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Subject: Simulating 1939-41 ETO rss

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James McHaffey
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I've heard it time and time again that the early part of WW2 is not worth playing out and one should just skip ahead to 1941. The traditional argument is that Poland and France must fall on schedule. If they don't, the Axis player might as well concede rather than go through 5 more years of gnashing teeth. On the other hand, if Poland and France fall so easily, what's the point? The game is railroaded. Just fast forward to 1941... This was a problem with A3R, but back then we didn't have so many other gaming choices, and frankly we were oblivious or just dealt with it. I think it's a real problem, but has any current ETO really solved it? I've recently tried (as in past 2 years) Victory in Europe, The Supreme Commander, and Unconditional Surrender and found them all to be unsatisfactory in this regard. This is a bit of an oversimplification but using the Goldilocks analogy:

ViE - Too easy. France is attacked in 1939 and falls in early 1940. Italy is attacked in 1939, and Russia usually gets bored and attacks in 1940. Is that even WW2 anymore???

TSC - Too hard. France is way too hard to conquer. Paris is like Stalingrad...

USE - Just right but all wrong at the same time. Each year consists of hundreds of repetitions of the same procedure over and over, with very tiny variations. Just to arrive at the same result every time...

Oddly, my WW2 game of choice right now is still Barbarossa to Berlin. I say that because it's highly scripted, yet starts PRECISELY at the point WW2 no longer needs to be scripted. Why didn't Racier start it in 1939? It's detractors dislike its highly scripted nature, yet he excluded the period that lends itself the most to railroading. So much so, that I guess he decided it wasn't worth bothering with.

Are there any modern designs that handle 1939-41 well? That is create tension and interesting choices, whilst allowing a 1941 snapshot that resembles actual WW2? If not, what are some ideas for what that solution would look like? I'm not interested in sandbox WW2 like Triumph and Tragedy. Those types of games are fun in their own right, but they aren't a worthy successor to A3R, which is what I'm seeking...


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Experiences of the games listed above may vary...
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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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We sidestepped this problem in Cataclysm by kicking things off in 1933 instead. There is no script to follow. We thought it would be best if the players had as little idea about what was going to happen as the real participants did.

If you want to simulate WW2 as it happened, I think you have little choice but to railroad through the fall of France. Simulating WW2 as it seemed to the heads of state at the time is an entirely different proposition.

If you want 1941 to "look like WW2" then you are probably best starting off in 1941. It sounds like you really only want to play the east front.
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James McHaffey
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Would you consider Cataclysm at worthy successor to A3R? Otherwise I don't think you've really answered the question.

The Eastern Front is the my favorite aspect of ETO but I wouldn't be asking the question if I wasn't hankering to start the war in 1939...
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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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heinz_guderian wrote:
Would you consider Cataclysm at worthy successor to A3R? Otherwise I don't think you've really answered the question.
No, you're right, it's not a successor to A3R -- there are plenty of those already. I thought my other comments were relevant to the discussion.

If you're just looking for a recommendation, I don't think there will ever be a game that satisfies what you seem to want, which is to get from point A (Sept 39) to point B (June 41) without a direct route (i.e. railroading). If a game allows for deviations, you have a proportionately reduced chance of arriving at point B. I would be happy to be proven wrong, but I think you are asking for contradictory things.

I say this not to dampen your spirit -- you should absolutely ignore my opinion if you want! -- I just find this sort of discussion interesting, and I like hearing other people's perspectives on it.
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Lance McMillan
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heinz_guderian wrote:
ViE - Too easy. France is attacked in 1939 and falls in early 1940.

The historical campaign takes only six weeks; ViE delivers an appropriate result (German victory0 in what sounds like six months (e.g. four times longer) and you think this is "too easy?"

heinz_guderian wrote:
TSC - Too hard. France is way too hard to conquer. Paris is like Stalingrad...

Now you're saying that you don't want France to be able to hold out, that they should fall with relative ease.

heinz_guderian wrote:
USE - Just right but all wrong at the same time. Each year consists of hundreds of repetitions of the same procedure over and over, with very tiny variations. Just to arrive at the same result every time...

You're starting to sound a bit like Goldilocks, unsatisfied with anything. You don't want French capitulation to be too easy, or too hard, or take too much effort to play through all the boring bits to get there. So I'm confused, what DO you want?

