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MAHARAJA is a multi-player simulation of the turbulent history of the Indian subcontinent that spans over thirty-three hundred years of migrations, invasions, wars, and the rise and fall of nations, cultures, and empires. MAHARAJA is a historical tour that immerses its players in the peoples and events that ultimately coalesced to lay the cultural foundation for the modern world’s most populous democracy. MAHARAJA was designed by Craig Sandercock and published in 1994 by the Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC).
HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDBritain’s conquest of India began, as it had with so much of the rest of the British Empire, with the arrival of the first English traders. In 1617, the English East India Company's toehold on the subcontinent expanded when it was formally granted trading rights by the Mogul Empire; once these commercial privileges had been secured, the East India Company wasted no time but quickly set about building shipping centers and depots at strategic locations along the Indian Coast. Of course, once these various enclaves had been established, it was only sensible for the British to build forts to protect their gradually expanding commercial holdings. The next stage, for these early representatives of the British Crown, like the first, was inevitable: once company forts had been established, it followed, as the night follows the day, that it was then essential for the East India Company to raise a private army to garrison these newly-erected forts and to protect its ever-expanding territorial and commercial interests. Moreover, in the eyes of these ambitious English traders, a private army was, not surprisingly, considered to be a very handy thing to have.
During the next century, the East India Company steadily increased its land holdings and its local political influence by shrewdly supporting one local tribal leader against another in the numerous internecine wars that plagued India during the fractious period of the Mogul decline. The British, however, were not alone among the European powers in their determination to ultimately take control of the Indian subcontinent; their main competitors — the unpleasant and always quarrelsome French— had also established a foothold in India through the economic and military machinations of the East India Company’s Gallic doppelganger, the Compagnie française des Indes orientales. As time passed, friction between the two European companies only grew, and a major clash between the French and British gradually came to be seen by both as being inevitable. Finally, the increasingly bitter trading rivals resorted to what must have seemed perfectly natural to two commercial adversaries both of which employed their own private armies: they went to war with each other.
In the 1740s and 1750s, a series of military engagements, known collectively as the 'Carnatic Wars' was fought between the soldiers, agents, and allies of the two competing trading companies. In 1757, a British force led by Robert Clive (that’s right: the 'Clive of India') decisively defeated the French and their Indian allies at the Battle of Plassey. This crushing victory over Britain’s only remaining adversary left the English East India Company in undisputed control of Bengal and established it, at long last, as the preeminent political and military power in India. It also meant that Indian self-rule was now doomed.
Clive’s military success had far-reaching effects for both England and for India. The British victory at Plassey not only disposed of the French, it also cleared away the last serious obstacle to English domination of the Indian subcontinent; the establishment of the British Raj was now only a matter of time.
MAHARAJA is a grand strategic simulation on a truly epic scale. It is a game — like its predecessor and close relative, BRITANNIA — for those players who genuinely take the long view of history. The game covers the dynamic, exciting, and often violent period in India’s history from the early Aryan invasions, beginning around 1500 B.C., to the colonial conquest of the subcontinent by the British in 1850 A.D. MAHARAJA is intended to be a multi-player game: each player is assigned a color prior to the start of play; each player color determines which nations (peoples) a player will control over the course of the entire game. These different nations each appear during specific historical periods (game turns) and compete with the nations of other players for control of geographical regions on the game map. In the course of the game, players will attempt to amass victory points using armies, population markers, and leaders. Victory points can only be gained through the occupation of areas, conquest of opposing nations’ areas, destruction of enemy units, and the acquisition of raj points. The game’s winner is the player with the most points at the end of the last (16th) game turn.
MAHARAJA uses a game system that is comparatively simple, yet unpredictable. For starters, the game is played with a variable player turn order: players move their units according to the order outlined on the Nation Control List. A typical game turn proceeds with the following strictly-ordered sequence of player actions: Increase Population Phase; Invasion Phase; Movement Phase; Battle Phase; Factory Phase; Arms Phase; and, at the end of certain game turns, the Victory Point Count Phase. In the course of the game, players will find themselves variously in control of weak and strong nations. Thus, players will accumulate victory points at different rates during different historical epochs. Not to worry though, the ingenious game design balances out these inequalities over the span of the whole game, so that the victory point opportunities of the different players wax and wane as the game progresses and new nations enter play. Another interesting feature of MAHARAJA is that at different stages in the game, players may find themselves controlling several different nations that are in direct competition for the same geographical areas. Thus, in order to gain and keep victory points, a player may occasionally be obliged to attack himself! MAHARAJA offers not only a standard four-player version of the game, but also a five-player, and a standard and shortened three-player version, as well. There are no optional rules.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
Some players, it goes without saying, like multi-player games that attempt to capture the broad sweep of history, and some don’t. For my own part, the personalities of the other players at the table are at least as important as the game being played. A convivial group of gamers can make even a relative "dog" a pleasure to play. MAHARAJA is far from a dog, and even accepting that some of the game’s history is a little dodgy — the whole Aryan Invasion Theory has recently come under fire, for instance — it nonetheless is an informative and enjoyable game when sitting in with the right company. For that reason, although MAHARAJA is certainly not my favorite multi-player game of this type, I still feel comfortable recommending it. Based on my own experience at the game table, I would say that anyone who likes BRITTANIA will almost certainly like this game. In terms of play, MAHARAJA requires a nice mix of diplomacy, luck, guile, and tactical acumen in order to win. In addition, it also has the unexpected advantage of painlessly teaching the players about an epoch in the Indian subcontinent’s history about which most of us in the West know far too little!
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1942 is an operational-level (battalion/regimental/division) simulation of ground combat during the first five months of the Japanese offensive in the Pacific Theater in World War II. The game was designed by Marc Miller and published in 1978 by Game Designer’ Workshop (GDW). 1942 is one of GDW’s “Series 120” games. These titles were intended to be “introductory” games; the “120 Series” label comes from the fact that each of these games uses no more than 120 counters, and all were designed to be played to completion in two hours or less.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDOver seven thousand islands collectively make up the Philippine Archipelago. This vast concentration of large and small islands lies only 500 miles from the coast of China, and, because of this position, the Philippine Islands dominate the eastern shipping lanes through the South China Sea. The United States first seized the Philippine Islands from Spain in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, and the advantages to the United States of American control of this former Spanish colony were obvious from the outset. The serendipitous location of the Philippines quickly made the archipelago an important commercial center for American companies with economic interests in Asia; it also made it an excellent base for American naval forces in the Far East. This fact was not lost on other national players in the region and, as time passed, unfriendly eyes began to covet this American Asiatic possession; eyes that belonged to the senior officers of the general staff of the expansionist and increasingly bellicose Empire of Japan.
The United States and Japan had not always been adversaries. In fact, the two rising Pacific powers had been Allies during the First World War; unfortunately, in the decades that followed the “War to end all Wars,” the two countries had repeatedly clashed diplomatically over Japan’s escalating war of conquest against China. And as the relations between Japan and the United States continued to deteriorate in the mid-1930s, the Japanese High Command began secret military preparations to wrest the Philippine Islands from America’s control. The islands’ strategic location made the subjugation of the Philippines — and particularly the archipelago’s most important island, Luzon — essential to future Japanese plans for military expansion into the rest of Southeast Asia. And such an expansion was essential to Japan's ambitious future Imperial designs in the Pacific. Japan had no significant natural resources of its own; however, the coal, oil, rubber, tin, iron ore, nickel, and agricultural lands that Japan needed to support its expanding industries and to feed its growing population were all within easy striking distance of the Empire’s powerful army and navy. Unfortunately, to seize these prizes, Japan would have to take them by force from the British, Dutch, and Americans.
America and her European allies, not surprisingly, were not oblivious either to Japan’s Imperial ambitions or to the military threat those ambitions posed to American and European holdings in the region. Moreover, the critical importance of these islands was as obvious to American military leaders as it was to the Japanese. Thus, when General Douglas MacArthur was recalled to active duty on 26 July 1941 to serve as the supreme commander of all forces in the Philippines, he immediately set about planning for a robust and aggressive defense of Luzon. Philippine defenses were, the new commander discovered soon after taking charge, woefully inadequate. Nonetheless, the always confident General MacArthur was certain that, once promised reinforcements and modern equipment from the U.S. had arrived in the Philippines, Luzon could be successfully held against even a large-scale and determined enemy invasion. His target date for completion of his defensive preparations was April, 1942. Unfortunately for MacArthur, his army, and the Filipino people, the Imperial Japanese Army had a timetable of its own.
