It’s the end of the year so it’s that time for the inevitable “of the Year” lists. Although I play boardgames and wargames, I am a wargamer at heart. Since Christmas 1979 when I got my first wargame, the holidays and wargaming have been forever linked in my heart.
To be eligible for this category, the item must be a wargame as I define it. It must also have been released in the 2020 calendar year AND IN MY POSSESSION as of Dec 31, 2020. I know for a fact that at least one wargame I have on pre-order has a 2020 publication date but, since I don’t have it in hand it’s not eligible for this list. For a near-complete listing of all the wargames I acquired in 2020 (including many titles not eligible for this annual list) please see my GeekList 2020 RockyMountainNavy Gaming Acquisitions and look for entries labeled “WARGAME”
Brief Border Wars brings back the classic “quad” packaging with four games using the same basic war engine but with each having its own identity.
Dawn of Empire : The Spanish American Naval War in the Atlantic, 1898 shows the classic War at Sea/Victory in the Pacific war engine can still be leveraged and new challenges created.
French & Indian War 1757-1759 is a very pleasurable block wargame that is simple to learn and thematic enough to keep it interesting yet playable in a short evening.
Fury at Midway is a bit of a hidden gem testing several competing theories of what actually happened at Midway. Hint: It doesn’t end well for the Americans as often as one would expect given “history.”
Harpoon V is the return of the “serious” wargame.
Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 is a ‘managable monster’ with lots of replay potential in a relatively small package.
Philadelphia 1777 is another block game using Worthington’s proven war engine but this time depicting a kind of “tower defense” campaign.
The Shores of Tripoli is the Kickstarter remake of a solid game now given a very professional look.
Undaunted: North Africa shows once again that wargames can use non-traditional mechanics; who woulda thunk that Deck Building can make a good wargame?
Waterloo Campaign, 1815 shows that you don’t need a monster game to depict one of histories greatest battles.
White Eagle Defiant takes the Brave Little Belgium war engine to the next level yet still is easy to learn and fairly quick to play.
…and the winner is…
With such a strong field of contenders I actually picked a Runner-Up and a Winner.
My runner-up Wargame of the Year for 2020 is Iron Curtain: Central Europe 1945-1989 from Multi-Man Publishing. This game might be the most ‘old school’ or the closest to a classic hex & counter game of all the candidates this year but that is actually a major reason why it places so high. It’s not that I dislike the ‘new age’ mechanics in some of the new games; rather, Iron Curtain, an entry in the Standard Combat Series, showed me the joy of a ‘manageable monster’ wargame. Iron Curtain is multiple games in one with different eras and options for the Soviets or NATO to be that attacker. Add to that the Run Up to War pre-game and you have package that is easy to learn (uses the Standard Combat System) yet it will never serve up the same game twice no matter how often its played. I also really appreciate that it is fits on a moderate-sized table and yet it still can be both set up and played in just a few hours.
However, as somebody once said, “There can be only one.” My Wargame of the Year for 2020 is The Shores of Tripoli from Fort Circle Games. Yes, I know it is the professional publication of a print-‘n-play title that predates 2020 but designer Kevin Bertram’s attention to detail and hard work has taken this little gem of a game to another level. From the moment you look at the box (awesome) to laying out all the components on the table (luxurious) you can see his attention to detail. Gameplay has, dare I say, improved over the original PnP with the benefit of more development and playtesting. The Shores of Tripoli is almost as polar opposite of a wargame design from my runner-up, Iron Curtain: Central Europe 1945-1989 by MMP that you can get. That is a great part of it’s strength in my mind; The Shores of Tripoli is an excellent example of the “new wave” of designers and wargames titles that aren’t afraid to break from “convention” and assemble a set of mechanics into an interesting, challenging, and dare I say very “playable” wargame.
The Shores of Tripoli is a card-driven war game that plays in forty-five to sixty minutes. One side takes the Americans, who try to stop the Barbary pirates and perhaps even send the Marines in to take Tripoli. The other side takes the Barbary pirates and capture as many merchant ships as possible or even take on the frigates on the American navy.
As a naval guy at heart, a game about the Barbary Wars deeply appeals to me. What appealed to me even more is the fact Kevin is offering a print-n-play playtest kit to anyone who asks. I took Kevin up on his offer and have been messing around with the game.
I have a love-hate relationship with playtesting. I love to do it, but I hate that I always seem to never have enough time to provide feedback to the designer. I try to do what I can but it never seems enough given the generosity of a designer to share their design with me before it goes primetime. Thus, I was actually a bit hesitant reaching out to Kevin for a playtest kit.
But I am glad I did.
The Shores of Tripoli is not ready for primetime, yet; but the core of what could be a very good game is there. The Fort Circle motto is, “Creating fun, easy to learn, historical board games.” What I have played so far is fun. With some rule book polish it could be easy to learn. The game looks to be a fun exploration of the lesser-known history of the period.
I owe Kevin some feedback. I have a commented version of the rules ready and I am going to send it to him. Not that my feedback is anything special. I am not a technical editor nor a game designer by training or education. But Kevin is putting his heart out there in this game and from what I have seen it’s worth my time to try and help him get this game going.
If the topic of The Shores of Tripoliappeals to you and you want to help a fellow gamer then reach out to Kevin and help him get this game out there. The topic and approach is a good fit and soon enough you may have a fun, easy to learn, historical board game on your table.