May 22, 2024

#TBT/Throwback Thursday ~ Early Computer Wargames

Brant Guillory, 10 August 2023

Wargames were perhaps over-represented as percentage of early home computer games relative to the overall gaming market.  One reason was that most arcade game adaptations were found on consoles like the Atari 2600.  Another was probably that there was an abundance of wargamers among the early computer nerd crowd, looking to extend their hobby onto the latest digital toys on their desks at home.

TBT compGames85

So in the early days of external 5-1/4″ floppy disks1 you would order your games from a magazine ad or company catalog and then wait for the games to show up in the mail.  Not only that, but those early digital wargamers all pre-dated the current Mac/Windows duopoly (never mind the Linux interlopers!).

Most games could be had for the early Apple II series (IIc/IIe, and later II-GS), or the Atari computer series (400 / 800 / 1200, but not the 2600 console), or the older Commodore series (mostly the C64, but some games could run on the PET or VIC-20, and later the C-128).  The 8-bit multi-color graphics were clearly limited, but the very idea of even playing a wargame on a computer enabled the audience to overlook the many, many limitations of the form.

Also, not that while there are plenty of wargames in the ad above, there are other non-wargame strategy games as well.  Computer Baseball, and Tournament Golf, and Jupiter Mission 1999, and Standing Stones were sold to the same audiences as Reforger 88, and Dreadnoughts.

tigers in snow
No point-&-click! These games predated the GUI that included the mouse for on-screen navigation.


So how many of these pre-GUI / pre-Mac / pre-Windows games did you ever play?  What was the earliest computer game you played? What was the earliest computer game you purchased, and for what platform?


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In the gaming world of ’80s delight,
Computer wargames took flight,
With pixels and beeps,
Armies clashed in heaps,
Strategies in the pixelated fight.
Low-res graphics and bleeps filled the air,
As generals planned with great care,
From floppy disks they’d run,
Battles ‘neath the digital sun,
Those early wargames had flair.


  1. or – God forbid – tape drives

Brant G

Editor-in-chief at Armchair Dragoons

View all posts by Brant G →

5 thoughts on “#TBT/Throwback Thursday ~ Early Computer Wargames

  1. My first computer was a C-64, bought from Target in 1985. My first couple of games were Microprose’s Silent Service and SSI’s Carrier Force, by Gary Grigsby. I loved both those games and played them to death. Entire weekends gone. I loved the Grigsby games.
    A little later I bought an Amiga 500 and played many wargames on it. There was a competition of sorts between SSI and SSG, and I typically much preferred the former. What irked me somewhat was that it was said by many people that SSG had a superior “AI”, but that was not true, in my opinion. What they simply did was not give the human player as many options, thereby somewhat leveling the field and making it seem like the AI was better – and no one ever called them on it. The result was that many of the SSG wargames had certain aspects to them that tended to play themselves, with the human player being a mere spectator. The two developers made all sorts of excuses for that, which I found irritating because I saw what they were doing.
    What I really need to do is learn how to use DOSBox, so I can play all those great games again.

    1. C-64 SSI:Carrier Force, Computer Ambush, Kampfgruppe ???. Mprose: Mig Alley Ace, F15, M1Tank?. SSG: Carriers at War. Grateful for Gary Grisby, Joel Billings and the early SSI/Microprose folks … got me through a lot of long deployments back in the 90s.

      1. And who can forget ‘Empire: Wargame of the Century’?
        Eventually, it became ‘Empire Deluxe’. ZOMG, how many hours wasted on that one.
        An updated and more elaborate version of ‘Empire Deluxe’ is actually available, here:
        I’ve been thinking of getting this for a number of years, but haven’t pulled the trigger, mostly because I already have countless other games that I haven’t played.
        Another oldie but goodie, although non-wargame, that can still be downloaded for free is Dungeon Master, here:
        I’ve got it installed and was playing through it again a few months ago. I need to get back to it.

  2. TRS-80 Model 1 and Nukewar from Avalon Hill was my first computer war game. Can’t remember the names of the others. It was strictly text based graphics. There was a grid of spaces for your side and each turn you could purchase nuclear missiles, strategic bombers or nuclear subs. Eventually, Armageddon would start. Pretty morbid looking back on it now. For a 12 year old kid it was a blast.

    1. I don’t think I had Nukewar, but I did have pirated versions of AH’s ‘B-1 Nuclear Bomber’ and ‘Midway’. The former kind of sucked, but the latter was actually decent and I played it a lot. I remember you could play the entire battle in, like, ten minutes, but it was okay for the day. For some reason, there were a lot of games about the WW2 carrier battles in those days. Maybe because they didn’t require fancy graphics.

      The better games I played were store bought, but I also had pirated copies of some of the more primitive ones, like some of the early Avalon Hill text-based games mentioned above. For whatever reason, piracy was rampant with C-64 games, and even though I didn’t know many other people with the same interest, it seemed easy to get them. Everyone that had a C-64 seemed to always have a slew of pirated software. This wasn’t the case with the later Amiga games, where I only had two or three pirated games, albeit a couple of good ones, and not at all with the MS compatibles some years later. At least that’s my experience.

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