A Memorable Playtest Game of TO THE LAST MAN!
Please allow me to describe in detail this exciting playtest game I experienced a couple of years ago. This from a very memorable game with Cal Stengel (ex-Columbia Games). I still remember it years later because we had such a blast!
Cal was the Germans & I was the Entente Cordiale. We played the straight-up historical scenario with all optional rules.
1st German Offensive: Cal hit Liege hard with most of three armies, covering Ardennes with a cavalry screen. Other armies attacked the French fortified border with some losses paid for by Ersatz cards. In my turn, I brought over the BEF and sent French Cavalry to Namur (to allow for card losses). The French 5th & 3rd attacked into Ardennes (Cal lost a Cavalry, but stayed firm).
2nd German Offensive: Next Cal decided to send 1 Infantry into Antwerp as a pin (successful -- no losses either side), 1st & 2nd went into Namur, while 3rd & 4th hit the French 5th and 3rd in Ardennes. Namur fell & the French Cavalry retreated, while the Battle for the Ardennes involved heavy losses on both sides. In my turn, I realized I had to start thinking about saving cards! I mean, I'd already lost three cards (2 x Ersatz & 1 x Offensive) so I'm down to only five cards in my hand. Cal had taken some severe losses, but still had about ten cards in his hand. So I clenched my teeth and Passed -- moved BEF to Mons. So the line-up is now Antwerp (1I GE vs 3 F), Brussels (Belgian Army & French Cavalry), Mons (BEF), Sambre (assorted stuff), Ardennes (FR5th & FR3rd vs GE3rd & GE4th), then the quagmire of Verdun, Nancy, Epinal, & Mulhausen. I'm starting to sweat, Cal's done real good so far, especially screening Antwerp with Infantry (first time I'd seen that gambit).
3rd German Offensive: Cal was surprised by my Pass and started to get cocky. His armies were moved independently into Brussels, Mons, Sambre, while battles continued to rage in Ardennes and to the south. As I looked at all these battles, I realized that I had to run down his hand the only way I could -- retreat (making Cal spend an Offensive for nothing other than movement. I did a straight-up retreat from Brussels & Mons, suffering no casualties from his artillery. Sambre & Ardennes were a different story. In both cases I retreated all but one infantry -- my main force was safe and if by chance the infantry unit survived, it would slow down the whole German war machine as another Offensive card would need to be played to clear the way. As it turned out, the Sambre unit got toasted (but Cal rolled four hits, so he was pissed he couldn't do more than one loss to me!), however the Ardennes infantry lived (pinning two Armies and causing a redirection and misalignment of his forces later. Cal also attacked in Verdun (GE5th) and Nancy (GE6th). There were heavy losses on both sides, but I lost Forts and he lost cards. I hoped that losing Forts would later compel him to attack Verdun & Nancy again, but he was too clever to fall for that. I even retreated the 2nd out! In my turn I passed again and moved a French Army to shore up a weak point in Sedan. I still had 5 cards (i.e., I lost units to retain cards this turn). I discarded garbage and got a German Military Crisis! card & an Ersatz 3 card -- lucky!
4th German Offensive: That infantry unit in Ardennes sure had Cal bitching! It tied up two Armies this turn and forced more northerly armies to take up the slack, pulling them to the south. Ultimately it didn't slow him down too much, though. Battles in Maubeuge & Sedan, while Cavalry screened Artois & engaged the Belgian Army in Ghent (fell back to Flanders). Cal laughed that I retreated infantry from Cavalry, but I was concerned about getting cut off. In both Maubeuge & Sedan I retreated all but one Cavalry unit (Sedan) and left behind the Maubeuge Fort, but Cal scorched them both. No attacks in Verdun or Nancy as infantry & auxiliaries shuffled out of the 6th Army and into 5th in Verdun (stuff in 5th went to the Ardennes to make damn sure that infantry croaked -- it did). Cal was getting irritated that he kept swinging and hitting nothing but air. I think at the end of this turn, he was down to about five or six cards himself. I, of course, passed, but played the German Military Crisis! card. I was surprised that Cal had a real tough time figuring out which two infantry units to remove to the Eastern Front. In the end he chose to lose infantry from Ardennes (behind the lines). I also moved the French First Army into Friendly Neufchateau. I was now down to four cards (2 x Offensive & 2 x Ersatz).
5th German Offensive: Unbeknownst to me, Cal was light on Ersatz, most of his non-offensive cards meant nothing in 1914 (e.g., Poison Gas, etc.). Still he thought he had me on the ropes, not realizing what rough parity in cards would mean to his stronger armies. Cal sent an infantry into Somme (vs my UK Cavalry), but saved his pepper for Aisne and Champagne (plus he decided to attack Verdun again). His 7th (Epinal) & 6th (Nancy) were very weak, but I was not about to attack there. I held firm in Flanders & the Somme. However, there was so much force in Aisne & Champagne I just had to retreat all my forces (I saw little hope of a single unit surviving the onslaught). Verdun caused a lot of carnage and I was forced to lose an Ersatz card (Verdun was reduced to only 2 Fort strength already). But Cal suffered just as much and lost a combo of trash cards (each Ersatz 1) as well as a unit. In my move, I rail-moved the French 1st to Beauvais, joining the BEF. I was down to 3 cards, but Cal was no better off!
