TAHGC, FRANCE, 1940 (1972)

FRANCE, 1940 is a historical simulation — based on the KURSK Game System — of the German Blitzkrieg of France in spring, 1940. The game spans the crucial first twenty days of the invasion during which the outcome of the campaign was decided. FRANCE, 1940 was designed by James F. Dunnigan and was originally published as the magazine ‘insert’ game for S&T #27 in 1971. The rights to the design were purchased by the Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC) and the game was reissued, in the sleeved-box format profiled here, in 1972.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND


Fortress of the Maginot Line

As the sun rose on 9 May, 1940, the “no-man’s-land” that separated Germany and France was still, as it had been for over eight months, eerily quiet. Hitler’s two remaining enemies, France and England (at this time, still called the Entente), had been at war with Nazi Germany since 3 September, 1939; but, except for a shallow five kilometer incursion into German territory in the region of the Saar in September-October 1939, the front had been largely inactive since the outbreak of hostilities. In fact, the noticeable absence of offensive operations from both the Germans and the Allies during the fall and winter of 1939-1940 had prompted newspapers in the west to sarcastically dub this protracted period of inaction: the Sitzkrieg or “Phony War.” Moreover, the one Allied attempt to interfere with German offensive plans — the ill-fated expedition to support Norway — had been a humiliating debacle, particularly for Britain. Thus, as the days turned longer and the weather improved, all eyes were fixed expectantly on the Franco-German border.

General von Manstein

This was not to say, it should be noted, that either the Allies or the Germans had been completely idle during the months that followed Poland’s capitulation. Both sides had gradually amassed huge numbers of men and materiel in anticipation of the inevitable fighting to come. By spring of 1940, the Allied forces arrayed along France’s frontier with Belgium and Germany were — at least by conventional reckoning — quite formidable. In fact, if the manpower of neutral Belgium and Holland were added to the forces of France and England — a reasonable supposition given previous history — the combined Allied army now numbered 144 front line and reserve divisions, 13,974 pieces of artillery, 3,383 tanks and 2,935 aircraft, for a total of approximately 3,300,00 men. Opposing this impressive host, the Germans had, by early May, assembled nearly 3,350,000 troops on the western front. These German fighting men comprised a force of 141 divisions, 7,378 guns, 2,445 tanks and assault guns, and 5,638 aircraft. Thus, at least on paper, German prospects for victory did not look particularly promising. The Allies possessed rough parity in total manpower and enjoyed a significant numerical advantage in both artillery tubes and tanks. Only in the category of airpower did Hitler’s forces have a distinct edge. Besides a more powerful air force, however, the Germans also had two other less obvious, but important advantages: a proven and well-honed, ground-air doctrine for mechanized warfare; and Lieutenant-General Erich von Manstein’s audacious plan, code-named Fall Gelb (Case Yellow), to pierce the Allied front at its weakest point near Sedan and, once a breakthrough had been achieved, to then send the bulk of the Wehrmacht’s mechanized forces racing west to the Channel Coast. This surprise stroke, the German Führer hoped, would produce another stunning victory like that which his army had achieved, only months earlier, against Poland.

The 'Manstein Plan' was simple in concept, but breathtaking in its daring. It was also controversial because the Führer had personally chosen it over what appeared, at first glance, to be the safer, more conventional operational blueprint preferred by many in the German Army’s senior leadership, the Oberkommado Des Heeres (OKH). Both plans had their advocates, but only one offered any prospect, however small, of a rapid and successful end to the campaign in France.

General Franz Halder

The plan of campaign preferred by the OKH was known as the ‘Halder Plan’, a title it had acquired because it had been prepared under the direction of General Franz Halder. It called for the German Army to direct its major offensive effort through the Low Countries and into France as far as the River Somme. The German attack against France, Halder suggested, could then be resumed in 1941! In essence, this was an unimaginative replay of the ‘Schlieffen Plan’, but with armor and air power now used to support the broad front advance of the German infantry. Hitler, having personally been in the trenches of the Western Front during World War I, was not impressed by Halder’s cautious proposal. Neither was General Gerd von Rundstedt who took it upon himself to instruct his chief of staff, Erich von Manstein, to produce a more creative and, it was hoped, more decisive alternative. In January 1940, a copy of the ‘Halder Plan’ fell into Allied hands when a plane carrying a Luftwaffe major made an emergency landing in Maasmechelen, in Belgium. This event, known as the "Mechelen Incident" is popularly thought to have been the reason that the Germans abandoned the ‘Halder Plan’; but, in point of fact, Hitler had already signaled that he was ready to reject the OKH plan in favor of the alternative proposed by Generals von Rundstedt and von Manstein well before January, 1940.

The Manstein Plan
 
Lieutenant-General von Manstein’s version of Fall Gelb called for a multi-stage offensive: in the south, the nineteen divisions of Army Group ‘C’ would demonstrate in front of the Maginot Line to prevent French forces from shifting to reinforce other sectors, once the offensive actually began; Army Group ‘B’, with thirty divisions, would push into the Low Countries and hopefully draw substantial Allied forces north and east into Belgium; the third and most critical phase of the offensive called for the forty-five divisions of Army Group ‘A’ to rapidly push through the Ardennes and to breach the Meuse River defenses before they could be reinforced. This meant, however, that for the ‘Manstein Plan’ to succeed, the senior panzer commanders of Army Group ‘A’ would have to be audacious, almost to the point of foolhardiness, because the pace of the armored drive would have to be maintained no matter what. Such a rapid rate of advance in turn would mean that the mechanized forces would inevitably leave the regular, non-motorized forces farther and farther behind as the offensive progressed. Thus, the plan’s success would also depend on the near-flawless coordination of the fast-moving panzer forces and the Luftwaffe. This seamless ground-air ollaboration would be essential because, as the German armor raced ahead, it would be impossible for the artillery to keep up. Therefore, the dive bomber pilots of the Luftwaffe, by working and communicating directly with the panzer commanders on the battlefield, would have to take over the role of the armored forces’ (airborne) artillery.

