Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Gaming the Great War: Part 2

Editors Note: In our last installment of Gaming the Great war Mitch gave you a general overview of the war up until 1918 along with some first thoughts on getting your Great War game on. Now, in this second and final installment we'll take a deep dive into the grand Allied offensives of 1918 and what makes that period so ripe for gaming.

By Mitch Reed

Part Three: The 100 Days, the Allies Strike Back.

After recovering from almost six months of German attacks, the Allies, now including the Americans launched a series of attacks in August of 1918 that lasted until the Armistice that became known as the “100 Days” or the “Peace offensives”.  This period saw all three of the Allies launching attacks simultaneously to push the Germans out of France and Belgium. While the French were limited in manpower and the Americans attacked recklessly intent on not heeding advice from the British and French, the British were the ones who adopted new tactics and weapons to break the deadlock.  To say “British” is almost misleading because it was the Canadian and Australian forces assigned to the British command that made the biggest impact in the closing days of the war.

German and Entente Advances in 1918, German in Red, Entente in Blue.

German Stormtroopers in 1918

The Battle of Amiens, which kicked off in August 1918 can be seen as the product of tactical change and the use of technology, and should show how that after 4 years of bloodshed the British finally changed their doctrine.

The new British approach differed greatly from the tactics used by the Germans in March of 1918.  Instead of relying on pure infiltration tactics, the British dropped their usual tactic of bombarding the point of attack for days before sending their troops forward and opted instead for using secrecy and a short but devastating artillery strike just before the infantry and tanks moved forward. 

The British also pushed their forces as close as possible to the German lines and had them wait until the artillery stopped before they rushed forward. Amines also saw the British using a combined arms approach in which tanks, infantry, artillery, and even air assets worked in close coordination in a way never before used in battle. Another key change was a move towards more realistic goals around how much territory was to be captured.  At Amines, while they did have high expectations, they were not as grand as in the past and made the goals more achievable for their forces. While Amines only lasted 4 days, it crushed the Germans and the battle was called the “Blackest day of the German Army”.  

For the next 3 months, the British would repeat these tactics along with the French and Americans for force the Germans to the peace table.

Part Four: Why Game the Great War

A Black Hat Miniatures French "Halfling" General :)
As I detailed above, the war was fought in 3 distinct stages, the fluid opening, the stalemate in the middle, and the evolution of warfare and return to limited mobility at the end.  Each period has its attractions and problems when designing or developing a game system.

One continuous comment heard from gamers when the Great War is brought up is that it’s too boring, static, and it’s tough to make trenches that look good on the table.  These comments are brought about because of the images that come to mind today when we try thinking of the war.  The trench seems to have captured popular attention and seems to have endured for the last 100 years.  One point I can concede that the middle of the war, while interesting, is tough to pull off unless you invest your time and creative skills in making a table that looks like the trench lines.  I have seen and even played on some of these purpose built tables and happen to agree that they are “one trick ponies” that do not change and leaves the gamer left to use different forces fighting in the same terrain.  One can easily see that this does not offer replay value and limits the game from becoming popular among a wide range of gamers since few of these types of tables can be simply carted to a tournament.  Using the current modular trenches and terrain for fighting battles during this period may appeal to the gamers who are more historians than modelers; to be successful it would have to appeal to both. 

This leaves us with 1914 and 1918 and both offer a unique and challenging gaming experience.
German trench raiders from the Great War Miniatures
line as seen on "Unfinished Armies"

A game dealing with the fighting in 1914 has a lot of appeal to both the historian and the modeler.  Your forces will be huge, featuring a mass of infantry, cavalry, and some artillery, not to mention those dreaded machine guns.  Once can see those colorful French uniforms that were designed for a type of warfare that died in that summer of 1914.  The terrain gamer’s use for other periods can also be readily used for a 1914 clash.  Players will be challenged by using their infantry and cavalry in concert and how to overcome an enemy who has set up a machine gun to over an approach.  Yes, the fighting on the table will be bloody as it was in actuality, but you will have large forces to deal with overcoming the “new” and “modern” weapons you will face on the table.  The biggest drawback gaming this period may face is the lack of tanks and would not be interesting for the “armor enthusiasts” one sees in gaming.

Before we move to 1918, one should keep in mind that these series of articles only deal with the Western Front during the Great War.  Fighting battles that were fought in East Africa, Balkans, Middle East, and the Eastern Front are excellent environments for gaming and do not have the issues with trench fighting that pushes most gamers away.  They have suffered from popularity because of how history has focused on the trench fighting on the Western Front.  While some battles such as Gallipoli are static affairs, once could not say that about General Allenby’s march on Jerusalem or the dashing exploits of Von Lettow-Vorbeck in Africa.  

An epic looking Great War board
as seen on "Scarab Miniatures"
Battlefront’s selection of introducing a gaming line this year that features 1918 is an interesting choice however from the marketing standpoint.  At this time, Battlefront has a huge number of gamers committed to its rules set and miniatures line and knows what the consumer market is willing to purchase. I think it is easy to figure out that their Late War forces and books are the most popular based on a trip to your local gaming store or by going to a tournament.  What is the appeal of Late War?  Many would quickly say, “it is all the tanks”.  While this may be true to a certain extent I could not say it’s a universal feeling.   Late war is the culmination of 5-6 years of fighting in a system of intellectual and material Darwinism, where bad tactics and machines were weeded out in order to achieve victory or stave off utter defeat, so the gamer is left with what works best for a particular force.  By the end of the Second World War mechanization became what “worked best”, and the game reflects that and gives late war its appeal.  Tanks armies are the product of this appeal, not the entering rationale. 

The popularity of Late War forces in Flames of War mentioned above is one reason why the new line featuring 1918 may catch on.  By 1918, bad ideas and tactics were thrown out and new ideas and the use of new technology which can give the gamer the ability to field a force working at its best or most efficient.  Using a stormtrooper or a combined arms force that dominated the fighting in 1918 has a unique appeal that 1914 does not and does not involve the stagnant trenches. In 1918, many battles were fought out of the trenches with forces moving to the attack; while most of them were fought over ground chewed up the previous three years; however the forces in question embraced mobility more.

A recent message board post concerning the new line and the choice of 1918 was answered by the
comment that “we do not view 1918 as static”.  While I cannot full heartedly agree with this comment, 1918 should be seen as the re-invigoration of the offense with a return to a more mobile battlefield and most importantly the idea of winning a war of attrition was dropped by both sides.  Even with the great offensives in March and August of 1918, the war was operationally static when compared to conflicts since the Great War.

While many may incorrectly think of 1918 as an earlier version of Early War FoW, it is not at all (Spanish Civil War would be my pick for that); in 1918 mobile warfare was its infancy and even the most progressive of military thinkers did not view the changes as an embrace of mobile warfare at that time. It took thinkers like Guderian and Hart writing in the 1930’s to embrace a new doctrine of warfare. 

Gaming 1918 would offer the gamer of experiencing the teething issues tanks, airplanes and new concepts had on the battlefield while fighting with armies built on the ideals of the last century of warfare who experienced a bloody stalemate for the previous two and half years. I think many veteran FoW gamers would enjoy 1918, and I look forward to see the final product.

Mitch Reed is a defense analyst and an officer in the US Air Force Reserve.  Besides being an avid gamer and historian he is also a play tester and designer for board and computer war games and has recently finished a board war game that covers the fighting in 1914 which is due out later this year. 

Popular Posts In the last 30 Days

Copyright 2009-2012 WWPD LLC. Graphics and webdesign by Arran Slee-Smith. Original Template Designed by Magpress.