SPI, THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE (1973)

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THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE is an operational simulation — based on the KURSK Game System — of the German attempt to break through a thinly-held section of the American front in December, 1944. The game was designed by James F. Dunnigan, and published in 1973 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

American soldiers assume defensive
positions in the Ardennes
At 0530 on 16 December 1944, a massive German offensive, code-named “Wacht am Rhein,” 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 sparsely-defended portion 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 a simple one: the Wehrmacht would tear a hole in a weak section of the American line and then rush powerful panzer forces through the newly-formed gap; as soon as the leading panzers had forced a crossing of the Meuse River and gained freedom of maneuver, they would then pivot northwest and drive on the Allied supply port of Antwerp.

German tank, The Battle of the Bulge.
Hitler’s offensive began well, and early German gains in some sectors were dramatic. Near the center of the American front, Hasso von Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army quickly broke through General Troy Middleton’s US VIIIth Corps. After a short, sharp fight von Manteuffel’s panzers shattered the American 28th Division and began their drive west through the Ardennes. On the night of 18 December, elements of the 2nd Panzer Division unexpectedly ran into an ad-hoc American unit, Task Force Harper, and a short violent clash erupted. TF Harper could not stop the Germans, and 2nd Panzer soon pushed its way over and through the outnumbered Americans. At this point in the campaign, 2nd Panzer could have swept unopposed into Bastogne, but the Germans bypassed the town, and by the next morning, the opportunity had passed. During the night the 501st Parachute Regiment arrived and immediately took up defensive positions around Bastogne. If the Germans wanted the town now, they would have to fight for it.

Subsequent events would show that von Manteuffel’s men had made a costly mistake. The hasty decision to bypass Bastogne, although the local panzer commanders didn’t realize it at the time, had put the whole German offensive in jeopardy. And it was a lost opportunity that would come back to haunt the Germans as the battle wore on.

American soldiers on an Ardennes forest road.
The rough terrain and forests of the Ardennes, even today, make off-road movement for both wheeled and tracked vehicles difficult and often impossible. In December, 1944, roads — particularly roads running east to west, and their junctions — were crucial to the German offensive timetable, and seven different roads passed through Bastogne. Although the initial wave of panzers had bypassed the town, the Germans knew that they had to capture Bastogne: possession of this Belgian hamlet was crucial to the continued supply of their armored spearhead that was still driving towards the Meuse. The Allies, also recognizing the importance of Bastogne, had rushed the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division forward to occupy the town and dig in. The newly-arrived American defenders had been ordered to hold Bastogne whatever the cost; the attacking Germans were just as committed to its capture: one of the great sieges of World War II was about to unfold.

DESCRIPTION


THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE is a two-player operational (division/brigade/regiment) level simulation of the decisive period — 16 December, 1944 through 2 January, 1945 — during which the outcome of Hitler’s final desperate gamble — the last great German offensive in the West — was decided.

The playing area of the game map represents the Ardennes, a forested region where the frontiers of Germany, Belgium, France, and Luxembourg all intersect. This was the area in which most of the major action of the historical battle actually took place. The two-color game map is relatively unambiguous, although a few terrain changes are required; these, however, have been noted in the game errata. In addition, for ease of set-up, the historical positions for all of the starting units are printed on the game map.



THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE is played in game turns which are further divided into a German and an Allied player turn. One player controls the Germans, and the other player commands the American and British forces that fought to thwart Hitler’s offensive plans. The German player is always the first to act. Each player turn proceeds in the following order: the Reinforcement Phase; the Supply Determination Phase; the Initial Movement Phase; the Combat Phase; and the Mechanized Movement Phase. On the first game turn only, the Allied player may not move any of his eligible units during the Initial Movement Phase. Interestingly, neither player may move any otherwise eligible units during the Mechanized Movement Phase if they fought during the immediately preceding Combat Phase. For this reason, unengaged mechanized reserves are critically important for both sides.

Supply, as it did in the historical campaign, plays a critical role in THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE; for this reason, the rules governing the determination of supply status for both sides are both detailed and comparatively complicated. Supply effects, on the other hand, are fairly straight forward: “supplied” units operate using their face combat and movement values; “unsupplied” units are halved on attack and in movement; “isolated” units are both halved on defense and in movement, and their attack strength is reduced to zero. Zones of Control (ZOCs) are “rigid” and individual units must halt movement upon entering and may not exit an enemy ZOC, unless stacked with one or more other friendly units. In this case, one unit “absorbs” the enemy ZOC, allowing the other units in the hex to exit or even to infiltrate around the enemy unit’s flanks. Stacking of combat units is limited to one “division equivalent” per hex. There are no artillery units included in the counter-mix; however, the influence of artillery on the battle is neatly reproduced through an abstract but restrictive (for the German player, at least) set of "bridge interdiction" rules. Combat is resolved using an “odds differential” Combat Results Table (CRT), but there are two different CRTs: the Initial German CRT and the Standard CRT. As is typical with the KURSK family of games, combat results tend to be of the “bloodless” variety with most battles producing retreat results (in varying numbers of hexes) for one or the other player. Defender Eliminated and Exchange results do not even appear until odds of 4 to 1, or higher. Terrain Effects are relatively uncomplicated. As might be expected, rivers represent a serious barrier to movement and the “West Wall” hexes multiply the defensive value of defending German units. The most important terrain effect is that of towns: units defending in towns are affected only by DE and Exchange results; all retreat results (whether DR or AR) are ignored. Needless-to-say, this rule has a profound effect on the overall flow of the game.

Victory is determined on the basis of victory points; these points can be amassed by the German player through the capture of geographical objectives, and, for both players, through the destruction of enemy combat strength.

THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE, besides the Historical Game, also offers nine additional scenarios, each of which allows the players to experiment with different set-up and reinforcement options. Conveniently, these alternative game situations have been scored by the designer as to which side they favor, and so can be used to vary lines of play or to adjust play-balance between unequal opponents. There are no “optional rules.”


A PERSONAL OBSERVATION

German soldier in the Ardennes.
Over four decades ago, James F. Dunnigan — while still an unknown college student — wrote a letter to the Avalon Hill Game Company complaining about the many historical inaccuracies in TAHGC’s THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE ’65. For reasons that are still unclear to this day, Tom Shaw, who ran Avalon Hill during this period, was so impressed with Dunnigan’s comments that he offered the neophyte game critic an opportunity to design a game of his own: an offer, unfortunately, that resulted in the publication of probably two of the most widely-detested Avalon Hill games of all time, JUTLAND (1967) and 1914 (1968). Dunnigan’s first attempt at a naval game (JUTLAND), followed by his game of World War I ground combat on the Western Front (1914) were neither of them, as they say, roaring commercial or critical successes. In spite of these disappointing first two outings, Dunnigan persevered. In 1969, he founded Simulations Publication, Inc (SPI) and took over the publication of the then struggling S&T game magazine. It was a fortuitous move. In the space of a few years, Dunnigan — along with the help of graphics whiz, Redmond Simonsen — turned SPI into the most prolific game publisher of its day.

