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THEIR FINEST HOUR: EUROPA V is a historical game of the air war that took place between Germany and England during the early months of World War II following the fall of France. This GDW title actually includes three different games: THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN; the EUROPA Campaign Game; and SEA LION. THEIR FINEST HOUR was designed by Marc W. Miller and published by Game Designer’s Workshop (GDW) in 1976.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDThe surrender of France in spring 1940 left Hitler in undisputed control of Western Europe. England, under the resolute leadership of Winston Churchill, was now left without allies in its war against Germany, and had only the Royal Navy, the RAF, and the English Channel to protect it from a German invasion. The English Channel and the Royal Navy, however, were no protection against the planes of Hermann Goering’s Luftwaffe. And for a few months during the summer and fall of 1940, the full responsibility for England’s defense would rest almost exclusively on the skill and gallantry of the pilots of the Royal Air Force.
On July 10, 1940 the Luftwaffe began attacks on Channel ports and shipping in preparation for Operation “Sea Lion,” the German amphibious cross-Channel invasion of England. German air attacks continued without interruption or abatement; then, on August 10, a massive Luftwaffe bombing assault against British radar installations, RAF airfields, and aircraft factories, suddenly erupted all across southern England. This enormous one-day bombing effort, code-named Adlertag (Eagle Day) by the German High Command, was intended to be the first major blow in a Luftwaffe offensive aimed at destroying or at least severely crippling the RAF. Hitler and the Oberkommando Des Herres (OKH) were confident that if the Royal Air Force could be annihilated or driven away from the Channel Coast, then the Sea Lion invasion plan would be able to go forward. But Hitler and the OKH were also adamant: no invasion would be authorized until the Luftwaffe had achieved complete mastery of the skies over the Channel. Reich Marshal Goering promised his Führer just that. With Eagle Day, the Battle of Britain had well and truly begun. It would continue until 12 October 1940. On that date, Hitler finally ordered that the air offensive be broken off so that the Luftwaffe could begin preparations for Operation "Barbarossa:" the coming German invasion of Russia.
Thus, in spite of nearly insurmountable odds, the Battle of Britain ended in the defeat of the Luftwaffe. Goering’s airmen, despite suffering terrible losses, had been unable to drive the RAF from the skies over Britain. England, thanks to a few hundred intrepid pilots, had won a resounding victory — it had turned back the German aerial onslaught, and because of that victory, England had survived to fight on against Hitler's Third Reich.
THEIR FINEST HOUR is GDW’s simulation of the life-and-death struggle between England and Germany in the summer and fall of 1940, when Britain stood alone. More than that, it is, as noted previously, actually a collection of three different conflict games: THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN, a detailed squadron-level simulation of the air war between Germany and Britain in the months immediately following the defeat of France; a EUROPA level air Campaign Game that requires a smaller number of counters and fewer game turns than THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN; and SEA LION, a hypothetical air-land-sea treatment of the planned — but never executed — German invasion of Great Britain in the summer of 1940. Besides being a set of complete games, THEIR FINEST HOUR is also an installment in the EUROPA Project: GDW’s comprehensive simulation of all of World War II in Europe, the Balkans, the Soviet Union, North Africa, and the Middle East.
THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN is the feature title in the THEIR FINEST HOUR game collection. It is a squadron level simulation of the desperate air war between England and Germany during the summer of 1940. The German player wins by accumulating victory points. To accomplish this, the Luftwaffe commander directs his forces to eliminate or damage Royal Air Force units, airfields, radar stations, and aircraft factories in an effort to defeat the RAF and drive it from the skies above southern England and the Channel Coast. Historically, the Luftwaffe failed because its operational planners could not hit upon the optimal mix of air missions to satisfy all of these different goals. Needless-to-say, to win in the game, the German player must do significantly better than his historical counterpart. He must succeed, however, without suffering prohibitive losses of his own. The Luftwaffe can afford more casualties than the RAF, but German reserves of aircraft and pilots are not limitless. The British player wins by avoiding a German victory. THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN offers two scenarios: the standard Battle of Britain scenario, July 1 to September 27 (23 game turns long); and the Adlertag scenario, August 10 to September 23, 1940 (12 turns long).
As a less time-consuming and detailed alternative to THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN, the EUROPA Campaign game allows players to fight the air war over England using the standard EUROPA air combat system and standard two-week game turns. It is also a simpler, shorter game than THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN, even though the two simulations both use the same game maps and counters. The Campaign game offers only one scenario: the Combined Campaign game, July 1 to November 5, 1940 (10 game turns).
The invasion game, SEA LION, combines the air combat system of THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN with a variation (shorter game turn and smaller hex size) on the standard EUROPA ground and naval rules. For this reason, SEA LION uses its own special (one-third scale) game map. Despite the difference in scale, however, players exploring the EUROPA Game System for the first time will quickly discover that the various combat subroutines — whether in a standard EUROPA installment, or as they are presented in SEA LION — are almost independent games in their own right. This is one reason why SEA LION is a particularly good candidate for team play. Bluntly speaking, SEA LION is not an easy game either to learn or to play, much less to master; so the more help that players can round up, the better. Also, the complex, and often unpredictable interactions between the ground, air, and naval elements in this simulation, makes planning and executing the invasion of Britain — whether in July or September — an extremely difficult and nerve-racking process. And that holds true for both sides; not just for the Germans. There is a great deal of interesting historical detail contained in this title, but it does take some work to get at it; moreover, getting the game’s different subroutines to smoothly mesh together is a real challenge. This game is clearly not a good choice for the beginning or casual gamer. SEA LION offers two scenarios: the July scenario, July 1 to August 14 (12 turns); and the September scenario, September 23 to October 29 (10 game turns).
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
The many different games that make up the EUROPA World War II game system are each in their own way, unique. Whether looking at an early design like NARVIK (974) or a later installment like THE FALL OF FRANCE (1981), GDW invariably brings something fresh and interesting to the design process when it examines each new historical situation. This factor, as much as sheer size, makes the EUROPA game series one of the great simulation design projects of all time. THEIR FINEST HOUR presents a fascinating look at a unique military situation: the first major campaign in World War II fought predominantly by the air forces of the belligerent nations. This feature alone makes the game interesting. But, of course, there are the other game situations contained in the title to consider, as well. Despite the complexity of its several different games, THEIR FINEST HOUR offers — to those who are really interested in the greatest war in history — a richly textured, and very challenging game system for simulating virtually all aspects of World War II combat in the European Theater.
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HBO Debuts 'Into the Storm' Tonight
Because HBO is debuting their new series, “Into the Storm” tonight, I have decided to interrupt my maritime musings to post a preview of GDW’s THEIR FINEST HOUR as a modest salute to the sacrifices of the RAF during the summer and fall of 1940. While I haven’t yet seen “Into the Storm” — based on HBO’s earlier production of “John Adams” — I am excited about this new series. I hope that some of you can join with me in watching this HBO account of Churchill’s first months as Great Britain’s Prime Minister during World War II.
Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, May, 1940
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USN is a strategic air-land-sea simulation of the war in the Pacific during the crucial years 1941 through 1943. USN was originally published as the insert game for S&T #29; later it was reissued as an independent game in the standard SPI flat plastic game tray format. USN was designed by James F. Dunnigan with help from John Young and Robert Champer, and published in 1971 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).
HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDAt 07:40 on Sunday, 7 December 1941, a mixed-force of Japanese carrier aircraft composed of 45 fighters, 54 dive bombers, 40 torpedo bombers, and 50 horizontal bombers appeared in the sky over the island of Oahu, part of the American territory of the Hawaiian Islands. This was the first wave of a devastating surprise aerial attack on the American naval and air forces in and around Pearl Harbor. Fifty minutes later, a second wave of Japanese carrier-based aircraft struck the island again in a follow-up raid. As a result of these two Japanese attacks, eighteen U.S. ships including seven battleships were either sunk or so badly damaged that they would be out of action for months. In addition, of the nearly 400 military aircraft on the island, 188 were destroyed, and 159 were damaged. Total American casualties were 3,581, of which 2,403 were killed. The pillars of black smoke billowing up from the burning ships and airfields at Pearl Harbor after the Japanese airstikes bore witness to the stark fact that, although no formal declaration had yet been made by either nation, the United States and the Empire of Japan were now at war.
USN is a historical simulation of the war in the Pacific 1941-1943. In concept, if not in execution, USN was really a prototypical rough draft for the SPI monster games to come. The visually ugly and almost unplayable STRATEGY I actually predated USN by a few months. However, despite having two map sheets and twice as many counters as USN, STRATEGY I was little more than an ad hoc collection of quasi-historical, poorly play-tested scenarios (sixteen to be precise) that attempted to simulate combat from ancient to modern times. SPI actually broke new ground with USN, and the research and development experience that Dunnigan and company acquired doing this project, besides laying the ground work for future monster games, would later show up in titles like SOLOMONS CAMPAIGN and FAST CARRIERS, among others.
USN is a strategic/operational simulation of combined land-sea-air combat in the Pacific Theater of Operations during the first years of World War II. The game covers the intense fighting between the Allies and the forces of Imperial Japan during the period 7 December, 1941, through the end of June, 1943. A game like USN, which combines ground, naval, and air operations, can be expected to have a complex turn sequence. And so, in fact, it does. The USN game turn weaves the land-sea-air operations of both players together in an interesting pattern of action and reaction. This turn sequence consists of ten steps. Step one: both players introduce reinforcements onto the game map. Step two: the Japanese player moves air and naval units, and naval units then engage in combat and bombardment. Step three: the Allied player moves land units. Step four: the Allied player moves air and naval units, and naval units then engage in combat and bombardment. Step five: the Allied land units attack enemy units; both sides air units conduct bombing attacks. Step six: the Allied player moves air and naval units, and naval units engage in combat and bombardment. Step seven: the Japanese player moves his land units. Step eight: the Japanese player moves air and naval units, and naval units engage in combat and bombardment. Step nine: Japanese land units attack enemy units; both sides air units conduct bombing attacks. Step ten: the players adjust the Turn Record Chart, check the status of naval units, and adjust the Damage Records of naval units. These last two operations, require the players to maintain their own separate paper records (no logs or forms are provided). As this outline of the game turn sequence shows, USN is not for the casual gamer. It is, to say the least, complicated and time consuming. Nonetheless, if the players are ambitious enough to learn the game system (and do the staff work), it can actually be quite interesting and even oddly enjoyable to play.
USN offers four short (mini-game) scenarios, two campaign games, and one extended campaign game. The four short scenarios, in chronological order, are: the Battle of the Coral Sea, 8 May 1942 (two game turns); the Battle of Midway, 4 June, 1942 (three game turns); the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, 25 August, 1942 (two game turns); and the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, 28 October, 1942 (two game turns). Campaign Game 1 covers theater-wide operations, December 1941-May 1942 (twenty game turns); Campaign Game 2 covers operations, May 1942-September 42 (twenty game turns). The extended game, Campaign Game 3, covers the war in the Pacific, December 1941-July 1943 (eighty-one game turns). Several optional rules are also included in USN to increase realism and or/adjust play balance. These rules include: Allied variable deployment; Japanese variable deployment; garrisons; Japanese ferry carriers; the Burma Campaign; and (Japanese) submarine warfare.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONUSN is an interesting game on a number of different levels. Clearly, its appearance in S&T #29 shows that Jim Dunnigan was already beginning to think about designing and publishing large-scale, highly detailed, complex historical simulations. STRATEGY I had appeared a few months earlier and, for the reasons already mentioned, had been a tremendous disappointment to the majority of those loyal SPI gamers who had actually attempted to play it. Unfortunately, neither Redmond Simonsen (creatively) nor SPI (financially) was quite up to the job of developing and publishing a true monster game when STRATEGY I and USN first saw print. The appearance of such a true monster game would have to wait until SPIs publication, in April, 1974, of WAR IN THE EAST.
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A Momentary Change in “Wind” Direction
Since the initial articles and essays that have appeared in this blog have all been about “ground forces” type games, I thought that it might be time to change things up by introducing a few posts on naval titles. This is not, I confess, an area of gaming to which I have devoted a lot of time; none the less, I have, over the years, somehow acquired a number of naval simulations that I believe should get their fair share of recognition. I hope that you, my visitors, find these game profiles and related posts interesting.
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GULF STRIKE is an operational simulation of land, air, and sea combat in the Persian Gulf. This game was designed by Mark Herman and originally published in 1983 by Victory Games, a division of the Avalon Hill Game Co. In 1988 and again in 1990, because of changes in the military situation in the Persian Gulf, a 2nd and then a 3rd Edition of the game — all authored by Mark Herman, the game’s original designer — were published in rapid succession. This description is of the 3rd Edition version which also includes the “Desert Shield” Expansion Module.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDAt 0400 on Sunday, 24 February 1991, the first blows of the ground phase of Operation Desert Storm struck Iraqi units along the Kuwaiti border. A two division assault by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and a “breaching” operation by elements of the Joint Forces Command-East made progress against the layered Iraqi defensive belts almost immediately. In fact, the attacking Coalition forces quickly discovered that surrendering Iraqi soldiers were as great a barrier to the advancing Coalition forces as the defensive obstacles erected by Iraqi combat engineers. Evidence was clear-cut that most of the frontline Iraqi divisions were, because of the sustained air campaign, already on the verge of collapse. General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of all Coalition forces, therefore decided to accelerate the pace of his offensive. By the afternoon of the 24th, the armored units that would comprise Schwarzkopf’s massive “left-hook” were already moving through the Iraqi frontier barriers and north into the western desert.
GULF STRIKE, 3rd EDITION is an operational-level simulation of the very complex air-land-sea operations that dominated military events in the Persian Gulf leading up, first to “Desert Shield,” and then to “Desert Storm.” In many ways, the Gulf War represented an “extreme armaments testing ground” in which newer generations of western and Soviet weapons systems could finally be matched against each other in the crucible of combat. The wars in the Gulf also underscored the absolute lethality of the modern battlefield. In the modern, larger, more exposed “electronic” battle area, to be detected — or “seen” by enemy forces — is to be destroyed.
Components-wise, the game is what one might expect. The unit counters in GULF STRIKE represent the actual air squadrons, capital ships, and ground units that either directly participated or could have been deployed to the Persian Gulf during the different periods covered by the game’s scenarios. Because of the level of detail that Herman has chosen to incorporate into his design, players will find that they have to plan and conduct their large-scale, theater detection and interception moves using the Strategic Map (280 kilometers per hex), and then transition to the Operational Map (28 kilometers per hex) for the resolution of specific air-land-sea operations. Ground units operating on the Strategic Map may always move one hex and are unaffected either by terrain movement costs, or by enemy zones of control. Ground units may freely transition between the two map scales at the option of the controlling player.
