THE ‘ALSO RANS’: S&T INSERT GAMES THAT FAILED TO MAKE IT ONTO MY ‘TOP 20’ FAVORITES LIST, PART IV

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S&T Issues #’s 62, 63, 64, 66 & 68


INTRODUCTION

The 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:

  • South Africa: Vestige of Colonialism, by Brad Hessel
  • Simulation: SOUTH AFRICA: Death of Colonialism, by Irad B. Hardy and Redmond Simonsen
  • Fulda Gap: The First Battle of the Next War, by Steven B. Patrick
  • Outgoing Mail, by The Editors
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Briefings
  • Feedback, Vox Populi, Vox Dei

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:

  • One 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (which comes with all Game Tables, Game Charts, the Terrain Key, and the Turn Record Track incorporated)
  • One Sheet of 200 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8 ½” x 11” set of SOUTH AFRICA Rules (with Set-Up Instructions and Variant Table) stapled in the magazine

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:

  • Veracruz: US Invasion of Mexico, 1847, by Richard Berg and Joe Balkoski
  • Simulation: VERACRUZ: US Invasion of Mexico, 1847, by Richard Berg and Redmond Simonsen
  • The Historical Impact of Disease, by Sterling Hart
  • Outgoing Mail, The Editors
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Briefings
  • Feedback, Vox Populi, Vox Dei

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:

  • One 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record/Reinforcement Tracks, Terrain Key, Terrain Effects Chart, National Morale Tables, U.S. Supply Table, Mexican Army Holding Boxes, and U.S. Division Holding Boxes incorporated)
  • One sheet of 200 back-printed ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8 ½” x 11” set of VERACRUZ Rules (with Initial Set-up Instructions) stapled in magazine

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:

  • Raid! Commando Operations in the 20th Century, by Mark Herman
  • Simulation: RAID! Commando Operations in the 20th Century, by Mark Herman and Redmond Simonsen
  • CANADIAN CIVIL WAR: Separatism vs. Federalism in Modern Canada, by Steve Goldberg
  • Outgoing Mail, by The Editors
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Briefings
  • Feedback, Vox Populi, Vox Dei

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:

  • One 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Terrain Key, Terrain Effects Chart, and Turn Record Track incorporated)
  • One sheet of 200 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8 ½” x 11” set of RAID! Rules (with Scenario Instructions, Direct and Indirect Fire Combat Results Tables, and other Game Tables) stapled into the magazine

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:

  • The Siege of Constantinople: The End of the Middle Ages, 1453 A.D., by Ralph Vickers
  • Simulation: THE SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE: The End of the Middle Ages, 1453 A.D., by Richard Berg and Redmond Simonsen
  • Descent on Crete: The German Airdrop on Maleme, 20-28 May 1941, by Eric Goldberg
  • Outgoing Mail, The Editors
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Briefings
  • Feedback, Vox Populi, Vox Dei

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:

  • One 22” x 32” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record, Terrain Key, Impulse Track, and Sequence of Play incorporated)
  • One Sheet of 200 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (stapled into the magazine)

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:

  • Kharkov: The Soviet Spring Offensive 12 May to 21 May 1942, by Stephen B. Patrick
  • Simulation: KHARKOV: The Soviet Spring Offensive 12 May to 21 May 1942, by Stephen B. Patrick and Redmond A. Simonsen
  • Agincourt: The Triumph of Archery Over Armor, 25 October 1415, by Al Nofi
  • Outgoing Mail, by The Editors
  • Briefings
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Data File 004
  • Feedback, Vox Populi, Vox Dei

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:

  • One 22” x 33” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record/Reinforcement Track, Combat Results Table, Soviet Morale Bonus Table, Terrain Effects Chart, Soviet Army Reserve Holding Boxes, Soviet Eliminated and Replacement Boxes, Axis Eliminated and Regimental Breakdown Boxes, and Victory Point Schedule incorporated)
  • One Sheet of 200 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” set of Game Rules (stapled into magazine)

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.

Related Blog Posts

  1. THE 20 BEST S&T MAGAZINE GAMES FROM THE “GOLDEN AGE” OF SPI
    A Subjective List of My Personal Picks of the Best S&T Magazine Insert Games Published during the 1970’s and 80’s
  2. THE ‘ALSO RANS’: S&T INSERT GAMES THAT FAILED TO MAKE IT ONTO MY ‘TOP 20’ FAVORITES LIST, PART I ,S&T Issues # 38, 41, 43, 45 & 48
  3. THE ‘ALSO RANS’: S&T INSERT GAMES THAT FAILED TO MAKE IT ONTO MY ‘TOP 20’ FAVORITES LIST, PART II ,S&T Issues #’s 37, 39, 42, 44, & 46
  4.  THE ‘ALSO RANS’: S&T INSERT GAMES THAT FAILED TO MAKE IT ONTO MY ‘TOP 20’ FAVORITES LIST, PART III , S&T Issues #’s 52, 54, 56, 58 & 59
Read On

A PERSONAL ASIDE TO THE GAMING COMMUNITY: WELL-KNOWN FRENCH AUTHOR, SOLDIER, AND JOUNALIST, JEAN LARTÉGUY, PASSES AWAY

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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.


