HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDGeneral von Moltke's troops pursue Allies in fighting retreat to Paris, 1914
As the opening days of World War I unfolded, the German sweep into France and Belgium rapidly began to gather momentum. After a number of sharp clashes along a front that stretched from Amiens to Verdun — a series of engagements known collectively as the “Battle of the Frontiers” — French and British forces, in the period, Aug 20-24, 1914, slowly began to give ground before the Kaiser’s advancing juggernaut. Within days, this fighting withdrawal had turned into a full-scale retreat. Pressed back by five German armies, the Commander in Chief of the retreating Allied forces was compelled by the pace of the German advance to order the French Sixth Army, commanded by General Maunoury, to be withdrawn on 30 August to reinforce the Paris garrison. On 1 September, Marshal Joffre, the Allied C-in-C, ordered yet a further withdrawal to a new defensive line south of the Seine River. The German armies seemed unstoppable, and it appeared that the unthinkable might soon happen: the Kaiser’s troops might capture Paris, and do so within a matter of days.
Paris taxis transport 6,000 French troops to the front for the Battle of the Marne
Then, on 3 September, the seemingly hopeless Allied situation suddenly changed. On that day, the Military Governor of Paris, General Galliéni — while reviewing the results of newly-obtained aerial reconnaissance — discovered that the German advance had veered east of Paris, exposing the lengthening flank of the German right wing to an Allied counterattack. Despite initial skepticism on the part of Marshal Joffre, General Galliéni was persistent and persuasive. On 4 September, six hundred Paris taxis were commandeered by the Military Governor to help transport a fresh division across the ‘City of Light’. These troops were desperately needed to reinforce General Maunoury’s Sixth Army as it began a major counterattack against the exposed German flank. By 6 September, General von Kluck’s First German Army had been forced to fall back in the face of the increasing French pressure; this, in turn, had opened up a thirty mile gap in the German front. Surprised by the unexpected Allied counteroffensive, and increasingly worried about false rumors of Allied amphibious landings along the Belgian Coast to their rear, the German High Command ordered General von Bülow’s Second Army to fall back and reestablish contact with von Kluck’s First Army. The German drive had been turned back.
General Joseph Gallieni, Military Commander of Paris
At least partly because of air planes and taxis, and the decisive actions of General Galliéni, Paris had been saved. This salvation would come at a terrible price, however; the Allied ‘Miracle of the Marne’ meant that World War I would not end in the fall of 1914, but would drag on for four more years; with a final cost of 10 million dead, and many tens of millions more wounded and maimed.
1914 is an operational (battalion/regiment/brigade/division/corps) level simulation of the first two-and-a-half months of fighting between Germany and the Allies at the outset of World War I. The game begins on 14-15 August, 1914 — a full ten days after the initial German moves against France and Belgium — with the onset of a series of engagements known collectively as the ‘Battle of the Frontiers’. The four-color game map covers virtually all of the territory in France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands over which the invading Germans and the Western Allies maneuvered and fought. The game counters represent the historical units that took part in the actual campaign during the period covered by the game. The primary combat units in the game are corps; and each unit counter, whatever its organizational size, is annotated with a different value for attack, defense, and movement. One player commands the armies of Imperial Germany, and the other controls the Allied forces (the French, British, Belgians, and Dutch).
1914 is played in game turns; each of which is equal to two days of real time. Each game turn is further divided into a German and an Allied turn; the German player is always the first player to act. Each game turn is composed of a specific sequence of player actions and proceeds as follows: the first player (German) Reinforcement and Movement Phase; the first player Combat Phase; the second player (Allies) Reinforcement and Movement Phase; the second player Combat Phase. Once both players have finished their moves, the game turn is over and the turn marker is advanced one space; a new game turn then begins. Besides the reinforcements that are periodically called for by the ‘Mobilization-Turn Record Chart’, both sides also receive ‘replacements’ with which they can rebuild units that have suffered ‘step’ losses. The French and German armies each receive six ‘replacement steps’ per game turn and, beginning in September, the British receive three ‘replacement steps’ on each turn.
The mechanics of the 1914 game system are, with a few notable exceptions, relatively orthodox and intuitively logical. On the other hand, the ‘stacking’ rules are pointlessly obtuse. For starters, stacking is unlimited: any number of units (or corps equivalents) may theoretically move through or stack in a single hex. The number of corps-sized units that may move into a hex and then halt, however, is limited by terrain. Thus, any number of corps or their equivalents may pass through a clear hex, but only two could enter from EACH hex-side and then remain in the hex; for rough or forest hexes, this number is reduced to one. What this means, in theory, is that, with a little patience, a player could assemble ‘skyscraper-high’ stacks in individual hexes. Fortunately, this doesn’t actually occur for reasons that will be explained momentarily, nonetheless it is an odd approach to stacking. The game uses a traditional ‘odds differential’ type Combat Results Table (CRT). However, instead of the traditional AR, DR, Ex, AE, and DE combat results, battle outcomes are represented exclusively in terms of ‘step’ losses and retreats for one or both players.
