Page down for a short description of wooden block games in general,
or go right to an individual game:
Independent Games The "Front" Series
Quebec 1759 EastFront
War of 1812 VolgaFront
Rommel in the Desert MedFront
Victory & Derivatives
Victory USA vs CSA
Pacific Victory Bobby Lee
Wizard Kings Sam Grant
Hammer of the Scots Gettysburg
This is very well received by many gamers, though not to my taste.
It does have an absolutely brilliant mechanism in the Special Action
chit, though: during production, buy a special action chit for a
fairly hefty price, and put it in your home country. At some point
during the strategic phase, you use it to represent one of 11
different possible special actions. You don't have to decide in
advance what it does, so your opponent never knows until it's gone
if you'll use it for a breakthrough blitzkrieg or shoring up a hole
in your line or something else. Brilliant! Steal it for any wargame
with a production phase!
I haven't played this, so can't comment on it. They have another
game, Clash for a Continent, that was supposed to be
released as a block game, but instead they made it with wooden
versions of cardboard pieces: they don't stand up and are always
exposed to view. This doesn't qualify as a block game in my view.
-- End recent update - the rest of this page is older material --
I own this but haven't yet played it. It's very different from any
other wargame I've ever seen. The blocks are shaped more like the
road pieces in Settlers of Catan than as in Columbia
games. You don't rotate a piece as it takes losses - you use a
substitute block with a lesser value on it.
makers of board games, collectible card games (Dixie and
Eagles), the roleplaying game Hârn
and all its supplements, and miniatures rules (Battle Lust),
makes a series of war games using wooden blocks as pieces. These are,
IMO, some of the finest war games ever made.
So what's special about wooden blocks?
The wooden blocks are roughly 1" by 1" by 0.5" - like half a domino
that can stand on end a little easier. (You can see pictures of blocks
their website - the page for Victory, for example,
shows blocks on a game board.) Only one
face has unit information on it. Normally, that side is kept towards
the owner of the piece. This means that you can see all of your units,
and what they are, and how strong they are, but you can only see the backs
of your opponent's pieces. You can tell where he has units, but not what
they are nor how strong they are. (Sometimes not even that - Quebec
1759 uses decoy blank units, for example!) Thus the wooden blocks
create a "fog of war" effect without any bookkeeping or hassle.
There are numbers around the edges of the side facing you. The number
on top represents the current strength of the unit. As the unit takes a
hit in combat, it is rotated to the next lower number, one step per hit
until eliminated. In combat, you roll a number of six-sided dice equal
to the current strength - every 6 rolled hits (there are exceptions:
in EastFront, for example, Armored units hit on a 5 or 6,
and some terrain allows the defender to take two hits before being reduced
one step, etc.). ("Oh, ShadowRun," you say. Well, yes,
but these games introduced the concept in 1972, before there were any
RPGs at all, let alone ShadowRun.)
Thus the wooden blocks create step reduction effortlessly. These two
factors - easy fog of war and step reduction - mean that a wooden
block game can achieve very sophisticated simulation with a minimum of
strain on the gamer. This means the rules can be simple, but the
simulation doesn't suffer.
Consequently, even the most complicated wooden block game is still on
the low side of moderate complexity by wargame standards. But the
satisfaction of play and simulation is very high - a good combination!
As of this date (February 23, 2001), the wooden block games are (dates of
publication are in parentheses):
(1972). Revised edition
in print. The simplest wooden block game, this recreates the battle of
Quebec in 1759, rather obviously. Wolfe vs. Montcalm. A very good
introductory game, both to war games in general and wooden block games
in particular. I usually play this one with beginners - the replay
value for grognards is a bit low for a wooden block game. There are
only ten spaces (towns) on the board - movement is point to point along
the road network, or across the St. Lawrence river by ships. Simultaneous
War of 1812
revised edition in print. This game covers the entire three years of
the War of 1812, but only the theater between Lake Champlain and
Detroit. (Despite such famous actions as the burning of Washington and
the Battle of New Orleans, over 80% of the action in this war occurred
along the US/Canadian border shown on the map.) Still fairly simple,
this is a much more detailed game than Quebec 1759.
Movement is still point to point along the road network, or by ship
across Lakes Ontario, Erie, or Champlain. Ship units are more
important than in Quebec 1759. High replay value -
especially if using the optional simultaneous movement.