Maginot Line Anti-tank Fortifications

The Allied high command, of course, could only guess at the broad operational outlines and intermediate goals of the German plan of campaign. The pronounced numerical superiority in the Luftwaffe fighter arm made Allied aerial reconnaissance flights over German territory difficult, if not impossible. Nonetheless, despite the clear signs of an ongoing enemy build-up to their front, the Allies remained confident that the section of France that directly bordered Hitler’s Third Reich was secure. Any German attack that came in this sector would have to breach the Maginot Line: a twenty-five kilometer deep belt of strongly-garrisoned fortifications, strong points and anti-tank barriers that covered the French border for approximately 145 kilometers. Unfortunately, these powerful fixed fortifications only extended from the Swiss border in the south, as far north as the city of Montmedy near the Belgian frontier. This meant that the rest of the Franco-Belgian border, some 435 kilometers, was more-or-less exposed to a German attack. And, in 1914, it had been through Belgium that the Kaiser’s troops had stormed, seizing vast tracts of French territory and, in the process, laying waste to many of the French republic’s northern cities and towns. Moreover, a whole generation of Frenchmen had been maimed or killed in the four bloody years of the “Great War.” Now, barely twenty-years later, the prospect of yet another German invasion of France seemed immanent.

General Gamelin, Commander-in-Chief, French Army

Not surprisingly given the lessons of the last war, the very real threat posed by Germany was not lost either on the Belgian people or their government. Thus, although officially neutral, Belgian civilian and military leaders had, in the period following the fall of Poland, already made secret arrangements for Allied troops to enter Belgian territory at the first sign of a German move against the Low Countries. The leaders of the Entente had been quick to accede to Belgium’s confidential request; however, their willingness to come to Belgium’s aid was rooted in more than their altruistic impulse to help a weaker neighbor. From the standpoint of London, a rapid Allied move into the Low Countries would deny Hitler advanced airfields from which to launch bombing raids against England; for the French, such a northern advance would, it was hoped, shift the sites of the heaviest fighting away from French and into Belgian territory; in addition, both British and French military leaders believed that a powerful Allied lodgment in the Low Countries would pose a direct threat to Germany’s industrial heartland, the Ruhr. Thus, given the several strategic advantages of a military move to help the Belgians, preparations were immediately begun for just such an advance; and the final operational plan for the rapid Allied redeployment into Belgium was codenamed the ‘D’ (for Dyle) Plan, in honor of the Belgian River east of Brussels behind which the Allies hoped to form their line against the advancing Germans. Hitler’s attack might fall anywhere, but, based both on sound military principles and on past history, the majority of the Allied generals expected the Germans to again come through Flanders, as they had in 1914.

General Lord John Gort

By late spring, the Allied high command considered that its forces were generally ready to meet a German blow wherever it might fall. The southern section of the Allied front was rendered secure by the Maginot Line, while the northern section of the French border — that part that ran from the North Sea along the Belgian frontier to the northern edge of the Ardennes — was now manned by the First Army Group: a powerful, largely-motorized force composed of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.), under General Lord Gort, and many of the best, most mobile formations of the French army. Only the central part of the front was, compared to the northern and southern portions of the Allied line, relatively weakly-held; a situation that raised worries even within the Allied high command, itself. However, General Maurice Gamelin, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Army, countered these concerns by pointing out that, although this central sector looked vulnerable when examined on a map, it was actually much safer from German attack than it appeared, primarily because it was shielded by the forests, streams and broken ground of the Ardennes. Moreover, not only did the bad terrain and primitive road net make even unopposed motorized movement awkward and slow in this area, but the paucity of east-west roads wide enough for two-way traffic would make resupplying a large attacking force once it had traversed the Ardennes exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. During the Polish campaign, the Wehrmacht had demonstrated its heavy reliance on its mechanized forces to spearhead its offensive operations; thus, it seemed obvious to the Allied Supreme Commander that the lack of paved roads, the numerous (easily destroyed) bridges that crossed the many streams in the area, along with the generally poor off-road tank terrain that characterized much of the Ardennes, ruled it out as a possible site for the main German attack. [Interestingly, General Gamelin’s appraisal of the limitations of the Ardennes road net was actually quite accurate: in the case of the 41,000 vehicles that were assigned to Kleist’s Panzer Group, for example, only four roads could actually be allocated by Army Group ‘A’ headquarters to Kleist’s entire command for its passage through the Ardennes.] And finally, even if the Wehrmacht did make the colossal blunder of attempting a major armored thrust through the Ardennes, the Meuse River just inside the French border was fortified with pill boxes and field fortifications to a depth of over six kilometers. For this reason, the Allied commander was convinced that, in the unlikely event that an attack did fall here, the Germans would be unable to attempt a cross-river assault until supporting infantry and artillery could be brought forward: a process that would require a minimum of seven to ten days. In the meantime, General Gamelin and his staff were confident that the Meuse river defenses would be more than strong enough to hold back a hastily-organized German attack until Allied reinforcements could be transferred by rail to the threatened battle area. Thus, although far from perfect, the Allied defensive arrangements — when viewed as a whole — appeared both solid and sensible. And because the Allied high command believed that their own forces would not be ready for a sustained offensive against Germany before 1941, they bided their time and waited for Hitler to make the first move. And, after eight months, that move finally came.

German paratrooper drop

At dusk on 9 May, 1940, word reached Allied headquarters that German units had begun rolling unopposed into Luxembourg; moreover, a noticeable jump in the number of infantry patrols, as well as other military movements along the Dutch and Belgian frontiers, indicated an unusual amount of German activity; but what all these enemy movements actually meant, no one at Gamelin’s headquarters could be sure. Sudden spikes in German patrol activity had occurred before, and nothing had come of it. In any case, while the Allied high command was far from unanimous in their estimate of German intentions, the senior officers of both the French and British armies were nonetheless confident that the combat power of the Allied forces and their plan of battle would, together, be sufficient to stop the Wehrmacht if it did attack on this day, or on any other. Unbeknownst to these Allied officers and their men, however, these last few hours were the calm before the German storm.

