REFLECTIONS ON 2010 “MEMORIAL DAY” OBSERVANCES

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Today’s post is, with only a few minor changes, a reprint of an earlier essay that I first published on this blog in 2009. This year, my original intention was to commemorate Memorial Day, 2010, with an essay celebrating the extraordinary heroism of two different Medal of Honor recipients: Marine Gunnery Sergeant “Manila” John Basilone and Army Colonel Lewis L. “Bayonet” Millett. However, the more I thought about it, the more it became clear to me that Memorial Day really isn’t about celebrating our famous heroes; instead, it is about honoring the countless ordinary men and women who have served in our armed forces over the centuries and who, when duty required it, gave up the most valuable thing that they possessed: their lives. Thus, like last year, this Memorial Day essay honors two U.S. Marines who fell as a result of enemy action a long time ago in Vietnam; just as importantly, however, it is also a salute to all of those who, through the ages, have made the supreme sacrifice in the service of their country: from the first violent birth pangs of the new American Republic, to the faraway battlefields of the present day. May their sacrifices never be forgotten.


In Memory of Marine Cpl. Javier Figueroa, killed in action 1/28/68 in Quang Tri Province, Republic of South Vietnam

In Memory of Marine LCpl. Clement Johnston, Jr., killed in action 4/28/66 in Quang Ngai Province, Republic of South Vietnam

The Vietnam War Memorial, Washington, D.C.

When we honor the memory of those who have, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, already “given the last full measure of their devotion,” let us also honor all those who, like my young Marine nephew, currently fight in a long and arduous war against a fanatical enemy whose leaders, even now, plot attacks against the American homeland from half a world away.


A Few Additional Thoughts on This, the First “Summer” Holiday of the Year


Today is “Memorial” Day. It is supposed to be a day of remembrance. And I like to think that there was a time, not that long ago, when most ordinary Americans understood and honored this day and its original purpose. Now, for many, if not the majority of my fellow citizens, I fear that Memorial Day has become little more than an excuse for a three-day holiday weekend, or a backyard barbeque, or even for a “blow-out” electronics sale. I hate to admit it, but I understand how this change could happen: memories are tricky things, and they fade far too quickly. I was reminded of this sad truth, myself, only a year ago.

U.S. WW II Cemetery, Normandy, France.

During the first week of April of last year, my wife talked me into visiting the touring reproduction of the Vietnam War Memorial: The Wall. She had already visited the real monument in Washington, but she knew that— despite the fact that I had served two and a half years in Vietnam — I had not; so she thought that it might be nice for us to finally visit the touring “Wall” display together. I agreed to make the trip, but under protest: I have to admit that I have always had mixed feelings about “war” memorials. Unlike a military cemetery or a former battlefield — I still get a lump in my throat when I see pictures of Arlington or of the American Cemeteries at Normandy or Lorraine, in France — most of these types of monuments have always struck me as being more like “guilty” afterthoughts than anything else. Too often the statues or marble structures that are erected, usually long after the fact, actually seem to say more about their well-intentioned builders than they do about those being memorialized. Nonetheless, I finally agreed to make the trip; so on a sunny, windy Saturday morning in 2009, my wife and I drove all the way out to Buckeye, Arizona, to visit the touring reproduction of the “Wall.”

U.S. WWII Cemetery, Garden of the Missing, Normandy, France.

I don’t know what I expected. But I can honestly say that no sudden, intense wave of emotion washed over me when I saw the monument. Nor do I think that my reaction would have been any different, had I been looking upon the real thing for the first time. I had served in Vietnam from February 1966 to August of 1968, so over four decades separated the “old man” from the young soldier that had gone to Southeast Asia so many years before. Also, I was never a grunt. I spent my time in Vietnam either helping to intercept and analyze, or, alternatively, to process intelligence gathered from enemy communications. In the course of my time in the Republic of Vietnam, my various jobs took me all over that war-ravaged country, but only rarely did I even have to carry my rifle or do any hard slogging. In short, all things considered, I had it pretty good. Of course, that was then and this is now. The first truly disconcerting fact that I discovered in Buckeye that day was that the young soldier of my dim past could almost have been someone else. But even that wasn’t the worst of it.

U.S. WWII Cemetery, Lorraine, Normandy, France. 

As I walked along, I found myself scanning the “Wall.” Finally, when I reached the area of the monument that covered the period of my own service — for those who have not seen it, the names on the Wall are organized by date — I was surprised to discover that my mind had gone almost completely blank. Despite having spent some thirty months in Southeast Asia, I suddenly discovered that, somewhere during the march of the intervening years, I had forgotten many, if not most, of my old comrades’ names. In a lot of cases, if I could remember a name, I couldn’t match it with a face, or vice versa. This effect was particularly pronounced when it came to the soldiers and marines that I had served with in I Corps (Quang Tri Province) near the DMZ, during my first year in Vietnam. But it spilled over into other situations and locations, as well. The young men that I had had the odd beer with, or played poker with, or had met on R&R in Bangkok or Malaysia, or Taiwan had all, to varying degrees, disappeared into the mists of a half-remembered, distant past. These men were just regular Americans; not really so much friends, as the typical GIs that you bump into and get to know when you’re in a place long enough. This wasn’t to say that I had forgotten everyone, but only that I had forgotten far too many. And the most troubling thing of all was that I had somehow forgotten the names or the faces of those I knew who had been killed. Now, none of my closest friends had been killed or even wounded. Others that I knew, however, had not been so lucky, and as I walked along the mock-up of the “Wall,” I couldn’t help feeling that these others deserved better. And not just from me, but from the rest of their countrymen, as well. I couldn’t shake the guilty feeling that, somehow, I had let these young men down. And this idea brings me, finally, to the dedication at the beginning of this piece.

