HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDShortly after midnight on 10 May, 1940, the planes of the Luftwaffe took off in total darkness to strike at targeted Allied airfields that had been sited close to the hitherto quiet Western Front. The “Phony War” in the West had finally come to an end. Within hours of the Luftwaffe's first waves of air attacks, German ground forces also began moving forward towards the French frontier, and into Belgium and Holland. The German offensive against France and its allies, code named: "Fall Gelb" (Case Yellow), had begun.
The German plan was complex and focused not just on piercing the French border defenses near Sedan, but also on lightning attacks against the Low Countries. One critical element of Hitler’s plan for the conquest of France was the rapid seizure of the Channel ports in Belgium and Holland. Under no circumstances, did the German dictator want to face the threat of Allied landings against his northern flank, particularly once German armies had begun their drive into France. Moreover, the Dutch ports were far too close to the German industrial heartland, the Ruhr, for the German High Command to risk allowing them to fall into British hands. The Führer was adamant; Holland along with Belgium would both have to be attacked and overrun once the main German offensive had commenced. Neutral Holland’s fate, along with that of Belgium and France, was sealed.
Thus it was that, as dawn broke on 10 May 1940, the nine infantry divisions and one panzer division of Kuechler’s Eighteenth Army pushed through hastily-mounted Dutch frontier defenses and fanned out across Holland in three columns. At the same time that these first attacks were beginning, German paratroops and air-landing units descended on The Hague, Rotterdam, Moerdijk, and Dordrecht; their goal: to seize airfields and key bridges to help speed the German advance. After recovering from their initial surprise, Dutch forces counterattacked the widely-dispersed German airheads, but continuous close support from the Luftwaffe allowed the isolated German paratroopers to retain control of most of their earlier gains. While these desperate battles were going on, the Dutch Army attempted to block the onrushing German tide near the frontier but was steadily forced back all along the front. The northernmost German column reached the Afsluit Dyke on 11 May; the center column made even better time and reached the Grebbe line on the evening of the 10th. Also on 10 May, Kuechler’s southern column seized the railroad bridge at Gennep; the unexpected German capture of an intact bridge was a serious blow to the defenders’ plans and soon obliged Dutch forces to fall back from the Peel line. On 12 May, advance elements of Kuechler’s southern column finally linked up with the paratroopers still holding the bridges at Moerdijk and Dordrecht. This was the last straw for the Dutch: now cutoff from further Allied assistance and with their cities facing destruction from German air attack, the Dutch government took ship for England on 13 May. On 14 May, 1940, the Dutch formally surrendered. It had taken only five days for Kuechler’s ten divisions to subjugate all of Holland.
DESCRIPTION1940 is a two-player, corps-level simulation — loosely based on the old SPI BATTLE OF MOSCOW Game System — of the first fifty-two days of the German offensive against France and the Low Countries in spring of 1940. The game focuses on the critical period — May 10 to June 30 — during which the Allies essentially fought and lost the First Battle for France.
Because 1940 is intended by the designer to be an “introductory” game, the game system is clean, comparatively simple, and intuitively logical. The counters represent the military units — German, French, British, Belgian, Dutch, and Swiss — that actually fought (or could have fought) in the historical campaign. The area represented by the game map covers that region of Western Europe — from Paris in the west to Frankfort in the east, and from Amsterdam in the north to Switzerland in the south — over which the actual campaign was waged. 1940 is played in game turns, each of which represents five days of real time. Each game turn is further divided into a German and an Allied player turn; the German player is always the first player to act in any turn. However, the game begins with a special game turn (turn “0”) during which only German and Allied units (including the Swiss, if attacked), but no other neutral units, may move and attack; the game then continues with its standard format for ten more regular game turns.
Each game turn in 1940 follows an ordered series of player actions and proceeds as follows: German (First Impulse) Movement Phase; German Combat Phase; German Recovery Phase; German (Second Impulse) Movement Phase, during which all phasing units may move up to one-half of their regular movement allowance; German Combat Phase; German Recovery Phase. At the conclusion of the German Second Impulse Recovery Phase, the Allied player becomes the “phasing” player and repeats the same six player phases as his German opponent. Once both players have completed their moves, the turn marker is advanced one space on the turn record track, and the sequence begins again.
