SPI, SOLDIERS (1972)

SOLDIERS is a tactical-level simulation of combat during the first, mobile months of World War I. SOLDIERS was designed by David C. Isby and published in 1972 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND


On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were murdered by a Serbian gunman as they were being escorted away from a state function. Their motorcade had made a wrong turn, and because of their chauffeur’s unfamiliarity with the local streets, they had accidentally driven into the path of a fanatical Serbian terrorist. The next in line to the Imperial Throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been assassinated while on a state visit to Sarajevo near the Serbian border.

Within hours, the fragile web of Great Power alliances and treaties that had kept Europe at peace since the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 began to unravel. Austria-Hungary declared War on Serbia; Russia began to mobilize in support of its smaller Balkan ally, and Germany responded to the Russian troop call-ups by declaring war on Russia and its western ally, France. European affairs continued to spin more and more out of control. On August 3rd, Germany invaded Belgium; this violation of Belgian neutrality quickly brought England into the war on the side of the French and Belgians. By August 4th, Germany and Austria-Hungary (the “Central Powers”) were at war with Great Britain, France, Russia, Belgium, and Serbia (soon to be called the “Allies”). The First World War had well and truly begun.

DESCRIPTION

SOLDIERS is, as the game’s introduction explains, “a tactical (company level) game of the warfare in the brief, mobile phase at the beginning of the First World War (August 1914 – May 1915). In this period of the war, armies were still able to maneuver: the paralyzing trench lines had yet to be consolidated.” It was during this early phase of operations that dramatic offensive movement was still possible, and great territorial gains could still be made by fast-moving, advancing field armies. These fascinating and opportunity-laden early months of the war are the central focus of SOLDIERS as a historical simulation.

Note: Photo includes my own Move and Fire Phase Game Chart, which was not included by the designer.

The game system uses a cleverly interwoven turn sequence that offers many of the advantages of simultaneous movement, without a lot of cumbersome recordkeeping. The real excitement and innovation of this unique World War One design, however, is to be found in the rules governing combat. No other game, in my experience, has been able to match SOLDIERS in replicating (in eliminated cardboard counters, if nothing else) the defensive advantages of entrenchments, or the sheer lethality of artillery and machine gun fire on exposed infantry and cavalry.

SOLDIERS offers thirteen different two-player scenarios and one solitaire scenario. These different “mini-games” cover various combat actions (based on historical engagements) that actually occurred on the Western, Eastern, and even Far Eastern Fronts of this, the first modern global war. Units representing the armies of Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Belgium and even Japan are all present in the counter mix. Moreover, the different national armies in the game all have their own specific combat capabilities based on the designer’s best estimate of each national contingent’s training, equipment and doctrine. Given the number of standard scenarios, players can spend many hours with this title, and never exhaust its possibilities.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION

Unlike a number of wargames that I have owned over the years, SOLDIERS has never grown boring or stale. In my view, even after almost forty years, it still remains a great game and a first class simulation of tactical combat; thus, despite the game's bland and somewhat dated graphics, SOLDIERS continues to occupy a secure place in my personal pantheon of the “best” games of World War One. Moreover, I have no hesitation in recommending this game to anyone with even a passing interest in the First World War. David Isby's inspired treatment of small-unit combat during the summer days of 1914 is a worthwhile addition to the collection of any fan of World War I games; it is also one of my all-time favorite tactical-level games from any era.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 10 minutes per game turn
  • Map Scale: 100 meters per hex
  • Unit Size: companies/squadrons/batteries (with some units breaking down to platoons and sections)
  • Unit Types: infantry, cavalry, artillery, machinegun, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two (with one solitaire scenario)
  • Complexity: average
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 2–2½ hours


Game Components:

  • One 22” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Combat Results Table and Terrain Effects Chart incorporated)
  • 400 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8¾” x 11½” combined Set of Rules and Scenario Instructions
  • One 8½” x 11” sheet of Errata (August 1973)
  • One small six-sided Die
  • One SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic game cover with Title Sheet

4 comments:

  • Even now, with games like RED POPPIES (Worthington Games), INFANTRY ATTACKS, 1914 (Avalanche Press), LANDSHIPS (Clash of Arms) and other titles, this work still resonates. My favorite way to play was to umpire double blind games with opponents who didn't know the game system. Slaughter inevitably occurred until players started to grasp what was going on.

    A lot of design elements in this game ended up infiltrating into other designs (e.g., defense as a function of terrain--SQUAD LEADER).

    If you can get a copy of this game, grab it!

  • Greetings Eric:

    Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts.

    It is unfortunate that my profile of SOLDIERS was published early on, before I had really decided on how much detail my readers were prepared to put up with. If I had it to do over again, I could easily spend ten to twelve pages on this great old game and probably still not feel that I had done it justice. All-in-all, a great game and probably one of David Isby's best designs, ever.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • I always liked this game. Very innovative for its day. Recently had one opponent ask me where he could buy a copy. Had to laugh as he was born in 1980... A few things could stand to be fixed though. The Belgians are completely overrated. Use Russian units instead plus maybe the Reserve unit rule for the Belgians as well.
    Scenario 9 needs to be completely revised. It needs a several special rules and new OOB.
    The Allied shrapnel shell rule is backwards - shrapnel was almost useless against troops in cover, in Improved Positions, and especially against buildings and entrenchments.
    Also I am not sure the German machinegun companies ever fought as whole companies. The German MG breakdowns look underrated too. Some confusion in the rules as to whether they are sections or platoons. As each breakdown is two guns most likely be sections like everyone else.
    Probably some range attenuation effects for the fire strengths of infantry units are in order as well.

    Thanks for all your reviews and insight, Ralph Loewen

  • Greetings Ralph:

    Thank you for your kind words and your interest; both are appreciated.

    Yes, there are -- as is almost inevitable when it comes to game designs -- a few debatable points when it comes to "national" and "unit" valuations. On the other hand, there is a great deal about friend Isby's design that really succeeds in providding players with at least a glimpse of the problems confronting field commanders during the first, mobile weeks of World War I.

    For my own part, I have always thought that it is a bit of a shame that -- given the excellent desktop publishing packages available nowadays -- that no one has taken the time either to redo (colorize) the counters, or to create additional game maps. I mean, to my way of thinking, this is a much more worthy candidate for a post-publiction "face-lift" than FRANCE 1940!

    Best Regards, Joe

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