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S&T Issues #’s 62, 63, 64, 66 & 68
INTRODUCTIONThe following list represents the fourth installment in my series of relatively short descriptive reviews covering S&T magazine games published during what is sometimes referred to as the “Golden Age” of SPI: the 1970s and 80s. These are S&T insert games that did not make it — sometimes for painfully obvious reasons — onto my “TOP 20 FAVORITES LIST”. Some of the early S&T titles featured in this particular post were well-received when they first appeared, either as simulations or as games, some were not. Two of these titles are interesting because, although designed by the same person, Richard Berg, they are very different both in terms of their historical setting and their simulation architecture. One of the designer’s two titles, VERACRUZ, seems — in my view, at least — to come together very well, both as a game and as a simulation; however, the other Berg design featured in this series, THE SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE, although it may capture many of the key elements of “siege warfare” during the fifteenth century, just doesn’t seem to work that well as a game. That being said, all of the titles in this collection, whether deservedly or not, have more or less faded into obscurity. Still, whether widely popular, moderately well thought of, or even generally reviled, I believe that all of these games are interesting at least from one standpoint: their place, however fleeting, in the history of game design and development. I hope that you, my fellow players, agree with me.
FIVE MORE S&T PROFILES
16. Strategy & Tactics (S&T) #62, SOUTH AFRICA,included a game of the same name and, like the other magazines in this series of posts, S&T #62 (May/June 1977) dates back to the “golden age” of SPI. This particular issue featured the following articles:
S&T #62 Magazine Game: SOUTH AFRICA: Death of Colonialism, designed by Irad B. Hardy with graphics by Redmond A. Simonsen, is a hypothetical depiction of the violent military/political struggle that virtually everyone who was familiar with the South Africa of the 1970s was sure would soon occur, but which never happened. This, of course, is because neither Irad Hardy — nor anyone else, for that matter — could, in 1977, foresee the grand political bargain that would ultimately be struck between Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk in 1994; and which, with one courageous stroke, would finally bring about both the end of apartheid and the peaceful transfer of power from the Afrikaner minority to the Black majority in South Africa.
SOUTH AFRICA is an operational-level, two-player simulation — based very loosely on the PGG Game System — of the struggle by that country’s powerless Black majority against South Africa’s dominant White government, and of the White minority regime’s expected military response to such an existential threat to its continued exercise of power. In view of the fact that the designer modeled his simulation around the volatile political and racial fault lines that were clearly apparent in 1977, the game pits South Africa’s Black Nationalist (BN) revolutionaries (in the guise of both irregular and paramilitary forces) against the formidable conventional combat power of the Republic of South Africa’s (RSA) police and military services.
Each Game-turn in SOUTH AFRICA represents one week of real time, and each hex is sixty kilometers from side to side. Terrain, which affects both movement and combat, is limited to eleven types: clear, city, road, track, river hex-sides (bridged and unbridged), rough, mountain, Karoo (scrub), bush, and forest. Because of the game’s scale, zones of control (ZOCs) exist only in occupied hexes; in addition, there is no limit on stacking. Interestingly (or frustratingly, depending on one’s viewpoint), the length of the game is open-ended: essentially it will go on — for however long it takes — until the BN forces ultimately win (a foregone conclusion, in the eyes of the designer) or — should the RSA player decide to be stubborn and go for a draw — until the players mutually agree to abandon further play due to exhaustion, boredom, or both. For this and other reasons, I personally consider this title to be one of the worst magazine games ever published by SPI; it is also, in my opinion, Irad Hardy’s most disappointing design effort, ever. This is not to say, by the way, that SOUTH AFRICA has no redeeming features, at all. To be fair, there are actually a few interesting ideas buried under the layers of defensive political-correctness that Hardy has seen fit to ladle onto this seriously-flawed design. For example, combat units in the game — besides displaying the traditional combat and movement values that one would expect — also have special “ambush-evasion” ratings which, not surprisingly, are higher in the case of BN and SA police units than they are for conventional units. There is also a rather interesting economic subroutine contained within the architecture of the game system. Alas, the design’s few good parts, intriguing though they may be, are not enough to salvage the game as a whole. Regrettably, in the designer’s rush to convince us — as if any of S&T’s subscribers actually needed persuading (even in the mid-1970s) that apartheid was morally reprehensible — of his untrammeled support for the BN cause, most of these good features tend to get lost.