Jean Lartéguy
Jean Lartéguy was born Jean Pierre Lucien Osty in the small French hamlet of Aumont-Aubrac, just outside of Paris, in 1920. The young Frenchman’s early years were uneventful. However, with the fall of France in 1940 the trajectory of his life changed, and changed dramatically. The young Lartéguy, along with his fellow countrymen in metropolitan France, was forced to suffer the indignities of the German occupation until finally, in March 1942, he was able to escape into Spain. After a brief stint in a Spanish jail, the future writer joined the Free French army and became an officer with the First Commando Group. While fighting with the First Commando, Lartéguy saw action in Italy, southern France, and Germany. When the war ended, Lartéguy opted to continue in the army, ultimately serving seven years and rising to the rank of captain before finally leaving active duty to join the reserves.

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.

Jean Lartéguy, 1944
In the course of his long career as a writer, Jean Lartéguy wrote some fifty books as well as countless articles on military and political affairs for various publications including Paris Match. Without doubt, however, his most famous work was “The Centurions” which drew heavily on his own experiences covering the anti-European wars in Indochina and French West Africa. In this breakthrough novel, Lartéguy looked — through the unsentimental eyes of a hard-bitten French paratrooper, and the men he commanded — at the seemingly irresistible tide of anti-colonialism, nationalism, and communism that was then sweeping through one European colony after another. It was, in the eyes of soldiers and critics alike, a minor masterpiece.

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.

General Marcel Bigeard
Fortuitously for its author, “The Centurions” was a commercial success and, thanks to its strong narrative arc and the timeliness of its subject matter, a big budget version of the book was brought to the screen in 1966 with Anthony Quinn and Alain Delon in the movie’s leading roles. Understandably, however, because certain studio executives worried that the classical roots of Lartéguy’s choice of title might lead some members of the viewing public to assume that the movie was another “sword and toga” epic, the studio’s marketing heads decided — prior to the movie’s theatrical release — to change the film’s marquee title to the “Lost Command”.



Col. Lewis L. Millett
Interestingly, the central character in Lartéguy’s novel about the paratroopers sent to fight in France’s post-World War II colonial possessions, Lt. Col. Pierre Raspeguy — although originally based on French General Marcel Bigeard — reminded me a great deal of an American officer under whom I myself served for a time: Col. Lewis L. (Bayonet) Millett. Like Lartéguy’s hard-driving professional soldier, Col. Millett had come up through the ranks and was a “bigger than life” figure; he was also an exceptional combat leader, and a fine and honorable man. Regrettably, my onetime commander passed away on 14 November 2009. Colonel Lewis L. Millett was an inspiration to the men who served under him; and, for what it’s worth, he was also the only Medal of Honor winner that I ever actually met during my active duty service in the army.

General David Petraeus
Finally, and perhaps most fitting of all — after decades out of print — it appears that “The Centurions” is soon due to be republished; moreover, the critically-acclaimed novel will return to print, it would appear, mainly because of the personal lobbying efforts of American general David Petraeus. America’s commander in Afghanistan, according to the publisher, has been a keen admirer of Lartéguy’s writing since his youth, and “The Centurions” has long been one of General Petraeus’ favorite books.



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TRICKS OF THE TRADE: ‘STALINGRAD’ PBeM PLAY AID

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MOVEMENT & COMBAT TURN RECORD TEMPLATE FOR THE TAHGC GAME, ‘STALINGRAD’ (1963/1974)


When everything is said and done, there is really nothing like face-to-face competition when it comes to playing wargames. Unfortunately, most players will find — particularly, as time goes on — that local face-to-face opponents can sometimes be hard to find. Happily, the ‘internet revolution’, besides its many other contributions to modern life, has also led to the development of a number of easy-to-use gaming software applications such as VASSAL, Cyberboard, and Zun Tzu, all of which have made ‘electronic’ wargaming both much faster and much more convenient than its play-by-mail (PBM) predecessor. In most cases, these gaming support sites will offer players all of the software tools they need to play online. However, there may still be times when reliance on one of these internet software applications is neither practical nor even preferable. In some cases, players will find that platforms for their favorite older games are not yet available on line. Or, if their favorite title is available on line, players may still occasionally find that existing internet gaming software — programmers being human — will have map or ‘Order of Battle’ mistakes that could detract from the playability of the game.

