Civil war is a theme the board game market is pretty saturated on since it’s an ideal topic for wargames. If you want to search for the Best Civil War Board Games in 2021, you’ll come across a lot of average games, before you find something good. Luckily, I took the time and made the research for you. Read on.
Introduction to Best Civil War Board Games
There is no such thing as a nice war, but civil wars take the crown when it comes to nastiness. They divide nations, turning brother against brother and leave scars, that take generations to heal.
That’s why recreating them in popular culture is a very delicate matter and it must be done in the utmost unbiased way possible. Board games are no exception and the same goes for this article. I’ll be speaking solely in facts and any alleged bias is unintentional.
If you glance over the list, you’ll notice there aren’t any American Civil War board games on it. There are good reasons for this choice:
- there are a lot of them,
- many are similar in looks, gameplay, and quality.
- It’s a small niche, meaning most of the games are hard to get (out of print or overpriced) and are lengthy and heavy in gameplay.
Wargames on hexagons are not what excites most people and as such heavy wargames are out of the scope of this article. If you’re interested, you will have to do your own research – BGG has a category named American Civil War, which is a good place to start.
I have already spoken about one of the games from the mentioned category, Freedom: The Underground Railroad in my best educational board games article.
I also had to scratch some games with the War of the Roses theme and First English Civil War theme, for reasons similar to American Civil War games. Nothing particularly appealing for the general public there, but if you’re interested and have a chance to get a good second-hand price, games like Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York, Richard III: The Wars of the Roses or Unhappy King Charles! are worth checking out.
Another thing worth mentioning is that most of the games on the list play best with two players. There are some exceptions (Pax Porfiriana), but usually, there are two sides in a civil war and the games follow this fact. Having a partner that is equally interested in the theme of the game and is your match in skill will elevate every game to a higher level.
Table of Contents
Here is a table, which you can use as an overview of the article and also as a way to quickly navigate to a game. Just click on a title below to jump straight to that section of the article.
There are affiliate links by the titles. I am affiliated with Amazon (as well as with some other stores) and will earn a commission if you buy something through my link.
- Star Wars: Rebellion
- Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan
- Pax Porfiriana
- Julius Caesar
- España 1936
- Conclusion (with my personal recommendation)
Designer: Corey Konieczka
Published in: 2016
Players: 2-4, best with 2.
Playing time: 3-4 hours
Link to BoardGameGeek page
- Immersive Star Wars experience with all the licensed names, locations, and vehicles.
- Excellent miniatures.
- A lot of different things to do and look after.
- Steep learning curve.
A long time ago in a galaxy far away … I don’t really have to tell you about the Star Wars story, do I? What is more interesting, is how Rebellion tackles the Empire vs Rebels situation.
Each player controls one side. More than one player can share control over a side, but that is the last resort. The game is best experienced with two players. In front of you, there’s a map of the galaxy with planetary systems, you know so well from the movies: Coruscant, Kashyyk, Naboo, Mandalore, Tatooine. Even Alderaan still exists, but you can always use a Death Star to fix this. 🙂
You move your miniatures on this map and they play a big role in this game: Stormtroopers, TIE fighters, Star Destroyers, the Death Star, X-Wing fighters, Corellian corvettes, rebel troopers… There are over 150 plastic miniatures and they really make the board come alive.
Each side has its own victory conditions
So, how do the sides win? Their victory conditions are different: The Empire must find and obliterate the Rebel base, while the Rebels, militarily overmatched, must rely on other methods. Stealing intelligence, sabotaging, and rallying the planets to join their cause and sway the galaxy to a full-scale revolt.
That sounds like a pretty good game already, but Star Wars: Rebellion has another ace up its sleeve: the famous characters. Han Solo, Darth Vader, Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, and many others can also move on the map, helping your troops, do secret missions, and have all sorts of different benefits each. Using them wisely can make a big difference!
The Rebels can freely choose the location of their base and the hide-and-seek dynamic is what drives the game. The battles and characters act as diversions, steering the enemy’s forces away from the target, bluffing and double-bluffing.
Star Wars: Rebellion – Rise of the Empire is the right address if you want to deepen your Rebellion experience. More famous characters, miniatures, cards, features, mechanics, and other stuff will add a lot of variety and freshness to the game. The expansion further improves the already good game, making it a must-buy for serious players.
