If we accept “history” as the sum of human achievement up to the present day, then this is the most widely represented subject in analog gaming. In the genre of “war games” alone, you’ll find a wealth of excellent, accurate, and informative games covering the entire field of human conflict; unfortunately, games in this genre tend to be large, long and nuanced, suitable only for those who have already proclaimed themselves to be war gamers or “grognards,” a vicious and insular cycle. Anything in the catalogs of GMT, Academy, Worthington Publishing, or Dan Verssen Games would fit those of the grognardian persuasion.
I have little personal interest in consim or “conflict simulation” games, but I’ve heard particularly good things about games in the COIN series, such as Fire in the Lake (covering the Vietnam Conflict) or Andean Abyss (covering the ongoing Colombian Conflict). Navajo Wars and the upcoming Comanchería are well-researched and mechanically rewarding depictions of Native American history, primarily intended for solitaire play.
For those with a little patience and an appetite for complexity (but not enough of an appetite to swallow a consim), there’s still a tremendous offering to choose from. Anything from Victory Point Games’ States of Siege series (or the ill-omened BattLesson) offers a hefty serving of historical detail with an easily digestible ruleset; these are also primarily for solitaire play but could also be played “by committee.” Highlights include Levée en Masse (the French Revolution), Cruel Necessity (English Civil Wars), Mound Builders (pre-Colonial American civilizations), and the two-part Ottoman Sunset/Hapsburg Eclipse (Hungarian and Turkish Empires after WWI). VPG also produces the wonderfully specific Hero of Weehawken: the Aaron Burr Conspiracy, in which the player, as President Thomas Jefferson, must hunt for evidence concerning your former Vice President’s rumored coup-d’etat.
I can personally recommend Academy Games’ Freedom: The Underground Railroad, a cooperative game about the moral, political and logistical struggles of the abolitionist movement in antebellum America. For more recent history, check out the evergreen Twilight Struggle (Cold War) from GMT Games, which has been ranked #1 on BoardGameGeek for the past 5 years running. And, while intricate and challenging, Vlaada Chvátil’s Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization (which just saw a new edition) is well worth learning and can be played for free on BoardGameArena and BoardgamingOnline. TTA has been in BGG’s top 5 for as many years.
Finally, there are plenty of games for general audiences that have broad historical value. Looney Labs’ Chrononauts is a goofy time-travel game that glosses most of the major events of the 20th century (and explores what might have happened had things gone differently). Asmodee’s Timeline series tests your knowledge of the chronology of historical events, people or discoveries, and it comes in numerous themed sets such as Music & Cinema, Discoveries, and American History. (There’s a companion series, Cardline, that compares other types of stats in topics like animals, geography and dinosaurs.)
While its physical release is currently out of print, the Ragnar Brothers‘ A Brief History of the World is a fantastic depiction of history’s great empires, their particular strengths and their geographic seats of power; the mobile app is still freely available. Last but not least, Asmodee’s 7 Wonders doesn’t cover a lot of historical detail, but it’s a quick, simple and fun introduction to the great names, places and innovations of the past, particularly when you add in the Leaders expansion.
Tabletop Games Curriculum
I can’t overstate my central thesis that all games, electronic or analog, have educational merit; however, here is a short list of tabletop games, by subject, that I feel are particularly suited to supplement a K-12 curriculum. I’ve chosen to focus on tabletop games for a few reasons, foremost among which being that it’s an area that I currently find intellectually stimulating. Each content area will be released as a separate update.