SPI, BORODINO (1972)

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BORODINO is a historical simulation of the three-day battle between the main French and Russian Armies on the road to Moscow in September, 1812. BORODINO was originally published as the insert game for S&T #32; later it was reissued as an independent game in the standard SPI flat plastic game tray format. BORODINO was designed by John Young, and published in 1972 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).

DESCRIPTION


BORODINO is a grand tactical (division level) simulation of the bloody, seesaw battle between the French Army, led by the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and the main Russian Army, commanded by Marshal Prince Kutusov, on 7 September 1812, near the Russian village of Borodino. The Russians, approximately 120,000 strong, were deployed in powerful prepared positions astride the Moscow road and along the banks of the Kalotchka River. After a sharp clash on the 5th, between the French advanced guard and the Russian left at Schevardino, September 6th was relatively quiet; Bonaparte used that day to reconnoiter the Russian line, while the bulk of his army, some 135,000 troops, massed at the front. Fortunately for Napoleon, the Russian Army did not interfere with the assembling French troops, Kutusov choosing, instead, to make modest adjustments in his dispositions in anticipation of the impending French attack. That attack began with a massive artillery bombardment at 6:00 am on 7 September. This is the situation confronting the Russian and French players at the beginning of the 7 September Grand Battle game. The historical result of the battle was a tactical victory for Napoleon. But it was a strategic victory for Kutusov, since he was able to withdraw with the bulk of his army, approximately 90,000 men, still under arms. Napoleon failed to achieve the decisive battlefield victory he had sought since his invasion of Russia began in late June 1812; Kutusov missed his best opportunity on 6 September to defeat the French Army in detail. It is up to the players to see if they can do better than their historical counterparts did.

Each game turn in BORODINO is divided into two phases: the movement phase, and the combat phase. The French player is always the first player to act. Reinforcements, if called for, arrive at the beginning of the movement phase, and move normally on the turn of entry. Combat is mandatory between adjacent units, and all units adjacent to attackers must be engaged, either by direct combat, or by artillery bombardment. Artillery may attack enemy units at either one hex (adjacent) or two hexes (bombardment). Artillery may fire over intervening units, but terrain (forest, for instance) blocks artillery fire if the blocking terrain is in an intervening hex. BORODINO is a must own for anyone who likes the Napoleonic era. It is a great introductory game for beginners, and it is an even better "beer and pretzels" game for more experienced players who want a break from the bigger, more complicated titles.

BORODINO offers three short scenarios, and one extended game that combines all three days of the battle. The three short scenarios each cover one day of the battle. They are: the 5 September, Battle Game, which covers the French advanced guard's assault on the Schevardino Redoubt; the 6 September, Battle Game, which, historically, was a day of relative inactivity for both armies; and the 7 September, Battle Game, which simulates the climactic clash between the defending Russians and the fully assembled French Army. The Grand Battle Game combines all three days into one simulation. The longer game allows both players to refight the entire battle beginning with the opening clash at Schevardino. To simulate Kutusov's initial failure to recognize the danger to his left flank, in both the 5 September and Grand Battle Games, the Russian player may not move any of his units north of the Great Redoubt until the 1500 game turn. On the 1500 game turn, one Russian unit is freed to move. Thereafter, one additional unit is released from this restriction on each succeeding game turn.Two optional rules are included by the designer to increase historical realism, and/or improve play-balance: the Imperial Guard Rule, which limits both players in the use of their respective Imperial Guards; and the Moscow Militia Rule, which allows the Russian player to receive eleven Moscow Militia units as additional reinforcements. These militia units enter, one per game turn, on the east map edge beginning on game turn 11.

One final note: BORODINO is only one of a large collection of SPI titles designed by John Young that span the period from the Napoleonic Wars, through the American Civil War and Franco-Prussian War, and up to and including World War II. I confess that I am a big fan of Young's many games. His designs are almost always innovative, interesting, playable, and fun. Despite his tragic and untimely death many years ago, John Young leaves behind a library of some of the very best game designs that, in my opinion, SPI ever published.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 1 hour per game turn
  • Map Scale: 400 meters per hex
  • Unit Size: brigade/division
  • Unit Types: infantry, militia (Russian only), cavalry, artillery, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: low
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 2½-6 hours (depending on scenario)


Game Components:

  • One 22" x 34" hexagonal grid Map Sheet(with Turn Record/Reinforcement Track, two Combat Results Tables, Terrain Effects Chart, (Optional) Moscow Militia Reinforcement Box, Destroyed French and Russian Units Boxes, Exited French Unit Box, and three Scenario Set-Up Maps)
  • 100 ½" cardboard Counters
  • One 6" x 11" map-fold Set of Rules (with Combat Results Table and Historical Orders of Battle incorporated)
  • One 8½" x 11" Errata Sheet (31 May 73)
  • One small six-sided Die
  • One SPI 12" x 15" x 1" flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers)


Recommended Reading


See my blog post Book Review of this title which is recommended for those visitors interested in further historical background information.


Recommended Artwork

This map of the battle makes a fine wall decoration for the game room with a Napoleonic theme.
Buy at Art.com
Map Showing the Russian Positions at ...
Buy From Art.com
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BOOK REVIEW: 'WATERLOO: DAY OF BATTLE'

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Waterloo: Day of Battle; by David Howarth; Anthenum (1968); Library of Congress catalog number 68-27663

Waterloo: Day of Battle is one of a number of books about this famous battle that I have accumulated over the years. Most of the other titles have been military analyses of the events that transpired on the 18th of June, 1815. They understandably have focused on the operational aspects of the battle: the militarily significant facts of this day-long clash in a small corner of the Belgian countryside. Many of these works have attempted to evaluate and compare the battlefield performances of the day's two central actors: Napoleon Bonaparte and Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. Some have focused on the pivotal roles of secondary players like the French Marshals Ney and Grouchy, and of the Prussian commander Marshal Blücher. But somehow, in many, if not most, of these careful historical studies, something is lost. The essence of a battle that turned an ordinary stretch of field two miles wide and perhaps two-thirds of a mile across into a charnel house on a fine clear day in Belgium, one hundred and ninety-six years ago. A time and a place in which, in the space of a few hours, 15,000 men under Wellington, and 7,000 under Marshal Blücher were killed or wounded, and where Napoleon's Armeé du Nord lost some 25,000 killed, wounded, and captured. It is this aspect of the Battle of Waterloo, the essence of the thing as seen and understood, not only by the commanders, but also by the ordinary soldiers, that Howarth attempts to capture and recount to the reader. It is a difficult goal, but I believe that he succeeds admirably. Much in the same way that John Keegan's book, "The Face of Battle" does, "Waterloo" conveys a genuine and immediate sense of time and place. It is at once both a harrowing and an engrossing panorama of the individual actions that, woven together, created the complex tapestry of the Battle of Waterloo.


"Waterloo," however, is not just about individual anecdotes, experiences, and the overarching atmosphere of the day. Along with the deeply affecting human stories imbedded in his narrative, Howarth also manages to capture the flow and tempo of the battle. The carefully researched historical events are still recounted in scrupulous detail, but, in Howarth's work, they are not the only parts of the Waterloo story that are told. After reading "Waterloo," I was forced to reconsider some of my own strongly-held theories about the battle. Would Marshal Davout's substitution for Marshal Ney have made any real difference in the outcome of the battle? Whatever Ney's other faults, a lack of either energy or courage was certainly not among them. In the course of the battle, Ney was everywhere that his men needed inspiration and encouragement: in fact, in the course of this single bloody day, Napoleon's "bravest of the brave" had five different horses shot out from under him. Would Davout have done any better? Would he even have survived the day? Should Napoleon have begun the battle two hours earlier? Probably, but the reasons for the delay were at least as persuasive as the reasons for mounting an earlier attack. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to criticize Wellington's choice of a battlefield, or Napoleon's plan of battle, or to find fault with Grouchy's failure to march to the sound of the guns. However, Howarth convincingly shows that the various commanders and their men were not cowards or fools, but usually did their utmost, given the imperfect and contradictory information they had about the confusing and constantly changing circumstances of the battle.