GULF STRIKE is played in game turns which are, in turn, composed of three “Action Stages.” Each Action Stage is further divided into two “Movement Phases” and one ground combat or “Assault Phase.” Air and naval interception and combat operations take place during the Movement Phases; all ground combat — except for that conducted by US Special Operations Forces which represents a special case — occurs during the Assault Phase. Because of the necessity of coordinating the offensive and defensive (reactive) capabilities of the different combat arms, players will find that GULF STRIKE requires careful advance planning so that players have the appropriate mix both of offensive combat assets to attack, but also sufficient “reactive” reserve forces to meet and blunt the enemy’s counterblows. A typical game turn sticks to the following basic sequence of turn stages: Strategic Stage (during which the effects of Global political and military events are checked); Unit Assignment Stage (during which players assign the types of missions —offensive or reactive — that they want their air and ground units to perform in the coming game turn); Initiative Determination Stage (during which the first player to act in the initial two Action Stages will be determined); First Action Stage; Second Action Stage; Third Action Stage (during which the player without the initiative finally gets to act first); and the End Stage (during which players attend to general game operations such as supply attrition effects, bridge demolition, unit repair, etc.). As might be expected, given the complex richness of Mark Herman’s design, many game options are available for the players to try.
The original GULF STRIKE offered five hypothetical (what if?) scenarios based on the most obvious politico-military fault lines in the Gulf Region in the 1980s. Scenario One: an expansionist Iran, having defeated Iraq in 1984, prepares to purify the formerly pro-Iraqi Gulf States through military invasion and armed Jihad. Scenario Two: peace is concluded between Iran and Iraq, but the Soviet Union — displeased with Iranian support for Afghani resistance fighters — prepares to cut off such support at its source, by invading Iran. Scenario Three: is a variation on Scenario Two with a slight change in the cast of national actors. Scenario Four: a “historical” Solitaire scenario — not recommended for competitive play — which covers the Iran-Iraq War during 1982. Scenario Five: covers a hypothetical confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union, and its potential escalation, over the two nations’ support for competing factions fighting in Somalia.
The sixth scenario, which appeared in 1988 in the GULF STRIKE 2nd Edition Scenario Update, reflects the escalating tensions between the US, Iran, and the Soviet Union in the Gulf Region during the period of the late 1980s. Besides offering Order of Battle corrections for several of the first edition scenarios, this update also presents a completely new military situation for players to experiment with. Scenario Six: presents five different types and levels of military confrontation between the major players in the Gulf, as the threat of an Iranian interruption in the flow of the Gulf Region’s oil becomes more real.
The seventh scenario, which appeared in 1990 in the GULF STRIKE Desert Shield Expansion Module, covers the rapid buildup of US and Coalition forces (Operation Desert Shield) in Saudi Arabia and several other Gulf States following Iraq’s surprise invasion of Kuwait. Because this module was published before the onset of “Operation Desert Storm,” several potential military developments are presented. Scenario Seven offers four completely different military situations: Option 1 is a (what if?) examination of what might have happened if Iraq had continued its offensive into Saudi Arabia on 5 August 1990, rather that halting at the Kuwaiti-Saudi border. Option 2 offers a more fluid, and more complicated situation as the Iraqi player must decide when and how to invade Saudi Arabia in the face of a rapid buildup of US forces in the region. Option 3 is basically “Operation Desert Storm” — the US-led Coalition’s Offensive to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. Option 4 (On to Bagdad) is essentially a much earlier “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” but with the attacking Coalition forces jumping off from positions in Saudi Arabia, rather than Kuwait.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONGULF STRIKE is, in many ways, an extremely interesting and very innovative design. In other ways, however, much of the design's platform is surprisingly familiar. When the game first appeared, one of my friends, and another long time gamer, observed that GULF STRIKE looked a lot like a cross between SPI’s SINAI and THE NEXT WAR. As it turned out, there was very little of SINAI in Mark Herman’s design, but there was a lot that was reminiscent of THE NEXT WAR. Mark Herman’s game uses three Action Stages, while THE NEXT WAR uses six similar phases; the effect, however, is pretty much the same. And the complex interaction of air-land-sea operations of the two titles into a single, unified simulation also has a lot of the same feel, although the mechanics of the two games vary significantly. This, by the way, is not necessarily a bad thing. I personally happen to like the older, bigger title; in both of my tries at the larger game, I ended up running NATO naval and naval-air operations in the Baltic and North Sea, and I had a great time. GULF STRIKE doesn’t use the large numbers of counters typically required by the bigger THE NEXT WAR scenarios, but it is, nonetheless, a nuanced, detailed, and intellectually demanding game. Just balancing the demands of offensive versus reactive (defensive) force allocations is a challenge; and the air and naval subroutines are virtually games in their own right.
Clearly, GULF STRIKE, in any of its several versions, is not a simulation intended for the casual gamer. On the other hand, I don’t think that this title was designed just to be hauled out of its box, set up, and admired, either. So, for the experienced player who is interested in a very challenging and rewarding game experience, and who can invest the time to learn a richly-detailed game system, I think that this would be an excellent choice.
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The Emperor Napoleon stared across the shallow valley of trampled-down rye grass that separated his exhausted French troops from the tattered British line that still occupied the low slope beyond the walled Belgian châteaux known locally as La Haye Sainte. Marshal Ney had finally taken the châteaux barely thirty minutes before, and now, after eight hours of fighting, the center of Wellington’s line finally lay exposed. A half hour earlier, the Emperor had refused Ney’s frantic plea to support his attack against the ragged and jumbled British, Dutch, and Belgian battalions with fresh reinforcements from the Imperial Guard; then the Anglo-Allied ranks were wavering, and the Guard might well have marched half way to Brussels without serious opposition. In the interim, Wellington had seen his danger and rushed what reinforcements he still had towards his center. And only now did Napoleon decide that his last remaining chance for victory was to send forward the best troops that he had, five battalions of the Old Guard. Blücher’s Prussians were pressing against the French right flank, but Wellington’s army seemed on the verge of breaking; one more massive French blow might yet win the victory that had eluded him all day. It was 7:30 PM on 18 June 1815, and the Emperor Napoleon had finally decided to gamble his throne and perhaps his life, on one more throw of the dice; he would order his last available reserves, the still-fresh “immortals” of the Imperial Guard to smash through Wellington’s line.
"Wellington at Waterloo" by Ernest Crofts. Directing deployment of reserves from his famous position under the tree.
GRENADIER is a tactical (company/squadron/battery) level simulation of warfare during the years when the smoothbore musket dominated the battlefield: an era that extended from the seventeenth century, through the eighteenth, and into the nineteenth century. As such, it is a wide-ranging examination of various European military engagements during the long period of transition from the first introduction of the socket bayonet, which allowed an infantryman armed with a musket to participate effectively in both fire and shock combat, to the years just before the Crimean War, and the dawn of modern industrialized warfare. GRENADIER is the second installment, historically-speaking, (although it was the first to be released in 1971) of SPI’s series of small unit (company/squadron/battery) level games dealing specifically with the development of firearms and their evolving tactical use on the battlefield. It was also the only installment in this three title series to be designed by James F. Dunnigan. Despite the game’s crude graphics, it is an interesting, and very challenging simulation that, in terms of basic game mechanics, has held up surprisingly well over the years.
