Ahem - The Real Dogs of War - The Worst Wargames - According to BGG Users
Michael @mgouker
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I first started putting together this list in Summer 2008 because I thought much of the criticism about wargames on BGG was somewhat unfair. Having been here since 2004, I know all about the rush to the great next goodie, the slick way some games are promoted, and the way opinion is formed. For a BGG ranking, you need 30 votes. Many wargames - especially those with a limited audience - have less than 100. In fact, most on this list are in this situation, so a few snide remarks on a geeklist and some tag-alongs can kill it off.

Massive errata is one of the primary faults these games tend to have. Another is crappy components - including bland counters and bad maps. Rulebooks that are unintelligible also prevail. Balance issues abound. Not every one of these games has all these problems. Some have none of these problems, but aside from misplaced scorn, many of these games often earned their way here by having real problems.

Are these really the worst games on the block though? Well, actually these are still the elite in a way. BGG has at this time (Sept 2009) 421 pages (each page having 100 entries in my preferences, so about 42100 games) of games and the lowest ranked with a geek rating is Tic-Tac-Toe. You can find it like this, right now in the list:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/browse/boardgame/page/358?sort=...

This means however that there are 357 pages of games with no geek rating because they don't even have 30 user ratings. This allows Nero & Tactics II to snub their noses at the vast majority of games on BGG. At least 30 people felt enough passion (one way or another) to say something about them.

This search:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/browse/boardgame?sort=bggrating...

gives a more discerning result. From this result we see 71 pages (about 7100) wargames. Of these results, we only start to see games with geek rating's around page 55. This means about 5400-5500 wargames don't have enough user ratings to warrant inclusion in our list. So, I guess it could be worse even for Kriegspiel and Nero.


When I finally saw the games in the list, I wasn't at all surprised to find quite a few I enjoyed. I think maybe some of you will as well. For the games I've played or even watched played, I'll comment about what I liked and didn't like. I invite you to do the same.

Maybe you will even find a new game that you will enjoy!!!


Note: I have 105 entries on the list because some games have graduated (because they have been voted higher - yet their infamy lives on here). In fact, the top 5-10 games often move back and forth in ratings. I plan to buffer this to 110 games soon. Jim Dunnigan's American Civil War and Global War will then enter the list.


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1. Board Game: Central America [Average Rating:5.83 Overall Rank:6884]
 
Michael @mgouker
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Designed by James H. McQuaid, 1987, Victory Games

An interesting game system - good modern warfare systems against guerrilla warfare are uncommon enough (though I actually prefer S&T's Nicaragua/Chad design) - is used to implement a game at one of the pinnacles of Cold War hysteria. The counter art is nice, but the map wasn't well done.

Previously owned. I only played small scenarios. I think this one hasn't aged well, but that's only my opinion. I'm sure this game has its supporters.


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2. Board Game: The Game of France, 1940: German Blitzkrieg in the West [Average Rating:5.65 Overall Rank:7312]
Michael @mgouker
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Designed by James Dunnigan (1972, AH/SPI). Widely reviled and it's not a big surprise that it's here. I don't think it's a bad game at all.

I've played this a few times. People will tell you this game has balance issues. In my opinion they are right in the historical scenario, but the fact that the Germans have to have 80 VP, a 3:1 advantage, and (especially) the fact that the highest value units are UK and air units (the Germans have to work harder for them). In any case, if you look at just the advantage the Germans have over the France, then you are right - it's unbalanced. On the other hand, if you take the scoring system into account and toss the auto invasion of Belgium, the Allies have a decent chance.

I'm not the only person who feels this way. Read this EXCELLENT review and draw your own conclusions:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/303453

And, Gary Christiansen, I will toast you at the next opportunity! Great job!

One thing though... it takes real fiber to play the Allies. You will be attacked the entire game. It's a bit Fall 41 of the East Front on the Soviet Side. You will get pounded. You will have to be like a good boxer though. Take your punches but make it as expensive as possible.
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3. Board Game: The Guns of August [Average Rating:5.68 Overall Rank:7691]
Michael @mgouker
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By Rob Beyma, 1973, Avalon Hill

Played and previously owned.

