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Subject: La Grande Guerre 14-18 review rss

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Joakim Wendell
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La Grande Guerre 14-18 (LGG) is a grand strategic game covering the First World War. It was published by the French company AWE, originally back in 1999, with an English translation sometime around 2003. The game has been around for some time, but there is no review of it on BGG. Since I have played it several times, I offer my thoughts on the subject.

The game covers virtually all of the aspects of WWI. Each player controls one ore more of the major powers, belonging either to the Central Powers (usually Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey) or the Entente Powers (usually France, Russia, Great Britain and Italy, withe the USA entering late in the game). The player controls the countries’ military forces, but also controls economy, diplomacy and technological innovation. Random events occur regularly throughout the game.

Scale and game components
The two game maps cover all of Europe except those parts irrelevant to the fighting, such as Scandinavia and the Iberian peninsula. Other parts of the world, including the colonies of the major power, are represented by off-map boxes. The map is adequate, even though it’s somewhat cluttered with information. Especially irritating are certain values which aren’t mentioned anywhere in the game rules; these are remnants of rules which were excluded from the final version of the game. The counters are generally clear and easy to read, but are rather thin. Sometimes information is written in a color which makes the counter hard to read; fortunately this is mostly historical information such as unit IDs.

The unit level is mostly corps, with a few divisions. Army HQ counters are used to organize the corps. There are also air quadrons and ship counters. Ships counters represent 1-4 capital ships, or a larger number of smaller vessels such as destroyers.

The rules are divided into 3 different rulebooks: one for the initial ”Movement war” of 1914, one covering the Trench warfare rules, and the third one covering advanced campaign rules including Diplomacy, Technology,Economy, Naval warfare and several political rules. In addition, there is a separate Scenario book, a book covering random events, another covering Diplomacy and yet another covering the War plans of 1914. For each major power there is a separate booklet with the special rules for that power. There are also off-map boxes for the Army HQs of all the powers.

In all, there’s a lot of paper in this product....

I forgot to mention the time scale. Each year is divided into 9 operational rounds, with 3 strategic turns. During the operational turns you move the counters and fight. During strategic turns you make political and economical decisions.

The land warfare system
The heart of the game is the land warfare system. Basically, the initiative player activates armies on one front one at a time, moves the units subordinated to that army, and makes attacks. Attacks are made against individual hexes, and usually involve several units in several sub-battles, and both sides may send in reserves to attempt a breakthrough or hold a buckling line.

Land units have an attack factor, a defense factor, a movement factor, a morale level and a firepower factor. In combat, the attacker’s attack factor is measured against the defender’s defense factor, and the difference gives a column on the CRT. The difference is firepower gives a bonus or malus on the 2d6 DR. The units strength can be modified by heavy artillery, air support and tactics. Named generals can give a bonus or malus to the attack DR.

The CRT gives a result for both attacker and defender, usually in raw losses. The losses are handled in a special way. A fresh unit which takes a loss is flipped over to its reduced side. A units which takes another loss has to take a morale check, which can result in the unit being shattered or eliminated.

All casualties incurred are to be recorded, since the number of casualties have an effect on the National Will of the countries (more on that later).

An important concept of the game is the manpower of the warring countries. Each power has a pool of recruit points (RPs), and as casualties are incurred, the country has to pay RPs from its pool. If the RP pool is exhausted, units are destroyed when they take losses.

While this basic system is relatively straightforward, it is complicated by the different ”doctrines” it is used within. When the game starts in 1914, the doctrine is called ”movement”. In this system, the attacker may make an unlimited number of attacks, and the defender may convert losses into retreats. Sometime in late 1914, the Trench doctrine is introduced. This leads to a much more rigid form of combat, with prohibitive losses to both attackers and defenders. The number of attacks becomes limited, and must be planned in the form of ”Grand offensives”. OF course, trenches also directly modify the combat strength of the attacker, and several new combat tactics can be used to attempt to reduce the trenches of the defender in a battle. Finally, sometime in late 1917, the ”Combined arms” doctrine becomes available, combining trenches with a more flexible form of land warfare.

There are a lot more intricacies to these different doctrines, but I will not go into further detail. Suffice it to say that there are a lot of rules to these different doctrines, and they are not easy to remember.

National Will
The aim of the game is to force the opposing alliance to surrender. This can theoretically be done through complete conquest, but usually the goal is to destroy the opponents’ will to fight. A nation’s will to fight is represented by the National Will value (NW). The NW value is directly affected by the fortunes of war: capture of key enemy cities or successful offensives increase NW, while casualties, loss of territory and failed offensives lead to NW loss. When NW goes below the critical level of 20, the country will be more prone to strikes, army mutinies and revolts. With an extremely low values, revolts can turn into revolutions, and the country can be forced to surrender.