In addition, there also seem to be a few modern Luddites remaining in the hobby who, for one reason or another, just don’t care for the ‘point and drag’ method of moving counters on a screen; gamers (like me) who, given their ‘druthers’, still prefer to have the game’s real map and counters spread out in front of them when they sit down to make their moves. Experience has shown me that, for this type of tradition-minded player, switching to a ‘spreadsheet’ format for internet gaming can be a handy, easy-to-use alternative to online, downloadable ‘game boxes’. That being said, the attached play aid is for them.

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.


Excel spreadsheet: Stalingrad PBem Play Aid Template





  
Finally, for those players who are relatively new to wargaming, or for those experienced gamers who have only recently decided to become more actively involved with the large and growing ‘internet’ gaming community, I recommend the following (small) sampling of sites highly:


A Few Online Gaming Sites

Some of my Favorite Online Support Sites

  

Related Stalingrad Map and Counters Blog Posts:

  1. TAHGC STALINGRAD (1963, 1974)
  2. Tricks of the Trade: Some Suggestions for Balancing STALINGRAD
  3. Tricks of the Trade: A Recommended Russian Set-up for STALINGRAD
  4. Tricks of the Trade: The General Looks at STALINGRAD
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SPI, THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR (1972)

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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).

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Napoleon III painting by Franz Winterhalter


On 15 July 1870, The French Empire of Napoleon IIIrd, provoked by a diplomatic slight from France’s long-time adversary to the east, declared war on the Kingdom of Prussia. And almost immediately, both countries began to mobilize their respective forces for the impending conflict. The armies of the two nations, counting available reserve formations, were large, and the military leaders of both countries each fully expected to take the offensive against their foe.

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
On August 1, 1870, the Prussian army stormed across the French border in strength and any residual Gallic fantasies about galloping towards Berlin were quickly batted aside. Initially, several short but indecisive clashes were fought between the largely uncoordinated French forces and the advancing Prussians. Finally, on 1 September, close to the Franco-Belgian border near the French fortress of Sedan, the “decisive battle” strategy of Clausewitz was tested against the “diplomatic battle” strategy of the French. There, 200,000 Prussian soldiers, under General von Moltke, succeeded in closing with and then enveloping a French army of 120,000 men, under Marshal de MacMahon. After a sharp action — during which Marshal de MacMahon, himself, was wounded — the French commander was forced to surrender his entire army; and as a result of this defeat, 83,000 French soldiers marched into captivity. To add Prussian insult to French injury, among the newly-captured prisoners at Sedan was no less a prize than the Emperor Napoleon IIIrd whose personal capitulation represented a humiliating finish to a poorly-conceived and even more awkwardly conducted French military campaign.


Battle of Sedan
The defeat of the French field army at Sedan did not mark the formal conclusion to the Franco-Prussian War, but it did signal the end to any hopes of French victory or even of a military stalemate. French honor would compel the remaining French troops to fight on, at least for a time, but the fortunes of Napoleon IIIrd and those of France had been sealed barely a month after active hostilities began. The humiliating defeat at the hands of the Prussians in 1870 would bring about the fall of Napoleon IIIrd, the surrender of the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, and would also sow the seeds of a burning passion, on the part of the whole French nation, for revenge against its Teutonic enemy to the east. This French hatred for Prussia and all things German would smolder for over forty years before finally flaring up at the start of another, unimaginably more terrible war. In the summer of 1914, a generation of Frenchmen would march off to defend their country and to avenge the national shame of 1870; tragically, their initial enthusiasm would soon be wiped away by the mud, blood, and squalor of the trenches of the Western Front. One in seven French soldiers would perish in the First World War; however, even for those who were fortunate enough to escape death in the trenches, this war of "revenge" — when it finally ended — would leave vast numbers of the survivors with deep physical or psychological wounds that would scar them for the rest of their lives.

