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Impending Game Auction on eBay
A number of my visitors know of my ongoing love-hate relationship with eBay, and several of them have actually purchased games from me over the years through past eBay auctions. For that reason, several of my readers have requested that I provide a little advance notice of my future game auctions, and the titles that I plan to offer for sale. In deference to those readers, and on the off chance that I could be preparing to offer a game that might be of interest to some of my visitors, I am posting the following list of game titles that I will be putting up on eBay over the next day or so:
As a special Bonus Feature, this auction also includes, in addition to the standard SPI game, a copy of Steve Stomi’s excellent game variant, LEIPZIG REVISED, complete with variant rules, set-up instructions, and mounted and trimmed variant game counters.
This list only represents the first installment in a wide-ranging collection of games from different publishers that I will be offering on eBay over the coming weeks and months. I hope that, in the course of these different auctions, at least some of you find titles that would make worthwhile additions to your collections.
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AGINCOURT was designed by Marc W. Miller as an entry in the Series 120 collection of games. The title was published by Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW) in 1978.
AGINCOURT is a tactical simulation of the famous battle between the English Army, led by King Henry the Vth, and a much larger French Army, under Constable d’Albret, near the French village of Agincourt, on 25 October, 1415. The game lasts 8 game turns and the English player always acts first. The map scale is 50 yards per hex.
The Battle of Agincourt, at least in the English-speaking world, has attained an almost mythical position in the long history of English arms. For many who are unfamiliar with the actual history of the battle, it is still comparatively well-known because of its connection with William Shakespeare’s play, “Henry the Vth.” Young King Harry’s “St. Crispin’s Day Speech” (thanks to the Immortal Bard) is today widely considered, and rightly so, to be one of the truly great inspirational speeches of all time.
The actual battle at Agincourt was typical of many of the medieval clashes that characterized the fighting during the Hundred Years’ War. A French army of some 25,000, composed primarily of men-at-arms and mounted knights, deployed in three lines (called "battles") against the English force of only 5,700. Henry’s choice of defensive ground was the key to his plan of battle. The particular patch of terrain where the young English King had chosen to make his stand funneled the attacking French into his prepared positions; this deployment largely neutralized the numerical advantage of the French while it masterfully played to the strengths of his small combined-arms force.
On the morning of the battle, Henry could only field about 1,000 knights and men-at-arms; fortunately for him, however, he also commanded over 4,500 archers, all of whom were armed with the deadly English long bow. And small as this army was, events would prove that his outnumbered force was more than equal to the task that lay before it. The contest, interestingly enough, did not begin immediately; instead, having drawn up his "battles", the French commander was content to sit and wait. It was only when Henry ordered his archers to move their firing positions forward and to loose a flight of arrows against the closely-packed mass of French men-at-arms and knights that the Constable finally signaled for the first "battle" to charge the English position. The French, supremely confident of victory, advanced straight towards the English line of battle. Unfortunately for the French, when the attacking knights and men-at-arms attempted to close with the smaller English army, they were rapidly shot to pieces by the massed fire of the English bowmen. Casualties among the attackers quickly mounted; the French assault stalled and then collapsed as dead and wounded men and horses from the first French "battle" piled up on the muddy ground in front of Henry's position. A second French assault only added to the carnage. Confronted by what had rapidly degenerated into an obvious military debacle, more than a few of those French knights and men-at-arms who had not yet engaged the English line, chose "discretion as the better part of valor," and abandonned their fallen comrades and the battlefield to the victorious English.
The Battle of Agincourt produced one of the most lop-sided victories in military history. The French lost over 8,000 (including the Constable) killed, and another 2,000 taken prisoner. The English losses, given the French casualties, were unbelievably low: only 400 killed.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONAGINCOURT, unlike many of GDW’s Series 120 titles, is actually a relatively simple game, both to learn and to play. Unfortunately, it is almost too simple: French options are few, and the game dynamic is actually somewhat boring. On the positive side, the AGINCOURT game system is intuitively logical and the actual mechanics of play are uncomplicated. The counters are clear, although visually disappointing (actually pretty ugly); the game map is, to be charitable, also a bit bland, but it too is not really off-putting, just very, very dull. The rules, however, are a shambles. In keeping with Marc Miller's penchant for shoddy rules-writing, the actual instructions for the play of AGINCOURT seem awkwardly, even hurriedly written; in fact, they almost give the impression of having been randomly cobbled together to meet a publishing deadline.
Still, for those players interested in a very simple, relatively fast-playing simulation of the battle, I suppose that it is just barely possible to do worse. My own advice for those who have a real historical interest in this battle, however, is to purchase the SPI game on the Battle of Agincourt, instead. Finally, for gamers who are not familiar with this collection of GDW titles, the Series 120 games were designed to use no more than 120 counters, and to be played to conclusion in 120 minutes or less.
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THE MARNE is a divisional level simulation of perhaps the most critical battle of the first summer of World War One. The game was designed by John Young, and published in 1972 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).
At least partly because of air planes and taxis, Paris had been saved. The salvation of the French Capital would come at a terrible price, however; the Allied “Miracle of the Marne” meant that World War I would not end in the fall of 1914, but would drag on for four more years; with a final cost of over 10 million dead, and many tens of millions wounded and maimed.
THE MARNE is an historical simulation, covering the period from 30 August to 15 September, of the single most decisive battle of the early days of World War One. The Battle of the Marne was, as the introduction to the game explains: “the Allied counter-offensive that shattered the right wing of the German Schlieffen Plan, drove the Kaiser’s armies out of range of Paris and decided that the war would not end in 1914. The game covers the critical days of September, 1914 as the French and British armies, retreating towards Paris, rallied and counterattacked.” The intrinsic drama of the “punch, counter-punch” historical situation, and the uncomplicated game system, makes THE MARNE one of the most exciting and fun games of this historical period. This title’s clean, intuitively logical rules — almost no post-publication errata — and the preprinted map locations for starting units, make this a particularly easy game to jump right into and play.