Components and Game SystemThe accordion-fold game rules are reasonably well-organized and clearly-written, and rules corrections and errata are not extensive. Beside the Rules Booklet and Errata Sheet, the only other “player aide” included with the game is a back-printed sheet which includes a list of scenario descriptions, the Combat Results Table, and the Terrain Effects Chart. Noticeably missing from the game’s published components is a Turn Record/Reinforcement Track and a Move/Fire Phase Record Track, both of which — based on my own fairly extensive experience with the game — would be extremely useful during play.
The game design is detailed, but intuitively logical; hence, it is relatively easy to learn. The overall game platform is organized around a large collection of different scenarios, covering a variety of historical periods, combatants, and battles. Each scenario is played using game turns, and each game turn is further divided into interwoven player turns that give the game a simultaneous 'feel' without the time-consuming requirement of keeping written records. A typical GRENADIER game turn proceeds using the following sequence of player phases: First Player Offensive Fire Phase; Second Player Defensive Fire Phase; First Player Movement; First Player Shock Combat Phase; Second Player Offensive Fire Phase; First Player Defensive Fire; Second Player Move; Second Player Shock Combat Phase; end of Game Turn.
The 22” x 28” two-color GRENADIER game map is austere even by the hobby standards of 1971. There are no roads, tracks, rivers, lakes, marshes, plowed fields, or streams anywhere to be seen. Instead, the only hex types displayed on the playing surface are clear terrain, woods, slope, and village hexes. Clear hexes cost all types of units one movement point to enter; all other types cost infantry units two movement points, and cavalry-type units three movement points to enter. Artillery units must pay three movement points to enter villages, four to enter slope hexes, and woods hexes are completely prohibited. Woods hexes triple the defender against fire and shock attacks, and villages quadruple a unit’s defense strength. Each hex is 50 meters across, and each game turn represents ten minutes of real time. Because of the time scale of the game, there are no supply rules.
The Combat Results Table (CRT) is virtually “luck free” in the sense that the attacker can almost always determine the outcomes of key battles by precisely controlling the odds of those battles. Combat can occur in one of two ways: either through fire attacks, or through shock assault. Fire combats are always executed first and are resolved in the following rigid order based on type of fire: shot (artillery); canister (artillery); and musket (all others). Units of the same type firing from the SAME range at a single target may combine fire strengths; otherwise fire attacks must be resolved separately. The effectiveness of fire attacks is cleverly handled, not by adjustments in odds, but through 'range attenuation': the closer the target unit is to the attacker, the more damaging the fire attack. However, fire attacks may not be conducted against adjacent units. Shock combat — basically the cavalry charge or the bayonet assault — is the most decisive type of attack, but it is also the most dangerous for the attacker. Shock combat will typically leave both attacking and defending units disrupted and mutually pinned. If these units are attacked again — either by fire or shock — before they can be rallied, either a DD or a D Elim result will destroy them. Cavalry units, although they have the greatest movement range and best shock values on the battlefield, are always disrupted after a charge, whatever their effect on the target unit or units.
The 400 game counters, while certainly not eye-grabbing, are clearly printed and easy to read. The various Allied (British/Prussian/Spanish) units are printed black on a tan backing; French counters are light blue with black print. The counters for both armies typically represent various types of infantry companies, cavalry squadrons, artillery batteries, and leaders. Each infantry and cavalry counter will be designated as to its type, and to its Fire Attack Strength, Range, Fire Defense Strength, Shock Combat Strength, and Movement Allowance. Artillery units will show the gun type (8 pounder, 10 pounder, etc.), Fire Attack Strength-Shot, Range Allowance-Shot, Fire Attack Strength-Canister, Range Allowance-Canister, and Movement Allowance. In addition, artillery units must be “limbered” to move, and “unlimbered” to fire; to this end, each artillery unit includes, besides the gun, an artilleryman (to man the gun), and a caisson unit. All three artillery elements count as only one unit for stacking, and both sides may stack up to four units per hex. Finally, certain types of infantry units may be broken down to form “skirmisher” units which have a lower Shock Combat Strength, less Fire Attack Strength, and a shorter Range Allowance, but which defend against fire attacks with a defense strength of two. These units are primarily employed to screen a player’s main forces from enemy fire until they can advance to shock combat. One source of frustration with the game’s counter sheet, however, deserves comment. During the course of the game, units will constantly be disrupted as a result of combat. Despite this fact, there are no disruption counters included with the game to help players keep track of the exact phase in which these disruptions occur. This is not a fatal design defect, but it is, nonetheless, an aggravating and unnecessary lapse.
To determine who wins, players must refer to the specific victory requirements for each of the different scenarios. In most cases, winning the game will require one army to exit the map edge, while the opposing army attempts to check this maneuver. Happily, the clear-cut victory conditions and the limited number of game turns prescribed in each of the scenarios virtually guarantees an exciting and bloody tactical clash whichever scenario is selected for play.
SITTING DOWN TO PLAYGRENADIER offers sixteen different scenarios or mini-games, each of which is a completely independent game. Most will require no more than two to three hours to play. Some of the scenarios cover actions that are famous, while others present engagements that are at the very least obscure, if not virtually unknown. Nonetheless, while it is understandably tempting to go straight to the later scenarios which simulate famous actions from the better known battles like Marengo, Austerlitz, and Waterloo, I strongly recommend that players begin with the earlier, less well-known scenarios: those with fewer units and no “skirmishers.” It is very important that players get a feel for the “combined arms” aspect of the GRENADIER game system, before they attempt the bigger, more complex actions. Considering everything, I am convinced that beginning with these earlier, simpler scenarios is probably the best way for players to quickly develop an understanding of the mechanics of the game system, and of the probable flow and tempo of play.
NOTES ON TACTICSThe GRENADIER game system is clean, generally logical, and comparatively easy to learn. So what follows are a few tips, based on many hours spent playing the various scenarios that make up this title, on using the nuances of this particular game system to help new players become more comfortable with a few of the tactical niceties of GRENADIER.
The Use of TerrainAlthough terrain types in GRENADIER are limited and their varying effects are comparatively simple, terrain is not inconsequential when it comes to play. All units, except for skirmishers, defend in clear terrain with defensive value of 'one'. This means that the defensive multiplier effects of villages (quadrupled) and woods (tripled) are particularly important for sheltering important units — such as artillery and cavalry — from both enemy artillery fire and shock attacks. Typically, if an artillery battery (only one per hex, artillery units may not stack together) is positioned in a village, it will be stacked with an infantry unit with a strong Shock Combat Strength. This precaution will not make the artillery unit invulnerable to an enemy cavalry charge, but it will make the 'opportunity cost' in disrupted (and probably eliminated) attacking cavalry squadrons very high. On a slightly different note, to avoid having one's attacking units dangerously pinned, shock assaults against villages should only be conducted either when the village can be cleared in one attack, or alternatively, when the defending force has no reinforcements available in the immediate vicinity of the village. If neither of these conditions are present, then the attacker can quickly find himself entangled with a defensive “tar baby” in his unequal fight with the units in an enemy-occupied village. One need only think back to the day's events at Waterloo, and to the fightling at the Châteaux of La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont, to see the probable outcome of this type of situation. Woods hexes can be especially useful for staging infantry and cavalry in preparation for a final rush against an enemy position or line. And while village hexes are too valuable to waste on individual skirmisher units (which cannot stack except to reform or to rally), skirmishers will often present the leading edge of an advance through a forest because of their formidable Fire Defense Strength.
