Recommend
22 
 Thumb up
 Hide
15 Posts

The Game of France, 1940: German Blitzkrieg in the West» Forums » Reviews

Subject: The Great S&T Play-off! Review! rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
United States
Vista
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb


The Game

This review is of SPI's France, 1940, which came out in April of 1972 in Strategy and Tactics #27. The game was later republished by Avalon Hill as a bookcase game, but the rules and countermix are identical--only the victory conditions are different. It is written from the point of view of someone who has played all of the prior S&T games in order and in the context of the state of the art existing as of April 1971.
On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany joined World War 2 with an unprovoked assault on Poland. Two days later, France and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany in retaliation. Real fighting between the Allies and the Axis didn't start until April 1940, when the two sides clashed over Norway. Then in May 1940, the Germans poured through the Low Countries and into France. The Dutch surrendered in four days, the Belgians after a few weeks, the French a few weeks after that. The British managed to evacuate the bulk of their forces back to England sans most of their heavy equipment. By mid-June, the Germans were the undisputed masters of Western Europe.
This game, by James Dunnigan, godfather of SPI, simulates that conflict. Sort of.

The Components

The SPI game had a paper map and thin counters. The Avalon Hill game's map was mounted and the counters are thicker. This was the first game in the S&T series I didn't have to build from scratch as I already owned the AH version. It would not have been difficult, though--the map (of Northwestern Europe, from Rotterdam to Paris, is pretty plain, and there aren't many counters (this being a magazine game).



The Rules

This is a hex-and-counter wargame with a Combat Results Table and fairly conventional rules for the day. The scale is operational, with the Corps as the standard unit size, but with plenty of division-sized units (mostly armor). Units have a movement factor and a combat factor. Zones of Control cost points to enter and leave. Forests slow mechanized units by half, but rivers do not stop movement. Mechanized units get a second full movement after combat, allowing exploits of breaches. Rivers and forests offer defensive bonuses. Only one corps-sized unit can attack from or defend in a hex despite a stacking limit of three. At the lower odds ratios, the CRT is designed so that many attacks result in counter-attacks. As you'll see in gameplay, this is shorthand for "The French can never win a fight." There is supply--out of supply units have their combat and movement stats cut in half. There are planes split into two components, the ground base and the airplanes. German planes have a range of 20 hexes, Allies have a range of 18, from their ground bases. Ground bases can move, but no air missions can be conducted from them during movement. Airplanes can nullify defensive bonuses, interdict supply and fight other airplanes. There are fortresses in the game representing the Maginot line and Eban Emael in Belgium. The Maginot Line is tough, but the Germans have special artillery counters just for breaking it.

Gameplay

The German infantry all have a strength of 7. The French infantry all have strengths of 6. This apparently small difference means that the French can virtually never win a fight. In a counterattack, a defender can concentrate all of its forces on one attacking unit. The problem is, let's say three Germans attack a French unit. That's 3:1. Assuming the French unit is not destroyed, it probably gets to counterattack--but the counterattack is on the 1:2 chart, which is probably death anyway. In the games I've played, the Germans always had enough units to maintain a continuous front and prevent any effective French attacks.
I have a problem with this. I know Dunnigan designed the game to model the Fall of France, and it takes about the same amount of time as historical if played by competent gamers. The problem is this is not a simulation. When Germany and France faced off, everyone's bet was on France. It had a big army, lots of planes, more and better tanks. France lost in May 1940 because its command and control was sclerotic and timid, and because the doctrine for armored warfare was less developed than that of the Germans. Their planes were also inferior, though they operated on interior lines, which gave them an advantage. But you don't see that in this game. Instead, the Germans just win because. I seem to recall there being hundreds of thousands of German casualties in this campaign, and yet the French are hard pressed to destroy a single German unit. And because victory points is based on the Germans having a 3:1 ratio of VPs (earned by killing units and occupying Paris), victory is assured.