DESCRIPTION

THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR is a two-player, corps-level simulation of the decisive period — 1 August through 2 September 1870 — during which the outcome of the Franco-Prussian War was militarily decided. Because the simulation only covers the first thirty days of the war, the hexagonal-grid, two-color game map displays only that part of Germany and Eastern France in which the decisive early maneuvers and battles of the war took place. The terrain hexes represented by the playing area are essentially restricted to six basic types: clear, forest, river hex-sides, ridges, railroad, and fortress. And, as might be expected, these different types of terrain, to varying degrees, directly affect both movement and combat. Each hex on the map is 7.5 kilometers from side to side. The matte-finished combat units in the game represent the historical formations that either played a role, or that could have taken part, in the actual campaign. Each combat unit in the game represents a single infantry corps. In addition, substitute counters of various denominations (all with the original unit’s historical designation) are included in the counter-mix so that each of the corps deployed on the map can be replaced, by the owning player, by a weaker or stronger version of itself, as soon as it is reduced due to combat, or built back up with replacements. Further, to illustrate the fundamental differences in the basic doctrines of the two opposing armies, the designer has made the Prussian corps generally less powerful (combat factor-wise), but more numerous than those of their French counterparts; however, this disadvantage, such as it is, has then been offset by providing all Prussian units (along with their German allies) with a basic movement allowance of eight, while, at the same time, saddling all French units with a basic movement allowance of six. Given the various movement costs called for in THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR game system, this is not a trivial difference. [Note: The special Dummy units that appear in the Standard Game are treated exactly like regular infantry corps for ALL purposes until their identity is revealed by an enemy action.] Along with its compliment of combat units, the game also includes two categories of non-combat units: EB railroad repair units; and information markers (e.g., entrained markers, rail break markers, fortress strength counters, and optional Standard Game unit “formation” markers).

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

The Basic Game mechanics of THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR are, as might be expected given the game’s label, comparatively simple and easy to learn. Essentially, this introductory game is included mainly as a painless way for new players to quickly familiarize themselves with the essential features of the game system. In the Basic Game, units are always deployed face-up and no Dummy counters or formation markers are used. Each game turn represents three days of real time and is further divided into a Prussian and a French player turn. The Prussian player is always the first to act. The (Igo-Ugo) turn sequence is simple, familiar, and intuitively logical. Each player turn in the Basic Game is composed of a Reinforcement Phase, a Movement Phase, and a Combat Phase. Reinforcements enter the game at designated “reinforcement entry hexes” as called for by the specific Orders of Battle being used in the game. Movement and combat, on the other hand, are different enough to require a bit of elaboration.

Movement in the Basic Game version of THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR essentially takes one of two forms. Thus, phasing units may move using conventional ground movement paying, where appropriate, additional movement point costs to enter certain types of hexes or to cross certain types of hex-sides; alternatively, however, combat units may also travel at an accelerated rate when moving along unbroken, friendly-controlled rail lines. The Prussians may move up to two corps by rail on any game turn; the French, only one. To move by rail, a unit must first pay three movement points to entrain; it may then travel along a friendly (unbroken) rail line at the cost of one movement point for each eighteen rail hexes (regardless of terrain) that it moves over while entrained. Once a unit reaches its destination, it must then pay two movement points to detrain. Units using this type of movement, it should be noted, may not pass into or through an enemy zone of control at any point during the rail movement process. At the start of the game, all rail lines to the east and north of the border that separates France from Luxembourg and Germany are Prussian-controlled; all railroads on the French side of the frontier are, needless-to-say, French-controlled. Enemy units may destroy (break) a friendly rail line by physically moving onto a rail hex. EB railroad repair units move along rail lines and may either repair a rail break in a friendly rail hex or, alternatively, they may convert enemy railroads to friendly use.

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.]

Zones of Control (ZOC) in THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR are “rigid” and units must pay movement point costs to enter and leave an enemy ZOC. Fortress units — although represented by game counters that are similar to combat units — do not exert a “conventional” ZOC (more on this later); in addition, the ZOCs of combat units do not extend into or out of fortress hexes. Stacking of combat units is unlimited; however, because of the game’s low piece density (the French player, for example, will typically be able to field only ten or so combat and three EB railroad repair units, even after all French reinforcements have entered the game), stacking actually tends to occur infrequently, if it happens at all. In those rare instances when stacking does occur, combat units (only) must pay a movement cost both to stack and unstack with other friendly units. The supply rules are relatively straight forward and, for the most part, are pretty standard fare. Supply paths must be traced either directly to a supply source or, alternatively, to an unblocked friendly-controlled railroad that then connects to a friendly supply source. Combat units may be in one of three states of supply: Supplied, Unsupplied, and Isolated. As might be expected, the capabilities of units are directly dependent on their supply states and being unsupplied or isolated seriously degrades the offensive combat power of affected units; moreover, combat supply is determined at the instant of combat. Supply sources for the French include friendly fortresses as well as any hex along the southern or western map edge in France that is unblocked by Prussian units or their ZOCs. Interestingly, the Prussian supply situation is much more tenuous; which is to say: for a Prussian unit to be in supply, it must either draw supply from a friendly fortress in Germany or Luxembourg, or, alternatively, it must be able to trace an unblocked supply path to a friendly rail line that then connects to the SINGLE rail hex in the absolute northeast corner of the game map.