Of course, no matter how compelling the story, it probably won't be read if it is poorly told. Fortunately, in the case of David Howarth, he tells the story of Waterloo very well. His writing style, as is typical of many British writers from his era, is a little formal by today's standards. None the less, his prose is clear, graceful, and a genuine pleasure to read. Moreover, readers unfamiliar with military terminology should have no difficulty with his book, as he makes his subject matter accessible without making it simple: another appealing trait that he shares with historian and writer, John Keegan.

For those readers who are unfamiliar with the Napoleonic era, Waterloo has been illustrated extensively with a large number of both black-and-white, and color plates. There are even a few photographs of the Waterloo area as it appeared many years after the battle. Most of the book's illustrations are familiar, at least to those of us with an ongoing interest in this historical period, but a number of the prints are comparatively obscure and not commonly used in other works dealing with the Battle of Waterloo. Some, in fact, I had never seen before. In addition to the numerous illustrations that enrich his narrative, the author also includes eight maps to help the reader visualize various key battlefield events as they are being described in the text.

"Waterloo: Day of Battle," is an interesting, and deeply engaging portrait of the men who both won and lost the most famous battle of all time. However, it is not the most detailed and analytical treatment of the battle ever published. Nor is it a work of pure military scholarship. There are plenty of books that nicely satisfy both of those roles. Instead, the author has attempted to add something to the reader's understanding of the battle that is often absent from other books on this subject: the unpredictability of the human dimension. I think that he succeeds in this. For the reader who is interested in a description of the Battle of Waterloo that is satisfying on both a historical and an emotional level, this book is an excellent choice. And while I would not discard several of my other books on the battle in favor of this one, I never the less, recommend "Waterloo: Day of Battle," highly.
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For decorating the game room with a Napoleonic theme:

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SPI, WELLINGTON’S VICTORY (1976)

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WELLINGTON’S VICTORY: The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815 is a tactical-level simulation of the legendary battle that ended Napoleon's final 100 Days as Emperor of France. WELLINGTON’S VICTORY was designed by Frank Davis and published by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI) in 1976.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND


Wellington at Waterloo painting by
Ernest Crofts directing deployment of
reserves from his famous position
under the tree
The morning of 18 June 1815 dawned overcast but without rain, a welcome relief to the tens of thousands of men forced to bivouack in open fields after the constant rain of the preceding day and night. With the first light of dawn, uniformed men stirred from their bed rolls and stoked their campfires; those who had been lucky enough to find food, often no more than a potato, ate. There was, however, little time for these men to loiter around their campfires; enemy soldiers were stirring within eyeshot of their own encampment, and it seemed obvious that after the difficult marches of the previous two rain-soaked days, a major battle was in the offing.

As the morning wore on and the sky steadily brightened in the east, shambling disorder gradually gave way to disciplined motion and, on the orders of their officers and other ranks, men formed up: companies came together to become battalions, and then regiments. The regiments formed columns and gradually arrayed themselves across the valley from each other; each in their own ordered lines. On the southern side of the field, the regiments marched past their Emperor. Napoleon, astride his Arabian stallion Marengo, reviewed the passing, cheering ranks of French troops as if they were on parade. Across a still muddy field, on a low ridge, Wellington, having seen to the disposition of his men, dismounted from his horse and reclined in the shade of a tree. Relative quiet again settled over the field.

Once formed for battle, the soldiers of the two armies: 67,000 men under the Duke of Wellington, and 72,000 commanded by Napoleon, stood in multicolored ranks facing each other across a shallow valley of rye grass. Both splendidly uniformed hosts seemed fixed in place, like insects in amber. Hours seemed to pass. Suddenly, soldiers in the ranks were shocked from their lazy torpor by the sound of canon fire somewhere on the French left. The Battle of Waterloo had finally begun with a French bombardment of the Anglo-Allied outpost that occupied the château of Hougoumont. No one then, or now, can be sure of the exact time of these first shots, but the cannonade probably began around 11:30 am. The peaceful lethargy of the morning had ended for the men warily watching each other across the small stretch of Belgian rye fields. At last, it had become a battlefield. The morning’s unexpected quiet would now, on a patch of sodden ground no more than two miles wide and two-thirds of a mile across, give way to the noisy, harsh, and bloody business of war.

DESCRIPTION



WELLINGTON’S VICTORY is a tactical simulation of the day-long battle that pitted the major part of the French Armée du Nord, commanded by Napoleon, against the Anglo-Dutch Army, under the Duke of Wellington, and a part of the Prussian Army, led by Marshal Prince Blücher von Wahlstadt. This decisive action took place near a small Belgian hamlet named Waterloo on 18 June 1815.

It is an understatement to say that the day-long struggle near Waterloo is one of the most famous battles in European history. The reasons for this notoriety are both numerous and well deserved. To begin with, it presented two of the greatest generals of their or any age, Napoleon and Wellington, in their one and only battlefield confrontation; then there is the comparatively even balance of forces and the closeness of the battle's outcome; and finally, there are the many tantalizing questions that still dominate discussions of the battle to this day.


What if, for example, Napoleon had begun the French assault earlier, or Blücher had continued his retreat and had not gone to Wellington’s aid? Would it have made any difference if Napoleon had employed Marshal Davout instead of Ney as his second in command, or Grouchy had diverted his force west and had marched to the sound of the guns? What if the French Imperial Guard had been committed earlier, when the Anglo-Dutch line was wavering; or Ney had not thrown away the French cavalry in a futile attack on Wellington’s center? The questions and might have beens are virtually endless. WELLINGTON’S VICTORY, better than any other Waterloo simulation I have ever seen, allows players to test most, if not all, of these questions using the game as a paper and cardboard time machine.

Napoleon addresses his guard
during the Battle of Waterloo.
Even a cursory examination of the rules shows that WELLINGTON’S VICTORY is extraordinarily rich in historical color. Thus, it is not surprising that the game system is both complex and highly detailed: a fact that is readily apparent in the many operations that each player must perform in the course of a single game turn. The sequence of play proceeds as follows: French Command Phase; French Rally Phase; Allied Facing/Formation Phase; Allied March Phase; French Shock Phase; Reciprocal Artillery Fire Phase; Reciprocal Infantry Fire Phase;Allied Command Phase; Allied Rally Phase; French Facing/Formation Phase; French March Phase; Allied Shock Phase; and Game-Turn (end) Phase. The interwoven structure of each game turn gives players a real sense of simultaneity of action and reaction; and the rules governing the use of cavalry, unit formations, and morale, almost always a problem in tactical games, are both logical and surprisingly realistic.

WELLINGTON’S VICTORY offers three limited scenarios, and two versions of the complete battle. The shorter, limited scenarios each focus on an important action during the battle and require only the portion of the total available forces directly involved on that section of the front. The three limited scenarios are: Hougomont, which uses map sections A and C and lasts 20 game turns; La Haye Sainte, which uses all four map sections and lasts 20 game turns; and Plancenoit,which uses map sections B and D and also lasts 20 game turns. The historical version of the complete battle uses all four of the map sections, and all available forces. The Battle of Waterloo begins on game turn eleven,and ends after 40 complete game turns (turn 50). The delayed start time for the historical Battle of Waterloo game takes into account the fact that Napoleon postponed the opening of the battle while he waited for the ground to dry. The alternative full battle game assumes that the French attacked as soon as their offensive preparations were completed, and did not stand idly by through much of the morning. This alternative Early French Assault version begins on turn one and ends at the conclusion of game turn fifty (50 game turns). In addition to the various scenarios included with the game, the designer has also offered a number of optional rules that players probably should incorporate as soon as they are comfortable with the game system. Most of these rules are relatively minor and involve small adjustments to the Facing, Stacking, Combat, and Morale rules. One optional rule, however, represents a significant change in the flow of the battle: the rule to allow for the Early Arrival of the Prussians on the field. With this rule, the Prussian Army will begin to arrive four full turns earlier than it did historically. Needless-to-say, this last rule significantly tips play-balance in favor of the Allied player.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION

