The deadline for submitting your Charles S Roberts Awards 2020 ballot is fast approaching (June 15, 2020) so don’t hesitate. This article completes my voting for the Charles S Robert Awards 2020. In the last article we went through the majority of the big boardgame-based awards. This time around, it’s a mix of board, computer, and hobby-related categories. So, without further ado…let’s dive in!
Best Pre-20th Century Era Computer Wargame
I just don’t have a sense of everything that came out and when it was released. I think that Fields of Glory: Empires from Matrix Games came out in 2019 though and the beauty of this title is that it mates the amazing tactical Fields of Glory II system with a campaign/world-conquest overland game. It has some characteristics that remind me of Civilization, but the focus on historical combat is excellent.
Players who own both Empires of Fields of Glory II can export their battles from Empires and import it into Fields and play the battles on a tactical map. It reminded me, in some ways, of the old American Civil War title from Empire called “The Civil War.” The idea is a lot cooler than what it is in practice and the reality is that most battles are still worth just having the AI handle in Empires. That said, when a battle really matters to your fledgling empire…throw it into the tactical engine and try your hand at it!
Best Modern Era Computer Wargame
There are actually two games here that I think deserve attention and recognition. The first is Armored Brigade which made the jump from indie darling to Matrix Games released title and then to Steam from 2019. It’s an excellent game gives you tactical control of hypothetical World War III forces in Europe. You may remember from Part 1 of this article series that WWIII is really having a day in the sun right now…
The game is brilliantly executed and reminds me in many ways of the old TacOps 4 released by Battlefront games “back in the day.” The DLC add new nations and map packs, but the heart of the game is a solid C3i system that rewards players who use solid tactical planning and understand how to keep their units in support of one another. Treat the game like a top-down 2D real time strategy game and you can start writing virtual letters to the virtual families of your virtual soldiers while sipping on a virtual tab back to the HQ…
The winner, obviously, had to be 2019’s re-release of Command Modern Air Naval Operations which has been rebranded as Command Modern Operations. This is not merely an upgrade to the first game. Instead the new release brings much more finesse and incorporates many of the professional version features, including TacView integration to the consumer version.
The new finesse, as I’ve dubbed it, includes better modelling of ground troops, better strike package behavior, better air-to-air combat AI, awareness of fuel and terrain that weren’t exactly lacking in the original title, but were far less sophisticated than they are this time around. Further, the interface, performance, and scope of what players can do with the already robust mission editor makes this a software package and game for anyone with even a passing interest in combined air and naval operations. The new version will also give you a better taste for littoral operations. Truly one of the best games of all time has been somehow improved upon in spades. Wow.
Best Science-Fiction or Fantasy Computer Wargame
I have no clue on this one. I’ll bet there were some good ones…but it’s just not a thing I follow.
Best Computer Wargame Expansion or Update
The best computer wargame expansion from 2019, for me, has to be Command: Desert Storm. Ever wanted a single package that puts you in the shoes of having to carry out one of the most complex multi-week coordinated air and naval campaigns in modern history? This is it. Released on March 28, 2019, it’s one of the best expansions for Command: Modern Air Naval Operations / Command Modern Operations ever released.
The sheer number of options can be daunting, so this one isn’t for the faint of heart. That said, for the enthusiast who wants to test themselves to see if they can meet or exceed the performance of the coalition then this is it. This is the largest post D-Day buildup of logistics assembled and the game will place the full weight of that on your shoulders. Amazing game.
Best Computer Game Graphics
Best Solitaire/Cooperative Board Wargame
Skies Above the Reich is my pick here hands down.
I loved that this game took a proven topic and managed to introduce an almost entirely new look at it. Skies Above the Reich will punish you, it will reward you, and mostly it will frustrate the hell out of you as you try to keep up with the fabled “diamond” formations that come later in the way.
What amazed me most with this game are the little things that you need to keep track of like your altitude. Planes aren’t flying on the level and you get a sense of the momentum necessary to make multiple passes at a bomber formation. Furthermore, you get the sense of how fragile everything in the sky actually was, especially when multiple bomber with 6 gun positions are painting your attack vector with so much lead you’re not sure how you’ll even make it through the pass.
Nail-biting solo play that hasn’t been so well done in such a long time.
Best Magazine Board Wargame
Mark Herman’s Gettysburg is the game that does it for me here. Gettysburg 125h Anniversary was the game that got me into this hobby back in 1988. As such, it’s held a special place in my heart and across MANY shelves of my gaming collection being by far my number one most purchased battle.
Does Herman’s game live up to the many other options despite being a very simplistic game at its heart? Yes.
What Mark Herman has managed to do in a game that can be enjoyed by my 11 year old and I’m sure even younger kids, is open up the world of wargaming to them. For more studied hands, Herman’s unique approach gives you a good sense of the friction of armies marching around southern Pennsylvania in July 1863.
In particular, I like how turns can be somewhat variable in terms of what each side can accomplish. There’s a practices sleight of hand you must learn to sequence moves in order to maneuver the enemy army where you want them to go in order to attack and defend at optimal odds. Furthermore, I took this game with my son and I when we visited Gettysburg in October and it was what we played after a long day on the battlefield and having a fantastic meal to cap it off at Dobbin House. It was a memory-filled weekend as I got to fulfill my dream of visiting Gettysburg and watching history come alive for my son as we walked the battlefield and then discussed over a game of Mark Herman’s Gettysburg. Truly awesome!