Villages, woods, and all combat units (even unmanned guns) block fire 'line of sight' for all units shooting from ground level. Units firing from slope hexes (usually artillery) DO NOT have their fire blocked by intervening combat units, but only by obstructing village and woods hexes. Interestingly, artillery units on ground level MAY NOT fire over obstructing combat units even at target units on slopes. This rule makes slope positions particularly powerful (and intimidating) sites for an army’s artillery. This rule also means that an advancing force, confronted by enemy artillery on a slope, must make skillful use of blocking terrain (occasionally villages, but usually woods hexes) to create 'curtains of maneuver' behind which the attacking forces can advance without being shot to pieces.
The Use of ArtilleryIf infantry is the “Queen” of battle, then artillery is the “King”. For this reason, players will probably face no more crucial set of choices before they start a match, than where they are going to position their artillery, and whether it should start the scenario limbered (ready to move) or unlimbered (ready to fire). Putting aside the weight differences between the different cannons present in the game, a player will really command only two types of artillery units: those that can limber—move—unlimber and fire in the same turn (essentially, the galloper guns); and those that cannot. The less mobile guns will usually be sited in villages or on slopes (when possible), while the more nimble artillery pieces will typically advance aggressively when attacking, often accompanied by cavalry. When these 'gallopers' are on the defensive, they will usually serve as the core of a 'ready reserve', deployed so as to be able to dash forward to meet an unexpected enemy threat.
Artillery really has only two enemies on the GRENADIER battlefield: cavalry and other artillery. The cavalry issue, in so far as it is possible, has already been addressed. Artillery counter-battery fire is another thing all together. At the beginning of a scenario, the quantities and types of artillery units possessed by an opponent may well determine how aggressive a player can afford to be with his own guns. Occupying a village hex is fine defensively, but if the enemy can draw his guns up wheel to wheel and blast the village into rubble on the first game turn, then a more circumspect deployment may be in order. And in some scenarios, there simply isn’t anywhere to position artillery where, if it can fire, it won’t be vulnerable to enemy attack. In these situations, the best that can be hoped for may well be for a player to position his less mobile cannons safely behind his own front line, particularly where he expects a major enemy assault, and then hope to greet any enemy breakthrough with a large dose of canister. The real key to success with artillery, however, is to get it into the fight, and to do so as quickly as possible. One approach that I have always found useful is to use the different types of artillery in a 'leapfrog' sequence of coordinated advances. That is: position the long range guns where they can fire on the enemy artillery but, because of range allowance differences, cannot be fired upon; then dash forward with the medium range artillery and galloper guns in an effort to swamp the enemy artillery units with shorter range fire. If the guns that are being rushed, fire, then they will probably be disrupted or eliminated by the attackers’ counter-battery fire; if they retreat, then the long range guns can relimber and prepare to advance. The idea behind this tactical approach is to risk some initial losses among the attacking guns, in order to achieve long-term artillery superiority.
Finally, an unlimbered and crewed artillery unit can fire either shot or canister. Unfortunately, players often become mesmerized by the large Canister Attack Strengths when they are compared to the smaller Shot Attack Strengths. Nonetheless, despite its lower combat power, an attack using shot may still be the better choice because the shot will attack every unit in an enemy stack, while canister only affects the topmost unit.
The Use of CavalryThe best use of cavalry in GRENADIER is probably not to use the cavalry at all, at least not until the final few turns of a scenario. This, unfortunately, is easier said than done. The primary appeal of the cavalry lies with its movement range and its power on the attack: fresh cavalry can always charge twelve hexes across the map, and they all have powerful Shock Combat Strengths. The problem is, once they have charged they will end the Shock Combat Phase disrupted and a very inviting target for any undisrupted enemy units in the immediate vicinity. Since the local enemy forces will now have two Fire Phases and one Shock Combat Phase of their own, before the spent cavalry can withdraw, it is very unlikely that any of the charging horsemen will ever make it back to the safety of their own lines. In short, the brittleness of the cavalry arm, once committed, means that to use one's cavalry is usually to lose one's cavalry.
Sadly, what this implies for all you closet Murats out there, who are just itching for a major mounted action, is that the cavalry is usually much more useful as a "threat in being" than as an actual attacking force. The cavalry’s best use in the game, as it was historically, will typically be to cover the army’s flanks, observe and shadow enemy cavalry, and whenever possible (and tactically prudent), threaten enemy artillery units. Charges are best reserved for finishing off enemy infantry that is already disrupted and reeling from fire and shock attacks, or when the opportunity presents itself, for smashing into enemy cavalry that has strayed too far from friendly supporting units.
The Use of InfantryInfantry, of course, is the backbone of the game’s tactical system. At close range, good quality infantry (line, improved, or grenadiers) can deliver lethal fire, and their Shock Combat Power can come close to that of cavalry on the attack and is superior on the defense. The trick, for the players in GRENADIER, is getting undisrupted infantry close enough to the enemy line to deliver either fire or shock attacks. This is the central challenge of the game system, and it is a real beauty. Of course, in those scenarios in which they are permitted, both armies can send out swarms of skirmishers to screen their respective main bodies. This is the course recommended in the game’s “Player’s Notes,” and, in the case of a frontal attack, it is undoubtedly the best option. This approach, unfortunately, is not without its flaws. The problem with skirmishers, it turns out, is that they are slow, weak in both Fire and Shock Combat, and, if that weren’t bad enough, even their fire Range Allowance is pathetically low. Certainly, skirmishers have their place in the game, but their numbers are not unlimited, and both sides inevitably give up some combat power when they convert infantry to skirmishers.
For my own part, I prefer to approach the use of infantry in GRENADIER from the “combined arms” perspective. Frontal attacks are almost always a loser in this game system. To attack successfully, infantry must be allowed to close with the enemy without sustaining unreasonable losses. Usually, this means advancing against one or the other flank, while using long-range artillery to fix the enemy's center. Skirmishers are typically deployed one to three ranks deep depending on the fire attack threat posed by the defender. Cavalry follows along behind the advancing infantry companies, ready to charge any enemy guns that are brought forward by the defender. If the attacker can move his cannons up onto slope hexes, so much the better. But it is more likely that the defender will control slope firing positions. If the defender has positioned his artillery on slope hexes, avoid them like the plague, even if this means lengthening the entire attacking force’s line of march. This type of situation will typically occur when the defender controls the ridgeline near the hamlets of Sohr and Mack; when this is the case, the attacking force can counter by using the copse of trees between Frimont and Longmont as a barrier to enemy fire while positioning a gun, with leader and infantry support, in Frimont to prevent the defending player from being too careless with his own forces.
