The Top 7… Wars that would make awesome games

War has been used as a backdrop for countless games; it’s the easiest, most obvious way to create conflict to drive the story. Most of the time, those wars are completely fictitious. But even when they aren’t, the games that use them tend to go back to the same wells, over and over again: World War II, the modern-day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and, occasionally, the Cold War or Vietnam. Other conflicts tend to be relegated to less story-driven strategy games, and while that’s great, we find ourselves yearning for an on-the-ground perspective of these conflicts and the eras in which they erupted.

Assassin’s Creed is one series that’s done historical re-creations well, and part of its charm is that it tends to use settings and conflicts that have largely been ignored by adventure games, like Italy and Constantinople during the 16th century’s assorted civil wars, or (most recently) the American Revolution. The opportunity to immerse ourselves in lesser-known (or just less-frequently seen) conflicts like that is something we’d like to see games offer more frequently – and we’ve got a few ideas for ones we’d like to explore.

7. The Spanish Civil War

What it was: For those who’ve actually heard much about it, the Spanish Civil War tends to be idealized as a black-and-white clash between fascism and democracy, which ended with the bad guys winning. Dig deeper, and you’ll find that – as is so often the case – the reality is much more complicated. Between 1936 and 1939, Spain was consumed by a chaotic mess of a conflict in which Nazis, Soviets, anarchist militias, monarchists, republicans, socialists and fascists created a country-sized test bed for World War II.

Above: Spanish Republican troops speak with reporters, circa 1937

On one side of the war were the fascist “Nationalists,” led by Gen. Francisco Franco, who had attempted to seize power in a coup against Spain’s elected government. On the other side was the Second Spanish Republic. The conflict quickly drew international attention, with Nazi Germany and Italy lending direct support to the fascists, and the Soviet Union, France and Mexico doing the same for the Republic. The Republic also drew volunteer support from the International Brigades, including the American Abraham Lincoln Brigade, as well as from a broad number of Marxist and anarchist militias.

As much as the war gets painted in idealistic shades, atrocities and purges directed at civilians were disturbingly common on both sides, and have since been immortalized in works ranging from Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and Picasso’s Guernica. And while they’re generally remembered as the “good guys” of the conflict, the Republic – having lost most of its military to the coup – relied heavily on an unsteady coalition of pro-democracy forces, foreign fighters and anarchist and Marxist militias, all of whom had radically different ideas of how the country, and the war, should be run. Mistrust flared on all sides, the Soviets started cracking down on the militias, and the Republic tumbled into disarray. Meanwhile, Franco’s forces were not only united, but backed by the formidable Nazi war machine. In just three years, the war ended with an early, pre-World War II victory for the fascists, who would remain in power until Franco's death in 1975.

Above: Guernica, Picasso's rendition of the eponymous town's bombing at the hands of the Luftwaffe

Why it’d make an awesome game: Disregarding the fact that it's an incredibly depressing war in retrospect, the Spanish Civil War was one of the last to inspire a sense of political idealism and adventure in those who signed up to fight it. For those in the International Brigades, here was a chance to join in an international effort to smash fascism and Nazism before they could spread, and to reaffirm the importance of democracy in a world that was still only beginning to emerge from centuries of monarchies and despotism. The idea of being able to join in with that spirit vicariously (read: without the threat of being shot to pieces by German warplanes) is a pretty compelling one.

Above: "No pasaran!" ("They shall not pass!") was a widely seen motto during the siege of Republic-held Madrid

Also, have you read or seen For Whom The Bell Tolls? An American demolitions engineer and a little band of freedom fighters trying to blow up a mountain bridge is a fantastic starting point for a game. Seriously.

We Recommend By ZergNet


  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - March 16, 2012 9:59 p.m.

    One of the best Top 7s in while. I had this on my favorites page, but just now got around to reading it. Really good, I agree especially with WWI, I would love to see a good game in that time period. Who knows, the Mexican Revolution and the First World War happened around the same time, maybe we'd be able to have a game that contains both.
  • rxb - March 15, 2012 5:53 a.m.