THE MARNE offers two Allied counter-attack scenarios and one German pursuit scenario as part of the standard game. The Allied counter-attack scenarios offer the option of historical or free Allied initial setup. Both begin on 6 September and last for ten game turns; the German pursuit scenario begins on 30 August and continues for seventeen game turns. In addition, THE MARNE also presents four optional “what if?” German Orders of Battle. These four alternatives represent plausible variations in the forces available to the Germans during the actual battle. The objectives for both players are challenging: Can the Kaiser’s armies smash through to Paris, before the Allies can rally and block their advance? Or instead, can the Allied counter-attack achieve its historical outcome and become the “Miracle of the Marne?” Despite its somewhat old-fashioned graphics, THE MARNE is a worthwhile addition to the game collection of anyone looking either for an easy-to-learn, exciting simulation, or for an interesting, highly playable game about the First World War.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
The Battle of the Marne was a near-run thing for the Allies, and only a combination of good luck on the part of the French and British, and overcautiousness on the part of the Imperial "Great" General Staff saved Paris from German capture in 1914. As a game, THE MARNE does a surprisingly good job of simulating the seesaw nature of the actual battle. And it does so using a very easy-to-learn and fast-playing game sytem. THE MARNE is certainly not the most complex, detailed treatment of the battle available as a wargame, but it is arguably one of the most enjoyable simualtions of this critiical World War I clash that I have personally ever seen.
THE MARNE is one of a number of games designed by John Young that basically spanned the period from the Napoleonic Wars, through the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, to the Second World War and beyond. I confess that I am a big fan of Young’s many games. His designs are almost always — I’m still not sure about SEELÖWE or THE FALL OF ROME — innovative, interesting, playable, and fun. Despite his tragic and untimely death many years ago, John Michael Young leaves behind a library of some of the best game designs that, in my opinion, SPI ever published.
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Tips on Preparing for Your First War Gaming Convention
At some point, almost everyone who regularly plays war games will get the urge to attend a war game convention in order to try their luck in tournament competition. After all, where else can a war gamer spend days on end doing nothing but playing games, while surrounded by other people with the same passionate interest in this somewhat eccentric hobby. I know the feeling well. When this bug bites — and for regular war gamers, it will — players will quickly discover that there are a number of war gaming conventions, all organized around tournaments, which they can attend.
Consimworld holds a major tournament convention, the “Expo,” every spring in Phoenix, AZ, and Don Greenwood’s Boardgame Players Association (BPA) conducts a number of different tournaments of varying sizes, year-round. However, with the biggest and best tournament, the World Boardgaming Championships® (WBC) Convention — August 3rd through 10th, in Lancaster, PA — just around the corner, I thought that now might be a good time to offer the prospective first-time attendee a few tips on surviving and enjoying their maiden sojourn at a major war gaming tournament. So, with that goal in mind, here are a few “Dos” and “Don’ts” that, hopefully, will help make this first trip the exciting, fun experience that it should be.
CONVENTION and TOURNAMENT DOs
CONVENTION and TOURNAMENT DON’Ts
As I stated at the beginning of this essay, attending your first war gaming convention, particularly one of the truly big ones, can be an introduction to a whole new set of fantastic gaming experiences. For the dedicated war gamer, there really is nothing else that is comparable. But attitude is everything. If the prospective first-time attendee will observe these few simple “DOs” and “DON’Ts,” I’m convinced that he or she (women attend these conventions too, by the way) will have a great time at their first tournament outing, and that that initial convention will not end up being their last.
This concludes Part One of this set of posts. Part Two will look at actual tournament play, and some of the gaming habits of successful tournament players.
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JÉNA! is a historical simulation, at the operational level, of Napoleon’s invasion of Saxony during France’s somewhat belated war with Prussia and Russia, in 1806. The game was designed by Ed Wimble, and published in 1996 by Clash of Arms Games (COAG).
The defeat of the Third Coalition at Austerlitz on 2 December 1805 greatly complicated the already fragile relations between Prussia and France. Prior to the defeat of the combined Russo-Austrian Army in Moravia, Prussia had contemplated joining the coalition against France, or at least, given Frederick William III’s natural timidity, parlaying Prussia’s strategic position athwart Napoleon’s line of communications into some form of political and territorial advantage in Germany. The stunning French victory at Austerlitz dramatically changed everything. Unfortunately for Prussian ambitions, with Austria now prostrate and Russian troops retreating east towards Poland, Napoleon saw little reason to indulge the territorial yearnings of the Royal Court in Berlin. Instead, the French Emperor, in a diplomatic gesture that could only incense the Prussian King, unapologetically withdrew his offer from the previous year to cede possession of Hanover to Berlin. Instead, in an effort to promote a tenuous peace with England, Napoleon offered the German possession to the British instead. This diplomatic affront infuriated the Prussian King and, spurred on by his intractably anti-French wife and her friends in the Prussian “war party,” Frederick finally ordered his generals, in mid-August of 1806, to begin preparations for war with France. Characteristically, Frederick William’s enthusiasm for war soon wilted, and despite the imprecations of his wife and generals, and the military assurances of the Russian Court, it was not until 1 October that the Prussian King finally issued an ultimatum to Napoleon demanding that all French troops be withdrawn from Germany. Napoleon received the Prussian demand on 7 October. Immediately, the French Emperor began plans to force march the 200,000 men of the Grande Armée — already in encampments in Germany and Bavaria — against the 130,000 Prussians and 20,000 Saxons that were slowly feeling their way towards him in three uncoordinated and dispersed armies. Ironically, despite the weeks of Prussian dithering, Frederick’s only continental ally, Tsar Alexander I, had not been informed of Berlin’s plans early enough to order Russian reinforcements to march forward to support the Prussian movement against the French. With the forces of his two adversaries temporarily separated, and the Prussian Army itself disorganized by its advance into Germany, the stage was now set for one of the great triumphs of Napoleon’s practice of the art of war.
JÉNA! is an operational (battalion/regiment/brigade/division) level simulation of Napoleon’s invasion of Saxony during France’s war against Prussia and Russia, in 1806. Players maneuver combat units and leaders in an effort to destroy and/or demoralize enemy units. The focus of the simulation is on command and control, leadership, decisive maneuver, combined arms, and unit morale. The player who most effectively coordinates these separate combat elements will, like Napoleon, almost invariably win.