(1974; 2nd ed. by Avalon Hill, 1977; 3rd ed. by Columbia
Games, 1993.) Third edition is in print (Q&A file). This is a recreation of the
battle of Waterloo. Movement is again point to point along the road
networks. This game introduced a separate map on which battles were
fought when opposing troops enter the same town. The troops are set up
in three columns (and a reserve), and can only fight those troops in an
opposing column. There are three different armies in the game: the
French, the Prussians, and the English-Rhinish Allies. A very
well-balanced game, there is much argument in the gaming world about
Columbia's rules changes from the AH version, however. Some say they
broke it, some say they improved it, some say they did a little of each
(my own view). I'd love to try to hammer out the best compromise
between 2nd and 3rd edition rules on this game!
Rommel in the Desert
(1984). Back in
print, 2005. This marked a breakthrough for wooden block game evolution.
Tom Dalgleish (with others) was largely responsible for the design
of the first three point-to-point wooden block games. Craig Besinque
took the basic concepts and merged them with a hexgrid to create this
game. Craig added supply cards to give the game the North African feel,
and the system works very well. An excellent game of WWII, it has a
high replay value. The only flaw is that you must always be very
careful of your supply lines - the game is unforgiving of mistakes.
One mistake and the enemy cuts the supply of your entire army, which
then starves to death.
(1991). In print. Won the Origins Award as
best WWII game for that year. Another breakthrough, also by Craig
Besinque. This game covers the entire Eastern front in WWII: Germany's
invasion of Russia to Russia's invasion of Germany. Craig added HQ
units, and created, IMO, brilliant rules for them. In order to move
any pieces, you must activate an HQ. Each HQ has a number around the
edges, as a combat unit. The top number is the current strength of the
HQ. Only units within a number of hexes equal to the current HQ
strength can be activated by that HQ. (Each side also has a supreme HQ
that can activate units anywhere on the board.) In addition, the HQ
provides an Air Strike equal to its current strength. There are two
turns per month, then a production phase to rebuild units and HQs.
Thus, command control and logistics rules are abstracted, relieving the
gamer of any need to keep written record of supply, or move little
supply chits, but still simulating reality very well. This game is
amazing - replay value is very high, due to the eight different
scenarios provided (plus the campaign game). It is, IMO, the best
wargame ever made. Period. More detailed review.
(1994). In print. This does not contain any
new pieces, but has a map to extend the EastFront map to
the Urals. The German objective in 1942 was not a winter vacation in
Stalingrad, but an attempt to hit the industrial area of the Soviet
Union in the Urals. This extension allows you to try this strategy.
(1992). In print. The sister game to
EastFront, it covers the war in western Europe from 1943
to the end of the war. It can be linked with EastFront
to create a very large game covering most of WWII - I haven't tried it
yet, but may someday - but see EuroFront, below. New
rules for amphibious invasions and paratroopers, since those were of
vital importance in the Western Front. Not as fluid a game as
EastFront, by nature of the geography, it is still a
gripping, well balanced game.
(1994). In print. Spanish Civil War and WWII
North African campaign, covered separately, with two different maps and
sets of pieces. In effect, two different stand-alone games in one
box. However, the maps not only fit together, but also fit with
WestFront and EastFront to allow you to
(1995). In print. No
maps, but it has rules, scenarios, and 50 additional pieces that allow
you to combine EastFront, WestFront, and
MedFront into a monster complete WWII-in-Europe game,
including "what-if" scenarios. This is the only wooden block game I
don't own since I don't really have the mind-set for monster games, let
alone time and opponents.
(1993, 2nd Ed. 1995). In print (Q&A file).
The American Civil War in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
This game merges EastFront's hexes and HQ
command control rules with Napoléon's 3-column
battle resolution, and adds its own flavor. With the second edition, Bobby
Lee has joined the ranks of very playable wooden-block games -
it was a bit awkward in the first edition. This game works best as
a campaign game, however: reserve time to play out the whole war!
The individual scenarios, unlike EastFront, are not as
(1996, in print). The
American Civil War in the West. Contains rules to move units between
Bobby Lee and Sam Grant via rail, as they
actually did in the war. Uses the Bobby Lee system, with
river warfare added.
Victory : The Blocks of War
(1998, in print). Victory is a generic version of
WWII. It is simpler than the Front or ACW games, but more complex
than Napoléon. Four geomorphic maps are included,
but more are available, as well as more units, even of different
colors allowing four players. Ten unit types are included, but more
are available in the expansion sets. Excellent game to introduce
beginners to the hobby, it's readily customizable with optional
rules for the experienced gamer - should be a solid winner. More detailed article,
including my house rules.
(2000, in print).
Pacific Victory is a variant of Victory
with map and units historically accurate for WWII in the Pacific
(except the war in China is not modeled - China is simply off-limits).
