‘TO THE GREEN FIELDS BEYOND’: The Battle of Cambrai, 1917 is an operational simulation of the Allied World War I offensive to break through the German trench lines at Cambrai using, for the first time, large numbers of tanks, as well as infantry and artillery. The game was designed by David C. Isby and published by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI) in 1978.


On 20 November 1917, Field Marshal Douglas Haig ordered the Third Army, under the command of General Byng, to begin an attack on the Siegfried line southwest of the French town of Cambrai. It was the first major tank attack in history. Preceded by a violent but brief artillery barrage and spearheaded by more than 300 British tanks, Byng’s force achieved complete surprise. Over the next few days, Byng’s advancing troops tore a gap ten miles wide and six miles deep in German General von der Marwitz’s Second Army’s front.

After the initial shock, however, the Germans gradually regained their equilibrium once badly-needed reinforcements began to reach the threatened front. On 30 November, Ludendorf ordered a counterattack against the British salient. Now, under almost constant artillery and gas barrages and pressed steadily by counterattacking German infantry, Haig finally ordered Byng to pull his forward units back to shorten their defensive line. This movement began on 4 December and was competed three days later. In the end, despite the promising initial British gains, very little ground actually changed hands. The British, however, lost 44,000 killed and wounded, and 6,000 captured; the Germans lost 50,000 total casualties and 11,000 prisoners.


‘TO THE GREEN FIELDS BEYOND’ is a regimental/brigade (the British tanks operate in companies) simulation of the Battle of Cambrai (20 November to 7 December, 1917). It covers the entire battle, from the early British victories against the deep German defenses, to the final German counterattack which successfully drove the British all the way back to their starting positions. This battle is interesting because it puts in stark contrast two very different offensive solutions to the problem posed by long-established and well-supported trench lines. Both armies had been feverishly working to develop their own means of breaking through the layered defensive positions that dominated the Western Front. In the case of the British, the solution was technological: the tank. In the case of the Germans, it was doctrinal: the Stosstruppen (infiltration) infantry. Both solutions would be tested in the Battle of Cambrai.

Despite the presence of tanks, the game turn sequence in ‘TO THE GREEN FIELDS BEYOND’ illustrates that Cambrai was still very much a World War I battle with the infantry and artillery doing most of the “heavy lifting.” The turn sequence is asymmetrical and proceeds through the following stages (British player turn): reinforcement phase; tank repair phase; command control phase (campaign game only); initial air phase (optional); initial barrage phase; initial ground combat phase; initial movement phase; second air phase (optional); second barrage phase; second ground combat phase; second movement phase; and tank breakdown phase. The German turn is identical except that there are no “tank-related” phases, and no command control phase. The turn sequence also nicely illustrates that the major threat to the British tanks was not hostile fire, but everyday mechanical breakdowns.

‘TO THE GREEN FIELDS BEYOND’ offers three short scenarios, and a single long scenario that combines all three into a campaign game. The short scenarios are: The British Breakthrough (20-22 November, three game turns); Battle of Bourlon (23-27 November, five game turns); and the German Counter-Attack (30 November – 4 December, four and a half game turns long). The Campaign Game begins on game turn one (20 November) and continues through the conclusion of turn seventeen (6 December). In addition to the different historical scenarios, the game also proposes several “what if?” scenarios. These include: a Free Set-Up scenario (for both players); a British Launch All-Out Offensive scenario; and a French Participation scenario. The designer also incorporates air units into the game system for those players who are interested, but (wisely, I think) makes the air war sub-routine optional.


For some reason, David C. Isby always seems to be at his best when it comes to designing games dealing with the 'Great War'. In fact, Isby's design for SPI's SOLDIERS (1972), even after all these years, still remains my all-time favorite World War I tactical game. And his earlier, Rand Game Associates title, CAMBRAI, 1917: The First Blitzkrieg (1974), was and is a great "beer and pretzels" treatment of the Battle of Cambrai; even better, perhaps, from a purely game players' perspective than the far more detailed, much prettier, but somewhat cumbersome title being discussed in this profile. Still, even if TO THE GREEN FIELDS BEYOND is not David Isby's best design, it is nonetheless a thoughtful and very interesting simulation of the Battle of Cambrai. It is also certainly worth a look from anyone with even a passing interest in the First World War. Moreover, as an early look at the development of armored vehicles and doctrine, the Battle of Cambrai is important because of the chain of future events that it was instrumental in starting. The nature of warfare changed in fundamental ways in 1917; unfortunately, it was mainly the wrong people who realized it.