Best Amateur / Print-and-Play Board Wargame (Not available for commercial sale and not announced for publication or crowdfunding)
I have no clue. Share your thoughts in the comments!
Best Postcard/Small format Board Wargame (Up to 100 playing pieces and map not to exceed 6 1/8″ (15.56cm) x 11 1/2″ (29.21cm) )
I have no clue. Share your thoughts in the comments!
Best Expansion or Supplement for an Existing Board Wargame
I’m torn on how to approach this one, but I’m going to go with my heart here and say Red Factories for ASL. This has been a long time in the making and allows players to see a bit more of the classic Red Barricades play area in the Historical ASL coverage of Stalingrad.
In many ways, Historical ASL is where the game system shines. The double-edged sword is that it’s also the most time consuming and rules-intensive way of playing the game. That said, where risk meets reward, the upside for Red Factories is simply too large to be ignored. Couple that with the fact that this ties in with the HASL expansion Valor of the Guards and you can probably spend the rest of your life just playing ASL in Stalingrad if you wanted to do so.
Best Board Wargame Playing Components
World at War ’85 Storming the Gap is THE gold standard for components from 2019. The neoprene play mat, the gorgeous maps, the fantastic bright and crisp counters, the solid card stock cards, the multiple rulebooks in thick card stock, game boxes that could withstand an actual World War III. There’s just no competition in this category. World at War ’85 has come to epitomize what Lock ‘N Load Publishing does when they put their might behind a wargame release. Truly special stuff here.
Best Board Wargame Map Graphics
The Last Hundred Yards is going to get my pick here. I like the mash-up of the tactical map showing terrain heights with drawn lines like a surveyors map and the rich colors of an almost 3D map common to most tactical WW2 games these days.
There’s something pleasing to the eye and very functional about these map graphics that gets my nod. I suspect this may be one of the more controversial picks between my two articles, but I must stick to my guns here and say I love it.
Best Board Wargame Rules
Not sure I have one that I would call “best.” They’re all about the same to be fair.
Best Original Box Cover Art
I hated it at first, but now…I just like the new art direction even if I don’t find it super attractive… Nevsky is going to get my pick.
It stands out. I can tell you what my pick will be for next year already and it’s All Bridges Burning. I love the mid-century aesthetic that comes across in that too. I want to see variety. A runner up in this would be Front Toward Enemy with an all white background and a claymore mine with the iconic text written on it.
Best Professional Wargame Magazine
c3i. Enough said. Clearly, I’m a GMT Games fan…I make no bones about that. GMT Games decorate all of my upstairs book cases that we had built-in at the house. I have GMT posters on my walls in my game room. I just haven’t made it out to Weekend at the Warehouse in CA yet to pay my respects to the company that’s given me so much enjoyment over the years!
The new direction with Roger taking the show into independent territory is only a plus. Campaigns of 1777, a Strategy & Tactics games, was covered with a spectacular article by Trevor Bender (more on that later) and coverage of Hollandspiele titles even make this more than JUST an GMT mouthpiece.
Best Amateur Game Magazine
Best Historical or Scenario Article (Provide Link to Article or Podcast)
See above and Trevor Bender’s historical article in c3i that accompanies Campaigns of 1777.
Best Game Review or Analysis (Provide link to Article or Podcast)
Bruce Geryk’s The truly eternal Empire of the Sun…is a wargame may be one of the best pieces on a wargame ever written. His analysis and reflection on Empire of the Sun is without equal and deserves to be read by everyone in the hobby…if I were teaching a Wargaming master-class this article might be one of the amuse bouche that I serve at the start of the semester to get students excited for what they’re about to encounter.
Best Board Wargame of the Year
I have to go with Nevsky.
It’s the most original in both topic, approach, and execution. It has gorgeous components, tells a compelling tale about levies and the Teutonic crusades. It also kicks off what could prove to be one of the best new series that GMT Games has in its already packed stables of fantastic game series.
James F. Dunnigan Design Elegance Award (person or game)
I’d be stupid not to pick The Last Hundred Yards here. As I wrote in part 1 of this article series…the approach that Mike Denson takes is brilliant. He’s one of a handful of designers to crack the tactical World War II code in my opinion and stands alongside Ben Hull (Fields of Fire), Uwe Eickert (Conflict of Heroes) and Chad Jenson (Combat Commander) in a small pantheon of amazing tactical WWII systems. Just wow.
Clausewitz Award HALL OF FAME (person)
When we think about our lives and what they mean when we’re gone, we hope that we’ve left some kind of legacy. It might be a child. A community project. Our impact on our business, family, or local institutions. It may even be a legacy of kindness that others aspire to. In our hobby, one of the highest honors and legacies that can be left behind is that of fellowship around the game table. Chad Jensen’s games not only rejuvenated the tactical World War II gaming topic with Combat Commander, but he and Kai approached gaming with a unique eye that gave us classics like Dominant Species, Fighting Formations, and Urban Sprawl. Chad and Kai created what will likely forever remain the best written and most digestible wargame rulebook for Combat Commander and Chad’s legacy can be heard every time cards are drawn only to find a sniper…an event…or some other calamity has befallen cardboard soldiers and the shouts of joyful players jumps from a game table. Without question, Chad Jensen belongs among the immortals in the Clausewitz Hall of Fame.