WELLINGTON'S VICTORY, as should be obvious from the preceding description, is not for everyone. It requires a very large game surface (4' by 8') to set up the game, and even the 'short' (20 turn)scenarios require a major time commitment on the part of the game's participants. And then, of course, there is the oddly-colored game map which, although unambiguous so far as terrain features and elevation are concerned, still manages (with its abundant use of yellows) to be both unexpected and even off-puting to some gamers, myself included. Nonetheless, for those dedicated players with a genuine interest in tactical-level Napoleonic warfare and particularly for those gamers who want an accurate and richly-textured treatment of the Battle of Waterloo, I can think of no better simulation. Its various game subroutines are intuitively logical, and, more importantly, all combine to produce historically satisfying outcomes on the game map. Thus, while this game is really only suitable for experienced players, I still give it my strongest recommendation. Among the many monster games dealing with Napoleonic battles that I have tried, over the years, I can really think of no title that does a better job, either as a simulation or as a game.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 15 minutes per game turn
  • Map Scale: 100 yards per hex
  • Unit Size: company/battalion (infantry), regiment (cavalry), and battery (artillery)
  • Unit Types: command, infantry, cavalry, artillery and information markers
  • Number of Players: two or three (teams highly recommended)
  • Complexity: above average/high
  • Solitaire Suitability: medium (if pushing around 2,000 unit counters doesnt bother you)
  • Average Playing Time: 6 -18+ hours (depending on scenario)

Game Components:

  • Four 22" x 34" hexagonal grid Map Sheets (with Turn Record/Reinforcement Track, Terrain Effects Key, Terrain Effects Chart, Two Shock Combat Tables, Two Relative Firepower Tables, French Army Morale Record, Anglo-Allied Army Morale Record, Record of French Unit Commitment, Record of Anglo-Allied Unit Commitment, Observation Procedure, and Abbreviated Sequence of Play incorporated)
  • 2,000 back-printed ½" cardboard Counters
  • One 8½" x 11" Rules Booklet (with Initial French and Anglo-Allied Deployments and Scenario Instructions incorporated)
  • Three 11" x 14" Combined Shock Combat Results and Relative Firepower (Fire Combat Results) Tables
  • Two small six-sided Dice
  • Two SPI 12" x 15" x 1" flat 24" compartment plastic Game Boxes (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic Box Covers with Title Sheets


Recommended Reading


See my blog post Book Review of this title which I strongly recommend for those visitors interested in additional historical background information.



For decorating the game room with a Napoleonic theme:

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TRICKS OF THE TRADE: THE GENERAL LOOKS AT 'STALINGRAD'

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A Short list of some of the best articles on STALINGRAD to appear, over the years, in Avalon Hill's The General


While compiling material for a previous post on AFRIKA KORPS, I found myself continually getting sidetracked into reading unrelated past articles in The General on STALINGRAD as well as other intriguing pieces on some of the other Avalon Hill classics. I had forgotten how interesting some of these old essays could be. Finally, I put some of these magazines aside on the off-chance that I might want to look at them again later.

After thinking it over, however, I decided to look at them again, sooner rather than later. This change of heart is the direct result of some of the comments from a few of the visitors to my blog. And since some of you actually seemed to enjoy "The General looks at AFRIKA KORPS", I have decided to go ahead and list some of the other nearly-forgotten articles that appeared, so many years ago, between the covers of The General. So here is the latest installment in what I hope will become an ongoing series on the best of the best pieces from decades worth of old issues of The General. This short collection, in my opinion, includes some of the most interesting and entertaining articles on STALINGRAD analysis, game variants, and Series Replaysever to see print. And speaking of Series Replays: all but one of these replays has been included, not because of the stellar performance of the players, but because of the ruthless candor, clarity and usefulness of the neutral commentary. Who, after all, can really resist slowing down to look as they drive by a train wreck?

To those of you who still have a collection of older copies of The General gathering dust somewhere in their closet, or who have a friend who has a lifetimes stash of old gaming magazines stacked up in his game room, this list is for you. Even if you read these articles a long time ago, I strongly recommend that you go back and give them another look. You might even find it hard to close the covers of some of these old magazines once you start turning through their pages!

For no particular reason, I have arranged this list in chronological order, from the oldest to the most recent.

  • A Series Replay: STALINGRAD, featuring Dan Evans (German) and Tom Oleson (Russian) with neutral (if brutally honest) analysis by George Phillies (yes, the same George Phillies, and M.I.T. alumnus, who ran as the Libertarian candidate for POTUS in 2008) in The General, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Nov-Dec 1973) shows, in the case of the two hapless players, why it is virtually always a bad idea to let George Phillies look over your shoulder while you play STALINGRAD
  • Mark Irwin's comprehensive article, "Defense in STALINGRAD", which appears in The General, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Jul-Aug 1974) presents a very detailed and useful analysis of the Russian defense in STALINGRAD for any players who are new to the game
  • Gary Gygax' intriguing, if unorthodox, "The Southern Gambit", in The General, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Nov-Dec 1974) offers an interesting alternative opening for the hyper-aggressive (and daring) Russian player in STALINGRAD
  • A Series Replay: STALINGRAD, featuring Randy Reed (German) and Don Greenwood (Russian) with neutral commentary provided by George Phillies (who else?) and Mark Swanson, in The General, Vol. 11, No. 5 (Jan-Feb 1975) which, besides being an example of some very eccentric STALINGRAD play, also reinforces the earlier observation about George Phillies and player's shoulders
  • Dr. Joseph Connolly's innovative variant, "Starting STALINGRAD in 1942", in The General, Vol.12, no. 4 (Nov-Dec 1975) provides all of the additional rules, deployment instructions, replacement levels, and order of battle information necessary to begin the play of Germany's '42 summer offensive, Case Blau, using the standard STALINGRAD map and counters
  • George Phillies' "STALINGRAD Scenario Strategy", The General, Vol. 12, No. 6 (Mar-Apr. 1976) offers a thoughtful critique, analysis, and even some tips for players getting ready to play Dr. Connolly's variant from "Starting STALINGRAD in 1942"
  • A two-part Series Replay: STALINGRAD, which is, by far, the highest caliber, most interesting, and most closely-fought of the replays included in this list, pitting Joe Angiolillo (German) against Tom Baruth (Russian) with neutral commentary by Paul Bakulski, in The General, Vol. 14, Nos. 3 & 4 (Sept-Oct, Nov-Dec 1977)
  • Louis Coatney's "STALINGRAD Revisited and Revised", The General, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Jul-Aug 1978) offers an extensive state of the art facelift to the standard STALINGRAD rules from a frustrated, but long-time aficionado of the original game
  • Joseph A. Angiolillo's "The Russian View: An Exhaustive Analysis of the Defense in STALINGRAD", published in The General, Vol. 17, No. 6 (Mar-Apr 1981) in which the author catalogs the best Russian starting set-ups from a veritable who's who of recognized STALINGRAD experts, as well as presenting some ideas about Russian play during 1941
  • James Corling's "The Big Three", the General, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Nov-Dec 1985) which considers the three most common and persistent German errors in STALINGRAD play
  • Besides these articles, there are many more that didn't make this list, not because they weren't worth reading, but mainly because I wanted to provide a representative cross-section of different types of essays, and really didn't want to publish too many pages of article citations in the same post. Interestingly, one of the regular visitors to my blog, Russ Gifford, recently commented that, in his opinion, the issues of The General that began appearing with Volume 11 represented a genuine and noticeable improvement in the overall quality of the magazine. This was not something that had ever occurred to me, but after reexamining my own copies of the six issues that comprised Volume 11, I think he's absolutely right: 1974 indeed represented a real leap forward in quality for the game-related articles in The General. Thankfully, the days of "Sage Sarge" and of "Perfect Plans" really had, by the mid-seventies, pretty much come to an end. And by the way, for those of you who don't have any old copies of The General magazine lying around, there are always copies surfacing on eBay so,given a little time, you should still be able to track most, if not all, of these gems down.
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TAHGC, WATERLOO (1962)