Seen within the broad sweep of military history, the Battle of Cambrai is important both for what happened, and for what did not. The irony of the battle’s outcome was that it was the Germans, and not the British who were jolted into an awareness of the potential of the tank. The Germans would study and debate the proper application of armored combat power; ultimately, they would mesh it with the proven Stosstruppen doctrine of breaking through and then bypassing the defenders’ strong points, leaving isolated enemy positions to be liquidated by follow-up troops. The British, with a few notable exceptions, would persist in viewing the tank as an infantry support weapon. It would be the Germans, and not the English or French, who would see the enormous combat potential of tanks used en mass. The world, to its extreme detriment, would only have to wait a little over two decades to finally see where these innovative German armored theories would lead.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 24 hours per game turn
  • Map Scale: 1250 yards per hex
  • Unit Size: company/regiment/brigade
  • Unit Types: infantry, cavalry, artillery, royal horse artillery, tank, Stosstruppen infantry, corps supply depot, air unit, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: above average
  • Solitaire Suitability: average
  • Average Playing Time: 2½-17 hours

Game Components:

  • One 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Standard Combat Results Table, Rolling Barrage Combat Results Table, Terrain Key, Terrain Effects Chart, Supply Index Track, and Turn Record Track incorporated)
  • 400 back-printed ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Scenario Set-up Instructions and Reinforcement Schedule incorporated)
  • One small six-sided Die
  • One Customer Complaint Card
  • 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


  • Rands Cambrai was a joy to play and still is today. David Isby I felt has still done the two best games on the battle to date. To the Green Fields Beyond is a joy to play solo and trying to make the right decision on which tpye of Barrage to use on a target is fantastic.

    I play the game along with the Rand title every year. I wish Mr Isby would return to do more designs.

  • Greetings Again Kim:

    I still have mixed feelings about TO THE GREEN FIELDS BEYOND, but I am in complete agreement with you on Rand's ugly, but fun, CAMBRAI. In fact, I always thought that the old Rand title was just begging for a redo: one that would increase the scope of the battle area and increase the numbers and types of units.

    David Isby also designed one of my all-time favorite tactical games (of any era): SOLDIERS. I haven't revisited his World War I tactical game for awhile, but for several years after its release, I and several of my friends played it until the counters almost wore out!

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Which TYPE of barrage to use?

    Use both types and use hurricane on turn 1 on the very important hexes.

    Don Johnson

  • Greetings Don:

    You and Kim point to one of the more interesting features of this game: the various artillery tactics available to the players as the game progresses and their strategic situations change.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Here is my take: The game is all about getting a hole in the German line and sending Allied units thru it. The best chance for this is on turn 1, hence the Allies need to spend as many resources as it takes to try their best to see this happen on turn 1. It is essentially a one turn game when using this strategy, the other turns just confirm the turn 1 result.

    So do not be concerned about saving shells for later turns, if you do not get a hole on turn 1 it is almost certain you will never get a hole. So use hurricane bombardments for just about every arty attack, in order to get the doubled arty effect, even tho it costs triple, that is what those points are for, to spend to get a hole. And do both types of attacks on the most critical hexes, do not do just one type, the hole is everything.

    And the cavalry that are free to move on turn 1 are precious, the 0-1-12 can essentially win the game by getting into Cambrai if a hole opens, when means you never need to withdraw the tanks.

    Don Johnson

  • Greetings Again Don:

    Your "bombardment plan" for Byng's army is an interesting one. In view of the fact that it has been some time since I actually sat down to play "TO THE GREEN FIELDS BEYOND", I don't recall if, when playing the British, I ever resorted to the type of first turn maximum artillery effort that you describe. Granted, it's been awhile, but I think that my preference was to conduct mainly "rolling barrage" attacks with the goal of gaining the combat column-shift for my assaulting "Tommies," rather than simply trying to knock the legs out from under the German defense on the first game turn with the more costly (supply-wise) "drumfire barrage" attacks. Is it possible that I was too miserly with my supply points?

    In any case, I don't have a copy of the game in front of me right now, so I can't run the numbers myself; nonetheless I'm curious: Have you actually figured out your chance of success (as a percentage) with this approach? I assume that you would probably conduct seven or eight major artillery attacks right off the bat?

    Best Regards, Joe

  • What I have done is played the first turn repeatedly. The "normal" way to play is to just do normal barrages, keeping some ammo in reserve for later turns. This is highly luck dependent on getting a hole. So I then tried to see if I could manipulate the resources in some way to increase the chances of getting a hole. I tentatively tried with a few hurricane barrages and I saw that that increased the chances of a hole forming. So then I tried it with essentially ALL arty firing hurricane and I liked that result the best. So that is the strategy I promote.

    I do not have the game set up, but I recall that there is one obvious hex to hit with both full drumfire and full rolling to have the best chance to form a hole. And if the drumfire clears it (by luck) then the rolling might seem a waste and was why one might not do it when playing "normal" versus "max turn 1". But I do not look at it that way, I look at it as a way to have the best chance to achieve a hole, which is everything in this game.

    Don Johnson

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