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Subject: Somme 1918 in 2018. rss

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Joe Mclaughlin
Australia
Thorneside
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This review of Somme 1918 is based on 1.5 plays of the campaign scenario (we stopped the first game half way through as it looked like the Allies had already lost).

Somme 1918 is the second in what will hopefully be a series of WWI campaigns using the same system. It was preceded by Marne 1918: Friedensturm and will hopefully soon be followed by Italia 1917-1918: A Farewell to Arms .

I believe that Somme 1918 is the only game that gives the whole of Operation Michael, the first of the German 1918 offensives. SPI's The Kaiser's Battle only covers a portion of the offensive in terms of time and area. Other games cover the whole of the Western Front at this time (eg: Kaiserschlacht: 1918) or the Marne offensives (eg Rock of the Marne).

Scale

Somme has a hex scale of 3km and the turns are 3 days. During the initial turns each turn has 3 rounds of player turns, so it is a daily scale but as the tempo of the offensive slows each player just has one round in a 3 day turn.

Units are Divisions and Regiments/Brigades. High quality divisions appear as 3 regiments/brigade counters all the others as a single division counter.

Combat system

Somme 1918 has an interesting combat system. To begin with it is just an odds based CRT that uses 2d6 to give a wide range of results. There are many column shifts available, unit quality is very important but national doctrine, terrain, supply, tanks and Stosstruppen also change the odds

The results are a number for the attacker and defender, so for example a roll of 7 at 3:1 gives a result of A5D5. Attacker losses are always taken as step losses, defender losses are steps and/or retreats, whether or not to retreat is a defender choice, all pretty straight forward.

Regiments/Brigades have 2 steps and each step absorbs two loss points, so an entire elite division will absorb 12 loss points, good divisions have 3 steps and each step takes 3 losses so overall the division takes 9 loss points, average divisions have 2 steps at 3 loss points each for a total of 6

However, in addition to the 2d6 each player also rolls another d6, this is for “tactical coordination”. This result determines how much the attacker may advance and the defender retreat. Sometimes it may also allow the defender to move other units in response to the combat. Lastly, if either player gets a modified tactical coordination roll of 0 or less yet a further d6 is rolled to determine a ‘misunderstood order’ penalty. So a single combat outcome uses between 4 and 6 dice.

All in all the number of dice involved in a combat means that the range of outcomes is many. We did not find the process to be slow, after a few combats it became second nature. I can see that players who like more predictability in their combats might find this system too varied, for my part I enjoyed it even though it caused me great frustration at times – you attack at 6:1 and roll high on the 2d6 to inflict A0D10 but he rolls a 6 and slips away in a retreat while you roll a 1 and your troops don’t advance at all!

I did think that perhaps when a defender reduces his losses by retreating that this should also reduce the attacker losses, which makes general sense to me. As it is, the attacker always takes full losses irregardless of whether the defender stands or retreats. The game balance is based on the system as is however; any such tinkering with the combat system would tip the game strongly in favour of the Germans.

Artillery

Somme 1918 has a separate sub-system for artillery which is very important, as it should be for a WWI game. Artillery units represent the Corp and Army level batteries – the heavy stuff, divisional artillery is abstracted into the standard combat. Artillery fires before the combat role, both the attacker and the defender can choose to commit artillery; it can be used for counter battery to cancel opposing artillery or against the infantry to inflict losses before the main combat (thereby changing the odds).

Artillery moves slowly, corps at half the speed of infantry and army units at a quarter speed. The German advance soon outstrips its artillery support, in our game some of it caught up in the mid game when the offensive stalled for a few turns but mostly they had to fight without it.

I like the artillery system in the game, it was important and when you had to attack without it against defender who had some it was painful.

Stosstruppen

What is a 1918 game without Stosstruppen? In Somme 1918 Stoss are represented by a counter that can be attached to any regiment (high quality troops). They do not have any combat strength and cannot exist by themselves. They provide a column shift on the CRT, a plus on the tactical coordination roll and the ability to advance after combat through zocs. They can be taken as losses and sometime the CRT requires one to be eliminated in addition to the numeric result.

