TAHGC/HASBRO, AXIS & ALLIES: EUROPE (1999)

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AXIS & ALLIES: EUROPE is a strategic level simulation — based on the phenomenally successful AXIS & ALLIES Game System — of World War II in Europe. The game was designed by Larry Harris and published in 1999 by the Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC), a subsidiary of Hasbro Games, Inc.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND


Starting at 2300 hours on 5 June 1944, thousands of Allied paratroops began to drop into occupied France. Their mission was to seal the approaches to the nearby Normandy beaches and to secure safe landing zones for the glider-borne infantry that was scheduled to come in behind them. Within a few hours, the follow-up glider infantry — along with heavy equipment and artillery — began to plow into the fields of Normandy. At about the same time that the glider troops were landing, waves of Allied planes were starting to appear over the French coast. It was now 0300 on 6 June, and flights of Allied bombers set about raining thousands of tons of bombs down on the German coastal defenses that bristled along the beaches of the Normandy Peninsula. At 0500 hours, the vast Allied naval armada that had escorted the 150,000 American, British, Canadian, French, and Polish troops who would shortly be assaulting Hitler’s ‘Festung Europa’ began to shell the hardened German coastal defenses that lay directly behind the beach landing zones.

All along a northern stretch of French coast, the same drama began to play out. In the deeper Channel waters just off one of the five beaches chosen for the main Allied effort, final preparations for the amphibious assault were getting under way. At 0620 hours, thirty-man American assault teams — all selected from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Division — began loading, one team each, into one of the twenty Higgins boats bobbing next to the transport that had carried them from England; at 0630 hours, the ramped-front, open boats began their run through the surf towards their designated landing area, code-named “Utah Beach.” The offensive to breach Hitler’s Atlantic Wall was finally under way; the Allied D-Day landings had begun.


DESCRIPTION


AXIS & ALLIES: EUROPE is a strategic level (army/fleet/air force) simulation of the epic struggle by the Allies to liberate Europe and the Middle East from fascist domination. The game begins in the spring of 1941with much of Western Europe and North Africa already under Axis control and Germany set to invade the Soviet Union. The players control one or more of the ‘Major Powers’ that, as the game begins, are engaged in a life-or-death struggle over the destiny of Europe.

AXIS & ALLIES: EUROPE is played in game turns which are further divided into four segments, each of which encompasses the game operations of one of the four major belligerents in Europe during World War II. The order of national turns — whether two, three, or four players are involved — is always the same: Germany, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States. Each country’s game operations must be completed before the next country’s move. A typical national player turn will proceed in the following strict sequence of game operations: Purchase Combat Units; Combat Movement; Resolve (all) Combat; Non-combat Movement; Place New Units on Game Board; Submerged submarines resurface and damaged battleships are uprighted; and Collect Income.

Although AXIS & ALLIES: EUROPE is based on the familiar AXIS & ALLIES (1981) game design, there are a number of notable differences between the European Theater edition and the older, global version of the game. These differences are:


  • Two new types of combat units: destroyers and artillery

  • Allied IPC’s (Industrial Production Certificates) are subject to German naval attacks

  • Players may not violate the territory or air space of neutral countries

  • There is no ‘Weapons Development’ process

  • Players may not build new Industrial Complexes

  • Bombers conducting Strategic Bombing Raids may be escorted by friendly fighters and intercepted by enemy fighters

  • Battleships and submarines have new capabilities

  • If Germany captures the Middle East, the Allies must pay IPC’s directly to Germany

  • Order of play for each country is different

  • Each country receives a special cash advance before the game actually begins

  • The Soviet Union has special control over Allied units operating in the Soviet home territories


Obviously, the biggest changes between the older and newer games arise in the area of Strategic Warfare, and in the elimination of the ability of any country to build remote Industrial Complexes as a means of moving production closer to the front. Beyond these changes, however, the game will deliver pretty much the same combat action and excitement as the original, only with a significantly more historical feel. The problems posed by the game are similar to those of the original; the main difference is that, in AXIS & ALLIES: EUROPE, the players are limited to more historically plausible solutions to those problems.

The mechanics of play for AXIS & ALLIES: EUROPE, as might be expected, are fast-moving yet comparatively simple. This feature of the AXIS & ALLIES Game System allows players to focus on the strategic elements of the war in Europe, rather than become bogged down by complicated and confusing rules, and overly-detailed game subroutines. In short, players direct their attention toward the type of campaign that they want to wage, their short-term and long-range strategic goals, and the units necessary to fulfill their strategic goals as the game progresses. Despite the relative simplicity of AXIS & ALLIES: EUROPE, however, the design still includes a number of rules that add greatly to the historical color of the game. These special rules cover important historical features such as: Convoys and the Battle of the Atlantic (U-Boats versus Escorts), Amphibious Assaults, and Strategic Bombing.

AXIS & ALLIES: EUROPE is won, in the case of the Allied player or players, by the capture and occupation of the German Capital; and, for the Axis player, by the conquest and occupation of two of the three opposing Allied Capitals.



A PERSONAL OBSERVATION


The first time I was introduced to the predecessor of this game — the original AXIS & ALLIES — was during a weekend at the Oregon Coast. My friend and I, along with our two spouses, all drove over together on a Friday evening. When we arrived at our friends’ beach house, our host, an old wargaming chum from my college days, pulled out a big game box that was still in its original shrink wrap. The game was AXIS & ALLIES. As soon as the box lid came off, I saw the plastic game pieces still attached to their frames and immediately decided that my friend — with whom, years before, I had spent hundreds of hours playing DNO/UNT (1973) and WAR IN THE EAST (1974) — had clearly lost his mind. “This game,” I observed sarcastically, “has little plastic soldiers and tanks. Are you sure that you picked the right game box?” My friend grunted noncommittally, but, nonetheless, proceeded to rapidly separate the game components in preparation for a match. “Read the rules,” he suggested, “and I’ll finish up with this.” Since I was his guest, I decided to humor him this once; there would, after all, be plenty of time for other things during the next few days. It turned out that I was wrong.

To make a long story short: my friend and I played AXIS & ALLIES all weekend long. Except for joining our wives for meals, and one short obligatory walk on the beach, we spent the rest of our time huddled over the game map refighting the later years of World War II, over and over again. Plastic game pieces or no, we both had a blast. As soon as I returned home, I immediately ran out and bought my own copy of the game.



AXIS & ALLIES: EUROPE, unlike the original game, is both more detailed, and much more historically grounded. Unfortunately, although I read the rules and even set the game up once, I was never able to play. Shortly after I bought this copy, my regular opponent for this type of “beer and pretzels” game had the bad manners to take a new job in another state and moved away before we could actually get a game up and running. For this reason, I really have no idea how this newer version actually plays, but based on the original AXIS & ALLIES, I suspect that it is an excellent choice for both the experienced and the casual gamer, and is probably an excellent introductory game for someone who has never played a traditional wargame before.

