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Chris Montgomery
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Marne 1918: Friedensturm
Old-Fashioned Hex-and-Counter Gaming
In a European Package




Introduction

Marne 1918: Friedensturm ("Marne 1918") is Thomas Pouchin's and Nicolas Rident's incarnation of the Western Front during World War I from approximately the end of May, 1918 until early August, 1918. These turbulent months resulted in breaking the Western Front deadlock and returned the war to a "mobile" war (rather than trench warfare).

Overall, I found Marne 1918 to be a traditional hex-and-counter game primarily suited for grognards with an appreciation for, and a desire to simulate the conflict of, this operational period of World War I. Nonetheless, the rules bring some very novel and nuanced changes to the typical hex-and-counter fare (see Mechanics, below). Additionally, based on several plays of the game, the scenarios appear to be extremely well-balanced (more so than any game I have ever played).

This game is strongly recommended for grognards with an operational World War I interest, as well as seasoned hex-and-counter wargamers looking for a fresh, nuanced approach to hex-and-counter rules. Consequently, it appeals to an admittedly small group; but for those in that group, Marne 1918 is a treat worth experiencing.

Publication Status

Published by Hexasim, Marne 1918 is out of production right now. Copies may still be purchased from sellers on e-bay and any FOLGS with copies remaining in their inventory. As of posting, further print runs are not scheduled.

Historical Context

Marne 1918 Friedensturm ("Marne 1918") simulates the German offensives near Paris at the end of World War I in mid-1918. This period was the beginning of the end of the Great War, and during this period the German High Command had--for the first time since 1914--mustered superior manpower against the Entente thanks to the defeat of Russia and the rise of the communist revolution. Germany's eastern divisions were quickly sent by road, rail, and foot to the western front resulting in a significant numerical advantage for Germany. Even so, internal pressures within Germany demanded an aggressive course of action: the population was at near-starvation levels and the government was bankrupt. Moreover, the United States had entered the war after the sinking of the Lusitania and its first un-European-like over-sized divisions were arriving to the western front in short order.

So it was, Germany needed a quick end to the war. The 1918 offensives were designed by the German High Command to end the war by (hopefully) capturing Paris, breaking the French national will, and forcing France to surrender, or at least securing a white peace from the Entente. The goal was to end the war in a matter of months. Failure in these offensives likely meant failure for Germany.

The Kaiser's generals launched two offensives - Operation Michael, and Operation Blucher (pronounced BLOO-ker). Operation Michael was launched in the extreme northern reaches of France and was fought primarily against the combined forces of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the French Army. Operation Blucher was launched along the German trench lines from Soissons to Reims, with the general goal of breaking the French army and hopefully obtaining a breakthrough to Paris and ending the war.

Due to these offensives, the trench deadlock was broken and the western front reverted to its original status as a "mobile war." Ultimately, Germany's bid to end the war failed and Germany surrendered on November 11, 1918.

Experience

I no longer enjoy reading reviews of games from people who have not experienced the game sufficiently. Though I have been guilty of doing so in the past, I am trying to be better about that. Consequently, I have valid credentials for this review. I have been playing wargames for over fifteen (15) years.

Additionally, I have played Marne 1918 four times. I played Scenario 1 - Gneisenau twice, Scenario 2 - Blucher once, and Scenario 4 - Foch Attacks! once. You can read some AARs I have written about these games, here:

Scenario 1 1st Play
Scenario 1 2nd Play
Scenario 2

Scenario 2 was the longest game, taking 18 hours over the course of two days (and it's not the campaign game!). It was easily the most satisfying gaming experience I have had in quite some time.

All of that being said, I DID NOT attempt the use of the Advanced Rules, which were written for the campaign game. Considering the three (3) turns of Scenario 2 took eighteen (18) hours, I don't necessarily want to know how long the twenty-two (22) turns of the campaign game would take.

Components



I rate the components, overall, neither high nor low. The quality was acceptable for a game of its type. In some areas, such as the additional content, the game excelled.

