The Great War in Europe (XTR)

Playings; 2, 15 hours (Allied wins)

 

This World War 1 game is by the same chap who designed the pretty poor "Storm in the West", the rather good "When Eagles Fight" and the rather too much trouble to punch out and play "Glory's End". All of these games have a certain similarity and The Great War in Europe is another off the same production line. Unusually although 2 maps and umpteen counters are provided the whole of Europe is not covered. One map covers Northern France and Belgium with North Italy in a side section and the 2nd map stretches from Berlin to Kiev. Geographers will note that this is accomplished by the use of 2 map scales (that in the West being more detailed) and by missing out Central Germany. In one game my Germans came right up to the France map edge and in the other they were starting to run out of Russia. Given the number of hexagons available I feel we could have cranked down the scale in the West to cover a little more ground. The aim of this game is to reflect the options available from 1914 rather than to give the players a situation and let them foul it from scratch. The result is that the Central Powers are forced to set up the bulk of their forces in the West and encouraged to go for France while holding off Russia. I tried shifting everything East at the first opportunity but the results were disappointing. The more detailed Western map also encourages action in France. Although there are more units the unit density is initially low and it will take some time for solid lines to form. The Eastern area is so much smaller and chock full of Russians who although of limited offensive ability have a seriously high replacement rate. Dead units (combat is bloody, there will always be a surplus of dead units) can be brought back by paying resource points which are fixed each turn except for a few resource hexes which the Central Powers may capture. Countries also receive new units based on historical replacement levels, these tend to tail off for the Central Powers as the game goes on. Victory is based on capture of a number of victory hexes, usually towns. A quick count up shows that most of these are in France, if the Central Powers do not invade France or Belgium at all they cannot win. This is a pretty big incentive to go West. The only choice is whether to go for as much of France as possible in 1914 and keep on going until Germany falls apart or take an acceptable slice, dig in, trash the Russians (not as easy as it sounds) then go back to the West. Supply rules prevent the Germans from running all over the Western map in short order

 

Supply is severe rather than complex. To be in supply a unit must be within 4 hexes of an HQ or friendly town which is in turn able to draw an unlimited but unblocked hex path to the usual sort of ultimate supply source. Supply is judged after combat so there is nothing wrong with zipping into towns, making them friendly and insuring supply as long as there is a road home still open. HQs are slower than other units which will slow up advances where towns are scarce (the East, France is full of towns). Note that unsupplied units are eliminated which allows an advance to surround a unit or group of units and wipe them out. The BEF is in danger on turn 1 from being surrounded as are any parts of the French army that get cut off from Paris or the West map edge. In the same way any advancing units which rush too far ahead can get cut off and be eliminated. The easiest way to keep a supply route open is to stay in lines and the best way to wipe out units is to find a hole in a line, pour through and use combat to cut off a chunk of that line, eliminating any strands through attrition. There are no ZOCs and combat is not kind on units, the best set up is to keep a continuous line with at least 2 units in every hex to prevent every combat loss leaving a hole in the line. Reflecting this units will form lines quicker than in 1914 and the smaller map scale will see lines forming in the East before the West. Mindful of future problems the Russians are more likely to spread out into a frontier line on turn 1 rather than trying for a Tannenburg style offensive.

 

2 CRTs are provided one for 3 or less units defending, the other for 4 to 6 (maximum stacking). Attacking 4 to 6 units will result in less chance of outright eliminations and heavier losses to the attackers. Due to the ground scale the 4-6 table is more likely to be used in the East where lines are shorter and hence deeper. As usual a high die roll is good but the roll is reduced by nations' trench status which increases to a maximum of -2 as the game goes on, terrain will also bring the roll down. This favours the defence but any very high odds attacks add to the die roll encouraging killer stacks which attack small stacks at exceedingly high odds and always win. Luckily there are no WW II exploitation moves so any small gap is quickly sealed. Killer stacks are overcome by attacking elsewhere and forcing stacks= to break down to beef up the line. HQs do not count towards stacking but increase stack height up to a maximum of 7, with long lines of potentially tall stacks combat is proceeded by some pretty careful extraction of units to count up the stacks. Counter falls and stack mixing are highly probable. The only innovation from standard XTRdome in the turn sequence is that the 2 maps are treated separately for combat and movement.