Combat in THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR is voluntary, and battles between adjacent opposing units are resolved using one of six different “Split Result” odds-differential Combat Results Tables (CRTs). Interestingly, the specific CRT used for each individual battle is determined by the combat strength of the defending unit involved in the battle. The actual results of combat, because of the historical era being simulated in the game, are attritional in nature; what this means is that the attacker and the defender — except at very high or very low odds — will both suffer strength losses (that’s where the “split result” part comes in). These battlefield casualties are taken as “step-losses”, and regular toe-to-toe slugging matches will almost always be both bloody and inconclusive. One pleasing and very welcome feature of the game is the inclusion of “Replacement points” (think Dunnigan's 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
Fortresses, as already mentioned, play an interesting and surprisingly active role in THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR. All fortress hexes that have not fallen to the enemy serve as sources of supply for friendly combat units; also, each fortress possesses its own specific defensive (only) combat strength and conveys a defensive advantage to any combat units that actually occupy the fortress hex, itself. In addition, these defensive strong points also directly affect enemy logistics; that is: if left unmasked by enemy forces, fortress hexes — although they negate conventional ZOCs — nonetheless exert a “zone of interdiction” in their immediate vicinity which blocks enemy supply routes. Like regular combat units, individual fortresses can be reduced by steps through combat; however, unlike regular combat units, eliminated fortress strength points (like eliminated EB railroad repair units) do not count towards either side’s victory point levels.

Sites of Franco Prussian War major engagements.
Victory in THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR is determined, on the basis of the opposing players’ final victory points totals, at the conclusion of the last game turn; moreover, because of the different strategic objectives of the two sides, these points can be amassed through the capture or occupation of geographical objectives, and through the destruction of enemy combat strength points. It should also be noted that victory, in this game, comes in several different “flavors”; hence, different levels of victory ranging from Marginal to Decisive are all potential outcomes. Finally, it is also perfectly possible for neither player to win and for the game, instead, to end in a Draw. Both the Basic and the Standard games are ten turns long.

The Standard Game

Seige of Paris, painting by Messioner
The Standard Game is the real focus of THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR game system, and players are encouraged to move on to the more advanced version, as soon as they have mastered the game mechanics introduced in the Basic Game. In the Standard game, the turn sequence — because of the introduction of “limited intelligence” (inverted units and dummy counters) — becomes more complicated. Each player turn proceeds as follows: the Reinforcement Phase; the Movement Phase, which is further subdivided into the “First Movement Segment,” the “Probe Segment,” and the “Second Movement Segment;” and the Combat Phase. In addition, the comparatively simple supply rules introduced in the Basic Game are modified in the Standard Game to further limit the combat capabilities of unsupplied units, and to also include turn-by-turn attrition losses for isolated units.

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

French surrender.
James Dunnigan’s THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR — now that it is pushing forty years of age — is admittedly getting a little “long in the tooth”; nonetheless, of the several different titles that have attempted, over the years, to simulate this somewhat obscure conflict, this game still remains my personal favorite. A number of other treatments have appeared since 1972, and a few of them have even been interesting, but I still keep returning to this one. That being said, there are, I think, three reasons for my continued affection for this somewhat eccentric simulation. First, I like the physical presentation of the game’s map and components. This may seem a little odd, particularly since THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR can be described in several different ways, but visually striking is probably not one of them; nonetheless, the graphic design of the game: clean, unambiguous, and oddly attractive in a two-color sort of way, just works for me. Second, it is both exciting and relatively fast-playing: a typical game of THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR — even when using all of the Standard and "optional" rules — can, when both players are experienced, usually be brought to completion in about two hours or less. This means that players can experiment with several different strategies in a single sitting; and considering that there is a pronounced “puzzle” aspect to the play of this title, this feature — in my view, at least — is a very big plus. Third, the clear-cut doctrinal differences that separate the two opposing armies make for a very interesting strategic contest. The Prussian army starts out with the initiative and is both more numerous (in terms of numbers of corps) and faster than that of Napoleon the IIIrd; however, the individual Prussian corps are also, on a unit for unit basis, much more brittle than those of its foe. The French army is slower-moving, smaller in numbers, and forced by the game situation to react to Prussian moves for much of the game; the French army’s one advantage is that its component infantry corps — while significantly out-numbered by those of the enemy — are nonetheless individually stronger and hence, have a lot more combat staying-power than the smaller, more nimble Prussian corps.

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!

Design Characteristics:

  • 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

Game Components:

  • 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

Recommended Reading

These titles provide additional historical background on the Franco-Prussian War.





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BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE BLITZKRIEG LEGEND’

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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.

The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the WestLt. 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.