Eben Emael Fortress Entrance

In the early hours of 10 May, Hitler’s Luftwaffe began ferocious airstrikes against airfields in France, Belgium and Holland, and the Wehrmacht soon followed-up with attacks of its own. These early German air and ground operations initially served to confirm Allied expectations: strong German attacks had quickly swamped the border defenses of both Holland and Belgium; while, at the same time, the Wehrmacht appeared content to maintain a mainly defensive posture in front of the Maginot Line. Thus, to meet these initial German moves, the “Dyle” Plan was put into effect, and the Allied First Army Group began to rapidly advance north into Belgium. It was soon depressingly obvious, however, that several important elements of the German plan had not been anticipated. The first unexpected shock arrived when disturbing news gradually began reach Supreme Allied headquarters that certain key objectives in Belgium and Holland, and even the powerful Belgian fortress of Eben-Emael, had been captured by German airborne troops; this was unsettling, to say the least. In fact, the unwelcome and premature loss of Eben-Emael was a major jolt to the Entente planners. But also worrisome to the Allied high command was the flurry of confused and sometimes contradictory reports beginning to come in from the central part of the front. These communiques, given battlefield developments farther to the north, were both unexpected and unsettling. A sizeable number of German mechanized units had already been encountered in the early fighting in Belgium and Holland; yet, in spite of this fact, several advanced Allied detachments deployed farther to the south were reporting that a very large German force, accompanied by armor, was slowly pushing its way, against light resistance, through the tangled forests and narrow lanes of the Ardennes. General Gamelin, although still convinced that a German armored attack in this sector was highly improbable, nonetheless issued orders on the 12th for several reserve infantry divisions to begin moving to reinforce the Meuse defenders; then, satisfied that events were generally proceeding as expected, the Supreme Commander and his staff sat back to allow time for the battlefield situation to develop. As it turned out, neither he nor his staff had long to wait.

Panzer II, France, 1940

On the evening of the 12th, the first elements of the XIXth corps of Kleist’s Panzer Group debouched out of the Ardennes near Sedan. By the afternoon of 13 May, a full seven days sooner than anyone in Allied headquarters had thought possible, the unbelievable happened: motorized infantry from the 1st, 2nd and 10th Panzer Divisions and from the SS Grossdeutschland Regiment — without waiting either for supporting artillery or for additional infantry to come up — attacked and fought their way across the Meuse at Houx, Monthermé and Sedan. In these river battles, the Luftwaffe, as Manstein had intended, was crucial to the success of all three of the German crossings. Moreover, in spite of often tenacious initial French resistance, the momentum of the German advance did not slacken. Instead, sappers immediately began building pontoon bridges as soon as both river banks had been secured and, within hours, the first vehicles from seven panzer divisions and four motorized divisions were streaming across the Meuse and into the Allied rear.

Germans Bridging the Meuse, France, 1940

The successful crossing of the Meuse was the decisive moment in the entire campaign. Once the Germans had broken the river defenses near Sedan, panic quickly spread to other French units near the point of the breakthrough. With local morale crumbling, an immediate French counterattack could not be organized, and the breach in the Allied center steadily widened. It would never be closed. In desperation, the increasingly frantic Entente high command ordered planes to bomb the German crossings. However, repeated Allied bombing attacks, despite heavy aircraft losses, failed to destroy the temporary bridges, and German troops continued to pour across the Meuse.

On 16 May, General Maxime Weygand was appointed to replace General Gamelin as Allied Supreme Commander, but the change in command had little effect on the Entente's fortunes on the battlefield. With Kleist’s mechanized units now loose in their rear, the Allied position deteriorated rapidly. Just five days after Gamelin’s dismissal, on 21 May, 1940, Guderian’s panzers — after beating back repeated Allied counterattacks on both flanks — reached the Channel Coast near the mouth of the Somme not far from Abbeville. To the north and east of Guderian’s panzers, the survivors of the once-powerful Allied First Army Group, along with several Belgian units, now found themselves with their backs to the Channel, encircled by the Germans and under constant air attack from the Luftwaffe. Even worse, a breakout by these trapped Allied soldiers was no longer militarily possible; it appeared that, given their predicament, only a miracle could save them from annihilation or capture. However and against all odds, between 26 May and 4 June, 1940, just such a miracle actually took place. In the space of nine days and nights, a fleet of over 850 naval and civilian vessels took part in the Royal Navy’s “Operation Dynamo” and, by making trip after trip to and from the French coast, succeeded in rescuing over 338,000 British, French, Canadian and Belgian troops from the harbor and beaches of Dunkirk. The British Expeditionary Force was forced to abandon its heavy equipment and artillery in France, but its soldiers, thanks to the success of "Dynamo," had managed to avoid German captivity and, instead, would live to fight another day.

DESCRIPTION 

FRANCE, 1940 is a two-player operational-level (division/corps) wargame of the decisive first phase of the German invasion of France: the critical three-week period during which — in the historical campaign — German panzers broke through the center of the Allied front and then lunged west to cut off and encircle the substantial British and French forces that had advanced north into Belgium. The three-color hexagonal grid game map depicts eastern France, the Low Countries (Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg), and western Germany from Switzerland to the North Sea. Each hex of the game map is roughly equal to 12.5 kilometers from side to side. The various game counters represent the historical German, French, British, Belgian and Dutch combat units that took part — or that, had circumstances been different, could have played a role — in the actual campaign. FRANCE, 1940 is played in game turns, each of which is divided into a German and an Allied player turn. The Allied player always sets up his units before the German player places his own counters on the game map. A complete game turn is equal to two days of real time. The game focuses on the days from 10 May, to 29 May, 1940: the time period during which the decisive events of the campaign actually transpired. Game turns in FRANCE, 1940 are symmetrical and are further divided into a German and then an Allied player turn. The German player always moves first, and each player turn is sequenced as follows: Initial Movement (and reinforcement) Phase; Combat Phase; and once all combat is completed, the second Mechanized Movement Phase. The Allied player then repeats exactly the same sequence of player actions. At the conclusion of both player turns, the turn record marker is advanced one space, and the next game turn begins.