Here are the reviews here on BGG:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/383995

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/272341

Here are the 4th Edition rules:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/file/download/4yz6unxs9a/GoA_Ru...

I'd play this one again. It is a long game and it wears you down. You have precious few opportunities to make strategic plays, but - on the other hand - your slow grinding play along the fronts, setting up opportunities to exploit, and clinging to defensive positions that are so hard won... this is the art of the game. This isn't just a land game either. There is plenty of naval combat and it's very important.

I'm not saying this is a game without defects. This one is full of errata and the 4th edition rules are like a new game. Also, I don't think it's a very good multiplayer game because of the fixed roles (CP and AP sides are static, the play is just divided for the different fronts). Also as some have commented, there are a lot of counters on a small amount of terrain (but nothing worse than you've seen before I'm sure and also this is probably for effect - you are supposed to see yourself bleeding), a rather plain map, very plain counters... I've played and enjoyed games that were worse for components though.
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4. Board Game: Gettysburg (1977 Edition) [Average Rating:5.61 Overall Rank:8287]
Michael @mgouker
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By Mike Uhl who created the classics Kingmaker and Wizards Quest.

1977, Avalon Hill

The subject is Gettysburg.

You get 3 games: There is a basic game of very low complexity, an intermediate game that introduces common wargame rules such as terrain, and an advanced game that has a complete Gettysburg OOB and takes (by all accounts - I have NOT played the advanced game) months to play. I have played the basic game - very similar to the original AH Gettysburg - and it is a good introductory game. The intermediate game is the best of the three and I can only play the advanced game if I become a lich.

Previously owned.
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5. Board Game: Dragon Masters [Average Rating:5.70 Overall Rank:8083]
Michael @mgouker
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By Ian Livingstone
GW, 1991 (Games Workshop)

Now this is a good intro wargame for young gamers. The combat system is simple (winner loses combat factors equal to the loser's forces), so it's easy to play. There are really only two choices in battle (attack villages with your dragon or use your armies to do a ground attack). The bits are nice enough and there are plenty to satisfy the hungriest bit fetishist.
 
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6. Board Game: Blood on the Snow: The Battle of Suomussalmi [Average Rating:5.85 Overall Rank:8184]
Michael @mgouker
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1995, Avalance Press
By Michael Bennighof

Winter War game covering the winter of 1939-1940 when Finland staved off the Soviet war machine. This is a very popular topic (Red Winter, Winter War, Molotov's War, et cetera) and it's hard to get right. The Finns were outnumbered and tremendously outgunned, yet their resistance is legendary. Weather was a big factor in the war and this game determines the weather situation every turn. Moreover there are rules for attrition over frozen lakes and other wintry minutia.

There are complaints about the map:



I have to agree. Yikes!

Here is a review by Mark Mokszycki:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/107346

Thanks Mark!

This is unowned and unplayed.
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7. Board Game: Winter Fury: The Battle of Tolvajärvi 1939 [Average Rating:5.89 Overall Rank:8339]
Michael @mgouker
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2001, By Avalanche Press
Michael Bennighof

Winter Fury is part 2 of the Russian-Finnish Winter War that also includes Blood on the Snow (also on this list). The map at least has improved and actually looks quite nice:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/159058

On the other hand Winter Fury has huge production errors and errata. Here is a review from www.grognard.com that describes the frustration of gamers upon receiving this game:

http://www.grognard.com/reviews1/winfury.txt

I do not own and haven't played this one. Avalanche Press can sure make some beautiful games (like Imperium, 3rd Millenium - wow!), but sometimes the execution just isn't there. I think the only one I actually own is Panzer Grenadier and - of course we do not use the rules it was shipped with (not even close).
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8. Board Game: The Battle for North Africa [Average Rating:5.59 Overall Rank:8461]
Michael @mgouker
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By Richard Berg
1996, by GMT Games
Part of the Gameplayers Series that includes 2 Napoleonic Battles.

Unowned, but played

This one really gets hammered here, but at least my point of view is that it is a very decent game. It had production issues with the map (missing a label for Tobruk, but who doesn't know that it is Tobruk?) and was missing 4 activation counters (you can use any of the other thousands of counters you have in their place - yes, a hassle, but not fatal). On the other hand, in my opinion, the counter art is just mediocre, which for GMT Games is unusual.

