Gaming News

Published: December 22, 2023

Adam Knight

War Games: Best of 2023

2023, like most every recent year, proved a great one for wargaming. From the Ancients to future wars, from political to pilots, the games below showcase some of 2023’s war games across a broad spectrum, so whether you’re just learning how to hex or know every counter in the book, you’ll find something worth loving on the list below.

And, as with the two previous 2023 lists, if you see something you like that’s not in stock, click that Want List. Noble Knight’s inventory changes fast, and getting that email makes it simple to snare what you want without checking every day.

Now, onto the games!

Mr. President – The American Presidency – GMT Games

We begin with a solo title, one set to dominate your table with Congress, Crises, and that all important hero, the Secretary of State. Mr. President – The American Presidency is a dense dance, one that sees you balancing legislative success with geopolitics, controlling the best staff while fighting terrorism. You’ll break up a full four year term into six month rounds, setting a plan before each one then scrambling to save your ideas as the world laughs.

Mr. President might not be a ‘traditional’ war game—not many hexes or counters here—but it tickles the same itch: executing strategies while adapting to dynamic events and maximizing your oft-limited resources. Like the best war games, too, you’ll have a story waiting at the end.

Inferno: Guelphs and Ghibellines – GMT Games

Volume Three in Volko Ruhnke’s Levy & Campaign series drops you and an opponent (or just you, with a solid solo system) into Tuscany, mid-13th century. Castles, cavalry, and crossbowmen control the scene in this medieval war game, one set apart by a focus on logistics: your troops have to eat. Assuming you caninferno1259.jpg (666×882) keep their bellies full, you’ll lay siege to cities, plot treacherous turnabouts, and conquer wine country through a scenario surfeit.

Inferno’s calling card is grit. You’ll have to deal with finicky lords, tight supplies, and events that might up-end a perfect plan. It’s a simulation, not a slaughter fest, but carrying out a successful siege or turning your enemy’s big assault into a confused catastrophe is made all the more satisfying by the challenge. If you’ve never tried a Levy and Campaign title, or want to dip into medieval warfare, Inferno’s a great, well-produced way to start.

Undaunted: Battle of Britain – Osprey

The Undaunted series bids a (brief?) farewell to World War 2 with Undaunted: Battle of Britain, taking its devious deck-building battles to the skies. If you’re an Undaunted vet, Battle of Britain changes things up by making all the units planes. Perhaps obviously, this makes movement a bigger deal than in prior titles, where9781472855510.jpg (568×822) hanging out and taking pot shots was a viable strategy. Here, you’ve gotta fly or die.

A few further changes make Battle of Britain a worthwhile play: your same-squad planes get bonuses by sticking together, as wingmen ought, making movement trickier affair. Perfect rolls no longer guarantee hits from across the map either, mimicking real ranges and pushing players towards tense dogfights. Axis and Ally faction asymmetry is just enough, spread across the scenarios, to make you want to run it back playing as either side.

Undaunted: Battle of Britain doesn’t aim for Stalingrad’s campaign scope, but as a tactical skirmish duel, it’s hard to find one better.

Archie’s War: The Battle of Guadalcanal – Worthington Publishing

Pitting the US against Japan in a broad strokes battle, Archie’s War is a small map tactical skirmish, with enough luck in pulling reinforcements to make winning less about executing a grand vision and more making the best use of what you have. The Japanese player must be aggressive or lose, a fast forced conflict thrustingwogwpub084.jpg (1200×1641) you into the action immediately. No slow build up, lumbering turn structure, or sprawling battlefield here.

Not every war game needs to be a beast. Archie’s War fills that much-needed niche for a simpler game that plays in thirty minutes or less, easy to pull out to give a friend an introduction to wargaming or for a lunch break solo blast. With a longer game, the emphasis on random elements might be rough, but Archie’s War hits the length right, making both players react, attack, laugh when something goes horribly awry, and reset.