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WATERLOO is a historical simulation of the Emperor Napoleon’s final, brief military campaign against the forces of the Anglo-Allied and Prussian armies in Belgium in June, 1815. This “classic” title was originally designed by Charles Roberts but design credit went to the developers, Thomas Shaw and Lindsley Schutz, and published by The Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC) in 1962. In 1978, the game underwent a relatively minor rules overhaul by Bruno Sinigaglio and, thereafter, was published with a 2nd edition version of the standard rules.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND


Napoleon’s decision to cross into Belgium at the head of a French army on June 15, 1815 was, based on his pessimistic but realistic view of France’s strategic situation, his only viable option. Military action was clearly required; diplomacy was, at least temporarily, out of the question. After Bonaparte’s return from exile on Elba to France on March 1st 1815, the member nations — England, Prussia, Austria, and Russia — of the reactionary Great Coalition that had defeated and deposed him over eleven months earlier had, within a few weeks, held an emergency meeting in Vienna. There they formally declared him to be an “outlaw” and demanded his abdication and the return (yet again) of the Bourbon Monarchy. Backing up their demands of March 13th, the individual member nations of the coalition moved quickly to raise fresh armies for a renewed war against the “Corsican Ogre.” By June, 1815, the Anglo-Allied Army under Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, and the Prussian Army, commanded by Field Marshal Prince Blücher von Wahlstadt, had massed their troops in Belgium near the French border. To the east, the Austrians were assembling another army that, when formed, would equal or exceed the size of Napoleon’s own. To make matters worse, farther to the east, the Tsar was also mustering new troops whose strength, when ready to march, would equal that of the Austrians.

Confronted by an alliance that, when fully assembled, would outnumber his own forces by over four-to-one, Napoleon decided to strike first. Gathering what available troops he could spare from other fronts, some 123,000 men in all, Napoleon force marched his newly-raised Armée du Nord towards the enemy encampments near the French border and, on the 15th of June, crossed the Sambre River into Belgium. Once his army had advanced into Belgium, Bonaparte’s plan of campaign, based on his theory of the “central position,” was simple: he would drive the Armée du Nord between the dispersed bivouacs of Wellington and Blücher, and then defeat each enemy army in turn before they could combine their forces against him.


DESCRIPTION


WATERLOO is an operational (division-level) simulation of the last and perhaps most famous of Napoleon Bonaparte’s many military campaigns. The game begins on the morning of June 16th with the bulk of Napoleon’s troops across the Sambre River and ready to push north towards Brussels. It is the task of Wellington and Blücher to stop them. The French begin the game at full strength: fifty combat units totaling 193 combat factors. There are no French reinforcements. The Prussian, Anglo-Allies (P.A.A.) begin the game with only thirty-five combat units totaling 116 combat factors. As the game progresses, another forty-three units totaling an additional 121 combat factors will enter the map as reinforcements. Given his numerical disadvantage once the P.A.A. forces are finally concentrated, Napoleon’s goal is to push steadily north and to defeat the armies of Wellington and Blücher in detail, before the rising tide of P.A.A. reinforcements can tip the scales against the French.

WATERLOO is 30 game turns (five days) long and follows a simple game turn sequence: the French player moves first and initiates combat; then the P.A.A. player brings in any scheduled reinforcements and then repeats the same move-fight sequence, after which the game turn ends. The French player wins by eliminating all of the P.A.A units on the game map, either through direct combat or through forced P.A.A. defections caused by French units exiting the game map for Brussels.

WATERLOO offers only the historical Standard game. There are no scenarios (although a number have been presented in the pages of the General over the years), and, except for the possible use of leader counters, no optional rules are included with the Standard game. However, WATERLOO rules for most Tournament matches have been slightly modified in the interest of play-balance. In tournament competition, the rules now add one daylight game turn per day, and restrict the game length to 28 game turns (four days). In addition, the French player — prior to the beginning of play — may stipulate the use of a ten-sided die with associated combat results table, instead of the regular six-sided die and standard CRT. Like most of the Avalon Hill “classics,” the rules to WATERLOO can be learned in a few minutes whether playing the Standard or the Tournament version, but mastery of this old “warhorse” only comes with study and a lot of practice.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION


Players today almost unanimously dismiss WATERLOO as being a poor simulation (which is certainly true) and as being unbalanced (which it is not). I admit that I have played simulations that were much bigger and with far more detail and historical accuracy than WATERLOO, but I have almost never encountered expert play in any of these other games. That is this classic game's greatest appeal: a lot of us have been battling over the simple WATERLOO map of the Belgian countryside for a very long time. In fact, of all the games in my collection, I have probably played this title and AFRIKA KORPS more than any of the others. More importantly, even after all these years and despite its many flaws, it is still one of my all-time favorite games.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 2 hours per game turn
  • Map Scale: 800 meters per hex (estimated)
  • Unit Size: division/brigade
  • Unit Types: infantry, cavalry, artillery, and leader units
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: below average
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 3-5 + hours


Game Components:

  • One 22” x 28” hard-backed hexagonal grid Map Board
  • 169 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8” x 10” Rules Booklet
  • One 5½” x 8½” back-printed Situation/Order of Appearance Chart
  • One 6” x 9” back-printed Turn Record Chart/Order of Battle Chart
  • One 7½” x 10” Combat Results Table
  • One six-sided Die
  • One 5½” x 8½” Avalon Hill Catalog and Order Form
  • One 5½” x 6½” Customer Response Card
  • One 11¼” x 14½” x 1¾” flat cardboard Game Box


Recommended Reading


See my blog post Book Reviews of these titles, which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.



For decorating the game room with a Napoleonic theme:

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TRICKS OF THE TRADE: A RECOMMENDED RUSSIAN SET-UP FOR 'STALINGRAD'

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In the Vol. 17, No. 6 (March-April 1981) edition of The General, Joseph A. Angiolillo presents a detailed analysis of what he argues are the “best of the best” Russian STALINGRAD openings to have appeared in tournament and PBM play over the years. For anyone like me who is still interested in this venerable old classic, his survey of the favorite defenses of many past STALINGRAD masters is a fascinating study. Moreover, I suspect that his article probably provoked more than a few readers to think to themselves: “This essay would have been even better if it had just included one more Russian set-up: mine!” And here is where having one’s own blog is an advantage; unlike all those other disappointed General subscribers, I finally have the opportunity to rectify Mr. Angiolillo’s unfortunate oversight.

Which brings me, directly, to the purpose of this short essay: having spent most of the previous post talking about ways to improve the German player’s prospects in STALINGRAD, I could not resist including one of my own favorite Russian set-ups, just for a little balance. I cannot confidently claim that this is the best possible opening for the Russians. However, I can say that, using this set-up or some variation of it, I have NEVER lost with the Russians, even when playing matches using play-balance options intended to substantially improve the German player’s chances.
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'STALINGRAD' Russian Opening Set-up



2nd Rifle (4-6-4) U18
3rd Rifle (7-10-4)AA15
4th Rifle (5-7-4)S18
5th Rifle (5-7-4)S18
8th Rifle (5-7-4)V18
9th Rifle (5-7-4) Z16
10th Rifle (5-7-4)BB15
11th Rifle (4-6-4)BB15
12th Rifle (5-7-4)EE12
13th Rifle (5-7-4)EE12
14th Rifle (5-7-4)GG11
16th Rifle (4-6-4)CC14
17th Rifle (4-6-4)CC14
22nd Rifle (4-6-4)KK14
24th Rifle (4-6-4)KK14
27th Rifle (4-6-4)LL14
28th Rifle (7-10-4)FF11
29th Rifle (5-7-4)KK14
35th Rifle (5-7-4)NN14
36th Rifle (5-7-4)NN14
37th Rifle (5-7-4)NN15
42nd Rifle (4-6-4) LL14
64th Rifle (5-7-4)J31
65th Rifle (4-6-4)G34
2nd Cav (2-6-6)Z16
4th Cav (6-9-6) AA15
6th Cav (5-7-6)S18
1st Tank (4-6-6)A38
2nd Tank (2-3-6)X15
3rd Tank (4-6-6)D37
4th Tank (4-6-6)V18
6th Tank (4-6-6)JJ12
7th Tank (2-3-6)BB15
15th Tank (2-3-6)NN15