General Hasso von Manteuffel.
Looking back at Dunnigan’s long tenure at SPI, it is clear that his interest in the Battle of the Bulge never really waned. In fact, SPI published a half dozen titles, over the next two decades that covered all or part of this famous battle, beginning with BASTOGNE, a Dunnigan designed S&T magazine game that first saw print in 1969. BASTOGNE ’69, to be generous, was received with less than enthusiastic reviews: it appeared, at first blush, to be more historically accurate than BULGE ’65, but it also proved, in the eyes of many gamers, to be a lot less playable (read: fun) than its Avalon Hill counterpart. THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE, which appeared four years later, was a return trip to the “Bulge” well for Dunnigan. This second game was the next to the last time (BULGE, published in 1980 and then rechristened as THE BIG RED ONE, would be his last) that the prolific designer tackled the subject personally, and as such, it is an interesting take on how Dunnigan had come to view the battle by this time in his career as a designer. In BASTOGNE ’69, the “orders of battle” and “terrain” were the main focus of the game; in his second design, the Ardennes road net and the initial unit congestion in the German assembly areas are clearly — in Dunnigan’s view, at least — the key factors in the critical early stages of the campaign. This means that for some players, THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE may seem a little cumbersome; and despite its comparatively simple game system, I should also note that it is not an easy game to play well. Large scale maneuver, even with road movement, is often difficult; and concentrating an assaulting force against a strongly-held enemy position (particularly towns) is usually time-consuming, complicated, and frustrating. This combination of factors tends to produce a regular pattern of play: deep initial armored penetrations by the Germans during the first five to seven game turns, followed — assuming that neither player has made any serious mistakes — by a grinding World War I style Allied counter-offensive during the remaining turns of the game. Thus, an obvious game dynamic seems to be 'baked' into the simulation, and the result is that the Allies almost never seem to have many strategic options. Because the Germans can seal the Northeast and Southeast map edges with incoming assault gun brigades and a few weak infantry regiments, the Allied player usually has no choice but to push the Wehrmacht back with frontal attacks against the leading edge of the German “bulge.” The panzers probably aren’t going to get to Antwerp in the Historical Game, but the Germans may well still be able to stall the Allied advance long enough to eke out a win.

General George S. Patton.
So where does all this leave us? I would argue that despite its several design quirks, THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE is still an intriguing, if somewhat unorthodox, treatment of the Battle of the Bulge. More than that, however, this title’s modified KURSK game mechanics offer a clue about the future direction of WW II designs at SPI. Like Dunnigan’s EL ALAMEIN — also published in 1973 — it seems to be a precursor of the PANZER GRUPPE GUDERIAN Game System to come. A game system that, in the eyes of many gamers, would finally reach its full potential with SPI’s release, in 1977, of perhaps the most detailed “Bulge” simulation ever published: ‘WACHT AM RHEIN’. Thus, for those gamers for whom the December, 1944 battle in the Ardennes holds a special fascination, and also for those players with an interest in the design evolution of armored warfare game systems, I recommend THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE highly.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: one day (24 hours) per game turn
  • Map Scale: 3.15 kilometers per hex
  • Unit Size: division/brigade/regiment
  • Unit Types: armor/panzer, armored infantry/panzer grenadier, assault gun, motorized paratroops, infantry, paratroop, engineer, and information counters
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: average
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 2-3+ hours

Game Components:

  • One 22” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with German and Allied Victory Point Tracks incorporat
  • 255 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8¾” x 11½” Rules Booklet (with Terrain Effects Chart, German Initial, and Standard Combat Results Tables incorporated)
  • One 7” x 23” Turn Record/Reinforcement Track
  • One 8½” x 11” Consolidated Errata & Addenda (as of 31 May 1973)
  • One small six-sided Die
  • One SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment cardboard Tombstone-style Game Box (with clear compartment tray cover)

Recommended Reading

See my blog post Book Reviews of most of these titles; all six 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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HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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As we celebrate this Thanksgiving with our families and friends, let us take a moment to remember all those whose lives and circumstances have been made more precarious by our Nation’s current economic problems. And let us also remember those who presently serve in faraway places on our behalf. This year has been a challenging time for many Americans, but let us hope and pray that the year to come will be better and more prosperous for all of our fellow citizens, both friends and strangers, alike.
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SPI, SINAI (1973)

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SINAI is a historical simulation of the 1956, 1967, and 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars. The game also includes a collection of hypothetical (what if?) scenarios for an Arab-Israeli War that might have occurred (but didn’t) in the mid 1970’s. SINAI was designed by James F. Dunnigan and published in 1973 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND


October 6, 1973 was Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. It was also the day on which Syria and Egypt suddenly attacked an unprepared Israel on two fronts simultaneously. The sudden large-scale offensive by Syrian forces on the thinly-held Golan Heights, in concert with the totally unforeseen, but crushing Egyptian breakthrough of the Bar-Lev Line on the east bank of the Suez Canal rocked the political and military leadership of Israel as few events had before. For the first few days after the initial Arab attacks, the Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, feared for the very survival of the Jewish State. However, it did not take long for the Israeli military leadership to recover its balance and to mount a counterattack.
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On 8 October 1973, General Schmuel Gonen, Commander of the Israeli Southern Front, ordered a full-scale armored offensive against the hastily-prepared Egyptian Sinai defenses east of the Suez Canal. His goal was to smash into the advanced Egyptian positions, break through and then push his armor into the enemy rear to rescue any surviving Israeli soldiers still holding out in parts of the Bar-Lev Line. Unlike previous Israeli-Arab engagements, however, the unthinkable happened: Egyptian soldiers held their ground and decimated the attacking Israeli armor with long-range Sagger missiles. General Gonen, shaken and confused by the unexpected failure of his attack, lapsed into a mental fugue; stunned by the defeat of his plan, the Israeli commander was unable to decide what to do next. Clearly, the resilience and defensive skill of the Egyptian Army had been a complete surprise to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) High Command, but something still had to be done about Sadat’s army on the east bank of the Suez Canal. A static IDF defense was not the answer; the Israeli tanks tied up against Egypt were desperately needed on the Golan Heights, where the Syrians continued to vigorously press their attack against the out-numbered Israeli defenders.

On 10 October, Gonen was quietly replaced by General Chaim Bar-Lev. By 11 October, Bar-Lev and two of his senior commanders, Major Generals Ariel Sharon and Avraham “Bren” Adan, had come up with a completely new plan of action: one that, all three men fervently hoped, would both encircle the Egyptian Third Army and reverse the military situation on the east bank of the Canal. Their plan was based on newly-obtained American reconnaissance photos that had revealed a narrow gap between the Egyptian Second and Third Armies. This audacious Israeli armored offensive was code-named “Operation Stouthearted Men,” and it would begin with Sharon’s division driving through the gap in the Egyptian front, while Adan’s division attacked the exposed flanks of the Second and Third Egyptian Armies. Once Sharon’s unit had slipped through the enemy lines, it would then advance on Deversoir, destroy any Egyptian forces that it encountered there, and then move on to quickly seize bridgeheads on both banks of the Suez Canal. If Sharon was successful in this critical first phase of his mission, a mobile bridging-train would immediately rush to the newly-captured bridgeheads, and once the portable bridge was emplaced, Israeli forces would pour cross the Canal and completely cut the Egyptian Third Army off from food, ammunition, and most importantly, from water.

Unfortunately, time was rapidly running out for the IDF. Faced with temporary stalemates in both the Sinai and on the Golan Heights, what Israel now needed more than anything else was a decisive battlefield victory: one that would transform the strategic situation and force the Jewish State’s enemies to seek peace on Israeli terms. And such a victory would have to come soon, before a UN ceasefire resolution could be forced on Israel that would end all fighting and preserve the existing Arab territorial gains. This daring armored operation, General Bar-Lev believed, could produce just such a victory. The jump-off date for “Operation Stouthearted Men” was fixed for 15 October, 1973. The ferocious clash that would result from this Israeli armored operation, however, would — in a matter of a few days — come to be known by a completely different name: the “Battle of Chinese Farm.”

DESCRIPTION


SINAI is a battalion/brigade level simulation of three of the most important wars that have, over the years, periodically erupted in the Middle East ever since the establishment, under UN auspices, of the Jewish State of Israel on 15 May, 1948. The planned centerpiece of this set of games was originally the ’67 War, but in the process of designing SINAI, the Yom Kippur (or Ramadan or October) War broke out. This unexpected development obliged SPI to postpone final publication of the game until the ’73 War had ended, and another set of scenarios based on the (then) latest installment in the chronicle of Arab-Israeli conflicts could be designed, developed, and play tested. The rapidly-changing face of the Yom Kippur War presented an unusual situation for the designer, Jim Dunnigan, who for the first time in his professional life, had to test his design assumptions against daily and sometimes contradictory newspaper stories. The effect on SINAI of these contemporaneous reports is inescapable. It is clear from the similar game systems used for the ’56 and ’67 Wars, and the significantly different system used for the ’73 War (and the hypothetical mid-70’s scenarios) that the unfolding battlefield developments led the designer to conclude that the force structures, doctrines, and weaponry of the belligerents had changed significantly from 1967 to 1973.

