$30.00
Recommend
47 
 Thumb up
 Hide
10 Posts

The Rhineland War, 1936-37» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Calling Hitler's Bluff: The Rhineland War, 1936-37 rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Mike Szarka
Canada
Waterloo
Ontario
flag msg tools
badge
When it is your turn to send a VASSAL move, the wait is excruciating. When it's my turn, well, I've been busy.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
"If France had then marched into the Rhineland, we would have had to withdraw with our tails between our legs." - Adolf Hitler

Every wargamer has spent time contemplating how the Second World War could have been won by those who lost it, or alternatively, how the winners could have won it faster or with less loss of life. For the most part, these discussions deal with grand strategy and the use of force of arms. That is, after all, what wargames are generally about.

As interesting as such deliberations are, it is equally interesting to ask whether a different war could have been fought much earlier, preventing, or at least pre-empting, the six-year conflagration that was to come. This would have to presuppose an Allied political leadership that was capable of galvanizing support for war at a time when the horror of the Great War was fresh in the minds of the adult population. But if war had been declared based merely on Hitler’s provocations and violations of the Treaty of Versailles, what might have happened? The Allies were far from ready for war, and Allied nations could not have been expected to respond uniformly to the German threat. The attitudes of the Great Powers, Britain, France, the US, the Soviet Union, and Italy would have been far from certain, and the same could have been true of the smaller Central European and Balkan countries.

It is this second question that is the subject of The Rhineland War, Joe Miranda’s game in World at War #21. The supposition is that by marching into the Rhineland, Germany is met with a declaration of war by France. From that hypothesis the rest of the game flows in an unpredictable and entertaining fashion. The game is accessible, quick-playing and fun; just what one hopes for from a magazine wargame.

Components

The counters are 5/8” and of the excellent quality and functional style that will be familiar to gamers who have played other games from wargame magazines such as recent S&T and vintage Command. The colours of the counters are widely varied since there are close to 20 different factions represented, including such minor lights as Portugal, Switzerland, and Denmark, and also both sides of the Spanish Civil War. The map is an attractive rendering of Europe, with most of the important tables printed to the side for easy reference. The rules are clear, well-organized and largely errata-free.

Learning the Game

The rules will be easily assimilated by an experienced wargamer, and are straightforward enough to be taught (to a wargamer) in a matter of a few minutes. The rules include standard concepts such as locking zones of control (there were no developed tactics for armour infiltration in 1936), odds-based combat results tables (one for attrition combat and one for mobile assault), and a simple IGO-UGO sequence of play. There are straightforward special rules for air support, amphibious movement, terror bombing, and political events based on chit draws, which are ultimately the heart of the game.

Game Play

The game is won and lost by control of victory cities and certain “crisis hexes” which represent areas of political or strategic importance and which count for the bulk of the victory points needed to win the game. These include the Rhineland, Alsace-Lorraine, Brest-Litovsk, Bessarabia, Albania, the Baltic States, Ploesti and other strategic or political hotspots. Control of these Crisis Hexes determines the number of “Crisis Chits” drawn at the end of each player’s turn. These chits come in three types: Type A (Action), Type B (Belligerency) and Type C (Collapse). [How clever is that!] Action chits include special events (Comintern, Far East Crisis, Finnish Crisis and so on) or chits which are die roll or odds multipliers to be held until used (Shock and PSYWAR). Belligerency chits determine when neutral countries jump into the fray. Usually the player drawing the chit has the neutral joining his side, but this is not always the case (e.g. the USSR). Collapse chits can lead to the loss of a player’s war economy (no replacements or reinforcements for the rest of the game) or the withdrawal of the Soviet Union to within its own borders (which are inviolable by any other country).

The most powerful armies in the game are those of Germany, France, and the Soviet Union, with Italy trailing behind. Britain’s small army is slow to mobilize and may not be a significant force unless they join the fray early. The Americans are unlikely to play a significant role. Minor Powers such as Poland and Czechoslovakia can actually be quite potent – that is, if they mobilize at times of their own choosing without being victims of a sneak attack.

There is so much randomness in the political system that the game is unlikely to play out the same way twice. That said, there are some trends. Minor powers are more likely to join the side that is winning; that is, they join the side that drew the chit so that they will tend towards whichever side is drawing the largest number of crisis chits each turn. This can lead to a sort of snowball effect. However, the Soviet Union joins the opposite side of the side that drew its chit; so it works towards maintaining the balance of power. Britain and the US only ever join the Allies no matter who draws them. Some chit draws only enforce neutrality until the country is invaded.

