|Napoleon III painting by Franz Winterhalter |
Needless-to-say, the long-simmering animosity between Berlin and Paris meant that the Prussians had been readying themselves for war with France for years, and thus, no military detail had been left to chance. The French, also spoiling for a fight and eager to take the offensive against their eastern neighbor, had formulated their plans more broadly, and had focused on political goals as well as military objectives in preparing for war against the Germans. Napoleon IIIrd and his advisors had convinced themselves that Austria might be persuaded to join in the war against Prussia, and even that several of the Kaiser’s German allies might be induced to defect. To unravel Prussia's fragile alliances with several of the smaller Germanic states, all the French Emperor believed that he needed was an early French victory on German soil.
The Prussian plan was not nearly as nuanced or as complicated as that of the French. Instead of a diplomatic victory, the Prussian Great General Staff (as it was called then) planned — by using railroads to transport their rapidly mobilizing troops — to concentrate near the French border and, once massed, to immediately drive into eastern France in search of a decisive battle with the enemy. To preserve maximum combat power during this advance, the Prussian General Staff was determined to maintain the concentration of their field armies as they marched forward; thus, they intended to avoid detaching any more formations from the main army than were absolutely necessary to invest or reduce the few key French fortresses on the Franco-German frontier that might threaten the Prussian Army’s line of communication.
|Field Marshal Helmut Karl Bernhard, |
Count von Moltke
|Battle of Sedan|
THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR, as already hinted at in the preceding comments, offers two versions of the game: the introductory Basic Game, and the more complicated and challenging Standard Game. Both games are interesting and enjoyable enough to stand on their own, but the more advanced version is definitely where the real nail-biting action occurs. Nonetheless, each of the two games is different enough from the other to warrant their own commentary.
The Basic Game
Oddly enough, although most of the game’s action will usually take place in France, the French player is not permitted to have more than three EB units on the game map at any one time; in contrast, the Prussian player, despite operating in an enemy country, may put into play as many EB railroad repair units as he wants, and, in fact, may conjure them up wherever and whenever he decides he needs them. Other than enemy combat units, the only other real obstacles to the movement of EB units are river hex-sides: every time an EB repair unit arrives at a river, it must roll and win a die-roll (a 50% chance of success) before it is allowed to continue its movement across the river barrier. [It should be noted, by the way, that unless the Prussian player is restricted to a single die-roll per riverline, the fact that he can create unlimited numbers of extra EB units means that this restriction only affects the French player.]
1914 or Dave Williams’ ANZIO) which both players can use to rebuild those friendly combat units that have been reduced by combat, but are not currently in contact with the enemy.
|Siege of Paris, popular French print|
|Sites of Franco Prussian War major engagements.|
The Standard Game
|Seige of Paris, painting by Messioner|
The key feature of the Standard Game rules system and the thing that most sets it apart from the Basic Game is its introduction of “limited intelligence”. The Basic Game presents the opposing players with an interesting strategic puzzle. The French commander will usually anchor his left on the fortresses of Longwy, Thionville, and Metz while he attempts to give up as little ground as possible in the center and south without, hopefully, allowing his back-peddling right wing to be outflanked. The Prussian player, on the other hand, will usually advance into France in a sweeping sickle-like arc, using both his advantage in numbers and his corps’ superior speed to pin the French center while his left wing attempts to envelop the slower-moving units covering the southern end of the French line. Everything changes with the Standard Game’s addition of dummy counters in concert with the introduction of inverted combat units; these two factors completely transform the dynamic tempo and flow of the game. Now, the Prussian player no longer knows whether the French fortresses (especially Strasburg and Colmar) are garrisoned by infantry corps or by dummy counters; or whether the French center is held in strength, or defended by phantoms. The uncertainty for the French player is just as great as it is for his Prussian adversary. With all of those inverted Prussian counters swarming across the game map, the French commander can never be sure, short of launching probing attacks (which will, if unsuccessful, cost victory points), whether the units covering the Prussian center are real, or whether the forces racing south and west actually represent the main body of the enemy army. And while concealed unit values and dummy counters definitely increase the challenges for both players, they are not the only elements of the Standard Game’s rules package that can increase the game’s “pucker factor”.