For those players who have the time for PBeM play, there are a number of internet groups that help organize and coordinate online matches for the various AXIS & ALLIES type of games that have come into the market since the introduction of the original, many years ago. For more information, or to contact one of these groups, visit: http://www.grognard.com/

Design Characteristics:


  • Time Scale: 3 months per game turn (estimated)

  • Map Scale: not given (area movement)

  • Unit Size: army/fleet/air force

  • Unit Types: infantry, artillery, armor, aircraft carrier, battleship, destroyer, submarine, transport, bomber, fighter, and industrial complex

  • Number of Players: two to four

  • Complexity: average

  • Solitaire Suitability: above average

  • Average Playing Time: 3½ + hours


Game Components:


  • One 20” x 30” area movement Map Board (with Unit Purchase and Convoy Boxes incorporated)

  • 344 plastic Military Pieces

  • 25 Universal Playing Pieces

  • One 8½” x 11” Gameplay Manual

  • Four 5” x 7½” National Reference Charts (one each for Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States)

  • One 7¼” x 9½” National Production Track

  • One 7¼” x 9½” Battle Chart

  • 80 cardboard Control Markers

  • One set of plastic chips

  • One set of Industrial Production Certificates (play money)

  • 12 six-sided Dice

  • One 5½” x 8½” Avalon Hill Product Brochure

  • One 3½” x 10½” x 16” Game Box (with 7 compartment Storage 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
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TAHGC, WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN (1975)

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WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN is a tactical simulation of naval combat during the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. The game — which uses a multi-staged, simultaneous movement and combat system — was designed by S. Craig Taylor and originally published by Battleline Publications. However, after Battleline closed its doors, the game received some additional refinement at the hands of its original designer and was reissued by The Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC) in 1975.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND


Admiral Nelson

On 21 October, 1805, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson led a British fleet of twenty-seven ships of the line and four frigates against a combined French-Spanish fleet, under Admiral Villeneuve, of some thirty-three sails of the line and eight frigates at Trafalgar. Nelson divided his smaller fleet into two lines of battle and then, in a surprising break with the naval tactics of the day, struck the French and Spanish line at right angles completely disrupting the enemy formation. Although Nelson — whose flag ship, the Victory, was at the head of one of the British lines — was mortally wounded, the enemy fleet was virtually destroyed. Twenty enemy vessels struck their colors, the Spanish admiral was killed, and Admiral Villeneuve was himself captured during the action.

Admiral Villaneuve

The destruction of the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar did not come without cost. Over 1,500 English seamen and marines were killed or wounded; French and Spanish losses, not surprisingly, were much greater; with some estimates placing them as high as 14,000 killed, wounded, and captured. However, England’s lop-sided victory was largely offset, at least in the eyes of the British public, by the loss of England’s greatest naval commander. Nelson’s death was a terrible, if temporary, blow both to the British navy and to national morale. Nonetheless his triumph at Trafalgar ended any prospect of a French invasion of the British Isles, and guaranteed British naval supremacy for the next one hundred years.

DESCRIPTION


WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN is a tactical simulation of naval warfare during the period 1776 to 1815. The game uses a simultaneous movement and combat system to represent the unique character of combat during the ‘Age of Sail’. The two piece hexagonal grid game map is a surprisingly eye-catching, multi-toned blue rendition of a generic patch of ocean. The counters represent individual ships and range in size from the powerful 74 gun ships-of-the-line to the much smaller gunboats and merchantmen of the era. In addition, each counter carries three numerical values: the ship’s turning ability; its ‘battle sail’ speed; and its ‘full sail’ speed. Interestingly, despite the fact that the designer uses a number of novel game concepts in order to bring his simulation of sail-powered ship-to-ship combat to life, learning the game is actually comparatively painless. The rules to WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN are offered in both a ‘Basic’ and an ‘Advanced’ version. However, because the ‘Basic’ rules are intended primarily as a way to introduce the essential concepts of the game system, this description will mainly focus on the ‘Advanced’ version of the game. Moreover, it should be noted that before either version of the game can actually start, all players must prepare a ship’s log sheet noting all information pertinent to the game for each vessel that they control. Once this preparatory step is out of the way, regular action can begin. The game is played in turns, and each game turn represents approximately three minutes of real time. A single game turn is divided into a sequence of rigidly ordered but simultaneous player actions. This sequence of player actions proceeds as follows: Wind Phase; Unfouling Phase; Movement Notation Phase; Movement Execution Phase; Grappling and Ungrappling Phase; Boarding Preparation Phase; Combat Phase; Melee Phase; Load Phase; and Full Sail Phase.

Unlike most hex and counter game systems, the vast majority of the ship counters in WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN straddle two adjacent hexes, and the speed and scope of movement for individual ships is based on a variety of different factors; these can include: a ship’s draft (how much water it draws), any damage sustained, volume of sail, and the direction (gauge) and speed (velocity) of the wind during a particular game turn. Players will quickly discover, for example, the tremendous advantage conferred by having the right amount of sail (battle versus full), and of having the wind with them, rather than against them.

Vice Admiral Lord Collingwood

Combat in WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN, as the earlier game turn description should suggest, will take one of two basic forms: fire (whether shot, double shot, grape shot, or chain) and melee (crew versus crew). In the case of fire attacks, the type of gun loading that a player selects will be based on the expected range between the opposing vessels; and whether he is seeking to bring down an enemy’s rigging, or, alternatively, is firing to inflict damage to the enemy ship’s hull and/or crew. Not surprisingly, allowing one’s vessel to receive fire from the stern (the dreaded ‘rake’), as was the case historically, is lethal. In the case of ‘melee’ attacks, these crew-versus-crew actions occur during boarding. This brings us to another interesting aspect of the game: the clever but reasonable way in which the designer has woven ‘morale’ into the various elements of the simulation. Each ship’s crew will begin the game rated for ‘morale’; hence, each crew compliment will be classified as elite, crack, average, green, or poor. What this means is that, while ship size is important, crew quality is at least as important, if not more so, when it comes to virtually every element of the play of the game. In fact, the signal advantage of almost always having a better quality crew than his opponent is the British player’s main ‘ace in the hole’; particularly, when it comes to fire effectiveness and melee combat. The ultimate object of ship-to-ship combat, of course, is to either sink or capture the enemy vessel. However, an intervening step in this process will virtually always be the infliction of damage on the opposing player’s ship or ships. Damage, as it occurs, is recorded on the affected ship’s log sheet, and will take one of three basic forms: hull damage, rigging damage, or crew casualties.

The victory conditions in WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN vary depending on the number of ships involved and the type of action being simulated. In most ship-to-ship actions, a player wins when the other side either surrenders (strikes his colors) or is sunk. In multi-ship battles, the opposing players receive ‘victory’ points for any enemy vessels sunk or captured; the player with the greatest number of victory points at the end of the action wins. It is also possible for an action to end in a draw.

Beginning of the Battle of Trafalgar

WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN offers players twenty-three different scenarios beginning with the American Revolution and ending with the Napoleonic Wars. These scenarios range from simple ship-to-ship engagements to complex, multi-ship naval battles. In virtually all cases, the scenarios are open-ended. That is: the opposing players blast away at each other until one or the other wins, or until a draw becomes obvious. To show the breadth of the different types of naval actions covered in the game, the scenarios have all been listed; they are: Scenario 1, Valcour Island, October 11, 1776; Scenario 2, Ranger vs. Drake, May 2, 1776; Scenario 3, Battle of Ushant, July 27, 1778; Scenario 4, Battle of Flamborough Head, September 23, 1779; Scenario 5, Arbuthnot and Des Touches, March 16, 1781; Scenario 6, The Battle of the Chesapeake, September 5, 1781; ‘Campaign Game’ Scenario 7A, Suffren and Hughes (same opponents in all Scenario 7 actions), February 17, 1782; Scenario 7B, April 12, 1782; Scenario 7C, July 6, 1782; Scenario 7D, September 3, 1782; Scenario 7E, June 30, 1783; Scenario 8, Battle of the Saintes, April 12, 1782; Scenario 9, Nymphe vs. Cleopatre, June 17, 1793; Scenario 10, Mars vs. Hercule, April 21, 1798; Scenario 11, Battle of the Nile, August 1, 1798; Scenario 12, Ambuscade vs. Baionnaise, December 14, 1798; Scenario 13, Constellation vs. Insurgent, February 5, 1799; Scenario 14, Constellation vs. Vengeance, February 1, 1800; Scenario 15, Trafalgar, October 21, 1805; Scenario 16, The Battle of Lissa, March 13, 1811; Scenario 17, Constitution vs. Guerriere, August 19, 1812; Scenario 18, United States vs. Macedonian, October 25, 1812; Scenario 19, Constitution vs. Java, December 29, 1812; Scenario 20, Chesapeake vs. Shannon, June 1, 1813; Scenario 21, Battle of lake Erie, September 10, 1813; Scenario 22, Wasp vs. Reindeer, June 28, 1814; and Scenario 23, Constitution vs. Cyane and Levant, February 20, 1815.