Gamelin
Moreover, a rigid passivity, although damaging enough in its own right, was not the only problem facing the Allied generals as 1939 turned into 1940, and winter gave way to spring. The generally poor morale of the reserve divisions of the French army, the author notes, had deteriorated even further during the long period of the “Phony War” and this, undoubtedly, was a contributing factor to the Allied defeat in 1940; but even more important, Frieser claims, was the all-pervasive faith, among virtually all ranks in both the French and British armies (despite the protestations of Allied armored advocates like J. F. C. Fuller and Charles de Gaulle), of the battlefield supremacy and virtual invincibility of the static defense. This belief, so imbedded in the psyches of both the Entente soldiers and their leaders, made the prospect of a German breakthrough and a sudden change from static to mobile warfare utterly unthinkable. Nor were the Allies' expectations regarding the nature of the war to come their only miscalculation.

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.

Halder
The officers of the German high command — seemingly just as intent on refighting the last war as their Entente counterparts — early on proposed to Hitler a plan for the impending campaign against France that was, at its heart, little more than an updated version of the same “Schlieffen Plan” that had previously failed to save Germany from defeat in the First World War. This initial operational blueprint, referred to as the “Halder Plan” — after the head of the Oberkommado Des Heeres (OKH), General Franz Halder — called for a broad front drive through the Low Countries and into France that, it was hoped, would carry the Wehrmacht to the east bank of the Somme River outside of Paris by the end of the first campaign season. The offensive could then, the traditionally-minded OKH planners argued, be renewed as soon as suitable weather arrived in the spring of 1941. Lt. Colonel Frieser makes much of the early communiqués that flew back and forth between the OKH and the Führer during the months immediately following the fall of Poland to support his thesis that no one in the Third Reich’s senior military establishment, from Hitler on down, ever envisioned anything but a drawn out attritional struggle once German forces crossed into France in the spring of 1940.

von Manstein
This assessment, however, tends to unravel when considered in the light of careful post-war analysis of actual German pre-invasion industrial policy on the part of scholars like Matthew Cooper, whose own book, “The German Army: 1933-1945”, examines the topic of German wartime production in great detail. Thus, contrary to Frieser’s argument, Cooper’s view is that the industrial output of the Third Reich — for both political and administrative reasons — was neither organized for nor capable of supporting a major attrition war in 1940, particularly one of long duration. This, according to writers like Cooper, led the conservatives within the German army to reluctantly accept the potential advantages of mechanized operations as a style of warfare, not so much out of choice, as out of necessity. And on this issue, at least, Frieser and Cooper are largely in agreement. However, in the course of his writing, the author goes further than the facts would seem to merit when he attempts to paper over the serious arguments that early-on flared up between Hitler and the OKH, and even between senior officers within the Wehrmacht, over the operational role of mechanized forces in the coming offensive against France.

von Rundstedt
Interestingly, the ultimate outcomes of these disagreements within the German high command are actually not difficult to find. A look, for example, at the historical record — uncolored by Lt. Colonel Frieser’s possible institutional (pro-OKH) biases — suggests that the German Führer, along with senior generals like Gerd von Rundstedt, were quick to reject the Halder Plan because of its obvious failure to properly utilize the mobility and shock power of mechanized forces; more importantly, it also seems clear that they were vehement, too, in rejecting the OKH plan’s underlying, attritional premise. In fact, it was precisely because of the German Führer’s dissatisfaction with Halder’s original invasion scenario that von Rundstedt’s deputy, Erich von Manstein, was commissioned by his superior, with the full backing of Hitler, to come up with a more decisive, less costly alternative, Fall Gelb (Case Yellow). The Manstein Plan was breathtaking in its audacity: instead of a conservative broad-front advance through Belgium and Holland powered by infantry and artillery, it called, instead, for a narrow breakthrough of the French center at Sedan followed by a rapid armored penetration into the Allied rear. In short, the Fall Gelb operational blueprint, unlike the Halder Plan, capitalized on the capabilities of the panzer/Luftwaffe battlefield partnership that had recently demonstrated its effectiveness in the war with Poland. Thus, starting with a decisive outcome as its goal, Manstein’s approach called for secondary attacks against the Low Countries and the Maginot Line, but directed the main German force (and the bulk of the mechanized formations) to pass through the Ardennes and to attack the thinly-held French positions on the Meuse as quickly as possible. As military plans go, it was an extraordinary gamble, but it was a gamble that Hitler, clearly, was prepared to take.

Evolution of Fall Gelb Plan
What much of the preceding discussion seems to suggest is that, although many of Lt. Colonel Frieser’s conclusions regarding the economic and political factors underlying Germany’s war effort in 1940 are quite interesting and well presented, the author’s narrative nonetheless breaks down when it comes to the credit (or lack thereof) that he ascribes both to the strategic focus of Fall Gelb, and to Hitler’s role in rejecting the conservative battle plan of the traditionalist officers of the OKH in favor of the far more daring approach of Manstein. Given these facts, I personally find Lt. Colonel Frieser’s discussion of the pre-war preparations, on the part of both sides, to be the least persuasive part of his otherwise carefully-crafted analysis of the campaign.