As for the game, I really can't see why it is so low regarded. I like the system of buying activations (nicely represents tight supplies) and drawing them in random order. Also the fact that one of your (or your opponent's) dearly bought AMs might not make it into play is also something to worry about (rejoice about). Supply is a hassle which I guess it should be. Units need to keep close to their headquarters or be picked off. Add to that the random events that can turn up and no 2 plays are the same.

I would rate this one a 5 or 6 (though to be fair I'd have to play it a little more to rate it). I wouldn't really seek it out actively, but if it showed up I'd try it again.

thumbsup

Graduated! No longer in bottom 100.

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9. Board Game: 1914 [Average Rating:5.62 Overall Rank:8614]
Michael @mgouker
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1968 (Avalon Hill)

Here is a game of unassailable import and a designer in a class of his own!

This was designed by Jim Dunnigan. He designed over 100 games including such classics as Battle for Germany, Fulda Gap, The Next War, Empires of the Middle Ages, Panzerblitz, Jutland, and many more. He is famous for designing for effect. Though there are detractors (name me one opinion that all grognards share!), he is enormously respected among both players and designers. The James F. Dunnigan Design Elegance Award is given every year at the World Boardgaming Championship. The list of award recipients reads like a wargame designer hall of fame. If you are interested in more, visit http://www.strategypage.com/ where he is editor-in-chief.

I played in 1975 when I was 14. I was very ill at the time and welcomed having something to do. I enjoyed the game quite a lot, though I think I actually only played it once and the other player kept wanting to quit. He had thought it a bright idea to avoid Belgium (to avoid taking a VP loss) and at first I protested, but then I let him do it anyway. By the end of the game he eventually had to attack Belgium anyway... ;-) The game is hard to describe, but let us say that "design for effect" and WW1 means GRUELING. Units are reduced (3 or 4 steps I believe) before being tossed.

As for components... tons of counters which I put in empty jars of aspirin (I was taking 4 every 4 hours - LOL) and a BEAUTIFUL map.

I've read some pretty negative things about the game and admittedly we never really finished the one game we played (aside from that game I only pushed the counters around) so I can't say that I disagree with its placement here, but was there another game that had step losses before this? I really don't know. Up until that point I had only played wargames like Blitzkrieg and Midway. All the games seem to have come out about the same time as Panzerblitz though they had been around for years. I only really became "contemporary" (as in looking forward to the next game) with Squad Leader.

I haven't owned this game in almost 30 years... lost it in college when I was forced to exit an apartment (quickly).
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10. Board Game: StarGate [Average Rating:5.59 Overall Rank:8613]
Michael @mgouker
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Pembroke Pines
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1979 (SPI)

By John H Butterfield, co-designer of Ambush! Here is his website:

http://www.johnbutterfield.com/

I haven't played this, but I must admit that after reading this review, by Gideon Marcus, I am very tempted:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/287375

It looks interesting. I'm a sucker for space-themed games.
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11. Board Game: War of the States: Chickamauga & Chattanooga [Average Rating:5.50 Overall Rank:8895]
Michael @mgouker
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By Brian L. Knipple & Dave Powell

Unplayed and unowned.

Another Avalanche Press game (2003). From the images, it really seems that the map graphics could be weighing this one down.
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12. Board Game: Rescue from the Hive [Average Rating:5.60 Overall Rank:8545]
Michael @mgouker
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Pembroke Pines
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1981 (Encore/SPI)

Designed by Nick Karp. Not as familiar as James Dunnigan? Do you know a game by Victory Games called Vietnam? That's also designed by Nick Karp.

This game is also known as "W Imieniu Ziemi".

I haven't played this one. It looks like a futuristic command raid game. Anyone wish to share an experience?