British Royal Navy sailors laying a gun at Trafalgar

It should be noted that most of the game’s scenarios can easily be played on a one-on-one basis; however, some of the larger actions — Trafalgar, for example, calls for a total of sixty vessels — are best played by teams. In addition, along with the regular historical engagements offered with the game, the designer also includes instructions so that players may design their own scenarios. Finally, for those players who want to increase realism at the expense of playability, the game also includes one-and-a-half pages of ‘optional’ rules that cover everything from Timed Moves to Copper Bottomed hulls.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION


The USS Constitution vs. the Guerriere

In the end, the game design of WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN, is much more detailed and richly-textured than this short description might suggest. Almost every aspect of naval combat that took place during the ‘Age of Sail’ is at least touched upon in this game. Thus, for those players (like me) who are fans of ‘lucky’ Jack Aubrey, or of the Hornblower series of novels, suffice to say that if you encountered a particular type of sea-going action in one of Patrick O’Brian’s or C.S. Forester’s many fine books, then you will probably be able to duplicate that action on the WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN game map.

HMS Victory

Nonetheless, despite my fondness for Aubrey and Hornblower, and despite the fact that WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN was a long-time favorite among my circle of regular wargaming opponents, I personally never really invested much time in the game. I think, in fact, that I may have only played one or two scenarios in all the time that I’ve owned WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN. In retrospect, given my broad-based tastes in a variety of different simulation topics, this lapse is a little hard to explain. I just don’t know why I never played the game more frequently, except perhaps that I have always had a preference for carrier operations when it comes to naval games; that, and I didn’t then, and still don’t care much for record-keeping. Still, my personal ambivalence towards the game seems to put me into the minority when it comes to other players who generally like ‘blue water’ games.

The Four Days Fight, 1666, painting by Abraham Storck

In any case, whatever my personal feelings, I have to admit that WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN certainly appears to deliver in both the excitement and historical ‘chrome’ department. S. Craig Taylor seems to have done a superb job of creating a realistic, but not overly cumbersome simultaneous movement-action system. Moreover, the game — at least, so its many fans tell me — just plays well, time after time. This challenging, but manageable mix of action, ‘fog of war’, and period ‘feel’ probably accounts for why, even after thirty-five years, the game still remains surprisingly popular with a large number of enthusiastic players and still shows up at major tournament events. As proof of this, by the way, WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN currently enjoys an impressive ‘Geek’ rating of 6.94 over at http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/237/wooden-ships-iron-men. Thus, for this and the other reasons that I have enumerated, I believe that this game would probably make a very good choice for the novice or casual gamer (assuming that they don’t mind keeping a few written notes as the game progresses), but is probably a MUST OWN for anyone with a genuine interest in naval combat during the ‘Age of square-rigged Fighting Ships’.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 3 minutes per game turn
  • Map Scale: 100 yards per hex
  • Unit Size: individual ships
  • Unit Types: ship-of-the-line, frigate/corvette, brig/sloop/schooner, gondola/galley/radeau, gunboat, privateer, merchantman, fireship, bomb ketch, and information counters
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: average
  • Solitaire Suitability: below average
  • Average Playing Time: 2-10 + hours (depending on scenario and number of ships involved in the action)

Game Components:

  • One two-piece 22” x 28” hard-backed hexagonal grid Map Board
  • 40 ½” cardboard Counters
  • 135 ½” x 1” oversized cardboard ‘ship’ Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions, Critical Hit Table, and various ‘Basic’ Game Combat Tables incorporated)
  • One 8½” x 11” back-printed ‘Advanced’ Game Tables (with Hit Determination, Hit, Wind Effects, Melee, Fouled Rigging, Grappling, and Critical Hit Tables incorporated)
  • One 8½” x 11” pad of Ship’s Log Sheets
  • One six-sided Die
  • One 5½” x 6½” Avalon Hill Customer Reply Card
  • One 11¼” x 14½” x 1¼” flat cardboard Game Box


Recommended Reading


For those readers who are somehow unfamiliar with the "Hornblower" or "Master and Commander" series of books, I heartily recommend them all, particularly for those with a bent towards highly-detailed, 'Age of Sail' historical fiction.



For enjoyable movies based on the novels, both the classic with Gregory Peck and Virginia Mayo, or the more recent Russell Crowe offering are worth viewing.





Recommended Artwork

This map of the Battle of Trafalgar depicting the British breaking the French and Spanish line by Alexander Keith Johnston makes an interesting game room wall decoration.
Buy at Art.com
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21st October...
Alexander Keith Johnston
9x12 Giclee Print
Buy From Art.com
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SPI, FREDERICK THE GREAT (1975)

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FREDERICK THE GREAT: The Campaigns of the Soldier King, 1756-1759 is a two-player operational level simulation of Eighteenth Century combat during the Seven Years War. The game was designed by Frank Davis and Edward Curran, and initially published as the insert game for S&T #49, by Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI), in 1975. Later it was repackaged in the familiar SPI plastic flat-pack and sold as a ‘stand-alone’ title. The game was again reissued — this time in a bookcase-style boxed version with an upgraded game map and additional unit counters — by the Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC), in 1982.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND


On 5 November, 1757, a Prussian army of 22,000, under Frederick the Great, faced a combined French and Austrian army, commanded by Lt. General Prince de Soubise, of over 41,000 troops. To compensate for his inferiority in numbers, Frederick deployed his forces in a powerful defensive position on the heights of Rossbach and prepared to receive the enemy attack. Waiting patiently until the enemy troops had begun their advance towards his line, Frederick unleashed the Prussian cavalry, led by the able General von Seydlitz, in a downhill charge that sabered its way into and through the advancing enemy columns, smashing the Austrian and French formations and throwing them into disorder. The tangled Allied ranks were given no chance to reform; instead, the sight of the Prussian infantry marching forward to lend support to the victorious but blown Prussian cavalry was enough to turn disorder into rout. Discipline crumbled and the Austrians and French abandoned the field losing 3,000 killed and 5,000 prisoners. Along with the bag of Allied prisoners, Frederick’s troops also captured eleven enemy generals and sixty-three guns. The Prussian losses numbered perhaps five hundred and forty men. With de Soubise’s army retreating in disarray, Frederick quickly regrouped his forces and turned his attention to another powerful Austrian army; this one in Silesia. Exactly one month later, on 5 December, Frederick — again outnumbered by almost two-to-one — met and defeated the 60,000 man army of Prince Charles of Lorraine and Count Daun at Leuthen.