Adolf Hitler
Nowadays, it seems that any study of the 1940 German offensive against France will, at some point, be obliged to address and then refute the many misconceptions that — in the popular mind, at least — have come to attach themselves to this extraordinary military campaign. This, the author does both clearly and expeditiously. Thus, the myth of superior German military preparedness is dispensed with: the combat-worthiness and morale of many of the French reserve divisions was, Frieser acknowledges, without doubt substandard; however, it was also true that a substantial portion of the Wehrmacht, because of its rapid expansion in size by nearly 2 million men between the end of the Polish campaign and the start of Fall Gelb, also suffered from widespread and serious deficiencies in training and equipment, particularly among its green, second and third wave (Welle) divisions. Moreover, if it were not for the trucks and armored vehicles looted from a subjugated Czechoslovakia, records show that the OKH would probably have been forced, by the spring of 1940, to convert several of its motorized divisions back into “leg” divisions because of a lack of replacement motor transport. In addition, the author disposes of the popular but mistaken idea that German forces enjoyed a significant technological advantage over those of the Entente. Quite the contrary, he says; like other writers before him, Lt. Colonel Frieser disputes this common misconception by pointing to, among other things, the marked superiority of Allied tanks, such as the Char B, in terms both of their armored protection and of the caliber of their main guns, especially when matched against the German Pzk II and III. This, by the way, is an all too familiar argument that is too infrequently qualified by the equally accurate observation that, whatever liabilities the lighter armored but more nimble German armored vehicles may have displayed during the French campaign, these disadvantages were more than overcome by the panzers’ cross-country speed and by their exceptionally effective battlefield partnership with the Luftwaffe. These two factors, the author and I both agree, turned out to be critical to German success in May, 1940; certainly, other factors also played a crucial role in the campaign; but without the addition of these two ingredients to the “blitzkrieg” recipe, the speed and decisiveness of the German victory would have probably been rendered far less certain, if not impossible.

von Kleist
In the end, I am inclined to think that the basic thesis of Lt. Colonel Frieser’s strategic narrative — that Hitler and the OKH were as surprised as General Gamelin and the Entente high command by the pace and magnitude of the German invasion plan’s early successes — is only partially convincing; however, when the author finally takes on the role of the pure military historian and discards that of the politically-correct historical apologist, the whole tenor of “The Blitzkrieg Legend” changes; and changes dramatically for the better. Thus, while the strategic portion of the book can occasionally be disappointing, the description and analysis of the actual operations of Panzergruppe Kleist, and more particularly of the almost hour-by-hour movement and combat of Guderian’s panzer corps, and even of Rommel’s “Ghost” division, are all absolutely top notch. For the patient reader, once Kleist’s panzergruppe debouches from the Ardennes and rolls onto the east bank of the Meuse River, the action becomes virtually nonstop, and the author’s prose captures the speed and excitement of the drive across the Meuse and into the Allied rear with extraordinary clarity; it also conveys the audacity and the operational brilliance of the panzer commanders spearheading the drive exceptionally well.

Guderian
There are several reasons, I suspect, why the author’s operational analysis is so much more convincing and exciting than his strategic commentary: first, I think that because Lt. Colonel Frieser is a professional soldier as well as being a trained historiographer, he brings a level of expertise to the battlefield aspect of his subject that is seldom found among even the best of civilian scholars; second, and probably more importantly, the author, for the first time that I know of, makes very extensive use of French primary sources along with the voluminous, but often familiar German source materials that have largely been picked over by previous writers, already. If there is a single irksome element in this part of the narrative, it is the author’s penchant to second-guess — based, of course, on 20/20 hindsight — the several attempts by the OKH to rein-in the panzers long enough for forced-marching infantry units (still organized and equipped much as they had been in World War I) to catch up to Guderian’s leading mechanized elements. Clearly, even at this early stage in “blitzkrieg” warfare, the armored commanders in the field already realized that speed and surprise were their most powerful weapons. However, to the senior German generals well to the rear, the possibility that the local armored commanders might overreach and, by so doing, convert an obvious and decisive operational success into a sudden, unexpected defeat was, right up until the end, a constant worry. Thus, the order — which was actually given by Gerd von Rundstedt and not by Hitler, as is commonly thought — to halt the panzer drive several days into the offensive is treated by the author, despite the obvious threats to the mechanized spearhead’s exposed flanks, as, at best, a major error and, at worst, an act of inexplicable timidity on the part of Germany’s senior generals, particularly Halder, Klüge, and Rundstedt. Lt. Colonel Frieser is also quick to heap scorn on both the OKH and Hitler for the decision to hold the panzers back, and to leave the final liquidation of the survivors of the Allied First Army Group, trapped in and around Dunkirk, to the infantry and the Luftwaffe. This was a catastrophic German error, the author argues, because it transformed what had been a decisive, war-winning victory into a less-impressive, operational success. Certainly, in retrospect, the german failure to prevent the escape of over 330,000 Allied troops seems inexcusable; however, it is also important to remember that prior to “Operation Dynamo”, the evacuation of such a large number of troops from a small coastal enclave like Dunkirk, with little deep water access, had never before even been attempted, much less successfully accomplished. The failure to close the bag around the Allied troops at Dunkirk was certainly a serious lapse, but, given the information available to the German high command at the time, it was, at least, an understandable one. Furthermore, the “miracle of Dunkirk”, I would argue in contrast to Frieser’s view, certainly may have represented a failure of imagination on the part of the commanders of the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, but it did not throw away Germany’s only chance for victory in World War II: that, I submit, would not come until more than a year later, in Russia, when a last desperate lunge by the Wehrmacht failed to capture Moscow, in 1941.