The actual mechanics of play for FRANCE, 1940, like the other titles in the KURSK family of games, are comparatively simple, but nonetheless bear looking at. Stacking, for both players, is limited to three combat units per hex; however, only one corps or corps equivalent (any three divisional-sized or smaller units) may attack from, or defend in, a single hex. Interestingly, stacking limits apply at all times. Therefore, friendly units may not pass through hexes that already contain the stacking maximum during either of the two movement phases; moreover, any units forced to retreat because of combat onto other friendly units in excess of legal stacking limits are eliminated. Combat between adjacent enemy units is always voluntary. As noted earlier, only a single corps-sized unit in a hex may defend against attack; in those cases in which two or more corps-sized units are stacked together, the defending player chooses which corps or corps equivalent will actually fight. In contrast, different component divisional-sized or smaller units in an attacking stack may choose to attack the same or a different adjacent hex, or even to make no attack at all. Zones of control (ZOCs) are semi-active, but not ‘sticky’. This means that, in FRANCE, 1940, all units must pay a penalty of three movement points to move adjacent to an enemy unit, but may exit an enemy-controlled hex at a cost of two additional movement points. Thus, a unit with sufficient movement factors can move directly from one enemy ZOC to another. In addition, ZOCs block both supply paths and retreat routes; however, the presence of a friendly unit in the affected hex negates the ZOC in both cases.

The terrain and movement rules for FRANCE, 1940 — except for one significant innovation — are familiar and quite conventional. Terrain types are relatively few, and their effects on movement and combat are intuitively logical and hence, are easy to keep track of. All units, for example, expend one movement point to enter a clear terrain or city hex. All non-mechanized units also expend a single movement point to enter forest or swamp hexes. However, mechanized units and ground support elements — unlike infantry and cavalry — expend two movement points to enter forest and swamp hexes. Movement by ground units into all-sea or flooded hexes is prohibited; rivers, oddly enough, have no effect on movement. Terrain effects on combat are also comparatively simple. For instance, units that are defending in forests, swamps, or are attacked exclusively through river hex-sides receive a minus two die roll modification (DRM); units defending in clear terrain or in cities, on the other hand, receive no defensive bonus at all. The one unique aspect of the FRANCE, 1940 terrain rules pertains to the special characteristics of the hexes of the Belgian fortress of Eben-Emael and the French Maginot Line: Allied units may move freely through these hexes without penalty, but German units may only enter a fortified hex — thereby permanently destroying its defensive value — when a Defender Destroyed (DX) combat result is rolled. In addition to being barriers to German movement, these Allied fortified hexes also increase a friendly occupying defender’s strength by 10 combat factors when attacked exclusively from the front, or by 5 factors when attacked from the rear or from both front and rear, in combination.

The rules for resolving ground combat in FRANCE, 1940 are, in most ways, quite familiar; they do, nonetheless, contain a couple of elements that are unique to this game. Among the things that are familiar: all terrain, supply and other effects on combat are cumulative. And regular ground battles are resolved, as might be expected, using a traditional ‘odds differential’ Combat Results Table (CRT). Also, in the case of retreat results, the victorious player chooses the retreat route for all defeated enemy units. Among the several design features that are unique to combat in this game, the most noticeable are undoubtedly the changes to the Combat Results listed on the FRANCE, 1940 CRT. It is this set of new combat results that most clearly sets this game apart from its many World War II era cousins. To begin with, while the CRT includes Attacker Destroyed (AX), Defender Destroyed (DX), Both Retreat (BR) and Attacker Retreat (AR) outcomes, it does not show either Exchanges (EX) or Defender Retreats (DR), at all. Instead of these familiar combat outcomes, the game designer has substituted a set of new, defender Counterattack (CA) results to take their places. This is no trivial change. The FRANCE, 1940 CRT itself is, as is typical of all of the KURSK family of games, relatively bloodless; without the CA result, battle odds of 5 to 1 or higher are required before a Defender Destroyed (DX) result even appears as a possible combat outcome, and most combat results will take the form of AR, BR or CA, until very high (7 to 1 or better) combat odds are attained. Because of the CA result, unmodified odds as low as 3 to 1 can produce a large (66% chance) of a CA result. Moreover, the introduction of these alternative CA results — with their varying accompanying DRMs — heavily favors the Germans by dramatically increasing Allied battlefield attrition. This is because of the strength disparity between German infantry corps, which are 7s, and French corps, which are 6s; a German infantry corps forced by a CA result to counterattack one of its original attackers, typically does so at 1 to 1 odds, but French infantry usually must counterattack at 1 to 2 odds. This difference in counterattack odds increases the likelihood of a French AX over that of a comparable German result by 16%. Another intriguing feature of this title is that, unlike virtually all of the other KURSK-based games, German panzer and motorized divisions are not replaced by weaker kampfgruppe units when they are eliminated in battle.