On 8 December 1941, Japanese bombers from Formosa struck American airfields on Luzon. Almost half of all of the U.S. Army’s modern fighters as well as recently-arrived B-17 bombers were destroyed on the ground. On 10 December, the Japanese began amphibious landings against the northern end of Luzon. Small Japanese detachments landed at Gonzaga, Appari, Ladag, and Vigan and seized airfields so that incoming Japanese planes could be based directly on the island. And this was only the beginning. On 12 December a small Japanese force of 2,500 landed on the southern tip of the island at Legaspi and rapidly marched north. On 22 and 24 December 1941, the main body of General Homma’s Fourteenth Army finally came ashore on Luzon without meeting any serious interference. The invasion phase of the Japanese plan, by any standard, had been a complete success, the next phase — the battle for control of Luzon and with it, the rest of the Philippines — was now ready to go forward.
1942 is a two-player simulation of the first five months of the Japanese ground offensive in the Pacific. Beginning in December 1941, Japan launched attacks against Western forces in Pearl Harbor, Malaya, the Philippine Islands, Java, and Hong Kong. The game focuses on the initial period — December 1941 to May 1942 — of Japanese expansion into Southeast Asia, and of the Allies’ attempt to stem Imperial Japan’s tide of conquest.
Because 1942 is intended by the designer to be an “introductory” game, the game system is orthodox, comparatively simple, and intuitively logical. The counters represent the military units — American and Filipinos, British, Dutch, and Japanese — that actually fought in the historical campaign. The area represented by the game map covers that region of Southeast Asia over which the Allies and Japanese battled for control. 1942 is played in game turns, each of which represents a fortnight (roughly two weeks) of real time. Each game turn is further divided into an Allied and a Japanese player turn; the Allied player is always the first player to act in any turn. However, the game begins with a special Japanese Attack game turn (turn “0”) during which only the Japanese player may move and attack; the game then continues with its standard format for ten more regular game turns. Each game turn in 1942 follows an ordered series of player actions and proceeds as follows: Allied Movement Phase; Allied Combat Phase; Japanese Movement Phase; and Japanese Combat Phase. The Movement Phase of each player turn is further subdivided into three strictly ordered player actions: the Land Movement Segment; the Air Movement Segment; and finally, the Naval Movement Segment. In keeping with the “introductory” intent of the designer, the rest of the rules are also comparatively clear and easy to understand, even for a comparative novice. All ground units possess a zone of control (ZOC). In addition, these ZOCs are rigid, but not “sticky,” and combat is voluntary between adjacent enemy units. Supply rules, although important to the play of the game, are refreshingly uncomplicated. Stacking rules are also simple: four ground units of the same side may stack in a single hex; stacking rules are different for fortresses, however, and air units may not stack with other air units.
Combat is resolved using a traditional “odds differential” Combat Results Table. Terrain, itself, has no effect on combat; those factors that do influence combat are expressed through die-roll modifications (DRMs). Air and amphibious operations are an integral part of the game and are handled abstractly but with logical simplicity. The game’s winner is determined by comparing each side’s victory point totals at the conclusion of game turn ten. Victory points — as might be expected, given the Japanese military's strategic goals — are gained through the capture of certain geographical objectives and also through the destruction (surrender) of enemy units. In addition, the Allies receive victory points for any Allied units still surviving on the game map at game end. 1942 offers two scenarios: the Historical Dispositions Scenario; and the Allied Optional Dispositions Scenario. There are no other “optional” rules.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
First, a brief note on what 1942 is not. It is not VICTORY IN THE PACIFIC or USN without ship counters. The narrow, operational scope of the game, both in terms of geography and in terms of time scale, is much shorter and less complicated than either of these other two titles. What it is, instead, is a relatively simple simulation of the initial, widely-dispersed Japanese military operations that actually set off the War in the Pacific. The Japanese plan of conquest was both extraordinarily ambitious and audacious. Moreover, the independent ground campaigns to drive the Allies out of Malaya, Hong Kong, Java, and the Philippines during the first days of the war all presented their own sets of unique challenges. Extremely tight operational timetables, and real limitations in available airpower, sea lift, naval warships, and in ground forces all could have produced a Japanese defeat — if not a military disaster — had any major element of the Japanese strategic plan gone wrong. Time and manpower were the major stumbling blocks for the Emperor’s military commanders; the Japanese were chronically short of both during the early months of the war. Yet the Imperial ground, air and naval forces won one decisive victory after another, often against formidable odds. It is how the Japanese achieved these stunning results and what the Allies might have done to thwart them that Marc Miller attempts to simulate in 1942.
In a more general vein, I cannot resist making an observation or two about GDW’s quirky attempt at producing simple, easy-to-play, inexpensive games. GDW’s foray into the design and publication of simple, introductory games was, to be generous, pretty much a bust. AGINCOURT was too simple, visually nondescript (green and brown, that’s the best you could do for counters in the age of heraldry?) and boringly repetitive in its play; BEDA FOMM and ALMA were interesting games, but probably a bit too complicated for the typical beginner. And these disappointing examples were not alone: more than a few of the other “120” titles shared the unfortunate attributes of being both time-consuming to learn and boring to play, once they were learned. That being said, I personally think that of all of the “120 Series” of games, 1940, 1941, and 1942 all probably come closest to fulfilling the original design goals set by the “boys from Normal” for the “120 Series.” Over the years, I have played every one of these World War II titles and, to varying degrees, liked them all. My personal favorite of the three, I have to confess, remains 1940. I don’t know why, but the very different strategic problems confronting both the Allies and the Germans in the spring of 1940, have always intrigued me. Nonetheless, I also spent many enjoyable hours playing the other two titles, and I and a few of my friends continued, off and on, to play them for years after they first appeared. And these World War II titles all have something else going for them, as well: despite the different campaigns that each of these three GDW games represents in game form, I think that they all share several qualities that are critical to the long-term success of any “introductory" game. That is: they are all three comparatively easy-to-learn, interesting, and fast-paced to play. In addition, because of the unique military problems presented in every one of these titles, I believe that each of them can be challenging and fun for the experienced player, while still being enjoyable for the hobby novice.
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AUSTERLITZ is a historical simulation, at the brigade tactical level, of the climactic battle on 2 December 1805 that determined the final outcome of Napoleon’s 1805 campaign against the armies of Russia and Austria. The game was designed by David A. Powell, and published in 1993 by The Gamers, Inc (TGI). AUSTERLITZ is the first installment in TGI’s Napoleonic Brigade Series of games.
Tsar Alexander I, 1812
At 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 retreated in the face of the powerful Allied assault. Those officers and nobles commanding the Russo-Austrian Army were confident that they would 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, won the battle with one masterful stroke, once his troops captured the Pratzen heights and broke the Russo-Austrian center.
TGI’s AUSTRLITZ is a grand tactical (brigade/regiment) level simulation — based loosely on the CIVIL WAR BRIGADE Game System — of the final crucial battle in Napoleon’s 1805 campaign against Austria and Russia. The French Emperor’s decisive victory at Austerlitz clearly signaled that Napoleon had now become the dominant political and military strongman in Europe. And so he would remain for another decade, despite the constant machinations of the British Empire and the persistent military efforts of the reactionary monarchies of Europe.