Gettysburg National Cemetery, Pennsylvania.

In the end, I and the wonderful, helpful people who volunteer with the monument tour all tried our best to identify at least a couple of individuals from a number of young men that I had known who had been killed in various operations from “Davy Crockett” to the “Tet” Offensive. Guilt is a powerful spur, and it had suddenly become important to me that I at least make the effort. The two young marines memorialized at the start of this essay — one forever 18 and the other 22, who died so long ago in Vietnam — may or may not be the men I remember, I will never be sure. But what I do know is that even if they are not, they deserve to be remembered on Memorial Day by someone, and I am proud for that someone to be me. And having finally visited the “Wall,” I also now know something else: I realize, at last, that if we who served with them do not make the effort to remember those who fell, then who will?

May you, my readers, and those you care about, all have an enjoyable and safe Memorial Day Holiday. And may those who wear our country’s uniform and who daily go into harm’s way, in dangerous, far-off places, also have a safe Memorial Day!
Read On

TAHGC, THIRD REICH, 4th Ed. (1974/1981)

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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Hitler with members of his general staff.

At 04:40am on September 1, 1939, waves of Luftwaffe aircraft swept down to strike airfields all across Poland. Almost simultaneously, 44 German infantry divisions and 14 armored divisions surged across the frontier catching Poland’s thirty-odd infantry and cavalry divisions almost completely by surprise. Without bothering with the inconvenient formality of a declaration of war, Hitler had ordered the invasion and subjugation of his smaller neighbor to the east. England and France, although incapable of providing the Poles with any immediate direct assistance, quickly demonstrated their support for Poland by declaring war on Hitler’s Germany on 3 September. Seventeen days after the initial German onslaught, Soviet troops crossed a nearly-prostrate Poland’s eastern border to help the Germans complete the Polish nation’s final dismemberment. Poland was the first European nation to succumb through direct military conquest to Hitler’s dream of a modern German Empire, but it would not be the last.

Winston Churchill examines a weapon in the field.

In both London and Paris, British and French heads of state were confronted with the unthinkable: despite repeated concessions by the western democracies to Hitler’s never-ending territorial demands, all hope for preserving peace in Europe had evaporated. Churchill had been proven right: the German Führer’s ambitions were too great even for the most craven of appeasers to satisfy. Thus, for the second time in a generation, Europe’s Great Powers had stumbled into war. Tragically, the greatest military conflict in human history, seemingly almost by accident, had begun without any of its participants fully understanding its future geographical reach, its ultimate magnitude, or its unbelievable human and material cost.





DESCRIPTION

RISE AND DECLINE OF THE THIRD REICH, 4th Ed. is a highly detailed simulation, at the strategic level, of the war that began with the German attack on Poland on 1 September, 1939, and that ultimately spread to every continent and ocean in the world. The game of THIRD REICH, however, covers military, economic, and diplomatic conflict only in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. THIRD REICH, 4th Ed., like its earlier versions, can be played by as few as two to as many as six players. In the six player version, each player represents one of the major belligerents in the European Theater: Germany; Italy; England; France; Russia; and, starting in 1942, the United States. The THIRD REICH game system is heavily weighted toward the economic calculus of modern warfare: essentially, it is a battle between the economies and industrial production capacities of the belligerent coalitions. Thus, Basic Resource Points (BRPs) are essential to the construction and rebuilding of combat units, to increasing industrial capacity, to the waging of strategic warfare, to diplomacy, and even to the turn by turn determination of which coalition holds the strategic initiative. Each Major Power begins the game both with its own BRP Base and a national ‘Growth Rate’. Germany, for instance, starts the 1939 game with a starting BRP Base of 150 and a Growth Rate of 50%; in contrast, Italy begins the 1939 Scenario with a national BRP Base of 75 and a meager Growth Rate of only 20%. As the game progresses, individual powers can increase their pool of available BRPs through the conquest of other countries and/or by growing their BRP Base by multiplying any unused BRPs by their growth rate at the end of the Winter game turn. For example, if Germany conquers Denmark — with a conquest value of 10 BRPs — by Winter of 1939, it would add those 10 BRPs to its base total during each year (beginning in 1940) that Denmark remained under German control. In addition, if Germany also had 10 unspent BRPs remaining at the end of the Winter 1939 game turn, it would permanently add five (50% of 10) to its starting BRP Base of 150. This means, using the two previous examples, that Germany would begin the 1940 game year with a new BRP Base of 155 instead of its original 150, and would also be able to add Denmark’s 10 BRPs to its starting balance, for a grand total of 165 BRPs.

