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Subject: DUNKIRK: France 1940 over the Holidays! rss

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D Bryant
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Hello! Doug Bryant here, designer of DUNKIRK: FRANCE 1940, coming soon from Worthington Publishing. Our game is in production at this point, following our Kickstarter campaign this past summer. We hope to see the game in print sometime in March!

Over the recent Holiday break, I had a chance to play a couple of games of DUNKIRK. The first, which I will detail in this session report, was against my nephew, who was in town for his annual visit. He has play-tested the game in several of its various iterations during its design and development phase and is familiar with its concepts and mechanics.

For our game, he took the German side. Eager to give his uncle a probably well-deserved comeuppance, he chose one of the German starting Strategy cards focused on Paris. In DUNKIRK: FRANCE 1940, the German player has a choice of six different strategy cards from which to choose at the start of the game. Two of the six focus on the Drive to the Coast; two focus on a Divide and Conquer approach, attempting to destroy units and/or capture key cities along the middle axis of the board; two others focus on a march toward Paris and its surroundings.

The Paris strategy cards are two of the more challenging for the German player to select, given that the two Paris hexes are in the far corner of the board -- the longest distance away from the German start areas of any possible objectives in the game. However, the very fact that they are so challenging can, in an odd way, enhance the German player's ability to mask his true intentions -- a helpful skill in DUNKIRK: FRANCE 1940.

I have uploaded some photos from our game here on the DUNKIRK: FRANCE 1940 BGG page. You can see them in the Images section. I will refer to them at points throughout this session report. Please note that the photos show pre-production components. The board and player cards shown are near-production level; however, the labels on the blocks are my play-test kit labels. (The production ones look about a million times better!)

During set-up, I positioned the Allied forces in their set-up areas, while also placing the blocks for the neutral nations (the Dutch and Belgians) in their cities (and Eben Emael) as required. With the Belgians, I placed their slightly weaker blocks in the fort and the border cities, placing their stronger ones farther back from the German border.

(For some images of the game start, see the photos “View from the Sea”, “Allied side at Game Start”, and “Allied close up”.)

At the start of any game of DUNKIRK: FRANCE 1940, the German player gets to select a Command Chit of one of his two Army Groups. (I have explained the Command Chit / Formation Organization mechanic in a separate post here on the game’s BGG page.) My nephew decided on selecting a chit for Army Group B, which starts at the “North” edge of the board, near the Dutch / Belgian border – farther away from the Paris hexes than Army Group A.

My nephew’s choice of Army Group B to start the game was an interesting one, as I have had several playtesters tell me that they feel it is more beneficial to always select Army Group A first. Why? Those playtesters believe that it is important for Army Group A to enter the Ardennes forest before the French might activate the French 9th Army and move it into the Ardennes.

However, other playtesters have told me that they find starting with Army Group B to be very beneficial, as it immediately creates uncertainty for the Allied player: Was Army Group B selected because the German player plans to make a power drive to the coast? Or was it all a feint intended to obscure the real targets in the center or south of the board?

In our game, my nephew moved Army Group B across the Dutch border, engaging the defenders of the border cities. He also crossed the frontier into Belgium, attacking some of the front-line defenders. His forces would eventually overwhelm the over-matched Dutch and Belgian blocks, but not before they made a statement in defense. The Germans would end up losing three infantry steps to Dutch and Belgian fire during the initial Game Turn.

You see, in DUNKIRK: FRANCE 1940, the neutral nations have a real ability to mount a moderately effective initial defense. They will always – provided the German wishes to devote sufficient resources – be defeated by the superior Wehrmacht troops. However, the German player – operating on a tight time-table in this six-turn game – has to decide where to allocate precious battle resources in the context of the overall campaign. Too few devoted to the conquest of the neutrals can turn those nations’ blocks from speed bumps to toll booths; too many spent there will mean a tougher time when squaring off against the French and BEF forces.

After completing Army Group B’s activation and battles, my nephew drew the first Command Chit out of the opaque container. (I use a cloth bag; players can use any type of opaque container to hold and mix the Command Chits each turn.) The first draw from the bag – and the second Command Chit of the game - was Army Group A! My nephew had been granted a nice boost to his efforts: back-to-back German activations!

In DUNKIRK: FRANCE 1940, the Command Chit bag is “seeded” each turn with the Command Chits of the formations that are in play that turn. For the first two game turns, the German player has TWO Command Chits for each of his two formations. These “bonus” German Command Chits help simulate the initial aggressive operational pace that the Germans displayed in the early days of the France 1940 campaign. For Game Turns 3—6, however, each German formation has only one Command Chit in the bag.

For the Allies, not all Command Chits begin the game “in play”. At the start, only the French 9th, French 1st, and the BEF Command Chits are in use. The French 2nd and 7th (along with the neutral nations) come into play on Turn 2, with the French Reserve Army coming into play on Turn 3.

My nephew used his Army Group A activation to push into the Ardennes with several blocks. He also engaged the Belgians at the border city of Liege.

Following Army Group A’s movement and battles, the third Chit was drawn: it was the French 9th! I used that activation to push some elements of the 9th into the Ardennes in an effort to slow the German advance there.