Now, as an example, I recently tested a prototype Frank Chadwick design that had France attacked about a month early (April, rather than May) with the Germans having about 30% more armor than they did historically (7 instead of 5 panzer corps). In that game, Paris didn't fall until early July (two weeks late), so combined with the early start the total campaign lasted roughly twice as long as it did in the actual event. Does that sound about right to your sensibilities?
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heinz_guderian wrote:
I'm not interested in sandbox

But if you're to organically arrive at the events of 1939-1941 without railroading, don't you need to recreate the political, logistical, and economic dynamics of the time? You'd then preoccupy yourself with dealing with these challenges until everyone's war machines get rolling and constant military action takes center stage.
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Lancer4321 wrote:
You're starting to sound a bit like Goldilocks, unsatisfied with anything. You don't want French capitulation to be too easy, or too hard, or take too much effort to play through all the boring bits to get there. So I'm confused, what DO you want?

Maybe he wants it to be neither too easy nor too hard. Surely there's middle ground.
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Heinz, I think you've proposed a great question, but I'm also a bit confused about what you're looking for.

It sounds like you want an epic, back-and-forth affair that does not necessarily follow the same invasion schedule as the real war. So *some* countries have to fall to get the ball (or drama) rolling. The question is which ones and how to do that.

Does that get close to it?
 
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James McHaffey
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Yes I know it sounds contradictory in a sense, but I also know I'm not alone. Many of us are looking for a 39-45 game that follows the WW2 narrative but isn't too heavily scripted. Europe Engulfed was a ambitious attempt but it's TOO scripted politically and the variance really comes from operational choices and the absurd amount of dice rolling. There are so many blocks, the fog of war is irrelevant. Despite initial optimism, for me in the end, it wound up playing like a heavily scripted Axis and Allies with supply rules.

Starting in 1939, there are plenty of interesting grand strategic choices that don't require massive deviations from historical plausibility: an Axis Spain or Turkey totally changes the situation in the Med/North Africa. Sea Lion. Suvorov's pre-emptive Soviet attack. No Italy-Balkans fiasco thus allowing Barbarossa to start on time. All are interesting possibilities within the tightly wound historical framework. Right now I don't know on an ETO that creates those possibilities through meaningful and interesting choices. Getting there by accident or because it's the single dominant strategy for a game doesn't count. When, I sit down to play a good heavy euro, there are multiple paths to victory but I don't know which one I should take until play begins. I want that in a 39-45 ETO but haven't found it yet.
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James McHaffey
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Lancer4321 wrote:
heinz_guderian wrote:
ViE - Too easy. France is attacked in 1939 and falls in early 1940.

The historical campaign takes only six weeks; ViE delivers an appropriate result (German victory0 in what sounds like six months (e.g. four times longer) and you think this is "too easy?"

The problem with ViE (actually just one of MANY) is that attacking France in 1939 is clearly the optimal move, when historically, that would have been totally insane even for Hitler.
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Jason Cawley
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I can confirm James' report on Supreme Commander, having played through it a half dozen times in the past six months. The western Allies, France specifically, are far too strong in that game, and Russia is too weak. With best play, the Germans can conquer France by the fall of 1940, but must apply an all out attrition strategy to do so. Normally they fail to conquer France until the spring of 1941, with again long run attrition proving the way they accomplish it.

Meanwhile, after the turn east, they can frequently conquer Russia in a single season and can always conquer it in two. Attrition is again the preferred approach.

Joined, the Allies best hope is for France to hold on so long that Russia builds as much as possible, and that German invasion is both weakened and (especially) delayed. Even so they can often make up the time by the end of 1942.

Why the two results? The amount of attrition the Germans can inflict in the system is limited by the number of hexes of front they have to pound on. The differential combat system makes it perfectly feasible for the Germans to get max column, +7 attacks on the targets they can reach, with only an occasional +4 column attack. But in the west they do this to 2-3 hexes per turn, while in the east they can frequently launch 10 to 14 attacks in clear weather and 5 to 7 in poor weather.

The western allies can replace the lower loss rate, pretty nearly. The Russians cannot replace the higher loss rate, especially before 1942. Even after their economic expansion in 1942, the loss rate in Russia is so much higher the Russians can't cover all of it. Before that, they are losing strength continually from the moment the Germans attack, with no prospect of holding field strength, whatever.

The French replacement rate is at least 20 MSPs per turn too high, and for the western Allies as a whole, perhaps 45 MSPs per turn too high. Russian force restrictions before active involvement are too tight, and their mobilized replacement rate is far too low. The German replacement rate is also too high - they can readily pound every available hex in Russia with max column attacks and still hold force strength, through the entire first year and change.

