.

BattlestationsPacific

What made Battlestations: Pacific great was its easy controls and management of fleet assets in battle, so the player could jump from battleship to aircraft, to carrier to commander in the click of a few buttons to make sure all elements were cooperating. Then once you were satisfied with your orders, jump back into a torpedo bomber to start lining up for a strike against a transport ship.

For those on modern operating systems, GFWL is no longer around, so work arounds are necessary to get it run without issues. One option can be found here.

What would your list of top naval war games look like? Let us know in the comments!

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