Now, Dunnigan tried to make a game out of this "simulation" by including a number of "What-ifs" that balance the OOBs out better. This makes for a more balanced game, but I don't think it simulates anything any more than the original game. Compared to Dave William's excellent Battle of Moscow, which had come out two issues before and covered the counterpart campaign in the East, France 1940 is dull and unrewarding. All you learn is that France can't do anything but creatively speed-bump the Germans, who are just way better than them.

Conclusion



Anyone who knows me knows that I am an ardent Francophile. I didn't start this way--I had it thrust upon me in a World War II play by e-mail game in which I took on the forlorn hope of France (and almost won.. twice). So I collect games that cover the Battle of France. I know I will get flak for trashing this game as it has admirers, but it's really a poor simulation. To give it credit, it does have some cute tricks: The soft ZOCs are a nice touch, and new for the day (prior games had hard ZOCs, which stopped movement and compelled battle). The mechanized movement was a newish innovation, and it made the tanks more distinct from the infantry and kind of shows the blitzkrieg phenomenon, (though I prefer the half-movement second movement phase in Battle of Moscow, I think). The alternate OOBs was one of the first implementations of "What If" in a wargame.

But the game doesn't depict the Battle of France. It depicts something else. It doesn't even feel like any battle that ever would have happened in history. Even giving the French extra units doesn't help them much other than making the German supply lanes more vulnerable. In the end, Dunnigan designed too much for effect. As my opponent, Dan, said (as his Germans inexorably crushed my French lines), "It's not much fun to play a game whose victory conditions are defined as, 'you win.'"
14 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
O
United States
Mountain View
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Great review! Sadly this was my first wargame I ever bought myself so I am strangely nostalgic for it and the subject. I'd love to find a way to salvage this game, but barring that I'd love your francophile recommendation on a good game covering the fall of France.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
United States
Vista
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
adorablerocket wrote:
Great review! Sadly this was my first wargame I ever bought myself so I am strangely nostalgic for it and the subject. I'd love to find a way to salvage this game, but barring that I'd love your francophile recommendation on a good game covering the fall of France.


Well, that's the problem--any game covering the "fall" of France is hardly balanced.

I also steer clear of wargames whose covers only feature Germans. That smacks of Nazi-wank.

France 40 is interesting because most people remember the game nostalgically--one of the early rough gems of their youth. I am reviewing it in the context of the time and the competition.. and it's sorely lacking

I am still looking for a good game that portrays the Battle of France. Panzer General for the computer had some fun scenarios. WWII, the PBEM game, gives France a shot if you play with an unbiased GM. The first time I played, the Germans went through the Ardennes, and I was poised to pinch off their supply... until the BEF turned tail and fled, destroying the port of Antwerp in the process and throwing the Belgians into disarray! After that, the GM (a German) confided in me that he wasn't going to let the French win anyway.

The second game, I'd managed to sack Cologne and take some ground East of Straussburg. Both sides were poised to deal a knockout punch in April 1940... and the Germans beat me to the punch by 6 days.

In both games, the French managed a fighting retreat to Algeria.

2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
meenki boo
United States
Jersey City
New Jersey
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Neopeius wrote:
Well, that's the problem--any game covering the "fall" of France is hardly balanced.


I don't think that's what he means. Anyone can publish a game where one side overwhelms the other with brute force, which is what The Game of France, 1940: German Blitzkrieg in the West does. The point is, does the game teach the gamer how the Germans won the campaign or not?

Though some of the conclusions in The Blitzkrieg Myth by John Mosier may be mistaken, he correctly points out that Allied planes and armor were superior in numbers and quality to most German equipment. However, the French deployed thousands of light tanks as infantry support weapons (and therefore dispersed their armor) and covered the front with equal amounts of air resources (and dispersed their air), and even keeping half of their air force far from the front in reserve (in preparation for a long war). While the Germans kept no strategic reserve and concentrated the vast majority of their air and armour resources at one point, the Ardennes. If a game does not reflect this it's just a toy, not a simulation.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
United States
Vista
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
bartman347 wrote:
Neopeius wrote:
Well, that's the problem--any game covering the "fall" of France is hardly balanced.