Counters. The counters are standard fare with various colors based upon nationality. Units are represented as one division per counter, or, in the case of elite units, one regiment per counter. Here is a close-up of the counters:



And here is a look at one of the two counter sheets:



The primary drawback of the counters is that you need good lighting to play. As you might be able to tell from the above counter sheets, the Germans are represented by a grey-green color for one-counter divisional elements, and this color is annoyingly similar to the light green color for American divisions and regiments as well as the light blue color of the French divisions. Nonetheless, the counter information is clearly laid out and does not clutter the counter face. Additionally, though it has no effect upon play in the basic game (and perhaps not even in the Advanced Rules), some of the counters are still designated with NATO symbols for mountain divisions, marines, and cavalry.

The Map. This is probably one of the best-looking maps I have seen in an operational-level hex and counter game in a long time. The map is made of good, solid, card stock. It is not mounted. The images on the map clearly show major and minor rivers, forests, craters, trenches, slopes, and villages and towns. In fact, many areas on the map are noted as "points of interest" even though it has no effect upon play. The map could only be better if it were mounted.

I will caution the new player, though, that it does take a little time to sort out what some of the images on the map mean, and the map can be confusing at first. Once past the initial preview, though, the map is very good both functionally and visually.

Here's a close up of a portion of the map:



Just to illustrate the scope of this game, here is a photograph which appears to be a set up for the title homage, Scenario 3: Operation Friedensturm. Note that this is NOT the Campaign Game:



Basic Rules and Advanced Rules Booklets. The booklets are black-and-white with the Basic Rules coming in at around 24 pages of dense type. This is one of the places where the intent of the designer and developer does not come across as well. Since the game was originally written and produced in French, all of the printed matter had to be translated into English. In many places, the translation leads to perplexing results. In some cases, entire rules were left out. See the section on Criticism, below, for more about this.

The Advanced Rules along with the Historical Notes and Design notes are included in the second booklet. This booklet is a real treat, since nearly half of it is devoted exclusively to a summary of the actual history of the various operations as well as design notes to explain why the designers went the direction they did. The advanced rules appear to be an amalgam of randomly drawn events coupled with a slightly altered game-turn sequence, more complex supply and strategic movement rules, and much more. It essentially adds about another 10-15 pages of rules.

I am very impressed with the amount of content the publisher included, considering they could have probably saved beaucoup bucks by simply snipping that section out of the game.

You can read the Basic Game Rules here (give it some time to load, it's a big file).

Player Aids and the Terrain Effects Chart.

The Player Aids are really cool. All of the charts for play of the game appear on a quatro-fold of thick cardstock. The inside of the cardstock fold contain a graphic depiction of the progression of the various operations historically, along with a timeline in game terms. This allows players to compare their progress to their historical counterparts, if that is something important the player. The player charts and tables are on the two 8.5" x 11" pages on the OUTSIDE of this cardstock quatro, including the infamous Combat Results Table (CRT), Weather Table, Artillery Table, Disengagement Table, and a new, novel table (discussed in more detail below in the Mechanics section) called the Tactical Coordination Table.

Here is an image of the timeline side of the player aid:



The terrain effects chart (TEC) is printed right on the map--in French. In fact, everything on the map is in French, which I think is pretty cool. It isn't difficult to discern what each track means, and when you write AARs, you can actually refer to the French spelling of the various locations on the battle field. Because of this though, the publisher did include a TEC written in English to make it easier. The English TEC can be glued to the map, or simply used as an overlay for the map.

Mechanics and Rules

Much of the game is typical hex-and-counter fare, with counters having an Attack value, a Defense value, a Movement value, and a Morale value. These are combined with typical terrain movement in which a player expends movement values to advance from hex to hex. Combat, for the most part, is also similarly typical, in which you total attack values, adjust for terrain modifiers, unit modifiers, determine the combat ratio and roll a die.

Where Marne 1918 is different has to do with several nuanced enhancements to traditional hex-and-counter systems. I have touched on a few here, but I don't want to write an entire novel about every new aspect, so I've selected four of the most interesting ones.

