Tuesday 3 October 2023

Taming the boardgame collection.

I have been an avid boardgamer ever since a chance encounter with a game store back in 1977.

It was a hobby already well established and serviced by hundreds of game titles by the time I discovered it and the S&T magazine up to issue 77 (Cobra), which I bought as my first game.

The ‘Old Guard’ of SPI, TSR, Avalon Hill, GDW, West End Games, OSG, Victory Games, Yaquinto and  Clash of Arms games, dominated the shelf space of the game store.

Boardgame production was (and largely still is) dominated by American publishers, so everything here (UK) was imported, with the exception of Keith Poulter’s Wargamer magazine, who himself eventually moved to America and the attractive games produced by Attactix Adventure Games.

I bought and experienced a lot of titles, but with money tight, it was always a case of selling existing games to buy the new ones and so titles good and bad continually flowed both into and out from a collection that was forever in a state of flux.

Considering the breadth of subject matter that I bought into, my collection has always been quite modest and for decades I just never really changed that early  behaviour of culling and selling off, to get the next ‘must have’ titles.

Recent years have seen that cycle somewhat broken. I have been much more selective about what I buy, no longer doing speculative purchases, while fewer games have been sold.

As a consequence, game numbers have grown, not dramatically, but enough that space (which is shared with my miniatures) has got a little tighter.

This sits alongside the fact that between the boardgames and the figure games, I am very conscious of just having far too many different rulebooks, too many different systems, more than can be serviced and it does distract me. 

Some games have sat on the shelves for years unplayed and there are more systems than can be conveniently held in memory, so I end up doing a full rules re-read whenever a game goes onto the table or worse, getting confused between similar sets (often both!).

Anyway, a while ago I resolved to shifting more towards series based games, simply so that a single common rulebook per series would allow more games to be easily got to the table and familiarity would make for better play.

Nice idea, but I still had too much stuff sitting outside of series systems, plus games that have not been played in the last 5 years and would be unlikely be played in the next 5.

Then, out of the blue, I was hit by one of those tidy-up and reorganise moments, the planets were aligned and I threw myself behind a proper game cull to aggressively get the collection tightly down to a limited number of series systems to represent my various interests - I mean this was going to be a proper job!

A combination of ruthlessly trading with a dealer, selling to the community and frankly …. throwing out, has brought me to a situation of clearer shelves and a clearer mind - Good!

So, what stayed? Well the idea was that each of my major periods of historical interest would be served by a single system as follows;

Ancients - Great Battles of History by GMT - (Used in association with their Simple GBoH rule set).

I have the SPQR Deluxe reprint which has 14 key battles from the era of the Roman Republic, so we are looking at the likes of Zama and Trebbia.

They do the full battle, with centres and wings, with a good looking battle line, but getting down into the hex, this is tactical system as much as anything else, with hexes representing 70 yards and each turn just 20 minutes, so there is much interest in seeing all of these many small actions feeding into the bigger picture.

Soon to be re-released is the reprint of the Alexander Deluxe module, with a further 10 battles. So between the two sets, that will give me 24 major battles, running off a single rule system. 

I may add the Caesar module in due course, but there is lots already here. Just playing one game a week of this system could take 6 months to get through these two packages, so I probably have enough already :-)

Medieval - Men of Iron by GMT.

A couple of years ago, GMT did a deluxe Men of Iron bundle, putting three of their games from this series in one box, these being - Men of Iron (14th Century including Falkirk and Bannockburn), Infidel (the early crusades including Ascalon and Arsuf) and Blood & Roses (Wars of the Roses including Bosworth and Towton).

Taken together there are 20 key battles in this tri-pack box.

Soon to be released in the series is Norman Conquests, giving us the 1066 battles plus Lewes, Evesham and the Normans in Italy. This adds another 7 battles to the system.

Map scale is different in each scenario according to need and there are no hard set game turns, with entire formations being activated on a die roll and play flipping over to the other side when an attempted activation fails and so the entire scenario is catered for by play going back and forth between players on an activation basis, a sort of never ending turn.

Taking the Ancient and Medieval systems together, one can immediately see that even a drastic cull still leaves a lot of playability on the shelf.