The various game pieces that make up the limited national force pools of the different belligerents (both Major and Minor countries) are abstract representations of major contingents of ground, air, and naval forces. The three-color, hard-backed THIRD REICH game map depicts Europe, North Africa and the Middle East from Bergen in the north, to the Libyan Desert in the south; and from Gibraltar in the west, to the Urals in the east. To facilitate play, the game map is divided into three strategic ‘Fronts’: the Western Front; the Eastern Front; and the Mediterranean Front. Each map hex is roughly 100 kilometers from side to side. To help players differentiate between various important cartographical features, the THIRD REICH game map uses eighteen different terrain symbols; however, this number is deceptive: many of these symbols are used purely for information purposes (Front boundaries, national borders, scenario ‘Start Lines’, etc.). Interestingly, only Sea hexes limit the movement of ground units; in those instances in which ground units seek to cross sea hex-sides, they must either cross at a red Crossing Arrow or be transported with the assistance of friendly naval units. The effects of different types of terrain on combat are surprisingly straight-forward and are usually expressed as simple ‘multiples’ of the defender’s basic combat strength. That is: ground units in Clear terrain are doubled against attack; defending units in Swamp or Mountain hexes, or attacked from across River hex-sides are tripled; and any ground units defending in Fortress hexes are quadrupled. Finally, each of the three Front areas on the map contains fourteen Objective hexes which are inscribed in red. These specially-marked hexes are mainly significant for victory points’ purposes; however, they also have an effect on combat in that neither Objective hexes nor Fortress hexes can be captured (more on this later) through Attrition attacks.

The game mechanics of THIRD REICH, given the game’s ambitious approach to its historical subject matter, are very complicated and highly layered. The separate game operations executed during any given player turn vary, but a typical game turn generally adheres to the following sequence of phases: the Determination of Player Turn Order — which includes the play of certain Allied Variants, activation of Minor Allies, and the Russian ‘Winter’ dice roll; Declaration of War against Major or Minor Countries — which also includes the play of certain Axis Variants, deployment of newly-attacked Minor Countries’ forces, Front Option selections, and the movement and combat operations of any Minor Countries that have been attacked; Movement Phase — all ground, air and fleet units are moved; Combat Phase — Front Attrition or Offensive combat options are specified, regular combat is resolved, and then breakthrough/exploitation movement and combat are resolved; Unit Construction phase — the placement of new units, BRP Grants to Allies, Vichy Activation/Deactivation and Intelligence attempts are all performed at this time; Strategic Redeployment (SR) phase — units are redeployed according to the SR Allowance of the phasing country and, also, various Strategic Warfare (SW) operations may be performed during this phase; the player turn ends with the Removal of Unsupplied Units and/or certain Bridgehead Counters (if applicable), and, under certain circumstances, the possible Determination of Russian Surrender and/or the Repair of the Kiel or Suez Canals. As soon as all of the countries of the phasing alliance have completed their player turns, the opposing coalition then moves, repeating the same sequence of steps outlined above. Once the Major Powers of both coalitions are finished with their turns, the BRP levels of the two coalitions are recalculated, and the various countries of the alliance with the higher aggregate BRP total move first in the next game turn. The importance of this last part of the THIRD REICH game turn sequence cannot be overemphasized: a coalition, by manipulating its BRP total, can occasionally position itself so as to move twice in a row. Such a double-move, although it is virtually certain to be followed by an opposing double-move, can overwhelm all but the most powerful of enemy defensive arrangements. Needless-to-say, this is a devastating threat, and it is also one of several unusual features of the Prados design that makes THIRD REICH both a uniquely challenging and tension-filled game to play.

THIRD REICH, as was noted previously, treats World War II primarily as an economic struggle: virtually all of the important operations that occur in the game cost Basic Resource Points. This means that, to one degree or another, almost every action that an individual player takes ends up pitting the industrial output — as measured by BRPs — of the two opposing alliances (the Axis and the Allies) against one other. The costs of this competition begin just as soon as a player makes the decision to go to war. A Declaration of War against a Major Power, such as France or Russia (and by extension, any other country or countries with which it is allied), costs 35 BRPs; a Declaration of War against a Minor Country, such as Yugoslavia or Spain, costs 10 BRPs. And that is only the beginning. Once any necessary Declarations of War have been made, a player must select a specific option for each of the game map’s three geographical Fronts: the Western Front; the Eastern Front; and the Mediterranean Front. Depending on the option (Pass, Attrition or Offensive) chosen by the phasing player for an individual game turn, certain actions may or may not be permitted within the territorial boundaries of each of these specific Fronts. The Pass Option, which costs zero BRPs, is the default choice of a national actor for those Fronts in which he has no friendly units present, or in cases where a coalition partner is conducting an Offensive Option and the ‘passing’ player does not wish (or has insufficient BRPs) to pay for an Offensive Option of his own. The Attrition Option, which also costs zero BRPs, is typically selected for a Front in which a phasing player has units in contact with the enemy, but who prefers, for whatever reason, not to launch regular attacks against the enemy’s positions. The Offensive Option, in contrast to the other two, requires a national actor to immediately expend 15 BRPs, and this expenditure must be made separately for every Front in which the player intends to conduct offensive operations. In addition to the costs of the preceding game operations, players will also expend BRPs on Intelligence gathering, direct BRP Grants to Major Allies and Foreign Aid to Minor Countries, Unit Construction, and Strategic Warfare.