DESCRIPTION


FREDERICK THE GREAT is a historical simulation of the Eighteenth Century art of war as practiced by the brilliant Prussian Soldier King, Frederick the Great, during the Seven Years War. The game focuses on the critical importance of leadership and on the resurgence of maneuver as a means of bringing about a decisive battle. The campaigns of Frederick the Great helped to spur the transformation of European warfare from the plodding, often inconclusive military chess games of the Seventeenth Century, to the new, much larger and more destructive national conflicts of the age of Napoleon.

The game map for FREDERICK THE GREAT is a two-color representation of that part of Europe over which Frederick’s various campaigns were waged, and each map hex is scaled at 13.5 miles (estimated) from side to side. The various unit counters represent the forces of the opposing armies. The combat units of the contesting armies are represented by game pieces that — like different denominations of currency — symbolize different numbers of ‘strength points’. Each ‘strength point’ in the game represents approximately 2,500 men. FREDERICK THE GREAT is played in game turns, each of which is divided into two symmetrical and interwoven player turns. One complete game turn is equal to fifteen days of real time. A typical player turn proceeds, as follows: Reinforcement Phase; Morale Recovery Phase; Depot Creation Phase; Phasing Player March Phase; Non-phasing Player Forced March Phase; Combat Phase; Siege Resolution Phase; and Non-phasing Player Attrition Phase. Once both players have completed the preceding set of game actions, the turn record marker is advanced one space, and the next game turn begins.

The actual mechanics of play for FREDERICK THE GREAT, even by today’s standards, are comparatively detailed. At its core, FREDERICK THE GREAT is built around a ‘leadership-based’ game system. The various leaders in the game have different ‘initiative’ ratings, and these ratings are critical both in terms of movement and in terms of combat resolution. Other aspects of the game are also somewhat unusual. The rules on stacking, for example, are relatively generous: an unlimited number of leader and combat units (of all nationalities) may stack in a single hex; however, ‘depot’ units may never stack together in a hex. The stacking rules also help to recreate the ‘fog of war’, in that opposing players are not permitted to examine the strength and contents of an enemy stack unless the enemy stack is actually being attacked. Other rules are equally odd. Only Austrian units, for example, exert a zone of control (ZOC). The effects of Austrian ZOC’s, however, are rather limited: they have no effect on movement, nor do they extend into enemy occupied hexes; their one real benefit is that they do block supply paths through affected hexes. Movement (March) rules in FREDERICK THE GREAT — because the game system is heavily focused on the effectiveness of leaders — are quite ornate. Combat units must be accompanied by a leader in order to move, and the movement allowance of all leader counters belonging to the phasing player are determined by a combination of each different leader’s initiative rating and the results of a single die roll made at the beginning of the March Phase. Whatever the die roll, however, no leader may expend more than six movement points in a single March Phase. One additional feature that adds a bit of excitement to the game is that of the Overwhelming Attack. This special type of combat, like ‘overruns’ in armored games, takes place during the March Phase, and a force that is subject to an Overwhelming attack is simply surrendered en mass to the phasing player as prisoners of war with no combat roll or loss to the attacker.

Combat between opposing forces is always voluntary and occurs, but is not required, when opposing forces occupy the same hex. The results of individual battles are determined by using a LEIPZIG type ‘percentage ratio’ combat results table (CRT). The process by which battles are conducted is both ingenious and, after a little practice, easy to execute. The first step in any combat is for the strength of the two opposing forces to be revealed and then converted to a percentage value: for example, a force that was twice, but not quite three times as large as the enemy contingent would use the 200-299% column on the CRT. The next step is to subtract the initiative value of the senior defending leader along with the terrain effects die roll modifier (if any) from that of the highest ranking — in terms of seniority, not effectiveness — attacking leader’s initiative rating. In a battle, for example, pitting Frederick (initiative rating of ‘3’) against a defending force led by the senior French commander (initiative rating of ‘0’) in a mountain hex, Frederick’s force would still receive a +1 die roll modification (DRM). On the other hand, if Frederick were defending in the same hex, his force would receive the benefit of a -5 DRM. Once these preliminary calculations are out of the way, the die is rolled and the appropriate combat results are implemented. The force that loses the greater number of strength points, not surprisingly, loses the battle and must retreat and then become demoralized. Before rolling for retreat however, the losing commander must surrender additional strength points as prisoners of war (POW’s) equal to the difference between his casualties and those of the winner. For example, if the losing side lost four strength points and the victor lost two, the loser would, besides removing his four points of casualties, also have to give up two more strength points to the victor to represent captured POW’s. Combat will typically result in percentage losses for both sides; in addition, Overwhelming Attacks will result in the surrender of the entire defending force, and every combat except for those at 400% (the maximum) odds may result in the loss of a leader counter. Although it seems somewhat cumbersome when described; the combat system actually works very well and imparts a distinctly Eighteenth Century warfare ‘feel’ to the game.

There are only five types of terrain in FREDERICK THE GREAT: clear, mountain, fortress, mountain pass hex-sides, and river hex-sides. It costs all units one extra movement point to cross a mountain pass or river hex-side, or to enter an enemy occupied hex. Only mountain and fortress hexes affect combat: mountain hexes reduce the attacker’s die roll by two; fortresses must be reduced through siege rather than regular combat.

The supply rules for FREDERICK THE GREAT are both intuitively logical and cleverly handled. Supply, for all nationalities, must have, as its point of origin, a friendly (garrisoned) fortress. The supply path can then be extended through the creation of a chain of ‘depot’ units that in turn connect back to a friendly supply source. To establish a new depot during the Depot Creation Phase, a force must number at least ten strength points. Moreover, depots, once created, may not be moved. To be operative, a depot unit must be occupied by at least one friendly strength point, and it must be within a certain number of hexes (which varies according to nationality) of another friendly operational depot or garrisoned friendly fortress. Supply paths can be traced into but not through enemy occupied hexes or Austrian ZOC’s. Supplied leader and combat units operate normally in every way, and the supply state of a force has no effect on its combat strength for attack or defense. However, unsupplied forces must roll for losses during the appropriate Attrition Phase; in addition, Leader units may or may not be able to march out of supply. Leaders with high initiative ratings, like Frederick, may operate without supply indefinitely, but lower rated leaders either can not march out of supply, at all; or if they begin the March Phase unsupplied, must attempt to return to a supplied status by the end of their movement.

FREDERICK THE GREAT is won by either capturing or retaining control of the various fortresses on the game map, and by destroying (through elimination or capture) enemy combat strength. A player may achieve a Marginal, Substantive, or Decisive Victory. Victory for one side or the other is not guaranteed, however, because the game can also result in a Draw.

FREDERICK THE GREAT: The Campaigns of the Soldier King, 1756-1759 offers four scenarios that examine different stages in the Seven Years War. These scenarios are, in order of appearance: The Campaign of 1756 (10 game turns); The Campaign of 1757 (18 turns); The Campaign of 1758 (18 turns); and The Campaign of 1759 (18 turns). The individual scenarios each present different strategic problems to Prussia and its allies, and all incorporate ‘special’ scenario rules to represent the individual circumstances of each campaign. In addition, although there are even special rules for Prisoner Exchanges and Winter operations, there are no ‘optional’ rules offered to add to the historical flavor of the game; and so far as I can tell, none are needed.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION


FREDERICK THE GREAT: The Campaigns of the Soldier King, 1756-1759 is one of those little gems that, just when you least expected it, would periodically show up with S&T and which kept a lot of us subscribing to the magazine year after year. It is certainly not an ‘eye grabber’ by any stretch of the imagination: the brown and blue, two-color map, and the generic ‘strength point’ unit counters certainly don’t contribute much to the historical ‘feel’ or good looks of the game. And it should be noted that the Avalon Hill version that appeared seven years later is not — despite a hard-backed game map and sixty additional counters — all that big an improvement, appearance-wise, over the original. Thus, it is probably not surprising that when I first received my own copy of this title in the mail, I glanced at the map and counters briefly and then put the game aside. It wasn’t until a month or two later, mainly at the urging of one of my gaming friends, that I took the game out again and gave it a more serious look. I’m glad that I did.