 

While 1 side moves and fights on the East map, the other has the advantage in the West. Thus both sides are re-acting during the same turn. Generally the Germans will be going 1st in the West and be at a disadvantage in the East. There is provision for swopping emphasis on fronts with a result of a double turn on 1 map and no chance to re-act on the

other. Regular turns are interspersed with strategic turns, generally every 3 or 4 turns although intervals are as low as 2 in the early game. Strategic turns issue all sides an allowance of resource points to re-build dead units plus historical new units. Resource points can and should be saved to spend on random event chits during regular turns. 1 point will rebuild 1 step or buy 1 chit, many chits are harmless but the few serious chits (such as those bringing on allies) need to be pulled as soon as possible. There are fewer chits than turns in which chits can be played although some no effect chits are returned to the pool when played giving an apparent increase in the chit count. The number of chits in play is increased every year, Italy may enter any year from 1915 on, Foch will not be taking command in the West until later. The general result is that historical events are more than likely to happen but it is not possible to plan on when

they will turn up. The historical reinforcements and generous replacement rate leads to wads of new units being available after every strategic turn. These do not have to be put down straight away but can be placed at the beginning of any turn. In practice players will bang them down at the 1st opportunity to plug lines and exploit advances. A serious problem in new unit replacement allows units to be placed in friendly cities in the home countries or adjacent to HQs outside the home country. This aids the invader because his new units will tend to arrive right near the front but defending new units will be stuck in towns and have to march to the front. The general impression of Great War in Europe is of a simulation of the Western front, other theatres being areas which drain units from

the main front but which have to be shored up or battered down to enable the main show to go on. This is not necessarily wrong, many WWI purists would agree. There is not the option to hold in the West while knocking out every other Allied nation, neither is there much incentive for the Allies to put maximum effort outside France. Turkey can only be attacked through Gallipoli and the BEFs supply is rooted in the channel ports, so you can't send it to Russia. This and the counter density detract from the game, with units as Divisions but usually stacked 3 or more to form Corps it would have helped if the basic unit had been the Corps and stacking fixed at 2 units per hex.

 

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The Great War In The Near East

 

Playings; 3, 20 hours, 2 Allied, 1 Central Power win.

 

XTR's Great War In Europe had an all too brief mention over a year ago in ZOCo 14. The whole system has received considerable back up which is handy if you have a complete run of Commands and well worth writing off for if you don't. Together with the usual rules errata and fixes Command has provided pre-war variant chits and scenarios for 1915, 16, 17 and 18. Set up fixes have swopped the German Eastern and Western fortress units (considerably beefing up Jerry in the East) and forced the majority of German Western units to set up alongside Belgium. This squashed the strategy of screening Belgium and thrashing through Central France in 1914. The terrain in the centre is a little sticky but with Frenchie being 2 columns down on combat for the 1st 2 turns it was a good wheeze to use this to whup them rotten.

 

The Near East option in Command 38 provides yet another map which can be played alone or to beef up the whole show to a 3 mapper with umpteeen counters. All the Near East counters are marked with a diagonal to distinguish them from the original batch. Some counters are duplicates of the European mix and are further marked by a small star, these are not used when the 2 games are combined. As in Europe the map is divided into 3 parts with different ground scales, Palestine (with West map scales and doubled movement), Iraq and The Caucasus. Movement is only possible between maps by sea for the British in Iraq and Palestine (3 units) or by land for the Turks (4 units) not Russians. The Turks are further penalised by having to move to a transit box between maps, they cannot transfer a unit from 1 map to another in 1 turn and it will take 2 strategic movements to get that 1 unit between fronts. Most new Turkish units appear in an off-map Turkey box and can only move on-map by strategic movement eating into the overall 4 unit limit. 2D6 units must stay in Turkey, if there is a shortfall extra units can be moved back for free with the general result of heavily thinning Turkish lines. The British are penalised by having 2 colours of units for Iraq and Palestine and being forced to bring on new units at the stated front and replace units back where they came from, this encourages an initial effort in Iraq with a later push in Palestine.