The grand strategic scale is very different, however (600 miles/hex as
opposed to Victory's 50 miles/hex; one turn is three months
instead of one), so they've had to modify many rules:
At this point I find it one of the best block games - somewhat
balanced and tense, though I think the Japanese can't really win
unless they have either great luck or an inexperienced opponent.
Still, it's great fun to play - time will tell if it still holds
up to that promise.
- Units move only
1 if by land and 2 if by sea (but Paul Revere's not in the game ...).
A unit can move farther if not attacking.
- Each side also has a
single strategic HQ that allows you to make very long moves, such as
long-distance attacks or recalling a front line unit to a home base.
- Different units cost different amounts of Production Points, ala the
Front games, and units cost double to build up outside of
- Combat occurs only after both players have moved - not after each
- The first player
in a turn can attempt to pin enemy units during his movement phase.
- You may move through an opponent's naval force provided you leave
at least as many units in that hex as he has there.
- A victorious attacker can reorganize his units among
the spaces he came from and the space he captured - a rule that should
be ported to Victory.
- Carriers have planes implied in
their combat strength, and not physically represented in the game - the
plane units supplied with the game are all land-based aircraft.
- Planes can land at bases in the same turn you capture them, which
makes sense given the time scale.
- The only
ground units are marines, infantry, and garrisons.
- Submarines have some
advantages over their Victory counterparts, largely to
do with supply.
- Supply is via a chain of supply centers no more than
three hexes apart - the Japanese taking Fiji or Samoa can really hurt
the Allies in this game!
- An interesting three-player variant allows the
Allies to model the Nimitz/MacArthur dichotomy - who gets the supply?
Actually, the game requires an interesting collection of both offensive
and defensive skills in order to win. The Japanese player must be very
good at offense early in the game, and very good at defense later in the
game to have a chance at winning. The Allied player must be skilled at
both, but in reverse order. I think the Allied player has a slightly
easier job, to be honest - I think most games are likely to end in an
Allied Marginal Victory when the clock runs out in 1945. But it sure
doesn't feel easy early in the game ... lots of tension in this game
for both sides.
(2000, in print).
Wizard Kings is the first block game with a
non-historical setting. It's a fantasy game, with many elements of
Pacific Victory and Victory. It's simpler
than either game, however: there are no supply rules, for example.
Wizard Kings uses the sequence introduced in Pacific
Victory: Player 1 moves, then Player 2 moves, then one combat
phase handles all battles that turn. While the game has much promise,
I feel it needs a lot of tweaking - it still suffers from the trench
warfare problem that original (untweaked) Victory has.
My first tweaks are to reduce the number of units per hex to 3 (+
1 wizard) unless attacking, in which case it's 4 + 1 wizard; and to
use twice as many maps without doubling the number of units used.
Still needs work, but an interesting and attractive game ...
Hammer of the Scots
(2002, in print).
I have now played this game a fair bit, and consider a solid,
excellent game suitable for newcomers to the block system yet with
enough replay power to interest grognards. Congrats, Columbia!
Vastly superior to Wizard Kings.
The game covers the Scottish William Wallace, Andrew de Moray, and
Robert the Bruce against the English Kings Edward I & II. If
you've seen the movie Braveheart you have a rough
idea of the setting.
It has some very interesting (though not necessarily unique)
All in all a fine game, much lighter in rules than any of the WWII
or Civil War titles, and only a bit more complex than
Napoléon. My only complaint so far is the
possibility of a cheesy win or draw through use of the Herald
card on the last turn. There is simply no defense against this
play if your opponent is lucky enough to be dealt the card, and a
game kept very close for three hours can suddenly be decided by a
2/3 chance of a single die roll. Bleah - what a let-down!
- Each side plays very differently, with different strengths,
weaknesses, abilities, goals and even rules.
- The victory points (VPs) in the game are part of your forces.
There are 14 Scottish Nobles in the game, and all but one are
represented by two pieces, a red piece (English-controlled) and a
blue piece (Scottish controlled). Only one piece for each Noble
can be on the board at a time. If you inflict enough damage on
one in battle to knock it down below one step, instead of removing
the block from the game, you replace it with your own color piece!
This represents either convincing the Noble it's better to fight
for your side than die, or simply that you did kill the Noble and
the new clan leader - brother, or son, or nephew, etc. - now joins
- Every year consists of one to five turns - you may or may not
know exactly how many. Each year ends in a winter phase: blocks
are built up during winter, but no regular movement or combat takes
place. Lots of units go home, though, which can have enormous
repercussions. Winter is so powerful a factor in the game that
each year is its own mini-game: you set goals per year rather than
long term, and those goals can easily change year to year. Thus
your strategic objectives are always shifting.