JÉNA! is played in game turns. Each turn in the game, besides encompassing its regular player operations, will periodically require the execution of one of two special game segments. These are: the Reorganization Phase (occurs prior to the start of each “starred” turn on the Turn Record Track); and the Disengagement Phase (occurs prior to the first night turn of each day). Once these preliminary operations are completed, the game turn is divided into two player turns: the French player turn, followed by the Prussian player turn. Each of these player turns is further broken down into a rigid sequence of player actions. First, the French player turn proceeds in the following sequence: the Command Phase; the On Board Movement Phase; and the three-stage (Artillery Bombardment, regular Infantry/Cavalry Attacks, Breakthrough Attacks) Combat Phase. The Prussian player then executes his turn, as follows: the Prussian Orders Prephase (occurs twice during each game day); the Command Phase; the On Board Movement Phase; the three-stage Combat Phase; and the Off Board Movement Phase. At the conclusion of the two player turns, there is a Turn Interphase which consists of two additional segments: the French Corps Morale Phase, and the Turn Marker Phase. The sequence is then repeated until the final turn of the scenario.
JÉNA! offers five short one day scenarios, and one extended eight day campaign scenario. The Campaign Game (Scenario 1) begins on Turn 1, October 9, and continues until Turn 8, October 17 (64 game turns). The shorter scenarios begin with The Battle of Saalfeld (Scenario 2), October 10, 1806 (5 game turns); Jéna (Scenario 3), October 14 (7 turns); Auerstaedt (Scenario 4), October 14 (6 game turns); Jéna-Auerstaedt (Scenario5), October 14 (8 turns); and a Hypothetical (Scenario 6), October 13 (2½ game turns). For those players who want to add more uncertainty to the game, two optional rules are included by the designer to increase historical realism by limiting the information available to each player about the enemy’s dispositions. These are the Obscured Units (inverted units) Rule, and the French Fourth Column (deployment of dummy units comprising a phantom IIIrd French Corps) Rule.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
Clearly, as the preceding commentary suggests, JÉNA! is not a simple game. It is, instead, a very richly detailed and quite challenging simulation of Napoleonic warfare. The French Army during this period was at the zenith of its military prowess: well trained, well equipped, highly motivated, and brilliantly led at virtually all levels. The Prussian Army, despite its victorious tradition and proud history, was fifty years out of date. It was a force trained primarily for set-piece battles and sieges, and not for fast-moving campaigns of maneuver. The Prussian player can win in JÉNA!, but not if he attempts to fight on Napoleon’s terms. That is the central challenge posed by the game: Napoleon wants to maneuver against his enemy’s communications and flanks, and attack when his enemy is disorganized and vulnerable; the Prussians, on the other hand, want only to fight. Both players must therefore combine patience and cunning with audacity. For this reason, JÉNA! is probably not a good choice for the casual gamer. However, for the experienced player who is genuinely interested either in the Jéna-Auerstaedt campaign specifically, or in the Napoleonic Wars more generally, this title is probably a must own.
See my blog post Book Review of this title which I recommend for those visitors looking for additional historical background information.
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ALMA was designed by Frank Chadwick as an addition to GDW’s Series 120 Game Collection. The game was published by Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW) in 1978.
ALMA is a grand tactical simulation of the first battle of the Crimean War. The game is 10 turns long, and each game turn represents 30 minutes of real time. The combat units are batteries (artillery), battalions, regiments, and brigades. Historically, this battle was the first and only time that the forces of the major powers (England, France, and Russia) actually faced each other in a set-piece battle. The unlikely anti-Russian coalition of Britain, France, Turkey, and Sardinia had chosen the Crimean port of Evpatoria for a landing. After several days spent organizing and arguing on a plan of action, the main Allied force of British, French, and Turkish troops began the march towards the Russian naval base at Sevastopol. On September 20, 1854 they met the Russian Army of General Prince Menshikov drawn up for battle on the south bank of the Alma River. The Russians, although outnumbered, were in strong prepared defenses; the Allied force, although numerically superior, was disorganized and poorly led. This is the tactical situation the two players find themselves in at the beginning of ALMA. Interestingly, a Russian victory at the Alma River would probably have ended the Crimean War before it had properly begun.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
ALMA, despite its size, is not a simple game. Although the Series 120 games were designed to use no more than 120 counters, and to be played to conclusion in 120 minutes or less, this title is surprisingly textured and challenging. The game system blends fire and shock combat with the effects of morale to produce a very interesting simulation. The game’s counters are attractive and clearly-printed, but the game map is surprisingly primitive, even for GDW in 1978. Still, for those players looking for a small, tactically detailed, and challenging title that deals with a critical battle during the Crimean War, ALMA is probably a good choice. For those looking for a simple, easy-to-learn little “introductory game,” this, I can assure you, isn’t it.
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KOREA: THE MOBILE WAR: 1950-51 is an operational level game of combat during the first year of the Korean War, 1950-51. KOREA was designed by James F. Dunnigan and published by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI) in 1971.
INTRODUCTIONThis game is interesting both for its subject matter, and for the place it occupies in the evolution of contemporary game design. KOREA, along with THE BATTLE OF MOSCOW (1970) and LOST BATTLES (1971), represents an early effort by SPI to improve design realism by increasing unit mobility in the battle area. In the case of these three early titles, their game designs allowed all combat units to move before and after combat. Dunnigan and company apparently found this approach to be unsatisfactory. Instead, the SPI designers finally decided to vest post-combat mobility exclusively in motorized units: thus was born the mechanized movement phase. This special second movement phase first appeared in the East Front game: KURSK (1971); and for that reason, contemporary games that employ this approach are typically said to be using the KURSK Game System.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDAt approximately 0400 hours on 25 June 1950, the North Korean Army (NKA) invaded its neighbor to the south without provocation or warning. As soon as the attack began, North Korea began radio broadcasts claiming that South Korea had actually invaded the North, and that the invasion of South Korea was a “righteous” and rapidly-delivered punishment for the South’s duplicity. There was, of course, nothing impromptu about the North’s actions at all: North Korea, with the help of its Communist sponsors China and the Soviet Union, had been preparing for its invasion of the South for months.
