The apex of the genre - the traditional hex-and-counter operational wargame
Peter Haslehurst
United Kingdom
Oxford
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I had a moment of illumination recently while playing Clash of Giants II - this is what cardboard and paper wargames do best.

I enjoy strategic wargames (like Paths of Glory or Europe Engulfed), and I've had mixed experiences with tactical wargames (ASLSK cool, Combat Commander not so cool). But for me this sort of thing is the apex of the genre: the traditional hex-and-counter operational wargame.

Thing is, looking at my collection, I have very few wargames at this scale. So I'm hoping people will add a few suggestions for outstanding operational wargames that I can look out for in the future.

So what are the criteria for an operational game? Well, if it has ranges, it's tactical. If it has an economic system (buying units or replacements) it's strategic. If you're managing a battlefield, it's tactical. If you're managing a war, it's strategic. Operational is all the good stuff in the middle - neither tactical nor strategic.
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1. Board Game: Clash of Giants II [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:2578]
Peter Haslehurst
United Kingdom
Oxford
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This is the one that got me thinking.

With a simple rule-set it very precisely captures the feel of WW1 mobile warfare - the constant worries about keeping in contact with friendly units on your left and right, the difficulties of co-ordinating large-scale movements, the slight superiority of defence over attack and the tendency for things to bog down. I like the combat system and the way that troop quality is separated out from raw manpower. And the chit-pull mechanic generates friction and anxiety aplenty.

In my opinion this is an absolutely classic operational-level wargame.
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2. Board Game: Von Manstein's Backhand Blow [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:3123]
Peter Haslehurst
United Kingdom
Oxford
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I'm very impressed with VMBB. I like the low counter density and the larger counters. And the rules are simple, clearly laid out, and easy to understand first time through. Even though they are split into Series Rules and VMBB-specific rules, this does not produce an exception-fest as the specific ruleset builds on rather than contradicts the series ruleset. I like the way the Schwerpunkt segments make you focus on accomplishing just one or perhaps two things each turn on the battlefield, and the C3i points which model the way the initiative ebbed away from the Soviets as the battle went on, and the tactical chits which introduce a lot of uncertainty into combat and discourage simple odds-optimization play.
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3. Board Game: Breakout: Normandy [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:843]
Peter Haslehurst
United Kingdom
Oxford
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There is much to love about this game. Unlike many wargames, elimination of units is fairly unusual - the real struggle is against exhaustion and disruption. A D1 is a good result against a powerful unit - it means it won't be troubling you again until the day after tomorrow. And you are constantly struggling against the friction of bad assault results and enemy bombardments which can quickly leave you with an army which is largely unable to move or fight for the rest of the day or perhaps even longer. A classic operational wargame, even if it uses areas not hexes.
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4. Board Game: Clash of Giants [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:3098]
Peter Haslehurst
United Kingdom
Oxford
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The game is beautifully produced, with large, good-looking counters and an attractive map. When I first played this it took me back to wargaming's golden age in the 70s, games that I cut my teeth on like Napoleon at Waterloo or Winter War with low counter densities, simple rules, and absorbing gameplay with loads of replay value. A wonderfully fun wargame, a nailbiting to-and-fro tussle right to the end.
 
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5. Board Game: A Victory Lost [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:847]
Peter Haslehurst
United Kingdom
Oxford
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I haven't played this one yet. But it seems to be set to become a modern classic, and it fits squarely into the operational wargame category.
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6. Board Game: Ardennes '44 [Average Rating:7.94 Overall Rank:1284]
Peter Haslehurst
United Kingdom
Oxford
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This has a high reputation, but is out of print and hard to get hold of these days. No-one seems to be selling on eBay - probably a good sign.
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7. Board Game: Roads to Leningrad [Average Rating:7.51 Overall Rank:2546]
Peter Haslehurst
United Kingdom
Oxford
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Another out-of-print game I would love to try out some time.
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8. Board Game: Panzergruppe Guderian [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:1593]
Bill Lawson
United States
Rutland
Vermont
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This is an old SPI classic that has spawned many other good games. It first appeared in S&T in the early-mid 70's.
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9. Board Game: Proud Monster: The Barbarossa Campaign [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:3827]
Bill Lawson
United States
Rutland
Vermont
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I think it is the popularity of operational wargames (divisional level for WW2 and WW1) that inspired the monster games.A way to take the operational scale to a stategic level(a blend).Not to mention all the time and table space.I own many of these.
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10. Board Game: Napoleon at Waterloo [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:3079]
Dan Edwards
United States
Shoreline
Washington
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While this violates one of your criteria, (the artillery can fire at a two hex range) this simple introductory SPI classic uses a system that was the basis for a whole host of operational level simulations of Napoleonic and American Civil War games.

It's also free to print and play, so what's not to love?
 
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11. Board Game: Stonewall in the Valley [Average Rating:7.59 Overall Rank:2278]
Tim Parker
United States
Richmond
Virginia
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The Great Campaigns of the American Civil War is a great series of operational games. The games focuses on the moving/fighting of divisions and corps. The only drawback is the cost of many games in the series. However, the one I chose here, SIV, along with Stonewall's Last Battle can be had readily and for a reasonable price (around $50 last time I checked). For Civil War operational, it doesn't get any better than this, IMO.
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12. Board Game: Tunisia [Average Rating:7.73 Overall Rank:1749]
Colin Hunter
New Zealand
Auckland
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This could be a place holder for any of the OCS series, but this is supposedly one of the better introductory games.

Anyway the entire series is great for operational level WWII. I think you can't really go past OCS if your really into operational level games.
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13. Board Game: Fire in the Sky: The Great Pacific War 1941-1945 [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:1617]
Kurt Over
United States
Philadelphia
Pennsylvania
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Operations at the theatre level - perhaps a bit larger than the poster wants, but with the fairly low counter count I think this fits the bill between a tactical and a strategic game.

- Kurt
 
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14. Board Game: Panzerkrieg [Average Rating:6.34 Overall Rank:4605]
ian morris
United Kingdom
Birmingham
West Mids
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You might like this one too, if you can find a copy.


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15. Board Game: Battle of the Bulge [Average Rating:6.01 Overall Rank:6195]
James Crosfield
United Kingdom
Gillingham
Dorset
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Quite admire this one. Very simple, 2 pages of rules with optional chrome. One of the first I got.
 
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16. Board Game: Battle for Germany [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:2030]
Ted Spencer
United States
Lake in the Hills
Illinois
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Three years have passed and this game hasn't been added? It may not be the apex of the apex, but it's a darn good game! Set up is time-consuming, but nothing's perfect.
 
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