First, as I mentioned above when talking about the Player Aid charts, Marne 1918 has a Tactical Coordination Table. Every time the attacker rolls his attack (2d6) on the Combat Results Table (CRT), he also rolls two more six-sided dice that are blue and green for the French and German player, respectively. While the combat roll will give combat results based on the number of hits each side takes in the combat, the colored die rolls tell each side how well their respective divisions performed in tactical coordination. Thus, while the German player during an offensive might attack with six divisions and put the smack down on a lone French division, he also might botch his tactical coordination roll and be prohibited from advancing. On the other hand, he might roll very well, which would allow the German player chances to exploit holes in the defensive line, gain some extra movement, or even advance and have the opportunity to fight another round of combat in a later phase (called the Exploitation Phase). This has a lot of give and take to the flow of the combat. Not only are you tense about how much damage you will take, but also about whether you can keep pushing your attack or have it falter for a day due to a poorly organized commander. I found this element to be nerve-wracking, and greatly enhancing the replayability of the game. A series of bad tactical coordination rolls will seriously bog down an offensive, while a series of good rolls will be a boon. Of course, there are modifiers for all types and kinds of things, including unit morale.

Second, Marne 1918 has an artillery bombardment phase prior to each combat (fairly typical for a WWI Western Front game), but the artillery is abstracted in such a way as to allow both players to trade artillery fire and inflict casualties, or instead to focus artillery fire against an opponent's batteries. What this does is allow a sort of pre-battle to "soften up" the enemy prior to an assault. There is (of course!) a separate Artillery Table with modifiers, and the German player in many of the scenarios also receives a bonus during the first phases of the scenario called Bruchmueller's Bombardment which adds a huge bonus to the die roll for artillery. This simulates the careful planning of the German artillery barrages during this period by the famous artillery general Georg Bruchmüller who revolutionized military artillery planning.

Third, Marne 1918 uses an interesting regiment v. division mechanic that blends with the use of Stosstrupen companies. Generally, each counter in the game represents one division. However, elite divisions are broken down into three counters, each representing a regiment of elite troops. While a division will have two or three steps consisting of three hits per step, elite regiments have two steps consisting of two hits per step. What this does functionally for the game is two-fold. First, these elite divisions are shown on the map as a stack of three counters (1 regiment each), which immediately identifies them mentally as "powerful". Second, a single "division" now has twelve (12) strength points divided up into six steps, allowing elite regiments to last longer. In addition to this, Stosstrupen companies are attached to some regiments and grant additional abilities to those regiments, including the ability to ignore zones of control when advancing after combat, the ability to absorb additional hits prior to reducing any regimental counters, and adding combat bonuses.

Fourth, and the final interesting nuance I will discuss in this review, is the use of Operational Sequences within each game turn. When a player with the initiative declares an offensive (or is forced to under the scenario rules), the game requires three I-Go-You-Go sequences, which allows the offensive player to compress much more combat and movement into a shorter amount of "game-world" time. So, during a turn where an offensive is in effect, there are actually three "turns" within the game turn. This is a clever mechanic, which I used in the Operation Blucher Scenario. On the last turn of the scenario, feeling that I was in striking distance of victory and not wanting to give my opponent and opportunity to defeat me by having extra "turns" in which to recapture VP objectives, I refused to declare an offensive, and went for the last VP objective. If I captured it, the odds were good that Joe, my adversary, would not be able to retake any VP hexes. Unfortunately, I did not capture the final needed VP hex, and so I lost--but it was the mechanics of the game that gave me such interesting choices to make about strategy.

Marne 1918 also incorporates (abstractly) tanks and air power. While there are no replenishments/replacements allowed in the basic game rules, the advanced game does provide for the production and replacement of depleted units.

On a sliding scale of complexity, with "10" being the highest (a la Advanced Squad Leader), Marne 1918 is somewhere in the neighborhood of a 7-8.

Criticism & Praise

The Criticism

Overall, Marne 1918 is an awesome conflict simulation with lots of flexibility and options for the players to explore alternative operational decisions. I can fairly say that this game is one of the best I have played for that purpose.

The game suffers from some serious problems, though, during the initial stages of learning the rules.

First, the Basic Rules are an English translation from French. This causes a myriad number of problems, and one need only read some of the comments on Consim World to see the clarifications that need to be made to the rules. Just by way of example, the Tactical Coordination Table lists a specific outcome for a "natural 1." But it was not clear on the chart or in the rules whether a natural 1 could be improved, or degraded, to a higher or lower tactical coordination status. It turns out, per the designer, that a "natural 1" rolled cannot be improved, but can be degraded. This can be frustrating, but does make sense.

As with other, similar, problems in the rules, it is not a question of whether the rule makes sense, but only a question of why the rule was not made clear to start with.