The air war in FRANCE, 1940, as is typical with several of the other KURSK-based games, is highly abstracted and, at least in the Historical Game, heavily favors the German player. The air rules, themselves, are comparatively simple. Air units are composed of an ‘Aircraft Element’ and a mobile ‘Ground Support Element’. Aircraft elements may fly one of five different types of missions: Close Support (this mission adds ‘2’ to the attacker’s combat die roll); Interdiction (aircraft exert the same effect on a hex as a ZOC); Combat Air Patrol (friendly aircraft operate over a specific hex to prevent enemy air missions against it); Air Superiority (aircraft attack enemy Ground Support Elements using the ‘Air Superiority Table’); and Interception (friendly aircraft intercept enemy air missions flown against a specific hex). The German air advantage in the game is two-fold: German Aircraft Elements have a range of twenty hexes, whereas Allied aircraft units have a maximum reach of only eighteen hexes; more importantly, the Germans enjoy a significant advantage in numbers of aircraft. This pro-German bias varies depending on which ‘Orders of Battle’ the players are using, but in the Historical Game, for example, the Germans start the game with eight air units while the Allies’ possess only two. The end result of these disparities in air strength and range is that the Allied Aircraft Elements will spend much of the game attempting to stay beyond the reach of German Air Superiority missions, while the Luftwaffe devotes the majority of its aircraft to assisting ground forces with Close Support missions.

The supply rules to FRANCE, 1940 impose slightly different requirements on the two sides. German units are in supply if they are able to trace a supply path, unblocked by enemy units or zones of control, of any length to the east edge of the game map. Allied units are in supply if they are able to trace an unblocked supply route of any length to the western map edge. Also, on the first two game turns after the Netherlands enters the war, Allied units may trace a supply path to the north edge of the map. In addition, Allied units may, under certain circumstances, also draw supply from several other alternate sources. Any single Allied unit that occupies an undestroyed fortification hex is always considered to be in supply. The city of Antwerp can also be used as an Allied supply source, but only if the following conditions have all been met: Belgium is an active belligerent; no German units have entered or passed through the city; and no German units are adjacent to any of the river hexes that connect Antwerp to the North Sea. Both German and Allied supply status is determined for movement purposes at the beginning of the first movement phase; and for combat purposes, at the instant of combat. Supply effects are comparatively simple: supplied units move and fight normally; unsupplied units are halved for both movement and combat (fractions are rounded down), and in the case of stacked units, each unit is halved individually, athough no unit’s combat strength can ever be reduced to less than ‘1’. Finally, aircraft units whose Ground Support Elements are unsupplied may not fly any air missions until supply has been restored.

In addition to the already enumerated standard rules, FRANCE, 1940, also includes several additional special rules that reflect other important aspects of the campaign. These are: German ‘ranged’ artillery units which can, when attacking enemy fortifications, fire up to two hexes; restrictions on Allied movement based on the belligerent status (neutral or at war) of Holland and Belgium; and German ‘off map’ movement which requires the Allied player to match, in terms of total combat strength, any German units that exit play from the south map edge by exiting Allied units of his own.

The winner of FRANCE, 1940 is determined at game end by a comparison of the opposing sides’ victory points. Both players accrue victory points for the destruction of enemy combat units; in addition, the German player also gains victory points if he captures the three hexes that comprise Paris. In addition, for the Germans to actually win the game, the Wehrmacht must accumulate 80 or more victory points by the end of the tenth game turn, and he must also achieve a three-to-one or greater ratio over the Allied player in victory points. If the German player fails to satisfy these conditions, the Allied commander wins.

Maginot Line interlocking pillboxes.

In a much-needed effort to expand both the game’s variability and its playability, FRANCE, 1940 offers, besides the Allied and German Orders of Battle (OoBs) presented in the Historical Game, ten additional Allied OoBs and five alternate German OoBs for players to experiment with. These optional orders of battle suggest historically plausible ‘might-have-beens’ to the pre-war policies actually adopted by the belligerents. For example, several of the alternate Allied OoBs posit a French decision not to construct the Maginot Line, but, instead, to pursue alternative pre-war armament policies aimed at increasing the combat power of the regular French army and air forces by building more tanks and planes. For the Germans, one example of a hypothetical Wehrmacht OoB rests on the possible choice, by Hitler, not to invade Denmark and Norway. Each of these several alternate OoBs is rated by the designer in terms of its relative strength and, based on this numerical rating, can be matched against one another according to the relative experience and skill of the opposing players. In addition to this collection of different orders of battle, the game also offers a set of additional ‘Optional’ rules for those players who would like to add a little additional simulation detail to their games at the cost of increased complexity. These optional rules include: German Paratroops and air-landing units (the German player may conduct airborne assaults against Allied positions); Mild Winter Fortifications (posits a less severe 1939-40 winter than occurred historically; permits the construction of stronger Allied field fortifications from the Maginot Line to the coast); Variable Victory Conditions (this rule stipulates different levels of player victory); and Sea Evacuation of Allied Units (allows the Allies to conduct a ‘Dunkirk’ style naval rescue of Allied coastal units).

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION 

Stuka dive bomber.

Any discussion of FRANCE, 1940 always carries with it the temptation to join the ‘pig-pile’ of previous criticism that has already been heaped on this title. Even Dunnigan acknowledged, pretty early on, that he had basically ‘whiffed’ when it came to simulating the 1940 battle for France. Of course, in the eyes of many of his most determined critics, Dunnigan did more than ‘swing and miss’ when he designed FRANCE, 1940; instead, quite a few disgruntled players have argued that, when it came to this title, he actually let go of his bat completely and let it ‘brain’ the TAHGC team mascot. That, I think, is just a bit overblown. And although I am certainly not a big fan of this game, some of the criticism that has been directed over the years at FRANCE, 1940 still seems a little too harsh. Besides, back when the game first appeared, I personally found the hopelessness of the Allied position in the Historical Game quite interesting and — much to the delight of my regular opponents — almost always volunteered to command the out-classed Allies. That being said, nostalgia will only carry a title so far, and even after thirty-eight years, a game that was disappointing when it was originally published, is most likely still going to be disappointing, today. Such, alas, is the case with FRANCE, 1940.