English Civil War - Musket & Pike by GMT

In 2005, I had the ECW module (called This Accursed Civil War) giving 5 key battles, but as part of my game selling churn that I described at the start of this post, it went out of the collection in trade for something else to come in, something I have always regretted.

Anyway, last year this came back into the collection as GMT did a re-print and combined it with another game in the system - Sweden Fights On and so this dual pack gives us 7 ECW battles and 4 Thirty Years War battles.

This series is an example of a more intricate system that benefits from more regular play than I would normally be able to give it, but with a trimmed down collection, perhaps I can give it better service now. 

American War of Independence (AWI) - This is an interest area for me, but as yet, I do not have anything that would fit as series system of choice - perhaps one day!

Napoleonic - Oh Dear! making up for the lack of AWI (above), I find myself holding two napoleonic systems.

Well, I will ultimately settle on one, but at the moment I have games from both the Eagles of France system from Hexasim and Jours de Gloire from Vae Victis. 

Eagles of France titles to date are Austerlitz, Waterloo, Quatre Bras and Ligny. Eylau is promised next.

Jours de Gloire has something like 45 battles in its series, but many are out of print. I have started to collect the reprinted titles in their folio form, redone with both French and English rules. 

Titles include Aspern-Essling, Austerlitz, Ligny, Quatre Bras, Wavre, Waterloo and Marengo and again, an Eylau design is rumoured as being next.

The JdG advantage is their relatively small footprint, particularly useful in keeping the longer games set up, but I find the rules to the Hexasim games to be a little more intuitive - or at least easier for me to remember.

I will probably hang onto both systems for now, see what comes next and also play more of the titles to get a better appreciation of which one should go!

American Civil War - The Civil War Brigade Battle Series from Worthington Publishing.

This is a young series, but the designer has a stated aim of 10 battles being covered. So far we have Antietam, Shiloh, The 7 Days Battles and Gettysburg is due out in early 2024.

This is a players series, with the rules being just 8 pages long. Hexes represent 250 yards and each combat point on the counter is representing 100 men …. Some of those early brigades were very big, so there are some high values here on the counters, but units have strength markers to show a slow degrading of strength.

I find this system makes the bigger battles playable in a reasonable amount of time and those 8 pages make it very accessible and all the more likely to get pulled from the shelf and played.

We jump now to WWII tactical - Old School Tactical from Flying Pig Games

OST is in the mould of good old Squad Leader, which to my mind was probably the single most important and influential game in my exposure to wargaming, giving us that 50 metres per hex tactical feel, with infantry jumping over walls and hiding behind hedges, while the armour engage in their cat and mouse antics.

OST encompasses all of that and is wrapped up in a very modern design with alternating impulses, clean simple rules and excellent artwork.

There are three core modules, East front (early ’41/42), N.W. Europe (late ’44/45) and Pacific (everything). Next up, hopefully early next year, is the Italian theatre. 

Each core module has expansions, to broaden scenario situations and increases the various orders-of-battle. So for example, east front has an expansion on Stalingrad and one called Red Blitz, which covers the mid war.

This would likely be by Desert Island game, I were only allowed 1 game!

WWII Operational - Battles in the East from Decision Games

This is a new series. Each volume has two battles and two volumes have just been released together, so there are already 4 battles for starters with two more volumes promised for next year, so hopefully with 8 battles covered, this will have developed legs and become successful enough for Decision Games and the designer to continue growing it.

The rules sit in just 14 pages and share a heritage with Cobra, Panzergruppe Guderian and Army Group South. The blurb says it plays in 2 - 4 hours, so a bit of a sweet spot for me.

I think the first game to the table will be Guderian’s Final Blitzkrieg - Tula 1941. I have been playing a lot of Barbarossa games this year, so the subject is familiar to me and it will help me bench mark this system against those recently played.

So that is pretty much all of my history interest catered for by just 7 or so systems ….. That is worth saying twice, SEVEN RULEBOOKS! 

What Else’s there?

It is of course the case that series games alone will not give me 100% coverage of what I want, because there are a few titles / subjects that I would most certainly want to see in the collection, but I am keeping these to an absolute bare minimum.