In 1914, there are no zones of control (ZOC's) and combat between adjacent enemy units is always voluntary. The total absence of ZOC’s, however, means that opposing armies must pretty much square-off, shoulder to shoulder, across a thirty-seven hex wide front; this fact, plus the peculiarities of the combat rules, actually discourages the sort of ‘super-stacks’ alluded to earlier. The specific rules governing combat, unlike those for stacking, are comparatively simple. In the case of the defender, only one corps equivalent may be used to defend a particular hex no matter how many units actually occupy the hex under assault. For the attacker, only two corps or their equivalents may attack through a specific hex-side. This means, for instance, that a very large stack of units could attack multiple adjacent hexes, but only two corps could attack a specific adjacent enemy hex. Interestingly, in any battle in which the defender receives a loss, the defending player has the option either to accept the required loss and — with certain exceptions — retreat one hex, or to double the normal loss and stand fast. If the defender retreats, any attacking units that are eligible may advance into the vacated hex. Terrain effects on combat are comparatively simple: units attacking from river hexes, or against rough, forest, or crest hexes have their attack strength halved (fractions rounded up). As a reflection of the defensive strength of high ground, units defending on crest hexes can be forced to lose no more than one step per game turn (whatever the actual combat result) and do not have to retreat. In addition to conventional combat, 1914 also includes a ‘Siege Artillery Table’ for the resolution of artillery attacks against enemy fortresses.
The Battle of the Marne
The supply rules in 1914, not surprisingly, are critically important for both players. In the standard game, for the units of either side to be in supply, they must trace an unblocked three hex path to a friendly controlled rail line that then leads to a viable supply source. For the Germans, the rail portion of their supply path must lead to the east edge of the map; for the French, it must lead to the south or west map edges; Belgian units trace their supply line back to Brussels; and Dutch units are in supply only so long as they are in Holland. British units draw their supply from French sources, and all units in friendly fortification hexes are automatically in supply. In the ‘Advanced Game’, the German player may not use rail lines that formerly belonged to the enemy until they have been repaired by an EB (Eisenbahn Bautruppen) unit. The consequences for being unsupplied are the same for both sides: units lose one step for each full game turn that they remain unsupplied; there are no other supply effects.
Marshall Joseph Joffre, Allied Commander in Chief
1914 offers two basic gaming options: the Standard Game (12 game turns), and the Advanced Game (39 turns or longer). There is also an Introductory Game option, but this is merely a simplified version of the Standard Game. Players who opt to try the Advanced Game may use some or none of the following ‘optional’ rules: Inverted Counters; effects from operations on The Eastern Front; Game Variation (determined by cross-indexing German and Allied ‘Variation’ cards); more detailed Supply Rules; and reconnaissance by Cavalry (used only with the Inverted Counter rule). Also included among the ‘optional’ rules for the Advanced Game are the following: Amphibious Attack and Sea Movement; Garrisons; Game Extension; Time Limit; Dummy Counters and Blind Squares; All Around Defense; Retreat Before Combat; Relieving the Line; and Third Player (Umpired play). For the maximum in historical realism, 1914 also offers the Historical Simulation Game which must be played with all of the previously listed ‘optional’ rules AS WELL AS the following additional ‘historical’ rules: Simultaneous Movement; Multiple Commanders; Delayed Command; and Hidden Movement. In addition to rules for both the Standard and Advanced Games, the designer also includes rules for a Short Game, as well as instructions for Solitaire and Postal Play.
The winner in 1914 is determined on the basis of ‘victory points’. These points can be accrued in several different ways; these are: destroying enemy combat units, and the control of certain geographical objectives. The Allies also receive extra ‘victory points’ if Germany invades Belgium, Holland, or Luxembourg. In addition, when playing the Advanced Game, the German player may also receive additional ‘victory points’ when playing with The Eastern Front game option.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
General von Kluck
1914 was only the second game professionally designed by Jim Dunnigan, and it shows. It was also the third Avalon Hill game that I bought during my early days in the hobby and, back then, I decided almost as soon as I took the game out of the box that I really hated it. I think it was the ‘movement-stacking’ rules that actually did me in. However, revisiting 1914 for the first time after over four decades, I have been somewhat surprised: I remembered it as being too complex, too heavily layered with historical detail, and way too time-consuming to set up or to play; looking at the game now, however, it no longer seems all that intimidating. Granted, because of the counter sorting required by the ‘step’ reduction combat system, it is still a pain to set up; the ‘stacking’ rules are still convoluted and a little silly, and the game map is still as oddly, if colorfully, dysfunctional as I remember; nonetheless, somewhere along the line, 1914 lost some of its power to frighten off or disgust. Don’t get me wrong: I still don’t like the game; instead, my earlier revulsion has, over time, simply faded into a more modest but implacable distaste. Times and people change, I guess. Interestingly, 1914 was widely considered to be extremely complicated and difficult to play when it was first introduced back in 1968; by today’s standards, however, there is nothing in the basic game design — other than the ‘movement-stacking’ rules — that is either particularly confusing or even unusual. Even the once-dreaded ‘Mobilization Sheets’ and the ‘fortress-artillery’ rules don’t seem like they are that big a deal anymore. It would seem that the level of both historical detail and game complexity that players will accept as normal has changed substantially over the last four decades.