General Weygand

Part of the problem with FRANCE, 1940, when looked at purely from the designer’s vantage point, is that the totality of the historical situation is extremely difficult to simulate. In fact, a large share of the blame for the very real shortcomings of Dunnigan’s design can probably be traced directly to the facts surrounding the conduct and outcome of the actual battle. The speed and lop-sidedness of the German victory over an Allied force that was technologically equal and numerically equal or superior to the attacking Germans in every category except that of airpower is, viewed in retrospect, almost incomprehensible. Not surprisingly, since the appearance of FRANCE, 1940 other designers have attempted to model this campaign, and a few of them have even succeeded a little better than Dunnigan in meeting the challenge posed by this historical puzzle. I would argue, for example, that John Prados’ THIRD REICH (1974) and Frank Chadwick’s 1940 (1980) both do a better job of reproducing some aspects of the German blitzkrieg than does FRANCE, 1940; however, neither of these two design alternatives, despite their cleverness, is really any more likely to match the actual battlefield events of the historical campaign than is Dunnigan’s botched turn at "at bat." Thus, the main difficulty with this game, and, in fact, with almost all simulations of the 1940 German campaign against France and the Low Countries, is that the historical result — barring the imposition of arbitrary ‘idiocy’ rules on the Allied player — is exceedingly difficult for a game designer to replicate. I personally believe that the wheels came off of FRANCE, 1940 because the final game design ended up being the result of a decision, by a frustrated Jim Dunnigan, to work backwards from the historical outcome to a plausible starting point, rather than from beginning to end. And while this ‘reverse-engineering’ approach might be useful for mapping out design solutions for some simulation problems, it clearly did not work for this one.

French CharB tank.

One of the characteristics of the games from the 1970s and 1980s that I have always admired is that the designers of that era approached their simulations with a distinct point-of-view. An individual player might agree or disagree with the designer’s take on a specific battle or campaign, but at least the player usually had a clear understanding as to what the designer considered to be the critical elements that led to the ultimate historical outcome. In the case of FRANCE, 1940, I don’t think that Dunnigan was able to come up with a simulation narrative that really worked in conveying the essence of the historical campaign. And his default position — the Germans were simply unbeatable in 1940 — sounds, when one reads the "Designer’s Notes" an awful lot more like an excuse from someone suffering from designer’s block, than it does a carefully reasoned historical judgment about the 1940 campaign. This oddly-deterministic conclusion, by the way, also makes Jim Dunnigan the only serious student of history that I have ever run across who actually argues that the ‘Halder Plan’ would have produced a better result for the Germans than the historical ‘Manstein Plan’! I suspect that this eccentric historical judgment may, however, actually explain a few (if not, most) of the design problems that surfaced in FRANCE, 1940. Thus, it could be that when it came to this game, the designer’s creative well had temporarily run dry. It is abundantly clear, for example, that the regular KURSK game platform (with its relatively bloodless CRT) didn’t work for this situation; so, in the end, I think that it is possible that a desperate designer latched onto the concept of the compulsory Counterattack — perverse and unrealistic though it might be — as a way of artificially producing the outcome that he wanted. After all, this pernicious little design ‘slight of hand’, particularly when combined with the carefully-chosen disparity in the combat strengths of the German and French infantry corps, accomplished what Dunnigan set out to do: it virtually guaranteed that the Germans couldn’t lose. Sadly, this trick on the designer’s part meant that clever play was made as irrelevant to the outcome of the game for the German player as it was for his hapless Allied opponent. Since virtually any German plan will work; why even bother to set the game up? Needless-to-say, both from a simulation and from a gaming standpoint, this choice by the designer was not well-received by the more skeptical members of the hobby when the game first appeared. And it still isn’t, today.

BEF Evacuation, Dunkerque

In the end, the story that Jim Dunnigan chose to tell with FRANCE, 1940 turned out, I believe, to be both fundamentally flawed and woefully unsatisfying. Thus, the most important reason for the game’s failure as a simulation — in the view of most critics, myself included — is that his design solution actually has no logical connection to the main factors that most students of military affairs generally accept as having led to the Allied catastrophe in 1940. The Allies did not lose the 1940 battle for France because their troops were cowardly or inept; nor did they lose because the French poilu (ordinary soldiers) insisted on throwing themselves against the advancing Germans in wave after wave of suicidal frontal attacks. On the contrary, the Allied defeat was rooted in other, more commonplace and readily identifiable causes; some of the most notable of which were: the impossibly optimistic (and militarily lethargic) view that Germany might be defeated through the imposition of a naval blockade without any major Allied ground fighting even being necessary; a strategic emphasis — at least until significant additional forces could be mobilized by spring of 1941 — on static, defensive battle; an inflexible, painfully-slow and poorly-coordinated system of command and control; an underdeveloped air doctrine that made the effective coordination of ground and air operations virtually impossible; and a senior leadership with only the most rudimentary understanding or appreciation of the true shock value — both psychological and military — of massed armor formations, particularly when those powerful, fast-moving units were closely supported by air power. Finally and perhaps most importantly, the Allies lost in 1940 because the Germans, although they made their share of mistakes, got almost all of the major things right; while the Allies seemed to get most of the same things terribly and tragically wrong.

RAF Spitfires

Perhaps, the kindest thing that can be said about FRANCE, 1940 is that the graphic design of the game — given when it was published — is really top-notch. The map is a little plain, but unambiguous, and the rules booklet, unit counters and other play aids are all very nicely done. Moreover, FRANCE, 1940 was one of the last titles published by the Avalon Hill Game Company to use the ultra-sturdy, sleeved-box packaging format. Nonetheless, as either a historical simulation or simply as a game of the 1940 battle for France, Dunnigan’s creation offers very little of real value to the contemporary gamer. The design elements that make it unique, also, unfortunately, make it unsatisfactory as a game. For this reason, I believe that this title, while it may be of some interest to serious collectors of World War II games, is probably a poor choice for either casual or experienced gamers.

