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Designer Diary: 1944: Race to the Rhine

Michał Ozon
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Board Game: 1944: Race to the Rhine
The game 1944: Race to the Rhine has its English-language premiere at UK Games Expo 2014 in late May 2014. Here, Waldek Gumienny, the co-designer of the game, writes about the beginnings of this project. I hope you will find it interesting. —Michał Ozon, PHALANX

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Why Focus on Logistics?

"I am a soldier; I fight where I am told, and I win where I fight."

Every board gamer should at least once in his life go to the Spiel game fair in Essen, Germany — or, if you have the opportunity, go to the Spielwarenmesse trade fair in Nürnberg, where it's a whole lot calmer, but not necessarily less spectacular. All the more, a pilgrimage to these places should be obligatory for every author of the next big bestseller... (Big, I ask. Big like what?)

It's good to go there, look around and find a way in which we can stand out from nearly one thousand new game releases that are taking place at one time and in one location. From this experience you can gain a lot of humility.

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The crowd of players and publishers at Spiel (source)

Games about practically every subject already exist. Besides that, the fact that a game on a particular subject doesn't exist is perhaps proof that the game is for a niche market, so it's better to leave a game like this out because publishing it in a particular amount can in the best case lead to the accumulation of kindling for your fireplace...

But let's give it a try.

I've played wargames continuously for more than twenty years, but for the past few years I have not avoided playing Eurogames, too, including those purely economic ones. Wargames are usually about forces, brave soldiers and their horses, or about Tigers and Panthers. It's true that sometimes they don't look dangerous in the least printed on those tiny counters, but at other times it happens that in those games you can get your hands on lots of blocks or even figures. Sometimes a lot of stuff can used in one game...

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The so-called monster wargame (source)

Eurogames often focus on stock or livestock exchange: Here a pebble, there a wood piece, here a fish, there a sheep and whoosh! We have two sheep!
Of course, preferably all in wood. The more unusual the shape, the better.

Or how about a home in the countryside?

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Cowboy farm

But do we really want to stand out in this way among the nearly one thousand new game releases per year? No thanks. Let's try to do it in a different way...

Jaroslaw Flis wrote in the introduction to his excellent game Rok 1920 that that design is a commander game, not a quartermaster one — but what would happen if we reversed that situation and made a quartermaster game instead of a leader game?

The problem this idea generates, though, is finding a suitable theme for the game so that it can achieve good sales results. (In this case, "good" means a few hundred pieces per year, which isn't necessarily easy to do as can be seen in the P500 program from GMT Games.)

Of course our quartermaster game plot has to be set in WWII. Let all of Hollywood do our advertising for us! And the most famous theme for the Second World War? Normandy! Or maybe Ardennes? (By the way, my first game was about the Ardennes — what a shame....) Well, yes, but I didn't intend to do the 1,424th game about Normandy or even the 150th game about the Ardennes. Going this way we could never surpass the one thousand new releases...

Since the best themes have been eliminated, what should we choose? Wait a minute — why doesn't anyone explain what happened between the landing of the Allies in Normandy in June 1944 and the December offensive of the Germans in the Ardennes? The Germans flee and the Allies chase after them across several hundred kilometers of France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. It looked more or less like this:

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The pursuit to the West Wall

No major fights, just plain pursuit.

Okay, so one player's duty should be just running away? That's like playing the turtle race game Pędzące żółwie with one player choosing to be the cabbage.


After all, we don't want do make a war game. We want to make a logistics game! This is a great theme for such a game, one well-discussed in references and memoirs!

Montgomery, commander of the British, Canadians and Poles, claimed that it was necessary to take the whole supply from Patton and give it to him (along with the ability to command the Americans) because then he would surely cross the Rhine and even take over Berlin in 1944, using the good German highways.

Patton writes exactly the opposite; the whole supply should have been taken from the phlegmatic British — fortunately he doesn't have anything against the Poles — and given to him because then he would not only quickly take over Berlin, but he would also push them into the sea, where their place is. (Rule Britannia, rule the waves...)

Bradley mentions that everything would have been different if there was a faster chance to make use of the big port of Antwerp instead of moving the supplies from the beaches of Normandy. Admittedly Antwerp is not situated by the sea, but tens of kilometers in the hinterland — and those tens of kilometers were stubbornly defended by the Germans until November 1944 — but maybe it took the Allies so long to overcome them because the task was given to Montgomery?