The Communist force that spearheaded the drive across the 38th Parallel was considerably stronger than the Republic of Korea (ROK) forces directly opposing them. The initial invasion force numbered seven infantry divisions, one armored brigade, and numerous supporting elements. The NKA units had been well-trained by Chinese advisors and even better-equipped with Russian artillery, tanks, anti-tank guns, and heavy mortars. In addition, to further sow confusion in the ROK Army’s rear, the initial assault was accompanied by amphibious landings by small NKA contingents along South Korea’s coastline. To initially oppose the NKA invasion, the South had only four infantry divisions and a detached infantry regiment near the frontier, and another division garrisoning Seoul. The rest of the ROK forces were scattered across the length of the peninsula and in no position to reinforce the border units during the early stages of the NKA offensive. Moreover, the South’s divisions had virtually no anti-tank guns or heavy weapons. Most ROK artillery was 105mm caliber or smaller: this meant that the NKA heavy artillery had a significant range advantage over that of the South. To make things even worse, the ROK Army also had no tanks. Thus, the outcome of the early battles was a foregone conclusion: the NKA quickly broke through the ROK Army’s lines and began a dash for Seoul. The South Korean Capital fell on 28 June. However, during a late meeting on the preceding night, the UN Security Council — thanks to the temporary absence of the USSR from the Council’s proceedings — had been able to call on its member countries to give South Korea military aid. American airstrikes and naval actions against the invading NKA units commenced almost immediately; in addition, General Douglas MacArthur ordered the American 24th Division from Japan to Korea. The Korean War had begun; it very quickly would become a proxy war between the East and the West, and the political after effects from its inconclusive outcome still fester on the Korean Peninsula to this day.
DESCRIPTIONKOREA is an historical simulation, at the regiment/brigade/division/army level, of the early mobile phase of the Korean War during which both the Communist armies and the United Nations forces both achieved startling advances and experienced stunning reversals in their see-saw battle for control of the Korean Peninsula. This mobile phase began with the North Korean invasion of the South on June 25th, 1950 and petered out by late June 1951. By July 1951, the Mobile Phase gave way to the grinding World War I style trench warfare, and the frustrating military Stalemate, that most people associate with the “Forgotten War.” The Korean War continued on its bloody, dead-locked path until even the Red Chinese and North Koreans were forced to concede that further casualties were pointless. This first armed confrontation in the “Cold War” between Communism and the West would finally end with a temporary cease-fire in 1953; a cease-fire that is still in effect today, fifty-six years later.
KOREA is played in weekly game turns. Each game turn is composed of two player turns; both player turns follow the same sequence: first movement phase; combat phase; and second movement phase. Replacements, reinforcements, and supplies enter the game at the beginning of the player’s turn. Because of the nature of the campaign, KOREA’s rules include provisions for naval gunfire support, partisans, airborne and amphibious operations, as well as conventional ground combat. There haven’t been too many simulations of the Korean Conflict offered over the years. The bloody stalemate of the last two years of fighting, and the war’s unsatisfactory conclusion have both probably served to dampen interest in this important conflict. That’s too bad. Given current events on the Korean Peninsula, it probably doesn’t hurt to revisit this topic once in awhile.
KOREA offers three comparatively short scenarios: the 17 turn Invasion Scenario (North Korea invades the South); the 9 turn Intervention Scenario (Chinese forces attack overextended U.N. units occupying North Korea); and the 21 turn Stalemate Scenario (U.N. forces gradually grind the Communists back toward the 38th parallel). The players also have the option of playing the 52 turn Campaign Game, which essentially ties all three of the shorter scenarios together. In addition to the four standard scenarios, KOREA also offers twelve optional (what if?) rules that allow for different states of readiness, speedier mobilization, earlier Chinese intervention, or even reduced force levels for the players to use to vary the game or to fine-tune play balance.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONThe Korean War, like the Vietnam War, was a conflict that most Americans, at least at the time, wanted to forget. This is unfortunate but it also probably explains why there haven’t been all that many simulations of the Korean Conflict offered over the years. World War II was just a far more popular historical source for games. The bloody stalemate of the last two years of fighting, and the war’s unsatisfactory conclusion have both probably served to dampen wide-spread interest in this important conflict. Yet there is a lot to be learned, both militarily and politically, by studying the bloody struggle for the Korean Peninsula. Lessons that, sadly, seem to become steadily more relevant with every new nuclear threat or pseudo-declaration of war that emanates from the demented gnome in Pyongyang. KOREA: THE MOBILE WAR 1950-51, while a little dated in its graphics, is still a pretty good game and a reasonably plausible simulation of the conflict during the “mobile’ phase of the war. Given current affairs on the Korean Peninsula, it probably doesn’t hurt to revisit this topic once in awhile.
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HANNIBAL: ROME VERSUS CARTHAGE is a grand strategic simulation of the 18 year long Second Punic War. HANNIBAL was designed by Mark Simonitch and published in 1996 by the Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC). In the eyes of many players and collectors, this is the best, most-playable game ever designed on this topic.
In 216 B.C., a Roman Army of 85,000 men, mainly heavy infantry, arrayed itself before the Carthaginian Army of Hannibal. The two opposing forces were drawn up for battle on a coastal plain near a site in Italy known as Cannae. The Roman Army, although superior in overall numbers, was weak in cavalry. Moreover, the Roman position was very precarious because the sea was at the army’s back; hence, any large scale retreat in the aftermath of a defeat would be impossible. Thus, the two armies had eyed each other warily for several days; finally, on the morning of 3 August, the Romans advanced against the Carthaginian line. Hannibal’s force, mainly mercenaries, numbered only about 50,000 men, but his army enjoyed a significant cavalry advantage over the Roman force opposing him; this advantage in horsemen was the key to Hannibal’s plan of battle. As the Roman Legions advanced, Hannibal ordered his center, already purposefully weakened so that he could strengthen his flanks, to give ground in the face of the enemy attack. As the Romans pushed forward against the retreating Carthaginian line, the advancing legions became mingled and disordered. At this point in the battle, Hannibal ordered his cavalry to charge and drive off the horsemen covering the Roman flanks. After a short clash, the out-numbered Roman cavalry fled the field and the Carthaginian horsemen continued their sweep around the enemy rear until they had completely enveloped the Roman Army. With enemy soldiers now completely surrounding them, the Roman infantrymen were soon pressed together so tightly that they could no longer maneuver or even deploy to face the attackers on their flanks and rear; the Romans were slaughtered. Hannibal’s force lost approximately 5,700 men; over 50,000 Romans perished, including 80 Roman Senators and the Consul Æmilius. It was the worst military defeat in the young Roman Republic’s history.
