Home Forums General Game Design Ten Most Decisive Battles in History

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    Avatar photohammurabi70

    Looking ahead I am proposing that in 2021/22 the club games the ten most decisive battles in history.  If you take a historical deterministic view of history then no battle is truly decisive because greater forces are at work and a battle merely increases or decreases the speed of historical change.  Nevertheless, presumably battles do something.  Which ones are the most decisive?  What is your view?

    My choice:

    1.     Marathon – prevented expansion of Persian Empire into Europe and impacted the development of a European culture.

    2.     Metaurus – resulted in a Roman European development rather than a Carthaginian one; this was probably the decisive battle for the Roman road to victory.

    3.     Tours – ended the expansion of Islam within Europe with a profound impact on European culture.

    4.     Ayn Jalat – a Mongol victory would have severely impacted the situation of Islam and been a game changer in terms of political manoeuvring in the Middle East between the various Christian and Muslim powers.

    5.     Marston Moor – ensured victory for Parliament and started the process of dismantling monarchical government.

    6.     Saratoga – victory for the revolutionary cause that decisively impacted the development of modern democracy.

    7.     Valmy – the first success of conscript armies and the modern era of warfare that ushered in the French revolution and modern history.

    8.     Gettysburg – a CSA victory at this point in time and location was the best chance the CSA had of getting the USA to the negotiating table; the impact on world history of splitting into the USA and CSA would have been enormous.

    9.     Marne – a German victory might have taken the Western front out of WWI, succeeding in Schlieffen’s plan of avoiding a two-front war; German victory would have had a huge impact on history.

    10.  Moscow – taking the capital, its manufacturing resources, communications hub and political significance might have been a blow that the Soviets would be unable to recover from, with vast changes to history resulting from Soviet defeat.

    What is your list of the top ten battles of history?

    [The list is a rather Eurocentric view of history but you are welcome to include others such as Chinese, Indian or Japanese military events if you think they have global ramifications].

    Avatar photoMr. Average

    I can’t rank them as well as you but Midway would definitely be in my list somewhere, probably Antietam because of its politically enabling the Emancipation Proclamation, Waterloo for its decisive end to the Napoleonic age, Normandy for the breaking of the Festung Europa, and the Milvian Bridge because of its effect in establishing Christianity as the dominant cultural force in Eurasia for the next millennium or so (no judgment on that, but one can’t deny it was enormously important, love it or hate it).

    Avatar photoNathaniel Weber

    Guadalcanal for me—there, the Japanese worked counter to their own strategy and fought a damaging attritional fight beyond their effective operational range. Paired with Midway it was decisive, and also worked to legitimize(in the eyes of resource allocators) the basic American Pacific strategy.

    Ia Drang 1965: one of those strange “both sides won” battles—the PAVN took the campaign as a whole and were satisfied with the casualty ratio and their counters to US firepower;  the Americans viewed LZ X Ray as a distinct battle and believed they had overcome the logistical/operational problems that had doomed the French, and could hit hard enough to win, therefore could focus on a military/firepower solution to the problems in SE Asia.


    Avatar photoPatrice

    Um, quite a complicated (…and almost political) subject.

    3. Tours – ended the expansion of Islam within Europe with a profound impact on European culture.10. Moscow – taking the capital, its manufacturing resources, communications hub and political significance might have been a blow

    I’m not sure that the battle at Tours (or Poitiers) was something more than defeating a mere raid. This victory helped the renown of the Frankish dynasty at the time, and was celebrated later, but it was probably not a real invasion.

    Bouvines 1214 is perhaps more significant regarding forces in north-west Europe.

    Moscow? Instinctively I rather think of Stalingrad, which was the key to south-east Russia, perhaps more significant than the areas behind Moscow?


    Avatar photoNot Connard Sage


    Hastings – the foundations of what Britain was to become

    The defeat of the Spanish Armada – Henry’s legacy saved

    Borodino – The Grande Armee never recovered.

    Waterloo – Napoleon gets the heave-ho, peace breaks out in Europe

    Pearl Harbor – Bought the United States into the war

    Stalingrad – It was only backwards for Adolf now.  Six months later Kursk made defeat in the East a certainty.


    Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.