In my opinion, this is an excellent way of representing the shifting fortunes of war. Offensives become important in order to keep NW up, but if losses are prohibitive, they can turn into a national crisis. As the war progresses, it becomes progressively harder to keep NW high. From 1917 onwards, revolution or surrender can be a real possibility.
Of course, certain powers are more resilient. Germany and France can take a lot of punishment and still be relatively stable, while Turkey is more prone to collapse under prolonged pressure. Russia runs a higher risk of suffering a revolution, but it is not certain: there are no ”Russian revolution” special rules, so the Central Powers cannot game the system for the revolution to kick in ”automatically”.

The naval war
The naval war is an entire subgame within the game. While all major powers have fleets of battleships, the fleets that are interesting are those of Britain and Germany. The problem with using fleets are that naval losses can affect NW severely, forcing the players to be very conservative with their fleets. Occasional sorties can lead to naval engagements, and sometimes a major naval engagement can occur. The German fleet is smaller but better than the British, so the German has a real chance to trash the Royal navy, especially early in the war. Over time though, the navies tend to cancel each other out. A major naval engagement can take several hours to play through, and because of this I recommend new players to not use the naval rules for the first playthrough.

Colonial warfare
The aspect of the game I find most superfluous is the war in the colonies. The aim here is for the Entente to conquer the German colonies, while the Germans want to tie down the Entente in the colonies for as long as possible. Overall though, I find the colonial war rather marginal to the overall game, and it can safely be skipped over.

Economy, Politics and Diplomacy
LGG’s Campaign system takes both economy, politics and diplomacy into account. Each country has a parliament with a stance towards the war, varying from +2 (sacred union) to -2 (defeatist). A pro-war parliament makes it easier to perform actions such as increasing the war economy or sacking incompetent generals, while the opposite is true for an anti-war parliament. Each power gets a varying number of political actions, depending on its NW. I’ve already mentioned a few general political actions; there are also special political actions limited to only one or a few countries. Fo example, Britain may attempt to pass a conscription law, increasing its RP flow (allt the others already have concription). Germany can attempt to start unrestricted submarine warfare, and so on. There are even option for Russia and Austria-Hungary to attempt to reform their governments to better suit the pressures of total war (a risky proposition).

The economic system is neatly done. The economy of a power is represented by a ”Civil Production Level”, ranging from 9 to 0, where 9 represents peacetime production and 0 completely apocalyptic total war. With political actions, each power can attempt to decrease its CPL, giving it more money for producing military units, increasing firepower and researching technology. However, a Low CPL means that civilians get less consumer goods, decreasing the NW and making the power even more dependent on military success to keep morale up.

Technology is researched by drawing chits. Some research is always done, but you can increase the research by spending money on it. Techs vary considerably in implementation, some representing enhancement of aircraft while others give you the opportunity to produce stosstroppen (stormtroopers) or tanks.

During strategic turns you can also purchase embassy points, which you place in countries to make diplomatic actions during the operational turns. The goal here is to get neutrals to join your side or at least support your side with economic treaties. This dilpomatic system has two major effects, one clearly good in my opinion, the other more questionable. The clearly good aspect is that several countries never enter the war of their own choice (this goes for Sweden and Holland, for example). Also, since you can get economic cooperation you usually do not want to invade neutrals. Germany is usually much better off with a friendly neutral Holland with open trading ports, than with Holland militarily occupied.

The more questionable effect is that you do not know when several countries are going to enter the war: you have to convince them. This goes for Bulgaria, Rumania and Italy, and for these countries it works rather well: usually they lean toward a side but if you do not apply diplomatic pressure they may remain neutral or even join the opposing side! However, this also applies to Britain and Turkey. This is interesting, and gives you the opportunity for experimenting. With the outcomes. It should be said though that Turkey leans heavily towards the Central Powers and Britain heavily towards the Entente. The proplem is that it is theoretically possible that Britain may stay out of the war for a while, perhaps not entering until 1915. This is a huge advantage to the Centrals, if it can be done, but for me personally it’s notWW1 without Britain in the war. Luckily, if this bugs you too it is easy to just let Britain join in historically – no harm, no foul.

Usually, most of the diplomatic effort focuses on Italy and the US, the Entente trying to get them to join while the Centrals tries to delay their entry. There is a small possiblity for Italy joining the Centrals, but in my experience the question is rather when they will join the Entente. The eventual entry of the US will probably tip the scales decisively to the Entente, but I have yet to see this happen. More on that below.

