SPI, WORLD WAR 1: 1914-1918 (1975)

WORLD WAR 1: 1914-1918 is a strategic-level simulation of economic and military conflict in the European Theater during the First World War. The game was originally offered as an insert game in S&T #51 (Jul/Aug 1975); but was soon after reissued by SPI as a ‘Folio Game’. In 1994, Decision Games (DG) offered an updated version, complete with a three-color map and a larger (120 piece) counter-mix. WORLD WAR 1: 1914-1918 was designed by James F. Dunnigan (with graphics design by Redmond A. Simonsen) and first published by Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) in 1975.


On 28 June 1914, the reform-minded Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were brutally murdered by a Serbian gunman as their open car drove away from a ceremonial state function. On the way back to their temporary quarters, the Archduke’s motorcade had made a wrong turn and, because of their chauffeur’s unfamiliarity with the local streets, their limousine had accidentally driven into the path of a fanatical Serbian terrorist. This assassination had come at the worst possible time and in the worst possible place. The next in line to the Imperial Throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire along with his royal consort had been murdered while on a state visit to Sarajevo near the Serbian border.

Within hours, the fragile web of Great Power alliances and treaties that had more-or-less kept Europe at peace since the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 began to unravel. European diplomacy, confronted by its greatest challenge in two generations, now failed utterly to save the peace. Austria-Hungary, after the shortest of delays, declared War on Serbia; Russia began to mobilize in support of its smaller Balkan ally, and Germany responded to the Russian troop call-ups by declaring war on Russia and its western ally, France. European affairs continued to spin more and more out of control. On August 3rd, Imperial German troops — in keeping with the General Staff’s pre-war Schlieffen Plan — crossed into non-aligned Belgium in an attempt to achieve a quick victory in the West; this violation of Belgian neutrality quickly brought England into the war on the side of the French and Belgians.

All of Europe was rapidly being pulled into the maelstrom of a Continental war. 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 irreversible opening moves of the First World War had been made; the stalemate, misery, and carnage of the barbed wire and trenches, however, would soon follow.


WORLD WAR 1: 1914-1918 is a two-player strategic (army-level) simulation — based very loosely on a blend of both the WORLD WAR II and THIRD REICH Game Systems — of the First World War in the European Theater of Operations. The game map covers most of Europe, the Balkans, European Turkey, and Western Russia. All of the major European belligerents — some fourteen nations in all — are included in the counter-mix. The game is ten turns long and spans the period from the summer of 1914 to the winter of 1918/19.

WORLD WAR 1 is played in interwoven (both players alternating their game operations) game turns. A single game turn is equal to six months of real time. The combat units (game counters) are abstract representations of the various national armies that actually took part in World War I. Naval operations, given that this is a simulation of land warfare, are restricted to amphibious landings and sea transport; for this reason, fleet units are not included in the counter-mix. Stacking is limited to one combat unit per hex, and each hex on the map sheet represents 70 kilometers from side to side. Because WORLD WAR 1 uses as its primary inspiration, the THIRD REICH Game System, it should come as no surprise that the game’s combat operations, at their core, represent a struggle between the productivity of the wartime economies (represented by Combat Resource Points) of the Allies and the Central Powers.

The actual mechanics of play of WORLD WAR 1 are comparatively simple: players move (the Allied player is always the first player); determine “superiority’ for the game turn; then each, in turn, alternately conducts attacks against enemy units during three sequential Attack Phases. Zones of control (ZOCs) are rigid but not sticky, and combat is voluntary. Battles are resolved using a strength ‘differential’ Combat Results Table (CRT) and results — which typically inflict losses on both attacker and defender — can, at the defending player’s option, be absorbed either through retreats or through the expenditure of Combat Resource Points (CRPs). The supply rules are simple: units must be able to trace supply, unblocked by enemy units or their ZOCs, to a friendly supply source. Units are either supplied or unsupplied; unsupplied units may not attack, and their defense factor is halved; supply status does not affect movement. Terrain types are limited to only a few specific categories: clear, rough, coastal, rail, and fortification hexes. Terrain, depending on type, also adds from “0” to “3” additional points to the combat strength of a defending unit.

Victory is determined on the basis of victory points. Interestingly, the Allied player automatically receives (if England enters the war) seventy-five victory points for the British blockade of Germany, while the Central Powers player receives a steadily-diminishing number of victory points depending on the game turn (if ever) that Russia capitulates. Both players receive victory points if the opposing side violates a neutral country’s borders, and both the Allies and the Central Powers each receive five points for each Resource Center controlled at the end of the game.