HANNIBAL is a grand strategic simulation of the conflict that took place from 218 to 201 B.C. between the two dominant military and commercial powers of the Mediterranean Basin, Rome and Carthage. This was the second of three wars that would be fought before Carthage and its empire was finally utterly crushed and Rome’s absolute dominance of the Western Mediterranean secured.
HANNIBAL is a two-player game with each player commanding either the armies of Rome or the largely mercenary forces of Carthage. The game system utilizes a combination of leaders, combat units, and political markers. Leadership is critical, but the real flow and tempo of the game derives from the players’ use of “strategy and battle cards” which are essential for everything from movement, to raising troops, to conducting battlefield operations. The game mechanics are both fast-moving and extremely playable, features that encourage the players to test and retest their skills against their historical counterparts. Thus, the game revisits history by asking questions that only the players can answer. Can you, as Hannibal, translate your tactical victories into strategic success? Or can you, as Scipio Africanus, drive Hannibal and his army back into Africa, and smash him, once and for all, at Zama?
HANNIBAL offers only the two-player standard game; there are no alternate scenarios or optional rules. The absence of optional “what if?” scenarios, however, is really not as much of a liability as one might think: it turns out that play rarely, if ever, develops along exactly the same lines in different games. HANNIBAL, for all of its good features, does present problems for those players who have difficulty rounding up opponents. The game system, regrettably, does not lend itself well to solitaire play due to its heavy reliance on the “strategy and battle cards” for maneuver and combat resolution.
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QUEST FOR THE LOST ROMAN LEGIONS: Discovering the Varus Battlefield ; by Major Tony Clunn, British Army (ret.); Savas Beatie; 1st HC trade ed. Edition (April 1, 2005); ISBN: 978-1932714081
I stumbled onto Tony Clunn’s book, “Quest for the Lost Roman Legions,” quite by accident while I was doing a little personal research into Roman military operations in Germania and Gaul during the period from about 70 B.C. to 70 A.D. It was a happy accident because, once I actually began to read Major Clunn’s chronicle of his life-long quest to find the Varus battlefield, I really couldn’t put it down.
Reconstructed German fortifications at Kalkriese, photo Markus Schweiss
In 9 A.D., the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Legions and their auxiliaries, under the command of Roman Governor Publius Quinictilius Varus, were ambushed by rebellious Germanic tribesmen, led by the Roman-trained German cavalry commander Arminius (or Hermann), as they marched from their fortified encampments near the River Weser west towards the Rhine. All three Legions were, in the course of a running three to four-day battle, virtually annihilated. Perhaps as many as 25,000 Romans and their allies and families were killed as a result. Because so few of the “civilized” Romans survived the battle, the actual location of one of the greatest and most far-reaching Roman military defeats in history — despite the accounts of the Roman historians Tacitus and Dio — was lost. And so the matter stood for almost 2,000 years, and there it might have remained for another two thousand years, were it not for the dogged perseverance of a single British amateur archaeologist and historian.
Archaeological dig at Kalkriese, 2004
“Quest for the Lost Roman Legions,” is the account, by retired British Army Major, Tony Clunn, of his decades long archaeological investigation into the fate of the three Roman Legions that perished somewhere in the Teutoburg Wald in 9 A.D. Major Clunn, long fascinated by the story of Varus’ lost Legions, look advantage of a military posting to Germany, to begin his personal investigation into the mystery of Varus’ Legions and their last battlefield. His conviction that the ancient battle had actually taken place north of the German city of Osnabrück, led him to explore this wild area of peat bogs, forest, and hillocks. At Kalkriese, despite initially finding only a few Roman coins, the author, after years of additional searching, finally came upon an extensive swath of Roman military artifacts that revealed where the Roman legionnaires actually fought and died in the Fall of 9 A.D.
Roman ceremonial mask from the Museum Kalkriese, photo 2004 by Pieter Kuiper
This obscure Roman military disaster had far-reaching consequences for the Roman Empire. Unlike the Battle of Cannae, in which over 50,000 Roman soldiers died at the hands of the Carthaginian Army under Hannibal, but which still could not save Carthage from Roman conquest and retribution, this battle preserved the German national identity. The defeat at Teutoburg Forest halted Roman expansion into the German tribal territories. It determined that the northern frontier of the Roman Empire would henceforth be the Rhine, and not the Elbe, or the Oder. The short-lived Roman Province of Germania, after only two years of Roman rule, would never again fall under Roman control. In short, because of Arminius, the German people would never become Romanized, and their culture, traditions, and language would remain peculiarly their own.
Still, if the “Quest for the Lost Roman Legions” was merely a chronicle of Major Clunn’s archaeological experiences and discoveries I would probably not be recommending it here, however engrossing it might otherwise be. Fortunately, the book is much more than that: the author skillfully weaves his modern field work and research together with an exciting historical account of the events leading up to the battle, as well as of the bloody hand-to-hand struggle, itself. It is a fascinating account of Germania’s only provincial governor, the unlucky and lethargic Publius Varus; his personal betrayal by a trusted German tribal leader, and Varus’ refusal to heed the advice of another loyal German commander who rightly mistrusted the persuasive and flattering Arminius. Using his soldier’s eye for terrain, and his understanding of the flow and tempo of combat, the author first describes the hopeless situation that the Romans found themselves in once they had become ensnared in Armenius’ trap; then he goes on to chronicle the critical events of the battle, based on the archaeological evidence, as the fighting continued over its several desperate, bloody days.