As a simulation, SOUTH AFRICA attempts to deal with an interesting, if unusual, game topic. Given the post-1977 history of the region, of course, it (happily, as it turns out) fails utterly in this department. Unfortunately, it also misses the mark — just as completely, I would argue — when evaluated purely as a game. This is because, distilled down to its essentials, Hardy’s design only pretends to allow players to examine the possible military events that might have transpired had White and Black South Africans not reached their historical political accommodation. In actuality, since the game’s ultimate winner has been predetermined before play even starts, it hardly seems worth the effort — in my view, anyway — to bother setting the game up in the first place. That being said, I’m sure that, despite its flaws, there are still a few players who probably like this title. And for the few masochists out there who actually enjoy staving off defeat as long as possible when playing the RSA, SOUTH AFRICA offers — as a means of modifying the Standard Historical Scenario — a collection of randomly-selected (political/military) variants each of which might have influenced military events in South Africa, had a large-scale Black Nationalist revolt actually taken hold. SOUTH AFRICA includes the following components:
17. Strategy & Tactics (S&T) #63, VERACRUZ,included a game of the same name. This issue of S&T dates back to the “golden years” of Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI). This was the period when James Dunnigan and Redmond Simonson were still running things at the most prolific game publisher of its day. Content-wise, a copy of S&T #63 (Jul/Aug1977) featured the following articles:
S&T #63 Magazine Game: VERACRUZ: US Invasion of Mexico, 1847, designed by Richard Berg and Redmond A. Simonsen, is a two-player operational level simulation of American general Winfield Scott’s campaign against Mexico, which took place between March and September, 1847. General Scott’s invasion was intended to bring an end, once and for all, to the Mexican War — which had begun in April 1846 — by capturing the enemy capital, Mexico City. And true to his plan, on September 12, 1847, Mexico City fell to Scott’s forces after a bloody day-long struggle. This victory brought Scott’s brilliantly conducted campaign to a successful conclusion; even more impressive than the capture of Mexico City by American forces, however, was the fact that Scott’s ultimate success was achieved in spite of the fact that his 8,000 man army had marched and fought its way deep into the heart of the enemy’s country and, further, that it had been outnumbered at every stage of its seven-month long campaign.
The game mechanics of VERACRUZ are intriguing. The game is played in game turns composed of two multi-phase player turns. In addition, there is a joint Disease Attrition Stage that occurs every four game turns, starting with turn seven. Each game turn begins with the Mexican player turn, and follows a set sequence of player phases: the Mexican Supply Phase; the Mexican Reinforcement Phase; the Mexican Guerilla Phase; the Mexican Political Phase; the Mexican Movement Phase; the Mexican Rally Phase; and the Mexican Combat Phase. After the completion of the Mexican player turn, the American player executes his own series of actions: the U.S. Supply Phase; the U.S. Reinforcement Phase; the U.S. Movement Phase; the U.S. Rally Phase; and the U.S. Combat Phase. A single game turn is equal to one week of real time, and each hex is five miles from side to side. VERACRUZ is twenty-five turns long. The game offers only the historical Standard Game; there are no additional scenarios or optional rules.
Interestingly enough, Richard Berg’s VERACRUZ — in spite of the unfortunate jingoism underpinning this episode in American history — is really a surprisingly good game; and I don’t say this lightly. The opposing armies are very different in their capabilities, and, although the Americans enjoy a significant edge when it comes to toe-to-toe combat, General Santa Anna’s strategic situation is far from hopeless; in fact, of the two opposing forces, I personally find the Mexican army to be the more enjoyable, if challenging, side to command. VERACRUZ is certainly not a simple game — for starters, just accounting for the effects of both leadership and morale on combat can trip up the unwary — nonetheless, it is always interesting, surprisingly nuanced, and a lot of fun to play. Moreover, I find it hard to understand how any player could not like a game that includes, among other things: leaders, guerillas, pack animals, fieldworks, sieges, and (my personal favorite) a special rule for El Vomito.
Finally, in addition to being a very good game, I also consider VERACRUZ to be both a first rate simulation of Winfield Scott’s brilliantly executed campaign against Santa Anna; and a persuasive argument that — despite the fact that the “bad odor” of the Mexican-American War has largely faded with time — the gifted Scott is still one of the most underappreciated military commanders in our country’s history. VERACRUZ includes the following components:
18. Strategy &Tactics (S&T) #64, RAID,which also included a copy of the game of the same name. A copy of S&T #64 (Sep/Oct 1977) includes the following featured articles:
S&T #64 Magazine Game: RAID! Commando Operations in the 20th Century, designed by Mark Herman and Redmond A. Simonsen, is a tactical (fire team) level, two player simulation of commando tactics and operations from World War II to the near future. Design-wise, the game is very reminiscent of FIREFIGHT (1976), with a smattering of SQUAD LEADER (1977) thrown in. Each game turn represents one to two minutes of real time, and each hex is twenty-five meters from side to side. The game turns are symmetrical; thus, both players follow the same turn sequence: Command Control Phase; Direct Fire Phase; Movement Phase; Suppression Marker Removal Phase; and Indirect Fire Phase.