If you’re into licensed epic journeys, check out War of the Ring, a gigantic two-player wargame plus adventure, set in the Lord of the Rings lore. Fight grand battles, but don’t forget to take care of the Fellowship and bring the Ring safely into Mordor. Or prevent it, if you play as the bad guys.
Designer: Matt Calkins
Published in: 2011
Playing time: 3 hours
- Historically accurate.
- Intuitive game mechanics, easy to learn.
- The theme works great with game mechanics and historical facts.
This story demands a bit more explanation. Sekigahara is a town located just west of Nagoya. It was the location of a decisive battle on October 21, 1600, that is widely considered to be the unofficial beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate which ruled until 1868.
Sekigahara is pretty much a wargame with two opposing sides. You’ve got the loyalists: Western army loyal to 6-year-old Toyotomi Hideyori and lead by Ishida Mitsunari. Opposing them is the Eastern army.
Tokugawa Ieyasu was the leader of the Eastern army, which saw the politically weak rightful heir as an opportunity and eventually emerged victorious. Battle of Sekigahara was a turning point, even though it took Tokugawa another three years to consolidate his control over Japan.
Thinking about the big picture
The scope of the game is slightly larger than just the battle itself. It revolves around 7 weeks prior to the battle. Therefore, the map is also much larger than just Sekigahara – it covers a large part of Honshu, so you must think of a larger picture.
Historically, the loyalty of different allies was an ever-changing matter. Some refused to fight, while others even turned sides in the middle of the battle, all for various political gains.
This is well represented in the game. Not only do you have to have an army block, but you must also have a matching card (representing loyalty). Without it, an army will refuse to enter the battle.
The battle itself is not just a huge melee clash, but rather a game of strategic chess, where you must consider objectives (castles and economic centers) and priorities carefully, trying to out-think your opponent.
Economic centers are key to your recruitment abilities, while castles affect your hand-size, allowing more cards and thus loyalty.
Armies are depicted as stackable blocks with authentic clan designations and colors, giving a genuine Japanese feel to them. The board, cards, and other components complement this.
Deployment, hidden units, and hidden loyalty create unexpected scenarios and the variable setup ensures replay value. Overall, a great experience for lovers of Japanese history.
Designers: Matt Eklund, Phil Eklund, Jim Gutt
Published in: 2012
Playing time: 120 minutes
- Accommodates up to five players.
- Full of political games, cooperating and hindering each other.
- Takes some time to learn.
- Completing a well-masterminded coup is extremely satisfying.
If you paid attention in school, you know that in Latin, Pax means peace. The Porfirian Peace refers to the reign of dictator Porfirio Díaz, who ruled Mexico from 1884, until 1911 when he was overthrown and was exiled to France
His reign brought peace, ended political turmoil, and promoted economic development. Foreign investors were brought in, helping some larger land-owners amass huge areas of land and wealth, but leaving a lot of the poorer peasantry repressed and in a dire economic situation.
When Diaz declared himself a winner of the 1910 elections, failing to institutionalize presidential succession, a political crisis emerged. Eventually one of the wealthier estate owners, Francisco Madeiro called for armed rebellion, leading to the Mexican Revolution, where the Federal forces were defeated militarily.
Make peace, not war
Pax Porfiriana is the only game on our list, not revolving strictly around war. Players play as rich land-owners, meaning up to five players can comfortably play. You will compete in various businesses (ranches, mines, rails, banks), build troops, and subvert opponents by bandits, Indians, and lawsuits. Just like in real politics, you must work with each other, but also against, meaning there is a lot going on behind the scenes at all times.
Victory conditions reflect this. If players overthrow Diaz, either by coup, succession, revolution, or annexation by the US, they all win. Or if you want to be the sole winner, then make sure Diaz stays in his seat and that you have the most gold at the end of the game.
Pax Porfiriana is primarily a card game, although some other components (a board signaling current regime or the market for example) are also used. It comes with 220 cards, but only fifty are used each game, ensuring variability and replay value.
Also, check out my review on Santiago de Cuba, an economic game set in pre-Fidel Cuba.