The Museum Kalkriese
Because of Major Clunn’s decades-long dedication to his historical project, there is, today, a modern, multi-million dollar museum at the actual location of the Varus battlefield at Kalkriese; so visitors can now tour the museum and examine the thousands of historical artifacts that have, thus far, been recovered at the archaeological site. Tony Clunn’s discovery is a signal accomplishment and an inspiring testament to the ability of a single dedicated individual, through dint of dogged determination and sheer hard-work, to change our understanding of history.
Diagram of Kalkriese archaeological site by Markus Schweiss, 2007
“The Quest for the Lost Roman Legions” is not a book intended merely for those interested in military history. It is well-written and detailed; it also an exciting detective yarn and an interesting look into the curious world of the amateur archaeologist. In addition, Major Clunn brings something to the story of Varus’ lost Legions that no historian or archaeologist could: the special understanding by an experienced military commander of the many different clues left behind on an ancient battlefield. For this reason, I very strongly recommend this book.
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PANZERKRIEG: von Manstein and Heeres Gruppe Süd is a historical game of World War II combat on the Eastern Front from August 1941-March 1944. The game was designed by John Prados and was originally published by Rand Game Associates in 1975. This up-graded (and modified) version was reissued by Operational Studies Group (OSG) in 1978.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDWith the capture of Smolensk in late summer, the way seemed open for a major German drive straight for Moscow. However, both Hitler and the OKH had hit upon another idea; instead of calling for a continuation of the armored thrust towards the Russian Capital, Hitler suddenly decided on a completely new mission for the main striking power of Army Group Center: Guderian’s panzers, rather than continuing their push towards Moscow, would pivot south to support the stalled forces of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt’s Army Group South in the Ukraine. Thus, starting on 27 August 1941, Heinz Guderian’s Second Panzer Group, on orders from Hitler, veered away from its eastern drive and began to attack southwards. The Führer and OKH were mesmerized by the possibility of a massive envelopment of the Soviet forces around Kiev. The Germans had already achieved a major encirclement near the southern town of Uman earlier in the summer, and Hitler was very keen to try for an even larger pocket near the ancient Ukrainian city of Kiev. The new operation, despite its lack of preparation, seemed to go as planned. Thus, while Guderian’s attack began to gain momentum, von Rundstedt’s forces continued to doggedly push east. On 12 September, Kleist’s First Panzer Group — after weeks of bitter fighting — finally broke out of its Dnepr River bridgeheads south of Kiev and surged northeast towards Guderian’s advancing spearhead.
On 16 September the leading elements of the two Panzer Groups met near Lohkvitsa. Trapped around Kiev were five Soviet armies. The fighting to liquidate the Russian pocket would continue until 26 September, when the last major resistance came to an end. As a direct result of this encirclement battle, the Wehrmacht would capture 665,000 Russian prisoners, over 800 tanks, and 3,700 artillery pieces. The other direct result of this stunning victory was that the German Army would not capture Moscow in the fall of 1941. And in the end, that would be the more important of the two outcomes for both Russia and Germany.
PANZERKRIEG: von Manstein & Heeres Gruppe Süd is an operational (corps/division) level simulation of large-scale mechanized warfare on the Russian Front. One player commands the Axis armies (Germany and its minor allies); the other controls the forces of the Soviet Union. The game system offers a blend of traditional “East Front” design elements with a few interesting, if unexpected, innovations. This blend of old and new design features produces a challenging, unpredictable, and an occasionally “nail-biting” game situation for both players.
Each game turn follows a simple, but rigid sequence. The first player executes his player turn in the following order: the Weather Determination phase (first player only); the Supply Determination Segment; the Movement Segment — both ground and air units move; and the Attack phase. The Attack phase is further divided into individual game segments; these are: the Combat Resolution Segment; Exploitation Resolution Segment; Protection Segment. The second player then repeats the same sequence (skipping only the Weather Determination phase), after which the game turn ends.
The combat routine for PANZERKRIEG is quite layered and very detailed. In order for units to attack, they must both be in supply and within the command range of an appropriate headquarters unit. The defending player, if he has units available that are eligible, may then dispatch reserve units to reinforce threatened sections of his line. Air units may attack independently or in concert with ground units. If an attacker achieves a very high (modified) die roll during a battle, his attacking units may move and attack again during the Exploitation Segment — this is where the previously mentioned “nail-biting” aspect of the game comes in.
A number of interesting, if sometimes unexpected design elements also add color and texture to Prados’ simulation. A rule for “Armor Superiority” allows attacking armored units to benefit when the defending force includes no armor of its own. “Leaders” increase the attack and defense strength of any combat units that they are stacked with, and can also add 2 to the die roll if not opposed by an enemy leader. The function of “Battlegroups” in PANZERKRIEG is slightly unusual: besides occurring as a result of losses due to combat, a small number of German panzer units may voluntarily be broken down to provide the Axis commander with additional independent kampfgrüppen. And all Battlegroups can be rebuilt with replacements. There are also rules for “Fortifications,” and “Bridgeheads,” as well as other game features that, if nothing else, attempt to add a little historical “chrome” to the title. There are no “Optional Rules”.