I don't think that's what he means. Anyone can publish a game where one side overwhelms the other with brute force, which is what The Game of France, 1940: German Blitzkrieg in the West does. The point is, does the game teach the gamer how the Germans won the campaign or not?

Though some of the conclusions in The Blitzkrieg Myth by John Mosier may be mistaken, he correctly points out that Allied planes and armor were superior in numbers and quality to most German equipment. However, the French deployed thousands of light tanks as infantry support weapons (and therefore dispersed their armor) and covered the front with equal amounts of air resources (and dispersed their air), and even keeping half of their air force far from the front in reserve (in preparation for a long war). While the Germans kept no strategic reserve and concentrated the vast majority of their air and armour resources at one point, the Ardennes. If a game does not reflect this it's just a toy, not a simulation.


Right, and that's the thing--given perfect information on the battle situation, I don't think the Germans can actually win the Battle of France. If the French had stuck their most powerful units in front of the Ardennes, then the Germans would have been stopped dead or forced to take the long way around. The French would be dictating the terms of engagement.

So the fact that *nothing* the French do in France 1940 can win them the battle means it's not a simulation.

Edit: I just realized what truly makes this game a crap simulation. Historically, the Germans had planned to punch through the low countries and clean up along the coast. They weren't going to go through the Ardennes in force. This would have put them against the strongest allied units. The modified Fall Gelb had the big punch go through the Ardennes against weak units, the cream of the allied units having been sent to the Low Countries.

Well, in the game I played with Dan, he followed the original plan and didn't send much through the Ardennes at all. I should have been able to stop him with ease, but because all the French units are the same and all are worse the German units (which is crap--the French 7th was more than a match for any German army), the French can't stop the Germans *anywhere*.

But hey--the French are cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Matt Jolly
United Kingdom
Bourne
Lincolnshire
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Neopius,

perhaps part of the problem is that of initiative; if the French knew what the Germans were going to do in advance, they could probably deploy to frustrate them. But initiative is generally with the attacker; the Germans could just have redeployed to outfox the new French deployment.

Looking at the values on the counters is pretty meaningless unless you are confident that you know what they represent. It may be (and I am just hypothesising here) that some counters are rated low because they include morale and C2 issues, and these act as combat multipliers for the Germans.

One of the problems of playing the French in 1940 is like playing the Romans at Trasimene in 217BC; few players are likely to be as incompetent as their historical counterparts, as they

a.) are less affected by the unique assumptions, bias, prejudice and groupthink of the original generals, and

b.) have the benefit of hindsight, particularly regarding the historical result.

France in 1940 is particularly challenging in this regard, and the best attempt to reflect the problems accurately I have played was "Springtime for Hitler" put on by http://www.megagame-makers.org.uk/ in 1990.

This had (IIRC) over 50 players, with players for at least four levels of French command, the BEF, two levels of German command, The Dutch and Belgians at army level and the governments of each country. I was part of Dutch High Command, and remember vividly when GHQ was overrun by advancing Germans and we had to run around Westminster School for 20 minutes carrying all our maps and paperwork with us, mixing it up and losing bits, so missing a game "day" input, and taking another "day" to get our sh1t wired! I also recall that a major drain on our C2 resources was interminable negotiations with the Brits regarding the evacuation of Dutch diamond holdings and european royal families through Antwerp, mostly because our British army liaison had no direct contact with the Navy or RAF without going up to government level... It's hard to capture this kind of thing in a two-player game that can be played in an evening!

And of course, lots of gamers don't like the apparent loss of control this represents; look at the lack of love for Memoir '44 and its clunky card-driven way of doing exactly this. In fact, I think that France in 1940 was exactly like an M44 player with cards only for his right flank and centre, and forced to go second, whilst the Germans had a bigger hand of their right flank and centre cards, the first turn, and better barrage and air-strike cards! Oh and the ability to set up second....

Just my tuppenceworth!