At some point, the infantry battle is almost always going to come down to Shock Combat. When it comes to organizing my own assaults, I usually stack attacking French units (usually two line and two grenadier companies, if available) so that the first attack can achieve a 4 to 1 against the topmost unit in the enemy stack, and then a 2 to 1 against the remaining units in the defending stack, assuming that there is more than one unit remaining. If the enemy stack is too powerful (four undisrupted improved infantry companies, for example), then a second 4 to 1 is conducted, followed by a 1 to 1 against the remaining two units. These assaulting stacks will always have an infantry leader (bottom of the stack). The topmost unit in the attacking stack is typically a line or conscript infantry company and is disrupted first; the third (line infantry) and fourth (grenadier infantry) units in the stack are then disrupted to meet the requirements of the other two attacks. The second unit in the stack, a grenadier company, is left undisrupted to defend against a (hopefully) weak enemy Shock counterattack. The topmost unit will probably be dispatched by enemy fire. The key to ultimate success in these Shock Combats is the proximity of reserves. This is why it is crucial for the attacker to position his advancing artillery so that he can use both shot and canister fire to quarantine the battle area around the main infantry attack. I cannot promise that using the infantry companies to power indirect flank attacks will always work, but I can say that it will typically work a lot better than a straight-up-the-middle frontal attack.
The Use of LeadersGRENADIER is the only one of the SPI “gunpowder” tactical series to actually continue the PRESTAGS tradition of using leader units. By the time that MUSKET & PIKE was published in 1973, leaders and command and control had all disappeared down the “playability” design hole, never to be seen again. I seem to remember that, at the time, SPI’s — or maybe it was John Michael Young’s — explanation for ditching the leader counters in the newer games was that the designer needed those counters for other game functions. This, I think, was a mistake. Leaders add some elements to this earlier title that are just not present in the later games: a realistic set of limitations on an individual unit’s initiative and combat effectiveness.
In GRENADIER, the organization of the combat forces is restricted, as it was historically, by the physical limits of individual leaders. A single commander can only shout so loud or be in one place at a time. At the tactical level of this game, players are assigning battalion, regimental, and brigade commanders to their forces so that their units can move and engage in combat. Artillery leaders command and rally artillery; cavalry leaders command and rally cavalry and horse artillery (4 pounders); infantry leaders command and rally infantry; and the GHQ leader commands and rallies everybody. If a leader is himself disrupted, then he must, in turn, be rallied by a higher ranking officer; this senior commander, however, need not be from the same combat arm. Thus, an artillery leader could rally a lower ranked infantry or cavalry officer. The use of the lower-level commanders usually becomes critical when the opposing armies engage in shock combat. Adjacent enemy units pin each other, thus a unit may not move away from an enemy unit (think weak ZOC) without becoming disrupted. Cavalry is the one exception; assuming it survives long enough and is in command, then it may withdraw from a hex adjacent to an enemy unit without suffering anything but a movement cost penalty. In any case, once shock combat begins and attackers and defenders have become and are continuing to become disrupted, neither side is going anywhere until one or the other group of adjacent units is eliminated. This means that, as noted earlier, to continue the shock assault long enough to really break an enemy line, the attacker must throw some of his leaders forward directly into the assault. A leader stacked with the assaulting force, so long as the leader is not disrupted too, may rally the infantry units stacked with it, and thus continue the mêlée until the enemy units are (hopefully) finally eliminated.
"Battle of Blenheim" painting in Hochstadt Palace depicting the victory of the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy, August 13, 1704
GRENADIER, despite its age and disappointingly bland graphics, offers an interesting, innovative, and very challenging simulation of warfare during the age of the musket and highly-mobile artillery. I have already cataloged the several frustrating problems with this game: the lack of disruption counters, and the inexplicable absence of a Turn Record or Player Phase Track1. In the end, these issues are irksome, but little more.
Needless-to-say, no game is perfect, but in so far as a tactical simulation is able to, this title helps bring to life the built-in drama of some of the historically critical turning points during this period of evolving battlefield tactics. From Marlborough at Blenheim, to Napoleon in Egypt, Italy, Moravia, Prussia, and finally face-to-face with Wellington in Belgium, this title gives players a tactical look at some of the great battles of history. Moreover, the game’s large number of scenarios means that a player can experiment for many hours with this title and never exhaust the possibilities offered by the game. And even for players that ordinarily do not play tactical-level games, GRENADIER could make them change their minds. Whatever else can be said about Dunnigan’s design, it certainly has enough competitive excitement to make it enjoyable to the tactical specialist and to the regular gamer who is just looking for a fun, exciting, and interesting challenge.
1 My own GRENADIER Player Fire and Move Turn Phase Record Game Track is available for download here as an Adobe Acrobat .PDF document.
Related Map and Counters Blog PostsSPI, GRENADIER (1971)
TRICKS OF THE TRADE: TURN PHASE TRACK FOR SPI'S 'GRENADIER'
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In Memory of Marine Cpl. Javier Figueroa, killed 1/28/68 in Quang Tri
Province, Republic of South Vietnam
In Memory of Marine LCpl. Clement Johnston, Jr., killed 4/28/66 in Quang Ngai Province, Republic of South Vietnam
By honoring the sacrifice of those who have, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, already “given the last full measure of their devotion,” we also honor all those who, like my young Marine nephew, are currently fighting in some hard, unfriendly place, half a world away.
A Few Additional Thoughts on This, the First “Summer” Holiday of the Year
The Vietnam War Memorial, "The Wall", Washington, D.C.
Today is “Memorial” Day. It is supposed to be a day of remembrance. And I like to think that there was a time, not that long ago, when most ordinary Americans understood and honored this day and its purpose. Now, for many, if not the majority of our fellow citizens, Memorial Day seems to be little more than an excuse for a three-day holiday weekend, or a backyard barbeque, or even for a “blow-out” electronics sale. I hate to admit it, but I understand how this change could happen: memories are tricky things, and they fade surprisingly quickly. I was recently brought to this sad truth, myself.
WWII U.S. Cemetery, Normandy, France, view of the graves from the memorial.
During the first week of April of this year, my wife talked me into visiting the touring reproduction of the Vietnam War Memorial: The Wall. She had already visited the real monument in Washington, but she knew that— despite the fact that I had served two and a half years in Vietnam — I had not; so she thought that it might be nice for us to finally visit the touring “Wall” display together. I agreed to make the trip, but under protest: I have to admit that I have always had mixed feelings about “war” memorials. Unlike a military cemetery or a former battlefield — I still get a lump in my throat when I see pictures of Arlington or of the American Cemeteries at Normandy or Lorraine, in France — most of these types of monuments have always struck me as being more like “guilty” afterthoughts than anything else. Statues or marble structures that actually say more about the “memorializers” than about the “memorialized.” None the less, I finally agreed to make the trip; so on a sunny, windy Saturday morning, we drove all the way out to Buckeye, Arizona to visit the touring reproduction of the “Wall.”
WWII U.S. Cemetery, Normandy, France, The Gardens of the Missing
I don’t know what I expected. But I can honestly say that no sudden, intense wave of emotion washed over me when I saw the monument. Nor do I think that my reaction would have been any different, had I been looking on the real thing for the first time. I had served in Vietnam from February 1966 to August of 1968, so over four decades separated the “old man” from the young soldier that had gone to Southeast Asia so many years before. Also, I was never a grunt. I spent my time in Vietnam either helping to intercept, analyze, or process intelligence gathered from enemy communications. My various jobs took me all over the country, but only rarely did I even have to carry my rifle or do any hard slogging. So, all things considered, I had it pretty good. So, the first unpleasant fact that I realized in Buckeye that day was that the young soldier of my dim past could almost have been someone else. But even that wasn’t the worst of it.