The ’56 and ’67 War scenarios in SINAI are played in game turns, each of which represents twelve hours of real time. The (12 hour) turn sequences for both the ’56 and ’67 War scenarios are identical, and follow a rigid sequence of player operations: (Israeli) supply phase; movement phase; combat phase; (Arab) command and control phase; supply phase; movement phase; combat phase; and Jordanian participation phase. Game mechanics for both scenarios are logical and uncluttered. Stacking is limited to three units per hex, and zones of control (ZOCs) are “rigid” but not “sticky.” Combat between adjacent units is voluntary, and “overrun” attacks are possible if the attacker can muster a sufficiently high attack differential against a weakly-defended enemy hex. The Supply Rules are comparatively simple: units are either “supplied” or “unsupplied.” However, the Supply Effects differ for the two sides: “unsupplied” Arab units may not attack, and are halved for movement and defense; “unsupplied” Israeli units, on the other hand, are halved in movement and attack, but their defense strength is unaffected. Interestingly, the game uses a “strength differential” rather than an “odds differential” type of Combat results Table (CRT). Terrain Effects are important both to movement and to combat, and, as might be expected, these rules affect the two sides very differently. The ’67 War scenarios also introduce Air Rules, but these are highly abstracted and, not surprisingly, strongly favor the Israeli player. If all of this wasn’t enough, Special Rules limiting Arab cooperation, command and control, movement, morale (panic), and supply capabilities all operate to further constrain the Arab player’s strategic and tactical options. In short: the Israeli player’s units have greater combat power, better mobility, fewer supply problems, and no command and control restrictions. They also have, in the ’67 War scenarios, absolute air superiority, and an airmobile unit available, as well.

In the ’73 War (and hypothetical mid-70’s) scenarios, the structure of the simulation is altered in a number of important ways. These scenarios increase the time period covered by each game turn from twelve to twenty-four hours, and they also use a variation of the KURSK Game System as the basis for the game’s basic design architecture. The new (24 hour) turn sequence proceeds as follows: (Arab) first supply phase; first movement phase; combat phase; Jordanian participation phase; second supply phase; second movement phase; (Israeli) first supply phase; first movement phase; combat phase; second supply phase, and second movement phase. The increased mobility of both sides along with the two impulse movement system tends to produce a much more dynamic and fluid battle area than in the previous scenarios. The Air Rules for the ‘70s scenarios are also much kinder to the Arab player; the power of the Israeli Air Force, particularly in the early going, is severely curtailed. In addition, the ’73 War scenarios include a number of other important rules changes that benefit the Arab player: the Arab command and control and panic rules disappear; movement capabilities are improved; the Arab player has “surface to air” (SAM) missiles; and the supply rules for Arab combat are less restrictive.

SINAI, as already noted, offers three main historical scenario packages (or games within a game): the 1956 War; the 1967 War; and the 1973 War. Given the volatile nature of Middle East politics, however, SINAI also includes — besides the historical games — a set of hypothetical scenarios for renewed conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors sometime in the mid-seventies. In addition to these historical and hypothetical situations, the game presents a series of “what if?” scenarios for the players to explore. These optional scenarios all benefit the Arab player to one degree or another, and include changes to the historical situation such as, but not limited to: free set-up; Israel napping (caught by surprise); better Syrian and Egyptian officer corps; increased Arab cooperation; and a combination of all of the above in the Arab fantasy “Jihad” scenario.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION


The ’56 and ’67 Wars were quick, decisive Israeli victories; the ’73 “Yom Kippur” War, on the other hand, was clearly different in a number of important ways. Some examples of these important differences are immediately obvious: the Arabs struck first, achieving strategic and tactical surprise; Soviet anti-tank weapons contributed greatly to the defensive combat power of the Arab forces; and heavy concentrations of SAM missile sites were very effective in neutralizing the Israeli Air Force in the early stages of the war. The historical scenarios covering the ’56 and ’67 Wars are, as might be expected, pretty much a romp for the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), although the victory conditions and optional rules can make these games a lot more competitive. The scenarios for the ’73 War, as well as those for the hypothetical mid-70’s War, make for much more interesting and competitive games. As has already been noted earlier, the Arab Armies improved dramatically between 1967 and 1973. Israel’s enemies came surprisingly close to victory in the Yom Kippur War, SINAI attempts to help its players understand how this happened and why.

Unfortunately, despite its many good points, SINAI — like many of James F. Dunnigan’s early designs — is a disappointment; and, taken as a whole, it can probably best be described as an ambitious and intriguing “near miss.” The ’56 and ’67 historical scenarios both require a lot of fiddling with the victory conditions to produce anything approximating a reasonable amount of play balance; a fact that, not surprisingly, makes it hard for most players to summon up much enthusiasm when it comes to commanding the seriously out-classed Arab armies in these earlier scenarios. The ’73 and mid-’70s scenarios are much more interesting, yet they each seem to lack something intangible, both as games and as simulations. Of course, it is possible that the constant changes in the game’s developmental trajectory forced by the day-to-day news reports coming in from the battlefield were, in 1973, a little more than Dunnigan or SPI could handle at the time. This is not to say that SINAI is a particularly bad game, only that it has a curiously “cobbled together” feel, and that it probably could have been — had it not been rushed into print — considerably better with a little additional effort. Clearly, Dunnigan was in a hurry to publish this title, and it shows. For supporting evidence for this last argument, by the way, one only has to look at John Hill’s excellent and richly-textured treatment of the ’73 War, BAR-LEV, which appeared some time after SINAI, in 1974. The difference in quality between the two games is glaring.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 12 hours per game turn (24 hours per game turn in the ’73 War, and mid-70’s hypothetical war scenarios)
  • Map Scale: 12 kilometers per hex
  • Unit Size: battalion/ brigade
  • Unit Types: armor, mechanized infantry, mechanized paratroop, reconnaissance, infantry, paratroop (functional and non-functional), camel, SAM site, air-droppable, airmobile, Israeli supply, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: medium
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 2½-3 hours


Game Components:

  • One 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record Track, Combat Results Table, Terrain Effects Chart, and Arab Command and Control Table incorporated)
  • 255 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 6” x 11½” Map-fold style Set of Rules (with Scenario Instructions and Examples of Play incorporated)
  • One 8½” x 11” S&T Subscription Ad
  • One 8¼” x 8¾” SPI Came Catalog and Order Form
  • One small six-sided Die
  • One SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic box cover with Title Sheet
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SPI, NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO (1971, 1979)

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NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO is an grand tactical (division/brigade) level simulation of the climactic clash between the French Army, under Napoleon, and the Anglo-Allied Army, commanded by the Duke of Wellington, near the Belgian Hamlet of Waterloo, on 18 June, 1815. NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO was originally mailed, at no charge, to new subscribers of S&T Magazine. It was intended to be a simple, introductory game for those new to conflict simulations. The game was published in two versions: the original (two-color) brown on tan edition which was offered during the very early days of SPI (beginning in 1971); and a later (1979) edition, in which SPI reformatted the rules, colorized the game map, and added a colored title sheet. NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO was designed by James F. Dunnigan, and first published in 1971 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte astride his stallion Marengo at Waterloo.