What I discovered during that second, closer examination, was that FREDERICK THE GREAT, more than anything else, is about leadership: both good leadership and, perhaps even more importantly, incompetent leadership. For this reason, probably more than any other, the game succeeds better than virtually any other title dealing with this period — at least, that I have ever tried — at conveying the problems of campaigning under the limitations and conventions of the Eighteenth Century. I should note in passing, however, that I have not yet looked closely at GMT’s series of games on the Seven Years War, PRUSSIA’S GLORY. That having been said, in FREDERICK THE GREAT, the Prussian King is virtually unbeatable in battle when defending in good defensive terrain, and superior to even the best enemy commanders when on the attack. Moreover, the political realities of the time dictate that, in most cases, the best enemy commanders will not be in command of the larger enemy forces. Moreover, warfare during this period, as it does today, requires a great deal more than fighting battles; lines of communication and logistical centers must also be established and maintained. And Frederick, gifted as he is, cannot be everywhere at once. And that’s not all. Players who try this game for the first time will also quickly discover that waging battles under favorable circumstances; that is: when and where a player might choose, is usually a lot more difficult than it first appears.

If I had to select the best single element about Davis and Curran’s game design, I think that I would have to choose the combat system. Certainly, the interwoven game turn sequence of FREDERICK THE GREAT is ingenious and easy to follow, but — in my opinion, at least — the combat subroutine is the real star in this game system. In a page or so of rules, the two designers present a combat system that can actually reproduce outcomes like Frederick’s decisive victory at Leuthen: a battle in which 33,000 Prussians defeated 60,000 Austrians. And the game can do so without the usual pages of special “idiocy’ rules that most designers end up resorting to in order to reproduce otherwise unlikely battlefield outcomes. In short, this combat system has the twin virtues of being both clever and simple. I only wish more designers, over the years, would have followed in this path.

Finally, FREDERICK THE GREAT is more than a simple exposition on the Prussian Soldier King’s military prowess; it is actually a historical survey of the changing nature of warfare in the Eighteenth Century. This was a time when decisive battles, rather than the ponderous maneuvers and methodically-conducted sieges of the preceding century, reemerged as a central feature of European warfare. And this change was mainly the product of Frederick’s successes on the battlefield. It is no accident that Napoleon carefully studied the campaigns of Frederick the Great; the Prussian King had begun a revolution in military thinking that Napoleon would complete; and he would do so a mere four decades after the end of the Seven Years War. Thus, it is not inaccurate to say that Frederick the Great, and not Napoleon, can be described as the real father of what, today, we would consider to be the modern approach to the art of war. In one way, it is a very odd legacy from a man who, as a youth, hated the harsh rigors and strict discipline of military life, and who, instead of being a soldier, wanted nothing more than to pursue his interests in literature, philosophy, and music.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 15 days (one fortnight) per game turn
  • Map Scale: 13.5 miles per hex (estimated)
  • Unit Size: strength points (each strength point represents approximately 2,500 men)
  • Unit Types: leaders, combat units, depots, and information counters
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: average/above average
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 2½ - 4 + hours (depending on scenario)


Game Components:

  • One 21” x 32” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record/Reinforcement Track, Terrain Effects Chart, Siege Resolution Table, Combat Results Tables, and Percentage Loss Tables incorporated)
  • 200 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions and Players’ Notes incorporated)
  • One small six-sided Die
  • One 3½” x 8½” SPI Customer Complaint Card
  • One SPI 12 “x 15”x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic Game Cover with Title Sheet
Read On

“THE PACIFIC”: POINT-COUNTERPOINT

2 comments

My Response to a Reader’s Thought-Provoking Rebutal of My Essay on HBO’S “The Pacific”


Soon after I published a rambling critique of the HBO miniseries “The Pacific,” I was pleased to receive the following very well-written and carefully-reasoned response to several of the issues that I had raised in my post: ‘And Now for Something Completely Different, Part 3’. The commentator presents a number of interesting arguments in rebuttal to several of the points that I had brought forward in my wide-ranging essay about Tom Hanks, ‘historical revisionism’, and the HBO series that Hanks and Spielberg produced. Originally, as I usually do, I had planned on dashing off a reply in the ‘comments section’ to my anonymous critic, but upon reflection, I have decided to expand my remarks and to post them as a regular blog entry. These remarks are presented in very much the same form as if they were in a direct email to this thoughtful commentator.

Here is the comment to which my response replies:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, PART 3...":

LeMay said it best: "I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal."

What was a clear violation of the Hague Conventions in early 1940 (a British Admiral refused to shell a German position in Norway due to the great potential of civilian casualties) became de-riguer in 1944-45.

(FWIW like you I see nothing wrong with this and a utilitarian analysis tells me the USAAF's area bombing, including the two nukes, were in all likelihood necessary if not sufficient to getting Japan to surrender to our terms cleanly, as opposed to the grinding mess we had to go through in Germany).

A lot of blood flowed under the bridge to get the national psyche there. The brutal bombing of The Blitz -- as Germany's ally and partner in crime, Japan received our enmity in transference.

The suicidal resistance we encountered every step of the way. The brutal mistreatment of our POWs and our Philippine friends we fully discovered in late 1944.

The payback we wanted to exact for Japan's brutal prosecution of their attacks on China.

A lot of our killing of Japanese civilians was done not regretfully but rather eagerly.

I think you have a comic-book view of the reality of WW2.

There was great racism directed against Japanese in the US prior to WW2. California and the US had passed an exclusion act against Japanese immigrants in the 1920s, something the 1941 diplomacy was looking at repealing as part of the reaching a modus vivendi.

The Japanese farmer's boy who did the bulk of the fighting and dying didn't know bushido from Bluto. His officers were inculcated in this tradition, they beat this into the NCOs, which in turn beat the idea of total obedience to the divine chain of command into their charges.

My grandfather was born in 1911 in rural Washington and he didn't rush out on Dec 8 to enlist. He finally did in 1943 as the Marines were getting pretty beat up.

FWIW, I think everyone was a victim in WW2. The Japanese pro-war militants, for being pigheaded fools trapped in their glory-seeking such that they failed to fully weigh the attendant risks of their actions, and everyone forced to fight and die for their country, and the millions of civilian dead from Burma to Peiping.

It was a crazy time, a time when revisionists thought they could bring back the 19th century norms of truculent politics into the mid-20th.

I don't think the current friction we have with the islamic world is anything close to this, any more than the Irish question was like WW2.

There may be a billion muslims, but this makes the situation more stable I think, over the long run.

Posted by Anonymous to Map and Counters at March 22, 2010 1:00 AM



Greetings Anonymous:

Thank your for your interesting, if challenging comments; it is always reassuring to a blogger like me to know that someone out there in the ‘internet ether’ — whether they agree or disagree with my occasionally eccentric musings — actually makes the effort both to read and then to respond to something that I have written. I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to share your views.