Unplayed & unowned.
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13. Board Game: The Fall of Rome [Average Rating:5.61 Overall Rank:8818]
Michael @mgouker
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Pembroke Pines
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By John Young, 1973 (Decision Games/SPI)

This one apparently has rulebook issues as well. Gideon Marcus rewrote the rules and uploaded them to BGG:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/44512

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14. Board Game: Warlords: China in Disarray, 1916-1950 [Average Rating:5.60 Overall Rank:8856]
Michael @mgouker
United States
Pembroke Pines
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By Dave O'Connor and Steve Barnes of Panther Games (1986). This one covers the period between WW1 and 1950. Each player is a faction attempting to control the destiny of China.

Here is a review:

http://grognard.com/reviews/warlords.txt

This game certainly has an interesting setting and I'd be tempted to play it, because it has multiplayer diplomatic aspects. Unfortunately, it seems to have issues with balancing smaller sides (see review). I still might play it one day if I see it around.

I don't own it.
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15. Board Game: Elric [Average Rating:5.56 Overall Rank:8869]
Michael @mgouker
United States
Pembroke Pines
Florida
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1978 by Avalon Hill, Chaosium, and Hobby Japan
Designed by Charlie Krank & Greg Stafford

Multiplayer game set in Michael Moorcock's world features the great albino anti-hero Elric of Melniboné, wielder of the great sword Stormbringer. This game is a mixture of RPG and war game where the armies are led by characters who may cast magic spells.

Here is a list of variants:

http://www.grognard.com/variants/elric.txt

Unowned. I played once, a long long time ago. Looking at the pictures of the game I can see why it is not liked. The graphics are abominable. From other comments there are apparently rules issues as well.

 
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16. Board Game: U-Boat [Average Rating:5.65 Overall Rank:8794]
Michael @mgouker
United States
Pembroke Pines
Florida
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By Charles S Roberts, AH, 1959 (50 years ago!)

One of the oldest Avalon Hill games. It's a game between one destroyer and a u-boat, where each tries to sink the other. The u-boat, much slower, can also win by evading the destroyer and sailing off the board.

It is not very beautiful, but it is a nice simple game with some interesting play. As the destroyer player, you need to get close to the sub (which can be at 4 different depth levels but it can only shoot you from the surface or -100 ft) and drop charges. On the surface the sub moves 2 spaces per turn, while submerged it moves 1. The destroyer moves at 4. This probably doesn't sound very exciting and in all honesty it's not a great simulation, but it can be fun nevertheless. I played this when I was young and it's a lot better than Battleship!
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17. Board Game: Cerberus: The Proxima Centauri Campaign [Average Rating:5.81 Overall Rank:8979]
Michael @mgouker
United States
Pembroke Pines
Florida
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Designed by Stephen V Cole, who designed about 10 games, including 7 of a series called Federation and Empire. Here is the website of his game company: http://www.starfleetgames.com/

I've never played Cerberus. I do not own it (& have never owned it).

The theme of this game is an invasion of a planet. Here is a raving review by Kurt Over (Thanks, Kurt!):

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/222715

It sounds like fun to me. I think one reason that this game settled down to this level because of the ugly graphics. See the images.

1979 (Task Force Games)

thumbsup

Graduated! No longer in bottom 100.

thumbsup
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18. Board Game: Bloodtree Rebellion [Average Rating:5.59 Overall Rank:9021]
Michael @mgouker
United States
Pembroke Pines
Florida
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A Game Designers Workshop game from 1979, about the same time I was playing Traveler. Actually, I had forgotten about this game until I made this list. Is it really that bad?

Lynn Willis, 1979, GDW. Willis co-designed Arkham Horror.



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19. Board Game: Zama: Triumph of the Roman Way of War [Average Rating:5.49 Overall Rank:8930]
Michael @mgouker
United States
Pembroke Pines
Florida
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By Larry Baggett and Wayland Grace, 1992, Decision Games

Part of the Battles of the Ancient World series. This is an ancients tactical system that emphasizes playability over realism. The main criticism of Zama is that the OOB is not accurate, the battle is boring (hard to believe), and the map is too plain.

