Games have a gotten a reputation as mindless violence. Run, shoot, die. Don't you yearn for something more?
How about wargames? Violence for the thinking man! Tell your hapless troops to run, shoot, and die; all from the comfort of your armchair and drinks cabinet. Let's discuss and possibly play some war games.
Boutique wargames, those that are very niche, are usually characterized by great gameplay and shoddy graphics. That's not as big a handicap as it sounds like. They are primarily a platform for two, or more, people to match wits. These studios are usually very small groups of enthusiasts, without the staff or budget for the AAA graphics we expect from bigger games. So the price can be a little higher, and the graphics can be a little worse, but we're still getting a high quality product from independent developers. If you're asking yourself, "Why a screenshot-heavy OP, then?" I figured it would be more interesting than me rambling on about old battles like a crazy grandpa. There's plenty of time for that later.
To lead off, how about the fantastic Combat Mission series? The first three are in WWII, but don't hold that against them. They're tactical-level games that are played out in discrete scenarios. I'm sure anyone who's played it has stories of hard-fought battles that could hinge on a single squad getting in position at the right moment. These games are very in-depth, and some of the best strategy to be had on the PC.
Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord
This gem did a great job of bringing 2d gaming tactics to a 3d field. Units use true line of sight, and complicated calculations determine fire and movement. Set in the standard WWII France, this game simulates warfare in incredible depth. It's a tactical level game, so you command at most a battalion. Each battle needs to be carefully coordinated, especially against a clever opponent.
Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin
CM:BB takes the series to the Eastern Front. A streamlined interface and lots of the seldom-seen areas of the war make this very interesting. Have you ever commanded a company of Finns in a desperate defense against the Red Army? No? Now's your chance!
Combat Mission: Afrika Korps
Tanks! Italians! Sand! Fight in the rarely seen Italian and African campaigns in this edition of Combat Mission.
Combat Mission: Shock Force
Well, there's this one, too, I guess. It's the US invading Syria in the near future. Real ripped-from-the-headlines stuff. The graphics leaped up a notch, but the game kind of went in the shitter. They're releasing expansions that might fix stuff. Stick to the first three.
Western Civilization Software has a pair of great strategic/operational games out there, covering the wars of Napoleon, and the American Civil War. Crown of Glory and Forge of Freedom, respectively.
Forge treaties, fight battles, and govern your nation in Crown of Glory. It's like the Total War series in that your performance as a ruler relies on more than winning battles. If your economy is in the tank, or you have no allies, you'll be at a big disadvantage. Plus, you get to weep and pray that the invincible French don't crush your puny armies. How many games let you do that?
Also like the Total War series, you can fight your battles personally. Except instead of pretty graphics, you get chits and tons of statistics to remember. The battles are great fun, and full of tough decisions. Your line is about to break; do you commit your reserves to the center to try to hold, or do you send them to try to turn the enemy flank? Or just fall back to fight another day? In this picture, it looks like the French have already taken the town, so it's all over but the croissant party.
Forge of Freedom is the sequel, and they improved on a lot of things. The new setting poses a lot of interesting problems, too. You've got to keep governors happy, and try to keep morale up while thousands of men get butchered. There aren't any good screenshots of it out there, though. Imagine Crown of Glory with little US and CS flags.
How about my favorite for the moment, AGEod's World War One. That's right, a game about WWI! How weird is that? It is so absurdly detailed that you will be qualified to teach Ph.D. level history courses after playing it for an hour. Balance your budget, massage public opinion, keep an eye out for dissidents, dictate foreign policy, and deal with this little war that's going on. If you've ever wanted to play a good game about the Great War, look no further. It can take a bit to get into, but it's worth every second.
So, share your favorite wargames!