The movement rules for THIRD REICH — because of the specialized but intertwined missions conducted by the various types of combat units in the game — are both detailed and quite complicated. Not surprisingly, the overall movement capabilities of a country’s combat units are directly influenced by the controlling player’s choice of Front Options for that turn. In the case of both Offensive and Attrition Options, movement is normal: air units may stage up to eight hexes across both controlled and enemy territory to a friendly-controlled airbase, fleets may change base to another friendly port anywhere on the same front, and ground units may move their normal movement allowance. In the case of a Pass Option, however, air units may only stage over friendly-controlled territory, and fleets may only change base if no enemy fleets are present in the affected Front and the fleet’s path does not, at any point, bring it within four hexes of an enemy air unit; in addition, ground units may only traverse controlled territory, may not pass next to any enemy unit (including an air base counter) during the move, and may not move at all if they begin the turn adjacent to an enemy unit. The selection of an Offensive Option by a player makes possible a number of special movement capabilities, over and above those already described. In the course of an Offensive Option, for example, the phasing player may move ground units by sea anywhere in the affected Front — using allied naval units to carry them — either via seaborne transport missions to friendly ports, or in order to conduct amphibious landings against enemy beaches. Also, armored units that did not attack during the regular combat phase (but were adjacent to units that did) may conduct a special type of follow-up movement/combat mission — called an Exploitation move — in any situation in which the adjacent attack (which involved at least one other armored unit) produced a ‘breakthrough’ of the target enemy hex. Paratroops may also be airdropped during either the regular or the exploitation phases of an Offensive Option player turn. Finally, once the Unit Construction segment of the turn has been completed, the phasing player — depending on his country’s specific SR Allowance, and (if required) the availability of unused fleets for sea escort — may use Strategic Redeployment (SR) to transfer units over an unlimited number of hexes to new locations in a friendly-controlled territory.

A number of the rules in THIRD REICH are comfortingly familiar, but with a few interesting wrinkles thrown in to keep players on their toes. The rules covering zones of control (ZOCs) are a good example of this: only armored units exert ZOCs into the six hexes surrounding them; no other type of unit possesses a ZOC except in the hex that it occupies. In addition, ZOCs are semi-rigid; that is: units must expend three additional movement points to exit or to move through the ZOC of an enemy armored unit. Zones of control, however, have no effect on combat; thus, a unit is never required to attack, even if it is in the ZOC of an enemy armored unit. The stacking rules for THIRD REICH are also interesting. Naval and air units are restricted in the numbers of factors that may base in a particular hex (i.e., four fleets or thirty-six naval factors may base in a coastal hex with a single port); however, stacking for both naval and air units is unlimited in a mission hex. Basing restrictions for the island of Malta, it should be noted, represent an important exception to this rule: only one 9-factor fleet and one 5-factor air unit may base directly at Malta. Airbase counters are another exception: only one airbase counter may be placed in any land hex. The stacking rules for ground units are a little more complicated. Under most circumstances, only two ground units may stack together in a single land hex. There are, however, a number of exceptions to this general placement restriction. For instance, three units — so long as they are all British — may occupy London. Also, airborne units never count against a hex’s stacking maximum; they may always stack freely with other friendly units. In addition, players may move an unlimited number of units into an armored Breakthrough hex, so long as legal stacking in the hex has been restored by the end of the Exploitation movement phase. Finally, ‘beach invasions’ and ‘cross-river’ attacks represent a pair of special circumstances for the phasing player. If either of these attacks is successful, the attacking player has the option of placing a 'Bridgehead' marker in the target hex and, once such a marker has been placed, he may thereafter legally stack up to five units (plus any additional airborne units available) in the Bridgehead hex for as long as he chooses to keep the Bridgehead counter in place. All units legally stacked in a Bridgehead contribute to the defense of the hex, and, like Objective and Fortress hexes, Bridgehead hexes may not be captured through Attrition.

The supply rules for THIRD REICH, given the strategic sweep of the game, are logically framed and relatively uncomplicated. For starters, unsupplied ground units may not move, but may still attack adjacent enemy units. One simplifying feature of the game’s logistical rules is that naval and air units (including airbase counters) are always in supply. Ground units, on the other hand, must trace a supply path, unblocked by enemy units or their ZOCs, to a friendly supply source. Interestingly, both the unit being supplied and the original source may be in an enemy zone of control and not be penalized, so long as the path between them is not blocked by hostile units or their ZOCs. Major and minor country capitals are viable supply sources for the units of both the controlling power and its allies. Axis-controlled ports in Libya and Allied-controlled ports in Egypt are sources of supply for Axis and Allied units, respectively. The effects of lack of supply are fairly draconian: isolated units are removed from the map at the end of the game turn and, because this elimination occurs after the Construction Phase, units removed due to lack of supply may not be rebuilt by the owning player until the NEXT game turn. Thus, from the attacker’s standpoint, it is almost always better to destroy enemy units through isolation than through direct combat. The usual rules governing a unit’s supply status, however, are waived when it comes to ‘exploiting’ armor: exploiting armored units are always considered to be in supply during the game turn immediately following a Breakthrough and Exploitation move. Allied ground units at Malta, as well as any units that are physically occupying a friendly Fortress hex are also automatically in supply. Not surprisingly, supply lines may be traced across All-Sea hexes but only with the assistance of friendly naval forces. In addition to the already cited supply sources, the U.S. can serve — if BOTH London and Paris are Axis-controlled — as an Allied supply source, even if the U.S. is not yet actively at war; and finally, both Moscow and the eastern map edge are supply sources, but only for Russian units.