Finally, for those readers who are interested in a very nice, after-market redesign of the map and counters for FRANCE, 1940, upgraded versions of these game components are available for download (in PDF file format) at:  http://www.jrcooper.com/france1940.htm.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: two days per game turn
  • Map Scale: 12.5 kilometers per hex (estimated)
  • Unit Size: battalion/regiment/brigade/division/corps
  • Unit Types: armor, mechanized infantry, armored cavalry, infantry, artillery, cavalry, paratroops, air-landing troops, air units w/ground support element and information markers
  • Number of Players: 2
  • Complexity: average
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 2-3 hours (depending on scenarios, and whether the basic or advanced version is being played)

Game Components:

  • One (three section) 22” x 24” hexagonal grid Map Board (with Turn Record Track and Victory Points Tracks incorporated)
  • 224 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 5½” x 8½” map-fold Rules Booklet (with Terrain Effects Chart and Play by Mail Combat Results Table incorporated)
  • One 8½” x 11½” x 2” Inner Box Lid with Combat Results Table
  • One 5½” x 8½” FRANCE, 1940 Historical “Dyle Plan” Set-up Instructions and Special Rules
  • One 5½” x 8½” Designer’s Notes and Campaign Analysis Booklet
  • Three 5½” x 7½” back-printed Alternative German Order of Battle Cards (6 Alternative Orders of Battle, in all)
  • Six 5½” x 7½” back-printed Alternative Allied Order of Battle Cards (for a total of 11 Alternative Orders of Battle)
  • One six-sided Die
  • One 8½” x 11½” x 2” Bookcase-style sleeved cardboard Game Box with plastic tray

Recommended Reading

See my blog post Book Reviews of these titles; all 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

17 comments:

  • I think I played this game more times solitaire than any other--yes, the historical game was so lopsided in favor of the Germans but it was fun to play with all the alternative OOBs to see if anything might have worked better (well, not really in the end, given the design bias towards German tactical superiority, but some games were less lopsided).

    This game was good for experienced players to introduce newbies into wargaming--the old hand would take the French in the historical game and let the new guy play the Germans. When the new guy wanted to play the French after that experience, the old hand lets him have the strongest Allied OOB in the game. Sure, the old hand will win likely win both games the first time out, but they'll probably not be blowouts and discourage the new player. Hopefully, the newbie will like the historical folder and options and want to play a couple more games as the Germans before moving on to other similar titles.

  • Greetings Eric:

    I see that you have offered yet another set of pithy comments to off-set my own rather unkind appraisal of this example of Dunnigan's game design handi-work.

    Interestingly, despite FRANCE, 1940's many flaws, like you, I also played the game quite a lot in the period immediately after its release. For my own part, I was attracted to the "hopelessness" of the Allied cause, so I never had any shortage of opponents who were willing to batter away at my latest attempt at an Allied defense. And every once in awhile, as unlikely as it might sound, I would actually pull out a completely unexpected Allied win. Such victories were, of course exceedingly rare, but when they did occur, they filled me with the same satisfaction that I experienced when I won as the Germans in Dunnigan's other notoriously imbalanced title: the Historical Scenario in the DESTRUCTION OF ARMY GROUP CENTER -- which, after a few playings, I discovered was not nearly as hopelessly imbalanced as its West front cousin

    In the end, however, I finally gave up on FRANCE, 1940, and turned instead to Frank Chadwick's 1940. Although the GDW game couldn't match the Avalon Hill title's presentation and graphics, it nonetheless turned out to be a much more interesting and better-balanced design. In fact, I still like the old "Series 120" game to this day.

    Thanks Again for your thoughtful comments and
    Best Regards, Joe

  • I too played this a lot when it came out in S&T and then the AH version. It certainly does get bashed and mostly it seems with the the fact the German's Infantry Corps at 7 cf compared to the French 6's they can just grind them in attrition.

    I still play this from time to time and half of them with the original SPI version

  • Greetings Kim:

    The collapse of the Entente armies in 1940 is a military event that I have yet to see replicated satisfactorily in a wargame; assuming, that is, that the Allied forces aren't constrained by a whole bunch of artificial "idiocy" rules. That being said, I think that, in the case of "FRANCE, 1940," Dunnigan would probably have been better off had he either expanded the map scale to open up the battle area or, alternatively, had he chucked the "KURSK Game System" entirely and started from scratch. As things ended up, the game system that he ultimately decided on -- as virtually everyone including , himself, agrees -- simply doesn't work either as a simulation or as a game.

    This is not to say that "FRANCE, 1940," if approached with the right frame of mind, is not an interesting puzzle for the Allied player; which is why I usually took the Allies, even in the lop-sided "Historical" Scenario. Pulling out even a marginal Allied victory -- because it was so challenging -- always gave me a great feeling of satisfaction. The real problem with the game, seen from this perspective, is that the Allies should with a few breaks have been able to do considerably better than that.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • At the strategic level, I like the treatment that Europe Engulfed gives to the Battle of France. From what I can see the designer approached this problem with his "special action" mechanic. Ordinarily you can't do much other than move your blocks into an area and fight during your turn, but if you have special actions, these allow you to activate your armies to fight again and/or exploit areas or react to enemy offensives. In the early game Germany can build up to 5 special actions, this gives Germany a LOT of operational flexibility. France has.. but 1 special action, basically simulating the notion that France was no really equipped to deal rapidly or expediently at the operational level. (Britain starts off with a limit of 2, which pretty much allows that country to spend an action to "dunkirk" its forces to England)

    The second thing I noticed is that while France and the allies had lots of tanks they tended to spread them around, so the game gives France and England comparatively few large scale armored formations. Otherwise a French infantry block is just as good as a German one.

    The air superiority is also represented because Germany has around four air fleets it can use to pound on France and England, tactical allocation of these units gives the ground units quite an advantage of punching through enemy lines.

  • Greetings Again Paco:

    When it comes to 'EUROPE ENGULFED', you have me at a disadvantage: I watched a demo of the game at the WBC Convention in Lancaster some years ago; , for one reason or another, I just could not -- then or now -- summon up enough interest in the 'mega-Block' approach featured in 'EE' to actually buy a copy of the game for myself.

