Going Analog

Where video game industry veterans introduce great board games to video gamers

War games that aren't about warfare

Thanks, but no tanks.

Board games don’t do war justice, but then again, war is seldom very just. Battalions of tanks have rumbled their way across our tables in countless -- and typically European -- invasions, carting gung-ho soldiers eager to set foot in another battle of cards, miniatures, or dice. But there’s a lot more to war than just warfare. Though the subject matter can often be challenging, a small selection of designers have opted instead for the aspects of human conflict less well covered in our favorite past time. Putting us in the roles of political spymasters or desperate civilians, these are the war games that aren’t about warfare.

The Grizzled: Armistice Edition

War Games that aren't about warfare the grizzled armistice edition

Lay of the land

Growing up in early 1900s France, a collection of friends find themselves thrust into a conflict of dizzying scale and complexity. As the grand powers of the world turn their weapons and people against one another, all your band of companions-turned-comrades wants is to make it through the hardships ahead together. In a war that steals lives by the millions, the only way your grizzled crew will survive is by supporting one another. 

The real battle

As French soldiers in the opening stages of the Great War, players might reasonably assume Germans would be their primary adversary. Yet in an entire game of The Grizzled, you won’t see an enemy soldier once. Balancing a shared pool of cards representing dangers like gas attacks, severe weather, and emotional trauma, your real opponents are the incompetent commands from above. These additional, unexpected challenges pile pressure upon a group already stretched to the limit.

Missions will often feel impossible or unfair, but in the nine-game campaign of the Armistice Edition, each loss adds to a greater story of the oppressive situations faced. The setting is grim, but character art by French cartoonist Tignous -- sadly a victim of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting -- brings out the heart of this weary family of servicemen, reminding us just how important the support of our fellows can be.

A War of Whispers

A war of whispers war games that aren't about warfare

Lay of the land

Peace has ended. Five great nations have taken up swords, preparing their troops to wage a defining war that will shape this medieval land for centuries to come. Will the mighty Elephant stand tall above the prideful Lion? Perhaps the house of the Eagle will extend its reach over the ferocious Bear and stoic Horse. In A War of Whispers, you’ll play as none of them. While kings and queens vie for control of territories, you take on the role of secretive advisors, working to further their society’s hidden interests. Nations rise and fall, but you’ll be waiting in the shadows behind them all.

The real battle

At first glance, the circular map of A War of Whispers looks exactly like any other territory-control game; colored cubes litter the map, staking their faction’s claim on mountains and lakes. Instead of controlling an army, however, players are assigned a hidden power structure they’re aiming to achieve. Actions can be used to influence any one of the five nations, and at the end of the game, the conniving player who’s most accurately aligned the world to their own interests will claim victory. It’s a swift battle of shrewd manipulation and easily the best Game of Thrones spin-off to escape paying for the license.

Twilight Struggle

Twilight struggle war games without warfare

Lay of the land

After years of struggle, the second World War has finally come to an end. On a stunned and damaged planet, the new superpowers of the USSR and USA watch each other warily. Their unlikely alliance of the war passed, the contrasting economic and political differences between the two leads to a 40-year-long rivalry played out across the entire globe.

The real battle

Perhaps one of the most iconic and lengthy two-player games out there, Twilight Struggle is a daunting prospect. Instead of tanks or trebuchets, political influence is the weapon of the hour as players compete to control vast regions of the globe. By sparking historical events or spreading propaganda, countries can be aligned with the ideals of the USA or the USSR, increasing their control over the world. At around three hours in length, Twilight Struggle can be a brain-melting affair. But find a friend or partner willing to match your wits for its duration, and this Cold War will generate a heated contest that’s almost unrivalled.

This War of Mine

this war of mine war games not about warfare

Lay of the land

Soldiers are only a small part of any war. Based on the award-winning video game of the same name and heavily inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo, This War of Mine takes you and your friends inside the struggles faced by the civilian population of a war-torn city. Hunger and morale are your greatest enemies, and to maintain your health and safety, you may be pushed to make unthinkable decisions. Sometimes, even the price of your own safety may be too much to ask.

The real battle

This War of Mine is not a game about winning. Your only aim as a group is to survive the siege, managing traits such hunger, fatigue, and illness as you scavenge for supplies and interact with the other souls wandering the ravaged streets. It’s a narrative experience, and while there are glimpses of light in the darkness, it’s largely a bleak affair that’s unafraid to portray the horrific effects of war on those caught in the middle.

If you have any further suggestions for war games that skip the warfare, then send a message and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Want to get more board gaming goodness, only in your ears rather than eyes? We don’t mean to brag, but the Going Analog Podcast is precisely what you’re looking for.

Author bio: When he’s not losing himself as a mercenary in Frosthaven, Henry Stenhouse can be found scouring the web for the latest and greatest games, then wondering why he never has time to actually play them. Share your love of deck builders with him at @Fernoface on Twitter or drop an email to henry@moonrock.agency.