As the preceding turn sequence suggests, this particular simulation of small unit tactical operations mainly focuses on direct fire, maneuver, and close assault, with special emphasis on command and control, and target spotting. Somewhat surprisingly, morale — usually a critical factor in tactical level games — is accounted for, according to the designer, only as an abstract component of command and control. The four-color hexagonal grid map is simple, but functional. Terrain varies from scenario to scenario, but tends to fall into one of eight basic categories: clear, medium (broken), heavy (jungle), mixed (rice paddies, fields), building, cliff, fortified strongpoint, and coastal. In addition, like FIREFIGHT, elevation is marked on the game map and is differentiated in ten meter increments. On the whole, RAID! seems to be a workmanlike rendition of commando-style operations; however, I should also note that players who do not care for FIREFIGHT — although there are a number of important differences between the two game systems — will, if they are anything like me, probably not like this game, either.
RAID! offers a mix of eight historical and hypothetical commando actions for players to try: Entebbe: 3 July 1976; the Dawn Raid; The Son Tay Raid, 21 November 1970; Convoy Ambush; Tragino Aqueduct (Italy): 10 February 1941; Litiani River: 8 June 1941; Assault on South Vaagso (Vaagso Island): 27 December 1942,; and The Sweep. In addition, because the gaming possibilities of these types of small unit actions are almost limitless, the designer offers some advice to players on how to design their own scenarios. RAID! Includes the following components:
19. Strategy & Tactics (S&T) #66, THE SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE,when it was originally mailed, included a copy of a game of the same name. S&T #66 (Jan/Feb 1978) contains the following articles:
S&T #66 Magazine Game: THE SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE, designed by Richard Berg with graphics by Redmond Simonsen, is an operational/ tactical simulation of one of the great turning points in history: the Muslim siege of the great Christian city and capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople. In 1453, the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet II, invested the Byzantine capital with siege engines, siege towers, artillery and an army roughly fifteen times larger than that of the city’s garrison. However, this contest was not as uneven as it might at first appear. Arrayed against this powerful Muslim host was the strongest fortified city in all of Christendom; a city that, in the course of its long history, had already successfully withstood over twenty sieges. This then is the challenge presented to the opposing players in the game, THE SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE. The player commanding the forces of Mehmet II must attempt — using artillery bombardment, mines, siege craft, and infantry assaults — to battle his way past the city’s formidable defenses and into its largely defenseless inner precincts; in contrast, his opponent, who plays the role of Emperor Constantine XI, has a completely different goal: to prevent, at all costs, Mehmet’s troops from capturing, by storm, this ancient European bastion which, for centuries, has stood as bulwark between the Muslim east and the Christian west.
The game mechanics of CONSTANTINOPLE, although not particularly complicated, nonetheless are, to put it kindly, more than a little cumbersome. The map scale is 200 yards per hex. Combat units, although they may freely move through hexes containing other friendly units, may never finish a turn phase stacked with another friendly combat unit. A single catapult or siege tower may occupy the same hex as a single combat unit, and leaders, not surprisingly, may stack freely both with friendly combat units and with other friendly leaders. Each game turn represents approximately two days of real time. This time scale, however, is only a rough approximation of either real or game time. In terms of actual play, once the Turks have tunneled under the city’s outer walls and/or Ottoman artillery has opened a breach in the city’s defenses, the real fun begins: the assault by Mehmet’s various infantry divisions (all starting from their pre-assigned staging areas) against Constantinople’s Christian defenders. Thus, on any game turn, beginning with turn two, the Ottoman commander may opt not to bombard, but instead, to order (assuming, of course, he has drawn a sufficiently high “assault capability” chit) his infantry and siege equipment (catapults and towers) forward in an attempt to cross the “Foss” (a large moat-like ditch that shields much of the outer wall) and to storm the Byzantine units defending the city’s walls. When such an assault turn occurs, the individual game turn is broken down into a series of ten impulses (or mini-turns) in order to represent the intense and prolonged action that occurs during this type of attack.
