SPI, THE MARNE (1972)

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).

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The Battle of the Marne
During the early days of the First World War, the German offensive into France and Belgium went spectacularly well. After sharp clashes along the front on a line from Amiens to Verdun — the “Battle of the Frontiers” — French and British forces, during the period, Aug 20-24, 1914, slowly began to give ground before the Kaiser’s advancing juggernaut. Within days, this fighting withdrawal turned into a full-scale retreat. Pushed steadily back by five German armies, the Commander in Chief of the hard-pressed Allied forces ordered the French Sixth Army, commanded by General Maunoury, to be withdrawn on 30 August to reinforce the Paris garrison. On 1 September, German battlefield gains forced Marshal Joffre, the Allied C-in-C, to order a further withdrawal to a new defensive line south of the Seine River. The German advance seemed unstoppable, and it appeared that the unthinkable might soon happen: the Germans might capture Paris, and that they might do so within a matter of days.

Paris taxis transport 6000 French troops to the front
for The Battle of the Marne. 
On 3 September, 1914, the seemingly hopeless Allied situation suddenly changed. On that day, General Galliéni, Military Governor of Paris, learned from aerial reconnaissance that the German advance had veered east of Paris, exposing the lengthening flank of the German right wing to an Allied counterattack. Despite initial skepticism on the part of Marshal Joffre, General Galliéni was both persistent and persuasive. On 4 September, six hundred Paris taxis were commandeered by the military to help move a fresh division across the “City of Light” to reinforce General Maunoury’s Sixth Army as it began its counterattack. By 6 September, General von Kluck’s First German Army had been forced to fall back in the face of increasing French pressure, opening up a thirty mile gap in the German front. Surprised by the unexpected Allied counteroffensive, and worried about false rumors of Allied amphibious landings along the Belgian Coast to their rear, the German High Command opted to order General von Bülow’s Second Army to fall back and reestablish contact with von Kluck’s First Army.

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.

DESCRIPTION



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.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 1 day per game turn
  • Map Scale: not given
  • Unit Size: divisions
  • Unit Types: infantry and cavalry
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: low
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 2–2½ hours (depending on scenario)

Game Components:

  • One 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Unit Set-Up, Turn Record Chart, and Combat Results Table incorporated)
  • 200 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 6” x 11” map-fold style set of Rules with Terrain Effects Chart and Scenario Instructions
  • One 8½” x 11” Errata sheet (October 31, 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

Recommended Reading

4 comments:

  • Thanks for another great trip down memory lane (well..not my memory lane as I was still a toddler when this one came out...).

    Check out this website for some unofficial free stuff. They have some stuff for The Marne as well. I think you will enjoy it.

    http://www.dvgc.com/gamekits.html

    -cheers,
    Rob Ryan

  • Greetings Rob:

    Thanks, as always, for the kind words; I appreciate your interest.

    Also, thanks for the "heads up" on the "gamekits" site; I visited it this morning. While I may not agree with all of the descriptive commentary on the site -- '1914' and 'THE GREEN FIELDS BEYOND' come immediately to mind -- the site clearly has some real value (free stuff is always good) for players and collectors of older, out of print SPI and Avalon Hill games. I was also pleased to see that my old friend, Russ Gifford, had made a few game kits available for those players interested in SPI's 'MONMOUTH' and in the 'GBACW' game series.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • The Marne has always been one of my favorite WWI games.Will play it at least once a year .I thought the map was slightly stark looking but that was SPI's style back then.

  • Greetings Kim:

    Yes, although of all of the scenarios, I personally preferred the "Pursuit" Scenario, myself. And not only was 'THE MARNE' fast-playing, but -- with the unit starting locations preprinted on the map -- set-up was a snap.

    Best Regards, Joe

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