People Power: Insurgency in the Philippines – GMT Games

For a long time, folks looking to learn the COIN system (COunter-INsurgency), the default starter game was 2013’s Cuba Libre. With People Power, we have another contender. The game slims things on the periphery, like reducing map terrain to only two types (city and countryside) and keeping the player count to 3. Those three factions include the Government, violent insurgents, and non-violent Reformers. In typical COIN style, you’ll be negotiating, back-stabbing, andgmt2214.jpg (500×500) battling to accomplish your unique objectives before the other two.

People Power doesn’t just slim down either. By adding Personalities, literal faction representatives that convey bonuses, as well as fill in the reason you’re striving for power, you put faces next to bland names. Acts of Desperation, similarly, give end-game shots to each faction, bold gambits that might swing things your way in a crucial last round or bring about epic collapse.

The COIN series is by no means ‘light’, but its sheer variability, the stories told in every game, beget repeat plays and wild risks. People Power is no different, but it’s a nimbler dance than its brethren, perfect for giving newer players an introduction to COIN style.

Storm over Jerusalem: The Roman Siege – Multi-Man Publishing

Going back to 70 AD brings us to a clash between Roman soldiers and Judean rebels, with the former assaulting Jerusalem in a brutal five-month siege. The setting does several things right away: puts both players immediately into conflict, narrows the map to the city and its walls, and makes the battle itself the focus.stormoverjer.jpg (1178×1500) This isn’t grand strategy or logistics, it’s a single battle, and you get to tangle with all of its Ancient-era elements.

Storm over Jerusalem uses cards to drive its actions, with the recognizable choice between events or points starting each of your turns. As the Romans, you’ll need to decide where to press your attack, while the Rebels must meet every loss with a choice: retreat, or lose units to keep presence in an area?

Relatively light and playable in an afternoon, Storm over Jerusalem is a great choice for anyone looking to add an Ancient-era siege war game to their collection. With battering rams, siege towers, and catapults, what more could you want?

Werwolf: Insurgency in Occupied Germany – Legion Wargames

Sadly, this isn’t a game about werewolves waging a guerilla war in occupied Germany. It is, however, a COIN-adjacent game set in the immediate aftermath of WW2, with a power struggle between Soviets, Allies, the interim German government, and leftover Nazi rebels. These four factions do the classic COIN thing ofwereolfinsurg.jpg (226×292) competing for asymmetric objectives, the goals often requiring makeshift alliances and classic betrayals. A large event deck ensures fodder for negotiation, tactical plays, and wide-eyed scrambles.

Why Werwolf, though, over something like People Power above? The classic war game adage: theater trumps most everything else. The thorny post-WW2 tangle in Germany is a fascinating setting, with nods to the coming Cold War as well as the persistence of Nazi terror in the country’s dark corners. If that’s a sandbox you’d like to dig into, Werwolf offers a war game experience like none other.

Twilight Struggle: Red Sea – Conflict in the Horn of Africa – GMT Games

If your copy of Twilight Struggle continues to mock you for lack of playing partners, or you’ve become so good at DEFCONing each other that a refresh is in order, then Twilight Struggle: Red Sea is what you’ve been waiting for. This standalone, smaller titles slims down its parent’s big scope to make for a snappyconflicthornafr.jpg (666×882) experience perfect for newcomers and anyone who wants to infuse new variety into their Twilight Struggle decks (Red Sea’s cards can be thrown in the main game, and vice versa).

If you’re wondering what Twilight Struggle even is, then know we’re talking about a two-player Cold War spy fest. You’ll be choosing to use cards from your hand for their powerful events or to give you action points. Those points help you gain influence across the world, letting you score when various territory cards come up. The result is a tense duel that, like Chess, goes best with a committed opponent to learn with and match wits against. Before Red Sea, finding your Cold War counterpart required jumping into the deep end. Now, you can ease your friend, spouse, or curious co-worker into arguably the best Cold War simulation ever made.