- It's card-activated. There are 25 cards consisting of
Each year you shuffle all cards
and deal five cards to each player. Each player chooses one secretly
and players reveal them simultaneously. The number cards show how
many groups you can move that turn. (A group is all the blocks in
a given area.) The player with the higher card moves his groups
first, with the English winning ties. An event card means you
activate no groups, but may perform the event specified. If both
players play an event card at the same time, the events occur and
the year is then over even if players still have cards left.
- 20 cards numbered 1, 2, or 3; and
- 5 different event cards: Sea Move, Herald,
Victuals, Pillage, and Truce.
- As in Pacific Victory and Wizard Kings,
combat is resolved only once per turn, after both sides have moved.
Thus the player who goes first has a certain advantage in being
able to reach empty areas first and can also pin key blocks of the
other side. The player who goes second, however, can make moves
the first player cannot react to and can reinforce battles the
first player initiated. A good trade-off.
- It uses the Wizard King system of combat ratings:
A1, B2, C2, C3, etc. All defending "A" troops roll to hit first,
then attacking "A" troops roll to hit. Then defending "B" troops,
followed by attacking "B" troops - etc. The number after the letter
determines whether or not a given roll hits: an A2, B2, or C2 will
hit on every 1 or 2 rolled on a d6. Likewise, a C3 will hit on a
1, 2, or 3. King Edward's unit in the game is a B4: he hits on
anything from 1 to 4, ouch!
Mel Gib... William
Wallace is an A3: he'll roll to hit before Edward on offense or
defense, but probably doesn't pack as much punch. As usual in
block games, the number showing at the top of the block represents
how many dice are rolled.
- There are some very interesting decisions that need to be made
regarding the use of troops. The Nobles, regardless of who controls
them, always winter in Scotland, as do all Scottish (blue) blocks.
For the English, however, only the English-controlled Nobles and
Infantry winter over in Scotland. All the English "A" and "B"
troops (except your Nobles, who are "B" rated) go home each winter
(with one exception, explained below). All infantry are "C" type
units in combat - meaning everyone else rolls for damage before
they do. This means that the English player has a tough decision
taking combat losses: do you take your losses on your worst troops
(the infantry) thus saving your superior forces for the next combat,
or do you take the losses on your better troops, thus saving the
infantry to survive the winter in Scotland? [The only exception to
the English wintering is when Edward I winters in Scotland himself.
In this case he makes sure there are enough supplies to feed all
troops in his area, regardless of quantity and type. But he can't
do that two winters in a row - he has a kingdom down south to rule,
- During winter, Nobles go home automatically - no actual movement
need be counted out, and they can get there even if their home is
surrounded by enemy troops. But if his home is occupied
by enemy troops, a returning Noble switches allegiance! Thus
your goals each year depend on which Nobles you already control
and which you can try to convert to your side either through battle,
event card, or by occupying their home territory come winter.
(Nobles are VPs: if you ever control them all you win automatically.
If you control the majority when the scenario ends, you win.)
- Unlike other recent Columbia block games, it does not use
hexagons, but uses areas instead. It works well, much better than
hexes would for the terrain and time period. Certain borders
between areas are black, and others red: the red ones represent
very rough terrain and limit the number of blocks you can bring
across as well as stopping further movement that turn.
- There are two scenarios (Braveheart and The Bruce)
which can be played seperately or combined into a campaign game.
I'm tempted to use one of the following optional rules to
counter this. (The first rule is simpler, but the second allows
for normal odds of being able to crown a Scottsh King on the last
turn. I can't imagine you wanting to crown a King on the
last turn, but just in case you do, I've provided it. I'll use
the first rule, myself.)
Here is a link to my player aid. It's a
bit opaque, sorry - not the clearest player aid I've ever made, but
it works for me.
- Remove the Herald card from the deck before
dealing cards for the last year.
- Leave the Herald card in the deck in the last year of
a scenario, but if a player is dealt it, he may discard it and draw
another card before playing his first card. It may not be used in
the last year of a scenario as the Herald event as written
on the card, but the Scottish player may retain the card to use as
a coronation event card.
By the way, the latest version of the rules
and a sample first turn can be found on the Columbia web page, linked
(2003, in print).
I haven't played this game at all, sorry. I only list it here for
(2003, in print).
I haven't played this game yet, sorry. I only list it here for
completeness. I hope to play it soon!
(2005, in print).
I haven't played this game at all, sorry. I only list it here for
Columbia Games' Web Page,
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