The morning of 18 June 1815 dawned cold and overcast, but with the promise of fairer weather as the day wore on. It had rained steadily during the previous day and through much of the night. The change in weather was a welcome relief to the soldiers who were bivouacked in the open. With the morning’s first light, thousands of men stirred and stoked their campfires; those among them who had found food — often no more than a potato — ate, and were happy to have anything at all. Two armies, only a mile or two apart, began the mundane business of preparing for battle. The shambling disorder of milling men and snorting horses gradually gave way to the discipline of the military camp. And, on the commands of their officers and other ranks, men began to assemble: noisy chaos gave way to order; companies came together to become battalions, and then battalions assembled and became regiments. With an unexpected sort of rough grace, the regiments formed into columns and, on the shouted orders of their officers, thousands of grim-faced soldiers gradually began to array themselves across the valley from each other; each in their own carefully-dressed lines.

On the southern side of the field, the regiments of the Armée du Nord marched past their recently-returned emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. Astride his Arabian stallion Marengo, the aging and now ailing Napoleon reviewed and acknowledged the cheering ranks of marching French troops as if they were passing by on parade. Across the still muddy field that stretched between the two hosts, Wellington rode onto a low ridge and, having already personally seen to the initial disposition of his men, dismounted from his horse and reclined in the shade of a tree. Once both armies had formed for battle, relative quiet again settled over the mud and beaten-down grass that would soon be the stage for the coming martial drama.


Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, inspires his troops at Waterloo.

Initially, despite the flurry of preparation on both sides, nothing much happened. The morning sun climbed higher in the sky, and the soldiers of the two armies: 67,000 men under the Duke of Wellington; and 72,000 commanded by Napoleon; all stood in bright, multi-colored ranks facing each other across a shallow valley matted with rain-soaked grass. Movement and even time, itself, seemed to come to a stop; in spite of all of the early morning’s bustle and hurried activity: no one on either side of the valley, except for quartermasters and dispatch riders, stirred from their serried ranks. Hours passed. Both splendidly uniformed hosts stood silently, fixed in place, like insects in amber. Then, abruptly and without warning, the stillness was broken. The soldiers in the ranks of both armies were suddenly startled by the first sounds of canon fire coming from somewhere on the French left. The Battle of Waterloo had begun at last with a French bombardment of the Anglo-Allied outpost that occupied the château of Hougoumont. No one then, or now, can be sure of the exact time of these first canon shots, but the cannonade probably began around 11:30 am. Whenever it was, the French artillery had sounded the overture for the bloody drama to come. The unnatural quiet of the morning had finally ended for the men warily watching each other across a sodden expanse of ryegrass. This tiny corner of Belgium had become a battlefield, and the morning’s unexpected quiet would now — on a patch of muddy ground no more than two miles wide and two-thirds of a mile across — give way to the noisy, cruel, and violent business of war.

DESCRIPTION


NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO is, as the title implies, a two-player simulation of, quite probably, the most famous single military engagement in history. At Waterloo, the two greatest generals of their age, Napoleon and Wellington, faced each other across a battlefield in Belgium for the first and only time in their long military careers. On the fateful morning of June 18th, 1815, the out-numbered Wellington had decided to offer battle to the French army confident that, unbeknownst to Napoleon, the Prussian army, under Marshal Blucher, planned to march to the Iron Duke’s aid. Thus, NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO is a race to see if Napoleon’s troops can break the poly-glot Anglo-Allied army before the Prussians arrive to turn the tide of the battle against the French. The game is played in game turns, each of which is composed of a French followed by Prussian Anglo-Allied (P.A.A.) player turn. Each player turn follows the same sequence, and is divided into two simple phases: the Movement Phase; and the Combat Phase.


NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO presents beginning players with game mechanics that are both simple and intuitively logical. To keep things uncomplicated, stacking is prohibited and terrain effects are minimal. In addition, because of the limited time-scale of the game, there are no supply rules. Zones of Control (ZOCs) are both 'rigid' and 'sticky'. This means that units must stop upone entering an enemy ZOC and may not exit such a ZOC except as a result of combat. In addition, combat between adjacent units is mandatory and is resolved using a traditional 'Odds Differential' Combat Results Table (CRT). Interestingly, although it is an introductory game, NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO does expose players to a number of useful game concepts; these basic concepts include: “locking” Zones of Control, Ranged Artillery, and the importance of Morale. And, while the consensus among experienced players is that the French have a marked advantage, it is still a surprisingly enjoyable game to play for both the French and the P.A.A. players. Player victory depends on the elimination of enemy units. The goal of each side is to inflict sufficient casualties on the other to cause the Demoralization of the enemy army. Each game turn represents one hour of real time, and a complete game is ten turns long.

NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO offers players only the Historical Scenario, and there are no optional rules. However, based on this introductory title’s wide-spread, if unexpected popularity, Dunnigan decided to revisit and upgrade his original design. The result of this second look, by the game’s original designer, was the Advanced NAW EXPANSION KIT. This expansion, which included new, more-detailed rules (stacking was permitted and artillery attacks were resolved separately) and an expanded number of new (brigade-strength) replacement counters, was intended to meet the demands of those players who already owned the basic game, but who wanted to add increased tactical complexity and realism to the original simulation.



A PERSONAL OBSERVATION


Every once in awhile, I still dig out and set-up my old, much-worn, brown on tan copy of NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO, and whenever I do, I still feel a momentary rush of nostalgia for the early days of wargaming. This was not my first wargame, but it was the first of Dunnigan’s designs that I actually liked. I suspect that in this regard, I am probably not alone. It is also one of the best 'introductory' conflict simulations ever published, and it still holds up as an enjoyable “beer and pretzels” game, even today. But over and above all that, this simple little game also turned out, quite unexpectedly, to be a ground-breaking design. Ironically, the basic game system first introduced in NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO has proven, over time, to be one of the most popular and durable game platforms ever devised. Clean, simple, and eminently playable, the NAW Game System became the standard design architecture for most of SPI’s subsequent Napoleonic games, many of its Civil War games, and even a few titles that dealt with more modern combat situations. Thus, this game system appears in a broad array of later SPI titles such as BORODINO, AUSTERLITZ, the NAPOLEON AT WAR Quadrigame, the NAPOLEON’S LAST BATTLES Quadrigame, the BLUE & GRAY I and II Quadrigames, ROAD TO RICHMOND, 6th FLEET, and BATTLE FOR GERMANY, just to name a few.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: one hour per game turn
  • Map Scale: unstated
  • Unit Size: brigade/division
  • Unit Types: infantry, cavalry, and artillery
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: below average
  • Solitaire Suitability: high
  • Average Playing Time: 1-2 hours


Game Components:

  • One 17” x 23” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record/Reinforcement Track, Terrain Effects Chart, Combat Results Table, Demoralization Track, and Starting Set Up Locations incorporated)
  • 80 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 6” x 11½” map-fold Rules Booklet
  • One 8½” x 11” back-printed SPI Introductory Letter with examples of play

Recommended Reading

See my blog post Book Reviews of Waterloo, Day of Battle, and The Campaigns of Napoleon and Face of Battle; books that I recommend as highly-readable sources for those visitors who are interested in further historical background.



For decorating the game room with a Napoleonic theme:

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SPI/TSR, LA GRANDE ARMÉE (1987)

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LA GRANDE ARMÉE (1987) is an operational level simulation of Napoleon’s major campaigns in Central and Eastern Europe during the period 1805-1815. LA GRANDE ARMÉE was designed by Mark D. Acres and published in 1987 by Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI), which by this time had become a division of TSR, Inc.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

On 22 September 1805, the seasoned General Mack, accompanied by Archduke Ferdinand, advanced at the head of 70,000 Austrian soldiers towards the Black Forest crossings near the Rhine River. This advance, Mack believed, would serve two ends: it would intimidate the pro-French Bavarians into abandoning their support for Napoleon; and it would also discourage any French forces in the area from moving east into the Danube River Valley.

