Most of the traditional wargames come in three types: counters, miniatures or blocks. The latter is kind of the middle ground between two extremes: counters which are the cheapest, simplest and easiest to get markers and miniatures which usually tends to be most ornamented ones, beautifully painted but also the most expensive and time consuming.
Each block usually represents some specific unit of different size, varying from game to game – brigade, division, cohort, alae, etc. Sometimes unit are composed of one wooden piece, sometime a few. There are games with full information, but also ones in which blocks stand on the edges with info visible only to the owner. There are too cases where the edge on which the block is placed also indicates it strength.
I love blocks I will not deny it. They are so nice to hold, so aesthetic. On the other hand they allow for clear differentiation of units, good visibility and ease of play. For me they are perfect solution between counters and miniatures. Thus this will be probably not a surprising discovery that many of my favorite games use that type of components – and I would like to share with you some of the titles. And what are yours?
Other articles in the series:
When I started to prepare the list, Sekigahara was immediately a no-brainier for me. This is a quintessence of a block game – first of all, simply beautiful and aesthetic. Just look at the board, the composition of black and yellow/gold colors – this looks gorgeous. Secondly, the blocks feel – I am not Japanese history expert – so fitting for the theme and period. Just moving them feels simply right!
And thirdly, this is so good game – it has all you can yearn for: a great and engrossing theme, balanced but asymmetric set-up & game-play. Great replayability value and great, non-dice mechanics for battle resolution, involving morale checks of the belligerents. With each session I am more and more fascinated with this title and can never get tired of it.
But I should of course say couple of words about game itself. The story told here is of the battle of Sekigahara, fought in 1600 at a crossroads in Japan, which unified that nation under the Tokugawa family for more than 250 years. The game allows you to re-contest that war as Ishida Mitsunari, defender of a child heir, or Tokugawa Ieyasu, Japan’s most powerful daimyo (feudal lord).
The campaign is pretty brief, lasts only 7 weeks, during which each side improvise an army and a strategy with what forces their allies could muster. Each leader harbored deep doubts as to the loyalty of his units – for good reason – greatly depicted in games mechanics.
So yes, this is definitely one of my top three in the category of block games. Highly recommended!
More about game:
Columbia Games creates really great and quality block games for years. I had some consideration which title to present here but very quickly my passion for Antique and especially Rome prevailed. Well, you know me 🙂
Julius Caesar is a game driven by cards, but much fewer types than in C&C Ancients. Map shows whole Mediterranean area and the historical topic is very attractive – Civil War between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great. There are really interesting battle mechanics there – with faster units – like leaders and archers (designed A or B) – and much slower but more powerful – like legions or navy (C and D). That actually drives the order in battle which is additionally influenced by the fact who is attacker and who defender.
On the other hand, Julius Caesar – similarly to Sekigahara but unlike C&C Ancients – brings to players very high uncertainty in the battle – do not confuse with randomness. With the strength of units hidden till the last moment before clash, one can be really surprised by what the opponent prepared for you.
Julius Caesar also force the players to think more strategically but on the other hand has enough easy rules for everybody to quickly grasp them and enjoy the game almost immediately. One of the often neglected factors is Navy – make sure you use it well, as that allows for fastest troops transport.
Last but not least, this is very attractive graphically game – the blocks are large, the stickers well done and detailed. The only thing which might be improved is thin map – but I get used to it after many plays.
More about game:
The block games ranking written by The Boardgames Chronicle without Commands & Colors Ancients? That would be a blasphemy! Of course it is in my top three block games! Still, I would like to be more precise this time and narrow my choice – in the end CCA is a base game plus 6 expansions. Let me point to one specific box – Expansion Pack #2 – Rome vs the Barbarians.
In this second expansion we will find historical battles that focus on Rome and:
- the early – Celtic War of 225-222 BC – Gallic invasions
- the late – Cimbrian War of 113-101 BC – Gallic invasions; here we will get to know some of greatest Romans ever – Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla
- the Servile Wars – so Spartacus in action!
- the Roman conquest of Gaul – here comes the Julius Caesar!
- and the Teutoburger Wald debacle
This is truly action-packed set of scenarios, very well fitting for the C&C system – with cards driving the moves as well as fog of war and dice quickly resolving the battles. The essence of those engagements was always a decisive clash in form of close combat by two large infantry masses – with occasional use of cavalry. The system really shines in such set-up and is pleasure to play.
There is one more thing – the modernized Roman army (red blocks) and the various Barbarians (green blocks) looks simply fantastic on the battlefield. While previous installments were ok – I mean both Republican Rome (gray) vs Carthage (brown) or Grecee (blue) vs Persians (tan) – here we have real feast for eyes. It is not only great gaming experience but also aesthetic experience. Again, Highly recommended!
More about game:
I could not restrain myself and avoid mentioning one of the most thematic block-based creations – Fields of Despair. I unfortunately was late to the first edition and now endlessly wait for the reprint, being one of ~350 players who supported game on GMT P500.
And there is really something to be waiting for. Fields of Despair: France 1914-1918 is a 2-player hex-based strategic level block war game set on the Western Front of the First World War. Players take control of the Allies or Central Powers fighting the war on land, at sea, and in the air all the while making tough economic and technological decisions at home.
Fields of Despair has a unique block system designed to maintain the fog of war throughout the entire game. In most games, block combat values range from one to four. In Fields of Despair the range is zero to twenty. The range in values makes Fields of Despair a very deceptive game. Players can build up a large force with a single block instead of giving away their strategy with a stack of blocks.
I hope for this to be reprinted soon! Please help to make it happen!
I am really glad that more and more companies use the blocks for wargames. It is still a niche in comparison to counters and minis, but that niche is a very fitting for my taste. I hope that with above list I inspired at least some of you to try those fantastic titles.
And what are your favorite block games? Please let me know in comments!