War Games: From Tabletop Battles to the Real World

Published on July 13 2023

What better way than board games to liven up a party or create your own avatar to save the world? Virtually or otherwise, games have shaped our childhood, stimulated our creativity and developed our critical thinking. But what if those skills were used to develop real-life military tactics? From the imaginary to the real world, the War Games exhibition at the Canadian War Museum invites you to discover how games have been used by the military.

From games to battle strategy

Imagine if a single decision could set your ship off course or sink it entirely. Atlantic Peril is a game featured in the exhibition that highlights the difficult choices combatants face. This guided board game experience is an immersion in the world of games and how they’re used in wartime. Successful strategies are developed using a set of game pieces, a scale model and large-scale simulations. 

As if engaged in an elaborate game, the volunteers of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) played a key role in Second World War operations. Many women contributed to the war effort by drawing up tactical charts. Games were also used as military training tools, like the Dunn Kempf game with its model tanks and helicopters. Those are just two examples of the close link between games and war. Enter the world of the Canadian War Museum and put yourself in the shoes of those who walked the trenches.

The experience: History and rare board games

At the Canadian War Museum, I felt like I was in a concrete bunker where archives and war stories are preserved and told. The setting encourages nostalgia and listening. As you tour the five sections of the War Games exhibition, you’ll be amazed by the paradox of playful games and their effectiveness as wartime tools. 

See the complex military operations deployed in landmark wars from one era to the next: antiquity, the First and Second World Wars, the Cold War, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even current conflicts. Admire the digital and interactive art, illustrations and artistic works of brave Canadian lieutenants such as Trisha MacLeod, who cared for people affected by COVID-19. 

Board game collectors and fans will be delighted by the display of rare games from all over the world. Among the oldest games are Dunn Kempf, Missile Command and the popular Dungeons and Dragons. Although you’ve probably already played Settlers of Catan or This War of Mine with friends, learn more about their background. Each game reveals a story, a goal, a military conflict or a peace mission. You’ll never see these games the same way again! 

Museum must-sees

After your visit to the special exhibition, head to Memorial Hall, a quiet public space that commemorates Canada’s war dead. The modern architecture has been designed so that at 11:11 a.m. on the 11th day of November, sunlight shines through a single window to frame the headstone from the grave of Canada’s Unknown Soldier. A powerful moment of tribute and recognition on Remembrance Day. 

Tour the LeBreton Gallery, where young and old alike will be impressed by the most extensive collection of military technology in Canada. Take a close look at some imposing artifacts, including military vehicles, firearms and a fighter plane. Museum volunteers, many of whom are veterans, are often present in the Gallery to share their lived experience with visitors.


Canadian War Museum, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae Gallery


Until December 31, 2023, during regular museum hours


Adult (age 18–64) $18 | Senior (65+) $16 | Student (13–17) $14 | Child (2–12) $12 | Infant (under 2) Free | Family (up to 6 persons, maximum 2 adults) $46

Good to know

Ticket price includes admission to special exhibitions and the Museum’s permanent collection. | Admission is free on Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., but a timed ticket is required. You can book yours online as early as 5 p.m. Sunday of the week you would like to visit.


Learn more about Canadian history, art and heritage by visiting the region’s many museums. Theres plenty to satisfy your thirst for knowledge! 

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