Conventional combat between enemy forces in THIRD REICH can take one of two forms depending on the Front Options selected by the phasing side during its portion of each quarterly game turn. These two forms of attack are: Offensive and Attrition combat. Attrition attacks require no BRP expenditure and may be conducted on any Front in which enemy units are present and in which a friendly allied power is not conducting an Offensive Option. Attrition combat for each Front is resolved using a ‘Ground Factors in Contact’ combat results table (CRT). For example, a Front on which the phasing alliance has 21-30 ground combat factors (not units) physically adjacent to enemy ground units would determine the outcome of the attack by rolling on the ‘21-30’ column of the CRT; moreover, depending on the combat die-roll, the outcome of such an attack could range from requiring the elimination of a single enemy unit (the worst result for the attacker), to requiring that three defending counters be removed, and two defender-occupied hexes be surrendered to the attacking forces (best case scenario). As might be expected, the bulk of the real action in THIRD REICH only occurs when players choose to exercise the Offensive Option. It is only when exercising an Offensive Option that the phasing side is allowed to mesh its various combat arms (air-ground-naval) in a broad spectrum of different types of coordinated offensive operations. These missions can include, among other things: infantry or armored ground attacks; air support of ground units, air-versus-air combat, or air-versus-naval attacks; naval (bombardment) support of ground units, amphibious landings, or fleet-versus-fleet combat; and even airborne (paratroop) assaults. Offensive combat, unlike that of Attrition, is resolved using an ‘odds differential’ CRT. Specific combat results can range, depending on battle odds, from Attacker Elim (A) to Exchange (Ex) to Counterattack (CA) to Defender Elim (D). The Counterattack results — shades of FRANCE, 1940 (1972) — are interesting (if a little stomach churning): these results can require the defender to counterattack the original attacking units at basic odds, at 1 to 1, 1 to 2, or at 1 to 3. This means that it is possible, although unlikely, that an attacking force can be completely eliminated as a result of a defender’s successful counterattack.

Attrition and Offensive combat both play important roles in THIRD REICH, but they are only two elements in the larger, more complex struggle depicted in the game designer’s vision of World War II. The central theme of Prados’ simulation is the life and death production war between the industrial capacities of the Axis and Allied powers. And this crucial feature of the game’s design is handled very cleverly. Once every four game turns: at the conclusion of the Winter turn, but before the start of the Spring game turn, a special game segment called the Year Start Sequence (YSS) is executed by all of the Major Powers on both sides. It is this recurring phase in the game’s strategic cycle that underpins virtually all of the economic elements of the THIRD REICH game system. During each Year Start Sequence, the following special game functions are performed for each active Major Power: Play of Variants (certain Axis and Allied variants can be played during this game phase); Strategic Warfare Resolution (U-Boat factors versus ASW and SAC versus Interceptor factors are revealed at this time, all losses are resolved and then Strategic Warfare effects from any surviving U-Boat or SAC factors are subtracted from enemy BRP balances); BRP Level Calculation (the BRP values of any conquests and/or industrial growth for that year are added to the current Base BRP of each Major Power to establish a starting BRP total for the next four game turns); new SW Construction (eligible Major Powers can allocate up to 10% of their total starting BRPs for a secret mix of SW counters for combat during the next Strategic Warfare Resolution phase); and finally Determination of BRP Spending Limits (national actors may spend no more than 50% of their total YSS starting BRP balance during any single game turn). What the introduction of these additional strategic elements really means is that, while regular combat can bleed an enemy Major Power’s BRP pool by destroying its combat units, Strategic Warfare offers a means by which certain Major Powers (Germany, England and the United States) can attempt to reduce or even cripple an enemy nation’s industrial capacity.

Over and above the standard body of rules governing regular turn-by-turn play, THIRD REICH also includes a collection of specialized rules that contribute important historical detail to the strategic flow and direction of the game. These special rules include, among other things: limitations on Anglo-French and German-Italian Cooperation; restrictions on Axis Forces in Africa and British Forces in Malta; rules for Allied Lend-Lease and Murmansk Convoys; special rules for Poland/East Europe; restrictions on Russo-Allied Cooperation; Airborne Operations; and the effects of the Russian Winter on Axis combat operations. In addition, other rules are included in the game which cover important issues such as: Switzerland and Swiss neutrality; Spain and Spanish Colonies; the effects of Axis control of the Suez Canal and/or Gibraltar; the creation of Vichy France and the operational limits on Vichy French units; and Partisans.

The victory conditions in THIRD REICH vary depending on the specific scenario chosen prior to beginning a match, and also on whether the two-player or the multi-player version of the game is being played. In the two-player game, one or the other of the two players can win a Marginal, Tactical, or Decisive victory depending, in the case of the Allies, on just when Germany is conquered; for the Axis, on the other hand, the victory level will depend either on how many enemy Major Powers have been conquered or, alternatively, on the number of Objective hexes that are controlled at specific stages in the game. The multi-player game’s victory conditions are specific to each Major Power and will typically either depend on national survival or, very much like the two-player game, on the national control of Objective hexes at game end. Both the two-player and the multi-player games can also end in Stalemate.

