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War of Tanks: France 1940 – The Breakthrough at Dinant» Forums » Reviews

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Mark Herman
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Introduction
Like most people I find the time between XMAS and New Years to be a period of down time where I try and catch up on things that I have wanted to do, but have not gotten to. One of those things is to peruse the large volume of magazine wargames that I have received over the last few months and give a few of these titles some time on the gaming table. At the top of the pile was WTF 1940: The Breakthrough at Dinant published in Battles Magazine #10. I am one of a group of enthusiastic supporters for this small game review magazine that comes with a complete standalone wargame in every issue. I think of Battles Magazine as a cross between the venerated Fire & Movement magazine with a wargame that follows the best traditions of Strategy and Tactics from the 70's, albeit with top notch graphics.

Now if you identify yourself as a Euro or lighter weight gamer who will only play a game if it has mounted maps, cards, and lots of wooden bits, then you will not like this game; read no further. WTF 1940 is a hex and counter wargame with a well researched order of battle, lots of numbers on the combat counters, step reduction, tactical chits, hidden variable objectives, detailed rules for river crossing and bridge building topped with a very clever and interesting combat system. Now for my taste all of these descriptors draws my attention and interest. I play wargames, often solitaire, to educate myself on the details of interesting military situations that take me beyond what a book can achieve. WTF 1940, hits all of these themes beautifully.

Topic and Scale
When you play a game such as the old AH France 1940 you are playing an operational level wargame that covers the German invasion and conquest of France. If you play the old AH game using the German scenario card 2 and the French scenario card 11 (from memory, so I could be off here), you are examining the historical balance of forces. If the German player uses the Mainstein plan, the German panzer spearhead traverses the thinly held Ardennes and successfully crosses the Meuse river at Sedan and Dinant. WTF 1940 covers at the grand tactical level the river crossing assault at Dinant that features the German 7th and 5th Panzer divisions. The 7th Panzer Division is led by General Rommel in the campaign that established him as one of the premier armor commanders of World War II.

For those who are not familiar with German panzer doctrine, a Panzer division is not technically an armored division, but a mobile combined arms division that contains tanks. The distinction is important as the blitzkrieg required that these spearhead units could deal with a multiplicity of environments and combat situations, so while the tanks get all the press this game nicely demonstrates the importance of how infantry, artillery, and especially the combat engineers enabled this critical breakthrough that sealed France's fate in the 1940 campaign.

Befitting a grand tactical wargame (scale of portrayal between operational and tactical) the scale is 1 mile (1.6 km) per hex with units depicting mostly battalions, with the all important tank and specialty units broken down into companies (called small units) in some cases. This allows for the players to create tactical compositions that nicely portray the level and types of decisions that division commanders, such as Rommel, made during this battle to create a schwerpunkt (breakthrough zone). I like this scale for a grand tactical WWII game as it allows for the effects of direct and indirect fire to smoothly integrate with the classic zone of control (ZOC) concept. Essentially when you move adjacent to an enemy unit you are within range of and effected by direct fire and indirect fire (mortars/ light artillery) reducing the abstraction that ZOCs often represent. As a simplification you can imagine that each hex can reasonably allow for a regimental unit that comprises 3 battalion units in the game. Overall the scale works very well for the situation and the historical narrative of this battle.

Graphics
My first impression was that the map is very well done, particularly the integration of critical game information and tracks with the arena of combat (map). Anyone who has played my games knows that I like to put as much information as possible on my maps as that is where everyones attention is directed during play. Olivier Revenu (proprietor, graphic artist, and game designer) obviously shares that view and gets my highest marks for the look and functionality of his map.

The counters use traditional NATO symbology with the small very important armor units illustrated with the appropriate tank silhouette. The units use a set of colors and stripes to allow you to at a glance to determine command affiliation, size, and of course strength, quality, maneuver ability, and in the case of some German tanks weight.

Order of Battle
While some seem to spend most of their time arguing about what constitutes a wargame, an historical simuiation, or a conflict simulation, etc., I know a wargame when I see one and stay out of these kinds of useless discussions. That said, this is a wargame with what appears to be a well researched order of battle. I am sure that there is some expert out there who can find fault with some detail, but for the rest of us, you can learn a great deal from seeing who was at the battle, how they were organized, and how they are rated in WTF 1940. Oiivier has kindly put a glossary that translates the historical French designations into their English equivalents more familiar to an American audience.

Rules
I found the rules to be clean and straightforward. You should check with the CSW game page as there is some minor errata and a few counter corrections that you should be aware of, but nothing significant. I am sure that the crowd who can generate questions around the meaning of an Exit sign would disagree, but these are solid readable rules with more than sufficient detail to play the game as published.