Cheers,

Matt





8 
 Thumb up
5.00
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
United States
Vista
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
That's really neat. Yes, any proper simulation of that battle has to be in depth with lots of players. That's why the PBEM game I played with multiple players was so illuminating, and your game must have been even more interesting.

But the only lesson to be learned from France 1940 is "France can't beat Germany." For one, I don't believe it, and two, that's not very instructive.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Matt Jolly
United Kingdom
Bourne
Lincolnshire
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Neopeius wrote:


But the only lesson to be learned from France 1940 is "France can't beat Germany." For one, I don't believe it, and two, that's not very instructive.


I am afraid that my copy of the AH France 1940 is trapped in my loft at the moment; I have loaned my only ladder to a friend. IIRC though, it had a range of scenarios which could make the French player's job easier - the actual historical one was called "The Idiot's Game" or something similar, and not recommended for play! Perhaps this is different from the SPI precursor?

I think that learning that "France can't beat Germany with those constraints on its own initial deployment and unwillingness to change its perception of where the German Schwerpunkt is" is both believable and instructive. If the game lets you explore what France would have to do in order to have a chance to win, then perhaps that is also instructive?

I am still not saying it is a great game mind you; in the end it is, I think, stretching the envelope of what a vanilla hex-and-counter game can do without some careful extra rules. And it will inevitably suffer from any game that seeks to represent a stunning defeat; often success for the losing side is a matter of doing better than their historical counterparts; Bulge games and Barbarossa games suffer from the same problems...

Cheers,

Matt
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
United States
Vista
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
matt.jolly wrote:
Neopeius wrote:


But the only lesson to be learned from France 1940 is "France can't beat Germany." For one, I don't believe it, and two, that's not very instructive.


I am afraid that my copy of the AH France 1940 is trapped in my loft at the moment; I have loaned my only ladder to a friend. IIRC though, it had a range of scenarios which could make the French player's job easier - the actual historical one was called "The Idiot's Game" or something similar, and not recommended for play! Perhaps this is different from the SPI precursor?


The historical scenario and "The Idiot's Game" are two separate animals. The latter uses the former's OOB and restricts the moves of the Allied player for the first turn.

Quote:


I think that learning that "France can't beat Germany with those constraints on its own initial deployment and unwillingness to change its perception of where the German Schwerpunkt is" is both believable and instructive. If the game lets you explore what France would have to do in order to have a chance to win, then perhaps that is also instructive?



The game does not let you explore that. I would argue that the alternate OOBs do not simulate alternate history but simply make the game more playable.

Quote:


I am still not saying it is a great game mind you; in the end it is, I think, stretching the envelope of what a vanilla hex-and-counter game can do without some careful extra rules. And it will inevitably suffer from any game that seeks to represent a stunning defeat; often success for the losing side is a matter of doing better than their historical counterparts; Bulge games and Barbarossa games suffer from the same problems...


I bet there's a way to make it work. The thing is, unlike the Bulge, which was ultimately a hopeless scenario for the Germans, the Battle of France should be winnable (not just in terms of VPs representing doing better than historically, but in absolute terms). It is unwinnable as presented in France 1940. Moreover, the game doesn't explain why it is unwinnable. The design notes do, but the game doesn't.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Bruce Jurin
United States
Great Neck
New York
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
adorablerocket wrote:
Great review! Sadly this was my first wargame I ever bought myself so I am strangely nostalgic for it and the subject. I'd love to find a way to salvage this game, but barring that I'd love your francophile recommendation on a good game covering the fall of France.


Me too - I remember the game fondly as Gideon said because of nostalgia - an objective look at the game shows it just isn't that good.

1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Oh my God They Banned Kenny
Canada
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmb
Neopeius wrote:
...

Gameplay

The German infantry all have a strength of 7. The French infantry all have strengths of 6. This apparently small difference means that the French can virtually never win a fight. In a counterattack, a defender can concentrate all of its forces on one attacking unit. The problem is, let's say three Germans attack a French unit. That's 3:1. Assuming the French unit is not destroyed, it probably gets to counterattack--but the counterattack is on the 1:2 chart, which is probably death anyway....


