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Filler games like ToC and Fluxx accommodate this niche perfectly. But both of us were wishing we'd had a wargame locked and loaded as a contingency to knock out in our hour-and-a-half window of opportunity. In retrospect, we certainly could have played my miniatures favorite De Bellis Antiquitatis or the quick and dirty card game Down in Flames: Zero! Even a game of chess might have worked, and I think we considered it. Grant specifically mentioned he would have liked to have played a Columbia block game, if we'd had more time. But when you don't have your miniatures handy or can't lay your fingers on the right game on the spur of the moment, we found it hard to whip out something that's both meaty and quick.
So I thought I'd review my own collection and see what candidates I have as "hot standbys" for spur-of-the-moment wargame options. Here's what I come up with as good options from games I have on hand:
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- Down in Flames III: Zero! (designer Dan Verssen): GMT's clever card game of World War II dogfighting can be knocked out in less than an hour pitting a flight of four American aircraft against four Japanese. Always fun.
- Memoir '44 (publisher Days of Wonder): Richard Borg's fun, approachable World War II game that starts in northern Europe but whose expansions extend to all theaters
- Wooden Ships and Iron Men (designer S. Craig Taylor): One of my very favorite games, an Avalon Hill classic handling of tactical naval combat in the age of sail, from single frigate engagements to large fleet actions
- Panzer Leader (designers Dave Clark, Randall C. Reed, Nick Smith) and
PanzerBlitz (designer Jim Dunnigan): Two more Avalon Hill classics, timeless treatments of battalion-level armor and infantry combat on the western and eastern World War II fronts, respectively
- Battle Cry (Avalon Hill / Hasbro): Richard Borg's American Civil War predecessor to Memoir '44
- De Bellis Antiquitatis (designers Phil and Sue Barker and Richard Bodley Scott): The only miniatures game on this list, appealing for its small scale and rapid play time. Our collections are 15mm scale, which means each army fits in a cigar box and the battle can be played on a two-foot-square board with a half-dozen pieces of terrain. Simple, quick, and still tactically challenging.
- Richtofen's War (designer Randall C. Reed): A favorite of mine way back in high school, I haven't touched this Avalon Hill World War I dogfight classic in a long time, but I remember it was a quick play with a lot of tactical maneuver.
- Saipan (designer Kip Allen): The only folio game I have from the SPI "Island War" quadrigame, this is a nice treatment of the US Marines' invasion of the very toughly defended island. Play balance issues need some treatment, though.
- Ace of Aces (designers Doug Kaufman and Alfred Leonardi): A true "filler" wargame. This was a fun diversion when I was on a submarine in the Navy. My department head and I had a decent campaign going during one deployment.
So I think the lesson learned here is that I ought to have two or three of these "at the ready" for any spontaneous opportunity for a wargame encounter. I wonder if I should carry some of them in my car? You never know when the mood will strike ... to kill some cardboard!