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


Hitler with members of his general staff.

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

Winston Churchill examines a weapon in the field.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


B-26 Marauder over Normandy on D-Day.

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

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

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

Italian anti-aircraft gun, North Africa.

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

German King Tiger tank and infantry at Kursk.

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

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

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

American soldiers on a forest road in the Ardennes.

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

Marching through the mountains, Sicily, 1943.

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

Stuka dive bombers.

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

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

Design Characteristics:

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

Game Components:

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

Recommended Reading

See my blog post Book Reviews of these titles; all of which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.

THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU


  • Played this game to death in the '70s and early 1980s, almost always multi-player with at least four players (and often five). You provide a very accurate description of the problems with the original game and the 4th Edition is indeed "definitive." What has been a bit sad for me as an old 3R grognard was that the game could not settle--ADVANCED THIRD REICH took hold and then it was GMT's A WORLD AT WAR that went even beyond, catering to the truly die hard experts. Most hardcore 3R players I know now play A3R or GMT's game. Hard to find people who "just" want to play 4th Edition. I could never claim real expertise with the game; each session showed me how much I did not know and the system was extremely unforgiving. But that never stopped me from playing; indeed, it goaded me to play even more. Typically we'd take a weekend to play with friends in high school and college--Friday night we'd get through 1939 as the "warm up" and truck on through to get to the end of 1942 by late Saturday night. Sunday would see us finish up in 1945--typically very late as play slowed down a great deal in the last few seasons as players wheeled and dealed to get the needed objective cities. My most memorable games all involved those kinds of late war skullduggery--best with five players to achieve maximum friction between Allied teammates but also Axis as well (if Italy lasted that long!).

    It's also interesting to see the attempt to "get back" to the original--Avalanche Press's JOHN PRADOS'S THIRD REICH is reminiscent of the "old" game, but just barely; it's really a completely different design and has quite a hefty rulebook as well.

  • The 3rd Edition (effectively 4th, once incorporating errata / the DBQ) was also the version that I remained most interested in. Good to find others feel the same.

  • Greetings Deadkenny:

    Yes, I still like the scope and scale of the fourth edition of "THIRD REICH." In my view, its only shortcoming is that, if the 1939 Campaign Game (my personal favorite) is attempted, the game just takes so darn long to play to completion if all of the participants are both knowledgeable and relatively evenly matched!

    Best Regards, Joe

  • I remember playing a wonderful '44 scenario as the Germans. I split up all my air units on the eastern front to small units. Whenever the Soviets attacked I'd add just enough air power to reduce the odds by one. Somehow I also managed to keep my panzers back to destroy any breakthroughs.
    After a few seasons of this the Soviet player basically gave up.
    I was then able to totally crush an Allied landing in the bay of Biscay. Ahhhh, good days.

  • Greetings Anon:

    Except in those rare situations in which I was introducing a new player to '3rd REICH', I really didn't play the shorter scenarios very often: there was just so many more strategic options (for all players) in the full "campaign" game. On the other hand, I know what you mean about the satisfaction of salvaging what seemed, on it face, to have originally been a hopeless game situation. As you say: "Good Times".

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Chuck de Young said...

    I remember playing many great games of Third Reich, but two stick in my mind. In one a good wargaming friend and I were having a really good game, but we were playing at a home where we could not leave the game set up. We carefully wrote every counter and its location down and resolved to play the next weekend. When that time came we set the board back up, and my opponent attacked London with paratroops, and it was ... all over. We both look back on it with a sense of loss.
    The second memorable game was with a newspaper reporter/ gamer who is now deceased. He and I played late into the night, and as I walked home through a park I found myself striking my palm with my fist and exclaiming "I will crush the Soviets!". Was there ever a game one could immerse oneself in like Third Reich. How you would get caught up!


  • Greetings Chuck:

    Thanks for visiting and for sharing your recollections.

    I suspect that you are not alone, and that there are actually many experienced 3rd REICH players who have wonderful memories of this great old game.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • I remember solo playing both "Third Reich (2nd ed.)" and "WWII: ETO" almost endlessly as a teenager (in the 1990s). I picked 3R up, as I recall, at Brookhurst Hobbies in Aneheim, CA, during a visit there with my grandfather (I don't remember where I got "ETO" from).

    Unfortunately, growing up I lived in a rural area and there was no one else around to play any "serious" games with (I coaxed a friend into a game of "Axis and Allies" once or twice, and someone into AHGC's "Kriegspiel" once). So I'd just set these games up on my bedroom floor, where the pieces would inevitably get chewed on, or the map totally upended, by a dog or cat, whereupon I'd have to do my best to remember where everything went (incidentally, "3R"'s mounted board survived such canine assaults a lot better than "ETO"'s paper map!).

