Tabletop War Games 101


War games are old like as old as war itself, and the definition can be used to include some major old and strategic games such as Chess, Checkers and Mancala. Nowadays it typically refers to games specifically about war, Risk being the dominate example. Modern war games came about as a training exercise created in Germany during the mid 1600s. The games were eventually expanded on to contain certain movement restraints based on troop location, a tactic that is popular in many strategy video games today. Eventually the game was named Kriegspiel and is the base of many war games that follow, although many expansions built it as an actual war simulation.

A division between simulation based war games and entertainment game was first small but over time notable. H.G. Wells developed a more consumer focused war game, Little Wars, in 1913 specifically calling out the difficulty of Kriegspiel and it’s ilk. This line still exists even into the digital realm, many games try to be spot on realistic interpretations, while others forgo realism to make the game easier to digest. Tabletop RPG’s actually grew out of the same idea, basically pushing a war game simulation into a squad based game (while adding a bit of fantasy).

Today most war games are either of a highly developed simulation or a more “game” variety. The majority of tabletop war games feature figurines with dice rolls that determine a winner and maps determining troop location, although many variations exist. If you think about a time of political turmoil than you can probably find a war game around it. Moreover war gaming has expanded into the lands of fantasy much like the Role-Playing Games that it spawned. From Star Wars to Lord of the Rings their are multiple war-fields to battle over.


As noted two major camps exist within the war gaming community, those that want an exact recreation and those that just want to waste a few hours dominating their friends. Two great contemporary examples are also the two most famous, Risk Vs. Axis and Allies. Risk is a very simple symmetrical War Game in that rules per player don’t change much and the actual combat is extremely simple. Axis and Allies is a highly complex asymmetrical war game that has you buying troops and managing an economy.

Children typically play war games without noticing they are doing it, cops vs. robbers is a great example of a war game played out in real life. Line of sight, flanking and asymmetric strategy are typically at the front line of popular war games while popular children’s games such as red rover and freeze tag share the same concepts. Armies also play real life war games, while fraternities will play much more childish versions. Paint Ball and Live Action Role Playing (LARP) are also two extremes that show the differences between simulation and game.

In essence, like war, the games remain the same, the goal is domination over your opponents. The main resolution is who wins what battle, with the games mechanics determining the winner. Luck can have a big chance in the more unrealistic versions, while high level strategy is the only chance for victory in many simulation based games.

Health Benefits

War Games what are they good for?

Strategic Implementation – As a MBA graduate and entrepreneur I’m always amazed they don’t use war games more in showing the various implementations of strategy in a business setting. The main point of almost all these games is finding a strategy that works for your specific resources and trying to dominate anybody else, just like the business world.

Resource Management – The secondary theme that actually makes even the most basic War Game fun is resource management. Earning risk cards or preparing a battalion involves a high level of trade offs. Learning these skills will help you learn the concept of sunk costs and the cost of goods.

Data Analyzing – The majority of war games and specifically the more strategic games require a large amount of planning, thought and reacting to current conditions. Their is a reason war gaming is so popular among military groups.

Personal Experiences

I know Risk can be a divisive game, the mechanics are a little off but I enjoy the randomness of one troop being able to kill 6 for no apparent reason except luck. If you enjoy Risk as much as I than I have a few games I’d recommend, the first and foremost is Risk: Legacy, one of the greatest games I’ve played in recent memory. The evolution of the board as you play is a phenomenal mechanic and it takes the very basic Risk and adds an extra layer of character customization! Some interesting variations also present a lot of fun, Lord of the Rings Risk has some interesting changes to the mechanics while Plants Vs. Zombies Risk is a great starting point for younger kids that actually has a bit of depth.

As a child Stratego was an amazing war game, that didn’t have very high gravity. I’ve tried a few other lower level war games but the ones that come to the top of my mind are BattleLore and Nexus Ops mostly because the theme, mechanics and miniature work is amazing. I’ve never personally gotten into historical reenactment games but I enjoyed my play threw of Axis & Allies and more recently Paths of Glory.

As for more advanced war games, the obvious choice is Warhammer 40,000. I’ve only played three battles and the complexity is quite baffling. Something with a very high gravity, as in you have to invest a lot of time to make it worth it. The level of miniatures and powers available is a large investment into your gaming time, but most people I know who like it really like it.

Personally I’m a bit of a Star Wars geek, and I’ve played my fair share of Star Wars: Armada which is amazing, although a friend has an almost complete collection of the Star Wars: Starship Battles which I think added a great level of complexity and fun.

Zeppelin Raider is a good example of a War Game done in an extremely creative way, a single player masterpiece! I had a good time with Napoleon Retreats once, really the choices are endless. I’d suggest reviewing the games mechanics before getting too involved.

I do also like the idea of war games for couples, many war games are focused on a 1v1 aspect and my wife and I have had many fun times playing these games together, not only figuring out mechanics but also learning about each others processes. Memoir ’44 is as old as it gets but is pretty darn amazing. Battle of Westeros is a Game of Thrones themed game that is great for couples who love the show (and want to redo season 8.)

The League of Legends board game Mechs Vs. Minions is also a variation of the war game genre that can be played co-op. It is a simple game that works to learn AI programming and teamwork, really not a better physical option in my mind for teenagers who might be interested in game development.

Will you like it?

The replayability of War Games make them a great draw, and the variety of themes make them great. After you invest enough in war games and miniatures you can go on to create your own fantastical battles with hundreds of fighters much like your toy soldiers back in the day. Much like the RPG’s that spawned from them functionality is the biggest concern, specifically the higher you go to the simulation side the more difficult games become. Many advanced war games have amazingly printed scenery and figurines that make the visuals typically highly appealing.

Mastery is the name of the game here and if you are a strategical genius you’ll probably like the heavier war games. The fun of the battle mechanics are also a huge selling point. Many of these games have a large competitive aspect so achievement is usually focused on the victor, leaving the losers out. If you like Real Time Strategy Games or Chess you’ll probably love War Games!

Kyle Author

Hi I'm Kyle! I'm a MBA graduate that loves creating and playing games of all types. I created this site to help people keep up-to date on games I'm making as well as review games I love. Please feel free to contact me if you have any comments, questions or suggestions. Stay Amazing, Always!

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