The Best Wargames of 202004 Jan 2021 16
If you've been reading this article since it first went up back in January 2020, you'll have followed it as we tried to track various wargame projects that came and went across 2020. Now that we're in a new year, we'll create a brand new article to cover 2021's games, but this particular piece is getting one final update so we can reflect on the wargames that released.
We're basing this mainly off what we actually managed to cover, which you can see via our 2020 review index page. We reviewed just over 50 items across digital and tabletop wargames last year, with computer war games making up the lions share at 35 reviews. A lot of it was DLC - not a lot actually happens in the realm of digital wargames in any single calendar year, but across expansions AND new releases we definitely had a decent run of releases this year, COVID be damned.
We're going to recap some of our favourites, before looking towards the new year. The header image is from Shadow Empire.
The Best Wargames of 2020
- Panzer Corps 2
- Shadow Empire
- Carrier Battles 4 Guadalcanal
- Root Digital
- Operation Citadel
- Cauldrons of War: Barbarossa
- Winter War
A strong showing from both established publishing houses and indies this year. Matrix Games & Slitherine finally released Panzer Corps 2, which I think would be fair to say lived up to the hype and seems to have created a new platform for DLC packs to rival even Paradox. Arguably their best release of the year though was the rich and complex Shadow Empire. Combining the team's Decisive Campaigns experience with the wonder and mayhem of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting, Shadow Empire is the kind of grand strategy wargame we'd love to see more of. Complex battle mechanics, married with procedural generation engines that will allow you to tell countless, divergent stories. It's got a lot of promising internal management mechanics as well.
I know a bunch of people are excited that they're working on a new DC game coming next year, but to be honest I'd be just as content if they kept working on SE for the next year - plenty of potential left to unlock, and things like the UI could definitely be worked on as well.
Carrier Battles gets a special mention from us because it released the PC version in 2020. The mobile version has been around for longer, easily representing some of the best that premium mobile wargames has to offer, and we're glad this magic was taken to the desktop. To be sure, it still feels like a mobile game in many respects, but they've given the port a good show and it's got some excellent abstractions or the WW2 pacific theatre.
Meanwhile, Avalon Digital is gaining ground as a publisher for digital wargames, especially as they're now working with Philippe Thibaut's new studio. They released a couple of titles this year, but our favourite was definitely Winter War, for how it played but also how it portrayed this ill-covered conflict.
Indie wargames also had a great year. Our friend ay Yobowargames released a couple of titles, but two of our favourites came in the form of Operation Citadel and Cauldrons of War: Barbarossa. The former is noteworthy because it's more of a platform than a game - a scenario editor created by one man with a lot of potential and flexibility. While the latter may be yet another game set on the eastern front, it's portrayed in a very unique and abstract way, reminiscent of Rod Humble's STAVKA OKH.
A final mention must be given to Direwolf Digital as well - they're a studio that mainly concerns themselves with ports of mainstream strategy board games, so we don't often have cause to write about them here, but their digital adaptation of Root was first class. If you haven't heard of Root before, we highly suggest you read Timothy's review as it's an excellent asymmetrical wargame. Don't let the cutesy woodland setting dissuade you - this game will mess you up if you don't pay attention.
The above list isn't definitive, but it's an accurate reflection of some of our favourite releases this year. There's plenty more though if you want to browse the index, and note we haven't focused on any of the DLC releases that turned up this year. These things tend to be a bit more situational, but additional highlights worth noting are the Fantasy General II expansion, Unity of Command II's Blitzkrieg expansion, and a few others bits and bobs as well.
Missing 2020 releases
Call to Arms: Gates of Hell Ostfront
We've been waiting on this one since 2019, and sadly this Men of War successor did not get a release in 2020 either. As was revealed in early September 2020, this is now going to be released as an expansion to Call to Arms, which means you'll need to buy DMS's game in order to play it. The devs claim they will be tweaking the price to reflect this, though.
Progress is being made however, and as of 26 December 2020 the game is in closed beta. We'll share some gameplay footage as soon as some is released, but for now you'll have to make do with some additional screenshots. There are plans for additional tests later in 2021 with more players as well. The devs claim they have a releasable product already, they're just trying to collect feedback for the last bits of fine-tuning.
Ultimate Admiral: Dreadnoughts
This Dreadnought-era naval war game has been going through a private alpha/beta run for a while now, which Bill looked at almost a year ago. We were hoping it'd hit Steam Early Access sometime in 2020 but it never materialised. Alpha 10 was released on December 28, which you can access if you pre-order a copy now via their own website. We're confident the early access release at least will land this year, but we're not sure what kind of timescale Game-Labs are working on for a full release. They're working on at least three other titles at the moment.
Waterloo 3D is an intriguing indie project that sees players leading either the French, British, or Prussians during the Waterloo Campaign. Battles consist of fully rendered units from the battalion to the division level across a 3D map in real-time. Reminiscent of Scourge of War: Waterloo but with superior graphics. It was supposed to release sometime towards the end of last year, but as of right now we've not really heard anything on it at all with regards to where they're at.
Valor & Victory
We thought Yobowargames getting picked up by Slitherine while working on his digital port of Valor & Victory would mean we'd see it released by now, but it's been quite a while now and this game has yet to materialize, while the developer himself has released other projects in the interim, like Krim.
We've not heard anything to suggest it's been cancelled, but then again we've not heard anything about anything regarding this game since the publishing deal was announced early 2020.
General Staff Wargaming System
Dr. Ezra Sidran is still plugging away at the latest iteration of his wargames simulation software. Bringing with it a lot of tools, AI coding and general academic heft, this is going to be an all-purpose tool for people to create (or recreate) battles and test out any number of things. It will have a very powerful editor, and will roughly cover three main era-groups - Ancients, Black Powder and Modern.
There's only Dr. Sidran and one other person working on this project, and the other person fell quite ill during the Summer 2020 so this project has experienced delays. While Dr. Sidran is still writing blogs about various design choices for the program, we've not heard anything else regarding a release window since.
Upcoming Wargames 2021
As well as the above, here's our current list of 2021 wargames as we understand things at the start of January 2021. Might have been a few things crop up over the holidays we've missed, but this list should be accurate at least, if not wholly complete. Let us know if you're aware of anything else, and we'll be doing a more full-featured 'Upcoming Wargames 2021' list as soon as we can:
- Klotzen! Panzer Battles
- Burden of Command
- Task Force Admiral
- Sea Power
- Second Front
- Carrier Command 2
- Strategic Mind: Fight for Freedom
- War on the Sea
- Desert Armor
- Field of Glory II: Medieval
- Terra Invicta
- Victory at Sea: Ironclad
- Middle East Crises
- Gary Grigsby's War in the East 2
- Distant Worlds 2
- Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Forest
- Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm
- WarPlan Pacific
- Ultimate General: American Revolution
- Campaign Series: Vietnam (Core Game)
What have you thought about 2020's releases? Let us know in the comments!