Red Strike – VUCA Simulations

Hypothetical scenarios and simultaneous turns? Yes please. Red Strike drops you and up to five other players into a 1989 world where World War Three breaks out. A sentence like that promises big things, and Red Strike, from VUCA Simulations, delivers with vast scale across Europe and the North Atlantic.war Beautiful components combine with reaction mechanisms to keep everyone involved at all times.

While the conflict is between two factions—NATO and the Warsaw Pact—Red Strike makes it easy to divide force responsibilities between land, air, and sea to allow team play. Working with your pals to outwit the enemy rather than puzzling it out all alone is one of the defining features of these larger war games, and Red Strike is no different. If you’ve a group willing and able to tackle the biggest titles this side of World In Flames, then make sure Red Strike is on your list.

Siege of Tenochtitlan – The Historical Game Company

Let’s whiplash away from Red Strike’s vastness to something you can pick up and play, with solo or a partner, in 90 minutes or less. Siege of Tenochtitlan depicts the Aztecs fending off the invading Spaniards with few rules and lots of fun decisions packed into a small space. There’s a careful balance between games good forwar bringing newcomers into war gaming and ones that still pack enough meaningful game for veterans to enjoy. Siege of Tenochtitlan hits this mark by giving the Spaniards several different routes to attack, event cards to mix up gameplay, and light faction asymmetry (also, war canoes!). Together, these turn a game at an impulse-buy price into a week night duel you’ll run back again and again.

Carrier Battle: Philippine Sea – Compass Games

And just like that we’re back to the big guns. Carrier Battle: Philippine Sea is a solitaire war game with nine scenarios taking you through the largest carrier battle in history, the invasion of Saipan in 1944. You’ll control the US fleet, attempting to locate incoming Japanese forces before they pounce. This stealth, contactwar checking duel makes up Carrier Battle’s core, forcing you to decide how to divide up your forces: either send in all you’ve got on a marker and hope you’re right, embracing victory by sinking the enemy but risking empty-handed failure if you’ve guessed wrong. Or split up your assault, all but guaranteeing finding the target, but making it likely you’ll lose too many planes to deal much damage.

Carrier Battle gives you an extensive round-by-round tracker to help keep itself organized, turning what might seem like a complex game at first glance into a compelling dance with the enemy, and not with the rulebook. Four learning scenarios help ease you in so you can tackle the 6+ hour full game with confidence. And coffee, because you’ll need it.

Eagles in the Sky – Revolution Games

Scarves, goggles, and bi-planes: aerial combat in World War One had its own unique flavor. Eagles in the Sky, a two-player, card-driven war game about those valiant fliers, lets you command squadrons in single engagements and longer campaigns with Revolution Games’ standard polish. Without too many rules, you’llwar be up and flying in no time, playing through each engagement’s 8 rounds in minutes and a campaign in a long evening.

Every one of those rounds starts with an event card to keep your pilots on their proverbial toes, with each player then alternating playing cards from their hand to activate units. Those same cards are played in defense, though a winning attacker gets in position to, well, attack. Dog-fights, ground targets, or just clearing up jammed guns all demand decisions, as does, in the campaign version, whether to send your ace pilot right back up. Talent’s in demand, but fatigue builds up, making every subsequent mission a riskier move.

Then again, wars aren’t won by the timid. Eagles in the Sky is a great aerial battle game, with a different feel, more complexity, and more scarves than Undaunted: Battle of Britain. Not to say you can’t have both—planes are fun, no matter the context.

A Hex and Counter Year

One of wargaming’s greatest strengths is variety, and you can see that in this list of 2023 war games (and there were many more I didn’t include). From big solitaire adventures to snappy two-player skirmishes, the games above offer great fun for both vets and fresh recruits to the war gaming world.

And if you’ve never tried a game like these before, consider taking the plunge. War games are often less expensive than their glitzy board game counterparts, and you might find yourself immersed in a new passion you didn’t know existed.