Based on your thoughtful and serious response to my post on the Spielberg-Hank’s production, “The Pacific,” I suspect that — at least, insofar as both the historical context and the major events of World War II are concerned — we probably agree about more than we disagree. In fact, it is possible that the majority of the questions that you raise are as much a product of my imperfect choice of language as of anything else. In any case, let me clarify a few points that, had this essay been more artfully written, might not have been quite so open to criticism.

Mixed in with your earlier remarks, you suggest that my sense of the national mood just after America’s entry into the war may be a little overblown. Perhaps, but I really don’t think so. I do acknowledge that once the initial wave of national shock and anger in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor dissipated in the months following the bombing of the Pacific Fleet, the vast majority of Americans gradually settled into a grudging, rather than enthusiastic, acceptance of the many changes that the war imposed on everyday life. However, it is also incontrovertible that prior to the Japanese attack, the vast majority of the population was certainly not clamoring to fight on behalf of the captive peoples in Europe or the Far East. Even Edward R. Morrow’s reportage on the German’ Blitz’ of London, and the photo essays on the victorious march of the Wehrmacht through Europe or the Japanese depredations against the Chinese in popular publications of the day like ‘LOOK’ and ‘LIFE’ magazines had been unable to significantly gin-up American public opinion. In fact, according to Gallup, just prior to the Japanese attack, well over 60% of Americans were strongly opposed to going to war with anyone; more interesting still, even after Pearl Harbor, perhaps as much as 17% of the population still opposed going to war against Germany and Japan. Thus, Pearl Harbor, if it did nothing else, dramatically changed popular attitudes, even if it did not completely expunge natural concerns about what entry into the war would mean. And popular worries were certainly justified, even for those who fought the war on the ‘Home Front’.

To begin with, things changed almost immediately, and not always for the better. Well-paying jobs, of course, became plentiful for the first time in over a decade. However, while the typical civilian worker may have been happy to have steady employment at a defense plant, he or she was also probably unhappy about the very real inconveniences imposed by rationing, chronic shortages in hitherto common goods, blackout regulations, and conscription. And certainly after the first wave of enlistments following America’s entry into the war, millions of young men — rather than rushing to sign up — were content to wait until they were called up in the draft. Nonetheless, I would argue that the war still affected the national psyche like no conflict since the Civil War. Was there a massive effort by both the government and the national media to propagate and promote patriotic themes? Of course, there was. And did war-weariness gradually begin to seep into the national consciousness as first the months, and then the years passed, and more and more ‘Blue Star’ mothers became ‘Gold Star’ mothers? Most certainly; it could hardly have been otherwise. Yet, World War II still represented a monumental and even transformative national experience. People picked-up and moved, oftentimes across country, in order to find jobs in the rapidly expanding war industry and they never went back to their original homes once the war was over. In short, the entire country changed, and changed forever.

We appear to differ as to degree, but not in terms of actual substance, on another issue. You point out, quite correctly, that the ordinary Japanese soldier would have had little real understanding of the traditional teachings of Bushido. This is a valid point. Japanese martial conduct was inculcated through rigorous training and constant indoctrination and was not a product of informed study on the part of the lower ranks. So, I grant you that the actual text of Miyamoto Musashi’s Seventeenth Century martial masterpiece, ‘The Book of the Five Rings’ would have been, I am sure, quite unfamiliar except by reputation to most of the men who fought for the Emperor during World War II; yet I would nonetheless argue that these precepts and the ancient warrior traditions of Bushido still shaped the conduct of Japan’s military in important and unfortunate ways. It was not, after all, Japanese officers and NCO’s, but ordinary soldiers, who went through military hospitals in Singapore — following the British surrender of the island fortress — bayoneting the wounded soldiers and medical staff that they found there. Moreover, this was not a regrettable, undisciplined aberration, but a continuation of the same types of military conduct that had been seen time and time again in Japan’s war with China. The ordinary Japanese soldier might not have known the subtleties of the creed that animated his leaders, but he certainly understood what was expected of him.

It was, by the way, interesting to see that you opened your commentary with a quote from the architect of the World War II American bombing campaign against Japan, USAAF General Curtis LeMay. His “war crimes” comment, discomforting though it may be, is simply a confirmation of the inarguable truth that the histories of all wars are largely written by the winners. Moreover, he was in a position to know about that of which he spoke: there is little doubt that LeMay’s strategy of area bombing Japanese cities was a calculated attempt to destroy the will of the Japanese people to continue the war. That it was seen as ruthless and controversial even by some within the US Government is inarguable. On the other hand, given the fact that — by the time of the battle for Okinawa — the Imperial high command had already begun extensive preparations for a last-ditch defense of the Japanese Home Islands against an Allied invasion that envisaged sacrificing their own civilian population in what was certain to be an act of national suicide, it is hard to see that LeMay really had many acceptable alternatives. It is, by the way, ironic that the cigar-chomping LeMay is today associated with the devastating and much-criticized air campaign against Japan, and almost no one remembers that the blunt-talking general was also the organizer and moving force behind the Berlin Airlift.

On one issue we do seem to differ. When it comes to the destructiveness and sheer ferocity of the war in the Pacific versus that in Europe, unlike you, I can really see no appreciable difference. The British may have been, as you point out, a little squeamish about the conduct of the war in its early stages, but once the survival of England was at stake, virtually all such considerations went ‘over the side’. The Vichy French Fleet, for example, was attacked by the British Mediterranean Fleet on 3 July 1940 while anchored at Mers el Kébir in Algeria; this patently illegal bombardment of a neutral country’s naval forces resulted in the sinking of three French battleships and the deaths of over 1,000 French seamen. Given the threat of a German controlled French fleet, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, showed no hesitation at all in ordering this attack against sailors who only a few months before had been England’s allies. Moreover, the air war between England and Germany showed little inclination by either side to avoid or even to minimize civilian casualties. Sadly, very soon after the fall of France, both British and German air force planners switched their emphasis from military to civilian targets; thus, the change in the Allied attitude towards civilian casualties actually occurred long before the more intensive air campaigns against Germany in 1943-45. In fact, the British Air Marshal, “Bomber” Harris, wasted little time — once he had the government’s approval — in changing over to night area attacks against German cities so as to conserve the British bomber force and its desperately-needed flight crews. For better or for worse, in the eyes of the British high command, the indiscriminate bombing of population centers was virtually the only strategic tool that the English had with which to strike back at the Third Reich. If there was significantly more soul-searching among the leaders of the air campaign against Germany than among those who led the air war against Japan, I have not been able to find it. As a final thought on the air war, given the Allied emphasis on a “Germany First” strategy for World War II: I have every confidence that had Hitler’s Ardennes Offensive been wildly successful, then Berlin rather than Hiroshima would have been the primary target for the first American atomic bomb.

In another part of your commentary, you suggest that I at least partially ignore the wide-spread anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States both before and during World War II. Although that was not my intent, I can understand how my poor choice of language could lead a reader to that conclusion. Nonetheless, as I conceded in my original essay: there was certainly a racial dimension to the bitter fighting that raged across the Pacific. My only point was that, if anything, it was culturally even more ingrained in the ordinary Japanese soldier than in the young marine who faced him. Nonetheless, the fact remains that those Japanese dwelling in the United States, like any number of other ‘suspect’ ethnic groups, suffered as a result of prejudice before the war, and from a very real and wide-spread racial animus after Pearl Harbor. Moreover, the internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans was a regrettable and unjust overreaction to events in the Pacific. However, this treatment was not unique to the Japanese: the US Government had previously demonstrated no qualms, whatsoever, about abusing the Constitutional rights of German-Americans or of any others, for that matter, that the Wilson Administration had deemed as either unreliable or insufficiently patriotic during World War I. Clearly, it was a different time; the America of the early and mid-Twentieth century was simply not the same place than it is today.