Basically, Supreme Commander's MSP balancing is "pants". Love the elegant, simple, playable game system, in theory. In practice, the balancing needs major work, and historical outcomes simply cannot occur in the game, with decent play by either side.
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heinz_guderian wrote:
The problem with ViE (actually just one of MANY) is that attacking France in 1939 is clearly the optimal move, when historically, that would have been totally insane even for Hitler.

I'm not familiar with ViE, but it sounds like the problem isn't systemic, rather it sounds like inaccurate scenario starting forces, with the Germans being too strong and the Allies too weak. A fairly easy issue to fix.

JasonC wrote:
I can confirm James' report on Supreme Commander, having played through it a half dozen times in the past six months. The western Allies, France specifically, are far too strong in that game, and Russia is too weak.

Again, not a game that I'm familiar with. However, it still doesn't strike me as a systemic problem but one with the initial set-up instead.
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James McHaffey
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Lancer4321 wrote:
heinz_guderian wrote:
The problem with ViE (actually just one of MANY) is that attacking France in 1939 is clearly the optimal move, when historically, that would have been totally insane even for Hitler.

I'm not familiar with ViE, but it sounds like the problem isn't systemic, rather it sounds like inaccurate scenario starting forces, with the Germans being too strong and the Allies too weak. A fairly easy issue to fix.

JasonC wrote:
I can confirm James' report on Supreme Commander, having played through it a half dozen times in the past six months. The western Allies, France specifically, are far too strong in that game, and Russia is too weak.

Again, not a game that I'm familiar with. However, it still doesn't strike me as a systemic problem but one with the initial set-up instead.

No the problems are systemic. There is no finesse or operational art in TSC. Sticky ZOC and just bash bash bash. Feels like WW1 with modern day air power and perfect intel. How can you have a 52 page rulebook for WW2 ETO and nary a mention of the words blitz, exploit, or breakthrough...

ViE has a massive fundamental flaw that can't be fixed without rewriting the whole game. The rate limiting factor for combat is not force size but the onerous border limits. Every battle, even in the Russian steppe, feels like a bridgehead breakout... All sides produce many more blocks than they can actually use so you basically end up spending the whole game trying to figure out how to get your best units rebuilt quickly so you can use them over and over again. Just a small snapshot of the absurdity can be gleaned from the September 1939 setup: Germany has 52 land steps. France has 19. And the German units are MUCH better. REALITY: In May 40, the Germans had 141 divisions in the West and the Western Allies had 144. The moment you realize ViE is 99% about border limits and nothing else, the game merely becomes an exercise in timing capturing geographical areas with the less restrictive border limits in a cycle that synchronizes with the weather and your ability to rebuild your best units. It's not WW2. It's a bunch of little Thermopylae's on a grand strategic scale...

http://columbiagames.com/resources/3402/VE-OBs.pdf
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Lance McMillan
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heinz_guderian wrote:
September 1939 setup: Germany has 52 land steps. France has 19. And the German units are MUCH better. REALITY: In May 40, the Germans had 141 divisions in the West and the Western Allies had 144.

Well, there's part of the problem: in Sept '39 the Germans didn't have 141 divisions, they only had 98, and a considerable portion of those were woefully short of artillery and heavy weapons, so the game is giving them about 50% more strength than they should have. Plus Germany was woefully unprepared for a protracted conflict, having only had about a month's worth of munitions on had when the war broke out. Conversely, France wasn't mobilized in Sept '39, so that starting 19 steps should almost instantly double at game start to reflect mobilization.

Again, the issues you're citing don't strike me as a systemic problem. Instead, it's indicative of poor research resulting in a flawed game set-up. Try playing with something like only 30-35 German steps at game start, and immediately add about 15-20 additional French steps on Turn 1. I'd guess that you'd have much more plausible results.
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part of the problem here depends on your view as to why the Germans were so successful in France. Where the French always going to loose? Did the Germans just roll 6s?

Ultimately i doubt you will find what you want. Players in face to face games about pop history know the french errors to some extent and can see the german moves. They can reposition their forces further north etc. Alternatively the game system can lock them into the historical course leading to scripting.
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What I would suggest is that WW2 can be done without railroading, but with somewhat different progressions. There's absolutely no need to treat 1941 like a pre-ordained year, the Soviets were no better in 1942, so why do strategic games set up the early war as a grand race for Moscow while the Allied player arranges speed bumps, followed by a complete role reversal after Stalingrad doesn't fall.