Exactly. That is, IMHO, the critical factor that results in the inevitable German 'landslide' victory (see below).

Neopeius wrote:
.... When Germany and France faced off, everyone's bet was on France. It had a big army, lots of planes, more and better tanks...


Not exactly. True, France was seen to have the 'victorious' army from WWI, which they had not 'dismantled' as Germany had been forced to and Britain had done voluntarily. While some of that reputation remained, German rearmament was recognised by many at the time as having changed the situation. Numerically, it required the addition of British, Belgian and Dutch forces to achieve a sort of parity - Germany clearly outnumbered France alone. In terms of AFV's many of the French tanks were obsolescent. Far from all French tanks were the impressive Char B or Somua - there were large numbers of practically worthless 'tankettes' too. So while the French certainly had some tank models that were competitive with, even 'better' in some ways, than some German tanks, it isn't entirely accurate to say French tanks were better overall.

Neopeius wrote:
.... France lost in May 1940 because its command and control was sclerotic and timid, and because the doctrine for armored warfare was less developed than that of the Germans....


A seriously flawed plan to start with was also a major factor. Regarding C&C issues, see more below.

Neopeius wrote:
Their planes were also inferior, though they operated on interior lines, which gave them an advantage. But you don't see that in this game. Instead, the Germans just win because. I seem to recall there being hundreds of thousands of German casualties in this campaign, and yet the French are hard pressed to destroy a single German unit. And because victory points is based on the Germans having a 3:1 ratio of VPs (earned by killing units and occupying Paris), victory is assured.


They had some decent models, although there rate of production was very low. They had also purchased some decent (for the time) aircraft from the US. However, part of the problem was that the view was still very much dominated by the 'strategic implementation of bombers, which will always get through' school of thought. Fighters were needed to defend cities against the bombers, in their view. So there was a reluctance to 'risk' fighters operating in forward areas, until too late. It was expected that fighting would bog down into WWI style trench warfare, and the concern was that Germany would bomb Paris into rubble, as they had tried to do rather ineffectively in WWI with long range artillery and Zepplins.



Neopeius wrote:
.... In the end, Dunnigan designed too much for effect....


Yes, here I very much agree with you. I think he had the basis for a solid, and for the time very innovative, design. However, the mindset at the time was 'the French could not possibly have won', so he 'took the easy way out', and did the 7 vs. 6 infantry factors 'trick' that you described above.

I have a variant that attempts to address this issue, and allow the 'underlying design' to shine, rather than being smothered by the 1 factor advantage. I appreciate that many would prefer to stick to the rules as written, however, in this case a couple pretty simply 'tweaks' allow one better appreciate how the design does 'fit' the situation, IMHO anyway.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
United States
Vista
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
deadkenny wrote:


I have a variant that attempts to address this issue, and allow the 'underlying design' to shine, rather than being smothered by the 1 factor advantage. I appreciate that many would prefer to stick to the rules as written, however, in this case a couple pretty simply 'tweaks' allow one better appreciate how the design does 'fit' the situation, IMHO anyway.


I'd be very interested in seeing it.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Oh my God They Banned Kenny
Canada
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmb
Conveniently posted right here:

http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/67076/france-1940-variant

If you do decide to give it a try, let me know how it goes. I believe it is conceptually sound, however, it could possibly still use some tweaking for balance.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Kev.
United States
Austin
Texas
flag msg tools
Read & Watch at www.bigboardgaming.com
Avatar
So another no fun game from these S&T plays?
What is the tally so far duds vs winners?

There are some gems in there i.e. Panzer Guderian I think is one.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
United States
Vista
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Fun games:

Battle of Moscow
Flight of the Goeben
Grunt
Crete

Meh games:

Renaissance of Infantry
Anzio Beachhead

Dud games:

Bastogne
Chicago, Chicago
T-34
France 1940
Centurion
3 
 Thumb up
1.00
 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.