WORLD WAR 1 offers two scenarios: the Historical Game which begins on the summer, 1914 game turn with the Superior Player’s First Attack Phase; and — for those players who prefer to make their own mistakes — the Free Deployment Game which begins with the first phase of the summer, 1914 game turn. In addition, the game includes an Optional Rule which permits the Allies to introduce a ‘tank’ army (with the same capabilities as the German stosstruppen units) during the last few turns of the game.


In some ways, WORLD WAR 1, both as game and as a historical simulation, is a bit more than the sum of its parts. Despite the title’s comparatively simple rules, bland graphics (the DG version, admittedly, is much more appealing to the eye), and limited unit count, Dunnigan’s ingenious design is still both an interesting and comparatively fast-moving game to play. And judging by the number of ‘perfect plans’ for both the Allies (i.e., ‘Cowardly Russia’) and the Central Powers (‘Stosstruppen in the West’) that have emerged and then been batted down over the years, it is clear that WORLD WAR 1 shares enough similarities with the old Avalon Hill classics to have allowed it to maintain a loyal following of players in spite of the many newer “Great War’ titles that have entered the marketplace since the game first saw print thirty-five years ago.

The First World War, in its immediate aftermath, was supposed to be the “War to End All Wars.” It wasn’t. Instead, it produced the political and economic fault-lines in Europe that led, tragically, to a far more brutal second act only a generation later. Not surprisingly, because it was one of the great historical ‘tipping points’ in modern times, it has been the topic of numerous conflict simulations; oddly enough, however, very few have been particularly successful either as simulations or as games. There just seems to be something about World War I that makes it extraordinarily difficult for designers to translate the history of the war into a manageable, informative, and challenging conflict simulation. James F. Dunnigan went the ‘simulation’ route with his first two professional designs, the ‘dreary dog of Dogger Banks’, JUTLAND (1967), and the truly execrable 1914 (1968); this time around, he decided to focus mainly on translating World War I into a game. It was a much better choice. WORLD WAR 1 is certainly neither a dazzling good simulation nor is it a really terrific game, but in a field of other game titles characterized mainly by mediocrity and/or outright failure, it actually looks pretty good. Are there better game treatments of ‘The Great War’? There are a few. Are there any other WWI strategic titles that can be played in three hours or less? Not that I know of. So, in this sense I suppose, one could say that Dunnigan’s design — despite its several flaws — really is in a class by itself.

Finally, more than a few critics of the game have argued that WORLD WAR 1, because of its level of abstraction, is almost more of an economic puzzle than it is a wargame. Maybe, maybe not; but even on those terms, it is still an intriguing puzzle; I, for one, certainly haven’t convinced myself that I have figured it out. One thing that I have convinced myself of, however, is that it is a reasonably good choice for virtually any category of player. Thus, while it is easy enough to learn that it can be used as an introductory game; it still has enough complexity and depth to make it an enjoyable test for more experienced players. For that reason and because I still personally think, even after thirty-five years, that it is a lot of fun to play, I highly recommend it.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 6 months per game turn
  • Map Scale: 70 kilometers per hex
  • Unit Size: armies
  • Unit Types: infantry, stosstruppen, tank, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two to four
  • Complexity: average
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 2½ - 3 hours

Game Components:

  • One 17” x 22” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record/Reinforcement Track, Phase Record Track, Terrain Key, Combat Resource Points Track, and Historical Game Unit Locations incorporated)
  • 100 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” WORLD WAR 1 Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions and Combat Results Table incorporated)

Additional Components Included Only with SPI ‘Folio’ Version:
  • 20 ½” cardboard Random Number Counters (included in all of the ‘folio’ games as a substitute for a six-sided die)
  • One 7½” x 8½” SPI Products Catalog
  • One 4” x 8½” SPI Mailer
  • One 9” x 12” cardboard Game Folio

Recommended Reading

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

THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU


  • I've got a copy of this one recently. I haven't play it yet. A Dunnigan ? So I think it should be a good game as you tell us ! I'm really a fan of Dunnigan design !

  • Greetings Bir Hachim:

    This is a surprisingly challenging little game. I personally preferred to play the 'Free Deployment' version, however, even though it tended to make things a little easier for the Russians. I guess that I just prefer to make my own mistakes.

    Interestingly, there are a number of different 'Perfect Plans' that have surfaced over the years. Perhaps, the two best-known are the 'Chicken Kiev' (or 'Cowardly Russians') plan for the Allies, which calls for the Russians to backstop their front line armies with reserve armies and to virtually never attack; and the 'Stoss in the West' plan for the Central Powers, which calls for the Central Powers player to not attack anywhere (including in the East) in the early game turns, but instead to build up and hoard a huge store of CRPs until the German 'Stosstruppen' become available in the late game.