    Read it late, really good read Mikel. I learnt a thing or two as well.
  • AGENTJORRRG - March 10, 2012 5:03 a.m.

    Awesome article. I would've added the Anglo-Zanzibar War that lasted a fun-filled 38 minutes. Yeah. So the next time you complain about your Call on Honour game boy toy being too short, think of the poor wounded British soldier who only got 38 minutes of war so that you could have..uhh...a smashed up harem in Zanzibar.
  • Vympel44 - March 10, 2012 12:40 a.m.

    What about the the 1938 Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union? Its the ultimate david and goliath story...Come on, it has the invention of the molotov cocktail, submachine gun Finns on skis, Finns using crowbars to rip the treads off of soviet tanks, simo hayha - the deadliest sniper in history, and whole bunch of other badass stuff that would make an awesome video game "a frozen hell" its awesome...
  • AGENTJORRRG - March 10, 2012 5:05 a.m.

    This is an awesome suggestion.
  • revrock - March 9, 2012 3:29 p.m.

    c'mon not even one Old Testament war included???? Good article anyway...
  • RedHarlow - March 8, 2012 11:28 a.m.

    Something in the pike-and-shot era would be interesting. There's musketmen and arquebusiers, but still a large focus on knights and cavalry charges, pike formations, and melee. The Winter War would be intersting. The vastly outmanned and outgunned Finns fighting the Soviets, organizing militias to fight, taking on tanks with molotov cocktails. Initiating scorched earth as you retreat, planting bombs in houses, poising water supplies, and burning crops so the Reds can't use them. Or the Anglo-Zanzibar War. Shortest war in history, lasted 38 minutes.
  • lordlundar - March 8, 2012 10:32 a.m.

    The Six-Hour War! You could do play the entire thing in one sitting and not miss any of it! :P
  • Zaphod Beeblebrox - March 8, 2012 8:30 a.m.

    The Napoleonic Wars were covered in Empire Total War. Although I would like a game set in the back drop of the Opium Wars. The British/East India Company were essentially the bad guys in this, trying to force the Chinese to repel laws prohibiting the sale of Opium. A lot of Chinese had become addicted to opium, it had greatly affected productivity and the countries silver supply, so the Qing dynasty outlawed it. In response, the British government sent expeditionary forces from India which ravaged the Chinese coast. I like to see a game from the Chinese perspective, it would be fantastic to see a game set in 19th century China.
  • rballa2 - March 7, 2012 9:29 p.m.

    Great article. Crazy week and I've been slowly making my way through this the whole time.
  • SlowOctopus - March 7, 2012 5:22 p.m.

    Damn, that was a great article! I'd say this was the last thing I expected to see on Gamesradar, but I know Mr. Reparaz is a total history nerd. You should start a history podcast on the Laser Time network. Nerdcore History, maybe?
  • bamtan - March 8, 2012 2:22 p.m.

    I've got my fingers crossed for History Time.
  • Savoyard - March 7, 2012 12:49 p.m.

    You mentioned the Great Game without naming Iran? So much Russian-British meddling in political affairs let to a great bit of war.
  • Savoyard - March 7, 2012 12:51 p.m.

    Nevermind, I'll eat my words
  • Ravenbom - March 7, 2012 10:35 a.m.

    Too many of these would get the RE5 treatment and be seen as race wars. And frankly, some of these are in fact race wars.
  • AuthorityFigure - March 7, 2012 2:02 a.m.

    The Hundred Years war would be good because of its massive scope.
  • DualWieldingIsNotFeasible - March 6, 2012 8:59 p.m.

    Any of these would be great. It seems like the games industry doesn't realize that there are periods of history besides the dark ages and WWII.
  • moparlevi - March 6, 2012 6:39 p.m.

    I would love to hear you talk about this on talkradar.
  • slapdatass - March 6, 2012 5:34 p.m.

    I can't shake the feeling that you really just want a series of games based on the Flashman novels... ...which would be *brilliant*.
  • Schucknasty - March 6, 2012 8 p.m.


Showing 1-20 of 82 comments

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000


Connect with Facebook

Log in using Facebook to share comments, games, status update and other activity easily with your Facebook feed.