AUSTERLITZ is played in game turns, and each game turn is further divided into five interwoven player phases. These strictly-sequenced game phases proceed as follows: the Command Phase; the Cavalry Charge Phase; the Movement and Close Combat Phase; the Fire Combat Phase; and finally, the Rally Phase. Once both sides have completed their respective player turns, the game turn marker is advanced one space, and the turn sequence is again repeated until the scenario ends. The historical detail presented by the Napoleonic Brigade Series Game System is especially evident in the specific player actions required during each turn phase. For example, just the first operation of a player turn, the Command Phase, is made up of five distinct segments, or sub-routines: Order Issue (during this segment, the phasing player generates and records new orders up the limit imposed by his command points); Corps Attack Stoppage Checks (if any of the phasing player’s attacking corps received enemy fire from two hexes distance or less during the preceding turn, these corps must now individually check to see if their attack continues, is stopped, or is repulsed); Initiative Order Determination (at this time, the phasing player rolls a die to attempt to establish initiative for individual leaders); Delay Reduction (during this phase, any leaders who have had their orders encumbered by any sort of “delay status” check to see if their delay status ends); and New Order Acceptance (the phasing player now rolls to see if the orders delivered this turn are accepted, delayed, or misunderstood).
The game mechanics of TGI’s AUSTERLITZ, although fairly complex, are intuitively logical and, once learned, are not difficult to execute. None-the-less, the game’s functions — despite their similarity to other Napoleonic battle games — do require some study on the part of new players before they can be mastered. The overall design architecture of the game is, given its subject matter and scale, more-or-less familiar. Stacking rules are detailed but reasonable; both the various types of terrain and elevation influence combat, typically through column shifts on the combat results tables (CRTs). Units do not possess zones of control (ZOCs). Combat, as might be expected, can be divided into three general categories: Fire Combat (both small arms and artillery); Cavalry Charge (shock); and Close Assault (infantry shock). Combat losses are administered through a combination of Morale Checks, Straggler Checks, and Step-Losses, and individual commanders can be wounded or killed as a result of combat. Leadership, command and control, and morale — as was the case historically — are all critical to the outcome of the battle. In addition, the game incorporates a number of elements that contribute both the texture of the game and to its “period” feel. Thus, rules covering unit facing, skirmisher units, line of sight, different infantry formations (square, line, column, and road march), forced marches, ammunition supply (both small arms and artillery), night operations, and the “fog of war” all play their part in the flow of play in AUSTERLITZ. The one somewhat cumbersome aspect of the Napoleonic Brigade Series Game System derives from the record-keeping necessary to track ongoing unit step-losses and the status of orders. However, even this aspect of the game is considerably simplified by the inclusion of detailed, easy-to-use “master” record sheets that can be photocopied as the need arises.
Victory in the game is determined by a comparison of battlefield losses. Because the purpose of battle, at least in the eyes of Napoleon, was to crush the enemy army and by so doing end the enemy commander’s will to resist, the winner in AUSTERLITZ is based on the destruction of enemy units, the wrecking of larger formations (corps and columns), and the killing or wounding of enemy leaders. The game’s winner is the player that satisfies the victory requirements of the specific scenario being played.
TGI’s AUSTERLITZ offers five scenarios: Scenario 1: Battle for the Goldbach Stream (9 game turns); Scenario 2: The Olmutz Road (8 turns long); Scenario 3: The Sun of Austerlitz (23 game turns); Scenario 4: Katusov in Command! (23 turns); and Scenario 5: The Advance to Battle (50 game turns). The first two scenarios are short enough to serve as introductions to the larger game; scenarios 3 and 4 offer two approaches to simulating the historical events of the Battle of Austerlitz; the last scenario covers two full days of action beginning with the advance to contact with Napoleon’s army by the combined Austro-Russian army on 1 December, and culminating with a simulation of the actions of the two opposing armies throughout the actual day of battle, 2 December 1805.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
Coalition cavalry in action at Austerlitz.
Napoleon fought over seventy battles in his long military career, but the Battle of Austerlitz was his masterpiece. Through a combination of feigned weakness, acting, nerve, and superb timing, the French Emperor first drew an enemy army that did not need to fight into accepting a major battle on ground of Napoleon’s choosing, and then, by purposefully and visibly weakening his right, insured that his enemies would confidently march into a tactical trap from which there would be no escape. The battle raged from dawn to dusk, but Napoleon’s decisive victory was assured within the first few hours of the opening cannonade. Time would march on, and the French Emperor would live to win many more battles before his dominance of European affairs was finally ended in 1815; in all the bloody, strife-filled years that followed this single winter’s day victory, however, he would never enjoy another battlefield success to match 2 December 1805, and the brilliance of the blazing “Sun of Austerlitz.”
French Cuirassiers about to charge at Austerlitz.
AUSTERLITZ is the first installment in The Gamers’ Napoleonic Brigade Series of tactical simulations of battles from the Age of Napoleon. It is, to a large degree, a natural outgrowth of TGI’s Civil War Brigade Series, and as such, there is much in this game system that will be familiar to those gamers who have played any of the CWB Series games. There is also, however, a great deal that is different. The rifled muzzle-loading muskets of the American Civil War had both greater accuracy and greater range than the smoothbore muskets of the Napoleonic Wars. Cavalry and galloper guns could, with relative safety, approach much closer to an enemy firing line during the early years of the nineteenth century than they could by the 1860s. For this reason, the battlefield dominance of artillery and the shock power of cavalry are both much more significant in AUSTERLITZ than in the CWB titles. This greater variety of potential battlefield threats also explains the expanded number of different infantry formations found in AUSTERLITZ. Thus, from the simple infantry line and square, to the column and even the combination of infantry line and column represented by the ordre mixte, these various formations all had an important place on the Napoleonic battlefield.
General Rapp reports to Napoleon at Austerlitz.
TGI’s AUSTERLITZ is not a simple game. None-the-less, the rules are clearly enough written that a player totally unfamiliar with the NBS system can, with a little work, probably understand the basic substance of the game without a lot of help; players familiar with the CWB Series rules, as might be expected, should have little difficulty learning the game in the course of one or two play-throughs. That being said, this title is probably not a good choice for novices. The game system is just too detailed and richly textured. Still, the heart of the combat system: the tactical subroutines — although a little cumbersome for new players when they are initially learning the game — are intuitively logical and historically reasonable. And the flow and tempo of the game combine to produce a realistic, yet manageable simulation of Napoleonic warfare.
Finally, AUSTERLITZ has, at least to my eye, excellent graphics and nice visual appeal. The two glossy paper map sheets are attractive and unambiguous. The rules and player aids, although detailed and fairly lengthy, are clear and easy to use. Best of all, the back-printed unit counters are — as has become more and more common among the most recent batch of Napoleonic titles — both utilitarian and quite appealing to the eye. In short, TGI’s AUSTERLITZ is historically colorful, exciting, and — once the game system is mastered — eminently playable. For these reasons, I think that it is good choice for most experienced players and an excellent pick for those gamers who don’t mind a little record-keeping and who have a keen interest in games dealing with the Napoleonic Wars.
See my blog post Book Review of this title which is highly recommended for those readers interested in additional historical background.
Here's a Giclee print map of the battle available in various sizes that is great for a Napoleonic themed game room's wall.
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SQUAD LEADER is a squad-level simulation of World War II combat. The game was designed by John Hill and published by The Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC) in 1977. This subject of this profile is the Second Edition of the game.
INTRODUCTIONWhen it first hit game stores in 1977, SQUAD LEADER — John Hill’s game of World War II small unit combat — rocked the wargaming community as no war game had done since PANZERBLITZ seven years before. Admittedly, the introduction of John Prados’ THIRD REICH in 1974 had created a great deal of buzz within the hobby, but that excitement was nothing compared to the enthusiastic attention that John Hill’s new design received when it first burst on the scene. SQUAD LEADER’s ground-breaking design blended elements of board war games with those of miniatures, but then took this innovative small-unit design architecture to a whole new level. Instead of companies, players now controlled infantry squads, individual support weapons and their crews, and individual vehicles. Not surprisingly, it was an immediate hit with a large segment in the wargaming community and its sales soared. The management at Avalon Hill, realizing that they had a veritable "cash-cow" on their hands, moved to capitalize on this wide-spread enthusiasm by publishing a series of SQUAD LEADER GAMETTES over the next few years, starting with CROSS OF IRON. Each of these follow-up GAMETTES added new rules, new vehicles, additional nationalities, and new map boards to the basic SQUAD LEADER package; however, players still needed to own the original game in order to play them. This steady process of periodic new releases continued for several years. Then, in 1985, the boys in Baltimore broke with this successful retail program and, instead of introducing yet another SQUAD LEADER GAMETTE, launched a completely redesigned, and much more detailed version of the SQUAD LEADER Game System, ADVANCED SQUAD LEADER (ASL). The rest, as they say, is history.
