War boardgame recommendations

Thinking ahead to Christmas time, my son has asked for a “game where you attack and conquer other countries”. His current game favorites are Settlers of Catan, Star Wars: Rebellion, and Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization. Complexity isn’t a big issue, but simpler is probably better.

I’m thinking of getting Axis & Allies. I think he’ll love moving the little miniatures around and the rules are simple enough he’ll be able to convince his friends and not just his geeky family to play. Some searching shows there’s a plethora of versions of A&A out now. Any recommendations which is best?

I’d also like to hear recommendations for other war boardgames.

Isn’t the only answer to this question Risk?

Why not Risk? The ultimate in attacking and conquering other countries.

Which one? :smiley:

Ah, I had totally forgotten about Risk. It’s been decades since I’ve played it and it seemed boring to me at the time. What version is considered the best? I’ll read some reviews online, but I’m thinking it’s too simple. By which I mean too few interesting choices.

Slight hijack, for the family Christmas present, I’m thinking to get Alchemists. The whole experiment and deduction theme is very appealing.

If he wants to step up the complexity, Squad Leader simulates WWII combat, and Star Fleet Battles simulates ship to ship combat in the Star trek universe…but both are more tactical oriented, and not about conquering other countries.

How about something like smallworld? I guess it’s not about attacking ‘countries’ per se, but territories…

If he has an interest in 20th century history, Twilight Struggle might be a hit. You don’t say how old your son is - I can see a bright 12-year-old enjoying it. Drawbacks are it is only 2 player and takes about 3 hours to play. It is relatively easy to learn though.

Kemet and Cyclades are two good possibilities. They’re more complex than Risk or Catan but not overwhelming.

How old is he? By that, really, I mean, what level of complexity are you looking for? Scythe, Kemet, and War of the Ring are all pretty good middle weight area control war games, but there are several lighter weight ones other than Risk for a younger set, and a ton of much heavier games for the super-nebbish teenager who loves hexmaps.

(There’s also Memoir '44, for a lightweight hex map war game, for the budding super-nebbish wargamer)

No no no no, not Risk. You can do so much better for a budding wargamer - especially one who has played Star Wars: Rebellion. Hell of a great game, by the way. Does he have the expansion?

When your son says “a game where you attack and conquer other countries,” is he asking for that thematically or mechanically? That is, is that his way of asking for MORE WAR or does he specifically want one that involves semi-historical warfare on an international scale?

Risk isn’t a board game. It’s a computer game that had the misfortune to be invented before the computers that could run it. So the best version would be a computer version. It turns a three-hour slog of dice-rolling into something that can be played in a half-hour: You get all the same strategies and decision points, but without the tedium. As an added bonus, a computer version will come with AI players, so you can play even when alone, or play with many players when you only have a few humans.

There are computer programs to handle the dice rolls now; here’s a browser version. ISTR seeing a Risk board that comes with electronic dice.

No. Risk is not remotely stategic game. It is basically the strategy boardgamer’s verision of Monopoly: takes forever to play, not much fun unless you are winning, and success is more or less blind pig luck.

Axis & Allies is a good introductory stragetic war boardgame for all the reasonsl mentioned by the o.p.; the only negative (which may have been fixed in subsequent editions—I haven’t played it in thirty years) is that certain countries definitely had a starting advantage, and Russia always loses because there is no weather mechanism to devastate invading armies the way there is in real life (and the United States is pretty insulated against attack, but that is realistic). A simliar game in the same series was Fortress America, which had similar rules but was an internal fight between the US goverment and three invading factions competing for control. The game seemed to take longer to play—sometimes we had to play it over a couple of sessions a couple hours each—butit seemed a lot more balanced, plus it was released just after Red Dawn and Amerika and all the Contra/Grenada/Cuba hysterics that the US was somehow going to be invaded by Soviet paratroopers, so it played into the paranoia of the time.


Thanks for the name drops, everyone. I’ll look up reviews.

He’s a very bright elementary school kid. He understands the mechanics of SW:Rebellion and TtA:Civ, which are both high on the complexity level. The latter game is also rather abstract, but he still loves playing it. The theme of the SW game is great; he loves playing with the minis as much as the game. His tactics are not well developed, though, but he’s well below the recommended age levels.

We don’t have the expansion for the SW game. Thanks for pointing it out. I think what he wants is a game like it, but with “real” armies. He enjoys building armies in the Civ game, usually to the detriment of his victory points.

I’m not going to let him go full grognard until he can pay for it himself. :slight_smile:

Do you think he enjoys building armies in the Civ game because he likes the “managing resources and slowly building an army” aspect or because the end result is having troops to move around the board?

If it’s the latter case, purely tactical games like Memoir 44 might be a good choice. They have cool figures and get straight to the action. If he wants a more complete experience, like SW and Civ, other games might be better.

Since the Civ game has no map (it really is abstract), it’s the former case. But he does like pushing things around the SW game and taking planets. I’ll check out your recommendation.

A&A has a newish “anniversary” version that apparently fixes a lot of the flaws in the original. But strong vs weak starting positions isn’t a big flaw for us; we’d give the good/easy countries to the kids and the weak/difficult ones to the grown-ups.

While I’ll only get him one game for Christmas, I will keep a list for future gift opportunities. Birthday isn’t that far away either. I have the feeling he’d like any well-made boardgame, but I rather get him the best ones.

I’ve been using BoardGameGeek as the go-to site for reviews. Are there other sites that give good reviews?

BoardGameGeek is where it’s at.

The new edition of Twilight Imperium has absolutely gorgeous figures but is almost certainly too complex for him just now. It’s a real beast of a game, but maybe one to think about in the future. One of my all-time favorites.

A&A was my first exposure to a “real” boardgame outside of the old standards like Monopoly and Risk. It has cool figures and isn’t too hard to learn. For extra fun, blow the map up even larger and move your pieces around using croupier sticks.

BoardGameGeek.com is kind of the gold standard for independent game reviews, just like OutdoorGearLab.com is for backpacking and camping equipment. There are other sites, like BoardGaming.com, and you can find all kinds of playthroughs on YouTube.com if you have the time to watch them (the now defunct TableTop was the best of the lot) but BoardGameGeek.com is the best general resource.


Aside from other reasons to skip risk, here’s an opensource version for the computer that has a host of different maps. It allows Italian rules that give the defender a third die changing the character of the game to make sheer dumb luck less of a determining factor. It’s got options for other victory conditions than total conquest. It’s got a map editor if he wants to make his own map. It allows online, private networked, hotseat, and solo games. You can mix AI players with real players as well. If you’ve got a home network solution to display on your TV you can effectively turn the hotseat game into one with a vertical board in the living room. The AI is even relatively challenging in solo mode. It’s available for Windows, Mac, Linux, andd BSD. Skip Risk as a present; download it for free and throw a small donation to the project if he likes it enough.

I always enjoyed Axis and Allies as a “beer* and pretzels” type game that was easily accesible for most but still enjoyable for those of us into far more complicated wargames. That helps find players. It hits a sweet spot of challenging play without being overwhelming to learn and play IMO. I think it’s a great choice.

  • Just skip the beer for now. :stuck_out_tongue: