When it is your turn to send a VASSAL move, the wait is excruciating. When it's my turn, well, I've been busy.
France Fights On is the game included with World at War magazine #39. The intent of this review is to provide a quick summary of the main game features of this relatively light but interesting wargame.
The concept behind the game is counter-factual history, a “what if” scenario that could have had a very significant impact and which was historically feasible. The game hypothesizes what might have happened if the faction of French leadership that rejected the notion of an armistice with Germany in 1940 had held sway, and a French strategy based on evacuating as many troops as possible to North Africa to continue the fight was executed. As the article in the accompanying magazine argues, this could have had a very significant effect on the course of the war, destabilizing the Italian position in North Africa and possible causing major headaches for the Axis powers.
The game components include a standard 22” x 34” map, and a relatively small complement of about 85 unit and information counters used to play the game. More than half of the magazine countersheet is devoted to variant and errata counters for use with previous W@W issue games. The map and counters have a clean and uncluttered look, are highly functional and easy to use, and of good physical quality.
The rules are on the light end for wargames, about eight pages of medium type. Players experienced with other designs by Ty Bomba will see much that is familiar, such as no zone-of-control rules, simple supply rules, and a straightforward combat results table. All non-mechanized units have a movement factor of four, and mechanized units have an MF of six. The German player can choose a fight-move or a move-fight sequence, but in practice this will have minimal impact; since the French player is conducting a strategic withdrawal, the German will almost always need to move before attacking. Game “chrome” comes in the form of French naval support in coastal battles, refugee markers that impede the French withdrawal, German Stukas, and a German “Panzer Scare” rule that is intended to reflect German concerns about over-extension of their precious panzer assets. In practice this last rule has little game impact.
The game objective is defined by accumulation of victory points by the French (only). Points are awarded to the French for such factors as holding cities to the end of the game, for German step losses, and for evacuating troops from the Mediterranean ports. The German wins by limiting French victory points to fewer than twenty-five. So the game will be a fighting withdrawal by the French, biting back where he can but primarily trying to get troops out from the ports. This is a bit similar to the game situation in one of Bomba’s earlier games, Poland '39: The Nightmare Begins, where the Poles are just trying to survive as long as possible while evacuating some units out of Poland (by land) to fight another day. This is not easy as the French troops start almost entirely in the north end of the map, and he can only move one unit per turn south by rail. The course of the game is defined very much by geography. There is a small channel of clear terrain between two mountain ranges, which is the only fast path for movement to the south end of the map. The exception to this channeled movement is the appearance of two highly mechanized German reinforcement groups which arrive suddenly on uncertain game turns in the southwest corner of the map after having swung around the central French mountain ranges. These units pose a significant problem for the French, as the French player will have to move some units (which are largely infantry) south at full-tilt to reach the south coast and assume blocking positions by the time the German reinforcements arrive.
I did not play the game enough times to establish a confident appraisal of strategies and game balance, but can provide a few comments. German strategy is pretty straightforward, capture the cities and the ports while taking as few losses as possible. The French player has to balance the benefits of a “forward” strategy with counterattack opportunities vs. an all-out flight to the south to protect the ports and evacuate as many units as possible. My guess is that a winning French strategy will require a bit of both. Each two-step unit evacuated provides two victory points of the required twenty-five. Assuming (conservatively) 5-10 VPs to be gained from German step losses, only a relative handful of units need to be evacuated to achieve French victory.
The game is easy to play, while the simple rules and low counter density would probably allow completing a two-player session in between 90-120 minutes. There are some variable events (mostly the German reinforcements) but overall this is probably a game you are going to have a few plays of and move on to something else. This is not a criticism, it is in line with my own expectation of magazine games generally; in this case, the fact that the magazine also includes extensive variants for previous games adds to the value. France Fights On has an admirable absence of errata, and the few questions I had on game play were pretty easily resolved on the basis of common sense (at least common sense for an experienced wargamer). Overall I think the game provides fair value for money, and combines nicely with the magazine as a light study of one of the interesting “what-ifs” of World War Two. It is an entertaining and tense game that can be picked up quickly and played to completion in a single session, and I think most gamers will find it fun to play. Recommended.
After playing this four times, I agree with your review. Spot on.