Rommel in France
“The Blitzkrieg Legend,” as already noted, is not without its share of flaws. Some of Lt. Colonel Frieser’s strategic conclusions seem either weakly-supported or even, on rare occasions, downright wrong. To be fair, however, most of my criticisms in this area will be of little significance to the typical reader. Also bothersome, at least to me, is the fact that there is more than a smattering of political correctness leaking out from between the lines of some of the author’s prose. This is, while a bit distracting, also understandable: after all, no one in the west — particularly no serving officer in the German Bundeswehr — wants to write anything, ever, that might reflect well on Hitler’s judgment. There is also a hint of the same tiresome historical revisionism that began to crop up just as soon as the defeated German generals (Manstein and Guderian among them) began to publish their post-war memoirs. These efforts at “reputation-mending” tended to take different forms, but ultimately, they somehow always seemed to produce, however obliquely, the same proposition; that is: “if it hadn’t been for Hitler, Germany would have won the war.” Of course, the most obvious response to which, it has always seemed to me, is: “even if such a proposition were actually true (which I doubt), exactly why would the triumph of Nazi barbarism have been a good thing, either for Europe, or even for Germany?”

de Gaulle
Since I am in the mood to pick nits, as a last nit, I will also note that a few of the points that Frieser makes in the course of his writing seem a bit obvious (at least to those of us with an interest in military affairs) or even redundant. Thus, the author’s proposal that the principles that underpinned “blitzkrieg” were neither radical nor even new is hardly either surprising or even unexpected. This is already a well-travelled path, and the view that Frieser espouses has been generally accepted among most students of World War II almost since that conflict ended in 1945. In point of fact, there is really little debate among military history scholars that a large part of the success of the Germans’ 1940 campaign can, as the author argues, be attributed to a serendipitous combination of audacious (mobility-oriented) field commanders, mechanization, infiltration (stosstruppen) tactics, and a German offensive doctrine that, for the first time ever, effectively meshed ground and air operations together in a truly integrated and coherent combat system. When disagreements occasionally do arise about the 1940 campaign, they typically have more to do with the various strategic and operational mistakes committed by the Allies and the effects of those mistakes on the Entente’s disastrous conduct of the war, and not with the causes of the Germans’ success. Nonetheless, the author’s emphasis on the importance of the panzer commanders is, while understandable, still a little troubling.

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. 

JFC Fuller
Finally, we reach the point at which I must offer an overall verdict on this book. And despite my skepticism when it comes to some of the author’s conclusions regarding the larger strategic issues that helped shape the trajectory and final outcome of the Battle for France, I still must give this work an enthusiastic recommendation. “The Blitzkrieg Legend” is probably not for everyone; the depth and detail of the author’s tactical and operational descriptions, for example, may be a little off-putting to the casual reader. But for those individuals with a genuine interest in past military affairs, I really cannot praise it enough. It is true that, at least in my view, “The Blitzkrieg Legend” may have a few warts, but besides being both gracefully and clearly written — the work of the translator is to be commended — it is, when it comes to the operational “nitty-gritty” of the battlefield operations, themselves — an invaluable and superbly-detailed examination of one of the most decisive military campaigns to have taken place during the whole of World War II. Moreover, the author’s own military background, and his already-noted extensive use of both German and French primary sources makes this work — with its excellent collection of forty-eight wonderfully rendered, colored maps — the most comprehensive study of the 1940 campaign for France that I have yet seen. Lt. Colonel Frieser’s book is far from perfect, but viewed in terms of the richness and depth of its analysis of the operational details of the campaign, I really think that it currently has no equal when it comes to its subject matter.

















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