As a second point, the rules in some cases leave out crucial (if obvious) details. For instance, trenches grant a defensive multiplier of x3, but the rules do not state whether a unit can obtain those multipliers if occupying enemy trenches. The rules are simply silent. The designer answered this question in the forum, however, and stated no, units cannot benefit from the use of enemy trenches.

As much as the designer remains faithful to questioning fans, it is pretty obvious that the rules lost something in translation. Many somethings.

These sorts of details (and there are more than these) can lead to endless rounds of negotiating with your opponent how to apply the rules. They are vague in many places, and the rules for air units (and their missions) are not at all clear. Lucky for me, my opponent and I agree on most things to the point that it was not that much of a problem. We decided in most of our games to simply apply the rules as written and then ask the designer about clarifications later on those things that didn't make sense.

As a final example, several reinforcements arrive in the game on specific turns or sequences of turns. Some of these arrive "within 5 hexes of Hex XX.XX" (where XX.XX is a hex number). Unfortunately, the rules do not state whether that means the unit enters "along a map edge" within 5 hexes, or in a radius of 5 hexes. In some cases, the latter interpretation would let a unit miraculously appear behind the enemy lines.

Once hammered out, though, the rules and mechanics are a real gem. The interaction of the CRT and artillery die rolls really do tell a narrative of the operation and really do create a lot of tension from roll to roll. So, despite all these translation problems, they are well worth the effort.

A final bit of criticism, but very important to note, is that the game can be pretty non-interactive for the player on the defensive. That is, the player on the offensive is doing most of the moving and rolling, and figuring, and calculating. The defender, especially during the first turn of a given scenario, has little to do other than mark casualties and decide where to retreat. Even on one's turn, it is a rare thing to counter-attack. This can lead to boredom on the part of the defender (at least for me). I had to bide my time keeping track of the game on Cyberboard and snapping images for my AAR. But simply playing the game straight, I was a bit bored--that being said, the victory really feels good after all that pent up passivity.

The Praise

The good things about the mechanics I have already touched upon, but what I haven't talked about is the awesome balance in this game.

Within each scenario I have played, it usually comes down to the very last couple of movements and combats with a realistic chance for the game to go either way. While as the defender it looks as if you are completely overwhelmed and unable to win the game (and every single scenario in which I was the defender has successfully made me feel that way), three out of our four plays ended with defender victories. I still say that the game is balanced because one of those three (the longest, incidentally, of eighteen hours of play) literally came down to the last die roll, in which the gods of fortune determined the outcome. I lost. I was crestfallen. But what balance! What tension! I took a calculated risk, and could have won the game.

Another great thing about this game is the feel of it. It really does accomplish what it sets out to do. As you play, you do feel like the operational-level commander, maneuvering units to avoid defeat. The theme is well-integrated into the mechanics, and I feel (though of course I could never really know, but I feel) that the game gives realistic outcomes both to individual battles, as well as to the overall game and outcome.

My Opinions About the Game

Overall, I rate this game a 7.6. It only loses points with me because of the significant down time of the defender and the poor rules translation.

As far as theme and target audience, I feel that Nicolas and Thomas hit the nail on the head. Though the game will only appeal to grognards and afficionados of World War I, if you are either of those you will enjoy Marne 1918 immensely.

Additional Information: Scenarios

Scenario 1 - Gneisenau. This scenario takes place after the big push of Operation Blucher. It is an offensive to close off the salients created by Operations Blucher and Michael. The scenario only lasts three turns (but because of Offensive Turns, it is actually 6-9 mini turns). This is considered an Introductory-type scenario. We played this one in a short day (about 4-5 hours).

Scenario 2 - Blucher. This scenario simulates the large Operation Blucher, meant to break the Entente's lines near Paris and force a surrender. I enjoyed this scenario the best, but it was an 18 hour investment. We played this one over the course of two days (about 15-18 hours).

Scenario 3 - Friedensturm. This was a German offensive against the fortified countryside of Reims and an effort for the Germans to get across the Marne. I did not play this scenario, as it involves many, many units. I may yet play it someday. Judging by past experiences with time costs, this scenario would probably take upwards of 20 hours to complete, or longer.

Scenario 4 - Foch Attacks. This is another Introductory-type scenario focusing on the Allied counter-attack after Operation Blucher petered out. This scenario was fun because it involves many of the most elite units in the game, as well as lots of tanks and planes. We played this one in an afternoon (about 4-5 hours).


