On 28 June 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated by a lone Serbian gunman as their motorcade carried them back to their temporary residence after a long and mainly ceremonial state function. The archduke’s open car, because of his chauffeur’s unfamiliarity with the local streets, had taken a wrong turn and it had unluckily — and quite by chance — blundered into the path of a fanatical Serbian nationalist who had earlier attempted but failed to get close enough to the royal procession to launch a terrorist attack against the archduke. The Serbian gunman, ironically, had given up on his murderous plan and was walking back to his lodgings when the Imperial motorcade unexpectedly came into view. Shots rang out, and the impromptu terrorist attack was over before Franz Ferdinand’s escort could react. The next in line to the Imperial Throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, along with his royal consort, had both been mortally wounded while on a state visit to Sarajevo near the Serbian border.
Within days, newspapers and politicians across the Continent began to foment ethnic passions and, not surprisingly, popular support for a European war began to grow. And frantic diplomatic efforts seemed to accomplish little. Soon, the web of Great Power alliances and treaties that had grown up since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 began to take over and drive events. Austria-Hungary reacted to the brutal and senseless double-murder of the archduke and his wife by issuing a harsh ultimatum to the Serbian government; when Serbia failed to respond satisfactorily, Austria-Hungary promptly declared war on its smaller neighbor. In a misguided attempt to force Austria-Hungary to back away from its threats against Serbia, Russia began to mobilize in support of its smaller Balkan ally. Unable or unwilling to see the Russian Tsar’s military demonstrations for the diplomatic bluff that they actually were, Germany answered the Russian troop call-ups by declaring war on Russia and its western ally, France.
The ill-conceived and hastily-ordered Russian Mobilization had been the tipping point. Once troops began to gather at their various assembly areas, diplomacy could no longer offer any real possibility of escape from a general war. European affairs continued to spin more and more out of control. With diplomatic options virtually exhausted by the end of July, it could only be a matter of days before the Great Powers' armies began to march against each other.
On August 3rd, the fragile peace was finally broken. In a maneuver intended to outflank French defenses on the Franco-German border, The German Kaiser’s troops crossed into peaceful Belgium; this violation of Belgian neutrality quickly brought England into the war on the side of the French and Belgians. By August 4th, Germany and Austria-Hungary (the “Central Powers”) were at war with Great Britain, France, Russia, Belgium, and Serbia (soon to be called the “Allies”). The First World War — the “war to end all wars” — had well and truly begun.
THE GUNS OF AUGUST is primarily a division/corps level simulation of World War I ground combat in Europe. In the course of the game, players may concentrate exclusively on either the Eastern or the Western Front; or they may combine the two fronts to recreate the strategic scale and complexity of a war fought from Galicia to Flanders, from Serbia to the Tyrol, and from the Baltic to the Bosporus. The naval war between the Central Powers and the Allies is highly abstracted and concentrates on the two elements of greatest strategic significance: the Allied naval blockade of Germany; and the German submarine campaign against the Allies. The fleets of the belligerents are noticeably absent from the game because neither England nor Germany was prepared, at any point in the war, to risk a decisive naval battle that might lead to substantial losses of capital ships.
Although it was designed as a two-player game, THE GUNS OF AUGUST can be played just as easily by three to six players. Each game turn in THE GUNS OF AUGUST is equal to one month and consists of two identical player turns. The game turn sequence proceeds as follows (the Central Powers player moves first): war declaration phase, supply determination phase, movement phase, combat phase, demoralization removal phase, and the isolation phase; the Allied player then repeats the same steps. After the Allied player segment, a joint Interplayer-Turn takes place during which both players execute the following additional phases: naval phase; morale phase; reinforcement phase; game-turn phase, the game turn marker is advanced; and finally, the weather determination phase, during which the Central Powers player rolls for weather for the next game turn.
THE GUNS OF AUGUST offers short scenarios for each of the years of the war. The 1914 scenario begins with the August game turn and runs through December 1914 (5 turns). The 1915, 1916, and 1917 scenarios simulate a full year and continue for 12 game turns. The 1918 scenario begins in March and continues through November 1918 (9 Game turns). Each of these scenarios (except for 1918), can be played either as an East Front or a West Front game, or with the two Fronts combined. The 1918 scenario is a West Front game only, because the Russians had already surrendered in the East. In addition to the yearly scenarios, THE GUNS OF AUGUST also offers (for the truly ambitious and/or stout-hearted) a campaign scenario that covers the entire war on both Fronts and runs from August 1914 through November 1918 (50 game turns).
Once the standard rules have been mastered, players will want to move on to the advanced game rules as quickly as possible. These are the rules that really give the game its historical feel. The advanced rules include: entrenchments; forts; Stosstruppen; tanks; air units (British and French only); railroad repair; garrisons; secret mobilization and deployment; the naval phase; the morale phase; and the weather phase. For those players who are real sticklers for historical detail, the game also includes additional optional rules that cover, among other things: automatic victory; international combat coordination; “Big Push” attacks; captured artillery; attacking from forts and entrenchments; and variable entry for the U.S., Italy, Turkey, Bulgaria, Rumania, and Greece.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
To be honest I have mixed feelings about Rob Beyma's design, THE GUNS OF AUGUST. Certainly, the major factors that influenced the bloody events on the European battlefields in the years 1914 to 1918 all seem to be present in the simulation to one degree or another; and yet it is difficult to shake the feeling that something important, if intangible, is missing from the finished game. Perhaps, the problem is not with Mr. Beyma's design, but with the subject matter itself. World War I seems to represent a persistent and almost insurmountable challenge to those game designers audacious enough to tackle the subject. James F. Dunnigan's first professional game design, the much reviled 1914, was, to be charitable, not one of his more successful efforts. And other, more recent operational and strategic level tretments of the subject, whether large or small, have all been oddly disappointing. In short, a truly great treatment of the "Great War," has, at least in my opinion, yet to be published. That being said, THE GUNS OF AUGUST, like THIRD REICH, fills the niche between the true Monster games, and those games that can be played in an afternoon. So, if a player is genuinely interested in a detailed treatment of the First World War, but doesn’t want to invest months of playing time in a single game, THE GUNS OF AUGUST is, despite its flaws, probably a reasonable choice.
- Time Scale: one month
- Map Scale: not stated
- Unit Size: division/corps
- Unit Types: infantry, cavalry, Stosstruppen infantry (German only), artillery, siege artillery, fort construction engineers, railroad repair engineers, tanks (British & French only), air units (British & French only), and information markers
- Number of Players: 2-6
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: above average
- Average Playing Time: 2½ - 12+ hours (depending on scenarios, and whether the basic or advanced version is being played)
- One (four section) 22” x 32” hexagonal grid Map Board (with two Turn Record Tracks, two Secret Mobilization and Deployment Tracks, and two Replacement Tracks)
- 1,040 back-printed ½” Cardboard Counters
- One 8” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Terrain Effects Chart incorporated)
- Two 11” x 16” back-printed Player Aid Cards (each with Scenario Set-Up Chart, Reinforcement Schedule, Abbreviated Sequence of Play, Combat Results Table, Weather Table, Victory Conditions Chart, Morale Table, Naval Interception Table, and Optional Variable Entry Table)
- Two six-sided Dice
- One 5½” x 8” Avalon Hill Game/Parts Price List
- One 5½” x 7” Customer Response Card
- One 8½” x 11½” x 2” Bookcase style Cardboard Game Box