So far, this is a very select group of just 5 games and each has a specific purpose.

First up - Cobra 3rd edition from Decision Games.

This is here, purely because it was my first boardgame ever played (as presented in the S&T magazine No77). It was a ‘clean’ system, without ambiguity, an important fact in the pre-internet age and more importantly is my nostalgic connection to it, as the starting point of a lifetime of great hobbying.

The Russian Campaign - reprint by GMT

Well what can one say - an absolute classic and the only game that has ever kept me up until 4 AM playing it!

Originally an Avalon Hill game, this is a 2023 reprint from GMT and has been done over 2 maps and includes the original rules, with a further section of rules that detail the various variants and optional rules that have seen print in the intervening decades.

GMT have added a new stat to the rear of their box … ‘Replay Value’ and this scores 8 out of 9, which says it all really.

Napoleon’s last Battles 2015 edition from Decision Games.

Well this is simply just a joy to own. Originally published by SPI and later TSR, this was a quad game covering the four main actions of the 1815 campaign,  Waterloo, Wavre, Quatre Bras and Ligny and there was a campaign game that linked those 4 maps together.

The 2015 reprint has a Waterloo / Wavre map and a Quatre Bras / Ligny map, but essentially the 4 battles can be played independently and also the campaign game is available.

The hexes and counters remain small, like the original, but that is the only way to do this for the average gamer to hope to get the campaign game to the table. The new counters are highly colourful, while the map(s) remains somewhat sympathetic to the original pastel colours … very nice.

The new edition has an interesting 12 page historical booklet, which is a nice touch.

Bulge Game - there are two in the stash and I am not sure that I can see either as being THE bulge game that I ultimately end up with, but for now, both are very playable and entertaining.

The first is Bulge 1944 by Worthington Games, an area movement game that has specialised dice. The Germans get a better game here than they do with most Bulge games, as that sudden switch from offensive to defensive stance doesn’t happen so decisively and from the perspective, it reflects the original German intention / mindset and I find that Acceptable.

Overall an entertaining and playable game.

The other game is Bulge by Decision Games and it came as the game supplement in issue 3 of the Command Magazine. It has just 5 pages of rules and is interesting in that units have big movement allowances, which makes this is all about the Allies worrying about keeping road routes closed down and for the German player seeking out any gaps to exit units from the map (with those big movement allowance) and claiming a win, it really does pull both players emotionally into those roles and mindsets.

I think this game may have originally been called The Big Red One. The version I have is the Ty Bomba re-make and since release, Decision Games have put out a boxed version, going back to the original SPI design. Sadly, the new game is a small half sized map and small counters, while the magazine version has oversized hexes and counters, so I am likely to stick with the magazine version.

Stalingrad by Revolution Games

I sold two Stalingrad titles when I bought this. Unusually for me it is a dedicated solitaire system, with the system taking the Soviet side. It has been highly acclaimed and my game store sold out twice before I was able to secure a copy.

It runs as an area movement game, with the usual thing of units getting spent as they are used. The Soviet defence is managed by the system and the game starts with the Soviet counters being face down, so that the player, taking the role of the Germans, does not know their value. 

The rules look very tight and this is my next game going to the table, so expect some sort of write-up here over the coming weeks.

A Barbarossa Game - Guderian’s War by One Small step

I couldn’t begin to even guess how many Barbarossa games I have owned over the years, it feels like at least one new one comes out each year, but it is a classic situation.

This is another Bomba design with the trade-mark switchable move / fight or fight / move variations in the sequence of play and his usual attention to detail on supply rules.

Will this be the Barbarossa game I stick with? The counters still haven’t been punched, but I am moving this one up the list, it is another one of those titles that has sat there for too many years without being played.

I have one other new acquisition that doesn’t really fit into other categories. It is Cruel Necessity from Worthington Publishing. 

It is a solitaire game, examining the English Civil War and my intention is that it might make a good campaign manager for my ECW figures to play out the various actions on the tabletop - one to watch out for.

And so that is basically it, there is still rather a lot really, but much, much fewer rulebooks than was previously the case. There are a couple of solitaire games in there, with one being a potential vacation title, but everything else, though two player, all have solo friendly mechanisms.