At one point, you allude to my “comic-book” attitude towards the events of World War II. From this comment I can only infer that you view my arguments a being too critical of the Japanese, too biased in favor of the American marines, and not particularly nuanced when it comes to a world cataclysm that, when it was finally over, had consumed some sixty to seventy million lives. It is, of course, possible that I am predisposed because of my personal history and background to see the wartime conduct of the ordinary American serviceman in a more favorable light than someone else looking at the same events or the same set of facts. Fair enough; honesty compels me to at least grant that possibility. On the other hand, everything that I have seen and read, as well as my own experiences as a soldier in Vietnam tell me that, in the wars of the “American Century,” there have usually been profound differences between the way in which we have treated our enemies and the way that they have treated us. And that those differences have almost always redounded to America’s credit. So, in keeping with the “comic-book” metaphor, I offer a link to two photographs each used for a different cover of “LIFE’ magazine as visual illustrations as to why my faith in the basic decency of the ordinary American serviceman or woman remains unshakeable. Both photographs were taken by W. Eugene Smith in the Pacific during World War II: one was taken in Saipan in 1943; the other during the battle for the Marianas, in 1944. (Life magazine cover photos show a US Marine rescuing a Japanese baby, Saipan June 1943 and navy corpsman treating wounded Japanese soldier, Marianas, 1944.)
Both show, I hope, that despite the harrowing carnage of these different battlefields, the essential spark of humanity and compassion still managed to survive in the hearts of these ordinary American servicemen. In over forty years of reviewing various photo archives, I have yet to locate any comparable photographs of similar acts of compassion by German soldiers toward their Russian enemies, or of Japanese soldiers toward any non-Japanese babies or enemy wounded.

As you observe, war is a tragic, terrible business; but it is also a business that we, as human beings, seem either unable or unwilling to abandon. The war in the Pacific was, for the most part, fought over patches of ground that the majority of soldiers on both sides had never heard of and about which they didn’t care; they simply went where they were told and did, in so far as each was capable, what they were there for. It is easy, looking back on long-past, distant battlefields to confuse the sordid ugliness of the means by which wars are fought with their outcomes. By this logic, everyone from the luckless civilians suddenly buried under the rubble of their collapsed house, to the SS officer who presided over the massacre of American POW’s at Malmédy, to the Japanese guards who bayoneted American and Philippino prisoners during the Bataan “Death March,” were all victims. This, I think, is a gross mistake; the outcome of the Second World War mattered profoundly for both sides; and because the Allies finally won, everyone, despite the extraordinary expenditures of blood and treasure, lives in a different and, I would argue, a better world because of it.

When I was growing up, virtually every male member of my family, except for two uncles who had been classified as ‘4 F’, had served in either the Pacific or in Europe. In those days, being a veteran was not an oddity; it was the rule. And, to a person: my father, my many uncles, and all of their friends still believed and were not hesitant in proclaiming — without a hint of self-consciousness — that theirs’ had been a righteous cause, and that they had played a small part in overthrowing the greatest existential menace of their age.
Read On

RGA, VON MANSTEIN (1975)

3 comments

VON MANSTEIN: Battles for the Ukraine, 1941-1944 is a historical game of World War II combat on the Eastern Front. The game was designed by John Prados with help from Vincent J. Cumbo and Albert A. Nofi (all partners in The Morningside Game Project), and published as the first title in the ‘Military Time Capsule Series of Games’ by Rand Game Associates (RGA) in 1975.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND


Field Marshall Erich von Manstein
Starting on 27 August 1941, Heinz Guderian’s Second Panzer Group, having received new orders from Hitler to break off its advance towards Moscow, began to attack southwards. The Führer and the OKH had become mesmerized by the possibility of achieving a truly massive encirclement of Red Army forces in southern Russia. They had reason to be optimistic. German forces had already trapped a large number of Soviet troops in the south, near the town of Uman, earlier in the summer; now, Hitler was keen to try for a larger pocket near the ancient Ukrainian city of Kiev. The Führer’s plan was simple: Guderian’s Second Panzer Group would pivot and drive south while Kleist’s First Panzer Group forced a crossing of the Dnepr and then pushed north to meet Guderian well to the east of Kiev.

General Heinz Guderian

Although personally dismayed by Hitler’s unexpected decision to halt the offensive against the Russian Capital, the commander of Second Panzer Group dutifully turned his divisions towards the Ukraine; and while Guderian’s attack pushed south, Field Marshal von Runstedt’s Army Group South pressed forward from the west towards Kiev. On 12 September, Kleist’s First Panzer Group, after weeks of bitter fighting, finally broke out of its Dnepr bridgeheads south of Kiev and surged northeast towards Guderian’s advancing panzers. On 16 September the leading elements of the two Panzer Groups met near Lohkvitsa.


General Georgi Zhukov

The German bag of Russian men and materiel was huge: trapped around Kiev were five Soviet armies. The fighting to liquidate the Russian pocket, because of its size, would continue until 26 September, at which point the last major Soviet resistance finally came to an end. As a direct result of this encirclement battle, the Wehrmacht captured 665,000 Russian prisoners, over 800 tanks, and 3,700 artillery pieces. The other direct result of this stunning victory, however, was that the German Army would not capture Moscow in the fall of 1941. And in the end, that would be the more important of the two outcomes for both Russia and Germany.

DESCRIPTION


VON MANSTEIN: Battles for the Ukraine, 1941-1944 is an operational (corps/division) level simulation — which uses something of a cross between the THIRD REICH and THE BATTLE OF MOSCOW Game Systems — of large-scale mechanized warfare on the Russian Front. One player commands the Axis armies (Germany and its minor allies); the other controls the forces of the Red Army. The game system offers a nice balance of both new and traditional ‘East Front’ elements, but with a distinctly THIRD REICH flavor. This blend of old and new design features produces an exciting, unpredictable, and occasionally ‘nail-biting’ game situation for both players.

Each game turn follows a simple, but rigid sequence. The first player executes his player turn in the following order: he begins by determining the supply status of his units and then initiates his Movement Segment — both ground and air units move; next he executes the Combat Segment; and finally he concludes his player turn by (if called-for) conducting the Exploitation Segment, during which any eligible mechanized units may exploit a ‘breakthrough’ by moving and attacking again. The second player then repeats the same sequence, after which the game turn ends. Zones of control (ZOC’s) are semi-rigid: units must expend three additional movement points to enter an enemy ZOC but can continue moving if they have sufficient movement points. The stacking rules are interesting. The Axis player may stack three combat units plus the following: one leader unit, one artillery unit, one headquarters unit, and one combat air patrol (CAP) unit, for a total of seven different game counters. The stacking rules for the Soviet player are identical except that the Russians may only stack two combat units in a hex; this means that maximum Soviet stacking is limited to six unit counters. Combat between adjacent enemy units is always voluntary.