The Austrian military commander was largely unconcerned about the threat of French offensive operations because, like most of the senior Austrian and Russian officers and nobles of the newly-formed Third Coalition, he believed that Napoleon would, as he had in the past, make his main effort against the Coalition forces in Italy. In the unlikely event that Napoleon’s army did strike east, Mack’s Austrians were expected only to temporarily slow the French advance until Kutusov’s Russians, approaching by way of Vienna, could join with Mack’s troops on the Danube. Thus, in keeping with this plan and supremely confident of allied prospects, Mack had decided that his army should adopt, as its center of operations, the ancient fortress of Ulm which was strategically sited at the confluence of the Iller and Danube Rivers.

This decision, it soon became obvious, was a costly miscalculation on the part of General Mack. It would not be his last. Within a week of the Austrian army’s ill-considered advance to Ulm, powerful French forces suddenly appeared without warning to the Austrian army’s front; and Coalition misapprehensions as to Bonaparte’s plan of campaign were immediately dispelled. Napoleon had again completely outwitted his enemies and seized the initiative by choosing to move directly against Austria, and not to march against the allied armies in Italy, as his Third Coalition adversaries expected.

The French offensive was stunning in its speed and ferocity. In the final three days of September, Napoleon force-marched the 210,000 men of the French Grande Armée east into Bavaria in search of a decisive engagement with the Austrian army. The French Emperor, with characteristic decisiveness and energy, had, through furious marching, catapulted his army against the allied forces in the Danube region before they could even react. Blinded by Murat’s cavalry and unsure as to either French strength or intentions, Mack hesitated. His delay proved fatal. By the time the Austrian commander realized his danger, it was already too late. Events were moving too quickly for the allied situation to be saved, and even as Mack’s army began a belated withdrawal towards the east, Napoleon’s hard-marching soldiers were already enveloping the allied flanks. Despite several courageous Austrian attempts to break through the French cordon, the Austrian commander and much of his army was trapped. The inevitable end to this Coalition debacle was not long in coming; almost exactly one month later, the unlucky General Mack was compelled to parade a force of 25,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry out of Ulm to surrender to the victorious French Army drawn up at the foot of the Michelsberg Heights.

Napoleon's Ulm campaign had been a military masterpiece: an entire enemy army had been destroyed at almost no military cost to Napoleon’s Grande Armée. Moreover, Ulm was only a portent of things to come for the now reeling allies: another military disaster still lay in the future for the surviving soldiers of the Third Coalition; and Napoleon’s star would reach its zenith near the Moravian village of Austerlitz on 2 December 1805.

DESCRIPTION


LA GRANDE ARMÉE (1987) is a brigade/division level simulation of the series of campaigns waged by Napoleon against the various coalitions that united to oppose French military, economic, and political power in Central Europe from 1805 through 1815. Although this game shares the same title as the SPI game: LA GRANDE ARMÉE, that was designed by John Young and published fifteen years earlier in 1972; it is neither an expansion nor a refinement of the original game. Rather, it is much more reminiscent in feel and scale to Kevin Zucker’s design, NAPOLEON AT BAY. As an interesting aside (at least to me), Kevin Zucker was responsible for the four-color game maps in the new version; and they’re gorgeous. The cardboard game counters are easy to read and functional, but unlike those of many more recent Napoleonic titles, are not particularly colorful or visually interesting. Still, although significantly different from its predecessor, this newer version does offer an intriguing and richly-detailed approach to the problems confronting commanders during the wars of the Napoleonic Era. Regrettably, the game is not particularly accessible to beginning players: the rules, for example, are both lengthy and oddly-organized, and the game mechanics are not simple. Moreover, almost all of the additional simulation detail is unoriginal: in short, almost everything that sets this game apart from John Michael Young’s earlier SPI design can be traced to the game systems of other, widely-available Napoleonic games. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does suggest that this title’s author drew heavily on previous Napoleonic and Civil War designs for his simulation architecture and game mechanics.

The outline of the typical game turn in LA GRANDE ARMÉE (1987) reveals a great deal about the focus of the newer version’s design. Each game turn follows the same sequence of play: the Command Phase (both players secretly decide which of their commanders will command and which will receive orders); the Initiative Phase (the French player rolls to see who will move first); the Weather Phase; First Player Skirmish Phase; First Player Movement Phase; First Player Battle Phase; the Second Player Skirmish Phase; Second Player Movement Phase; Second Player Combat Phase; the joint Supply Phase; the joint Siege and Assault Phase; and the joint Rally Phase. Unlike the original 1972 version of LA GRANDE ARMÉE players certainly won’t finish the Ulm-Austerlitz scenario in a few hours; but for those looking for a detailed simulation of Napoleonic Warfare with a strong emphasis on command and control, and logistics, this game certainly attempts, at least, to fill the bill.

LA GRANDE ARMÉE (1987) offers eight comparatively short scenarios covering Napoleon’s operations against particular nations and/or coalitions; these are: the 1805 Campaign (France versus Austria and Russia); the 1806 Campaign against Prussia; the 1806-1807 Campaign (France versus Prussia and Russia); the 1809 Campaign against Austria; the 1812 Campaign against Russia; the 1813 Campaign (France versus Russia and Prussia, and eventually Austria and Sweden); the 1814 Campaign for the defense of France against the same coalition; and finally, the Campaign of the 100 Days (France versus Prussia and Britain). In addition to the shorter scenarios, the game also offers three Grand Campaign scenarios: Grand Campaign I (1805-1807); Grand Campaign II (1812-1814); and Grand Campaign III (1805-1815).

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION

Napoleon Bonaparte once observed that, in the course of his long military career, he had fought over seventy battles. He was not exaggerating. His record, whatever one’s personal opinion of the French Emperor, is one of amazing martial accomplishments. Thus, it is not surprising that the many campaigns of Napoleon have, over the years, provided game designers with a bountiful source of subjects for conflict simulations. Whatever else can be said about it, the Napoleonic Era is simply a great historical period to draw upon for game topics. Most Napoleonic games, not surprisingly, have focused on individual battles. In addition to specific Napoleonic battles, however, a number of designers have also looked at particular campaigns for inspiration, and many of these designs — NAPOLEON’S LAST BATTLES (1976), 1815 (1975), LEIPZIG (1972), and 1812 (1972), to name a few — have been both interesting as simulations, and enjoyable as games. A few foolhardy designers, however, have been still more ambitious and have attempted to simulate the whole or at least the greater part of the Napoleonic Wars.

LA GRANDE ARMÉE (1987), like WAR & PEACE (1980) and EMPIRES IN ARMS (1986), just to name two other examples, is an attempt to simulate — on a strategic/operational level — both individual campaigns and, for those gamers with too much time on their hands, the whole (or at least the greater part) of the Napoleonic Wars. In the case of this particular title, the designer’s success in meeting this complex set of simulation goals has, to say the least, been notably uneven. When it comes to modeling individual Napoleonic campaigns, LA GRANDE ARMÉE — like a number of other, earlier titles — seems to do a workmanlike, if uninspired, job of it. However, to actually play the game requires a bit of patience and inventiveness on the part of players because gaps in the game system seem to show up at the most inopportune of times. This has led some critics of the game to suggest that the TSR version of LA GRANDE ARMÉE is unplayable; that's probably going a little too far. On the other hand, as noted earlier, this new title really introduces nothing that is truly original or innovative into the Napoleonic design mix; which is to say that the game system when it can be teased into working, still feels very familiar in a derivative, "cut and paste" sort of way. To make matters worse, the “really big” 1805-1815 Campaign Game III just doesn’t — based on my own admittedly limited experience — seem to hang together at all when it comes to presenting a seamless, integrated simulation of all of Napoleon's major campaigns in Central Europe. To be fair, this is neither unusual nor that much of a surprise. Because of the very real limits that time and money impose on any commercial game’s development, it is very rare for a campaign monster game to work exactly as the designer intended, without post-publication tweaks to fix the inevitable problems that didn’t show up during the developer’s original play tests. Still, while these types of design stumbles may have been acceptable when GDW's DNO first appeared in 1973, it is really frustrating to find the same types of problems in a game published fourteen years later.