PANZERKRIEG offers eight individual scenarios (mini-games) that allow the players to examine the strategic situation during different periods of the War in the East. The eight scenarios are: Kiev Pocket, 27 September to 10 October 1941 (seven game turns); Winter Counteroffensive, 14 January to 3 April 1942 (twelve turns); The Drive on Stalingrad, 28 June to 13 September 1942 (eleven game turns); Stalingrad, 19 November 1942 to 11 February 1943 (twelve turns); The Backhand Blow, 19 February to 5 April 1943 (six game turns); Aftermath of Zitadelle, 2 August to 1 October 1943 (eight turns); Battles for the Dnepr, 2 October to 21 December 1943 (eleven game turns); Pocket at Korsun, 1 February to 29 March 1944 (eight turns). Victory conditions are specific to each scenario, but usually require the capture and occupation (in strength) of certain geographical objectives for one side or the other.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONThis game is a curious blend of both old and new. Unfortunately, while each of the different game elements seems reasonable when considered in isolation, in combination, the design gives the impression of having been jury-rigged and hurriedly mashed together. The game box really says it all: a wonderful, eye-catching MacGowan design combined with a really off-putting color scheme. In short, when it comes to this title, there seems to be a negative element to counterbalance every positive feature. For example, the different scenario situations are well-chosen and their historical backgrounds are all carefully chronicled for the players; nonetheless, these same scenarios, when actually set-up and played, uniformly fail — at least to me — to capture the feel and historical dynamic of the actual battles they seek to depict. In Prados’ game, the offensive forces always seem to be just a little too powerful and the defenders a little too ineffectual. Also — since I am in the mood to pick nits — the game map appears cluttered during the early turns of virtually every scenario. Perhaps, the game is just jinxed. After all, PANZERKRIEG is the only game that I know of which was published by three different game companies under the same title: Rand Game Associates in 1975; Operational Studies Group, 1978; and The Avalon Hill Game Company in 1983. So besides having had more “comeback tours” than Cher, this East Front title, like Prados’ earlier design, THIRD REICH, has been repeatedly tweaked and refined ever since its initial publication. This, by the way, is my main beef with Prados as a designer; it is also why I consider his game designs to be grossly overrated in gaming circles. Every one of his designs shows the basic framework for a promising, interesting simulation; unfortunately, he just never seems to be able to come up with a truly “finished” game. Whether the title is THIRD REICH, YEAR OF THE RAT, CASSINO, or PANZERKRIEG, Prados fails time and time again when it comes to really bringing the design project to a satisfactory conclusion. In the case of PANZERKRIEG, perhaps it is just me, but with almost eight years of development time, you would think that this title, at least, would have turned out a bit better than it did.
Recommended ReadingSee my blog post Book Review of this title which I recommend for those visitors looking for additional historical background information.
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ARE WE CREATING A NEW GENERATION OF “TOMMY ATKINS?”
The Marine scout-snipers that operate as part of MarSOC are much like the Navy SEALs or the Army Special Forces; they are the “tip of the spear” in the new type of warfare currently being waged all around the world against our nation’s enemies. Unlike other combat units that are assigned a geographical objective, or an area of responsibility, these “special ops” people are only sent to where things are hot. Typically they arrive at their objective — sometimes having travelled halfway around the world to get there — and go right into the fight. It is probably one of the toughest jobs that any combat soldier can ever have. By the very nature of these operations, “uncommon valor” is not only a common virtue, it is an essential requirement for success. The commanders who send these elite troops into action expect them to accomplish near miracles. They are, after all, the very best that we have. But these types of missions also mean that losses are inevitable and, if things go wrong, can be very high.
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DARK DECEMBER is a historical game of World War II combat during the “Battle of the Bulge” in winter 1944. The game was designed by Danny Parker, formerly of SPI, and published by Operational Studies Group (OSG) in 1979.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDAt 0530 on 16 December 1944, a massive German offensive, code-named “Wacht am Rhein,” jumped off with a violent, hour-long artillery bombardment from 1,900 guns along eighty-five miles of the Allied front line in the Ardennes region of Belgium. As soon as the barrage lifted, the 250,000 men and 1,100 tanks of Field Marshal Model’s Army Group B smashed into the dazed defenders of this thinly held section of the American line. The German offensive that would come to be known as the “Battle of the Bulge” had begun. The German plan was to tear a hole in the American front and then to rush powerful panzer forces through the newly-formed gap. The panzers, once they had achieved freedom of maneuver, were to force a crossing of the Meuse River, and were then to pivot northwest to seize the port city of Antwerp before the Allied High Command had an opportunity to react. The German seizure of this important Allied supply center would isolate the substantial British, Canadian, and American forces north of Aachen. Hitler hoped this might finally force the Western Allies to accept a separate, negotiated peace with the Third Reich.
DARK DECEMBER is a grand tactical (regiment/brigade) level simulation of the last major German armored attack against the Western Allies in World War II. One player commands the Allies (American and British forces); the other controls the Germans. The game system offers a nice blend of traditional “Bulge” elements (move-fight, fuel limits, bridge demolition and repair) and some new game features (step-reduction, replacement points, and armored superiority) that combine nicely to simulate the fighting in the Ardennes. Each game turn follows a simple, but rigid sequence. The first player (German) executes his player turn in the following order: the Supply Determination Phase; then the Replacement Phase; the Movement Phase — strategic and then regular movement; the Combat Phase; and finally, the Construction/Demolition Phase. The second player (Allied commander) repeats the same sequence, after which the game turn ends. The German player wins by satisfying the victory conditions of whichever scenario is being played; the Allied player wins simply by preventing a German victory.
DARK DECEMBER offers six different scenarios of varying lengths. The first scenario, HERBSTNEBEL (Dec. 16 AM to Dec. 19 PM) and the second, TURNING POINT (Dec. 22 AM to Dec 25 PM) are both only eight game turns long. The third scenario, FINAL FURY (Dec. 26 AM to Jan 2 PM) lasts sixteen turns. Scenario number four, THE CAMPAIGN GAME (Dec 16 AM to Dec 25 PM) covers the first critical ten days of the battle, and runs twenty game turns. THE EXTENDED CAMPAIGN GAME (Dec 16 AM to Jan 2 PM) adds eight days (sixteen game turns) and extends the campaign well into the period during which the Allied counteroffensive had already begun to develop momentum. The final scenario is called THE REDUCTION OF THE BULGE (Dec. 26, 1944 to Jan. 31, 1945); it covers the long Allied campaign to recapture the territory lost during the early days of the German offensive. This scenario is for those players who are truly masochistic or dedicated, or both, and runs for a whopping seventy-four game turns.
DARK DECEMBER also presents the players with an interesting and very plausible mix of optional rules that affect everything from Allied readiness, command response times, reinforcements, to German opening deployment, reinforcements, and speed of reserve commitment. So besides the varied game challenges offered by the six basic scenarios, players can also spend many additional hours experimenting with a few of the most likely Battle of the Bulge (what ifs?) presented by this title.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONIndividual taste can be a tricky thing, particularly when it comes to the graphics used in game design. However, one of my long-term beefs with OSG has been what I view as the consistent ineptitude of their graphics people. I admit that I do not like the design of the DARK DECEMBER box art: it is uninspiring, dreary, and somehow, a little phony looking. The game counters, and the rules and study booklets, on the other hand, are all just fine. It is the pumpkin-mash of a game map that I really do not like. The DARK DECEMBER game map is, quite probably, one of the ugliest pieces of cartography that I have ever seen. And I have seen a lot. This is really too bad. In playing this game with a friend who did not find the map colors as repugnant as I did, I couldn’t help but appreciate some of the innovative elements that Danny Parker put into his third try at a “Bulge” game. There really is a lot about this game’s design that is quite clever and intuitively pleasing. If the map hadn’t been so off-putting, I probably would have actually done more than set my own copy of the game up once, and then put it away. Who knows? If Redmond Simonsen had done the graphics, Parker’s design might have been seen today as an exciting, playable “classic,” instead of as a celebration of the colors of Halloween. I know, at least, that I would have liked it a lot more.