For example, players who either want to further increase the game’s uncertainty or who just want to adjust play balance between unequal opponents will find that the Standard version of FRANCO-PRUSSIAN also offers twelve different Orders of Battle (OoBs) — six for each side — all of which, it should be noted, will vary somewhat in their individual combat strengths and will also typically call for the use of alternative mobilization areas. These alternate OoBs, and the variable mobilization areas that go with them, are — according to the designer, at least — based on possible pre-war strategies that were actually considered by the belligerents. And finally, for those players who really want to cultivate an ulcer of their very own, the Standard Game also offers an optional rule to allow for "extended" (halved combat strength, but with a ZOC) and "concentrated" (full combat strength, but without a ZOC) unit formations to further complicate both the strategic and the tactical picture for both sides.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
In addition, besides this simulation’s overall success as a playable, challenging, and enjoyable game, it also appeals to me on another, more abstract level. This comparatively uncluttered SPI design represents, I think, the return of a more mature, more accomplished Dunnigan to his game design roots. Thus, Dunnigan’s use, in THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WARof limited intelligence (inverted and dummy counters), railroads, and step-reduction (both for combat units and for fortifications) is, when viewed in terms of the designer’s choice of a historical topic, all very reminiscent of his ambitious design effort, four years earlier, on Avalon Hill’s 1914 (1968). In the case of THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR, however, Dunnigan seems to have approached his project with far more modest simulation goals than those that guided him in 1968; and the end result, at least in my opinion, is a much better, less-contrived, and more playable game than 1914. Granted the newer game, because of its simpler design architecture, does not have the simulation “chops” of its World War I predecessor; nonetheless, many of the same design elements that combined to stifle interest and choke off repeat play in the case of the earlier game, seem to have come together perfectly in THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR to produce, at least in my view, a game system which — then and now — offers players both a surprising range of strategic variability and, at the same time, a manageable amount of realistic operational detail.
Interestingly, although THE FRANCO-PRUSSIA WAR was only modestly well-received when it was first published, the innovative strategic/grand-tactical game system that it introduced was nonetheless successful enough that it led to two additional SPI titles: THE WILDERNESS CAMPAIGN (1972) and LEE MOVES NORTH (1973); both of which used this game system to good effect to simulate different campaigns during the American Civil War.
Finally, a general word or two about play: new players will often find that playing the Standard Game of THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR — or any of the other titles in this series, for that matter — can, and usually will, be a nerve-racking test of cunning, nerve, and intuition. What this means is that, in most cases, the player who is cautious and unoriginal in this thinking will almost always find himself at a disadvantage when pitted against a more audacious, intuitive, and aggressive opponent. For this reason, playing this game can be a very humbling experience: players will quickly realize that, just as was the case with their historical counterparts, it is exceedingly easy to look stupid when the wrong judgment is made about their adversaries’ intentions or strength. Believe me, when it comes to this game, I am speaking from experience!
- Time Scale: 3 days per game turn
- Map Scale: 7.5 kilometers per hex
- Unit Size: corps
- Unit Types: infantry, fortress, railroad repair, dummy, and information counters
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average/above average (depending on version)
- Solitaire Suitability: average (Basic Game); below average (Standard Game)
- Average Playing Time: 2-3 + hours
- One 22” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record Track incorporated)
- 400 ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8¾” x 11½ ” book-fold style Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions incorporated)
- Two 11” x 14” back-printed combined Combat Results Tables and Terrain Effects Charts
- One 8½” x 11” Errata Sheet (as of 31 October 1973)
- One 4” x 8½” SPI Order Form
- One small six-sided Die
- One SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic game Cover with Title Sheet