 

The basic rules are the same as in Europe, a noticeable difference being that new units can be brought on adjacent to a HQ even if that HQ is in its home country. This flaw still remains in the original rules and allows attackers to bring on new units at the front but leaves defenders appearing in cities to the rear. Although the rules are very close play is quite different because there are far fewer units in play and there are no automatic combat dice penalties for trench systems on defence. In Europe it is essential to keep unbroken lines of at least 3 units in each hex.. There are not enough units to keep such dense lines in the Near East, thin lines are easily broken through and by-passed. This is particularly relevant in the Caucasus where Jonny Turk has enough units to straddle the map but much of the line will be of only 1 unit per hex. The Russians can match this with a thin line and have enough units to spare to snip away at the weakest parts of the Turkish line. The Turks will be under similar pressure in Iraq and cannot match the replacement rate of the British and Russians. Later in the game the British build up in Palestine which can be held at a thin line around Gaza, when this is forced Palestine cannot be held for long. The solution is to avoid holding thin lines but to concentrate in defensible stacks in key towns and adjacent hexes. A stack alone in a town can be surrounded and will die by attrition.

 

HQs are rare until late in the game (the Turks and Russians will only ever have 1 each) so supply is based on being 4 hexes from a town which can draw a path of any length to certain supply hexes. Defence is based on holding towns at the front line with enough units to the flank and rear to stop the enemy running behind your towns and isolating them. This gives the right sort of stacks and gaps look as depicted by the plans from the supporting article. Naturally the position of towns on the map dictates how the game moves and are clearly fudged to nudge campaigns in certain directions. In Palestine British supply can only be drawn from a coastal town when that town begins a strategic turn in British hands. A water pipeline marker moves up the coast from town to town as they are captured until Gaza is taken, Gaza not being in the Sinai removes the water supply problem. Unfortunately Gaza is a fort and the Turk will be holding every 1 of the Sinai coastal towns to make progress in Palestine slow. A chit allows the Turks to build a defensive line from Gaza to the desert making capture of Gaza harder still, however in 3 games the town has always fallen before this chit is pulled.

 

Talking of chits there are a full set of new chits for the Near East most of which have a small modifier on combat plus another set that are only used in combined play of the 2 games, 48 new random events are thus provided. In combined play 2 chits are pulled for each resource point spent, even so the chit bags will come close to depletion before new chits are added in certain strategic interphases. With a very few chits having major effects (Italy entry, the Zimmerman telegram and Shocktroops are the showstoppers) an increase in chits dilutes their effect, chit pull still brings on the right events at about the right time but is more likely to give 2 very weak chits than 2 strong. The bane of the chit system are air units, together with the related aces and the new air superiority chits (one use air chits which negate the opposition's air chits). As the war continues both sides build a roughly equal number of air units which pile into 1 or 2 combats in the 2 or 3 turns between strategic phases and all tend to cancel each other out making their general purpose rather weak.

 

Near East as a stand alone game is a typical magazine job, good in that a rare subject gets the treatment bad in that options soon start to run out. The Russians move up in the Caucasus while the British hop from town to town in Iraq. Victory for the Allies is gagued by capturing Turkish surrender towns and cities, if the total taken plus a D6 equals or exceeds 12 the Turk has been beaten. There are only 2 surrender hexes in Iraq so Palestine or The Caucasus have to be overrun but Palestine depends on a slow British build up and construction of the water supply pipe. If the Russians do well and are backed up by limited advances in Palestine and The Caucasus the Turks are easily beat. The problem here is of a steadily increasing chance of Russia collapsing, when the Czar falls any further Russian offensives are dodgy when Lenin takes control the Soviets will go reeling back. There may not be enough time left to transfer Turks to defend Palestine, if the Russians did a good job earlier on there may be very few Turks left anywhere. The Turks can win by surviving to the end of the game or taking 3 specified Allied cities (2 before the Czar falls). 2 of these are on The Caucasus and thus achievable but to take 3 a big breakthrough is required in Iraq or (less likely) Palestine. With the historical build up of units the Turk will have a hard time.