Overall evaluation and some problems
Overall, I think this game is THE definitive simulation of WW1 on a grand strategic level. It covers virtually all aspects of the war, and the huge level of variability makes it immensely replayable.

However, there are a number of problems. The game is complicated, to say the least, and takes some effort to get into. There is also a lot of bookkeeping: you have to keep track och the economy and the casualties for each power. In addition, the evolution of warfare creates some bookkeeping problems. The values of the aircraft change constantly due to technological advance. While there are markers to keep track of these, it is easy to miss a change in some value. Even more problematic is the changing firepower of the army corps. You can increase the firepower value of most corps over time, which increases their combat effectiveness. However, there are no replacement counters, so you have to remember which corps are augmented and which aren’t. And due to there being lots of counters, you can easily forget it. I finally solved this problem by making my own replacement counters.
However, while these things are nuisances, they are relatively minor. My main problem with the game is that I’m unsure whether it can actually portray the Great War as it actually happened. I’ve tried several times to play a ”standard” campaign, i.e. using the historical war plans, letting Britain join the Entente at the outset, though keeping Italy and the US entry variable. Wth this default situation, and Germany caught in a two-front war, I have never made it past 1916: Germany collapses militarily.

The reason for this, as far as I can see it, is in the system of RP representing the manpower pool of the countries. Germany has a RP flow of 16, Austria-Hungary 12, Turkey 10, for a total Centrals RP flow of 38. Against this, the Entente has Russia (21), France (12), Britain (6, then 10 after conscription): Italy adds another 12 to the mix, for a total of 39 (without Italy and UK conscription), the 43 (with UK conscription), then 55 with Italy. Add to this the fact that the Turks are rather marginal, and you have a huge Entente advantage. The grim Arthmetic of trench warfare dictates that the centrals are ground down over time.

Of course, a WW1 game should capture this grinding down, and I think the system does this. The problem is that it happens too soon. Even with limitations on the ability of the Entente to focus, by 1916 Britain and France can usually start two grand offensives on the western front: one French and one British. The power of this is siply overwhelming, and I’ve found that the Germany RP pool becomes exhausted, their units start dying and the western front collapses.

I’ve tried a number of changes to limit this, giving Germany some optional extra units from the start, cancelling the rule that Germany has to divide her RP pool between the Eastern and Western fronts, and cancelling the rule that Stosstroppen cost double the RP to bring back to full strength, but so far I still get the same results. While it is reasonable that the Centrals would lose the standard setup eventually, I would like to see the arrival of the US troops, and I’d like to see at least a reasonable possibility of the German spring 1918 offensive.

Currently, I’m thinking about giving Germany an extra RP boost each year, and limiting the western allies to one grand offensive on the western front. I’ll have to see how it plays out.

This exhaustion of Germany by 1916 is a major design flaw, but the game is still very much worth playing. Even with this flaw, it is the best grand strategic simulation of the war that I know of, and it really gives you the feel of the actual strategic decisions the major powers had to face. Its complexity is daunting and the rules are somewhat frustrating sometimes, but for the serious WW1 gamer this is a must-have, must-play.
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Bill Lawson
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Thanks for the review!
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Rob Doupe
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Thanks for the thorough review. Tough to get actual play information about this game.

I desperately wanted to buy this when it came out, but $120 was too rich for me at the time. shake If only I knew the collectible value, I would have bought two.

Have you tried the strategy of Germany holding a shortened defensive line in the West, while trying to deliver a knockout blow to Russia? That would seem the most promising way to address the replacement imbalance.
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Bill Lawson
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I have had an interest in this game for a long time and bought a copy last fall (don't ask how much! bag). I will play it eventually but its going to be a chore getting through all the rules. From what I've heard its worth it .
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Joakim Wendell
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Glad to be able to contribute

Yes, the game is unfortunately a bit expensive and rare nowadays

Well, the German can make limited withdrawals to avoid any obvious salients for the western powers to attacks, but since the game is on a grand strategic scale this has little effect short of evacuating France altogether. When I've played with the German Moltke plan, the Germans have been quite able to hold on in the West, but even then, they can be hard pressed at times. I guess the lesson is: don't invade Belgium in WW1...
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Robert Carroll
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Thanks for the insightful review. This is one of the best strategic WWI games and why I included it on the Top 10 Strategic WWI Games.
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Eric Lai
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Rare review indeed, thanks for the insights, this has been on the radar for quite awhile, but the cost is prohibitive and quite an investment.

I would very much interested to hear about your efforts to get the game to play more historically.
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Fernando Darlington
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Thanks for the review Joakim.