The combat routine for VON MANSTEIN is quite textured and nicely detailed. In order for units to attack, they must be both in supply and within the command range of an appropriate headquarters unit. The defending player, if he has units available that are eligible, may then dispatch reserve units to reinforce threatened sections of his line. Air units may directly support ground units or may be flown on ‘combat air patrol’ (CAP) missions over friendly-occupied hexes. If an attacker achieves a very high (modified) die roll during a battle, certain eligible mechanized units may move and attack again during the Exploitation Segment — this is where the previously mentioned “nail-biting” aspect of the game comes in.

Terrain affects both movement and combat. Clear hexes cost all units one movement point to enter, and movement along roads is doubled. Moreover, for purposes of road movement, major and minor city hexes count as roads. Major rivers are impassable except at bridges and fords. Crossing either at the Kerch Straits or at a major river ford costs armored units six additional movement points and all other types of units three points. Minor rivers cost armored units four additional movement points and other units two additional movement points to cross. Terrain effects on combat are a bit unusual, and take a little getting used to. Major and minor cities double the strength of defending combat units (but not leaders); units attacking across minor rivers must subtract five (5) combat factors from their total strength and the attacking player must also subtract one (1) from his die roll. Attacks across major rivers are permitted only at bridge or ford hexes and the penalties are severe: the attacker’s combat strength is reduced by two-thirds and the attacker’s die roll is reduced by two (2). Rules governing attacks across the Kerch Straits are identical to those for attacks across major rivers.

Combat in VON MANSTEIN is relatively orthodox, except for the inclusion of ‘Leader’ bonuses and the effects of air power. Battles are resolved on a traditional ‘odds differential’ combat resolution table (CRT) and die roll modifications (DRM’s) are very important to combat outcomes. In addition to conventional combat results, the game also includes ‘stalemate’ and, of course, ‘breakthroughs’ as possible outcomes.

The supply rules in VON MANSTEIN, although quite straight forward, are a little more complicated than some of the other East Front games dating from this period. For purposes of movement and defense, supply is determined at the beginning of the game turn, and a unit must be able to trace an unblocked line of ten hexes to a controlled, unblocked rail line that in turn connects to a friendly map edge. In order for units to attack they must be within seven hexes of a friendly headquarters unit. Interestingly, this requirement is different for Axis Allied units: they must be within four (4) hexes of an appropriate headquarters to attack and they must also be able to maintain a similar line to a headquarters unit in order to defend at full strength. Supply effects on movement and combat are simple: unsupplied units are halved both for movement and for all combat.

A number of interesting and, in some cases, unexpected design elements also add color and excitement to Prados’ simulation. ‘Leader’ units, for example, increase the attack and defense strength of any combat units that they are stacked with, and can also add 2 to the die roll if not opposed by an enemy leader. Also, in VON MANSTEIN, as in many other East Front games, eliminated German panzer units are replaced with smaller “Kampfgruppe” type units. There are also rules for ‘Minor Allies’ and ‘Artillery Units’ and even ‘Special Rules’ for individual scenarios that, when combined with the title’s other rules, serve to add a bit more historical detail to the game.

Victory conditions in VON MANSTEIN are specific to each scenario, but virtually always require the capture and occupation (in strength) of certain geographical objectives for one side or the other.

General Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist, Ukraine, 1941

VON MANSTEIN offers eight individual scenarios (mini-games) that allow the players to examine the strategic situation during different periods of the War in the East. The eight scenarios are: Kiev Pocket, 27 September to 10 October 1941 (seven game turns); Soviet Winter Counteroffensive, 14 January to 31 March 1942 (twelve turns); Operation Blue: The 1942 German Offensive, 28 June to 14 September 1942 (eleven game turns); Entombment of the Sixth Army: The Stalingrad Scenario, 19 November 1942 to 5 February 1943 (twelve turns); the Backhand Blow, 15 February to 29 March 1943 (six game turns); Aftermath of Zitadelle, 2 August to 3 October 1943 (eight turns); Battle for the Dnepr, 9 October to 25 December 1943 (ten game turns); and the Korsun-Cherkassy and the Fourth Panzer Army Episode, 1 February to 31 March 1944 (eight turns). Finally, to increase realism and to allow players to vary their approaches to the game, the designer has included a number of ‘Optional Rules’. These voluntary optional rules include: Amphibious Invasion, Soviet Paratroops, Soviet Tactical Mobility, German Replacements, and Air Supply.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION


Russian T34 in action

VON MANSTEIN: Battles for the Ukraine, 1941-1944 covers virtually all of the major mobile actions that took place in southern Russia from the beginning to the end of the Russo-German War, 1941-45. Therefore, if a major engagement (excepting the actual Battle of Kursk) occurred in the Army Group South sector, then it is probably in the game. Moreover, Prados’ design reproduces these many actions — because of the strong THIRD REICH influence on the armored rules for the game system — in a very challenging, if unorthodox, way.

German Panzer IV tank

VON MANSTEIN is very much an ‘offense-oriented’ game; a patient, purely defensive strategy is almost always a blueprint for defeat. The offensive momentum of the game system, as might be expected, comes from armored breakthroughs followed by exploitation movement and combat. This combat system is somewhat reminiscent of that of the old SPI game,THE BATTLE OF MOSCOW (1970). And just as in the older Dave Williams design, the second movement-attack combination can be devastating to the defender if he has not deployed his defense ‘in depth’: exploiting armor can pour through a gap in the front and run amok in the defender’s rear by attacking headquarters and cutting supply to large swaths of the defender’s front line. Needless-to-say, the constant threat of an enemy breakthrough makes for a very tense time for the defender, whichever scenario is being played.

Soviet machine guns

The history of VON MANSTEIN, like its subject matter, is interesting, in its own right. After first appearing in 1975 with the Rand Game Associates label, the game was reissued, with some major changes, as PANZERKRIEG by the Operational Studies Group (OSG) in 1978. In 1983, the Avalon Hill Game Company again reissued PANZERKRIEG which, by this time, had been further modified to include over 500 unit counters. However, although similar, these two different versions of the game design are not identical. PANZERKRIEG, besides having a lot more counters, is a much denser, more detailed, and considerably more complicated game than its precursor; for that reason, however, it is also considerably less accessible to the novice or inexperienced player than is VON MANSTEIN. By the way, one feature of the Rand Game Associates version which I liked, although I did not play the early edition extensively, is that the original game’s piece density tends to be somewhat lower than in the newer versions. What this means is that — in the early game turns, at least — the PANZERKRIEG game map tends to be a lot more cluttered than that of VON MANSTEIN. By the same token, one irritating feature of the older game (at least to me) was the decision to severely limit the number of unit counters. To cut production costs, the RGA version has completely different unit ID’s printed on the two sides of its counters; this means that players must be very careful not to inadvertently flip their units in the course of play. PANZERKRIEG, despite its several notable flaws, is undoubtedly a better simulation, but that does not necessarily imply that it is a better game. In the end, that determination has to be made by the individual player based on how much playability he is willing to trade away for the illusion of additional simulation ‘realism’.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 7 days (one week) per game turn
  • Map Scale: 14 miles per hex
  • Unit Size: corps/division
  • Unit Types: tank/panzer, mechanized infantry/panzer grenadier, rifle, artillery, parachute, cavalry, headquarters, leader, air units, and information counters
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: average
  • Solitaire Suitability: average
  • Average Playing Time: 2-5 + hours


Game Components:

  • One 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Combat Resolution Table, Air Point Track, and Game Turn Track incorporated)
  • 200 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions and Unit Combat and Movement Modification Chart incorporated)
  • One 9¼” x 12” x 1” window-style Game Box (with slide-out, ‘lidless’ plastic counter 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

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