This includes 5 games:

Game 1: 4 Battles of the Ancient World

* Arbela - Alexander vs. Darius
* Cannae - Roman Consul Varro vs. Hannibal
* Pharsalus - Julius Caesar vs. Pompey
* Teutoburger Wald - Roman Govenor Varus vs. Germanic Tribes

Game 2: Battles of the Ancient World, Vol 2

* Issus, November 333 B.C.
* Metaurus, 207 B.C. 2nd Punic War
* Carrhae, 53 B.C. Roman vs Parthians
* Idivisto, 15 A.D. Romans at Teutoberger Wald

It's Idistaviso (meadow of Idista, a Germanic godess).
And it's not at the Teutoburger Wald (not even in the neath) but at the Süntel Mountains.
Thanks Knut.


Game 3: Battles of the Ancient World, Vol 3

* Megiddo 1447 BC
* Qadesh 1294 BC
* Lake Trasimene 217 BC
* Munda 45 BC
* Boudicca 61 AD
* Adrianople 378 AD


Game 4: Zama (S&T 153)

Game 5: Marathon & Granicus (S&T 214)

I played Issus and Idivisto before, but not Zama. I think the system works quite well and can be learned very quickly. There are a number of different ancients systems out there, including the highly successful GBOH, C&C: Ancients, & of course Ancients/Ancients Battle Deluxe. There are criticism of all of these systems, but each seems to fill a niche. The niche for Battles of the Ancient World is for fast playing battles with a simple system that is pure hex & counter (no cards to constrain play). I think this is actually a pretty small niche of a niche of a niche and that's one reason these games are not more highly-rated.
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20. Board Game: 1863 [Average Rating:5.49 Overall Rank:9130]
Michael @mgouker
United States
Pembroke Pines
Florida
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A Richard Berg / Rob Markham Civil War game that covers 4 battles of 1863, all on the eastern side of the war. One of the battles is Gettysburg. This is one I don't own, haven't played, and I don't know much about it.

1991, GMT Games

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21. Board Game: Clontarf [Average Rating:5.51 Overall Rank:9105]
Michael @mgouker
United States
Pembroke Pines
Florida
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By Adrian McGrath, Decision Games, 1993

Never played and never owned. A full range of opinions on the Geek despite only about 30 votes. Supposedly a simple game.

Battle of Clontarf was between the Irish forces of Brian Boru in 1014 against Viking mercenaries and another Irish faction. Brian Boru was killed although his forces were victorious.
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22. Board Game: Black Hole [Average Rating:5.47 Overall Rank:9119]
Michael @mgouker
United States
Pembroke Pines
Florida
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By Robert Taylor, 1978 (Metagaming)

One of Metagaming's Microgame Series:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/wiki/page/Metagaming_Microgames...

They were really inexpensive and some (like Ogre, http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/5206) were really quite good. Some others are farther down on this list.

Played once - maybe even twice. I've never owned it. I was roped into it the first time and taught wrong (I've never actually read the rules) so the second game I did even worse. Therefore, I'm not really qualified to say whether it is good or bad. My experiences weren't good ones though and I kept trying to understand how what we were playing (in 2 dimensions) had to do with a black hole. Sort of a Flatlander approach.


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23. Board Game: 1942 [Average Rating:5.33 Overall Rank:9120]
Michael @mgouker
United States
Pembroke Pines
Florida
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By Marc Miller. GDW (1978)

Unowned, unplayed, though I did once watch a game and it didn't seem bad.

Here is a review:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/131706
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24. Board Game: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Battlesystem Skirmishes [Average Rating:5.42 Overall Rank:9181]
Michael @mgouker
United States
Pembroke Pines
Florida
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These are TSR miniature rules for AD&D 2nd Edition by Bruce Nesmith (1991).
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25. Board Game: D-Day (first edition) [Average Rating:5.53 Overall Rank:9231]
Michael @mgouker
United States
Pembroke Pines
Florida
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By Charles S Roberts, 1961

This is the first wargame to use hexes? I think so.

I haven't played this since around 1975, prior to the 77 revision, but I have played many Normandy-Rhein games in the meantime (The Mighty Endeavor - recommended! - was the last one) and it is an inevitable tendency for me to compare the gaming experiences. D-Day is a very simple game, fairly short (over in a few hours), and definitely had balance issues. It was a lot of fun though & the simplicity would seem earth-shattering today. I think it is here because it has been superseded by so many great games. That's to its credit, because it was a true pioneer.

Unowned and played.
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