In the games I played Germany was doing very well on 1916, in them Germany and AH concentrated against Russia. The main problem for the allies was the Russian NW. The NW was so much damaged that Russia was not attacking trying to rebuild the damaged NW and prevent a revolution or a surrender.

I'll have to try combining two grand offensives against Germany and see what happens.

"by 1916 Britain and France can usually start two grand offensives on the western front"

As they can start a second one only if the first one fail as per 53-N, a possible fix for the problem could be cancelling 53-N so only one offensive per year is allowed.
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Joakim Wendell
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You're right, I didn't remember the rule correctly.

Certainly, the Centrals can win, it depends a lot on circumstances and starting options. IMHO, the best option is for them to concentrate as much as possible on destroying Russia, by attacking her and directing the grand offensives there. But a strong France in the rear is a major threat, so it is by no means certain. My main criticism is that following the historical strategy, it seems impossible to roughly recreate the historical outcome, since Germany runs out of manpower sometime in 1916. Perhaps the easiest explanation is that I suck at playing the Centrals...

I'm currently playing the campaign and, with the modified rules, the Central Powers are still standing at the outset of 1917. I've played it very "standard" to see how long it can work. The Germans didn't get close to Paris in 1914 but did take Calais. In 1915 they conquered Russian Poland. In 1916 they started the Verdun offensive, but had to abort to withstand the British Somme offensive. So far, basically it follows history rather well. But at the start of 1917 the Russians are far from collapse, having a rather strong position, despite failed attacks on the German lines. This year, France can launch a grand offensive while Britain tries to finish off the Ottomans and/or launch secondary attacks on the German. The Russians will probably launch an offensive on the Germans too. The only opportunity to the Central Powers seems to be Italy, which suffered a catastrophic defeat and lost most of Venetia to the Austrians (!). A heavy push here might cause Italian collapse and some relief to the overburdened Centrals. With the US on the verge of entering the war, they will probably still lose, but if they can survive 1917 it will at least be reasonably historical.


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Roger Hobden
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It will not be the first game that is rated very highly despite being broken because of the famous HH. devil

(In this case, HH = Haig's Hammer ).
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David Dockter
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Damm; now another monster I've got to get and PLAY! Thanks for your review.
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Mike Welker
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I've just obtained this, an English language edition, thankfully. I am punching, sorting, and reading. It looks like a game of great depth and promise to yield for the die hard conflict sim player (like me!).

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Stephen Stanton
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Great review and thanks for this. I have a big problem. I don't have the reading stamina to get through those rules. I actually own two mint copies of this game (and two mint copies of Europa Universalis) both untouched. What I need is someone local to teach me face to face. Sounds lazy but I know my limitations. I'd be happy to pay for someone's time. However, I live in the UK. Is there anybody out there . . . ?
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David Dockter
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Get on the Heathrow Express from Paddington. Arrive at Heathrow. Get on the Delta Airline flight. You'll be here in Minneapolis in 9 hours. We'll teach you.
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Bill Lawson
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Heathcliffe wrote:
Great review and thanks for this. I have a big problem. I don't have the reading stamina to get through those rules. I actually own two mint copies of this game (and two mint copies of Europa Universalis) both untouched. What I need is someone local to teach me face to face. Sounds lazy but I know my limitations. I'd be happy to pay for someone's time. However, I live in the UK. Is there anybody out there . . . ?

I to own a mint a copy of this and very much would like to play it. I need someone to play in person (or on vassal) to help me out! Those 3 rulebooks and other material are mighty intimidating!!
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Nigel Twine
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"You do not stop playing games when you get old; you get old when you stop playing games." - Oliver Wendell Holmes
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Heathcliffe wrote:
Great review and thanks for this. I have a big problem. I don't have the reading stamina to get through those rules. I actually own two mint copies of this game (and two mint copies of Europa Universalis) both untouched. What I need is someone local to teach me face to face. Sounds lazy but I know my limitations. I'd be happy to pay for someone's time. However, I live in the UK. Is there anybody out there . . . ?

Whereabouts in the UK are you, Stephen?

There is a group finder page here on BGG...
http://boardgamegeek.com/forum/64/boardgamegeek/england
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Stephen Stanton
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Near Reading in Berkshire. Happy to travel!
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Nigel Twine
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Heathcliffe wrote:
Near Reading in Berkshire. Happy to travel!

Hello Stephen. Please check your Private Messages.
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Colin Raitt
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Sounds like the strategic WW1 game for me. Here's my wish list.
Corps level.
Naval units.
Diplomacy.
Europe & the middle east.
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