The Soviet defense presented here is constructed so as to contest every sacred foot of Holy Russia. Only one 2-3-6 Tank corps is offered as a sacrifice on the first game turn; every other Axis attack will require one or more soak-offs. In addition, this opening attempts to limit the number of attractive low-odds gambles available to the Germans during their opening round of combat. Thus, it is not a passive “delay and defend” type of set-up. The Germans and their allies, attacking into the teeth of this defense, will be obliged to fight for every inch of ground that they gain, particularly in the first few critical game turns. Moreover, the Red Army has relegated Finland to the status of a strategic sideshow. Thus, this opening leaves only the bare minimum in the far north to contain the Finns and their German allies; instead, every unit that can be spared is set up on the Polish and Rumanian borders. These extra three to five rifle corps are deployed on the main front both to cause additional Axis soak-off losses, and to help power Soviet counterattacks when such opportunities inevitably present themselves.

I am, of course, sure that readers who take the time to examine this Russian opening will find aspects of it that they dislike or would handle differently. Nonetheless, despite its undoubted imperfections — in all the years that I have used it — this defense has never once let me down. Now, if only I could track down Joe Angiolillo …
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TRICKS OF THE TRADE: SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR BALANCING 'STALINGRAD'

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Avalon Hill’s STALINGRAD turns forty-six this year. What takes me aback is that this classic game was published during my junior year in high school. It really makes you think.

Of course, that was then, and this is now. You rarely see anyone with a copy of STALINGRAD under their arm anymore, even at war game conventions — especially at war game conventions. And that’s too bad. In its day, it was one of the most popular games ever. Then John Edwards’ THE RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN came along: it was the beginning of the end for the game in the red, white, and black box. Game design and “Stukas” had pushed it aside. And that wasn’t the end. After THE RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN appeared, a number of other, newer titles were quick to follow. All of these new games also dealt with the Russo-German War, and what’s worse, in most cases, they did it much better than STALINGRAD. Where once there was only one game on the Eastern Front, now there is a glut. I admit it, after BARBAROSSA, WAR IN THE EAST I & II, RUSSIAN FRONT, 1941, DNO/UNT, EAST FRONT, and FIRE IN THE EAST/SCORCHED EARTH, I stopped paying attention. Don’t get me wrong, I have played most of these newer games, and I even like some of them quite a lot. But I still have a soft spot for STALINGRAD.

The biggest appeal of games like STALINGRAD, I suppose, is that many of the people who played these old Avalon Hill classics spent enough time leaning over the map board to really master their favorite games. When you sat down across the table from another experienced player, you could usually count on an interesting and challenging match. This type of expertise also showed up in print. And while there have been a number of very good essays in the various gaming magazines about many of these newer titles, I still remember the articles in the General on STALINGRAD by writers like George Phillies from MIT. I guess that I just miss the “good old days.”

Russian machine gunners

Still, my nostalgia doesn’t blind me to one of STALINGRAD’s biggest flaws: play-balance. A player can shrug off the primitive graphics and the simple mechanics of the game system: Chess, after all, is pretty simple too. But the fact remains that traditional STALINGRAD, when played by experts, has about a four or five to one bias in favor of the Russians. The Germans can still win playing the standard 2nd edition game; it is just very hard. So, given that fact, what’s a STALINGRAD player to do?

The short answer, of course, is to change the game’s rules. Not surprisingly, efforts to rectify this obvious shortcoming have produced, over the years, an amazing number of different suggestions for balancing out the poor German odds so that both sides would have a reasonable chance to win. I have experimented with more than a few of these different play-balance options, myself. Unfortunately, I never quite found one with the mix of historical plausibility (logical camouflage) and play-balance that I was looking for. None the less, it doesn’t hurt to try, so I am going to take this opportunity to revisit this issue one more time.

What follows is a series of different play-balance options for evening up the odds in STALINGRAD. I confess that I have play-tested two of them extensively, and one I have barely tested at all. For simplicity’s sake, I will begin with my own favorite option and then consider the alternatives that — for me, at least — appear to be less appealing.




Hitler and members of the Oberkommando des Heeres

STALINGRAD Play-Balance Option #1: The Historical (sort of) Option

The Germans begin the game with ten replacement points accumulated. They receive replacements at the normal rate of four factors per turn beginning in July ’41, except during April of both 1942 and 1943, at which time they receive ten replacement points instead of their usual four. The Russian replacement rate remains normal, and follows the standard 4-5-6 pattern of increased production. In addition, the game does not end at the conclusion of the May ’43 game turn, but continues through the Russian portion of August 1943.

Rationale: The absence of operational reserves for both the German and Red Armies is simply not supported by the historical record. Putting aside the issue of the Red Army — play-balance is the goal, after all — German reinforcements and replacements, in actual fact, increased fairly significantly in anticipation of both the ’42 and ’43 summer campaign seasons. If we assume that each replacement strength point is roughly equivalent to 12,000 men, then the proposed adjustments in German replacements seem to be fairly reasonable. Moreover, the arbitrary decision to end the game in May of 1943 looks a lot like a misguided attempt, on the part of the designers, to “fiddle” the Turn Record to make the game more competitive. Historically, there is absolutely no military justification for “pulling the plug” on the Wehrmacht in May of 1943. Operation Zitadelle (Kursk) did not even begin until July 4th, and had it been successful in pinching off the Kursk salient, the follow-up German combat operations required to liquidate the Russian pocket would have continued well into August. Furthermore, Shaw’s argument that the OKH was overly concerned about Allied plans against Italy just doesn’t stand up to careful scrutiny. The Salerno landings did not even occur until September, and even at that late date Hitler had still not chosen between the two competing strategies of Field Marshals Rommel and Kesselring as to how Italy should be defended.

Probable Effect on the Game: This option will tend to produce a much more traditional STALINGRAD game. Because of their increased replacements, the Germans will tend to be a little stronger in ’42 and ’43, but not markedly so. Its main appeal is that it will tend to discourage the Russian player from abandoning Moscow in the late stages of the game and falling back on that old Soviet stand-by: setting up a last-ditch, hedgehog defense around Stalingrad while a single lonely Russian sneaks ever deeper into the Caucasus.

STALINGRAD Play-Balance Option #2: The “Replacements” Option

This is the simplest option for all concerned. The Russian replacement rate remains unchanged. The German rate beginning in July ’41 is eight replacement factors per turn; it changes to six points per turn in January ’42 and remains at this level through the balance of the year. Beginning in January 1943, the German replacements are finally reduced to the regular four factors per turn through the end of the game in May 1943.

Rationale: Historically, this option really only makes sense in that it recognizes the steady consumption of the manpower resources of the Third Reich as the war continued and the military demands from other fronts increased. Basically, its primary appeal is that it is the easiest to implement; it also represents a nice reverse symmetry with the periodic increases in Soviet replacements.

Probable Effect: This option can create real problems for the Red Army once the Wehrmacht gets across the Dnieper. All of those additional German replacements can mean that the Russian player will have to face a Wehrmacht that is at virtual full-strength in 1942. It can be very nerve-racking, particularly if the Axis player is methodical in his advance, and is rolling moderately well.