    To be fair, a number of my friends are big fans both of 'EUROPE ENGULFED' and its more recently -published Pacifc War counterpart; nonetheless, the game just has too many blocks and too few different types of units to really interest me, personally. I would seem that based on my previous gaming experiences, 'NAPOLEON' or maybe even 'HAMMER OF THE SCOTS' pretty much represent my upper limit (in terms of wooden piece count, at least) insofar as wooden "block-style" games are concerned. Thus, despite the persistent lobbying efforts of my friends, I still have not really given this title a fair trial.

    In the end, I suppose that, when it comes to monsters or even quasi-monster games, I still (being a tweezers kind of player) retain a strong bias towards traditional hex and counters game systems.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Hi Joe,

    That's OK, to each his own. Though I do believe you are missing out on some interesting titles, by choosing not to sample some of the larger block games. Nevertheless I have one recommendation to make.

    Fast Action Battles: The Bulge.

    The block density on this one is much lower than 'EE' though still higher than Hammer of the Scots, but the blocks are also supplemented by counters. I believe this game is different enough from other the bulge games to merit a look.

  • Good Morning Paco:

    Thanks for the tip; if I can just work my way through the stack of newer games that I have yet to really dig into, I'll see if I can find a copy. Besides, it seems that -- at some point or other -- every game designer just has to take a swing at the "Battle of the Bulge".

    My main problem (other than price) -- when it comes to new releases -- is that, having started this blog almost two years ago, I now find that I spend a lot more time analyzing and writing about different (usually older) titles than I do sampling many of the newer games! Currently, I probably have a stack of eight to ten games that really deserve some extended "table" time, but to which I haven't yet devoted enough attention to feel that I really understand and appreciate the nuances of their designs! So many games, so little time ...

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Not my favorite game -- that would be The Russian Campaign -- but I do enjoy it, and still play it more than any other.

    Btw, I find that German units exitting the south edge is the real killer for the Allies, as things their line to such a degree, that the Germans armor is freed up even more than they otherwise would be. (Unless you are willing to risk an AX, which I am not.)

  • Urk. I meant "as it thins their line" ...

  • Greetings Preston:

    You bring up an interesting point about Dunnigan's much-criticized "FRANCE '40": virtually everyone recognizes the game's defects, but quite a few gamers still take it down and play it anyway. Go figure!

    Best Regards, Joe

    Best Regards, Joe

  • "Since virtually any German plan will work; why even bother to set the game up?"

    Yes--this is the crux of it. There's no history to this game, no simulation. Your review is great--exactly what I've recently observed. The French lose because they're French. Bleah.

  • Greetings Gideon:

    Thank you for visiting, and for your kind words.

    Interestingly, I may actually take this title with me to play at the CSW Expo (I will be at the convention site virtually everyday). One of my regular visitors will also be attending this year's "KranzCon" and -- for in spite of its many warts -- this perversely ahistorical Dunnigan design is still one of his favorite games.

    Thanks again for commenting and
    Best Regards, Joe

  • ...we have a replacement game now, released by Multi-Man Publishing (MMP) called The Blitzkrieg Legend. In this Operational Combat Series (OCS) game the outcome is not so certain. As in history when you kick off as an Axis player in this game you need to have planned well or your efforts may get foiled.

  • Hi- I've had this game since 1975, and still get it out now and then. During the past couple of weeks I've been checking out people's comments on the web and find there's a lot that resonates with my own vague doubts. As a result, I decided to try to make some "adjustments" to France 1940's design.

    Here's a few samples:
    - To reflect the physical capabilities of French mechanization while still considering doctrine, I treat the 3-4 armored divisions as 3-6. British armor goes up to 4-8.
    - To reflect the level of British motorization, UK infantry DIVISIONS (not corps) are treated as mechanized.
    - The CRT has been completely reworked. Gone are AR results; introduced is a DR result. On a DR, an attacking unit may occupy the vacated hex. There's also a 1/2 DX result. The overall result makes it slightly less bloodless; it took some experimentation to not go too far. There's a few other changes as well, and I like the results overall.
    - Odds are calculated differently. You round to the nearest integer, .7 and above = round up. This negates the unrealistic advantage for German infantry corps (thought about treating them as 6-6 but that's too much trouble).
    - Stacking is revised to 2 corps equivalents per hex (see below). Only 1 equivalent can fight from a hex, same as original design. Gone is the 3-counter rule. But:
    - Corps equivalency is redefined so that unit sizes matter, e.g. 2 regiments = brigade, 2 brigades = division, 3 divisions max = corps. It's possible to have a pretty tall stack in one hex, if the units are small.
    - Air superiority table now has risk of losing attacking units, if the odds are less than 3-1.

    I played a "Dyle Plan" game with these rules and the result turned out EXACTLY like history. Now I need to try it with a more open game format and see if the Allies can do any better...

  • Greetings Jim:

    Thank you for visiting and for sharing your thoughts on this deeply-flawed, but oddly-interesting title.

    For my own part, after largely ignoring 'FRANCE 1940' for several decades, I actually got it out and reexamined it before I set about writing the profile posted above, and as a result, I have tinkered with the "Advanced Game", off and on, ever since.

    As a simulation, Dunnigan's original design is certainly a colossal failure; as a puzzle, however, it might actually does seem to have some appeal.

    Best Regards, Joe

    PS: I have seen a number of recommendations similar to yours offered in the past, with varying effects on the play of the game. My main problem with strengthening the Allied armored units is that defeat of the Western Allies was not really rooted in any great disadvantage in technology or in combat power, but in doctrine. As someone (it may even have been Jimmy Dunnigan) observed a long time ago: "The Allies, in May of 1940, were still thinking in terms of the 'train (railroad) time' of World War I, while von Kleist's panzer commanders were thinking and operating in terms of the newly possible -- thanks to real-time air/ground coordination -- 'tank time' of World War II."

  • Someone mentioned that The Blitzkrieg Legend was a replacement, just letting everyone know that it has 2000 counters. I think GMT's France 40 is more of the original scale.

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