SQUAD LEADER (2nd Edition) is a small unit, squad-level game of World War II combat on both the Eastern and Western Fronts, 1941-45. One player commands the German forces and the other player controls either Red Army units or American formations. The game is played in turns, and each turn is divided into two player turns: a German and an Allied turn. During each player turn, the phasing (acting) player will perform the following game operations in exactly this order: Rally Phase (during this phase the phasing player will, among other things, attempt to repair malfunctioning AFVs and support weapons, and rally broken units) ; Prep Fire Phase (the phasing player fires on enemy units and conducts several other secondary game operations); Movement Phase (the phasing player moves any units that did not fire during the Prep Fire Phase) ; Defensive Fire Phase; Advancing Fire Phase (moving units fire at half strength); Rout Phase (broken units rout to cover); Advance Phase (the attacking player may advance any still unbroken units one hex into that of the defenders); and the Close Combat Phase (the attacking player conducts all close combat attacks against defending units in the same hexes as attackers). Once this series of player operations is completed, the defending player becomes the phasing player, and the sequence is repeated. At the conclusion of the second player’s turn, the current game turn ends and the turn marker is advanced one space on the Turn Record Track. Fire and movement are important, but morale and leadership are the real keys to John Hill’s vision of small unit combat. Prospective players should take this lesson to heart: units with good morale and excellent leadership almost always have a pronounced advantage over enemy troops with inferior morale — even when those enemy troops have superior numbers and good leaders — whatever the combat situation.
Not surprisingly, because of the limited scale of the game, units do not possess zones of control, and there are no supply rules. Stacking is limited to four units per hex, only three of which may be squads. Like other modern-era tactical games, SQUAD LEADER — despite the importance it assigns to Close Combat — is primarily a “fire” oriented combat system. For this reason, blocking terrain, concealing terrain, elevation, and line of sight are critical factors in determining which units may fire and be fired on in any given combat phase. Armored Fighting Vehicles are a special case both in stacking and in line of sight (LOS): only one AFV may occupy a hex and, unlike squads which are removed from the map when eliminated, AFVs are inverted to show a wreck counter, and, upon placement, continue to count against stacking and to block LOS through their hex. Finally, because of the tactical detail represented in the game system, SQUAD LEADER (2nd Ed.) offers a variety of specialized rules to cover different combat situations. Thus, there are rules for, among other things: multi-level buildings; smoke; barbed wire; vehicle and equipment malfunctions; mines; entrenchments; fixed fortifications; artillery spotting; off-board artillery support; and even night combat operations.
SQUAD LEADER is played using a scenario or “mini-game” format. Six back-printed Scenario Cards are included with the game; these cards provide the specific orders of battle, set-ups, and victory conditions for twelve different East and West Front battlefield situations. Each scenario typically attempts to reproduce a different, but common type of small-unit engagement between German and Russian, and German and American forces during the years 1941-45.
SQUAD LEADER (2nd Ed.) also offers additional rules for those players who want to experiment further with the game system. There is a subset of “advanced” rules that permit players to design and balance their own scenarios; and there is even a provision for an “extended” SQUAD LEADER campaign that ties multiple scenarios together into one long game
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONFirst, I have a confession: I am, it would seem, just not a SQUAD LEADER kind of guy. I don’t know why, but I personally don’t care much for the SQUAD LEADER Game System. Perhaps it is the small-unit aspect of the game, or maybe I prefer a different level of abstraction when it comes to wargames, but whatever the reason, I just can’t get excited about SQUAD LEADER, ground-breaking tactical design or no. And it has always been so.
When the game first appeared in 1977 and most of my regular opponents ran out and immediately bought copies of the new title; I didn’t. The more people raved about the game, the more I stubbornly dug my heels in; when my enthusiastic friends unanimously praised John Hill’s latest creation, I adamantly refused to buy a copy of the new gaming sensation for myself. Perhaps even more frustrating to my long-time opponents was the fact that, not only did I not want to own a copy of the game, I didn’t have any interest in playing it either. Of course, this could only go on for so long. In the final analysis, gaming is very much a quid pro quo type of pastime, so after resisting the imprecations of my friends for months, I finally buckled and bought my own copy of what was, by then, the 2nd Edition of the game. Unfortunately, by the time I did, the first of the SQUAD LEADER GAMETTES, CROSS OF IRON, had already been released, so, at the fevered insistence of my friends, I bought that too.
Of course, now that I was stuck for the price of both the game and the GAMETTE, I did what most people would do: I resignedly unwrapped my copy, punched out a number of the counters, and sat down to learn the game system. Three hours later, I had come to two conclusions: first, I had decided that Hill’s tactical combat system was innovative and really quite clever; second, clever or not, I found that my fairly benign lack of interest had turned into an active dislike. I’m not positive, but I think that it was the abstract uniformity of the infantry squads that turned me off the game. Larger units, because of their sheer size and standardized organizations tend to lend themselves fairly easily to abstract quantification. Having personally served in the Army, however, I knew that infantry squads all tended to evidence unique qualities — personalities, if you like — that made each one of them more analogous to an individual athletic team than to some standardized abstract military asset. In the end, the uniformity of the infantry squads and the absolute dependence that the game system placed on differences in leadership just didn’t feel right to me. This is not to say that I didn’t finally play a couple of the short introductory scenarios with a friend (that quid pro quo thing, again), but my heart simply wasn’t in it. Although I am competitive by nature and play wargames to win, in the case of SQUAD LEADER, I just wanted the games to be over with. I genuinely didn’t care who won or lost. For me, that was it; I never opened the game box again until I got ready to sell my old copy on eBay a little while back.
So get to the point of all this, already, you say! The moral of this sorry little tale of mine, I suppose, is that when buying games, each player should go with his own gut instinct. If you think that you’ll like a game, you probably will; if you have your doubts, then chances are that you won’t. The fact that I personally don’t like SQUAD LEADER is really quite unimportant. Other players whose opinions I value like the game a lot. And based on the long-term retail sales figures for the game and its many offspring: if I was to hold a convention of all the gamers who share my distaste for the game, I suspect that we could probably all fit into a phone booth. All this puts me in an awkward spot: although I don’t want to play it myself, I still feel obliged to recommend SQUAD LEADER for those players with an interest in a highly-detailed, tactical game system. My rationale for making this recommendation is simple: it has just been far too popular for far too long not to have a lot going for it. The facts, as they say, speak for themselves.
Even after thirty-one years, SQUAD LEADER is still a perennial favorite among many experienced gamers and a fixture at most of the major wargaming conventions. In that sense, it has, to put it mildly, aged extremely well. Until the arrival of its perpetually-growing, mutant offspring, ADVANCED SQUAD LEADER, no other title had ever had more articles, rules variations, or scenarios printed in the various hobby magazines than had John Hill’s ground-breaking creation. Today, SQUAD LEADER players occupy an interesting place in the hobby: they are typically players who enjoy the richness of the basic SQUAD LEADER Game System, but who, unlike their ASL brethren, draw the line at permitting a single game to become a virtual way of life. Given my own feelings about the game system, I can’t really say that I blame them.
2 commentsRead On
Or 'NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO' meets 'STALINGRAD'
BATTLE FOR GERMANY is a strategic-level simulation of the final death throes of the Third Reich. The game was designed by James F. Dunnigan and originally published in 1975 by Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) as an “insert” game in S&T #50. Later, it was offered by SPI as a Folio Game. In 1994, after undergoing a few minor modifications to the rules, map, and counter-mix, the game was reissued by Decision Games. The Decision Games version is the one that will be the main focus of this analysis.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDIn the closing months of 1944, Allied armies were closing in on the Third Reich from all sides. British, American, and Canadian troops had broken out of the Normandy beachhead, destroyed the bulk of von Kluge’s army group, and were already pushing up against the Siegfried Line in the West; in the South, Rome had fallen months earlier to an Allied force commanded by General Mark Clark. Soon after the surrender of the “Eternal City,” the victorious Allies had resumed their northern advance up the Italian peninsula. The news was just as bad from the Russian Front: there another entire German Army Group, under Field Marshal Busch, had been shattered by the Russian Summer Offensive, “Operation Bagration.” Only the speed and depth of the Russian advance and the length of the new Russian supply lines had allowed the Wehrmacht to restore some semblance of order to their front. As Europe prepared to enter the sixth year of the war, Germany's strategic position seemed hopeless.