While the early war seems most scripted, the eastern fronts tend to be the same, just less obvious. If Germany doesn't conquer SU by 1942 then it's a question of how close to Berlin will the game end. After playing a lot of 3R/A3R, I haven't played a strategic level game for ages, because the entire experience could be replicated by adding up 10 dice rolls and declaring a winner 18 hours later.

Scandinavia - France - Balkans - Greece - Africa - Soviet Union by summer 1941 is an unrealistic set of achievements which require crippling the Allied player until magically the tide turns. On the Eastern side, the SU transforms from the economic power of Bhutan to exceeding the combined power of the entire world over the course of 18 months in order to "simulate" what happened.

I would like a game which has certain probable themes; its hard for France to last more than 2 years, the Soviet Union takes time to marshall its economic power after invasion, the western allies chip away in some godforsaken places until Germany is weak enough to land in Europe. That wouldn't have to look anything like the war, but the themes would be similar enough to appear realistic, while gameplay could be interesting and varied.
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James McHaffey
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Lancer4321 wrote:
heinz_guderian wrote:
September 1939 setup: Germany has 52 land steps. France has 19. And the German units are MUCH better. REALITY: In May 40, the Germans had 141 divisions in the West and the Western Allies had 144.

Well, there's part of the problem: in Sept '39 the Germans didn't have 141 divisions, they only had 98, and a considerable portion of those were woefully short of artillery and heavy weapons, so the game is giving them about 50% more strength than they should have. Plus Germany was woefully unprepared for a protracted conflict, having only had about a month's worth of munitions on had when the war broke out. Conversely, France wasn't mobilized in Sept '39, so that starting 19 steps should almost instantly double at game start to reflect mobilization.

Again, the issues you're citing don't strike me as a systemic problem. Instead, it's indicative of poor research resulting in a flawed game set-up. Try playing with something like only 30-35 German steps at game start, and immediately add about 15-20 additional French steps on Turn 1. I'd guess that you'd have much more plausible results.

I was citing May 1940 numbers because that was when the attacked was launched. In ViE, it is best to attack in 1939, in which case the Sep 39 OoB is relevant to compare to historical May 1940. Germany is already at a disadvantage in ViE - if you take away 20 steps, they have no chance. Russia will stomp them in 1940. Try playing the game once before telling us how to fix it. I tried to play it a half dozen times and we added house rules to fix some obvious issues (battleships are better than panzer armies in land battles) but I eventually wrote it off as a lost cause...
 
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I've never really understood what all the fuss is about in a 2 player ETO game. SIMPLE: US war entry is predicated on the Fall of France. And the timing of that entry is relative to the desperation of the Allied position. In Sturm Europa! if France falls earlier than historical, US enters earlier. France falls later, US enters later. France never falls, US never enters. It's SIMPLE and HISTORICAL. The big design obstacle I always ran into, and am hoping I've solved, was in a 3 player game: how to keep the Soviet player engaged and interested from 1939-41...
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m3tan wrote:
...if France falls earlier than historical, US enters earlier. France falls later, US enters later. France never falls, US never enters. It's SIMPLE and HISTORICAL.

Huh? Simple (or, rather, simplistic) yes, but how is it historical? What evidence do you have to support a claim that the US wouldn't have entered the war without a French collapse? I can see a possible argument that it might have delayed US entry, but not completely precluded it. As long as Germany elected to prosecute an unrestricted U-boat campaign in the North Atlantic, I think US entry was an eventual foregone conclusion (you can only have so many USS Reuben James type incidents before US domenstic pressure forces the President's hand).
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m3tan wrote:
I've never really understood what all the fuss is about in a 2 player ETO game. SIMPLE: US war entry is predicated on the Fall of France. And the timing of that entry is relative to the desperation of the Allied position. In Sturm Europa! if France falls earlier than historical, US enters earlier. France falls later, US enters later. France never falls, US never enters. It's SIMPLE and HISTORICAL. The big design obstacle I always ran into, and am hoping I've solved, was in a 3 player game: how to keep the Soviet player engaged and interested from 1939-41...

Not sure I understand you... what does the fall of France has to do with US entry?
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heinz_guderian wrote:
...if you take away 20 steps, they have no chance. Russia will stomp them in 1940.

Then the Soviets obviously need to be adjusted too.

heinz_guderian wrote:
Try playing the game once before telling us how to fix it.