So where does all this leave us? First, although I am personally very fond of the older, John Young version of LA GRANDE ARMÉE, I am, none-the-less, willing to weakly recommend LA GRANDE ARMÉE (1987) as a flawed, but salvagable game system for anyone with the willingness to do the many fixes necessary to make the game work. However, for the player with a serious and wide-ranging interest in the various Central European campaigns of the Napoleonic Era, this title, although interesting, is probably more trouble than it is worth. Stated differently, as a comprehensive simulation treatment of the most important decade of the Napoleonic Wars, 1805-1815, I am only barely persuaded that LA GRANDE ARMÉE can, even with a considerable amount of post-publication player input, be made to deliver a manageable and realistic simulation of 19th Century European warfare. In view of that, when it comes to doing a good job of recreating, in abstract form, the entire Napoleonic Era, I am therefore strongly disposed to favor the less orthodox, more politically-grounded, and inclusive EMPIRES IN ARMS over LA GRANDE ARMÉE (1987). EMPIRES IN ARMS may be weak as a military simulation, but it covers all of Europe and it still seems to get a surprising number of this fascinating historical period’s other 'important' elements right. And besides, its graphics are uniformly excellent, and with a decent mix of knowledgeable, experienced opponents, it is a real blast to play!

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 1 week per game turn
  • Map Scale: 15 miles per hex
  • Unit Size: units are represented by strength points (one strength point of infantry or cavalry = 1000 men; one strength point of artillery = approximately 30 guns)
  • Unit Types: leaders, infantry, guard infantry, light cavalry, heavy cavalry, dragoons, artillery, horse artillery, bridge, supply train, depot, partisan and information markers
  • Number of Players: two-four (teams highly recommended, particularly for the campaign games)
  • Complexity: medium/high
  • Solitaire Suitability: low
  • Average Playing Time: 4-200 hours (depending on scenarios)

Game Components:

  • Four 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheets (with Turn Record Chart, Terrain Key/Terrain Effects Charts, Combat Results/Skirmish Tables, March/Forced March Attrition Tables, Weather Table, Minor Powers & Provinces Chart, Unit Construction Chart, and French Victory Point Track incorporated)
  • 1,200 back-printed ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet
  • One 8½” x 11” Booklet of Army Organization Sheets
  • One 8¾” x 11½” flat 20 compartment plastic Storage Tray with clear plastic cover
  • One 9” x 11¾” x 2” bookcase-style cardboard Game Box

Recommended Reading


See my blog post Book Review of this title that I recommend for further historical background.


Recommended Artwork


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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HAPPY VETERANS DAY!

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A Time to Honor Those who have Secured Our Freedoms and Our Way of Life throughout the History of This Republic



This Veterans Day is, because of the recent tragedy at Fort Hood, an especially poignant reminder of the many extraordinary sacrifices that our men and women in uniform, both at home and abroad, make daily on our behalf.

Being a Vietnam veteran, myself, and given America’s checkered history it its treatment of its veterans, I have probably not treated this holiday with as much seriousness as it deserves. However, as I have gotten older, I have come to realize that while our country may occasionally suffer its lapses when it comes to recognizing those who now bear, and who have borne the past burden of the nation’s defense; in the end, the fundamental decency and goodness of ordinary Americans comes through again and again. So, on this Veterans Day, I salute the servicemen and women who repeatedly go into harm’s way on our behalf, and I also salute the countless numbers of civilians who, in ways too numerous to recount, honor the service of our veterans, both past and present.

Finally, in keeping with my thoughts on this Veterans Day, I have decided to include a short discussion of the origins of this, often misunderstood, national holiday.

A Brief History of this Special Day of Remembrance


On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War I — the “War to End All Wars” — finally came to an end with the formal acceptance by representatives of the German government of the Allied terms for an Armistice. The Continent was again at peace, and the carnage of four years of industrialized warfare, after consuming the greater part of a generation of European youth, had finally sputtered to an end.

After the guns became silent in 1918, many European countries came to commemorate November 11th as a day of remembrance and thanksgiving. In the British Commonwealth, the red Poppy became the symbol for the end of the First World War’s bloodshed and the advent of peace, and remains so to this day.

Across the Atlantic, American President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the national observance of the first Armistice Day for November 11, 1919. Seven years later, the U.S. Congress passed a concurrent resolution calling for the President to again declare a formal observance of November 11th as a day of remembrance for all those Americans who had fallen during the Great War. Finally, on 13 May, 1938, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation to make Armistice Day a legal holiday.

In 1953, thanks mainly to the efforts of an ordinary store owner named Al King from Emporia, Kansas, a movement gathered momentum in the United States to transform Armistice Day into a national holiday that would celebrate the sacrifices of all American veterans, not just those who had served and died during World War I. This change was formally recognized when President Dwight Eisenhower signed the new measure into law on 26 May, 1954. A few months later, Congress amended the language of this act to replace the word “Armistice” with that of “Veterans” and, with this final change, our current federally-mandated holiday took on its present-day form.

As the preceding account illustrates, our understanding and appreciation of Veterans Day and what it represents has gone through a number of changes over the years, but the dependence of our society on the sacrifices of veterans has been a constant reminder that the American way of life comes at a cost, and that we, as a nation, are fortunate that one generation after another of our fellow citizens has been willing to bear that cost.
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SPI, FULDA GAP (1977)

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The FULDA GAP is an operational-level simulation of a hypothetical attack into West Germany by Soviet-led Warsaw Pact forces in the late 1970’s. FULDA GAP uses the PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN Game System and was designed by James F. Dunnigan. It was published in 1977 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Almost from the day that Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies in 1945, the newly-partitioned country became a flashpoint for Cold War tensions between the Eastern Bloc, dominated by the Soviet Union, and NATO, under the leadership of the United States. On 24 June 1948, the Soviets blockaded Berlin by closing off all rail and road access to the American, British, and French zones of the city in an attempt to gain complete control of the divided former German Capital. The United States, Great Britain, and other members of the British Commonwealth responded with the Berlin Airlift. Hurriedly organized and directed by American general Curtis LeMay, the operation proved to be a stunning success. At its peak, the airlift was delivering over 13,000 tons of food to the beleaguered city every day. After months of East-West tension, and faced with an embarrassing political and military failure, the Soviets finally ended the blockade on 12 May 1949. However, they did not abandon their designs on achieving control of West Germany.

Given the ongoing belligerence of the Communist leadership in the Kremlin; their ruthless suppression of the peoples of Eastern Europe, and their aggressive political adventurism in Africa and Latin America, the possibility of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe quickly became a key feature of NATO planning as the Cold War continued. The two most likely routes for a Soviet mechanized offensive into West Germany were obvious: the North German Plain, and the Fulda Gap. However, given the strategic Cold War importance of Frankfurt, as West Germany’s economic heart, the Fulda Gap was considered to be the primary axis for a Warsaw Pact attack against the NATO forces arrayed to defend Germany. Because of this fact, military planners on both sides of the “Iron Curtain” saw the Fulda Gap as the most likely site of the first major battle of a 1970s war between East and West.

The Fulda Gap is, geographically speaking, unremarkable. It is a swath of low ground that lies between the Hohe Rhön and Knüllegebirge mountains near the East German border, and the Spessart and Vogelsberg mountains farther to the west. This low-lying corridor runs along the Fulda River and then through the Fliede and Kinzig Valleys and debouches onto the open terrain bordering the Main River near Offenbach in the north and Wurzburg in the south. Militarily speaking, this relatively flat ground was considered, by both NATO and Warsaw Pact operational planners, to be excellent terrain for large-scale mechanized operations.