However, despite these multiple catastrophes, Hitler was not prepared to admit defeat. Instead, the German dictator poured over his maps frantically searching for one last offensive opportunity that might reverse this cascading string of German defeats: a battlefield victory that could retrieve the Third Reich’s fortunes long enough for the new German “wonder” weapons to make an impact on the war. In the forested section of the German frontier that bordered Belgium and Luxembourg — the site of the Germans’ brilliant surprise offensive of 1940 — Hitler finally decided that he had found it. The German Führer would attempt to repeat his earlier military triumph by again attacking through the Ardennes. This desperate military “throw of the dice” would be Hitler’s last major effort to turn the tide of battle in the west. The code name selected for this, Germany’s last winter offensive, was ‘Wacht am Rhein’ which, when translated, meant “Watch on the Rhine.”
At 0530 on 16 December 1944, Hitler's last major offensive in the west jumped off with a violent, hour-long artillery bombardment from 1,900 guns along eighty-five miles of the Allied front line in the Ardennes region of Belgium. As soon as the barrage lifted, the 250,000 men and 1,100 tanks of Field Marshal Model’s Army Group B smashed into the dazed defenders of this thinly held section of the American line. The German offensive that would come to be known as the “Battle of the Bulge” had begun. The German plan was to tear a hole in the American front and then to rush powerful panzer forces through the newly-formed gap. The panzers, once they had achieved freedom of maneuver, were to force a crossing of the Meuse River, and were then to pivot northwest to seize the port city of Antwerp before the Allied High Command had an opportunity to react. The German seizure of this important Allied supply center would isolate the substantial British, Canadian, and American forces north of Aachen. Hitler hoped this might finally force the Western Allies to accept a separate, negotiated peace with the Third Reich.
BATTLE FOR GERMANY is a strategic level (corps/army/front) simulation — based loosely on the NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO Game System — of the bloody 1944-45 campaigns by the American-led Allies in the west and the Red Army in the east to bring about the final and complete destruction of Hitler’s Third Reich. The standard game spans the time between 15 December 1944, and 15 May, 1945; it was during this five month period that the last armed German resistance was completely crushed by the steadily advancing Allies. The game is played in game turns, each of which is composed of sequenced player turns. A single game turn is equal to one-half month (a fortnight) of real time. The combat units represent the historical corps, armies, and Soviet fronts (army groups) that actually took part in these closing campaigns against the Reich, and each hex on the map sheet represents 67.1 kilometers from side to side. Because the game uses as its platform, the NAW Game System, the mechanics of play are very simple: players Move and then engage in Combat, each in turn. Zones of control (ZOCs) are rigid but not sticky, and combat is voluntary. Surprisingly, given the scale of the game, there are no supply rules. Stacking is limited to two units per hex, and the powerful Soviet Fronts may not stack together. Terrain types are simple and restricted to specific categories: clear, ocean and lake, swamp, rough, broken, fortified hexes, and rivers. Terrain Effects either double or triple defending units and are cumulative. Interestingly, in spite of its simple and familiar game system, BATTLE FOR GERMANY is unique among war games. The one design characteristic that really sets BATTLE FOR GERMANY apart from other conflict simulations is that — in the Historical scenario, at least — one player controls the German armies in the west and the Russian armies in the east, while the other player controls both the Germans on the Eastern Front, and the Allied armies attacking across the Siegfried Line in the west and in Italy. The obvious major benefit of this approach is that both players get to attack and defend on different fronts during the same game turn.
The magazine-style game rules are generally well-organized and clearly written; moreover, at only eight pages, including illustrations and game charts, they are also short. Rules errata and corrections are minimal, although Decision Games did manage to botch up the game map’s Turn Record/Reinforcement Track by mislabeling the end-point of the Collapse in the East scenario: this scenario actually ends at the conclusion of game turn six, not turn two, as the DG turn record track indicates. Scenario instructions and set-ups are incorporated directly into the rules booklet; there are no separate scenario cards or set-up sheets included with the game. Rules changes, thankfully, are few: replacements in the DG edition may move their full movement allowance after placement; this is a small change from the SPI version that counted the placement hex against the replacement unit’s available movement allowance. Another rules change worth noting is the introduction of German and Soviet forces off-map, in Courland. The German player may transfer one of the four German corps that starts the game in the Courland “box” to one of two Axis-controlled ports on the Baltic Coast beginning with the Replacement Phase of game turn two. Only one such transfer may be attempted each game turn, and this move is not completely risk-free: there is a one-sixth chance of each of these units being sunk on the turn of its transfer. As soon as all four German corps have been withdrawn from the off-map “box,” the Soviet player may then bring the two Soviet Fronts that were stationed off-map onto a playable hex at any point along the north map edge. Although it is not specifically stated in the rules, the arrival of these German Courland transfers during the Replacement Phase of the game turn suggests that, like replacements, they are free to move their full movement allowance on the same turn that they arrive in Germany.
The 17” x 22” colored game map depicts virtually all of the terrain of Southern and Central Europe over which the historical fighting raged. The playing surface, although physically not very large, nonetheless represents a geographical area that extends from Eastern France and the Low Countries in the west to the Polish plains in the east, and from Northern Italy and Yugoslavia in the south to East Prussia in the north. In addition, the Turn Record/Replacement Track, the three Strategic 'Front' Replacement Boxes, and the Terrain key are all printed directly on the game map for ease of reference. In the SPI version, the original two-color game map had the Historical Scenario starting positions for every unit printed directly on the game map. The Decision Games version does not. Players often disagree on the value of this map aid, but however an individual player may feel about unit locations printed on game maps, there is no doubt that this change in the DG map noticeably increases set-up time, particularly for players new to the game. One additional change that shows up in the Decision Games version of the game map is that the East Prussian city of Konigsberg is now fortified; unfortunately for the German player, this defensive improvement is, given the normal flow of the game, virtually irrelevant.
The Combat Results Table (CRT) for BATTLE FOR GERMANY is the familiar odds-differential type. Interestingly, its ordering of random outcomes actually both increases the effectiveness of low-odds attacks, and also makes combat results somewhat “bloodier” than those of the typical NAW CRT. In fact, the only combat odds on this CRT that do not hold some possibility of a loss (whether A Elim or Exchange) for the attacker is an attack at 1 to 2. Attacks at 1 to 1 have a one-sixth chance of an Exchange, a one-sixth chance of an AB2, and a two-thirds chance of a DB2 result. By way of comparison, a 4 to 1 attack in BATTLE FOR GERMANY is exactly the same, at least in probable combat outcomes, as a 3 to 1 on the traditional Avalon Hill CRT. Odds of 3 to 1 or above are required before the attacker has any prospect at all of rolling a D Elim result. Moreover, increasing combat odds does little to reduce the possibility of expensive Exchanges. At 5 to 1 odds, although an attacker has a one-half chance of rolling a D Elim, he still risks a one-third chance of an Exchange. Even at the maximum allowed 7 to 1 odds, the attacker is guaranteed a D Elim only five-sixths of the time; there still remains a one-sixth possibility of rolling an Exchange. Because of this distribution of combat results, “toe-to-toe” slugging matches between the opposing armies tend to produce lots of bloody Exchanges; the real key to this combat system — for the player who wants to establish offensive momentum and favorable attrition without excessive losses — is the creation, through carefully-timed attacker advances, of combat situations in which “surrounded” attacks against enemy units become possible. This is particularly important in this game because units may not retreat through enemy ZOCs or onto or through friendly stacks!
