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The Top 7… Wars that would make awesome games

4. World War I, so long as it’s anywhere but France

What it was: When we see World War I depicted in movies or games, it’s nearly always the same: the industrial meatgrinder of the Western Front, with troops in gasmasks and doughboy helmets braving machineguns and mortar fire to win a few muddy acres of French hellscape from the guys in the next trench. It’s depressing, it’s futile and it never makes for a great game; the few times it’s been tried, the action’s usually confined to shooting your way through trench tunnels, which gets old fast. (Or it’s been confined to biplanes flying high above the carnage, which works considerably better because it isn’t completely horrifying.)

Above: No gas or barbed wire up here! (From Wings of Honor)

Compare that to South Africa, where British attempts to mobilize the Dutch-descended Boers against Germany resulted in a full-scale rebellion. Or to the German-led guerrilla campaign in East Africa, in which one Col. Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck led endless raids against the British over the course of four years, successfully holding out until Germany itself surrendered. Or to the Middle East, where the British, in an effort to destabilize and distract the Ottoman Empire, sent an officer named T.E. Lawrence to help spark an Arab revolt.

Above: The absence of muddy trenches causes some people to forget that this is actually one of the finest WWI movies ever made

Like World War II, WWI was a massive conflict fought on multiple fronts with millions of possible stories to tell. And like WWII, it seems as though only a handful of those stories ever get told, over and over again. The trenches are all fine and good if you want your mental picture of the war to be as soul-crushing and miserable as possible, but there was a great deal more to World War I than getting caught on barbed wire and choking to death on mustard gas.

Why it’d make an awesome game: Where the mechanized, regimented nature of the Western Front would make it especially inhospitable (and monotonous) for any kind of solo operative, spy or commando, the other theaters of World War I – particularly the African and Middle Eastern ones – were considerably more chaotic, and therefore considerably friendlier to anyone wanting to play conquering badass. Trying to out-guerrilla German commandos in the jungles of Africa (or blow up their naval vessels, like in The African Queen) could play out like a low-tech Snake Eater, and really, who wouldn’t want to lead Bedouin hordes against the Turks as Lawrence of Arabia?

Above: OK, yes, fine, we admit it – we really just want to see a game made about Lawrence of Arabia. What, are you going to tell us you don’t?


3. The Great Game

What it was: There are wars between nations, there are World Wars, and then there is The Great Game. Also ominously known as the Tournament of Shadows, the Great Game was a long, often indirect conflict that played out for more than a century between Britain and Russia, with Central Asia as the playing field. The rules were simple: limit the other side’s influence and territory by grabbing as much of it as possible yourself.

Above: As seen in this depiction of the 1838 First Anglo-Afghan War, large parts of the Great Game played out in Afghanistan, which is always a fantastic place to invade

Beginning in the early 19th century (or earlier, depending who you ask), Russia and Britain were faced with a problem: Russia wanted to expand, and it wanted to expand in the direction of India, Britain's prize colonial holding. Britain had a pathological fear of losing India at the time, and wanted to do everything in its power to make sure that Russia didn’t take it away from them. The surest way to do this, Britain decided, would be to use Afghanistan – conveniently situated between Russia and India – as a “buffer state” against Russian invasion, something that took two wars to accomplish.

Above: The Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1880, as envisioned in Richard Caton Woodville's Saving the Guns at the Battle of Maiwand

The problem with that approach was that Afghanistan wasn't the only country that shared borders with Russia and India. Persia and China did, too, and Russia seemed dead-set on making inroads into them. It’s probable Russia never actually intended to use any of those inroads invade India, but it seemed to enjoy driving Britain nuts with the possibility (and of course, there were plenty of other reasons to start grabbing territory in Central Asia, control over the opium trade being a popular one at the time). So began what was essentially a long game of Risk for control of Central Asia, with each power continually inching into new areas, only to have the other attempt to head it off at the pass.

As the Game progressed, Persia, Tibet, Mongolia and China all became key playing fields for the two empires. Invasions, colonial wars, rebellions and backdoor diplomacy became increasingly frequent, and vast intelligence networks reportedly sprang up to help each side monitor and undermine the other. Things came to a head with the 1853 outbreak of the Crimean War, which threw the two sides into direct conflict as Russia attempted to conquer assorted Central Asian and Eastern European chunks of the Ottoman Empire. It wasn’t until the years preceding World War I, however, that the Great Game was finally set aside, as Britain and Russia joined forces against Germany and its allies – only to resume the Game soon after, ending it only after Britain had finally abandoned its imperial aspirations following World War II.

Above: The Charge of the Light Brigade, also by Woodville, depicts one of the more tragic events of the Crimean War (just before it turns really tragic, obviously)

Why it’d make an awesome game: It’s called “The Great Game!” It’s right there in the title! Even ignoring the obvious strategy-game possibilities, though, there’s a lot of meat in the idea of Russian and British secret agents trying to outmaneuver the authorities and each other against the backdrop of the Victorian era, the British Raj, the Anglo-Afghan wars and the Chinese Opium Wars. It’s largely an unexplored area for games, but that’s part of what makes it so interesting – the potential for Victorian-era pulp adventure is huge, so long as someone’s willing to take that first step to re-create it.

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82 comments

  • 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 btw...read "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.

    HELLZ YEAH!

Showing 1-20 of 82 comments

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