    I'm sure I didn't grasp all the nuances of the rules, or was just too impatient to bother with some of them (shame, shame). But one of my fondest memories is when, one time, during a winter storm, we lost power at the house. So I just sat on my floor playing "Third Reich" by candlelight for hours.

    Over the years, I tried other games ("ETO," as mentioned, and "World in Flames"), but for me "Third Reich" was always the paradigmatic "grand strategy" game (though I was nearly as fond memories of "ETO," I must say). Once I got older, I went through a "phase," and got rid of a lot of the wargames that I'd picked up from yard sales over the years (AHGC's "Arab-Israeli Wars" and "Kriegspiel," GDW's "Team Yankee," a Napoleonic game called "Friedland," and probably a few others I've forgotten). But even though I thought I'd never play them again, I couldn't part with "3R" and "ETO" (and the companion "PTO," which I didn't really care for, but which I kept for sake of completeness).

    Later, when I moved across the country to pursue my Ph.D, I left them in my parents' garage. But lately I've been realizing that I'd like to get back into the hobby (and regretting getting rid of some of those games!). Just today, in fact, I sent my folks an e-mail asking them to mail me 3R and the other games that I left with them. Maybe now that I'm older and (moderately) wiser, I'll take the time to learn the rules properly.

    Either way, I'm glad I held onto these games over the years, and I can't wait to try them out again (and maybe pick up a few more of the "classics" that I never had a chance to play, like "Afrika Korps" or "Panzergruppe Guderian").

    In any case, thanks for the thoughtful post and the great site. They've really been instrumental in rekindling my interest in these games.

  • Greetings VMA:

    I appreciate your interest and your kind words. And thank you for sharing your memories of this great old game; like many "grognards" that I know,I still have a soft spot for it even after all these years.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Just wanted to pass along a history lesson a friend learned years ago while playing this game with me as the Axis, "The one thing I've learned while playing this game is: HITLER HAD TO BE STOPPED!"

  • What do you all think of John Prados' Third Reich, the successor to The Rise and Decline of the Third Reich?


  • Greetings Mike:

    Although I have looked at JOHN PRADOS' THIRD REICH, I confess that I have not personally spent enough time with this latest iteration to offer an informed opinion.

    In point of fact, after purchasing -- over the years -- four different versions of the original; and then, against my better judgment, adding ADVANCED THIRD REICH to my game collection, I finally decided that "enough was enough."

    I do know a number of players who like the PRADOS' redesign, but I confess that I am not one of them.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Thanks Joe. There are different options in the Third Reich family tree - it's hard to know which versions are good budget buys for a beginner who wants to explore something at this level.

  • Loved this game (still do), but hated the flip-flop. How is it justified? Don't answer that - I can't handle the argument.

  • I helped make a large format map of the 4th ed. Third Reich map. Grab it and enjoy. You can print this out 72 inches wide if you wish.


  • In '92 I got a copy of the A3R rules and used it with the map an counters for 3R4. It worked quite well to my surprise. I wasted many a weekend with this game and the A3R varient.

  • I had three Third Reich games. (one original and two 3rd editions) I lost some Italian counters in the first edition...so I bought another for the extra counters. The third game I bought and never opened. I used to play the game for hours/weeks. I played solitaire mostly. (I never cheated...well maybe once I did a do over when I got an A eliminated at 3-1 odds) My biggest mistake was to let my step children play the games. They were to young. The games were destroyed even the unopened game. That was 25 years ago. Recently I got nostalgic and thought about buying a new game. I am struck with sticker shock at the price. Especially a never used game on Amazon for about $500.00. But I am seriously thinking about it...only a never used game will do. Maybe I am thinking about playing one last game and introducing my grandson to the thrills of this game.

  • Greetings Daniel:

    I realize that nostalgia can be a powerful motivator, but before you plop down $500.00 for a "mint," shrink-wrapped copy of the game on Amazon, I strongly suggest that you check the wargame auction at eBay to see what is currently available. Moreover, I also think tat you would be better served to look for a 4th edition of THIRD REICH as this edition has the latest version of the rule book, and also updated map boards and unit counters.

    If you can't find a suitable copy after a reasonable amount of time, then I recommend you contact a game reseller like Noble Knight in order to see what they have available.

    In any case, good luck with your quest and

    Best Regards, Joe

  • $500 is a ridiculous price. There are much cheaper copies via eBay as Joe mentioned, but also through the forums on ConSimWorld or BoardGameGeek.

    I didn't realise there was a 4th edition? I thought there was a 3rd edition box with 4th edition rules?

  • The game first came out in 1974 and a small group of us played the game twice for our senior high school History project with the thesis of "How would a change in Lend Lease have affected the War." We played the two games between January and May 1975 and the teacher gave our paper 250 points out of 200 (yup, we got a 50 point bonus). I'm thinking that might make our group among the earliest to play Third Reich for educational reasons / school research paper.
    I still have both the game and the research paper.

  • You can check on ebay for 50 €

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