    Avatar photoJohn D Salt

    Ten from me with an effort at being eclectic (although I have to agree with Ain Jalut, Saratoga, Pearl Harbor, Stalingrad, and, finally, the defeat of the Armada as the first major victory of the Royal Navy, which became the principal engine of dominance of the most extensive empire ever).

    I’ve gone a bit naval, and tried to venture a bit further afield than Europe.

    In no particular order:

    Kulikovo fields — Russia avoids strangulation at birth
    ONS-5 — tipping point of the most critical campaign of the biggest war ever
    Cerignola — setting the scene for Spanish military dominance, but more importantly the rise of shoulder-fired firearms
    Midway — tipping point of the Pacific war, and demonstration of the importance of naval aviation, cryptography, and wargaming
    Constantinople — confirmed the decline of the Byzantines, the rise of the Ottomans, and the arrival of artillery
    Badr — Mohammed scores the first victory in the rise of Islam
    Taranto — reversed the balance of naval power in the Med at remarkably low cost, demonstrated the importance of naval aviation, and gave the Japanese the idea for Pearl Harbor
    Cuzco — destruction of the Inca Empire
    Hakata Bay — Japan, with some assistance from the weather, defeats one of the most powerful naval invasions ever launched, and remains independent from Korea
    Yamen — Kublai Khan takes China

    All the best,


    Avatar photoThomaston

    Tsushima would be one, it set Japan up as a significant power and on the path of imperialism.

    I’m torn between Cannae and Zama.
    Cannae was a complete victory for an army that was out numbered and didn’t enjoy intel advantage like Midway.
    Zama on the other hand was the start of Roman dominance for a long ass time.

    Dien Bien Phu – ended French colonialism in SEA.

    Teutoburg Forest – the worst defeat in Roman history.

    Tired is enough.

    Avatar photoLes Hammond

    I’m partway into John Laffin’s Links Of Leadership and there are some interesting pointers there as to why some famous battles aren’t considered noteworthy whilst lesser ones are.


    Well worth a read for any wargamer, let alone it’s addressing of this particular subject.

    6mm France 1940


    Avatar photoSane Max

    Um, quite a complicated (…and almost political) subject.

    3. Tours – ended the expansion of Islam within Europe with a profound impact on European culture.10. Moscow – taking the capital, its manufacturing resources, communications hub and political significance might have been a blow

    I’m not sure that the battle at Tours (or Poitiers) was something more than defeating a mere raid. This victory helped the renown of the Frankish dynasty at the time, and was celebrated later, but it was probably not a real invasion.

    that was EXACTLY what I was gonna say. Replace it with one of Alexander’s battles. Turning Anatolia and beyond into Greek lands for several thousand years must count as quite important. 3. Gaugemala

    Avatar photoMike6t3

    How about Blenheim ?  Ended the expansionist plans of Louis 14th and demonstrated that the French Army was beatable.

    Battle of the Atlantic. Defeat knocks Britain out of the war and probably stops US lease lend equipment reaching the Soviet Union.




    Get there fastest with the mostest and roll highest.


    Avatar photoJohn D Salt

    How about Blenheim ? Ended the expansionist plans of Louis 14th and demonstrated that the French Army was beatable.

    “But what good came of it at last?” quoth little Peterkin.


    All the best,


    Avatar photoMartinR

    My deep ignorance of global history precludes me from glibly listing the ten most decisive battles in human history (maybe including one between Neanderthals and Humans?) but if I had to pick ten important battles which are actually gameable they would be:



    Edge Hill


    Borodino (or Leipzig or Waterloo)

    Blenheim (or Ramilles)

    Koennigratz – probably the single most important battle in list as it determined the course of history from 1866 to 1989

    Market Garden

    Operation Uranus


    Funnily enough, I’ve Wargamed all of these, some of them multiple times.

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    Lists like these are too much coloured by national histories … 😉

    I always find it difficult to list ‘decisive’ battles. Battles are not isolated events and have to be considered along with political, societal, and even cultural or scientific  events to judge their impact on history. In recent times (the past 200 years or so), and when considering only the military pov, I would even say you cannot look at an individual battle, but should look at an entire campaign or war.

    Also, the importance various countries attribute to battles have often more to do with forging a national identity rather than a true historical importance.

    But I do think it makes sense to discuss ‘decisive battles’ in the context of the outcome of a specific war or conflict.