 

Playing the 2 games together makes purchase of Near East worthwhile. The full game takes so long to play that the additional time required for the extra map and counters is negligible. A considerable number of Near East units are removed making it hard for the Allies to get anywhere without sending units from Europe. Any transfer of units from Russia or Turkey requires spending a turn in a transit box and requires use of both European and Near East strategic movement points (or sea movement points for other Allies going by boat). A Russian unit going to The Caucasus will pay 1 European strategic movement point (out of 8) and 1 Near East (out of 2), HQs cannot transfer between theatres making any build up slow but necessary if Turkey is to be knocked out.

 

An interesting note is that the removed units are duplicates of European combat units yet with a few exceptions there is no compulsion to take these same units out of the game when only playing with the European maps, the Allies must be deduced to be overstrength on the original European set ups. Although the Allies are at a disadvantage in having to send units to another front they do have the ability to knock out Turkey with the Gallipoli chit or hold in the Near East and keep more units in Europe. The Gallipoli chit is an exercise in luck requiring 3 good combat die rolls in successive combats to push the Turks back and open the straights. This is unlikely but the landing and limited advance of a strong British advance around Gallipoli can tie up a Turkish stack which would be better used against Russia. Tying up Turks around Gallipoli also prevents them moving around Salonika if that chit is played. Salonika allows the Allies to move towards Sofia and Constantinople but often leads to large numbers of useful British units being hemmed in by similar number of expendable Austrians and Bulgarians, there a lot of mountains to plough through to get anywhere useful from Salonika. The Central Powers gain from use of the Near East map by having more victory hexes to go for but still having to achieve the same total (20) to win. If Russia collapses (it usually does if the Germans do not collapse themselves in 1915), the 2 victory hexes in The Caucasus are a gift.

 

With combined play of the 2 games the Near East will not win or lose the whole game the crux of victory is still how Germany divides units between West and East. Ideally the Germans go West to achieve a nice straight line in France and Belgium, then switch East to knock out Russia. Having forced a peace in the East the Germans take out Italy which provides some handy victory hexes within reach of the border (the Italian army is rubbish), the final showdown is then in France before the Americans turn up. This all leads to a lot of heavy stack action, defenders always at least 3 deep and the attackers piling on all they can afford. The problem is that the size of hexes and heights of stacks makes it very hard to set up attacks and count them up without knocking units from both lines all over the map. The solitaire solution is to pick up units from the attacking line until 12 or 18 are collected for a 2 or 3 hex attack then pull out the defending hex, add up and roll for combat. The survivors are put back and another site chosen and worked out. Naturally this rubbishes the whole movement and combat system but is not too unreasonable in that units move double speed in the West and can generally get to a required attacking hex plus if too many units are piled into these attacks the line will be all too thin in places. The method is not reliable in the East where units are too slow to whip up and down the line to improve odds. With face to face play there is too much scope for "mistakes" with this ploy leading to bad feeling. It is tempting to treat all Frenchies or Belgians as 2/3s (attack/defence), Germans straight 3s (shocktrroops 5/4s) and British as 4s then just count the number of units in each pile although this does ignore the fact that most nations have weak and strong units which have to be searched for in the various piles, even counting the number of units in stacks requires considerable dexterity. Certainly the big blow of this system is the extreme stacking making it physically difficult to play plus the long slow slog in the West until Russia collapses. It is tempting to not bother attacking in the West as the Allies because hexes are rarely taken and the Germans tend to come off better. This is a recipe for defeat as German units must be burnt up in the West to take pressure off Russia. Despite all the maps and options the Great War must still be won in France.