And “prolonged action” really doesn’t do justice to the die-rolling marathon that typically results when a major Ottoman infantry assault finally begins. Play, in short, bogs down dramatically once an assault actually comes within range of Constantinople’s walls. There are, for instance, die rolls during each side’s “engineering phase” to determine whether the assaulting force succeeds in filling in parts of the Foss so that the Turkish siege towers can be moved adjacent to the city’s walls; and there are die rolls to see if the Byzantine defenders can empty the Foss of debris. Both players will roll to resolve simultaneous “missile” fire attacks; and then there are mêlée attacks against adjacent units which require two sets of die rolls: one roll (with two dice) to see if the target unit is even affected; and another die roll (one die, this time), if the first roll is successful, to see what damage, if any, is actually inflicted. This sequence will be repeated, unit by unit, and impulse by impulse, until either the Ottomans succeed in pushing combat units totaling at least twenty-five attack factors into the city (in which case the Turkish player wins the game), or until the tenth impulse of the game turn in progress ends. A complete game, by the way, is twenty-seven turns long.
CONSTANTINOPLE offers two scenarios: the comparatively short (2 hours or less playing time) Assault Game; and the longer (4+ hours) Land Game which covers the entire siege from start to finish. THE SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE was designed by Richard Berg and Redmond A. Simonsen and includes the following components:
20. Strategy &Tactics (S&T) #68, KHARKOV,like the other magazines in this series, came with a copy of a game with the same title. A copy of S&T #68 (May/Jun 1978) contains the following articles:
S&T #68 Magazine Game: KHARKOV: The Soviet Spring Offensive 12 May to 21 May 1942, designed by Stephen B. Patrick with graphics by Redmond Simonsen, is an operational level (division/regiment) simulation — based on the popular PGG Game System — of World War II combat on the Russian Front. The game begins on 12 May with the opening phase of the first major Soviet spring offensive of 1942 in southern Russia. This two-pronged attack was directed against the thinly-held German lines on the northern and southern flanks of the Axis-occupied city of Kharkov; for Red army planners, this large-scale offensive had two ambitious goals: its first aim was to destroy the bulk of the German forces in the immediate battle area; its second and even more important objective was to restore Kharkov to Soviet control. Unbeknownst to Russian planners, however, the Germans had ambitious plans of their own. Thus, five days after the start of the Soviet attacks around Kharkov, the Wehrmacht suddenly unleashed an offensive of its own in southern Russia, “Operation Fredericus”, against the hitherto inactive Soviet forces that had been covering the Russian front well to the south of the Kharkov battle area. This then is the challenging set of problems that KHARKOV sets before the two opposing players: the Russian commander must press his attack in the north as hard and as long as he can, but, at the same time, he must also fight to prevent the Soviet army’s position from collapsing in the south; the German player must also find the right balance between two very different objectives: if he hopes to win, he must fight a skillful and tenacious defensive battle to hold onto Kharkov in the north, while he attacks all out to cripple the Red army in the south.
Because the basic design for KHARKOV has largely been borrowed from PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN, most of the game mechanics will immediately be familiar to those players who have already tried the earlier, “Battle for Smolensk” game. For example, the combat system is odds-based and losses can be taken either as “steps” or as retreats; also, like PGG, overruns and “disruptions” largely drive the offensive flow and tempo of the game. Moreover, the characteristics of German units in KHARKOV are virtually identical to those in PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN, both in terms of combat power and available steps; on the Russian side, the majority of Soviet units still have only one step, but unlike the older game, a limited number of Russian combat units in KHARKOV have replacement counters which allow them to lose an additional step. Stacking is limited to three units per hex; Soviet mechanized units, unlike their German counterparts, still do not have a second “mechanized” movement phase; and most Russian units begin the game as “untried” units, although (happily for the Russian commander) there are no “0” strength units in KHARKOV. In addition, the supply rules for the newer game are very similar to those of its predecessor; however, while Soviet and Axis allied (Rumanian) headquarters units still represent a critical component in broadcasting supply, headquarters units can no longer be “disrupted” or permanently eliminated due to combat, as they could in PGG.