As I walked along, I found myself scanning the “Wall.” Finally, when I reached the area of the monument that covered the period of my own service — for those who have not seen it, the names on the Wall are organized by date — I was surprised to discover that my mind had gone almost completely blank. Despite having spent some thirty months in Southeast Asia, I suddenly discovered that, somewhere during the march of years, I had forgotten many, if not most, of my old comrades’ names. In a lot of cases, if I could remember a name, I couldn’t match it with a face, or vice versa. This effect was particularly pronounced when it came to the soldiers and marines that I had served with in I Corps (Quang Tri Province) near the DMZ, during my first year in Vietnam. But it spilled over into other situations and locations, as well. Guys I had had the odd beer with, or played poker with, or had met on R&R in Bangkok or Malaysia, or Taiwan. These were just regular Americans; not really so much friends, as the typical GIs that you bump into and get to know when you’re in a place long enough. This wasn’t to say that I had forgotten everyone, but only that I had forgotten far too many. And the most troubling thing of all was that I had somehow forgotten the names or the faces of those I knew who had been killed. Now, none of my closest friends had been killed or even wounded. Others that I knew, however, had not been so lucky, and as I walked along the mock-up of the “Wall,” I couldn’t help feeling that these others deserved better. And not just from me, but from everyone. I couldn’t shake the sense that, somehow, I had let these young men down. And this idea brings me, finally, to the dedication at the beginning of this piece.
WWII U.S. Cemetery, Lorraine, France - View of the memorial from the graves
In the end, I and the wonderful, helpful people who volunteer with the monument tour tried our best to identify at least a couple of individuals from a number of young men that I had known who had been killed in various operations from “Davy Crockett” to the “Tet” Offensive. It had suddenly become important to me, that I at least make the effort. The two young marines memorialized at the start of this essay — one forever 18 and the other 22, who died so long ago in Vietnam — may or may not be the men I remember, I will never be sure. But what I do know is that even if they are not, they deserve to be remembered on Memorial Day by someone, and I am proud for that someone to be me. And having finally visited the “Wall,” I also now know something else: I realize, at last, that if we who served with them do not make the effort to remember those who fell, then who will?
May you, my readers, and those you care about, all have an enjoyable and safe Memorial Day Holiday. And may those who wear our country’s uniform and who daily go into harm’s way, in dangerous, far-off places, also have a safe Memorial Day!
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To correct the failure of SPI to include some type of Move and Fire Phase Chart to assist players in keeping track of their individual turn operations, I have posted a Game Track that I designed myself as a “player aide” for anyone who owns a copy of SOLDIERS. I hope that those of you who decide to use this Turn Sequence Track find it useful.
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SOLDIERS is a tactical-level simulation of combat during the first, mobile months of World War I. SOLDIERS was designed by David C. Isby and published in 1972 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).
On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were murdered by a Serbian gunman as they were being escorted away from a state function. Their motorcade had made a wrong turn, and because of their chauffeur’s unfamiliarity with the local streets, they had accidentally driven into the path of a fanatical Serbian terrorist. The next in line to the Imperial Throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been assassinated while on a state visit to Sarajevo near the Serbian border.
Within hours, the fragile web of Great Power alliances and treaties that had kept Europe at peace since the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 began to unravel. Austria-Hungary declared War on Serbia; Russia began to mobilize in support of its smaller Balkan ally, and Germany responded to the Russian troop call-ups by declaring war on Russia and its western ally, France. European affairs continued to spin more and more out of control. On August 3rd, Germany invaded 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 had well and truly begun.
DESCRIPTIONSOLDIERS is, as the game’s introduction explains, “a tactical (company level) game of the warfare in the brief, mobile phase at the beginning of the First World War (August 1914 – May 1915). In this period of the war, armies were still able to maneuver: the paralyzing trench lines had yet to be consolidated.” It was during this early phase of operations that dramatic offensive movement was still possible, and great territorial gains could still be made by fast-moving, advancing field armies. These fascinating and opportunity-laden early months of the war are the central focus of SOLDIERS as a historical simulation.
Note: Photo includes my own Move and Fire Phase Game Chart, which was not included by the designer.
The game system uses a cleverly interwoven turn sequence that offers many of the advantages of simultaneous movement, without a lot of cumbersome recordkeeping. The real excitement and innovation of this unique World War One design, however, is to be found in the rules governing combat. No other game, in my experience, has been able to match SOLDIERS in replicating (in eliminated cardboard counters, if nothing else) the defensive advantages of entrenchments, or the sheer lethality of artillery and machine gun fire on exposed infantry and cavalry.
SOLDIERS offers thirteen different two-player scenarios and one solitaire scenario. These different “mini-games” cover various combat actions (based on historical engagements) that actually occurred on the Western, Eastern, and even Far Eastern Fronts of this, the first modern global war. Units representing the armies of Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Belgium and even Japan are all present in the counter mix. Moreover, the different national armies in the game all have their own specific combat capabilities based on the designer’s best estimate of each national contingent’s training, equipment and doctrine. Given the number of standard scenarios, players can spend many hours with this title, and never exhaust its possibilities.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONUnlike a number of wargames that I have owned over the years, SOLDIERS has never grown boring or stale. In my view, even after almost forty years, it still remains a great game and a first class simulation of tactical combat; thus, despite the game's bland and somewhat dated graphics, SOLDIERS continues to occupy a secure place in my personal pantheon of the “best” games of World War One. Moreover, I have no hesitation in recommending this game to anyone with even a passing interest in the First World War. David Isby's inspired treatment of small-unit combat during the summer days of 1914 is a worthwhile addition to the collection of any fan of World War I games; it is also one of my all-time favorite tactical-level games from any era.
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WAR IN THE WEST is an operational level simulation, based on the KURSK Game System, of World War II in the Western European and North African Theaters of Operations. WAR IN THE WEST is the West Front companion game to WAR IN THE EAST, 2nd Edition and, when combined with its East Front counterpart, forms WAR IN EUROPE. WAR IN THE WEST was designed by James F. Dunnigan and published by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI) in 1976.
WAR IN THE WEST is an historical simulation, at the brigade/division/corps level, of the conflict that began on the plains of Poland on 1 September 1939, and then spread until it had engulfed every ocean and continent in the world. In terms of sheer numbers of combatants and scale of operations, no other conflict in history (not even the 100 Years’ War) has come close to World War II. By the time the Second World War ended in the Pacific in August 1945, the number of total casualties killed, both civilian and military, exceeded the pre-war population of France. WAR IN THE WEST deals with the purely military face of that conflict as it spread through Western Europe and into North Africa. Strategic bombing, U-boats, partisans, war-time armaments production, and air and naval power all play their somewhat abstracted parts in the game; but the main focus of the design is on ground operations. At its heart, this game is a slugging match between the infantry and armor of the contending national armies. The scope of the design is enormous, nine map sheets come with the game, and the forces of seventeen different nations are represented in the counter-mix. WAR IN THE WEST represents one half of the biggest, most detailed “monster game” published prior to the expansion of the Europa series by GDW. Thirty-three years later, it is still a “monster” by contemporary standards. However, it still isn’t outdated, and, amazingly enough, it is still an enjoyable challenge to play.