My face-to-face sessions with Mike are generally in the 2½ to 3 hour region these days, so it will be a case of picking the smaller games / scenarios out of that lot and then just relying on repeat play to get more familiar with a smaller range of games and picking up a bit of speed through that familiarity.

I’m sure the odd thing will fly in and somethings will go, but this seems the most stable, focussed and fit for purpose collection than I have ever owned, with at least the prospect that a goodly amount of this will now get played.

The challenge is to keep it this way and then to move across to the figure collection and tackle that with a similar single mindedness (plans are already afoot! and I will certainly be able to handle that in a shorter post …. You will be pleased to hear :-).

Resource Section.

My sister webspace ‘COMMANDERS’ is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and gives a flavour of where current projects are up to. Link.



  1. Norm - I like the idea of a post covering the games that you kept. I could not bare to part with my Panzerblitz, Panzerleader, or Arab-Israeli Wars boxes which are in the attic along side Squad Leader and Team Yankee in their boxes.

    Streamlining systems is brilliant - imagine if your boardgaming and mini wargaming systems could overlap! Perfection!

    Like you, I cut my teeth on Squad Leader and Panzerblitz and said to the shop-keeper wouldn't it be cool if you could use little replica tanks to represent these cardboard counters?" To which he replied "wait here i'm going to bring out some stuff for you to see" and he brought out from the back a tray of nicely painted GHQ Panzer IVs and the rest is history :) This was in 1993. I was hooked.

    That is a very handsome collection, even if it is a bit lighter now.

  2. Hi Steve, these brief encounters that just press the right buttons are precious and doubly amazing when you think how fragile and dispersed the hobby network was before the internet thingy was ever a thing - incredible how any of us ever got started.

    I can't believe that it took me so long to conclude that single systems for each major period would be a way that would work best for me.

    I wouldn't normally do a post like this because it is a little self indulgent, but I can see this being a genuine help to some ... and just a bit of weird to others :-)

    It will be interesting to see what impact it has on the blog with less new system coming into my hands. I think it is like that that figure / boardgames cross-over might get a bit more prominence - who knows.

    1. The games nowadays feel like genuine cross-overs. For example the World at War stuff from LnL feels like a miniatures game with the combat system and some of the Napoleonic stuff I've been looking at (free rules out there too) really look like miniatures games just played with counters.

    2. Yes, I think the influence of each has spread to the other. I have always felt that the design group for Eagles of France boardgame from Hexasim, have a figures background. Many gamers dabble in both worlds.

      It will be interesting to see how well I can do a tie-in between the Cruel Necessity boardgame and some ECW figures. I might even have you spending even more money once your Epic ECW is painted! :-)

    3. Norm that would be outstanding! Looking forward to it!

  3. Norm, you show much more discipline and restraint than I. Perhaps one day...

  4. Hi Jonathan, the down side is that there isn’t a huge choice when selecting a series for a period, but I am okay with what has fallen out of this. We shall see, but I have high hopes.

  5. A most interesting read through and it’s always good to see what you’re keeping and why rather than what’s going. I’m glad you feel better following the rationalisation, I’ve done a review and clear out a couple of times in the past 12 years of figures, books and games and always feel better for doing it. We have very similar tastes in some areas ( Ancients/ Dark Ages and Napoleonic) but I have to admit I still like the odd game for other periods (FIW, ECW,ACW ) and I also have a couple of Naval games for earlier periods.
    I have to admit I like GMT’s P500 and have committed to the 1066 game and the forthcoming 3 days at Gettysburg. The only period I still can’t get my head around is WWII. Can’t decide on scale !
    I think my next attack will be on figure rules, I think I’m pretty well sorted on favoured rule types. Following that there still may be some tweaking round the edges of the figure and game collections but nothing too drastic.

    1. Hi Graham, there is definitely something cathartic about a clear-out. Even with my rationalisation, I know that time is shorter than the availability of games.

      In your quest for a WWII game - Keep an eye out for the re-print of Tank Leader from Compass Games. It was a John Hill design and formations are activated when their card is drawn … but the stack it is drawn from is created by the players playing into the stack, so this undermines solo play.