The game shows the historical development of using Stoss at this time, only one army on this front used them to proper effect, other armies used them up in frontal assaults to little benefit. At the start of the game the Germans can only use the Stoss benefits within an 8 hex range of the army HQ that has the von Hutier counter on it. If the Germans draw the right events the will slowly be able to improve the use of the Stoss in other sectors as well.

Tanks.

Again in a 1918 game you want to see a tank or two. Very unusually for a WWI game both sides have access to tanks. Although this game ends on April 8, the world's first tank to tank battle happened on April 24th 1918 at Villers Bretonneux which is in the center of this map. (The sole surviving German WWI A7V tank, “Mephisto”, took part in this battle and now lives in my state museum, brought back to Australia as a trophy after the war).

The Entente has both British and French tanks, the quality of the different designs is represented. They provide a shift for the attacker, in defence they just add a small strength and can absorb losses. Entente tanks are units on the board, German Tanks are event chits that can be played once for a column shift.

Historically the Germans committed their tanks on the first day of the offensive 21 March either side of St Quentin and then not again till April 24th. In Somme 1918 the German tank chits do not go into the cup until turn 4 (March 30). I suppose if you want to recreate the historical event you could house rule that the Germans to use them on turn 1

Event chits

Somme 1918 uses a small range of event chits, players draw 3 each turn and new ones are added to each player’s cup on set turns to reflect historical events. The importance of events varies widely, some are no event “All quiet on the Western Front”, others for example may add another air unit to the player’s force or allow for a “surprise attack” where artillery can’t be used.

One event is central to the game and history, the Doullens Conference. Historically this conference was triggered by this battle and it resulted in a major change for the Entente powers, Marshal Foch was appointed as the Generalissimo, supreme commander of both the French and British armies.

In the game, as it was historically, the French and British are not coordinated at the start. Rules prevent then working together and require the French to maintain a continuous front. This can all change but only if Foch becomes the leader.

If and when the Doullens conference is called is vital to the Entente player, it could swing the game. Odds are that it will be drawn but even then their troubles are not over. Each turn after the event is drawn there is a sequence to see if a Generalissimo is elected. In our game it took two turn for the conference to arrive at a decision. The conference could elect Foch, Petain or Joffre, each of these has different effects on how the French and British can work together. Who is elected is based on the victory point chits (see below) that the Germans have captured so far. The better the Germans are doing the more the risk that the conference will panic and elect Petain or Joffre. Foch remains the most likely outcome and was so in our game.

Victory Points

Victory in Somme 1918 is determined by the number of victory points the Germans have achieved at the end of the game, there is also a sudden death victory for capturing both Amiens and Arras.

While there some set vps to be gained, most are based on chits. Across the board there are 26 locations that may award victory points for capture. These are divided into three levels of importance, indicated by 1, 2 or 3 stars. 1 star locations are the easiest to capture and so on. There are 26 chits divided into the same three levels, each location has a chit placed face down on it. 1 star chits are worth between 0-2 vps, 3 star chits are worth between 5-9vps. When the Germans capture a location they take the chit but they do not look at its value, so both sides are never exactly sure of the vp count although the general trend is known. This creates a good tension, especially for the German player, “have I done enough or do I need to push a bit further?”.

These same chits are also used for the Doullens conference. Most of the chits have a picture of Foch, Petain or Joffre on them. There are more Foch chits in the 1 star set but less so in the 2 and 3 star sets. If the conference occurs all the captured vp chits are put into a cup and 5 are drawn out and revealed. If any one of the generals has more chits they are elected, otherwise the conference continues. In our game the first round of the conference had 2 votes for Foch, 2 for Petain and 1 for Joffre so the conference continued to the next turn.

Rules quality

Somme 1918 is designed and produced in France, unusually the game comes as an English language game. French rules are available as a pdf. My opponent reads French so we had both sets of rules available.