In view of the differences between the 1941 and 1942 campaigns, the two game designs, despite their many similarities, are not identical. One notable difference is in the scale of the two titles: a complete game of KHARKOV is ten turns long (two turns shorter than PGG), and each game turn is equal to one day of real time versus two days in PGG. Also, the hexes in KHARKOV — although this seems to have no discernable effect on play — are 6.9 kilometers from side to side which is only about two-thirds the size of those in its older East Front cousin. Moreover, game scale is not the only area where the two games differ. For example, German infantry divisions may break down into regiments in KHARKOV — something that they cannot do in PGG — and these regiments may, at the German player’s option, give up their zone of control (ZOC) to form defensive “strong points”. Another interesting change that appears for the first time in the Stephen Patrick game is the ability of German units to pay a movement penalty to exit Soviet ZOCs. The rules to the newer game also benefit the Russian player in a number of important ways. One welcome improvement (at least in the eyes of the Russian player) is that the Red army — reflecting the hard lessons learned in 1941 — is a more formidable offensive force than it was in the older game. The reasons for this improved combat capability in KHARKOV are several: first, assaults by the Russian units attacking around Kharkov receive a special “Breakthrough Morale Bonus” odds-column shift on the first four turns of the game; in addition, Red army units that begin their movement adjacent to Axis units can — during the first two game turns, only — infiltrate through German ZOCs; finally, although the Germans still enjoy a significant advantage in air power, the Soviet player has one air point available on each game turn that can now be used to support ground attacks.
KHARKOV is certainly not a groundbreaking design, but, it does add a few clever new wrinkles to the basic architecture of the PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN game system. Moreover, Stephen Patrick’s design seems to do a pretty good job of capturing the quasi-independent, “double battle” dynamic of the fighting in this sector of the Russian Front during the early sparring of the 1942 campaign season. That being said, for those players who either like the PGG game system or who are interested in combat on the Eastern Front, I recommend this game highly: while it is not the complete “panzer pusher’s romp” that PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN is, it nonetheless offers the German player an opportunity to conduct an exciting mobile campaign in the south; only this time around, the Red army actually gets to conduct a real offensive of its own in the north. A complete game of KHARKOV includes the following components:
A FEW THOUGHTS ON THIS LATEST BATCH OF ‘ALSO RANS’As I noted un a previous post, installments in this ongoing (and lengthening) collection of S&T descriptions — starting with Part III in this series of posts — have been organized to reflect a more orderly and complete list of magazine issues than was featured in either Part I or Part II of this project. Where gaps in the numerical sequence of S&T issues do appear, readers should assume that I have probably already profiled the missing magazine game in a separate post. Moreover, because of the relative obscurity of several of the titles covered in this particular post, I have fleshed-out some of these profiles a little more than usual. That being said, I sincerely hope that my readers will find this expanded treatment of S&T magazine/game descriptions both interesting and useful; particularly, as I currently plan to add additional installments to this series of posts as time goes on.
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A PERSONAL ASIDE TO THE GAMING COMMUNITY: WELL-KNOWN FRENCH AUTHOR, SOLDIER, AND JOUNALIST, JEAN LARTÉGUY, PASSES AWAY6 comments
Yesterday, I was saddened to learn from Jean-Luc Synave’s French blog “bir-hacheim.com” that the celebrated author, soldiers’ friend, and journalist, Jean Lartéguy, had passed away. He was ninety years old at the time of his death on 23 February 2011.
Upon his return to civilian life, the combat veteran Lartéguy embarked on a new career as a war correspondent, travelling from one hot spot to another to cover conflicts in Korea, Indochina, Algeria, and Latin America. It was during this period that the former soldier developed both his writing skills and his clear-eyed understanding of the rapidly evolving phenomenon of “asymmetrical warfare” that was only then beginning to ignite in communist insurgencies around the globe. One of the first western observers to recognize the threat posed by this new type of conflict, the writer’s early insights about the nature of revolutionary warfare in the twentieth-century are still considered valid to this day.
For my own part, I read Lartéguy’s classic war novel “The Centurions”, which dealt with the doomed French colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria, when I was deployed in Vietnam during the mid-1960s. I thought then, and I still do, that the author wrote with a genuine understanding and appreciation of the men (whatever their nationality) who volunteer to take up arms and to go into harm’s way on behalf of their (often unappreciative) fellow countrymen.
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MOVEMENT & COMBAT TURN RECORD TEMPLATE FOR THE TAHGC GAME, ‘STALINGRAD’ (1963/1974)
The specific Excel ‘spreadsheet’ attachment offered with this post is for the 2nd Edition version (1974) of the Avalon Hill classic game, STALINGRAD (1963). This multi-page file has been set up to permit competing players to exchange 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 could potentially occur in the course of a complete twenty-four turn match.