I was fortunate to draw the French 1st Army with the next Command Chit. I chose to push them forward into Belgium, given that the Germans had crossed the Belgian border. (In DUNKIRK: FRANCE 1940, neither the French nor BEF blocks may enter Belgium or Holland until the Germans have first violated the border of said nation(s).) [See “Germans Turn 1” in the photo section for a shot of where play stood following my moves with the French 1st Army.]

Later in Turn 1, my nephew used his Army Group A activation to make a strong attack against the French 2nd Army near Sedan. Although the 2nd’s Command Chit was not in play, the units of any such “not yet in play” formation are always able to defend themselves if attacked.

Such a situation occurred when the Germans hit Sedan with a strong infantry block and a strong armor block – each with three steps, the infantry at Battle Rating (i.e. Firepower) of 3 and the armor at 5. Note that in DUNKIRK: FRANCE 1940, players use ten-sided dice to resolve combat, with a zero equaling ten.

Of one benefit to the French defenders was the fact that at least one attacking block (actually, both in this particular battle) entered the Sedan hex by crossing a bridged hex side. This provided the French defenders with the right to award one of the two defending blocks there with one extra die at the block's current Battle Rating. Had the attack been a River Assault (i.e. at least one block crossed a non-bridged river hex side to attack), both blocks would have been entitled to one extra die for their defense roll.

After the blocks were flipped face up, my nephew and I both had to decide if we wanted to use a Battle card for this battle. The Attacker in a DUNKIRK: FRANCE 1940 battle hex must make the first declaration of a battle card, revealing the card being played to the opponent. My nephew, realizing the importance of a breakthrough in this sector, reached into his hand of cards (players are dealt a certain number at the start of each turn) and pulled out an Air Strike card! The one he selected was fairly strong: 55 – meaning two dice at five or less to score hits.

However, the French were not going to tolerate such abuse from the Luftwaffe . . . not this time anyway! Seeing my nephew’s choice of Battle card, I countered with an “Armee de l’Aire” card. This card negates a German airstrike when played! [See the “Air Strike Thwarted” photo in the images section . . . if you listen closely while looking at it, I’m sure you can still hear my nephew’s loud grumblings as he realized his planes had been driven off from this battle!]

Without air cover, the German assault was only partially effective. Beaten down to one step per block, the French managed to hold – for now.

Turn 1 concluded with the Germans having made moderate progress across the entire front – and me still trying to decipher what their actual target would be!

During Turn 2, the play at one point saw me make an attack using two blocks of the French 1st Army near Gembloux. [See the “French 1st Army at Gembloux” photo in the images section.) That attack cost the French an entire block and nearly the elimination of a second. However, it proved to be worth it, as it chewed up some German mechanized and armor steps – very valuable commodities that the German player in DUNKIRK: FRANCE 1940 is always hard-pressed to replenish.

Play continued on, with the Germans making steady progress against the Dutch and finally creating some breakthroughs in the gap between Cambrai and Reims. My nephew advanced as fast as he could, still hewing closely to the Sedan-Cambrai-Amiens axis – and in so doing convincing me that he just might be trying to cut France in two!

With the arrival of the French Reserve army on Turn 3, I made the decision that I simply had to commit those blocks to the defense of Paris on the off-chance that my nephew’s drive down the middle was a feint. I still had not decisively committed the BEF (and was, at one point, seriously considering evacuating them by use of a Dynamo! Event card I had drawn). The French 1st had been beaten up pretty badly as it attempted to plug holes and make spoiling attacks here and there. The only force close enough and strong enough to mount a defense of the French capital was the Reserve army. On their activation, I held my breath and moved them toward Paris.

My gamble was rewarded during Turns 3 and 4, as my nephew began to move Army Group A’s blocks off of the central axis of advance and made a sudden turn towards Reims. With the French 2nd and 9th armies in tatters at this point, the road to Reims and Chalons was clear. Army Group A took both of them with only limited opposition. With more of Army Group A’s blocks moving toward the Marne area, the charade had ended and I knew the Germans were on the hunt for some comfortable Parisian lodgings!

During the rest of Turn 4 and then during Turn 5, I moved the BEF into attack against the flank of Army Group A’s advance. The battles were intense and succeeded in slowing down some of the German’s stronger units.

By Turn 6 – the final turn of the game – my nephew managed to engage one of the two Paris hexes. However, the French Reserve Army blocks there held – denying the Germans crucial Victory Points.

When the game ended, my nephew revealed his chosen Strategy Card. Each card lists Main Objectives and Bonus Objectives for the German player, each worth a varying number of Victory Points. In DUNKIRK: FRANCE 1940, the German player needs to accumulate ten Victory Points or more to win. While earning points for Main and Bonus objectives, the German player can also lose points from the loss of German blocks and/or (in some cases) the evacuation of BEF steps via a Dynamo operation.

As we tallied the points, we saw that my nephew had come up just short: he earned two Victory Points each for capturing Reims and Chalons, and another two each for “Shattering” (i.e. 3 or more formation blocks out of play at the end of the game) both the French 9th and 2nd Armies. However, the German failure to capture one of the two Paris hexes (worth three VPs on his chosen Strategy Card) nor complete any of the three Bonus Objectives (each worth one VP) left him at 8 Victory Points – two short of a win!

I hope this session report has given you a flavor of the game, along with providing some small insights into my design thinking and the game mechanics and rules that are in use in DUNKIRK: FRANCE 1940!
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