Overall the rules are good, the system hangs together and there are few ambiguities. Very little errata has been required. What we did find is that there were subtle differences between the French and English versions, not intentional changes just issues of wording and clarity. Generally where there was a difference we went with the French version as we thought that is the language the game was designed in. If you only use the English rules I can’t see that there would be any problems. We kept some notes, if I get a chance I may post something about the differences that we found.

Game balance

How important is game balance in a fairly large and detailed wargame? Depends on your approach I guess, everyone likes to have a reasonable shot at winning but I play these games as much for the experience as for the contest. That being said, you can’t really comment on play balance after 1.5 plays anyway.

In our two games the Germans had the advantage both times. Their achievement in the second game exceeded the historical result but not by so much that it seemed unrealistic. After we finished the second game we both thought there were different things we could try with the Entente. My guess is that the game is probably balanced enough to achieve a draw fairly often

Solo play


Somme 1918 would play as well solo as most hex and counter wargames. The unknown vps and the Doullens conference would work especially well for a solo player. In fact the only player hidden information is the unplayed event chits in your hand and I don’t think that would be much of an issue.

Overall assessment.


We both liked the game, we would play it again and we are keen to try Italia when it is released.

I felt that the combat system had a unique feel and produced something that felt like WWI with infiltration tactics.

The game includes a lot of history, the development of Stoss usage during the battle, the different doctrines of the British and French armies, the differences between Petain and Foch doctrine and the importance of the Doullens conference. I play wargames because I love history, when a wargame includes as much historical flavour as this one does it makes it more enjoyable for me.

The game has a lot of luck elements, multiple die rolls in combat, event chits, vp chits and the critical Doullens conference. We were both comfortable with that but I do think some gamers might not like this approach, each to their own.

The game has a high counter density for the Germans, ½ inch counters and hexes with many adjacent stacks. I resorted to trying tweezers at times, something I rarely do. I accept that as the price of a detailed simulation game but again it may put some off.

The German turns were much more complicated and lengthy that the Entente turns. We played ftf but a lot of the German turns were planned between sessions to save time. The Entente player will spend most of the game trying to fall back slowly and preserve a line, in the last few turns they may launch some local counter attacks for key locations. The game is tense but the player experience is quite different, this is not a thrust and counter thrust game. The Entente player needs to be comfortable with playing defensively.

We did not try the scenarios but I think that some of them would be very good, providing shorter games that cover some of the highlights of the battle.

So, if you are interested in WWI, if you like moderately complex operational games and if you are comfortable with a level of randomness in wargame design, Somme 1918 is worth checking out. It has been out for a few years (2012) but is still available on the Nuts website at the time of writing.
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Terry Lewis
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Great review! What about including some pics?

Yes, would definitely like to see you post differences between rules based on translation. Same for the first game in the series.

Thanks for the tip about Italia 1917-1918: A Farewell to Arms . I will definitely want to add it to my collection to join the first two in the series!!

Here is my proverbial two cents worth on the issue of balance when it comes to historical conflict simulations or "war games." "Wargames" are about historical "feel" for me rather than any sense of playing a more or less "balanced game." If an actual historical situation -- after analysis -- was determined to be roughly 55/45 then I would hope the designers would strive to build that into their design. Likewise, if an actual historical situation -- after analysis -- was determined to be roughly 75/25 [something along the lines of "Case White," Germany's 1939 invasion of Poland] then I would hope the designers would strive to build that into their design. Both of these designs would then be an "honest" interpretation of history. I look at every HCS as an attempt by the design team to tell a "story" about a slice of history. It is rather like reading a book, except one gets to manipulate the flow of events within a framework that is as historically accurate as possible, given the overall design parameters and other practical constraints. Like books, some simulations are better at telling the story than are others."
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Jim F
United Kingdom
Birmingham
West Midlands
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Who knew trench warfare could be such fun?
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Ashwin in front of Tiger 131
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This is the game that got me into WW1. In our last game the Germans finished without a VP, so it’s definitely possible for them to lose.

 
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