THIRD REICH, as noted previously, can be played by two to six players; moreover, it also lends itself very well to solitaire play. Interestingly, regardless of whether the two-player or the multi-player version of the game is chosen, the players still have the option of beginning their contest at any of three critical junctures in World War II: 1939 (Fall of Poland); 1942 (Axis ‘High Water’ Mark); and 1944 (Germany at Bay). Moreover, in the case of all three of these Basic Scenarios, players have two additional game options: they can continue a particular game up to and including the last turn of the specific scenario, or, alternatively, players can continue to slug it out until either the Axis wins or until Berlin falls to the Allies. For those players who want to refight the entire war in Europe, the Campaign Game begins in the same fashion as the 1939 Scenario and continues through summer, 1945. In addition to the different ‘starting’ scenarios, the game also includes another intriguing design feature: randomly-chosen 'Variant' counters. Just before the start of play, both the German and the British players blindly select one numbered chit from an available pool of 10 different Variant counters. Also, the pool of available Variant counters can also be increased, at the players’ option, to include additional ‘experimental’ game variants. These secret (until played) game variants — because they can affect everything from starting BRP levels, to minor country alliances, to changes in national unit force pools — multiply the opposing players’ strategic options and, at the same time, also introduce the ‘fog of war’ into the game. Thus, between the different possible scenarios and the potentially significant effects of variant counters, it is no exaggeration to say that, given the many built-in strategic alternatives that the game design makes available to the two opposing coalitions, an individual player could start a hundred different THIRD REICH games and never see any two of them develop along exactly the same lines.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION

B-26 Marauder over Normandy on D-Day.

When I reflect on the nearly half-century that I have been personally involved with conflict simulations, 1974 stands out as a watershed year for wargaming. During that heady, twelve month period, Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI) published the First Edition of WAR IN THE EAST, and the Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC) published both PANZER LEADER and the first edition of the RISE AND DECLINE OF THE THIRD REICH. All three of these games — at least, in my view — were exciting new additions to a rapidly growing body of commercially-produced conflict simulations. However, as good as the first two titles were, THIRD REICH still stands out as the one truly “ground-breaking” game to appear in 1974 or, for that matter, in any other year. This is because, just like PANZERBLITZ (1970) before it, THIRD REICH truly rocked the hobby when it first burst onto the conflict simulation scene; and every gamer that I knew, myself included, literally rushed out to buy Avalon Hill’s new strategic game of World War II in Europe. Even more importantly, once all of us had purchased our own copies of THIRD REICH, we all played it — a lot.

German casualties, Battle of Moscow, during the coldest winter in 40 years.

The immediate success of THIRD REICH was, in some ways, a little surprising because, at first glance, it seemed to have three obvious shortcomings when it came to winning wide-spread acceptance among gamers. First, the rules — at least by the standards of 1974 — were very long and very complicated. Second, the heavy emphasis on the economic factors that drove events in World War II meant that players had no choice but to keep carefully-written records of their turn-by-turn expenditures of BRPs (and convenient, standardized forms for this record-keeping were not included with the game). Third, the simulation architecture of the game represented a major, even radical departure from virtually every other game system that was in the marketplace at the time. Despite these factors, however, THIRD REICH became an almost instantaneous hit: the game system was simply so richly-textured, so challenging, and so exciting that players, almost universally, accepted the game’s peculiar foibles without complaint. After all, it seemed to include almost everything a player could hope for; among the THIRD REICH game counters were air wings, fleets, infantry, armor, airborne, and partisans. But, there was more: there were German U-Boats and Allied escorts, Allied bombers and German fighters; there were Murmansk convoys and amphibious landings; and most importantly, there was a workable game system for simulating the effects of Blitzkrieg within the context of a strategic-level game.

Italian anti-aircraft gun, North Africa.

Interestingly, the real genius of the THIRD REICH game system was not that it combined air, ground and naval operations together in a single simulation platform: Larry Pinsky and Thomas Shaw, with BLITZKRIEG (1965); and Jim Dunnigan and company, with STRATEGY I and USN (both in 1971), had already done something at least somewhat similar. The design elements that really set THIRD REICH apart from its predecessors were two-fold: first, it offered a game system that seamlessly wove together the different actions of the various combat arms into a unified whole; second, it presented an economic ‘game-within-a-game’ that both emphasized the importance of industrial productivity to the conduct of modern (20th Century) military operations, and that also clearly illustrated the limits that the differing industrial capacities of the various Major Powers placed on their ability to wage war. Modern warfare is expensive and THIRD REICH showed this aspect of industrialized, total war as no other title had ever done before it. Armies, air forces, and fleets were destroyed and rebuilt as the game progressed; not once, but over and over again. In addition, besides the unavoidable costs of conventional combat, the economic effects of the German U-Boat campaign against England, and the Allied bomber offensive against Germany were also both finally incorporated into a conflict simulation in such a way that they made strategic sense and yet did not bog down the flow of the game. In terms of its overall conceptualization and design, THIRD REICH had all the earmarks of a masterpiece; in terms of the game’s pre-publication development and play-testing, however, it very quickly became apparent that everybody’s favorite new game had more than a few playability issues.

