The Top 7… Wars that would make awesome games

6. The Anglo-Zulu War

What it was: It’s tempting to dismiss the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War as just another violent subjugation of a native people by a colonial power, but the English war against South Africa’s Zulu Kingdom was different. Where most “primitives” tended to just get bulldozed by the superior technology and greed of Europe’s colonial powers, the Zulus – an expansionist, imperial power in their own right – had been kicking ass for decades, and they didn’t stop kicking it just because the ass’s owner was packing heat.

Above: The Battle of Isandlwana, the single greatest Zulu victory of the war

When a relatively small (~7,800 troops) British invasion force advanced into Zululand following a lengthy border dispute, the Zulus reacted immediately, striking back with a militia estimated to have been about 35,000 strong. Armed with little more than spears and shields, and using tactics pioneered by the fearsome (and possibly insane) 18th-century Zulu king Shaka, the Zulus managed to overwhelm and outmaneuver the better-armed (but badly outnumbered and poorly led) British, successfully crushing and repelling the initial British invasion force with a rapid series of victories.

The British had grossly underestimated their opponents, and it wasn’t a mistake they intended to repeat. Gathering a force of better-armed reinforcements, they marched on the Zulu capital of Ulundi, smashing the main Zulu army and razing Ulundi in the process. It was a fairly one-sided end to the war, but the fact that the technologically handicapped Zulus managed to embarrass the biggest imperial power of the 19th century with a string of early victories is impressive.

Above: Zulu king Cetshwayo was eventually taken prisoner, but he had a good run

Why it’d make an awesome game: Exploring an asymmetrical conflict like this in the context of the game would be fascinating from either side, whether as a British soldier enduring a terrifying, Left 4 Dead-style siege at Rorke’s Drift (as seen in the movie Zulu), or as a young Zulu sprinting and stabbing his way through lines of invading, red-coated riflemen. Or both, considering that focusing on one side to the exclusion of the other would be bound to raise someone’s hackles, never mind depriving the player of half of what could no doubt be a fascinating story.

Above: Whoever the focus is on, though, it'd be cool to see Rorke's Drift be part of it

5. The Boxer Rebellion

What it was: We’ve got kind of a soft spot for doomed rebellions, particularly when it’s difficult to know who to root for. On one side of the Boxer Rebellion (which broke out at the turn of the 20th century) were the downtrodden Chinese and the Righteous Harmonious Fists (called "Boxers" by the Western powers, who didn't know what the hell kung fu was at the time), an army of disenfranchised peasants who painted themselves as badass martial artists capable of the sorts of things generally only seen in Hong Kong’s more ridiculous action movies. And before you think that sounds amazing, consider that they were also responsible for a deadly campaign of violence against Chinese Christians, missionaries and anything or anyone else perceived as foreign or foreign-influenced.

Above: To be fair, if these guys told you they could fly and deflect bullets, there's a chance you'd believe them

On the other side was the so-called Eight-Nation Alliance, a coalition of European countries (along with the US and Japan). Most of them had been exploiting the hell out of China for decades, but they had interests in the country they wanted to protect, not the least of which were their own people. (More on that in a second.)

Despite clearly being kind of nuts, the Boxers’ nationalist attitudes managed to attract a strong following throughout China, eventually earning them the semi-official approval of China’s Dowager Empress, who saw in them a chance to finally repel the foreign powers and to shore up her own popular support. In any case, the Boxers (along with a few other Chinese factions, some of them in the Imperial Army) started a campaign of anti-foreign violence that culminated with a siege on Beijing’s Legation Quarter, home to a broad assortment of foreign diplomats and soldiers.

Long story short, the Eight-Nation Alliance started attacking seaside forts in an effort to get closer to Beijing, the Chinese declared war and the Allies sent multiple invasion forces into China, eventually relieving the Legation Quarter and occupying Beijing. While not completely defeated, the Chinese nonetheless accepted conditional surrender, which called for harsh reparations (and the executions of a number of Chinese officials), but left the ruling Qing dynasty in power.

So not the best ending for China, and things didn't get much better for them in the ensuing decades. But hey, they're a major world power now, so there's that.

Why it’d make an awesome game: Assuming one could downplay their murderous aspects and play up their claims of badass martial-arts powers, the Righteous Harmonious Fists could make for compelling (if not precisely accurate) protagonists in a historically tinged fight against imperialist tyranny, etc., etc. Failing that, the siege of the Legation Quarter – in which a diverse group of foreigners improbably held out against Chinese attacks for 55 days – could be fascinating to explore from the defenders’ point of view.


  • 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.


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