Don't need to -- I firmly believe that any game can be "fixed." It's just a matter of how much time/effort is required to be put into doing so, and whether that investment is worth it to you. Well, okay, I'll concede that The Eagle and the Sun is beyond redemption, but it's the exception that proves the rule (although there are folks who claim to have "fixed" that monstrosity too).

Personally, from your comments, I think it's pretty clear you've already made up your mind that even trying to "fix" ViE/TSC/USE isn't worth it. Apparently you're hoping/expecting some other design to come along and fill the void of a "perfect" ETO game for you. That's fine, to each his own.

In my case, I'm an inveterate tinkerer. I enjoy the challenge of trying to find a way to make a flawed but otherwise interesting design work. I don't simply reject a game because it didn't work for me right out of the box. I'll reserve judgement on whether ViE/TSC/USE fit that "interesting design" category or not until I'm more familiar with them (your comments have sparked my curiosity-- I've got some reading to do). In the interim, I've got plenty of other projects to keep me busy.
 
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sdiberar wrote:
We sidestepped this problem in Cataclysm by kicking things off in 1933 instead. There is no script to follow. We thought it would be best if the players had as little idea about what was going to happen as the real participants did.

If you want to simulate WW2 as it happened, I think you have little choice but to railroad through the fall of France. Simulating WW2 as it seemed to the heads of state at the time is an entirely different proposition.

If you want 1941 to "look like WW2" then you are probably best starting off in 1941. It sounds like you really only want to play the east front.

I think this is exactly the right point.

The alternative could be to start in 1939 but vary the victory conditions based on political outcomes. Germany conquer France in 1940 ... more VP for the Germans. The USSR entry is uncertain but the later they show up the less VP for the Germans which gives the Germans an opportunity to try taking the UK out or try a Med first strategy etc.
 
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I found that Totaler Krieg! does a nice job with the early war. France seems to fall just a little later than normal but still within the confines of acceptability.

The nice part of TK is the political engine. Various tables interact in such a way that it always seems that something unexpected is going on with some of the minors which sucks the players into areas they might not normally go.

USE has an interesting political structure but a) minors can't/don't do much (historical) and b) Germany really can't afford to attack more minors than: PO, DE, NO, BE, NE, FR because the additional +1 strat modifier really takes its toll.

In World in Flames, France usually goes down in July/August but not until every French unit on the board is brought home to die in the last stand around Paris.
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Lancer4321 wrote:
m3tan wrote:
...if France falls earlier than historical, US enters earlier. France falls later, US enters later. France never falls, US never enters. It's SIMPLE and HISTORICAL.

Huh? Simple (or, rather, simplistic) yes, but how is it historical? What evidence do you have to support a claim that the US wouldn't have entered the war without a French collapse? I can see a possible argument that it might have delayed US entry, but not completely precluded it. As long as Germany elected to prosecute an unrestricted U-boat campaign in the North Atlantic, I think US entry was an eventual foregone conclusion (you can only have so many USS Reuben James type incidents before US domenstic pressure forces the President's hand).
It's not simplistic. I've spent years researching this topic. Germany could not prosecute the u-boat campaign in the North Atlantic with any efficacy without u-boat bases that had direct access to the Atlantic (Brest, Lorient, Saint Nazaire, La Rochelle, Bordeaux). That only occurred AFTER the Fall of France. No Fall of France, no direct Atlantic access, no Happy Times, no Atlantic Gap, no Reuben James...

The sentiment in the United States was overwhelmingly isolationist prior to the Fall of France. FDR was acutely aware of the threat Nazi Germany posed but could do little about it without popular support. As Britain's situation became increasingly desperate, Churchill began mortgaging possessions of the British Empire that took hundreds of years to acquire. First, was the Destroyers for Bases agreement, in which the US gave Britain 50 near worthless garbage scowls in exchange for naval and air bases all over the Western Hemisphere. They were fleeced. Next came the Tizard Mission, in which they just GAVE away technology secrets with IMMEASURABLE commercial and military value, in the hope the US would further research. Lastly, and worst of all, Churchill had to agree to the terms of the Atlantic Charter, which he secretly hated. It basically stated that the British Empire had to relinquish all of its colonial possessions after World War II... All this was done because he was desperate to get the US into the war.

In Sturm Europa!, the following 6 events slowly draw the US into the EUROPEAN war:

Cash & Carry
Destroyers for Bases
Tizard Mission
Lend Lease
Atlantic Charter
Reuben James

With the exception of Cash & Carry, none of those would have occurred if France hadn't fallen. Isolationists would have kept the US out of the EUROPEAN war...
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