      Anyway, it has been promised for years, so no reason to expect to see it any time soon, but it is another one for the radar.

      Like your good self, I have just turned my gaze on figure rules while I am in the mood for wielding the axe.

  6. Thank you for sharing your decision making process. Hearing why you kept a game is immeasurably more helpful (at least to me) than trawling through comments on BoardgameGeek looking for some definitive reasons to choose one game or another. I am admittedly partial to your methodology of minimizing rules sets while maximizing games playable. Board gaming and figure gaming often celebrate the having of "more"(attested to by the piles of unplayed board games, the shelves of unplayed rules, the unpainted lead and plastic mountains) - it's refreshing to see someone take an opposite approach, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  7. Hi John, thanks for the thumbs up. The culture of more is good, for me, just serves more as a distraction. I am too indecisive for such things to be fully enjoyed!

    I have the same issue with figure scales, I like them all and own things in multiple scales, but for my personality type, it is a nightmare. Having felt fairly successful on the streamlining of the board games, I have turned my attention to the figures …. While the fire is burning :-) more to follow!

  8. Thanks Norm and I echo the other comments on how useful this post is. While I may not sell any of my games it gives me a good idea on what to concentrate on to get the best from my playing time.

  9. Hi Ben, I did some last minute finalising last night, with some low end stuff just going straight into the bin and the clarity of collection purpose is very satisfying.

    I’m not sure why I have to clear out to get to that point, when I could have simply just decided upon a sort of top 10 favourite and just concentrated on that narrower range of titles (as you pretty much suggest) - a character trait for sure :-)

  10. Brilliant read Norm and a timely one too, as I'm hoping to have a good cull of my lead pile to clear out the stuff I know I will never use. I've said this before of course, but never have been able to find the time nor the energy to actually do it. Once the CWD is out of the way maybe I will venture into the attic to start...

    As for the rules side of things, I'm happy that I now have core rulesets which makes things so much easier, as I'm not constantly trying to re-remember rules each time I change a period.

    1. Hi Steve, having applied myself to it, the solution was in fact easy and do-able over a sort time. I am turning my attention over to the figures now, while I am still in this clearing out mood :-)

  11. You still have a good selection of gaming goodness there Norm. I need to cull my painted collection of things that rarely or are unlikely to be played with, but without the need to sell on to buy new these days making the effort to do it is always being put off.

  12. Hi Phil, that is exactly right, despite a heavy handed cull, there is still more than enough to get my attention.

    It’s funny the ‘need’ to sell (financially) wasn’t behind this drastic action for a change, rather it was the need to clear space and get rid of some distractions. I am increasingly seeing this as just a personality thing.

    1. Space is rapidly becoming an issue here too so I will no doubt have to knuckle down and get sorted at some point. We have a local tabletop sale once it twice a year that maybe something to think about

  13. Interesting choices of series to keep, Norm. It's a good idea to keep the rules learning required under control. Like you did, I have shelves full of games. Not yet at the stage of culling them, but it will have to happen at some stage.

    1. Hi Aaron, I’m fairly happy that the choices made are keepers. As well as boxed games, I had quite a lot of ziplocked games store in boxfiles and I have just managed to liberate the shelves from 7 box files!

  14. Another great post from you Norm. I dabble very much at the edges of board games but you've given some excellent pointers there!

  15. Thanks Ian, I am pushing some of this thinking to the figures and figure rules, so another related post, closer to home is on the cards :-)

  16. A very interesting read Norm. I've never played any of these kind of board games before but recently have been thinking about giving it a go. Which game would you suggest for a bunch of wargamers first foray? I don't really mind what period?

  17. Hi Ray, if you are interested in a freebie intro game, I can send you Battle for Moscow. It’s design intention was to introduce gamers to boardgaming. The rules are just 4 page long, but cover all the major principles such as Zones of Control etc.

    Look at the Resource Section at the bottom of the above post, there is a link to my Commanders Page, if you go there, at the bottom of the menu on the left, there is a CONTACT PAGE - you can reach me there privately and if you send me your postal address, I will pop the game into the post and you can share it amongst the group.