STALINGRAD Play-Balance Option #3: The “Initiative” or “Vanity Roll” Option

This option can either have the most decisive effect on the game, particularly in the first turns, or it can be the most inconsequential. Replacements for both armies remain at the standard levels, and the game length continues to be twenty-four game turns. The change is that, during any of the clear turns of 1941, the German player may preselect three battles for special “vanity” die rolls. He may choose to use all of these rolls on the same turn for different battles, one at a time, or some mix thereof. The way it works is this: the German selects his battle, but before rolling he declares the “vanity” option and instead of rolling one die, he rolls two. He then implements the results from whichever one of the die rolls he prefers. In 1942, the German player may use the “vanity” option during clear turns only twice, and in 1943, only once.

Rationale: The best case that can be made for this rules change is that it recognizes the significant tactical and operational superiority of the Wehrmacht during the first few years of the War in the East. Moreover, this option also does a much better job of duplicating the German Army’s offensive momentum during the summer of 1941, than does the Standard Game. In purely player terms, it will usually mean that critical river defense lines are breached much earlier than in the regular game, and that the chances of the dreaded A elim in a 2 to 1 versus a doubled 7-10-4, decline from one chance in six, to one chance in thirty-six. Of course, if the German rolls badly, it pretty much doesn’t matter; but then, that is the case with the Standard Game, anyway.

Probable Effect: This is the option that is most unstable in game terms. If the German has even modest luck, the Wehrmacht should be able to push forward much more rapidly than in the Standard Game. That being the case, the Russian player will usually not be able to pursue a passive “delay and defend” strategy; instead, he is going to have to fight for his key river lines and cities, particularly in the early going and particularly in the north. If he does not, the Wehrmacht is probably going to show up on the outskirts of Leningrad in 1941, just about the time that the rivers and lakes freeze. When that happens, it is pretty much all down hill for the Russian from there on out.

These three play-balance options do not even begin to cover the many different recommendations that have found their way, over the years, into different war gaming magazines and newsletters. However, they do provide a couple of ways by which those players — who, like me, still have a soft spot for STALINGRAD — can breathe some new life into this classic old title. For that reason, I hope that at least some of you, after reading this post, will pull out your old STALINGRAD box, dust it off, and give one or more of these options a try.
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TAHGC, STALINGRAD (1963, 1974)

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STALINGRAD is a historical simulation of World War II combat on the Eastern Front. This classic title was originally designed by Charles Roberts (Thomas Shaw and Lindsley Schutz, although generally credited with the design, actually only developed the game) and published by The Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC) in 1963. A little over a decade later, the game underwent a minor rules overhaul and was republished in a 2nd Edition version by TAHGC, in 1974.

DESCRIPTION


STALINGRAD is a corps-level simulation of the critical twenty-four month period, between June 1941 and May 1943, when the Germans and their allies fought to destroy the Red Army and to subjugate European Russia. The stakes for both sides could not have been higher: control of the vast natural and agricultural resources of the Soviet Union. An Axis victory would have destroyed the Soviet State and plunged the Russian people into conditions of indescribable misery. A German victory would also have established Nazi hegemony over virtually all of mainland Europe, and vastly prolonged, if not changed the course of the Second World War. It should be noted that, in the years since the end of World War II, many observers have commented that the Russo-German War essentially pitted one murderous scoundrel, Hitler, against another, Stalin. Be that as it may, history also shows that however desperate the condition of the Russian people was under Stalin, it would have become immeasurably worse under a vicious, racist, and exploitative German occupation.

The game begins in June 1941 with the start of the massive German offensive, code-named “Barbarossa,” against an out-numbered and ill-prepared Russian Army. One player commands the Red Army; the other controls the Wehrmacht (German Army) as well as small contingents of Finnish, Rumanian, Hungarian, and Italian forces. STALINGRAD is 24 game turns long and follows a simple game turn sequence: the first player (German) brings in any scheduled reinforcements and/or replacements, and then moves and initiates combat; then the second player (Russian) repeats the same sequence (except that there are no Russian reinforcements, only replacements) ending the game turn. The German player wins by either eliminating all of the Russian units on the game map, or by occupying Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad, at the same time and for two consecutive player turns.

Three design features gave STALINGRAD its own unique flavor when it appeared in 1963. The first was the introduction of replacement rules: units eliminated in combat could now be resurrected — through the expenditure of replacement points — and returned to play. The German replacement rate was dependent on Axis control of Warsaw and was constant. Soviet replacements were dependent on Russian control of three replacement cities: Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad. In addition, the Soviet replacement rate increased on a set schedule as the game progressed. The game's second clever design feature was the introduction of weather rules. These rules incorporated different seasonal effects, and were further enhanced by the introduction of random, die-controlled weather changes during the spring and fall. Weather suddenly had a dramatic influence on the operations of both armies because of its effect on movement, and also because of its effect on the traversability and defensive characteristics of some lakes and rivers during snow months. The third innovation was the introduction of simple (strategic) rail movement rules to augment those of regular ground movement. Virtually all of these rules, seen from a vantage point almost fifty years removed from STALINGRAD’s first appearance, seem incredibly primitive and colorless.

Nowadays, younger players looking at the old STALINGRAD rulebook for the first time are prone to ask: Where are the partisans and where are the planes of the Luftwaffe? Where is the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the NKVD, or the German SS? How about the “special” weather effects for the first Russian Winter? All of these, and countless other history-based embellishments to the rules for games about the Russo-German War, have now become commonplace and, for the most part, these newer games are better for them. But does anyone remember the original source of inspiration for John Edwards’ THE RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN? No. Here’s a hint: it came from the "Boys in Baltimore". What contemporary gamers seem to forget is that there actually had to be an original game design before subsequent designers could start the inevitable process of improvement and refinement. STALINGRAD, for better or for worse, was that original design.

Some players dismiss STALINGRAD as being a poor simulation (which is certainly true) and being unbalanced (which is also true, although not nearly as much as most people think). I admit that I have played simulations with far more detail and historical accuracy than STALINGRAD, but I have rarely encountered expert play in these other games. That is this classic game’s greatest appeal: a lot of us grognards have been battling over STALINGRAD’s blue-toned and crudely-drawn map of European Russia for an awfully long time. A veteran gamer may not be familiar with every game in a friend’s collection, but I guarantee you that, if he is a long-time player, he will know this one. And although the Standard Game is slightly biased (assuming expert play) in favor of the Russians, it really doesn’t take much tweaking with the replacement rules, or with the game length to transform this old “standby” into a finely-balanced contest between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht.

STALINGRAD offers only the Historical Game. There are no scenarios (although a number have been presented in the pages of the General over the years), and almost no optional rules. Like most of the Avalon Hill classics, the rules to STALINGRAD can be learned in a few minutes, but mastery of this old “warhorse” only comes with study and a lot of practice.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 1 month per game turn
  • Map Scale: 33 miles per hex (estimated)
  • Unit Size: corps
  • Unit Types: armor, mechanized infantry, cavalry, and infantry
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: below average
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 2-4 + hours

Game Components:

  • One 22” x 28” hard-backed hexagonal grid Map Board
  • 117 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 5½” x 8½” Rules Booklet
  • One 6” x 9” back-printed STALINGRAD Instruction Supplement
  • One 5½” x 8” STALINGRAD Battle Manual
  • One 5½” x 8½” back-printed Weather Table and Order of Battle Reference
  • One 8½” x 11” back-printed Turn Record Chart
  • One 8¼” x 10” Combat Results Table
  • One six-sided Die
  • One Avalon Hill combined Order Form and Mailer
  • One 5½” x 8½” sample General Order Form
  • One 5½” x 6½” Customer Response Card
  • One 11¼” x 14½” x 1¾” flat cardboard Game Box
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BOOK REVIEW: COMMAND DECISIONS

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COMMAND DECISIONS; edited by Kent Roberts Greenfield; U.S. Government Printing Office (1960); ASIN: B000OM041Y



"Command Decisions" was published with the editorial guidance of the Office of the Chief of Military History (Department of the Army) in 1960 as an instructional reference for the training of American military officers. The book contains a collection of twenty-three essays each of which examines, in painstaking detail, a different critically important command decision made during World War II. All but one of the decisions analyzed in this work, as Greenfield points out in the introduction, concern the application of military means, but not every decision was made by a military commander. Nor are all of the decisions studied those of Allied commanders. The German decision to invade Norway and Denmark; the Japanese decision to go to war in 1941; and Hitler’s decisions regarding the defense of Italy and the Ardennes Offensive, are all scrutinized along with a wide-ranging collection of critical Allied wartime decisions.