Recommended ReadingSee my blog post Book Reviews of most of these titles; all six of which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.
THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU
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TURNING POINT: STALINGRAD (2nd Edition) is a simulation, based on the popular STORM OVER ARNHEM Game System, of urban combat on the Eastern Front during World War II. This game was designed by Don Greenwood and published in 1989 by the Avalon Hill Game Co.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDOn 17 July 1942, elements of Colonel General von Richthofen’s Luftflotte 4 began a massive bombing effort against the defenders of the Russian city of Stalingrad. The raining down of high explosive and incendiary bombs by the Germans would, over the next few months, leave the entire city little more than a pile of charred rubble. While the Luftwaffe bombed, the Wehrmacht drove east. By the end of July, the German Sixth Army was only a dozen kilometers from Stalingrad, and the Fourth Panzer Army, farther to the south, had also wheeled northwards and begun to battle its way towards the outskirts of the city. Finally, during the last days of August, German ground forces battered their way into Stalingrad’s suburbs. The first Soviet ground unit to see action defending the city proper was, ironically, the all-women 1077th Anti-Aircraft Regiment. This volunteer unit resisted the advancing 16th Panzer Division’s advance tenaciously, ultimately losing all thirty-seven of the regiment's Anti-Aircraft batteries in the fighting. By early September the Germans had launched the real struggle for the city; shelling and shooting their way forward one meter at a time. Only now would the brutal house-to-house fighting for which the battle would ultimately earn its “meat-grinder” reputation finally begin.
Statistics by themselves cannot begin to tell the story of this epic conflict. During the height of the battle for Stalin’s city on the Volga, an individual Russian infantry replacement could typically expect to survive an average of twenty-four hours, while a newly-arrived Soviet infantry officer might — if he were lucky — last for as long as three days before he was killed or wounded. When the butchery had finally run its course, the casualties for both sides would be appalling. Over two million Russian and Axis troops would be killed, captured, or wounded in the Stalingrad battle area between mid-July 1942 and February 1943. The battle finally (mercifully) ended on 31 January, when Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus, the commander of the surrounded and starving German Sixth Army, at last formally capitulated to the besieging Russians. A few German pockets fought on, but by 2 February, the city was completely in Soviet hands. Only ninety-one thousand men, of the 250,000 Axis troops that had fought their way into the city in September, survived to become Soviet prisoners; the rest were dead in the rubble of Stalingrad. Other battles would follow on the Eastern Front, but nothing would again match the ferocity and human cost of Stalingrad.
TURNING POINT: STALINGRAD (2nd Edition) is an area-impulse simulation, based on Courtney Allen’s highly successful STORM OVER ARNHEM Game System. The decisive Soviet victory at Stalingrad made it the World War II battle that, in the eyes of many military historians, represented the turning point in the Russo-German War. In TURNING POINT, one player commands the German forces while the other controls the Soviets. The game is played in weekly installments of seven game turns. Each game turn represents one twenty-four hour day and is, in turn, composed of a (theoretically) indefinite number of day or night “mini-turns” called impulses. A typical game turn begins with both players checking the Game Turn Record Track for arriving reinforcements. Once this Reinforcement Phase is completed, normal play begins. Players alternate moves and or attacks with a “fresh” unit or units from any one area during a given impulse. Units that move or attack suffer some form of Disruption (level one through four) at the end of their action. In addition, a clear supply path is required to restore Spent or Disrupted units. Players may not act twice in a row unless the opposing player opts for no action by declaring “pass” at the beginning of his impulse turn. At the start of each impulse, the German player rolls a die and applies the appropriate Die Roll Modifier (DRM) to see if the game turn continues with another day or night impulse or alternatively whether it changes (Day to Night/Night to Dawn).
No player may have more than ten combat units in an individual Map Area whether moving, attacking, or defending. The objective of the game is for the German player is simple: capture Soviet-controlled Map Areas, thereby gaining Victory Points. The goal of the Russian player is to prevent the German from amassing enough victory points to win at the end of any weekly game installment. To assist with these missions, players may call upon off-board artillery and, in the case of the Germans, the Luftwaffe. Engineers can be used to clear rubble or to construct fortifications, both of which affect the Defensive and Entrance DRM of a given Map Area. The most powerful single tool available to either player is the player Advantage. The player who possesses the Advantage may force a combat result or any other die outcome to be rerolled, or prolong Day or Night game turns. The only limit on the possessing player is that the Advantage may only be used once per date, and that it must be surrendered to the opposing player after its use.
TURNING POINT: STALINGRAD offers an introductory scenario, the Kuibyshev Sawmill, that uses only part of both armies’ available forces and that fights over a limited section of the game map. Once players are familiar with the game system, the “basic” game is played in weekly segments starting with the week of September 13th. At the end of each week, the German player checks his current Victory Point total against that required for an immediate Axis victory; if his victory point level is too low, then the game continues for another week. It should be noted that Avalon Hill, much to its later regret, did not included reinforcing units for play past the third week of the Stalingrad battle. Interested players were encouraged to purchase an Expansion Kit in order to, essentially, complete the game’s components. The copy of the game described here, is of the standard game of TURNING POINT: STALINGRAD, without the Expansion Kit. The game also presents players with a surprisingly limited number of Optional Rules. These additional rules are primarily concerned with alternative (card-driven) combat results, and player bidding for preferred sides, prior to play.
Recommended ReadingSee my blog post Book Reviews of these titles; both of which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.
THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU
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