6th German Offensive: Cal started taking longer to make his moves -- a sure sign that I had him concerned. He decided to go for the glory -- 1st Army into Beauvais (vs FR1st & BEF), 2nd & 3rd into Marne, & 4th into Chalons. He just fanned out his armies to try & clobber what he could. I held tough in Beauvais, which surprised Cal. He didn't realize that my French 1st Army was still in top-notch shape. There were losses on both sides; I lost a French Infantry, while Cal lost several infantry. His armies were now losing their punch (down to 3 I's mostly) due to losses and forces allocated elsewhere (like Antwerp). I retreated an Army and an infantry from the Marne into Morin & St. Gond. I held firm in Chalons with the (previously retreated) 2nd Army, but retreated 1 Infantry to St. Gond. Still, I was feeling pretty shaky here, because even though I still had two Offensives, my line was awfully thin in St. Gond (only 2 Infantry units). In my turn I opted to try and bring in Foch’s 9th Army early. Success! I placed the 9th with those 2 Infantry in St. Gond and felt much better. I Passed and moved stuff from the 3rd Army (Verdun) into Chalons to shore up 2nd Army. I suddenly noticed how outrageously historical this game was -- even to the Marne. Or so I thought! Cal had other plans...
7th German Offensive: See, Cal suspected I might try to play historically to see how things worked and used this bluff to bamboozle me! I expected him to attack from a German-Friendly Marne into Morin & St. Gond (which was why I was dancing units around there. Actually he left behind a screen of cavalry & infantry in Marne and threw the bulk of his forces into Paris! Yipe! Where the hell did he get these nearly full-strength Armies?!? Of course, Cal is having a great time taunting me with those two Siege Guns, two artillery, and 8 infantry against my paltry 6th Army (at 1 I) and 6 Forts in Paris! But Cal only declared to attack in Paris, so I knew he was real low on cards. This was when I realized he might not have any more Offensives left! The artillery attack on Paris was potent and I had to play that Ersatz 3 card to cover the two hits inflicted (argh! I hate it when that happens!). However, my return fire was devastating and inflicted four hits -- hits poor Cal had to take by eliminating infantry. His follow up fire only inflicted one hit so I knocked Paris' fort down to 5F. In my turn, I decide to play my second Offensive card; forces from St. Gond & Morin hit Marne, while the BEF & FR1st whittled away at the German 1st Army. We were at the stage when you start losing units because you don't have cards anymore. However, I casually reminded Cal that his two battered armies in Paris were now out of supply (you can only draw supply through Friendly Areas) because Beauvais & Marne were battle areas. After combat there was only 1 German infantry left in Marne. Now it's Cal's turn to sweat!
8th German Offensive: Cal was very unhappy he had to retreat from Paris using an Offensive, but if I Passed after he Passed, it would cause an automatic loss of two Infantry to the two armies in Paris (taking each army to only 1I/1A/1G). Note that by playing an Offensive to move these armies, Cal avoided losing his Siege Guns in a retreat -- this wasn't a retreat, but an advance to the rear! Both units ended up in Marne. Cal's only attack was in Marne where we took losses neither could afford. I was feeling pretty skeletal by now, so I played my last Offensive to shore up weak points and attack in Chalons, Marne, & Beauvais in the hope Cal had no more cards left. Plus, I sent an infantry & cavalry up north to freak him out about the possibility of a flanking move. I gotta tell you, those battles would've been bad, but Cal chose to retreat & reorganize -- I was left with Beauvais, Marne, and Chalons. I think that flank threat is what did it, well, that and the fact Cal had no cards and he wasn't sure if I still held an Offensive or not. But I didn't, so Pass, then Pass, then...
Time to buy more cards!
Hope this detailed first turn helps illustrate my experiences of THE GREAT WAR IN THE WEST. In the games I've played bluff and feint were just as important as the size of your force. Just as in Poker, the better hand doesn’t always win the pot, and knowing your opponent’s “tells” is an awesome advantage.
Oh, if you're wondering how that game turned out. We entrenched and settled down into trenchlines which never moved. We fruitlessly fought until 1918, when Cal took Paris in the spring Kaiserschlacht battles. I resigned at that point because I could see how he might be able to get a better victory than Marginal, but later he confided he had a dearth of Offensives and I probably shouldn't have conceded. However, it's at this time Cal said those words so dear to a game designer, "Let's switch sides & play again!"
Michel T. Georges
Tim - I wish we could buy the game now! Both of my grandfathers, along with all of their brothers, fought in the Great War, and it looks like this game is a great recreation.