Stalingrad PBem Play Aid Template
A Few Online Gaming Sites
Some of my Favorite Online Support Sites
Related Stalingrad Map and Counters Blog Posts:
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THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR is a strategic/grand-tactical simulation of the war that, in 1870, pitted the French Empire against the Kingdom of Prussia and the other member states of the North German Confederation. The game was designed by James F. Dunnigan with help from Phil Orbanes, and published in 1972 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).
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.
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.
The Standard Game
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!
Recommended ReadingThese titles provide additional historical background on the Franco-Prussian War.
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The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West; Lt. Colonel Karl-Heinz Frieser (translated from the German by John T. Greenwood); Naval Institute Press; First Printing edition (November 10, 2005); ISBN-13: 978-1591142942
The stunning defeat inflicted by Hitler’s Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe on Allied forces in France during the early days of World War II — even after seven decades — continues to be a subject of abiding interest to both professional and amateur students of military history, alike. Given the decisive success of the German campaign against the forces of the British and French Entente in May-June, 1940, and the tragic consequences worldwide of France’s capitulation after only seven short weeks of fighting, it could hardly be otherwise. The speed and lop-sidedness of the German victory over an Allied force that was technologically equal and numerically either equal or even superior to the attacking Germans, in every category excepting only that of airpower, is still perplexing, if not almost incomprehensible, when viewed in the abstract. This campaign was also — much more so than the earlier, equally rapid German victories against Poland, Denmark, and Norway — the source both of the popular term, and of the legend of German “blitzkrieg” warfare.
In “The Blitzkrieg Legend,” Lt. Colonel Karl-Heinz Frieser examines, using the eyes of both a trained historian and military professional, the often misunderstood political and military factors that shaped the battlefield events of May-June 1940, and that ultimately led to the decisive defeat of the Allied forces in France after less than two months of full-scale fighting. To organize his narrative, the author divides his analysis of the campaign into two basic sections: one part inventories and then assesses the larger, often compelling strategic considerations that helped guide the preparations and planning of both sides prior to the onset of the Battle for France; the other, and in my view, far more convincing portion of his narrative examines, in wonderful detail, the varied and yet critically-important operational factors that served, on the one hand, to doom the Allies to defeat, and, on the other, to propel the Germans to victory.
Lt. Colonel Frieser begins his study, quite reasonably, by assessing the various and sometimes conflicting strategic factors that largely determined the expectations and prewar preparations of the military and political leaders of both the Entente and the Third Reich prior to the German offensive in May 1940. These are, of course, generally well-known to students of World War II; however, the author’s take on these factors is interesting. For example, because of their battlefield experiences on the Western Front a generation earlier, Frieser argues — correctly, in my view — that the senior political and military leadership of the Entente was utterly committed to the same defensive, linear style of warfare that, after four bloody years, had finally ground out a victory over the Central Powers a little over twenty years before. Thus, the author points out, even the Entente plan to advance into Belgium and Holland as soon as the German offensive began — General Gamelin’s infamous Dyle-Breda Plan — was actually intended primarily as a defensive measure: first, to deny the Luftwaffe airfields in the Low Countries from which it could launch bombing attacks against England; and second, to move the probable sites of major fighting away from France and into Flanders. Any major Allied drive into Germany, itself, was considered by the Entente high command to be utterly out of the question before 1941, at the earliest.
The author also notes that the political leaders of the Entente, with little in the way of concrete evidence to support their optimistic appraisal of the effects of the recently-instituted Allied naval blockade against Germany, nonetheless foolishly clung to the hope that Hitler could be toppled, and the Third Reich defeated without any requirement that costly, large-scale combat operations be mounted by Entente forces. In short, that somehow Germany could be defeated without the need for any real Allied ground offensive action at all. This fantasy, like most of the other assumptions that underpinned Allied planning during the period between the fall of Poland and the start of the Battle for France, would, in May and June of 1940, be shown to be completely and tragically wrong.
Certainly, it is easy to acknowledge the important contributions of German officers like Kleist, Guderian, and Rommel when it came to the ultimate success of the German campaign against France; however, it is also important to remember that — unpleasant though it may be for a present-day German like Lt. Colonel Frieser to admit — it was only Hitler’s willingness to gamble on Erich von Manstein’s plan, and not the more conservative approach proposed by the OKH, that ultimately placed Panzergruppe Kleist on the east bank of the Meuse and in a position to achieve the single greatest victory in the long history of German arms, only two days after the start of the offensive.
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