Designer: Grant Dalgliesh, Justin Thompson
Published in: 2010
Playing time: 120 minutes
- Interesting and engaging combat system with fog-of-war blocks.
- Intuitive and easy-to-learn rules.
- Beautiful map of the Mediterranean.
There have been many revolts and civil wars in the long-standing Roman state. But perhaps the most famous of all is the one in the title, with Julius Caesar and Pompey as the main protagonists.
Caesar had amassed a great deal of military and political power during the years he served in the Gallic Wars. He proved as a great leader and his troops paid him back with loyalty, greater than the one they had for the state. With political reforms in mind and the support of both the army and the common people, Caesar had become too powerful to control.
Caesar or Pompey?
It was inevitable that the Republic demanded he lets go of the command. Caesar refused and instead marched his army on Rome. Pompey, one of the statesmen fled Rome and organized an army in the south of Italy.
What followed, was a four-year-long war with political and military victories on both sides and it eventually ended with Caesar’s triumph and Pompey’s death. Caesar became the Dictator perpetuo (leader for life), which ended the Republic and led to the Roman Empire.
The game simulates the struggle between Caesar and Pompey on a map of the Mediterranean, with wooden blocks representing armies. Movement and deployment is card-based (Command and Event cards), units are hidden until combat and dice play a role in battles. Think Risk, only deeper, and with more strategic options. And limited to two players.
Overall, the game is not too difficult to learn and can be completed in a reasonable time, so it caters to a large audience. Are you interested in the history of Rome? Now is your chance to replay it – or change its course!
Designer: Antonio Catalán
Published in: 2007 (Spanish Edition)
Playing time: 180 minutes
- Interesting event cards.
- A transparent map on which the situation is easily read.
- Tense gameplay with a lot of important decisions.
Following decades of political instability (read more on Wikipedia, as the topic is really interesting and covering it briefly would not be just), the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936. The Republicans, helped by the Soviet Union, international volunteers, and others faced the Nationalists, heavily supported by Italy and Germany, who took the opportunity and tested their latest military technology in the battles.
A bloody history lesson
The war is notorious for political divisions, many atrocities, purges, and executions. It’s still a topic best avoided, as a lot of Spaniards were and still are personally affected by it.
After three bloody years, it was Nationalists who emerged victoriously and Francisco Franco took the helm of the state. His dictatorship lasted until his death in 1975.
España 1936 is played on a map of Spain, divided into strategic cities, which are key to victory. Obviously, the game is for two players – each controlling one side. You will move and deploy troops and the following battles are resolved with a help of dice.
Making things a bit more complicated are the generals, who you need if you want to engage in combat, introducing a concept of limited resources. You can’t attack everywhere! Historical event cards with various functions and abilities also contribute to the game’s strategy and timely use can be crucial.
España 1936: La Armada introduces naval battles. Naval units for both sides, 24 cards, and a strategic naval board are included, together with rules dictating naval combat. The expansion is only for the Spanish edition – the English edition from 2008 already includes it by default.
Many games on the list feature similar mechanics. There are battles, accompanied by historical events and other famous people.
So, how to select the one for you? It’s simple, go by the theme. You won’t enjoy a game much if you don’t like what it’s talking about, but on the other hand – if you are a fan of a certain historical event or a person, a board game with such a theme will only deepen your interest and knowledge of the topic.
Disregarding the theme, the best game on the list is Star Wars: Rebellion. Taking the theme into account, it only gets better. It’s Star Wars, after all, we all love it! But it’s also the only fictional game on the list. While it’s fun, it won’t teach you anything from real history.
On the other hand, being a fairy tale allows it to clearly distinguish bad guys from good guys, making the sides more black and white, with clearly expressed intents and more fun to play.
In “real” civil wars, such divisions are a lot murkier, with the population usually being the one that takes the largest toll and games are a medium, which makes it hard to portray such suffering. They’re made for fun, after all. That’s why I recommend Star Wars: Rebellion, from the pure board gamer’s perspective.
I’d like to hear your opinion on the topic, however. What civil war interests you most? Is it any of the wars from my list or are you more of a hexagon wargamer, simulating wars of the American Civil War? Something else perhaps?
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