Taking ground is not too easy if the defender can form a solid line. Mechanized attacks can cause retreats but result in few combat losses. Attrition attacks cause some losses but take ground very slowly. Defeated units are generally easily replaced as long as a few key Mobilization Hexes in each country have been protected, but they return after the delay in turns of a d6 die roll, so they may be too late to be of use. Overall the feel of the land war will be second nature to anyone used to classic wargame mechanics.

Summary

This is a game which is easy to learn, fun, and unlikely to play out the same way twice. The fun is in the unexpected. If the German east and south remain unthreatened, France will have a very hard time. The German units have better stacking capability allowing greater concentration of force and more mechanized units, giving them a significant operational advantage and greater flexibility. However should Poland, the Czechs and/or Russia threaten from another side, a multi-front war will drain the offensive capability quickly.

There are several optional rules and alternate histories exploring what-ifs such as if the sides were better prepared for war prior to 1936, or a totally whimsical scenario assuming that both sides had WW2-level command control, weapons and doctrine in place in 1936.

This game will appeal to those with an appetite for alternate history. Of course, all wargames are alternate history from the move of the first unit; but in this case the preconditions have changed which does not appeal to some gamers. There is also no real control of the political events nor any ability to predict them. New allies and enemies spring into play without so much as a “by your leave”.

Clearly this game is not intended to be a heavy simulation but as a light romp through the 1936 that might have been (presumably without the Berlin Olympics)! Of course, who knows what might have happened had the world drawn a line in the sand three years before Hitler invaded Poland. Want to explore what could have happened? The Rhineland War, 1936-37, is an enjoyable way to do so. The accompanying magazine is also a good read. Definitely a successful effort by World at War magazine.
38 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Rob Arcangeli
England
Manchester
Greater Manchester
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmb

Thanks for this review and bringing the game to my attention.
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
yves jp
France
Moca
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
This game seems more interesting each time I read a review about it. Thanks for this new.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Lance McMillan
United States
Lakebay
Washington
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I've never played this game but am very interested in the subject and am considering picking up a copy. However, one of the troubling criticisms I've heard levied against 'Rhineland War' is that the game has an odd and somewhat ahistorical "feel" due to the stacking rules.

The issue centers on the fact that division and sub-divisional sized units have unlimited stacking in the same hex (along with either one army or three corps sized units). This in turn allows the Germans (who have 18 divisional/sub-divisional sized mobile units in their OOB, more than double the number of all the other nations combined) to create one or more massive "killer stacks." Basically, the critics claim that the stacking rules afford the Germans the ability to effectively create Panzer Groups, something that wasn't truly feasible in 1936-37 as blitzkreig doctrine was still very much in its infancy and mobile divisions were still being portioned out as individual support units to corps rather than a concentrated into mechanized strike forces.

I was wondering if your experience with 'Rhineland War' showed any evidence of this problem? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts as it may influence my decision to buy.

Thanks.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Mike Szarka
Canada
Waterloo
Ontario
flag msg tools
badge
When it is your turn to send a VASSAL move, the wait is excruciating. When it's my turn, well, I've been busy.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Hi Lance:

As I stated in the review, "The German units have better stacking capability allowing greater concentration of force and more mechanized units, giving them a significant operational advantage and greater flexibility."

If the whole game revolves around a straightforward German assault against the French, the large advantage conferred by the stacking rules will be hard to overcome. The German has to be kept off balance by threats from elsewhere. Is the German advantage unrealistic? Perhaps, although Joe Miranda has been active on ConsimWorld in discussing this game and will apparently be publishing new variants through the on-line Moves magazine. So it appears the game will be well-supported.

Ultimately this is a low-complexity game not on the heavy simulation end of things. It would be easy enough to add a house rule limiting the stacking of division-sized units if you agreed with the nay-sayers that it is too much like a proto-blitzkrieg. You are only allowed to use only a single air unit per attack so there is a limitation from that standpoint. Also the CRTs are not too bloody so the defender may hold out pretty well anyway. If a French unit is behind a river or in any other terrain he has a basic defense factor of 16, so getting really high odds will not be that easy anyway.

In the end, this is an easy problem to fix (if you believe it is).
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Lance McMillan
United States
Lakebay
Washington
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Thanks, Mike. Appreciate the insights.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
United States
Astoria
New York
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Mike, the problems I've seen with the game are that the Axis just run away with it every time. The French can't get anything done offensively, and Germany just sweeps Central/Eastern Europe, or the parts that don't join up.