Unit counters in BATTLE FOR GERMANY represent the historical corps, armies, and fronts that actually took part in the final campaigns; in addition, the game counters from both versions of the game are clearly printed and easy to read. In the original SPI game, German units were gray, Russian units were colored red, and all of the western Allied units were olive green. In the DG game, units from every nationality (and even the SS) now have their own colors. If nothing else, this change makes for a much more colorful game map. Another more important change in the Decision Games’ version of BATTLE FOR GERMANY is that it increases the original SPI counter-mix from 100 to 120 units. These additional counters all show up in the Orders of Battle for the Wehrmacht and the Red Army; the number of units assigned to the western Allies remains unchanged. Besides the additional Courland forces already mentioned, the biggest increase in the unit counts of both the Soviet army and the Wehrmacht occur in the southern region of the game map around Yugoslavia and Hungary. This deviation from the original SPI design alters the flow and tempo of the game in several ways. It has the effect of accelerating the Soviet offensives against Budapest and Vienna, while, at the same time, creating an additional pool of badly-needed Axis units that can now be made available for transfer to the central front. Interestingly, the DG version of the game also increases the combat strength of a number of German units, while, at the same time, it reduces the movement allowance of a sizeable number of German infantry corps from five movement points to four.
Victory is determined at the end of the game on the basis of victory points. The side with the most points, except in the three-player game, wins; in the three-player game, the German player wins if he still holds Berlin at the end of the game, regardless of the final point totals of the other two players. The competing sides gain victory points by being the last to move through or occupy cities; enemy and friendly combat losses are irrelevant. Berlin is worth ten victory points; all other cities on the map are worth either one or two victory points. The Red Army, unlike the other belligerents, must meet one additional victory point requirement: a Soviet Front must occupy and garrison any two-point cities that fall to Russian forces within one turn of the city’s capture. Once it enters a two-point city, the garrisoning Front unit may not move, and is not required to retreat as a result of combat. It is important to note that the Soviet player receives NO victory points for any two-point city that he fails to garrison both on time and in the manner prescribed.
SITTING DOWN TO PLAY
BATTLE FOR GERMANY offers six different scenarios, or mini-games: the two-player Historical Scenario (10 game turns long); the Expanded Historical Scenario (16 turns); Collapse in the East (6 game turns); Red Star/White Star: Patton’s Fantasy (6 game turns); the Three-Player Game (10 game turns); and the Four-Player Game (10 game turns long). And although it is tempting to go straight to the Historical Scenario, I strongly recommend that players looking at the game for the first time start with the simpler and shorter Collapse in the East Scenario. This East Front scenario is only six turns long, and simulates the crushing Russian “steamroller” advance through Poland and Hungary towards the German Fatherland. Because only the eastern half of the game map is fought over and none of the western forces are used, it is much easier to set up and play. Thus, all things considered, beginning with this shorter, simpler scenario is probably the best way for players to quickly develop both an understanding of the mechanics of the game system, and of the probable flow and tempo of play. Once new players have tried Collapse in the East a time or two, they will then be ready to confidently move on to the more challenging and interesting Historical Scenario.
GAME NOTESThe NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO Game System used in BATTLE FOR GERMANY is clean, logical, and easy to learn. This is probably the reason that SPI has used some version of this game system in an impressively large number of its different titles. It has appeared in a number of other Napoleonic games including, but not limited to, the quadri-games NAPOLEON AT WAR and NAPOLEON’S LAST BATTLES; it has also been used for both of SPI’s Civil War quadri-games, BLUE AND GREY I & II. The NAW game system even showed up, strangely enough, in SPI’s magazine game on modern naval operations, SIXTH FLEET. Interestingly, almost every one of the titles that SPI published using this system possessed a few idiosyncrasies that subtly affected each game’s play. BATTLE FOR GERMANY, like its cousins, is no exception. So what follows are a few tips, based on many hours spent playing 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 the Historical Scenario of BATTLE FOR GERMANY.
The Rules of CombatThe very simplicity of BATTLE FOR GERMANY’s combat rules can trip up the unsuspecting. The first thing that a first-time player should understand is that, unlike most of the other games using this system, zones of control, although rigid, are not “sticky,” and combat between adjacent enemy units is not mandatory. In addition, the attacker may not voluntarily reduce his combat odds in order to minimize the likelihood of Exchanges. This means that: while the phasing player need not use every adjacent unit to attack, any units that are involved in a specific combat must be counted at their full attack value in computing final odds. The times when this is particularly awkward are those when a player is forced to attack an enemy stack that is powerful enough defensively to require the attacking force to lose two units as a result of an Exchange. In such an instance, the attacker must employ at least three units in his attack to be guaranteed of having a surviving unit that can advance if the defender is retreated or eliminated. And however many units actually participate in a successful attack, only one of the victorious units may advance to occupy the defender’s vacated hex.
Not surprisingly, these considerations directly influence the tactics of the game. Using the Red Army as an example, an assault against a German stack totaling only nine defense factors will typical require a Russian attacking force composed of three units in some combination of 7-7-4s, 6-4-6s, and perhaps an 8-20-3. The best possible attack that the Soviet commander could obtain from two hexes (more on this, later) is a 3 to 1 which offers a 16% chance of a D Elim, a 33% chance of an Exchange, and a 50% chance of a DB2. More likely, however, the attack will probably end up being a 2 to 1: an attack that offers a one-third possibility of an Exchange and a two-thirds possibility of a DB2. Optimally, the Russian player would almost always prefer to exchange two 6-4-6s, but since the Red Army only has six of these fast-moving tank armies, this may not always be possible. Being forced to Exchange a pair of 7-7-4s is painful, and losing even a single 8-20-3 is almost always unacceptable. The Russian player also has, at his disposal, a certain number of lower-value Soviet Allied units; these units, however, are — at least after the first few game turns — often a poor choice for use in exchanges. This is because, when these smaller Soviet Allied units are eliminated, they must be returned to play before any larger, faster Russian units may reenter the game as replacements.
Since high odds attacks tend to produce heavy attrition for both the attacker and the defender, an obvious question presents itself: Is there anything that the attacking player can do to limit his casualties when making head-on assaults? The short answer is: sort of. In certain cases, lower-odds attacks may be the best or even the only option available to the phasing player. A 1 to 1 attack, for example, has only a one-sixth chance of an Exchange, a one-sixth possibility of an AB2, and a two-thirds chance of a DB2. 1 to 2 attacks can also be used to good effect in BATTLE FOR GERMANY since they have a one-third chance of producing a DB2 and a two-thirds chance of an AB2. However, these types of assaults will most often be used by the Allied forces in the west, both against the layered and powerful West Wall and Rhine defenses, and against the German fortified line in Northern Italy. The Red Army commander will typically use lower-odds attacks rarely, and when he does, these assaults will usually be directed either against the Axis forces fighting in the mountains of the far south, or against powerful East German stacks defending behind the Vistula or Oder Rivers.
ReplacementsIn all of the BATTLE FOR GERMANY scenarios — except for the six turn Red Star/White Star: Patton’s Fantasy mini-game — all three belligerents can, beginning on turn two, return previously eliminated units to play. In the ten turn Historical Game, the Western Allies can bring back up to two corps of any type per game turn, from among those units previously lost in Italy or on the Western Front. The Soviet player may bring back two units on game turns two through five and then one unit per game turn thereafter. The German situation is slightly more complicated: the East Germans may replace one unit each game turn starting on game turn two; the West Germans, however, may only bring in a total of four replacement corps; the first appearing on turn two and the other three spaced out over the remaining eight game turns. Both German players do have one advantage over their adversaries, however; German replacements for either front may double their movement factor on the game turn of entry. In addition, in the cases of both the Soviet and German armies — but not, interestingly enough, the Western Allies — the unit with the lowest attack factor must be replaced first. Also, replacements may not be accumulated; if an army — typically the Western Allies in the late stages of the game — has no units to return to play, then the replacement allowance for that game turn is permanently lost.