Game System
Olivier claims that the system was inspired by a Simulations Workshop DTP titled, Rommel at the Meuse. I am unfamiliar with this title so I cannot speak to this connection, but for me it has the feel of Berg's Panzergruppe Guderian which is a very good thing. Anyone who knows my Empire of the Sun, France 1944 designs know that I like HQ activation systems and this one falls into that general category. After setting up the forces the Germans randomly picks five Battleplan chits (out of a possible 10) that create a secret victory point schedule for the game. These are a blend of objectives with a time schedule, so the French player will know the gist of what the Germans are trying to achieve without the fine details until the games conclusion. I really liked this touch and as I played this game solitaire I picked the chits and did not look at them so I maneuvered through the game with a nice level of hidden information that added some interesting tension to the play.

In a nutshell each turn begins with the replenishment of tactical chits followed by a limited amount of German activations, followed by the French moving all some or none of their forces, with the turn finishing with the German's moving the remainder of their forces (excluding the ones that moved in the initial activation segment). An activation consists of having a hex worth of units (essentially a regiment) being activated to either immediately attack an adjacent hex of enemy units or moving and conducting combat at the end of their movement. A combat consists with up to 3 battalions of units for each hex or in rough/ ridge terrain situations, 2 battalions, engaging in a firefight.

I really like the combat system where you establish an attacking and defending hexes combat factors as augmented by tactical chits, indirect fire (artillery units),modified by terrain factors then subtract the enemies unit quality, roll dice and determine a value from less than 0 to a positive number. Based on a positive value you draw from one of three categories of damage chits that are initially unknown to your opponent. I really like this element of the system. Did I do no damage, light damage, or is the unit wrecked? It usually takes another activation to determine what happened, very cool, especially for solo play where I did not look until the result would be revealed per the rules.

For a detailed combat walk through see this example posted by the designer: http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@@.1ddbae90/4

As this is a battle about crossing a major river (Meuse) the rules have some really interesting rules for destroying extant bridges, crossing with Engineers, finding crossing points then rowing across, and finally building pontoon bridges (two types). Some of the German tanks are too heavy for either of the 8 ton bridges and have to wait until the single 16 ton bridge has been built before they can cross, an important historical detail usually left on the cutting room floor. i found the entire early turns of the game a really fun set of tactical puzzles that had to be solved in order to get the German tanks rolling forward. Then there are rules for observed artillery fire and a few other nice historical touches that I will leave you to discover for yourself.

All in all the system is clean, plays fairly quickly once you know what is going on, and offers numerous interesting mini battles that generate a plausible and satisfying set of challenges that need to be solved in order to win out over your opponent.

If you want more details on how the game looks and plays, here is a link from the CSW game page where the designer walks you through the basics of the game system far better than I could ever do: http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@@.1ddbae90/25

Balance
I have played the game three times so far, all in solo mode. The historical situation is by its basic nature unbalanced as the Germans brought a gun to this knife fight. I have no idea if it is balanced for competitive play, so I would recommend that the stronger player take the French. That said, the French have enough units to win this battle, I just do not have enough experience to say much about balance. As a solo experience it is most excellent.

Bottomline
This design matches up to any boxed game on this topic. As the title stated this magazine game punches above its weight as a well designed and fascinating historical wargame. It follows in the best traditions that I grew up with where the game system, historical insights, and feel make for a compelling wargame narrative. If you can get your hands on a copy or if you have a copy, I strongly suggest that you break it out and play it. Well worth the price of admission.



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Eric Walters
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"...the art of manoeuvering armies...an art which none may master by the light of nature. but to which, if he is to attain success, a man must serve a long apprenticeship." -- G.F.R. Henderson
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Mark, this excellent review puts me in a kind of quandary/dilemma. Do I want you to keep designing wargames/refining previously published titles, or do I want you to review them? This is a marvelous description of the game and definitely one which makes gamers like me want to play it. I purchased one copy but the experience made me get a second one in case I wear out the original....
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Mark Herman
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ericmwalters wrote:
Mark, this excellent review puts me in a kind of quandary/dilemma. Do I want you to keep designing wargames/refining previously published titles, or do I want you to review them? This is a marvelous description of the game and definitely one which makes gamers like me want to play it. I purchased one copy but the experience made me get a second one in case I wear out the original....

Let me relieve you of the quandary, I am going to continue designing games, but every so often a game hits me a certain way.
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Lawrence Hung
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MarkHerman wrote:

Let me relieve you of the quandary, I am going to continue designing games, but every so often a game hits me a certain way.