General Karl von Bulow
What all this means is that — for contemporary players, at least — 1914 is no longer the ground-breaking and ‘scary’ game that it was when it first appeared almost forty-two years ago. The most radical innovations — at least, for its time — ‘step reduction’ and the absence of zones of control have, over the years, become relatively commonplace. The ‘fortress’ and ‘stacking-movement’ rules are still a little unusual, but otherwise, there is very little in the game that — nowadays, at least — should stump or even seriously bother an experienced gamer. Of course, the Advanced Game, because of the Inverted Counters rules (with all that they entail), tends to go a lot slower than the Standard Game, but this type of ‘standard vs. advanced game’ divergence is now quite common in present-day game designs, so even this is really no longer the major issue that it once was. In fact, many features of the game’s basic mechanics will be quite familiar to the typical contemporary player. Looking at it now, strangely enough, the game seems almost old-fashioned or even quaint. On the other hand, nostalgia and quaintness will only take you so far. And in terms of the current appeal of this early Dunnigan design, let me repeat that, while my loathing for 1914 may have dissipated over time, it has not been replaced by affection. At the risk of stating the obvious: there are other superior (not great, but better) treatments of World War I currently available. This is true, by the way, whether the topic of the First World War is approached from either a ‘game’ or a ‘simulation’ standpoint.
Finally, for those players who might actually consider purchasing this title: I would recommend against it; not unless you have a serious interest, at least, in games covering the ‘Great War’. Let me blunt, I am recommending 1914 pretty much exclusively to World War I specialists and collectors. For everyone else, I suggest that they look seriously at some of the other available titles dealing with the First World War before they settle on this one. Certainly, Dunnigan’s game is more-or-less playable; the problem is that it does not — in my opinion, at least — offer very much enjoyment in return for the time required to set up and play it through to some sort of conclusion. Stated a different way, even a ‘plodder’ like Rob Beyma’s THE GUNS OF AUGUST (1981) is usually more fun than 1914.
However, there is one thing about this title — its place in the evolution of game design — that I do still consider intriguing: that is the comparison of 1914 to SPI’s THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR(1972). Both of these invasion games essentially deal with the same belligerents and cover much of the same geography. In addition, both are corps-level games; both emphasize the importance of railroads; and both use multiple CRT’s and ‘step reduction’ combat loss systems. To me, at least, both the similarities and the differences between these two titles are really quite fascinating. And there is also the fact, I have to admit, that — despite its several similarities to 1914 — I actually really like THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR.
- Time Scale: 2 days per game turn
- Map Scale: 12.8 kilometers (8 miles) per hex
- Unit Size: battalion/regiment/brigade/division/corps
- Unit Types: infantry, cavalry, artillery, and EB (railroad repair) counters
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average/above average (depending on which version is being played)
- Solitaire Suitability: below average/average (depending on which version is being played)
- Average Playing Time: 3½ - 9 + hours (depending on which version of the game is being played)
- One 22” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Board (with combined Terrain Key and Terrain Effects Chart incorporated)
- 390 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
- One 8” x 10” back-printed Introductory Game Instruction Sheet
- One 8” x 10½” Standard Game Rules Booklet
- One 8” x 10” 1914 Battle Manual (with Scenario Instructions and ‘Orders of Battle’ incorporated)
- One 8” x 10” German Unit Counter Chart
- One 8” x 10” Allied Unit Counter Chart
- One 9” x 9” back-printed Combat Results Table
- One 8” x 10” Pad of back-printed Mobilization Charts
- Ten 2½” x 3” back-printed German Game Variation Cards
- Ten 2½” x 3” back-printed Allied Game Variation Cards
- Two 1” x 2½” x 11” cardboard Counter Tray
- One six-sided Die
- One 3½” x 5½” back-printed Avalon Hill Game Catalog Order Card
- One 3½” x 5½” back-printed Avalon Hill Customer Response Card
- One 8½” x 11” map-fold Avalon Hill Products Ad Slick
- One 14½” x 11½” x 1½” cardboard Game Box
See my blog post Book Review of this title which is 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