The final selection of the essays included in “Command Decisions” was made by a panel of six members composed of both American Army officers and civilian historians, under the guidance of Dr. Kent Roberts Greenfield. The contributors were, at the time of this volume’s publication, all acknowledged experts on the subjects about which they write. Thus, each piece is both a serious study of the information, risks and goals that were weighed in the formulation of the command decision under consideration, and also an analysis of the subsequent results of the decision once implemented. The essays are arranged in chronological order. They begin with the Allied choice to concentrate on a “Germany First” grand strategy at the outset of World War II, authored by Louis Morton; they conclude with an examination by the same writer of President Harry Truman’s carefully-weighed decision in 1945, to use the atomic bomb against Japan.

Each of the studies is a serious work of scholarship and can stand independent of the others in the book. When I bought my volume of “Command Decisions” at a second-hand bookstore in 1974, I was only interested in a couple of the essays included in the table of contents. As the years have passed, I have returned to my copy to read the other studies one or two at a time, until finally, I have read them all. Several, I have returned to reread all or in part, and in the case of “Bradley’s Decision at Argentan,” by Martin Blumenson, I have probably reread this excellent piece at least three times.

The writing, despite this book’s Government Printing Office provenance, is almost uniformly clear and graceful. Each essay is carefully sourced with footnotes, but the obvious scholarship does not weigh down the subject matter or fog the reader’s interest. There are ten maps included in the text, and another ten larger, fold-out maps included in a special space inside the back cover. While “Command Decisions” is probably not a good choice for the casual history reader, it is an excellent book for anyone interested in a detailed examination of the anatomy of decision-making at the grand-strategic, strategic, and operational level. For that reason, I recommend it highly.
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TAHGC, ANZIO (1969, 1978) 4TH EDITION

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ANZIO, 4th Edition is an operational simulation of the World War II battles between Axis and Allied forces for control of Italy. ANZIO was originally designed by Dave Williams and published by The Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC) in 1969. The latest version of the game, the 4th Edition, was redesigned and reorganized by Tom Oleson, and republished by Avalon Hill in 1978.

DESCRIPTION


ANZIO is a brigade/division simulation of the war in Italy that covers the Allied campaign from September 1943 to April 1945. One player commands the multi-national Allies; the other the Germans. Although victory conditions vary depending on the scenario being played, the goals of the opposing sides are simple: the Allied player must drive north up the Italian “boot” in order to destroy German combat strength and to seize certain territorial objectives within a specified number of game turns; the German must stop him, while limiting his combat losses. ANZIO follows a simple game turn sequence: the first player moves and initiates combat; then the second player repeats the process, ending the game turn. This uncomplicated, move-fight turn sequence, however, is deceiving in that it really doesn’t describe the flow and tempo of the game.

ANZIO, along with AH’s 1914, introduced a number of new concepts that have become commonplace today. Of course, Williams’ design continues to be enjoyed by a small, but loyal, band of enthusiasts. In contrast, Jim Dunnigan’s second professional design effort (his first was JUTLAND) — the incomprehensible and generally tedious 1914 — has pretty much disappeared into well-deserved obscurity. ANZIO broke new ground for Avalon Hill in a number of ways. In a gaming era when most enthusiasts were playing BATTLE OF THE BULGE, STALINGRAD, WATERLOO, or AFRIKA KORPS, ANZIO pushed into new, barely-explored territory with its sophisticated game mechanics. The game’s designer, Dave Williams, emphasized complex, accurate (if ugly) cartography and well-researched, detailed orders of battle in order to create realistic, historically plausible challenges for his players. In addition, ANZIO was one of the first game designs to use step-reduction combat results, exploitation combat, automatic victories, breakthroughs, and basic and advanced scenarios of varying lengths to improve the historicity and playability of the game.

The overall design and game system were generally well-received by players from the outset. It should be noted, however, that Williams’ game did garner its share of detractors. Most criticism centered on the graphics used in the original version. The right-left organization of the Order of Appearance Charts is awkward, and the game map and original box art was, according to Redmond Simonsen and others, almost too amateurish to be believed. The box cover of the 4th edition is now graced with an excellent design from Rodger MacGowan, but, alas, the map retains its original “hand-drawn” look as well as its unspeakable 1st edition color scheme. On the other hand, having subsequently had my eyes torched by the game map from Danny Parker’s DARK DECEMBER, I must confess that the ANZIO map has started to grow on me.

ANZIO is several games in one. The Basic Game begins with the Allied invasion on the September II (1943) game turn and continues up to and including the German player phase of the December IV (1943) game turn. Once players have mastered the basic rules, they are encouraged to add the supplementary rules to the Basic Game for increased realism. In both cases, the Allied player wins if he controls (in supply) five cities out of nine potential objectives. In addition to the supplementary rules, the Basic Game also allows for the introduction of optional rules to further increase realism or improve play-balance.

The Advanced Game scenarios in ANZIO allow players to play until they reach one of three decision points on the turn record chart: secure southern Italy by December IV (1943); capture Rome and central Italy by June III (1944); or capture northern Italy by the end of the German player’s turn on April IV (1945). Like the Basic Game, the Advanced Game also contains a supplementary rules section and additional optional rules for players thoroughly familiar with the game system. For those players who actually invest the time to master its subtleties, the 4th Edition of ANZIO is probably the most contemporary “old” game they will ever play.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 4 game turns per month
  • Map Scale: not given
  • Unit Size: battalion/regiment/brigade/division
  • Unit Types: armor/panzer, panzer parachute, armored engineers, armored infantry/panzergrenadier, infantry, mountain infantry, luftwaffe infantry, parachute, cavalry, special service force, ranger, commando, task force, ersatz, machine gun, nebelwerfer and partisan
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: average/above average (depending on rules set played)
  • Solitaire Suitability: average
  • Average Playing Time: 2½-10 + hours (depending on scenario)

Game Components:

  • One (two section) 14” x 44” hexagonal grid Map Board (with Unit Identification Chart incorporated)
  • 448 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8” x 11” 4th Edition Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions and Historical Commentary incorporated)
  • One 8½” x 11” Step Reduction Table (Combat Results Table)
  • One 8½” x 11” back-printed German Basic Game Record Card/Unit Organization Chart/German Order of Battle Chart
  • One 8½” x 11” German Unit Organization Card
  • One 8½” x 11” back-printed Allied Basic Game Record Card/Unit Organization Chart/Allied Order of Battle Chart
  • One 8½” x 11” Allied Unit Organization Card
  • One 8½” x 11” back-printed Advanced Game Time Record Card
  • One six-sided Die
  • One Avalon Hill Catalog
  • One Customer Response Card
  • One 11¼” x 14½” x 1¼” flat cardboard Game Box

Recommended Reading


See 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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THE START OF THE 'WBC' CONVENTION IS GETTING CLOSER!

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The Cardboard Wars in Lancaster are Just around the Corner, Aug. 3rd – 9th, 2009


On August 1st, Bruno Sinigaglio’s Grognard Qualifying Tournament, along with a number of other Pre-Con events, kicks-off the early festivities at what is, without doubt, the premiere war gaming convention of the year: The World Boardgaming Championship (WBC). This tournament convention is hosted by the Boardgaming Players Association (Don Greenwood and gang), and has been meeting in Lancaster, Pennsylvania — in the heart of Amish country — for the last few years. The convention’s seven days of nonstop boardgaming (nine if you attend one of the Pre-Cons) offers attendees the opportunity to compete in well over 100 different titles; in fact, the players’ options are limited only by the various tournament start-times and the players’ own stamina.