I do have quibbles with the OOB (Panzer divisions are as strong as 2-3 Polish corps... in 1936!) but it looks goofy enough to try out.

One suggestion (I forget by whom) is to start the Germans in the Rhineland, but give the French/Allies the first turn. Which is the supposed narrative anyway (the French declare war in response to the occupation).
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Mike Szarka
Canada
Waterloo
Ontario
flag msg tools
badge
When it is your turn to send a VASSAL move, the wait is excruciating. When it's my turn, well, I've been busy.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
sdiberar wrote:
Mike, the problems I've seen with the game are that the Axis just run away with it every time. The French can't get anything done offensively, and Germany just sweeps Central/Eastern Europe, or the parts that don't join up.

I do have quibbles with the OOB (Panzer divisions are as strong as 2-3 Polish corps... in 1936!) but it looks goofy enough to try out.


I don't quite see that...the panzer divisions are 4-3-8 and the basic Polish infantry (army size) are 3-5-4. Apparently many of such "army" strength units on all sides were understrength by comparative standards. So the comparators are unclear. But the Germans certainly are powerful.

I didn't play the game enough to develop an opinion on play balance. But there are many potential fixes if that is indeed the case. And the game has so much randomness that it seems it could go different ways. Some of the things I noted Joe M suggesting were two British chits so they enter the war earlier, stuff like that.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
United States
Astoria
New York
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I still call BS. Why are the Polish armies understrength, but the Panzer divisions (five of them!) are full strength despite the chronic economic problems the Reich was having?

We have a test case for comparison -- three years later, the Germans suffered massive attrition to their tank forces and were nearly out of ammunition on a wide scale after a month of fighting in Poland.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Lincoln Graves
United States
Denver
Colorado
flag msg tools
Avatar
The various nations are probably at the strengths shown in the game as a matter of play balance and to more or less represent their capacities within the limited scope of a 12 month war. The Germans are still in a protagonist and central position. And just how effective do you really want the Poles to be? All countries were equally weaker in 36. I certainly would not use the optional WW2 operations rules. Finally, only 3 of the five panzer divisions are on the board at the start.

On another note, the Germans did not experience massive attrition during 1939. Rather they suffered sufficient attrition to make the level headed officer corps redouble their fears about Germany's ability to fight and win a long war. I suppose the game could have been made differently. More operational granularity could have been added. But why? Possibly some other country could be made the protagonist, France in 1932?? The Soviet Union before the loss of their officer corps. Again, why? Or, you could just have everybody pretty much incapable of achieving much. Surprised and fairly unprepared. Again, why? You could have Germany run out of fuel for those Panzer divisions pretty fast. These last two are probably the most historical simulation you could come up with. To what end? If you want a "game", then you need a protagonist that can actually achieve something. And who was the bat shit crazy person available at this time for such a role? OK, so it has to be the Germans and they have to be able to achieve something or you don't have much of a bang up year.

The French control Alsace-Lorraine at the start and if the Germans decide to leave a covering force in the West, the French could easily take back the Rhine. That gives them two chits per turn and the need to send out an amphibious force to help where ever possible. If the Germans go West they will use up a lot of time and effort, and a lot of chits will get drawn.

Therefore, it does seem that an eastern strategy gives the Germans the best chance but a lot depends on who picks which chit when. I can see how with a fairly open game like this you may have some broken games but I can see a lot of interesting ones too. And if you are playing this game the right way you can probably play it a couple times in an evening.

Read right way as, this is clearly not meant to be a game to hover over and count factors and work out perfect strategies. Hell, I would put up a 10 minute time limit per turn. That brings a full game in at 4 hours. I doubt all games are full games and I can see players that already know the rules shaving that time considerably.

This isn't a perfect game. Then again none are. And I can count the ones that come close on my fingers and a few toes. That's not much in 50 years of wargame design. None of them, I don't believe, are magazine games, which in the Dunnigan spirit ought to not be considered much more than essays anyway. Being how Joseph Miranda is about as fecund as an old stoat, I mean that in a good way, I can accept that they are often fun, intriguing, novel and imperfect. I am always excited to see what he will do next and I am rarely, very rarely, disappointed. I also think players often underestimate the amount of work and thought that goes into even the least successful game. I also wonder why more players, especially "old hands" don't just fix or adjust what they don't like in a game.

I don't play magazine "games" to get that intense simulation experience. I play them for fun and variety, and the occasion historical, ludographical, or design insight. This is a fun game that can be played quickly, a rare virtue, that no one these days provides more often than Miranda, and it has a fairly high replay value. I can't really see what's not to like.
10 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.