In the ten turn Historical Scenario, the East and West Germans are saddled with a thirteen to thirty-one unit disadvantage when their combined replacement allowances are compared to the potential totals of their two adversaries. This fact, coupled with the inevitable East Front first turn losses that are built into the game’s opening set-up, means that the powerful East German panzer corps, once eliminated, are out of play permanently. Instead, the German forces facing the Russians will, in almost all cases, be bringing in a steady stream of “2” attack strength replacements from the second turn through to the end of the game. Only on the Western Front, where the Wehrmacht is both qualitatively stronger and in much better defensive terrain, does the West German player occasionally have the opportunity to replace a few powerful infantry or even panzer units. This huge disadvantage in replacement capacity is, for the Wehrmacht, probably the central challenge posed by the BATTLE FOR GERMANY. How the two German players choose to deal with this problem will, to a large degree, determine their individual prospects for victory.
Stacking, Odds, and Delay Units: 'STALINGRAD' RevisitedThe first time I played the SPI version of BATTLE FOR GERMANY, I was struck by a curious sense of déjà vu. In this introductory match, I played the Allies and East Germans. The flow and tempo of the game seemed oddly familiar, and this familiarity was not because of the NAW game system; then it came to me: the game system rewarded many of the same tactics that I had first learned playing Avalon Hill’s old standby, STALINGRAD many years before! For those newer players who are unfamiliar with STALINGRAD, effective Russian defensive play depends on controlling the odds available to the attacking Germans; this is done through the use of terrain and can only be accomplished if the Russian player has a clear understanding of the German Army’s maximum stacking in one, two, and three hexes. The other key element necessary to a successful Russian defense is the tactic of economical delay: that is, the assiduous use of weak, easily-replaced units to cover broad open swaths of the front line. This strategy of using weak blocking units works only because, unlike some other games, there are no “automatic victories” (AVs) or “overruns” in STALINGRAD. Interestingly, there are no AVs or “overruns” possible in BATTLE FOR GERMANY either; therefore any unit, however weak, can hold a section of the front — even against overwhelming odds — for at least a single game turn. And stacking, as already noted, is limited to only two units per hex. These two factors form the heart of defensive tactics in BATTLE FOR GERMANY.
Stated a different way: what all this really means is that, for both the East and West German players, the potential strength of enemy attacks is easy to predict and thus, at least in the early game turns, is easy to plan against. For instance, the maximum attack that the Soviets can launch from one hex is fifteen attack factors; from two hexes it is thirty factors; and from three hexes, forty-five factors. This stacking is based on the fact that only one Soviet Front (8-20-3) may occupy a hex. On the Western Front — because the most powerful Allied unit on attack is an armored corps (7-4-8) of which they only have four — the Allies are limited to stacking fourteen attack factors in one hex, twenty-eight attack factors in two hexes, and forty factors in three hexes. And in Italy, the Allies may only attack with ten factors from one hex, eighteen factors from two hexes, and twenty-six factors (the entire Allied Army in Italy) from three hexes. Given these restrictions on Soviet and Allied stacking, what tactical implications do these limits hold for the Germans?
Obviously, both German players should use every available defensive advantage to blunt their enemies’ offensive options. This means that they must make every effort, because of the anemic German replacement rates, to restrict the odds of both Allied and Soviet attacks as much as possible in order to minimize the possibility of costly Exchanges. To accomplish this goal, both German players should, whenever feasible, position their units so as to exploit the relationship between the defensive multiplier effects of terrain and the limits of enemy stacking. On the Western Front, for example, a single West German infantry corps with a basic defense factor of “5,” when tripled, due to terrain, can only be attacked by the Allies at 1 to 1 from two hexes; two such units stacked together in the same hex can only be attacked at 1 to 2. Because the defensive effects of terrain are cumulative in BATTLE FOR GERMANY, there are many sectors of both the Italian and the Western Fronts where, at least during the early game turns, the Allies will be unable to attack at odds greater than 1 to 2. Such German defensive opportunties, unfortunately, are few and far between in the east, especially in the area of the North Polish Plains. In this critical sector of the Russian Front, the East Germans have little besides a section of the Vistula River to shelter behind, and even this defensive river barrier will typically be rolled up from south to north fairly quickly. Thus, because a sizeable part of his front line will cross open ground, the German player must attempt to defend in these exposed areas using a linear combination of strong defensive stacks and weak delay units. And, of necessity, the East German player’s goals will have to be less ambitious than those of his counterpart in the west. On the wide-open Polish Plains, the Germans will have to be satisfied with restricting most Soviet attacks to 2 to1 or worse. And even that won’t be easy. Still, the key to this Axis tactical approach is, wherever possible, for the East German player to maintain a straight front that follows the hex grain of the map. This type of defensive line will usually form an inverted “V” that points east. A weak delay unit occupies the apex of the “V” while German stacks totaling ten or eleven factors are positioned in the open in such a way that these exposed units can only be attacked by the Soviets from two hexes. With careful positioning, the East German player can, at least for a time, anchor his flanks on the Carpathian Mountains in the south and the Vistula River in the north, and, by so doing, restrict Soviets attacks against undoubled German units to only a few hexes in the center.
Three Different Fronts; Three Different Problems
The West:The Allied units attacking the Siegfried Line in the west have a very difficult time of it in the early game turns. The West German forces are numerous, powerful, and well-positioned to block an Allied advance. And except for the region of the lower Rhine, German defenses are deeply-layered; thus, line after line must be forced before the Allies have any chance of breaking out into open terrain. Moreover, on the first turn of the game, there is a good chance that the Allies will see as many as three of their corps eliminated by German attacks before any Allied unit even gets a chance to move. Moreover, the West German forces will be able to mount multiple credible counterattack threats for much of the game. None-the-less, the Western Allies have one important advantage: replacements. General Eisenhower’s armies are able to replace, starting on game turn two, two units every turn through the end of the game; Field Marshal Model’s Army Group B, on the other hand, is only able to bring back four corps through turn ten. Thus, for the Western Allies, attrition is really the name of the game. The Allies must maintain constant pressure all along the German front until accumulated territorial gains and German casualties finally push the German defenders past the breaking point. This is why the area of the lower Rhine — running from Cologne to the North Sea — is vitally important to Allied offensive plans: it offers a battle area in which the German defenses are weakest, but for which the West Germans must still fight, whatever the cost. If the Allies are to succeed in finally breaking through the German line and in gaining freedom of maneuver, then they will almost always do so here.
Italy:In the Historical Scenario, the Italian Front is, as it was in actuality, pretty much a strategic sideshow. The Germans have both a lot of excellent defensive terrain and a sufficient number of high quality units to hold their line indefinitely. The very most that the Allies can hope for in Italy, when facing a skillful adversary, is to slowly batter the Germans out of their fortified line and back into the Alpine terrain to the north. If the Allies catch a few breaks then they might capture a city or two, but they are definitely going to end the game pretty close to where they started in this theater of operations.
Italy becomes much more interesting in the Three-Player Scenario, or in a variant of the Historical Scenario which also happens to be a personal favorite of mine: a two-player game in which one player controls all of the Soviet and Allied forces, and the other player controls both the East and West Germans. In these two game situations, the transfer of German units between fronts becomes possible, and, because of this fact, there will often be some unit shuffling into and out of Italy. Typically, a shrewd German player will transfer one or more lower quality units into Italy as quickly as possible, so that he can dispatch some of the more powerful corps on the Italian front to other distant battle areas where their presence would be more useful.
The East:On the Western Front and in Italy, the West German player can, with a little luck and a lot of skill, occasionally fight the Allies to a virtual stalemate; this is not the case on the Eastern Front. In the east there is no doubt as to whether the Germans will give ground in the face of the advancing Russians; the only questions are how fast, and at what cost? East German problems begin before the game even starts: with the opening set-up. A sizeable number of German units begin the game either vulnerable to being surrounded or exposed to high-odds Soviet attacks. And since the red Army moves and attacks first, there is nothing that the East German player can do about the first turn except hope that the Russian player is unlucky, very unlucky.
Different Soviet players, as might be expected, will opt for different first turn moves, depending on their individual temperaments and strategic goals. For my own part, when I play the Russians I attack the German front virtually from one end to the other. If my attacks go very well, I can destroy as many as eleven German corps on the first game turn; if they go very badly, I might eliminate as few as two; the average, however, is five to seven German corps sent to the “replacements box” by the end of the opening round of Russian attacks. I suspect that, based on my experience with other players, this level of German casualties is probably pretty typical.