After a twelve-year hiatus from gaming and tournaments, I was finally able to attend last year’s convention, and I am extremely happy that I did. Not only did I have an opportunity to renew old friendships and do A LOT of gaming, but I also had the chance to meet a number of younger players who are, happily, helping to revitalize our hobby. I tend to specialize in the old Avalon Hill “classics” but took advantage of the opportunity to try a few unfamiliar games — which was interesting for me, and fun for my opponents who, for the most part, beat me like a “rented mule” in these titles. I also got two of the worst shellackings, back-to-back, that I have ever received in a game that I thought I knew something about: WAR AT SEA. Conveniently, for old timers like me who no longer buy everything new that gets published, the convention offers a “library service” so that attendees can check out and play an unfamiliar title before actually having to plunk down their hard-earned money on the new game.

A direct descendant of the earlier AvalonCon Tournaments, the annual WBC convention is attended by some of the best and most affable players from all over the world. If you can possibly find a way to get to Lancaster during the first part of August, I strongly recommend that you do so; I absolutely guarantee that, if you enjoy gaming, you’ll have a great time.

To find out more about this year’s WBC Convention, visit the website.
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TIPS ON TACKLING THE MONSTER IN THE CLOSET, PART 2

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Getting Started: Successfully Organizing and Setting Up for a Home-Based 'Monster' Game



'Monster' games seem to be a perennial favorite among a small but dedicated group of players at the major war gaming conventions. This is because, for many of these gamers, the convention venue is the only opportunity they ever actually have to play these titles with real opponents. And for a lot of these convention-goers, the home-based 'monster', while it would be a great option, just never seems to work out. In many cases, these enthusiasts just don’t have any local competition; however, even in those situations where they do have contact with a few "neighborhood" players, they rarely have much luck getting a big game up and running. I know all about it; I’ve been there myself.

Actually, I would guess that a lot of players — if they are lucky enough to have a few regular face-to-face opponents — have at least attempted to play one of these really big games, but probably very few have gotten much farther than the first few moves, if that far. Usually, if my own past experience is any guide, either the game loses momentum because of startup problems before it can even get under way, or it "blows up" for reasons already alluded to in my first post on this topic. In addition, people often lose interest and drop out when they realize that they have enlisted in a project that will probably take as long (in gaming sessions) as the actual campaign took in real time. And in team games, sadly, personalities will sometimes clash as the game progresses; this is particularly prevalent, not surprisingly, among members of the same team. Having personally dealt with all of these issues — as well as many others — in my past experiences with really BIG games, I offer the following suggestions to anyone who, on their own, contemplates getting one of these behemoths under way.

First, and this is important, select a game that everyone actually wants to play. In the “old days,” this wasn’t that hard: there were only a few 'monster' games to choose from. Now, this can be a real obstacle to even getting things beyond the “talking” stage. My only advice in this situation is: be flexible! I can remember at least three occasions when I lobbied for 'WACHT AM RHEIN' prior to our group beginning a new game. I owned a copy for over thirty years and, despite my best efforts, I never once actually got a chance to play the game. I finally sold my copy on eBay two years ago. Assuming you can get everyone to agree on a title: what then? If possible try to get at least two copies of the game, so that one set of maps can serve as “planning maps” for players who are waiting to make their next move. Photocopy the rules, and make LOTS of copies. If there are going to be six players — three per side — then make at least twelve photocopies of the complete rules, including errata. Be sure that every player gets his own copy of the rules no later than a month before the game is scheduled to start. And assume that at least half of the players will misplace or damage their rules by the time the game begins; hence the additional “backup” copies. Once everyone has read the rules, a session should be scheduled so that players can hash out any of the inevitable rules questions and disagreements that are sure to have cropped up; this should be done well before the game even gets set up.

Second, take care when organizing the two opposing teams. As should be obvious, the two strongest (best) players should be on opposing teams. Also try to have at least one player on each team who is really committed to the 'monster' game project and who will probably stick with it to the “bitter end.” Make sure that the player with the highest “demoralization threshold” is on the defending team. In virtually all 'monster' games, one side is going to get the crap kicked out of it for at least the first few turns (if not more) of the game, so it is important to have a player manning the defense whose morale is not going to crack when he sees his side’s unit counters march into the “dead pile” turn after turn.

Third, set the rules for player conduct before going any farther in the “monster” game preparation process. I like to refer to this as the “NO alcohol, tobacco, or firearms” part of the game’s preplanning. Make sure that all the players know that there will be no smoking or drinking during the actual play of the game, or anywhere near the game table once a play session has ended. In the case of my friends and me, when we finished a long stint at the game table and were ready to call it a day, we would typically adjourn outside for cigars and a celebratory beer or two. This kept the game table free of ashes, and spills, and the host’s house from smelling like cigar smoke. I can’t say that it is the best way to cap off a long session at the game table, but it certainly worked for us. Also, unless the game venue is the local “bikers” clubhouse, no swearing: I can guarantee that — no matter how understanding the host’s wife might otherwise be — she is not going to be happy to hear profanity drifting into the earshot of her children. And try to keep things polite. Nothing sours the mood around the game table faster than the liberal use of terms like: moron, cretin, drooling idiot, or dim bulb. I think you get the idea: make a real effort to keep it civil, no matter what happens.

Fourth, and I know this sounds obvious: decide on a game site that can be committed to the project for however long it takes. Convenience is also a consideration, but permanence is critical. Make sure that the game venue can be secured (locked if necessary) to prevent the depredations of children and pets. This means that children and pets can NEVER be allowed, under any circumstances, into the immediate vicinity of the game once it starts. I’m sure that little Kenny and Susie are well-behaved and cute as the dickens; it doesn’t matter: you should still treat the game room just like it is a gun locker!

Fifth, make sure that the game table will be big enough to display the entire map and any charts that players must frequently refer to in the course of the game. A 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood on top of two sawhorses is not what I mean. If you have to, build an appropriate playing surface, but make sure it is well-constructed. Take it from me, it is an absolute certainty that, as the game progresses, someone will bump into the table; if it is not sturdy, pieces are going to fan out like a pregame mix of Mahjong tiles. Once an appropriately-sized table has been either located or built, cover the surface of the table with felt (you can buy some at any fabric store); the felt will keep the map sections from sliding around on the table top. Next, find or buy a few sheets of Plexiglas (typically, a good size is 2’ x 4’ — four sheets will then cover a 4’ x 8’ surface very nicely). Now you are ready to spread your map sheets and charts out on the felt and cover them all with the Plexiglas. But before you do, there are still a few other housekeeping issues to take care of. So continuing right along …

Sixth, it is crucial that there be enough light for players to actually see what they are doing. A good rule of thumb is that, if you can’t actually read the stock market section of the Wall Street Journal when it is spread out on the playing surface, then you don’t have enough light. Since few people want to rewire their basement or a guest bedroom just to accommodate a 'monster' game, the easiest solution is to buy a couple of articulated drafting lamps and attach them to the table (usually at the back) with vice clamps. This should be done after the maps have been positioned and covered. The clamps, once they are tightened on the seams between the different sheets of Plexiglas, will also help to stabilize these covers.

Seventh, allow a reasonable amount of time for both sides to familiarize themselves with the game once it is actually set up. It is one thing to read the rules and examine the game components in the box; it is quite another to see one of these 'monsters' laid out in all its glory. A couple of weekends devoted to planning and mini-games (playing using only part of the map and a limited number of counters) will go a long way towards eliminating glitches in the early going. Finally, once all of this has been done, allow the defending side at least a half day to set up and double-check their final defensive positions before actually beginning play.

And that’s it. If you follow these few simple steps, I promise that your prospects for a 'monster' game actually getting under way successfully will improve dramatically. Of course, how long it actually continues once you get it going is another thing entirely, and that is probably a good topic for a future post.
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