A computerized version of the Avalon Hill board wargame Squad Leader

A computer wargame is a wargame played on a digital device. Descended from board wargaming, it simulates military conflict at the tactical, operational or strategic level. Computer wargames are both sold commercially for recreational use and, in some cases, used for military purposes.


Computer wargames derived from tabletop wargames, which range from military wargaming to recreational wargaming. Wargames appeared on computers as early as Empire in 1972. The wargaming community saw the possibilities of computer gaming early and made attempts to break into the market, notably Avalon Hill's Microcomputer Games line, which began in 1980 and covered a variety of topics, including adaptations of some of their wargames. In February 1980 Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI) was the first to sell a serious, professionally packaged computer wargame, Computer Bismarck, a turn-based game based on the last battle of the battleship Bismarck.[1][2]

Wargame designer Gary Grigsby joined the industry in 1982 with Guadalcanal Campaign, published by SSI.[3] It is cited as the first monster wargame developed for computers.[4][5][6] Grigsby became one of the most respected designers of computer wargames.[3] In 1997, he was described as "one of the founding fathers of strategy war games for the PC."[7] Computer Games Magazine later dubbed him "as much of an institution in his niche of computer gaming as Sid Meier, Will Wright, or John Carmack are in theirs."[8] By 1996 he had released 23 wargames with SSI,[9] including Steel Panthers, a commercial hit. In 2001, he co-founded the studio 2 by 3 Games with SSI's Joel Billings and Keith Brors, where they continued to work together on wargames.[10]

SSI and Strategic Studies Group (SSG) were computer game companies that continued the genre by specializing in games that borrowed from board and miniature wargames. The companies enjoyed a certain popularity throughout much of the 1980s and into the 1990s. TalonSoft started in 1995 with a similar focus, until purchased and later closed down by Take-Two Interactive in 2002.

Game design

Computer wargames primarily focus on simulated battles. Because it is difficult to provide an intelligent way to delegate tasks to a subordinate, war games typically keep the number of units down to hundreds rather than hundreds of thousands.[11] The amount of realism varies between games as game designers balance an accurate simulation with playability.

Units are usually scaled to be disproportionately large compared to the landscape, in order to promote effective gameplay. These games usually use a much faster time line than reality, and thus wargames often do not model night time or sleep periods, though some games apply them, they can be time-consuming.[11]

Comparison with board wargames

See also: Wargaming

Tabletop wargames are usually categorized according to the scale of the confrontation (e.g., grand strategy wargame, strategic wargame, operational wargame, tactical wargame or man-to-man wargame). The qualifiers "real-time" and "turn-based" are not taken into account as all tabletop wargames are, by necessity, turn-based.

Notable computer wargames

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See also


  1. ^ Proctor, Bob (March 1988). "Titans of the Computer Gaming World / SSI". Computer Gaming World. p. 36.
  2. ^ "This is why we play war games". Plarium. Retrieved 2018-03-29.
  3. ^ a b Ritchie, Craig (October 2007). "Developer Lookback; Strategic Simulations Inc (Part 1 of 2)". Retro Gamer (42): 34–39.
  4. ^ Staff (May–June 1982). "Hobby and Industry News". Computer Gaming World. Vol. 3, no. 3. p. 4.
  5. ^ Staff (February 1983). "The Player's Guide to Computer Games; The World Marches to War!". Electronic Games. 1 (12): 47–49.
  6. ^ DeMaria, Rusel (December 2018). "Opportunity Knocks: The Story of SSI". High Score! Expanded: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games (3rd ed.). CRC Press. pp. 166–171. ISBN 978-0-429-77139-2.
  7. ^ Dunne, Alex (19 June 1997). "Interview with Gary Grigsby, Developer of SSI's Steel Panthers".
  8. ^ Mayer, Robert (January 10, 2001). "Uncommon Valor: Campaign for the South Pacific First Look". Computer Games Magazine. Archived from the original on April 19, 2005.
  9. ^ Dunne, Alex (1996). "Interview with Gary Grigsby, Developer of SSI's Steel Panthers". Game Developer Magazine. Archived from the original on January 21, 1998.
  10. ^ Ritchie, Craig (November 2007). "Developer Lookback; Strategic Simulations Inc (Part 2 of 2)". Retro Gamer (43): 82–87.
  11. ^ a b Rollings, Andrew; Ernest Adams (2006). Fundamentals of Game Design. Prentice Hall.