German King Tiger tank and infantry at Kursk.

Among my circle of friends, the first major problem with the game’s design surfaced in only our second or third outing, and it was a real jolt to all of us around the game table. What happened was that — once France was conquered and the B.E.F. had been driven from the Continent — instead of turning east to attack Russia in 1941, the German player instead launched a surprise airborne assault against London. The combination of the Italian Air Force and Luftwaffe allowed the Germans to swamp the London garrison and the badly-outnumbered, supporting RAF. Even worse was the realization by the Allied players that because London was now in German hands, there were no remaining Allied supply sources left from which to support a British counterattack against the German paratrooper in the English capital. This was a real (and non-trivial) defect in the game’s design, and it was not the only one. Because the game was so widely popular, the questions just kept coming. Not surprisingly, a steady stream of fixes and outright rules changes quickly began to flow back out of Baltimore. To solve the ‘London’ problem, English stacking (only) was adjusted to allow three British units to garrison the British capital, and the ‘rules editor’ at the General also imposed new limits on the number of air strength points that could be added in support of ground forces, both on attack and defense. Unfortunately, this was only the “tip of the ice berg.” THIRD REICH rules questions were rapidly turning into a ‘whack a mole’ situation for Avalon Hill; as soon as one problem was solved, another popped up to take its place. For example, in the first edition of the game, it turned out that the Germans could — with careful planning — actually win the U-Boat War against the Allies. And then there was the ‘Gibraltar’ problem: an early Axis conquest of Spain followed by the seizure of Gibraltar made possible a joint invasion of England by a massive combined force of Italian and German fleets and air wings. Even if the invasion failed, the air and naval battles that resulted from the Axis seaborne assault usually left the Royal Navy so weakened that an Allied return to the European mainland, even with American help, became highly problematical later in the war. And then there was the question of Sea Transport to and from small islands; and what happened if a Major Power’s BRP level was reduced by enemy action to below zero? The questions and rules disputes just kept cropping up. Thus, it steadily became more and more obvious that it was only a matter of time before the rule book would have to get a major facelift; and, sure enough, faced with a commercially successful but flawed product, Avalon Hill finally succumbed to popular pressure and published a Second Edition version of the rules.

German Type VII U-boat goes to sea from its base on France's west coast.

Unfortunately for the boys in Baltimore, the THIRD REICH rules odyssey didn’t end there; and as yet more rules problems came to light, a third and finally, a Fourth Edition version of the rules was brought out to, hopefully, clear away the last few bits of confusion that still surrounded the game. Interestingly, besides the game rules, the original game map also underwent a facelift; and even the Scenario Cards were modified two more times before Avalon Hill was finally satisfied with their third and final version. These final fixes seemed, at last, to solve most of the problems that had plagued earlier versions of the game. It had taken seven long years, and the input of thousands of dedicated players, but THIRD REICH had finally become the game that had been promised back in 1974. In the eyes of many of its fans, the wait was worth it.

American soldiers on a forest road in the Ardennes.

Of course, 1974 was a long time ago, and popular tastes inevitably change. In 1992, Avalon Hill brought out a ‘super-sized’, expanded replacement for the original game, ADVANCED THIRD REICH. And, although a number of diehard fans immediately moved on to the bigger, still more detailed game, a substantial number of us stayed with the 4th Edition of the original. Nowadays, a brief walk through the ‘open-gaming’ area of any of the major wargaming conventions will show that THIRD REICH, even after thirty-six years, still retains a loyal following within the hobby. In fact, in the eyes of many traditional, long-time players (myself, included), John Prados’ design is still the best ‘tabletop’, strategic-level treatment of the European Theater of World War II ever published. Doubtless, a number of contemporary players will disagree with this opinion, but it is, nonetheless, a tough proposition to refute: the game, in spite of its age, is still just that good. And whatever else one may think of this title, given its colorful history of modifications, rules changes and design tweaks, probably no other conflict simulation has gone through — or, ever will again — as thorough a game design process, based on post-publication feedback, as has THIRD REICH.

Marching through the mountains, Sicily, 1943.

This all leads to the obvious question: Who should own a copy of THIRD REICH, 4th Edition? After all, Prados’ design is not the only game to cover World War II in Europe; in fact, quite a few other strategic-level, normal-sized (non-monster) games have attempted to tackle the same subject over the years — WORLD WAR II (1973), HITLERS’S WAR (1981), WORLD WAR II: EUROPEAN THEATER OF OPERATIONS (1985), AXIS & ALLIES: EUROPE (1999) and WORLD WAR II: BARBAROSSA TO BERLIN (2002), just to name a few — and all of them, to varying degrees, are successful games. So, what really sets this aging Prados design apart from its many competitors? The short answer, I think, is that, as interesting and enjoyable as some of these other titles are, none of them — not even an exciting ‘card-driven game’ (CDG) like WORLD WAR II: BARBAROSSA TO BERLIN — can really match THIRD REICH when it comes to its historical sweep, the competing strategic options (both operational and economic) that the multi-layered simulation platform makes possible, or the tense, nail-biting action that this game produces, turn after turn, particularly when played by evenly-matched experts.

Stuka dive bombers.