During the 1970s and 80s, the forces squaring off across the East-West German border were well-known to each other. If the Warsaw Pact launched an offensive through the Gap, it would undoubtedly be spearheaded by the Soviet 8th Guards Army, based in East Germany. The Soviet 1st Guards Tank Army would, NATO planners thought, follow-up the initial attackers and serve as a reserve force for the Soviet first wave. The 8th Guards Army's objective, if war broke out, would be simple: batter its way through any NATO forces that blocked its path and seize Frankfurt am Main. On the NATO side, the responsibility for defending the Gap between 1972 and 1994 rested with the US Vth Corps. The American trip-wire unit closest to the East German border — the NATO force assigned to meet the initial Soviet assault — would be the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. The 3rd Armored Division and the 8th (Mechanized) Infantry Division were slated to move east immediately to support the troopers of the 11th Cavalry Regiment. Their orders were blunt and unequivocal: they were to hold the Gap until NATO reinforcements could reach the front. An American fighting withdrawal, considering the strategic importance of Frankfurt, was not considered to be an option.

DESCRIPTION


The Fulda Gap is an area in southern Germany that, for more than a generation during the Cold War, American and Soviet planners viewed as a potential battlefield in any conflict between NATO and Warsaw Pact Forces. FULDA GAP is a semi-historical simulation of such a confrontation on a regiment/brigade level. The FULDA GAP four-color game map covers an area of southern Germany that extends from Koln in the north to Mannheim in the south, and from Bonn in the west to Bamberg in the east. The back-printed game counters represent the actual NATO and Warsaw Pact units (typically regiments and brigades) that would have fought each other had war broken out in Germany during the period covered by the game. All of the formations in the game begin play as 'untried' units; their actual combat strength is determined through a semi-random process only when they engage in combat for the first time. Zones of control (ZOCs), as might be expected, are semi-active and 'sticky': this means that units must stop upon entering an enemy ZOC and may only exit either as a result of combat or through 'disengagement'.

To model the complex elements of modern warfare, the FULDA GAP game system weaves a number of innovative design features into a well-tested turn sequence. The standard game turn sequence proceeds as follows (the Soviet player is always the first player): Initial Movement Phase; Combat Phase; Secondary Movement Phase; and Reorganization Phase. The Advanced game rules add a Joint Air Superiority Turn prior to the start of the regular game turn. Once the air war sub-routine ends, the Advanced game turn begins with the addition of a Nuclear Planning Phase, and a Nuclear Strike Phase to the standard player turn sequence.

The rules for combat in FULDA GAP are generally familiar and, because of the important role of ranged artillery for both offensive and defensive fire, are somewhat reminiscent of those for MODERN BATTLES (1975). Regular combat between adjacent units is voluntary and is resolved using a conventional odds-differential Combat Results Table (CRT). However, while the CRT is familiar, the various combat results are not. Instead of stipulating step or strength losses, individual combat results specify losses in terms of Retreat Points (RPs). This somewhat unorthodox approach works well because terrain effects are also presented in terms of RP values. Thus, if a phasing player is attacking a unit defending in a rough terrain hex (RP value of 3) and receives a combat result of 2 or less, the defender would not be required to retreat; however, if, instead, the combat result is 5 RPs, the defender would then be obliged to retreat two hexes (assuming the flight hexes were clear terrain): 3 hexes for the rough terrain hex (3 RPs, remember), and 1 RP for each of the 1 RP valued clear terrain hexes. Interestingly, although this combat results system is somewhat cumbersome to describe, it actually works very well in the context of the game.

FULDA GAP does not lack for operational detail. The game includes rules on, among other things: limited intelligence (untried unit strengths), step-reduction, sophisticated movement and logistical subroutines, Soviet doctrine, and NATO replacements. Also there are additional rules covering divisional integrity, disengagement from combat, artillery, field fortifications, attack helicopters, air power, airmobile operations, Soviet paratroops, ECM, chemical warfare, and nuclear weapons. Essentially, if you read or heard about a military capability for either side during the 1970’s, then you’ll probably find it in this game design.


The winner in FULDA GAP is determined on the basis of accrued victory points. Both sides gain victory points for destroying enemy units; in addition, the Warsaw Pact player also receives points for satisfying certain teritorial objectives (i.e., getting supplied WP units across the Rhine River or controlling the north-south autobahn).

FULDA GAP offers three short scenarios: the Tripwire Scenario, in which Warsaw Pact forces attack into Germany without warning (7 game turns); the Advance Warning Scenario, in which NATO forces have enough warning of the impending Soviet attack to begin to concentrate and deploy for battle (7 turns); and the D+7 Scenario, in which both armies have mobilized and completed their initial preparations for the impending campaign (7 game turns). These scenarios can be played using either the standard or advanced game rules. In addition, players may also opt for either the standard or advanced version of the Campaign Scenario (14 turns). The advanced version of the rules introduces several new subroutines into the sequence of play. These new phases involve the use of air power, nuclear weapons, and special units, such as: Soviet paratroops, attack helicopters, airmobile units, and NATO airbases.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION

FULDA GAP, looking back, can probably best be described as an innovative, but ultimately disappointing Dunnigan 'near miss'; and like SPI’s FIREFIGHT, it never really succeeded in capturing the interest of most gamers. This is unfortunate because, despite its several imperfections, FULDA GAP is still an interesting treatment of a hypothetical confrontation between Warsaw Pact and NATO forces in Germany in the 1970s. A number of modern-era design concepts made their first appearance in this title. For this reason, it is not surprising that despite using a familiar game system for its basic mechanics, FULDA GAP is not a simple game. Moreover, it is not an updated version of SPI’s earlier foray into a hypothetical East-West battle for control of Western Europe: the 1973 title, NATO. In truth, other than the fact that both modern-era games use a variant of the KURSK Game System as their basic design architecture, the two titles have almost nothing else in common. And because Dunnigan’s nuanced design incorporates newer, more advanced weapons systems into its game mechanics, combat operations take on a quality distinctly different from SPI’s simulations dealing with World War II operational combat. Purely from a design standpoint, this was probably unavoidable. The hypothetical European battlefield of the 70s and 80s, because of Cold War technological advances, is a very lethal environment indeed; and FULDA GAP demonstrates very clearly, if only in game terms, that to be seen and targeted in the modern combat zone is to be destroyed. That being said, there are other modern-era simulations — SPI’s THE NEXT WAR and Victory Games’ GULF STRIKE come immediately to mind — that probably do a better job of representing the complex interactions of the different combat arms on the contemporary battlefield. Nonetheless, this title does offer those who are interested in recent (the last thirty years or so) military affairs, a fascinating, manageable, and challenging simulation of the first days of the war that might have been, but thankfully, wasn’t.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 24 hours per game turn
  • Map Scale: 10 kilometers per hex
  • Unit Size: regiment/ brigade
  • Unit Types: mechanized infantry, armor, motorized infantry, artillery, paratroops, covering force, territorials, reconnaissance, attack helicopter, air unit, supply transport, supply dump, artillery division, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two (teams are possible)
  • Complexity: above average/high
  • Solitaire Suitability: low
  • Average Playing Time: 5+ hours

Game Components:

  • One 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Terrain Effects Chart, Air Superiority Record, Soviet and NATO Air Superiority Point Allocation Tracks, Soviet and NATO Nuclear Warhead Records, Soviet Victory Point Track, and NATO Replacement Point Record incorporated)
  • 400 back-printed ½” Cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions incorporated)
  • One 12” x 22” back-printed Combined Turn Record/Reinforcement Track, Initial Set-up Sheet, Examples of Combat, Player’s Notes, and Untried Unit Analysis.