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Monty, Brad and Patton before the Normandy landings, so they are still smiling at each other (source)

Do you see how those generals grumble in their memoirs, how they try to justify their failure? Like professional players after a failed game. Our logistics game should therefore create similar emotions, enabling you to complain after a lost game in exactly the same way...

Here's how I tried to obtain this effect:

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"Success demands a high level of logistical and organizational competence."

October 2012. It's 4 a.m. in the morning and my turn to drive the car on the way back home after Spiel. There is no one to talk with as the rest of our crew is sleeping, while their safety is in my hands only. There is no one to call as all reasonable people are asleep as well. I am driving slowly at 100 mph through the fog on the nice Autobahn, which connects Essen and my hometown. Yes, it was planned to be built here long before WWII, since the 5. Panzerdivision was actually stationed in Oppeln. Indeed, it was the perfect time for inventing mechanisms of a logistical race game.


"All very successful commanders are prima donnas and must be so treated."

It was obvious for me from the beginning that the players are going to take the roles of the Allies' top generals, competing to see who will be the first to cross the Rhine. Actually, there were four Allied armies; would there be enough space in my game for four players?

One of the players must be Patton, the famous commander of the 3rd US Army, but there must also be the Patton's greatest rival. Not Crerar (commander of 1st CDN Army) nor Bimbo Dempsey (commander of 2nd British Army), but Lord Montgomery of Alamein (nickname "Monty") himself – commander of the 21st Army Group. And if we have Monty, there should also be Brad (Omar N. Bradley – commander of the 12th Army Group), not Hodges (commander of the 1st US Army). And despite having four Allied armies, I ended up with positions for three players. Of course, I had an idea of the fourth player being Rundstedt, but there isn't much fun in playing the losing side, or Ike, who would control the competing Allied generals, but a game for three players is also a nice idea, one that should also work for two players or even one.

The Board

"A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later."

The board was supposed to be the stage of the campaign covering the area between the Seine and Rhine. I still have my file with the first idea of how much terrain should I include.

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I was considering three possible systems of regulating the movement of units on the board: hex (like Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear, Neuroshima Hex!), area based (War of the Ring, Legends of Andor), and point-to-point (Friedrich, Arkham Horror). The choice was easy. I wanted to present the limitations of creating the supply lines, where the roads should be able to jam due to the traffic. Only with a point-to-point system could I achieve that. Points are going to be major towns and cities, which should be connected by roads.

But how to draw it? The board was quite big actually. I decided to use my road atlas because while the road networks had changed a little bit, the towns and cities were still in the same places they were before. Thus, the first project could be based on the modern map of northern France, and if it worked, I would then look for some nice historical maps.

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"Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men."

My first thought was to make the game division scale. American units had funny unofficial nicknames, like "Ragtag Circus" or "Indianhead" — now you know why the first title of this game was Monty vs. Patton — but there would have to be too many of these divisions, which would make it hard to move and control supplies for each single unit. So what should I do?

The answer came from General Patton himself. In his memoir War as I Knew It, he clearly stated that the Army Group commander should know only the locations of his armies and corps, but not the divisions since he would try to command them as he was an army commander. What a brilliant suggestion! Corps, let's make it corps. Every player controls only three or four corps — exactly the same number as commanded by the historical generals represented in the game.

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"My men can eat their belts, but my tanks have gotta have gas."

Unlike all other wargames, no classic movement points or strength points were assigned. How far can a corps move? Well, it depends on how much fuel it has. And how good will it fight? As good as the amount of ammunition it has. In addition, there must be food – which represents all the other supplies that are necessary for an army to exist.

One corner of the board should have a general Allied supply stock, representing the huge amounts of supplies available at Normandy's beaches. The players will be "buying" supplies by paying their prestige (VPs), so there will be a kind of bidding. "Give me all of that gas, and I will be in Berlin next month." The next player will get fewer supplies, but at a lower cost. "With less gas and ammo, I can reach only Brussels." Of course, the first one to take pieces from this stock could take more than others next.