Confronted with a potential first turn “bloodbath,” what should the East German player do? The short answer is “suck it up” and don’t permit these initial losses, however ghastly, to rattle you. The East Germans, particularly in the DG version of the game, have a reservoir of powerful units available both in the Courland Box and in the south around Budapest that can be transferred, albeit slowly, to the central front. Begin shifting these units as soon as possible; position the surviving corps in the center to hold onto as much of the Vistula as is prudent. Admittedly, the Russians will force a crossing at the eastern-most part of this key river line on the first game turn, but the Germans can still take defensive advantage of much of the remainder of the river; this will deny the Red Army high-odds attacks against any German corps except for one or two delay units on the second game turn. From here on out, the East German player should rely on the linear tactics discussed previously to keep his losses as low as possible, at least through game turn five. Remember: the Soviet player will be more or less impervious to exchanges for the first half of the game; on turn six, however, Russian replacements are cut in half, and the Soviet player will often be forced to modify the aggressiveness of his offensive drive in order to limit his own losses. A German 2-3-4 suddenly becomes a lot more powerful — especially during the last few game turns — when the only Soviet unit that can attack it is an 8-20-3 front.
Tactics for the Defense of the ReichBATTLE FOR GERMANY, because of the unique approach it takes to modeling the historical campaign, offers both players abundant opportunities to attack and defend, even if these separate actions take place on different fronts. For my own part, however, I find the hopelessness of the German defensive problem interesting; so whenever possible, I volunteer to play the East and West Germans, and allow my opponent to command the more powerful Allies. This predilection to take on the challenges of the German defense has, if nothing else, shown me a small number of tactical tricks that — whatever the unique circumstances of any particular game — I tend to use over and over again. So, for those who are curious, here is a brief list.
First, whenever possible, I have found that the German player should try to shelter his panzers from attack for as long as possible, particularly on the Eastern Front. As the game develops, opportunities will arise for the Germans to launch surrounded counterattacks against advancing Allied units. German armor is usually essential to the success of these counterblows; for this reason, the panzers should be conserved for as long as possible. But not too long! The BATTLE FOR GERMANY CRT is bloody enough that German armored strength will gradually be worn away if only because of persistent enemy 1 to 1 attacks. Given this fact, I don’t usually expect to have much panzer strength left in the East after turn six or so. For this reason, I will usually try to counterpunch in the earlier game turns before the German panzers just melt away. Remember, advances after combat, even by powerful units, can still present counterattack opportunities; with this CRT, even a surrounded 1 to 2 has a 33% chance of eliminating the target unit without any real risk to the attacker. This means that the Germans, although on the strategic defensive, should always be on the lookout for chances to damage their enemies; even low-odds German counterattacks can have real teeth.
Second, one advantage of the DG version of the game is that the German player has been provided with a significantly larger pool of powerful (“5+” defense strength) infantry units than in the SPI original. Although most of these stronger infantry corps are in the far south and in Courland, the German player should begin to bring them into action on the Polish Plains as soon as possible. The most significant effect of this increase in German combat power is that the East German player will now be able to deploy a greater number of defensive stacks totaling nine defense factors or more than previously, and without risking his valuable panzer units. These stacks can, at most, be attacked by the Red Army at 3 to 1 from two hexes (linear tactics, remember). And while a 3 to 1 attack does yield a 16% chance of a D Elim, it still offers a 33% chance of an Exchange, and a 50% chance of a DB2. While not great, these are still not terrible percentages for the Germans, especially in light of the fact that an Exchange will require the elimination of two Russian units along with the two German defenders.
Third, several of the German panzer corps in the west have had both their attack and defense strengths increased. Since I always attack the surrounded American corps on the first turn at 1 to 1, this increase in German combat power comes in very handy. In addition, this change also means that Exchanges against Allied units, particularly infantry corps, are not nearly as punishing as they were in the original SPI game. And yet another benefit of this increase in panzer strength is that it insures that a more potent and aggressive defense can now be mounted against Allied attempts to force the lower Rhine. One critical element in the defense of the lower Rhine, by the way, is to replace the elite 1st Para with other weaker units as quickly as possible so that this German (5-11-4) defensive powerhouse can sideslip east to defend the northern bend of the river. In the meantime, the fight to hold the powerful German fortified line southwest of Cologne can be left mainly to the German infantry; virtually all of the panzers in the Ardennes should slide north, as soon as practicable, towards the Ruhr and the lower Rhine.
Fourth, the Italian Front becomes much more interesting to the German player the instant that units can be swapped from one theater to another. Usually I use strategic movement to transfer the 4th Panzer Grenadier Corps from the East Front to Italy on turn one. On turn two, I will begin preparations to move the powerful 2nd Para (4-9-4) in staged strategic jumps from Italy to its final destination somewhere east of the Rhine River near Cologne and Essen. On more than one occasion, this powerful unit has arrived just in time to block an Allied breakout into the Ruhr.
Fifth, if the Red Army has sustained significant losses due to Exchanges, it is sometimes worthwhile for the Germans to counterattack one or more of the weaker Soviet Allied units just to postpone the return of the stronger and faster Russian armies. It can be very frustrating for the Soviet player to have to replace these slow-moving units when he has more valuable Russian tank and infantry armies sitting in his Replacement Box. It is even more frustrating still, if a valuable, but slow-moving Soviet Front has been eliminated.
Sixth and last, the DG version of BATTLE FOR GERMANY adds, among other new German units, an SS cavalry corps to the East Front forces deployed in the far south near Yugoslavia. This unit is usually more valuable on the main front than in the Yugoslavian backwater, so I will often expose it to a high-odds Soviet attack in the hopes that it will be eliminated and sent to the East German Replacement pool. Once there, it will become the East Front replacement of choice for much of the rest of the game. The reason: its movement allowance (when doubled) permits it to reach almost any sector of the Eastern Front that requires a sacrifice unit on the same game turn that it reenters play. Because the slower-moving 2-3-4s and 2-4-4s typically require two turns to reach the front — especially during the early stages of the game — this speedy little cavalry corps insures that more valuable German units don’t have to be wasted as delay units while their less useful brethren are making their way to the front.
CONCLUSIONSimple games tend to get a bad rap from far too many gamers. The lack of complexity and historical detail offered by these titles has, for many years now, encouraged a vocal segment within the hobby to dismiss them as a waste of time for experienced players. I occasionally find that I am guilty of this bias, myself. None-the-less, I think that this wide-spread prejudice against small, simple games misses the point. Speaking as a player who, over the years, has logged hundreds of hours in the play of a variety of different monster games, I personally find quite a few of these small, uncluttered designs to be both a great change of pace from their bigger, more complicated brethren, and great fun.
Such is the case with BATTLE FOR GERMANY. This game, despite its age and uncomplicated game system, offers an easy-to-learn and very enjoyable simulation of the last stages of the greatest series of military offensives in history. The basic premise of the game is simple: Hitler’s Third Reich — outnumbered, bled white after almost six years of total war, and beset on all sides by powerful enemy armies — continues to fight on; the Wehrmacht, instead of capitulating, conducts a desperate, if hopeless, defense of Germany right up to the bitter end. I don’t know why, but this historical situation, despite the certainty of its ultimate outcome, really works for me. In addition, the inclusion of a set of additional scenarios means that, even if a player doesn’t care that much for the Historical Game, he can still experiment for many hours with this title and not exhaust its different possibilities. Granted, BATTLE FOR GERMANY does not rank very high as an accurate or detailed simulation — it is, after all, probably as good an example as one can find of a true “beer and pretzels” game — nonetheless, it still has enough historical color to make it attractive to the player who is genuinely interested in the final campaigns that brought about the collapse of the Third Reich. Finally, BATTLE FOR GERMANY makes a great introductory game: it is intuitively logical, and extremely easy, even for a complete novice, to learn how to play. Moreover, its central game problem makes it an excellent candidate for solitaire play. And, lest we forget the regular game player: BATTLE FOR GERMANY, in my opinion, has more than enough competitive excitement to make it enjoyable to the typical gamer who is just looking for a fun, well-balanced, and interesting challenge.
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