    That aside, a good boardgame for new players (2 player game, but can be played solo) is any of the games from the Civil War Brigade Series by Worthington Publishing. The advantage is they have 8 pages of rules, so it is a players game. Counters are nice and big and the boards are mounted. Game time comes in at 3 - 6 hours, but they can be left set up.

    The three titles out so far are Antietam, Shiloh and 7 Days Battles. They are doing a big Gettysburg game in January. In the UK, Second Chance Games are a good / reliable seller - they also have a huge catalogue that you might like to browse and they also sell second hand games, so a chance for bargains.

    I have an AAR on the blog for antietam, which will help to see whether this is a game for you.

    Second Chance Games also do a Battle of Waterloo (Napoleon’s Last Battles) which is a bit kinder on the wallet and it allows smaller games of Waterloo, Wavre, Ligny and Quatre Bras and also allows them all to be combined into the full battle. Link


    My free game migt be a better place to start :-)

    Cheers Norm.

    1. Sorry Ray … forgot the link to my AAR - here it is


  18. An interesting read. I have been very disciplined over the years about boardgames - perhaps a bit too disciplined even, maybe I should have invested in (or kept!) one or two more over the years! That 'Cruel Necessity' game looks very good BTW. I have done the ECW as a miniatures campaign based on The King's War before, but maybe I could give it a go using this. I would definitely want to include the fighting in Scotland and Ireland though.

  19. Hi, from what I can see, Cruel Necessity does cover the unrest of both Ireland and Scotland. I have just checked Second Chance Games to see if they have any 1st Edition copies from Victory Point Games, but they don’t. But there is a copy on BoardGameGeek and I think you could get that price down due to the new deluxe release . Link


    I read once somewhere that a gamer had a collection of 1500 games, I mean what does that even look like!🙂

    1. Jonathan, I wish that I still had some of the titles that I have sold off over the years, just to dip into them and to get the maps out would be a nice thing to do.

      So there is some sellers regret, but necessity and all of that is what it is! I’m also looking at my latest cull and despite cutting back somewhat to the bone - there is still a lot in there to be played, especially when miniatures are also demanding of time - but that is all a good thing.

      You should have a boardgame parade with some fave titles, I imagine that most of your blog audience know you only as a figure gamer.

    2. I may take you up on your suggestion.

  20. Very brave Norm…..more space means you can buy some more 👍

  21. Well, it's funny you should say that! but its figure terrain, so that doesn't count ... does it?

  22. Very interesting post even if I'm not really a board gamer ,although I did have some SPI lord of the ring battle games which together with Apocalypse and Horus Heresy I got rid of , something I wouldn't do with figures, I think the idea of period specific game systems makes a lot of sense, I've stuck largely to one scale for figures and we've mostly stuck with the Blackpowder family of rules, although I bought General de Armee from Graham and after your last post went out bought Wargames Illustrated for a hard copy of the Johnson/ Perry rules!
    Best Iain

  23. Hi Iain, The boardgame slim down has drastically reduced the number of rule books that live in this house :-) and my similar approach to figures will absolutely nail this down.

    It should see a big hobby adjustment in one respect, but in another, things are actually staying much the same, I am just gettinng rid of the distractions.

    I fully take your point about the blackpowder family of rules and I am pursuing that line of thought at the moment.

  24. Norm, I am guessing that you do not play computer-based war games. For me, the computer screen is the smallest table available and the computer's hard drive takes no shelf space in my den! If you ever consider playing computer war games, try John Tiller's games from Wargame Design Studio. They have an Early American Wars Series that might fill your gap for the American Revolution. The Series includes: The French and Indian War, Campaign 1776, and The War of 1812.

  25. Hi Pat, thanks for visiting and the recommendation. I have avoided generally avoided computer games due to RSI problems that I was having with my ‘mouse hand’ and just generally to give me down time from looking at screens anyway. I don’t even do Vassal!

    Overall - I know that is my loss :-) because of the versatility of the computer and the storage power of the hard drive (I have transferred a lot of my military collection of books onto my kindle and I reckon that I have liberated about 8’ of shelving just due to that). Also a shame because those AWI and FIW titles could do with exploring :-) Cheers Norm.


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