Edits: Grammar, punctuation, errors, and consistency.
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Björn Hansson
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Very good review!
 
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Menin Gate at Midnight, Will Longstaff, 1927.
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"At the landing, and here ever since" - Anzac Book, p. 35.
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Great review, really summed up well what I was looking to read about the game. After reading a review like this I want to go and see what else the poster has written, and at first glance your other reviews look great too!
Cheers for some great contributions!!!
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Menin Gate at Midnight, Will Longstaff, 1927.
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I should also note that after reading your review I really wanted to investigate buying a copy...unfortunately the Milsims site is down for maintenance for a week... ... !!!
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Chris Montgomery
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As long as geeks like reading, I'll keep writing. Glad to know my efforts are appreciated, fellas.

Cheers.

Chris
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Aaron Neilson
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Noble Knight appears to still have copies of the game left, although international shipping maybe a real killer.
 
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Paul Borchers
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Excellent review of the game!

I followed the CSW board on this game when it first came out (and I asked a few questions there as well), so my play times have been less than yours were. If you try scenario 2 again (or plunge into scenario 3) I hope things progress faster for you. While scenario 3 is big, it does offer the Allies the opportunity to counterattack, and (as the Allied player) I found I had to really plan carefully to blunt the German attack. The placement of one airplane unit on an interdiction mission played a key role in saving Reims!

As you have experience with Scenario 2, if you try the Campaign game you'll immediately find yourself in a familiar situation (the starting point for both is nearly identical, except for the addition of the rest of the inactive front line). After that, though, who knows how things will develop. I started the Campaign Game solitaire, but a mishap in the game room messed up the counter positions (grumble) and I haven't had the opportunity to try it again. Having the freedom to (generally) pick the time and place of offensive operations adds a new dimension to the game. The chit-draws and delays for rebuilding units add replayability.
 
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Chris Montgomery
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mr_peabody wrote:
Excellent review of the game!

I followed the CSW board on this game when it first came out (and I asked a few questions there as well), so my play times have been less than yours were. If you try scenario 2 again (or plunge into scenario 3) I hope things progress faster for you. While scenario 3 is big, it does offer the Allies the opportunity to counterattack, and (as the Allied player) I found I had to really plan carefully to blunt the German attack. The placement of one airplane unit on an interdiction mission played a key role in saving Reims!

As you have experience with Scenario 2, if you try the Campaign game you'll immediately find yourself in a familiar situation (the starting point for both is nearly identical, except for the addition of the rest of the inactive front line). After that, though, who knows how things will develop. I started the Campaign Game solitaire, but a mishap in the game room messed up the counter positions (grumble) and I haven't had the opportunity to try it again. Having the freedom to (generally) pick the time and place of offensive operations adds a new dimension to the game. The chit-draws and delays for rebuilding units add replayability.


After short hiatus from the game, I am already thinking about coming back to it to play the last two scenarios (Friedensturm and the Grand Campaign).

Thanks for the comments.

Chris
 
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Norbert Möhring
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After short hiatus from the game, I am already thinking about coming back to it to play the last two scenarios (Friedensturm and the Grand Campaign).



I played all scenarios - most of them twice or one three times (Gneisenau). I found "Foch attacks" the most interesting but I enjoyed all of them. But we had severe problems with the Friedenssturm scenario since the German forces were overwhelming. We concluded that there were simply too many German stosstruppen available especially if compared with situation playing the campaign (and the historical situation, IMO)

Playing the campaign offers a new, exciting dimension of the game. Forget all about playing the French. The placement of the reinforcements are now fluid (a.k.a. Air Cav is coming...) making it extremely difficult for the German to repeat the historical success. To be honest, probably rolling ONE natural 1 will be enough to loose the game. BUT it is really, really great to play for both sides. (And yes, there are much more questions in the advanced rules...) I played the campaign once f-t-f and twice alone. Everytime I had a fantastic time.


IMO Marne 1918 it is the best and most innovative game about WWI at operational level. It's a pity that Michael will be published later (or never ???)

Kudos to the designer!
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1nappy wrote:
(And yes, there are much more questions in the advanced rules...) I played the campaign once f-t-f and twice alone. Everytime I had a fantastic time.


How long did it take to play the games?
 
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