    Tiny Tin Men Blog: http://snv-ttm.blogspot.com/
    Wargaming Mechanics Blog: http://wargaming-mechanics.blogspot.com/

    Avatar photoChris Pringle

    Oh go on then, I’ll throw in a wild card what-if. Before you pick your ten decisive battles, I suppose you have to pick your ten decisive wars. (Kind of what Phil just said.) Myself, I’m currently very into the Hungarian War of Independence of 1848-1849. Now it’s hard to argue that was a decisive war – the Hungarian revolution failed, it was suppressed by the Austrians and their Russian allies, and Hungary stayed part of the Habsburg empire for another 70 years.

    Well, that’s where the what-if comes in: specifically, at the battle of Pered in June 1849. Arguably, the Hungarians had a chance of beating the Austrians then, before the Russian intervention could take effect. Let’s imagine what could have resulted had they done so:

    • Hungary becomes independent
    • Austria is diminished and no longer a Great Power
    • Perhaps other Austrian subject peoples achieve their national aspirations sooner and more peacefully, thus:
    • No need for the war of 1859 to liberate Lombardy
    • No need for the war of 1866 to liberate Venetia and assert Prussia’s top-dog status in Germany
    • The Balkan states probably still need to fight to be free of the Ottoman yoke, but:
    • Much less Austro-Serb friction and hence no assassination at Sarajevo, no ‘Central Powers’ alliance, perhaps no WWI?

    Didn’t happen; the Hungarians were beaten; a potentially pivotal moment never became actually pivotal, so having pressed Pered’s claim as hard as I can, I now withdraw it. But it does deserve to be better known.

    (Oh, and since you’re looking for decisive battles to wargame – this one has produced really good fun games for us, with plenty of maneuver and chewed nails.)


    Bloody Big BATTLES!



    Avatar photoThuseld

    This has been a fascinating read. I love history and seeing peoples’ ideas for what constitutes decisive and what parts of history you all decide are important.

    Avatar photoWhirlwind

    I haven’t managed to come up with a list yet, but just thinking about what my criteria would be has been very interesting.  For me, a decisive battle has to be one that could reasonably have been won by both sides, and that victory alone decisively changed the political course of events, which in themselves were  hugely significant.  Ones that I think might make the grade are:





    (choosing a Napoleonic battle or two is really difficult; I might go for Austerlitz, since a defeat for Napoleon here would probably have meant no Napoleonic Wars at all, as normally thought of)



    The Marne & Tannenberg (okay, separate battles but since they were fought at much the same time, I am going to include them together)

    The Battle of the Atlantic

    Stalingrad &/or Kursk (I change my mind often about which one was decisive)


    Avatar photoSabresquadron

    One has to consider what makes a battle ‘decisive’. To be so classed must mean that it resulted in massive change or prevented such change, e.g. the rise or fall of a state, empire, dynasty or religion. I would argue that very few would fit such a test. Ones to consider:

    1. Plataea – final end to the Persian threat to Greece. Marathon just delayed it for 10 years.
    2. Gaugamela – ended the Persian Empire and spread Hellenistic culture eastwards.
    3. Yarmuk -the reverse could have stopped the spread of Islam.
    4. Saratoga – it brought French involvement that proved crucial to the rebels.
    5. Trafalgar – Britain became undefeatable by Napoleon and had 100 years of unchallenged naval supremacy.
    6. Teutoberger Wald – no Roman expansion past the Rhine and a division of Europe created.
    7. Bosworth – brought in the Tudors without whom there would have been no reformation in England, the effects of which were massive.
    8. Marne – stopped the Germans from winning in 1914.
    9. Tannenberg – stopped the Germans from losing in 1914!
    10. Ayn Jalat – see OP above.

    Avatar photoMr. Average

    I might actually add the Battles of Lexington and Concord to my list above. A quick and decisive crushing of the Rebellion instead of the marginal tactical victory and the failure to strategically outmaneuver the colonial militias would mean no Revolution (or at least not to the extent it had) no Revolutionary War or at least only an abbreviated one probably leading at best to parliamentary reconciliation rather than independence, and ultimately no United States – probably America would now be some number of smaller Commonweath states, and not an international superpower. And again, love it or hate it, the existence of the USA has impacted history profoundly in less than 250 years.

    Avatar photoJim Jackaman

    That’s a tough one.






    Battle of Britain



    .. have to think of some more to add.


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