This blog is inspired by Jim Werbaneth's review of FRANCE 1940
in his magazine, Line of Departure
, Issue 66. He well describes how he learned both the history of the German invasion of France from the experience of playing the game (inspiring him to get and read books on the subject) and how the game was a "benchmark" in a number of design aspects we now take for granted (variable strengths for the Panzer Divisions, historical alternatives, and--of course--the mechanized movement phase). I thought it worth starting a blog on those games that we felt taught us a lot about history and game design theory.
For me, FRANCE 1940 would be on that list too, but I can't do better (and likely would do far worse) than Jim's analysis in LOD #66. So I'll turn back the clock a bit more--not only in terms of game publishing date, but also in topic--and cover Avalon Hill's 1914, designed by none other than Jim Dunnigan. There's also that wonderful symmetry as here is another game covering a German invasion of France, albeit a generation earlier. There's not a lot of people around who still remember the 1914 game. But it was a ground breaker in its day. Why?
Not a lot of people knew much about the subject. It's amazing that Avalon Hill even thought the game concept would be marketable back in 1968. The design was chock full of new techniques. The idea of hidden deployment of both German and Allied pieces on the Mobilization Chart and then inverted counters during play gave you the possibility of pulling of a Schlieffen Plan (in whatever variation you cared to try) or Plan XVII. Of course, it made young guys like me hunt down a copy of Barbara Tuchman's GUNS OF AUGUST to read all about it. Certainly we'd not seen this kind of mechanic before in our AFRIKA KORPS, WATERLOO, BATTLE OF THE BULGE, D-DAY, or STALINGRAD games!
Step reduction was something we'd also not seen before and wouldn't see again until ANZIO a year later in 1969--and then it would become a staple of a number of designs. In 1968 (and no, I wasn't playing wargames back then), this was quite novel. The French seemed to melt away a bit more than the Germans did. So resiliency of units meant something, not just the attack and defense factors.
And then there was facing. The inverted side showed whether you were on the defense or were mobile in the attack. If you were attacked when you were on the attack yourself, your defense strength wasn't as high. Facing became a staple in tactical games, but here was on operational game that introduced the idea in boardgames.
But perhaps even more innovative were those variant cards which covered Eastern Front events that could affect what was going on in the Western Front!
Best of all, the game production felt like it was dripping with history. The Game rulebooks had period illustrations and was a graphic masterpiece. 1914 felt very much like a simulation of history, gently subduing the game. A game it certainly was, of course, but when it came out, it was such a blend of innovation, historical flavor, and superlative physical production that we really hadn't seen anything like it before.
All these features would become standard fare in game design years later, but 1914 introduced them. For many, many years, this was THE game on the First World War--and only has been knocked off its perch in the past two decades. For a game that is 42 years old, that's a tribute to its longevity.
What games taught you the most about war and wargaming?