To simulate the “fog of war,” each player must secretly assign, in writing, each of his armies to one of three “Army Group” map areas prior to the start of play. Before either player sets up on the game map, the German player secretly chooses which one of three different strategic objectives he will pursue in the coming game; he then secretly specifies which of his three army groups will be the “main” army group. In addition, the Allied player must also secretly specify which of his three army groups will be allowed to move on turn “0.”
In keeping with the “introductory” intent of the designer, the rest of the rules are also clear and easy to understand, even for a comparative novice. All ground units, except regiments, possess a zone of control (ZOC). In addition, these ZOCs are rigid for non-motorized units, but only semi-rigid for motorized units which may move a single hex directly from one enemy ZOC to another before stopping. ZOCs are not “sticky,” and combat between adjacent enemy units is semi-voluntary (any enemy unit adjacent to an attacker must be attacked). Supply rules, although important to the play of the game, are refreshingly uncomplicated: supplied units move and attack normally; unsupplied units are halved for both movement and combat. Stacking rules are also simple: four divisions, or their equivalent (a corps is considered three divisions for stacking purposes) from the same side may stack in a single hex. British and French units, however, may not stack together. Combat is resolved using a traditional “odds differential” Combat Results Table. Terrain, not surprisingly, influences both movement and combat. Air and airborne operations are an integral part of the game but are handled with logical simplicity. Rail and sea movement are also both possible in the game.
The game’s winner is determined by whether or not the Germans satisfy their pregame designated victory condition. However, different levels of victory are possible; these different levels are established by accumulating victory points for the destruction of enemy units and, in the case of the Allies, for launching a successful incursion into Germany. 1940 offers only the Historical Game; however, to increase variation in play, the designer includes a provision for several “optional” units that can be added to the Orders of Battle for both sides. In addition, the designer also includes three “optional” rules: the Mechelen Incident rule; the Belgian Late Alliance rule; and the (increased) French Air Force rule. Any or all of these rules can be used to modestly alter the flow of the game, or to tweak play-balance in favor of the either the German or the Allied player.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONGDW’s foray into the design and publication of simple, introductory games was, to be generous, pretty much a bust. AGINCOURT was too simple (once the badly-written rules had been deciphered), too predictable in its play, and visually disappointing (green and brown counters in the age of knights and heralds?). BEDA FOMM and ALMA, although interesting, were way too complicated for novices; and several of the other titles were, unfortunately, both time-consuming to learn and boring to play, once they actually had beeen learned. That being said, I personally think that of all of the “120 Series” of games, 1940, 1941, and 1942 all probably come closest, in terms of ease-of-play and excitement level, to fulfilling the original design goals set by GDW for the “120 Series.”
Over the years, I have played every one of these World War II titles and, to varying degrees, liked them all. However, my personal favorite of the three, hands down, is 1940. I don’t know why, but the problems confronting both the Allies and the Germans in May, 1940, have always interested me. And despite its limited scope and size, 1940 does a surprisingly good job of representing those problems in an easy-to-learn, fast-playing, and exciting game format. Nor does it get stale after repeated games; in fact, it seems like every time I play this title, I get a surprise. In short, it’s just a solidly designed game, and a blast to play. There may be better simulations of the German invasion of France and the Low Countries in 1940, but I guarantee that there are none to match 1940, in historical detail and pure enjoyment, that can be played to a conclusion in two hours or less.
- Time Scale: 5 days per game turn (2 days on game turn “0”)
- Map Scale: 26 kilometers per hex
- Unit Size: regiment/division/corps
- Unit Types: armor/panzer, mechanized infantry, motorized infantry, infantry, cavalry, fortress, mountain, air landing, parachute, air points, and information markers
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: medium
- Solitaire Suitability: average
- Average Playing Time: 1½-2 hours
- One 17” x 22" hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record Track and Terrain Key incorporated)
- 120 ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8¾” x 5¾” Rules Booklet (with Set-Up Instructions, Combat Results Table, and Terrain Effects Chart incorporated)
- One 6” x 4” GDW Customer Response Card
- One 9¼” x 6¼” x 1¾ ” cardboard Game Box
Recommended ReadingSee my blog post Book Reviews of these titles; all 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