WAR IN THE WEST is played in weekly game turns; and for those familiar with the KURSK Game System, the turn sequence is easy to execute. The typical game turn consists of a joint tactical air war turn prior to the game turn proper. Once this joint air war segment is completed, each player turn consists of the following phases: the reinforcement/replacement phase; initial movement phase; rail movement phase; sea movement phase; air movement phase; combat phase; mechanized movement phase; and air interdiction phase. At the end of every fourth game turn, both players execute the operations called for in the strategic cycle. These are: the U-boat war phase; the Allied reinforcement phase; the strategic air war phase; and the German production phase. Although this outline of the turn sequence may seem to suggest that play is cumbersome and slow, the typical game turn actually moves logically and comparatively quickly. As an added plus, the game tracks make all of these operations more efficient, and there is a minimum of bookkeeping required to keep track of play.
WAR IN THE WEST offers five standard scenarios: the Poland Scenario; the France ’40 Scenario; the North Africa Scenario; the Italy Scenario; and the France 1944 Scenario. In addition, players may opt to begin the Campaign Game at any of these historical junctures, as campaign deployment information is furnished for each. Given the breadth and detail of WAR IN THE WEST, there are no optional rules in the usual sense of the term; and since there are special rules for such esoteric subjects as the Kiel Canal, possible Iraqi revolt, Commonwealth breakdown and build-up, and even the Zuider Zee, there would hardly have been any point.
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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WAR AND PEACE is a strategic simulation of the series of 19th century European military conflicts that are known collectively as the Napoleonic Wars, 1805 to 1815. This game was designed by Mark G. McLaughlin and published in 1980 by the Avalon Hill Game Co (TAHGC).
HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDAt 8:00 am on 2 December 1805, near the small Moravian hamlet of Austerlitz, the 85,000 soldiers of the Third Coalition army threw themselves forward in a determined attack against the 67,000 Frenchmen of Napoleon’s Grand Armée. This combined army of Russian and Austrian troops, commanded by Tsar Alexander I, massed almost half of its strength in four large columns and advanced through the morning fog to crash into Napoleon’s weak right flank near the villages of Telnitz and Sokolnitz.
The winter battle seemed to begin well for the attackers as the French troops slowly gave ground in the face of the powerful enemy assault. Those officers and nobles commanding the Russo-Austrian Army were confident that they would soon break the French flank and sever Napoleon’s communications with Vienna. But even as the Allied advance appeared to be gaining momentum, the 7,000 French troops of Marshal Davout’s IIIrd Corps, after having force marched a distance of some seventy miles to reach the battlefield, arrived on Napoleon’s right just in time to reinforce its wavering line. The Russo-Austrian commanders, fixated on continuing their attack, stripped more and more troops away from the coalition center on the Pratzen Heights in order to reinforce their left.
At 9:00am Napoleon unleashed part of his reserve from the fog-shrouded valley just below the heights to smash into the Allied center and seize the high ground. As the French began their assault, the “Sun of Austerlitz” finally broke through the haze and lit the heights. The conflict would continue with bitter fighting well into the evening, but Napoleon had, for all intents and purposes, already won the battle once his troops captured the Pratzen heights and broke the Russo-Austrian center.
WAR AND PEACE is a strategic level simulation of the complex and shifting military and diplomatic conflicts that raged across Europe from 1805 (the year of the great French victory at Austerlitz) to 1815 (the year of Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo). The ten year period covered by the game is one of virtually constant military campaigning for Napoleon. From Spain to Russia, and from Italy to the Channel Coast, French armies march back and forth across Europe against one enemy coalition after another. Revolutionary France is surrounded by reactionary enemies and, in an era before “total war,” Napoleon must repeatedly prevail on the battlefield if he is to convert military success into political advantage. If he fails to crush his enemies’ armies or to disrupt their alliances, then he will suffer his final defeat at the hands of one or another of the hostile coalitions that constantly reemerge from the ashes of their previous failed wars. And at the center of it all, Napoleon must constantly attempt to block the perfidious machinations of France’s most implacable and least vulnerable enemy: Great Britain.
WAR AND PEACE is played in a series of symmetrical game turns, each of which represents on month of real time. Each game turn can be divided into two player segments: the French player segment, followed by the non-French player segment. Both player segments are composed of five identical turn phases. The player phases, in order of execution, are: the Attrition Phase; the Alliance Phase; the Reinforcement Phase; the Movement Phase; and finally, the Combat Phase. Each player must complete all of the operations required by one phase before proceeding on to the next. The WAR AND PEACE game system focuses on four basic aspects of Napoleonic warfare: speed, mass, leadership, and supply. The player who can move purposefully and fast, and who can concentrate his forces for battle accompanied by his best leaders; the player who can threaten or cut the enemy’s line of communication, while still protecting his own, will usually win in this game.
Many game options are available. Typically, players will only have to use two of the four available map sections, unless they are playing the “Grand Campaign Game.” The mounted game maps are functional and easy to read, but surprisingly bland. I suspect that this choice was intentional on the part of the designer so that the brightly colored counters would stand out in contrast to the game map. In any case, depending on the scenario, players will control either the forces of France or those of one of the many hostile monarchies that Napoleon faced throughout his career. WAR AND PEACE, although primarily designed as a two player game, also includes multi-player scenarios in which as many as six players can command one or more of the Great Powers of Europe: France, Great Britain, Spain, Austria, Prussia, or Russia. The game offers nine comparatively short scenarios that each covers a different campaign, and one very long scenario that encompasses virtually the whole of the Napoleonic Wars. Two or more players can opt to refight the 1805, 1806-07, 1809, 1812, the two Peninsula campaign games, or the 1813, 1814 or 1815 campaigns. Players who are particularly ambitious may choose to participate in the Grand Campaign Game which begins in 1805 and continues all the way to the bitter end in 1815. In addition, to enhance historical realism, the game’s designer has listed a number of “optional rules” that can be added individually or together to the standard WAR AND PEACE rules package. These “optional rules” include: The Tactical Matrix; the French Imperial Guard; Russian Patriotism; Demoralized Combat; and Limited Intelligence.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONWAR AND PEACE is a decent game, but not a great game. On the plus side, it is almost unique in that it allows players to simulate the whole of the Napoleonic Wars, but does not require a huge amount of table space. Moreover, the 'naval' rules, while abstract, are pleasing enough and do add a little something to the larger simulation. The main problem with this title is that it really offers nothing that is new or innovative. It is basically “move and fight" with forced marches, attrition, and leaders. At least, given its simple game mechanics, it is relatively easy to learn. The main issue that most frustrates me with this title is not a consequence of some serious design flaw, it is a function of the map scale and of the “strength points” approach to combat units used in this simulation. Maybe it is just me, but despite the place names on the maps, the 'period' military silhouettes on the game pieces, and the generals’ names on the leader counters, the game just doesn’t 'feel' that much like a Napoleonic simulation. All of the usual Napoleonic game design elements are present in WAR AND PEACE, but the finished package just doesn't deliver when it comes to the innate drama and historical pedigree of its topic. In the final analysis, I suppose, everything about the game just seems a little too “small,” particularly given the scope and historical sweep of the era that it attempts to describe. This is not a fatal flaw in the game, but it is a serious one, nonetheless.
See my blog post Book Review of this title which I strongly recommend for those visitors looking for additional historical background.
Here's a Giclee print map of the battle of Austerlitz available in various sizes that is great for a Napoleonic themed game room's wall.
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