The transports should be represented by trucks. When you move goods from area A to area B, you put the truck on the connecting road. Small roads can have only one truck on them, while normal roads can hold up to two trucks. The roads are supposed to jam very easily.

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At first, I was using the wooden stickers from the The Settlers of Catanto represent the long columns of trucks. Only after some time did I recall the small wooden trucks that I had bought in Essen just for fun. It's always good to collect unusual game components as you never know when they'll fit...

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"Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash."

But simply moving goods, trucks and corps would make the design too much of a Eurogame. War is always chaos, and I needed some to put inside the game.

Cards — players like cards, especially if there have nice pictures on them. The rulebook can also be shorter as some of the rules may be derived directly from cards. Cards should be drawn and checked when entering an uncontrolled area. The enemy's formations will also be depicted on cards, and depending on your luck, you can pick reserve Infantry or thrilling Panzerdivision Waffen SS.

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The first part of the game should be pretty easy, so I filled the first deck with good events like free food, free ammo, etc. — but to make the players a little cautious, there are also some Germans inside. Advancing through France without much ammo would be a risky adventure!

The second deck was a hard one, with only German forces inside, and this second deck is placed under the first so that players will be surprised by the sudden revelation of stronger German cards.

I also made supply check cards that resulted in a corps consuming all the food supplies it carried. Even Napoleon said that an army is marching by its stomach. Should the corps have no food, it would be grounded. The good point of this card it that all trucks were removed from the map, making the roads accessible again.

One of these cards was even called "The end". It had a very simple effect: The game ended. If nobody had crossed the Rhine before this card was revealed, normal VPs decided who was the victor.

That's how the first prototype of the Race to the Rhine looked. It has changed a lot since then.

Okay, guys, wake up. We're home. Let me tell you about the game we're going to Spiel with next year.


"Go forward until the last round is fired and the last drop of gas is expended...then go forward on foot!"

After a couple of months spent on reading sources and working on the game map — it's not easy to find and draw all these towns and connections! — I was ready to begin. Fortunately I already had almost all of the needed wooden parts; only the paperwork had to be done.

The first impression works, it really works! Brad even managed to cross the Rhine, but it was also quite clear that many changes were necessary.

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The first thing to do was to make the players hurry up since currently there was no reason to do so. What a shame! The cards were supposed to be "the clock", but cards were picked up only when somebody advanced. Should players camp in their positions, nothing in the game would make them move. In 1944, though, time was running fast, the chance of success was one in a million, and there was no time for an operational break at the Seine (as was originally planned by the quartermasters). This must be a race game, and there is a need for...


"The test of success is not what you do when you're on top. Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom."

Initially all the areas uncontrolled by the Allies were controlled by Germans, but the strength of their control was determined by picking up the card from the deck.

Now, the idea was to split the decks. There would also be a new kind of separate Axis control markers. Thus, if the corps entered an area without any markers, the player would draw a card from the grey deck — and if an Axis counter was in the area, you may be sure that you will meet stronger opposition there as you'll draw from the black deck instead. Now you'll be sure to advance ASAP before the board is covered with Axis markers.

But wait, who decides where to put Axis markers if no one is playing the Axis? I needed to put a non-electronic AI into the game, so I decided that each player would place the Axis marker after his move — a simple solution for a complex problem that makes the game more competitive since you cannot attack your opponent directly with your forces, but through the Axis you control, you can make something really bad happen...

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The mechanism for placing Axis counters worked well. In the first playtest with them, the Germans started by controlling the WestWall, thus the Allies were stopped quite quickly — unhistorically quickly. I had to make the German markers to start from the Rhine, with the WestWall line opened.

However, there was still something wrong with the end-of-the game cards. Too much depended on the cards. There was no "clock" ticking and telling the players that time was running out. A simple turn marker was unacceptable, but I needed to implement something similar. But wait — at the end of a turn, each player places an Axis marker. It is enough to make a small...


"Pressure makes diamonds."

The game would have a limited number of German markers, e.g., ten per player. Should they all be placed on the map, the game ends. Now it is clear: You must cross the Rhine before the Axis becomes too strong. Beating the Axis now results in another bonus, giving you more time to achieve an automatic victory. By introducing the Axis markers, I was finally able to solve the end-of-game issue!