Of course, the richness and density of the THIRD REICH game system, in spite of its many virtues, also pretty much guarantees that it will not be a suitable choice for every type of player. Thus, given the fact that the 4th Edition Rule Book — counting charts and designer’s notes — is thirty-six pages of small print, it is probably a good bet that most novice or casual gamers would find the simulation too detailed and much too complicated to really be engaging or enjoyable. In short, THIRD REICH is really not a game for dabblers. On the other hand, both for experienced players and for serious collectors, I believe that this title is absolutely a MUST OWN. There may be better ‘tabletop’ treatments of the Second World War in Europe and North Africa, but if there are, I have yet to encounter them; and until I do, THIRD REICH, despite its age, will remain my personal favorite.

For those players with one of the earlier editions of THIRD REICH, the 4th edition rules are available for download, thanks to the yeoman efforts of Lewis Goldberg, at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/50134/error/expired/3r-4th-edition-rules. Please note, however, that the 4th edition rules should be used along with the 2nd edition map boards and the 3rd edition scenario cards.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 3 months (seasonal turns)
  • Map Scale: 100 kilometers per hex (estimated)
  • Unit Size: corps, fleet, air group
  • Unit Types: armor, infantry, airborne, replacement, partisan, fleet, air, air base, strategic warfare (SW) units, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two - six
  • Complexity: high/expert
  • Solitaire Suitability: high
  • Average Playing Time: 3-20+ hours (depending on scenario)

Game Components:

  • One (four section) 22” x 32” hexagonal grid 2nd Edition Map Board (with Turn Record Track, BRP Costs Chart, Combat Results Table, Attrition Results Table, Strategic Warfare Tables, Interception Table, Minor Country Forces Chart, SW Holding Boxes, and Off-Map Holding Boxes incorporated)
  • 560 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8” x 11” THIRD REICH, 4th Ed. Rules Booklet (with National Air and Naval DRM Charts, Air Attack on Naval Forces Table, Naval Advantage Chart and Intelligence Table incorporated)
  • Six 5½” x 8” back-printed 3rd Edition National Scenario Starting Forces Cards
  • One 5½” x 8” Avalon Hill ‘Silver Jubilee’ Catalog and Order Form Booklet
  • One 5½” x 8½” back-printed Avalon Hill the General Ad Slick
  • One 5½” x 7” Avalon Hill Customer Response Card
  • One six-sided Die
  • One 8½” x 11½” x 2” bookcase-style Game Box

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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TRICKS OF THE TRADE: ‘AFRIKA KORPS’ PBeM PLAY AID

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MOVEMENT & COMBAT TURN RECORD TEMPLATE FOR THE TAHGC GAME, ‘AFRIKA KORPS’ (1964/1980)


There is really nothing like face-to-face competition when it comes to playing wargames. Unfortunately, most players will find — particularly, once they leave college and get on with their lives — that local opponents who share the same gaming interests can often be hard to find, and once found, hard to stay in touch with over the long haul. Circumstances change: gaming clubs break up, opponents move or even, heaven forbid, drop out of the hobby completely. Thus, one of the great benefits to traditional board wargaming conferred by the internet age — speaking as a long-time competitive player — has been the now almost universal ability of modern players to substitute ‘Play by Electronic Mail’ (PBeM) for its tiresome precursor, traditional ‘Play by Mail’ (PBM). This has meant that most games between geographically separated opponents can now — if both players are conscientious in their move-making — be completed in a matter of months or even weeks, instead of the year or more that postal play used to require.

Happily, the ‘internet revolution’ has also led to the appearance of subscription (pay-as-you-go) wargame sites such as ‘Hexwars,’ and also to the development of easy-to-use gaming software applications such as ‘Vassal’ which has made ‘electronic’ wargaming even faster (no set-up time) and more convenient. In fact, in the case of ‘Vassal,’ players who are familiar with a game system no longer even have to have physical access to a copy of a favorite title in order to play it. Of course, reliance on software applications like ‘Vassal’ or ‘Cyberboard’ is not always either practical or even preferable. In many cases, players will find that platforms for their favorite older games are not yet available on line. Moreover, even when their favorite title is available on line, players will occasionally find that existing internet gaming software — programmers being human — will have map or ‘order of battle’ mistakes that seriously detract from the actual playability of the game.

Finally, there are still a few modern ‘Luddites’ like me who just don’t much care for the ‘point and drag’ method of moving counters on a screen; gamers who, instead, would actually rather have the real map and counters in front of them when they play. For this type of player, using a ‘spreadsheet’ format for internet gaming is a convenient alternative. And it is also, not surprisingly, the online gaming format that I personally prefer.

The Excel ‘spreadsheet’ file offered with this post is for the 3rd Edition version (1980) of the Avalon Hill classic game, AFRIKA KORPS (1964). This file has been set up to permit competing players to exchange new game moves via email attachments and, at the same time, to keep an accurate and detailed, ongoing record of all of the various game operations that can potentially occur in the course of a complete thirty-eight turn match.


Excel Spreadsheet AFRIKA KORPS PBeM PLAY AID


Additional Resources:

Hexwars
Vassal
Cyberboard created by Dale Larson
The Play by Email Emporium Walt O’Hara
Boardgame Players Association World Board Gaming Championships®
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TAHGC, FRANCE, 1940 (1972)

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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
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