A game that can hit Mark Herman? It must be good. Fortunate enough I ordered the game and it arrived a while ago. Battles magazine is now going without a subscription model, which in my view, is much better suited to the French style of doing things.
 
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L. SCHMITT
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Quote:
Battles magazine is now going without a subscription model, which in my view, is much better suited to the French style of doing things.
So false and so disrespectful...

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Geoffrey Noble
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Agreed that is a really crass comment to make Lawrence.
Engage brain before speaking please
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Mark Herman
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Please take this somewhere else, it's off topic.
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Geoffrey Noble
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Understood Mark - unfortunately Lawrence posted here hence the responses.
You cant disrespect a nation and expect no response.

That is my last word.

As to the game itself I am currently reading the rules and it appears to be a little gem. Too many games about the crossings imply the Germans had a walk over they were far from that.

Will get it on the table in a couple of weeks and hopefully report back
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Lawrence Hung
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But why is it disrespectful? France is a great nation that I admire for so long. She has its strengths and she has strong and weak suit. I don't think Battles going non-subscription model has any problem. Just the better.
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Geoffrey Noble
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Lawrence cease and respect Marks wishes
 
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Mark Herman
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Lawrence Hung wrote:
But why is it disrespectful? France is a great nation that I admire for so long. She has its strengths and she has strong and weak suit. I don't think Battles going non-subscription model has any problem. Just the better.

Please stop, France is one of the great nations of this world and none of this is adding any value to discussing this great game.

Mark
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Robert Stuart
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santino el cato wrote:
Quote:
Battles magazine is now going without a subscription model, which in my view, is much better suited to the French style of doing things.
So false and so disrespectful...


But M'Sieur! This was a compliment, yes?
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Michael Lange
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Argh, it appears Issue #10 is unavailable for purchase and they no longer offer a subscription model. Hopefully a reprint will be available.
 
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olivier revenu
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(?) B#10 is still available. Not for long though. You encountered a problem on our site ?
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Kev.
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MarkHerman wrote:
Lawrence Hung wrote:
But why is it disrespectful? France is a great nation that I admire for so long. She has its strengths and she has strong and weak suit. I don't think Battles going non-subscription model has any problem. Just the better.

Please stop, France is one of the great nations of this world and none of this is adding any value to discussing this great game.

Mark
Great Review Mark, Did you glue the dozen or so corrected counters on the originals or make new ones?

This one sounds interesting.
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Mark Herman
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hipshot wrote:
MarkHerman wrote:
Lawrence Hung wrote:
But why is it disrespectful? France is a great nation that I admire for so long. She has its strengths and she has strong and weak suit. I don't think Battles going non-subscription model has any problem. Just the better.

Please stop, France is one of the great nations of this world and none of this is adding any value to discussing this great game.

Mark
Great Review Mark, Did you glue the dozen or so corrected counters on the originals or make new ones?

This one sounds interesting.

I only fixed some of them and I printed the counters on labels then stuck them on. The counter errata is not impactful from my experience.

Mark
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M St
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Nitpick unrelated to WTF1940: Pretty sure Panzergruppe Guderian was a Dunnigan design.
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Mark Herman
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M St wrote:
Nitpick unrelated to WTF1940: Pretty sure Panzergruppe Guderian was a Dunnigan design.

Better nitpick, I was there, don't believe everything you read.

Mark
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Mike Welker
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MarkHerman wrote:
M St wrote:
Nitpick unrelated to WTF1940: Pretty sure Panzergruppe Guderian was a Dunnigan design.

Better nitpick, I was there, don't believe everything you read.

Mark
Interesting. Did Dunnigan maintain a cadre of ghost-designers (much like some author who have ghost-writers in the back room, er, in the closet, so to speak).
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MarkHerman wrote:
M St wrote:
Nitpick unrelated to WTF1940: Pretty sure Panzergruppe Guderian was a Dunnigan design.

Better nitpick, I was there, don't believe everything you read.

Mark

Sounds like an interesting story for a different thread.
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David Dockter
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Well, this review sent me in search of this game. Managed to a score an expensive copy on eBay. Waiting for it to arrive...and get played.
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Chris Buhl
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Herr Dr wrote:
Well, this review sent me in search of this game. Managed to a score an expensive copy on eBay. Waiting for it to arrive...and get played.

Your comment on the Wargames on my Tavle geek list made me want to read this review. That in turn made me want to play this game, an oddity since this battle has never held any interest for me. Until now.
 
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David Dockter
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That review cost me a hundred bucks!
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