The design had many other changes, resulting in more chrome being added. Liberated ports became available for Monty to move supplies in. To make things equal, Patton could be supplied from the South, just as he connects with the advancing 7th US Army. (Patton commanded that Army in 1943.) Now each player color — that is, each character — has a different gaming experience, making the replayability of the game quite high.

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"My flanks are something for the enemy to worry about, not me. Before he finds out where my flanks are, I'll be cutting the bastard's throat."

But if you think that the game was finished, you are wrong. The complete prototype was sent for testing by Jaro Andruszkiewicz and his group of experienced players. Jaro is always changing everything to be better. He extended the length of corps movement to three areas (instead of just one). Now you are able to advance quickly, but this change resulted in another, with three actions per player per turn now proving to be too much; we reduced this to only two actions per player.

It was also Jaro's idea to get rid of the ordinary victory points. Players are the generals, and each general, he said, has plenty of medals on his chest. Thus, players have a range of medals from which they can choose when being awarded. (They are the same value for the purpose of the game.)

Each corps already had its starting supplies on its cards, but now each color has different sets of supplies. Players can start the game with advance supplies and no need to take from the stock, but if Patton has plenty of gas and no ammo, is that wise? Bradley has an interesting choice: Take more supplies or liberate important junctions before other players do it?

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The crucial change was to delete the supply check cards. The supply check is now triggered by taking the last truck from the stock, allowing for more decisions and less dependence on luck. The Allied supply stock was cut to the minimum again. If you are not careful, you might need to start begging for supplies — or you can trigger the supply check and take the best option of available supplies before other players can do so.

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Another change involved making the grey deck — now called the Pursuit deck — not so fruitful for the players. Blank event cards were introduced to give players a wider picture of the war: "The Soviets have taken Bucharest, our Marines in the Pacific are closer to Japan, and you, General, still not in Metz yet?"

The Airborne forces were introduced as well. Arnhem is a victory city, but uncontrolled by Axis, thus it was already in the game. Jaro wanted the players to be able to make operations like "Market-Garden", so now there are four counters and a lot of fun.

The last thing to do was to make the game AI work for solitaire play. We have tried many solutions, but thanks to Witold Janik we found a perfect one. The evil Axis will surprise you many, many times!


"War is an art and as such is not susceptible of explanation by fixed formula."

The wooden pieces are the only part that hasn't changed at all (or almost at all) since the first prototype. All the other graphics had to be done.
I did the graphics of the first prototype myself, and while I am very proud of them as it was the best looking prototype I've ever prepared, it was still very ugly.

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Fortunately, we didn't have to search for an artist to illustrate the game. Piotro volunteered himself and since he is fortunately a player (and a player of wargames, too), he was the perfect guy to make the things I could only dream about.

The map

We needed to change the background from the strange green to some historically-based map, and I found the perfect solution in one of my sources: the day-to-day 12th Army Group maps from the Congress Library website. Piotro used two of these maps to prepare a background of the board for the mock-up we took to Spiel in 2013.

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Everybody liked to play on this board, although it was very basic.
Piotro started to work on the final map, using my suggestion to make a map similar to the ones officially published by the U.S. corps. After accepting the first idea from Piotro...

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...we had to decide on the color of the background, which was prepared in four variants.

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However, the final effect was not satisfactory to us, and our playtesters complained that they preferred the old map! Something had to be done.

Piotro is a very patient guy. Maybe he likes us? Quite angry, but he prepared another version of the board, which is perfect.

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The first cards we prepared were vertical, but playtesters proposed that the cards be horizontal so that the pictures could be more visible.

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The only tough decision which had to be made was how to present the picture. We had collected plenty of war photographs in the public domain, but black and white only.

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One idea was to "draw" the pictures on the cards:

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But my idea was to make these photos live and give them some color. Piotro liked it and has done a great job.

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And after some minor corrections we recieved the final result.

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Aside from the player markers and Axis markers, some other counters had to be prepared. The counters from the mock-up were so good that it was hard to make the final ones better, but we complained long enough that Piotro finally made another masterpiece.

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Now the game is in front of us, and we hope that you like it as much as we do. Thank you for reading this. Perhaps we'll meet at the UK Games Expo!

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Designers Waldek Gumienny and Jaro Andruszkiewicz at the Polish premiere
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