Top 5ish: History board games

By Juliana Adelman and Martin Fanning

First, I (Juliana) should confess that I have never played any of the games I am going to discuss.  Instead, I have garnered all the information below from Martin and a great website called Board Game Geek.  I think relatively few girls are drawn into the world of war games and pretty much all historical board games are war games of one kind or another.  This weekend we had some friends over for the night and we pulled out one of my favorite board games (Ricochet Robots, it’s kind of a math puzzle game, yes I am a nerd).  The problem with Ricochet Robots is that it’s really hard and you have to think silently for each round.  This means it’s not a great party game.  But it did remind us that playing board games is good fun and it got me thinking about history board games.  So, after having picked Martin’s brain for childhood memories I came up with this brief list that you may or may not have played.  I’d be really interested if anyone knows of any other Irish-history related board games than the one (Army of Ireland) I have listed below.  If there’s no 1916/1798 board game I plan to make one and retire on the proceeds…In the meantime I am bidding on ebay for some of the following and I have Christmas break all planned out!

1. Escape from Colditz.  This game, along with Buccaneer, was remembered most enthusiastically by Martin.  The game is based around the WWII POW camp of Colditz in Germany.  There are five nationalities of prisoners (British, American, Polish, Dutch, French) and of course the German guards.  The prisoners attempt to escape, the guards to keep them in.  This actually looks like great fun (despite the grim subject matter) and is recommended for larger numbers of players (eg 4 to 6).

2. Buccaneer.  I’m only at number two and already I am stretching the definition of ‘history’.  This game is about pirates.  There are loads of different versions of it, but the idea is basically the same: get a horde of treasure the quickest.  You can achieve this by gathering treasure from a desert island or through the more historically accurate route of robbing other ships.  This is probably a game for younger players or to be combined with drink.

3. Rommel in the Desert.  For some reason this game really appeals to me.  It’s a two-player kind of strategy game set in North Africa during WWII.  From what Martin could remember, it has a lot to do with constructing and disrupting supply lines (which sounds rather historically appropriate).  The game takes nearly three hours to play so you’re in for the night.

4. Risk.  Ok, so this might not really be a history game.  You could argue that it’s pretty much still going on.  The original game was, according to Wikipedia, released in France as ‘Le Conquete du Monde’.  Most of my male friends in high school were obsessed with this game and I have to admit it really did not appeal.  As our friend remarked the other night, how much fun is a battle game where all you do is roll dice to determine outcomes?  Nonetheless, it remains popular and Martin was reminded to search his parents attic in hopes that his copy was still hanging around…

5. Army of Ireland.  Neither Martin nor I has ever played this game.  In fact, we had never heard of it until I embarked upon this random post.  The Arm Chair General assures us that it’s a good game.  It is based on the Fenian invasion of Canada in 1866 which culminated in the Battle of Ridgeway.  The game uses historically accurate premises about the preparation of each side: the Canadians were surprised, but could call on reinforcements; the Fenians have more numbers at the start but no reinforcements.

As you will have noticed, most of the games are WWII-focused.  There are plenty of WWI and a lot of American Civil War games as well, but WWII does tend to dominate.  Some intriguing games of other time periods that I came across include Unhappy King Charles! based on the English Civil War, Empires in Arms (Napoleonic Wars), and Here I Stand: Wars of the Reformation (16th C Europe).  Please comment with other suggestions!

10 Responses to “Top 5ish: History board games”

  1. Peter Martin Says:

    You forgot Diplomacy which is much better than Risk, although it may end your friendships. It is based on pre-1914 Europe and as their are no dice you must form alliances to succeed.

    Avalon Hill’s 3rd Reich was a massive, grand strategic level wargame of WWII in Europe which included economics, alliances and strategy. This is LONG – 8 hours or more for the full campaign.

    Steve Jackson games came up with a neat card/board game called Credo that was based on the Council of Nicea. You had to accumulate followers and patrons to have your version of the creed adopted.

    • puesoccurrences Says:

      I can attest to the friendship-ending potential of Diplomacy…. only played it once and, I must admit, HATED it, not least because it demanded a whole lot of work for something that was supposed to be fun!


  2. Peter Martin Says:

    Ack, ‘there are no dice’ sorry

  3. Juliana Says:

    Great suggestions Peter! And yes, Diplomacy sounds much more interesting than Risk. Although I do recall that there were alliances in Risk. That seemed to be the source of much of the interest in high school as cafeteria seating was determined by whether France and Russia were speaking…

    3rd Reich sounds interesting if perhaps a bit complicated. And Credo sounds plain weird!


  4. Juliana Says:

    OK, I’m getting obsessed now. Check this one out:

    Wallenstein, based on the Thirty Years War.

  5. David Toms Says:

    A bit obscurantist to have a board game based on the Fenian invasion of Canada! Maybe a piece on the history of daft board-games be they historically themed or not would be great!

  6. Gerald D. Swick Says:

    Hi, Juliana. I’m the senior editor at, and I’m glad you linked from our Army of Ireland review or I likely would never have discovered your blog. Wargames are by nature more complex than most people are used to (“Army of Ireland” is pretty easy to learn for a wargame, though).

    Surprisingly few games have ever dealt with Irish history, but one I’ve played many times is “Clontarf,” (Boru vs. the Vikings) that appeared in Strategy & Tactics magazine #162. It is also pretty easy to learn by wargame standards, and I think you can still order that issue of the magazine with the game from Decision Games. “Ironsides,” an out-of-print game World Wide Wargames published in the 1990s includes the English Civil War campaign in Ireland, but I’ve not played it so I don’t know what it is like. Personally, I’d love to find a game on the events of 1916 or the Battle of the Boyne; let me know if you ever find one.

    If I may suggest a couple of non-Irish games for your list, “Junta” is essentially a humorous “Diplomacy” in which players try to become or remain El Presidente in a banana republic. “Trailer Park Wars” is one of those rare games that succeeds at being funny but also has well-written rules and requires players to use strategy. (Build up your trailer park, sabotage those of your opponents, and collect the most pink flamingos to win.) Even the non-wargaming wives of my wargaming friends enjoy it. For the record, I have no connection to the publishers of any of these games; I’ve just been playing wargames for a long, long time.

    Finally, if you ever come across a short-story collection called “Dragons Over England,” published by West End Games to support their Torg roleplaying game back around 1990, I have a story in it called “Warriors of Destiny” that drew on Irish history and legends. You might enjoy it. The collection is out of print.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your Irish history site, and thanks again for the link to ACG.

    • Juliana Says:

      Dear Gerald,

      Thanks for checking us out and for all those suggestions! I hope to do a follow up soon, having trialled a few games. And yes, the Battle of Boyne would also be a great subject for a game. As far as I know, there is nothing that is presently in print, but if I find anything I’ll let you know,


  7. Halloween Thrills « Pue's Occurrences Says:

    […] Halloween fast approaching and in keeping with this week’s ‘Top 5′ theme, I thought I might share a few of my favourite thrillers in case you want to scare yourself […]

  8. Ecosausuawn Says:

    welcome everybody

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