    For my own part, I have found the Allied 'Chicken Kiev' plan to be a lot more effective than its Central Powers' counterpart. The problem with the 'Stoss in the West' strategy is that it assumes a passive reaction from the Allies. If, on the other hand, the Allies really press the Central Powers (particularly Austria-Hungary) in Italy, the Balkans, and even in the East, then the Germans -- because of constant loans to their allies -- are never really able to accumulate the CRPs that they need to make the plan work.

    By the way, if you figure out a way for the Central Powers to knock Russia out of the war early, tell me how; I know that against expert competition, I never was able to!

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Certainly a marvelous game and a hidden gem in the SPI STRATEGY AND TACTICS magazine game arsenal. Like you. I never could figure out a way for the Central Powers to get Russia out of the war earlier than 1917. I have yet to try the DG version--your review makes me want to give it a go!

  • Dear Sir:

    I am writing to ask for a bit more explanation about your comment that the Allies might press Austria-Hungary (AH) in the Balkans, as you have the time. I’ve seen references in other reviews of the game to the Balkans as a major front. I only play the game solitaire, but I’ve been unable to drain almost any CRP’s from AH in the Balkans. The AH units simply retreat one hex every time they are bumped by Allied units. Since the Allies only establish a significant presence in the Balkans—three or more units—on turn 4 and after, the AH units might continue to retreat for the rest of the game. The strategy leaves Turkey open to Allied attack, but I’ve never had any success in capturing Istanbul.
    When you suggest that the Allies might benefit from pressing in the Balkans, does that mean trying to draw AH units to the region (I usually end the game with three AH units in the Balkans, plus one German unit and the two Bulgarian units)? Or, does it mean somehow forcing AH to commit to combat?
    Since I’m unable to launch an Allied offensive in the Balkans that knocks off any but Turkish CRP’s, AH usually ends the game with more than enough resources to hold off the Italians and help force a Russian surrender.

    This is my first posting your blog. You do an excellent job!


  • Greetings Larry:

    Thank you for visiting; your interest is appreciated.

    I suspect that we do not actually disagree when it comes to "Entente" combat operations in the Balkans. As you note, against a competent Central Powers player, decisive Allied results are an elusive and largely unattainable goal in this rugged and inhospitable part of the world. However, what I and a number of other commentators was actually referring to is an Allied offensive that produces precisely the effect that you outline in your own comments; that is: for the Allies to exert enough pressure against Austria-Hungary on the Balkan and (especially) the the Italian fronts to force the Central Powers player to commit scarce resources to these "strategic sideshows". Thus, as the Allied player, if I can induce my opponent to commit extra Autro-Hungarian and German forces to both fronts then I feel that I have already accomplished considerably more than the original Allied commanders did in the actual war.

    Your observation regarding Turkey is also "spot on": the Turkish armies may not have much offensive punch, but they are formidable when defending. And, like you, I have never had much luck when it comes to capturing Istanbul.

    Still, for all of its little eccentricities, I still consider 'WORLD WAR 1' to be one of the better games on the subject.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and
    Best Regards, Joe

  • From what I remember playing the game, the German player ignores the French and runs amok in the East to break the Russians. Over time Russia bleds dry and surrenders allowing the Germans to go west now crushing the French, as my memory serves. Most magazine SPI games suffers from "the fatal flaw" rendering the game unbalance. Errata issued later which did restore the play balance factor. A great beer & chips game!


  • Greetings Anon:

    I am familiar with the Central Powers approach that you recommend; unfortunately, against a cunning and tenacious Russian player -- one who back stops his armies and retreats the maximum during the first two German impulses, for instance -- it can be very hard for the Central Powers to actually knock the Russians out of the war in time to switch west to crush France.

    Moreover, there is no guarantee that the Entente player won't make life difficult for the Germans (while they are otherwise engaged in the East) by attacking through Flanders, or on the always vulnerable Autro-Hungarians by attacking out of Italy or in the Balkans.

    No, I am pretty sure that I have at least seen most -- if not all -- of the "standard" Central Powers' staretegies tried in this game and, maybe it's just me, but I personally still have a heck of a time winning when I play the Central Powers.

    By the way, this doesn't mean that I don't think that this charming little game is quite enjoyable; I do. No, my comments only mean that, unless I am missing something obvious, it is duecedly difficult for the Central Powers player to actually win.

    Best Regards, Joe

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