  • Two 11” x 17” back-printed Combined Overrun Combat Results Table, Combat Results Table, Untried Unit Table, Replacement Success Table, Electronic Warfare Table, Disengagement Table, Soviet and NATO Air Unit Allocation Tables, Air Superiority Determination Table, Strike Table, Nuclear Combat Results Table, Contamination Table, and Victory point Schedule

  • One 3¾” x 8½” SPI Customer Complaint Card

  • One small six-sided Die

  • One SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic Game Cover with Title Sheet

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TAHGC, THE GUNS OF AUGUST (1981)

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THE GUNS OF AUGUST is a strategic level simulation of the “Great War.” The game spans the years 1914-1918 (with the option to extend the game through 1919) and focuses on combat operations in Europe. THE GUNS OF AUGUST was designed by Robert J. Beyma and published by The Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC) in 1981.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND


On 28 June 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated by a lone Serbian gunman as their motorcade carried them back to their temporary residence after a long and mainly ceremonial state function. The archduke’s open car, because of his chauffeur’s unfamiliarity with the local streets, had taken a wrong turn and it had unluckily — and quite by chance — blundered into the path of a fanatical Serbian nationalist who had earlier attempted but failed to get close enough to the royal procession to launch a terrorist attack against the archduke. The Serbian gunman, ironically, had given up on his murderous plan and was walking back to his lodgings when the Imperial motorcade unexpectedly came into view. Shots rang out, and the impromptu terrorist attack was over before Franz Ferdinand’s escort could react. The next in line to the Imperial Throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, along with his royal consort, had both been mortally wounded while on a state visit to Sarajevo near the Serbian border.

Within days, newspapers and politicians across the Continent began to foment ethnic passions and, not surprisingly, popular support for a European war began to grow. And frantic diplomatic efforts seemed to accomplish little. Soon, the web of Great Power alliances and treaties that had grown up since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 began to take over and drive events. Austria-Hungary reacted to the brutal and senseless double-murder of the archduke and his wife by issuing a harsh ultimatum to the Serbian government; when Serbia failed to respond satisfactorily, Austria-Hungary promptly declared war on its smaller neighbor. In a misguided attempt to force Austria-Hungary to back away from its threats against Serbia, Russia began to mobilize in support of its smaller Balkan ally. Unable or unwilling to see the Russian Tsar’s military demonstrations for the diplomatic bluff that they actually were, Germany answered the Russian troop call-ups by declaring war on Russia and its western ally, France.

The ill-conceived and hastily-ordered Russian Mobilization had been the tipping point. Once troops began to gather at their various assembly areas, diplomacy could no longer offer any real possibility of escape from a general war. European affairs continued to spin more and more out of control. With diplomatic options virtually exhausted by the end of July, it could only be a matter of days before the Great Powers' armies began to march against each other.

On August 3rd, the fragile peace was finally broken. In a maneuver intended to outflank French defenses on the Franco-German border, The German Kaiser’s troops crossed into peaceful Belgium; this violation of Belgian neutrality quickly brought England into the war on the side of the French and Belgians. By August 4th, Germany and Austria-Hungary (the “Central Powers”) were at war with Great Britain, France, Russia, Belgium, and Serbia (soon to be called the “Allies”). The First World War — the “war to end all wars” — had well and truly begun.

DESCRIPTION


THE GUNS OF AUGUST is primarily a division/corps level simulation of World War I ground combat in Europe. In the course of the game, players may concentrate exclusively on either the Eastern or the Western Front; or they may combine the two fronts to recreate the strategic scale and complexity of a war fought from Galicia to Flanders, from Serbia to the Tyrol, and from the Baltic to the Bosporus. The naval war between the Central Powers and the Allies is highly abstracted and concentrates on the two elements of greatest strategic significance: the Allied naval blockade of Germany; and the German submarine campaign against the Allies. The fleets of the belligerents are noticeably absent from the game because neither England nor Germany was prepared, at any point in the war, to risk a decisive naval battle that might lead to substantial losses of capital ships.

Although it was designed as a two-player game, THE GUNS OF AUGUST can be played just as easily by three to six players. Each game turn in THE GUNS OF AUGUST is equal to one month and consists of two identical player turns. The game turn sequence proceeds as follows (the Central Powers player moves first): war declaration phase, supply determination phase, movement phase, combat phase, demoralization removal phase, and the isolation phase; the Allied player then repeats the same steps. After the Allied player segment, a joint Interplayer-Turn takes place during which both players execute the following additional phases: naval phase; morale phase; reinforcement phase; game-turn phase, the game turn marker is advanced; and finally, the weather determination phase, during which the Central Powers player rolls for weather for the next game turn.

THE GUNS OF AUGUST offers short scenarios for each of the years of the war. The 1914 scenario begins with the August game turn and runs through December 1914 (5 turns). The 1915, 1916, and 1917 scenarios simulate a full year and continue for 12 game turns. The 1918 scenario begins in March and continues through November 1918 (9 Game turns). Each of these scenarios (except for 1918), can be played either as an East Front or a West Front game, or with the two Fronts combined. The 1918 scenario is a West Front game only, because the Russians had already surrendered in the East. In addition to the yearly scenarios, THE GUNS OF AUGUST also offers (for the truly ambitious and/or stout-hearted) a campaign scenario that covers the entire war on both Fronts and runs from August 1914 through November 1918 (50 game turns).

Once the standard rules have been mastered, players will want to move on to the advanced game rules as quickly as possible. These are the rules that really give the game its historical feel. The advanced rules include: entrenchments; forts; Stosstruppen; tanks; air units (British and French only); railroad repair; garrisons; secret mobilization and deployment; the naval phase; the morale phase; and the weather phase. For those players who are real sticklers for historical detail, the game also includes additional optional rules that cover, among other things: automatic victory; international combat coordination; “Big Push” attacks; captured artillery; attacking from forts and entrenchments; and variable entry for the U.S., Italy, Turkey, Bulgaria, Rumania, and Greece.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION


To be honest I have mixed feelings about Rob Beyma's design, THE GUNS OF AUGUST. Certainly, the major factors that influenced the bloody events on the European battlefields in the years 1914 to 1918 all seem to be present in the simulation to one degree or another; and yet it is difficult to shake the feeling that something important, if intangible, is missing from the finished game. Perhaps, the problem is not with Mr. Beyma's design, but with the subject matter itself. World War I seems to represent a persistent and almost insurmountable challenge to those game designers audacious enough to tackle the subject. James F. Dunnigan's first professional game design, the much reviled 1914, was, to be charitable, not one of his more successful efforts. And other, more recent operational and strategic level tretments of the subject, whether large or small, have all been oddly disappointing. In short, a truly great treatment of the "Great War," has, at least in my opinion, yet to be published. That being said, THE GUNS OF AUGUST, like THIRD REICH, fills the niche between the true Monster games, and those games that can be played in an afternoon. So, if a player is genuinely interested in a detailed treatment of the First World War, but doesn’t want to invest months of playing time in a single game, THE GUNS OF AUGUST is, despite its flaws, probably a reasonable choice.

Design Characteristics:


  • Time Scale: one month

  • Map Scale: not stated

  • Unit Size: division/corps

  • Unit Types: infantry, cavalry, Stosstruppen infantry (German only), artillery, siege artillery, fort construction engineers, railroad repair engineers, tanks (British & French only), air units (British & French only), and information markers

  • Number of Players: 2-6

  • Complexity: average

  • Solitaire Suitability: above average

  • Average Playing Time: 2½ - 12+ hours (depending on scenarios, and whether the basic or advanced version is being played)


Game Components:


  • One (four section) 22” x 32” hexagonal grid Map Board (with two Turn Record Tracks, two Secret Mobilization and Deployment Tracks, and two Replacement Tracks)

  • 1,040 back-printed ½” Cardboard Counters

  • One 8” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Terrain Effects Chart incorporated)

  • Two 11” x 16” back-printed Player Aid Cards (each with Scenario Set-Up Chart, Reinforcement Schedule, Abbreviated Sequence of Play, Combat Results Table, Weather Table, Victory Conditions Chart, Morale Table, Naval Interception Table, and Optional Variable Entry Table)

  • Two six-sided Dice

  • One 5½” x 8” Avalon Hill Game/Parts Price List

  • One 5½” x 7” Customer Response Card

  • One 8½” x 11½” x 2” Bookcase style Cardboard Game Box
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