Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Great War in Europe review

A lot of ideas that appear in Ted Raicer's popular Paths of Glory make an appearance here, with the game's chit random event system. Perhaps the most monstrous of the "mini-monsters" published in Command Magazine, The Great War in Europe, from issue No. 33, covers the major fronts of World War I on the divisional scale. Most turns are one or two months, except for August and September, 1914, where each turn is just two weeks. Each hex on the western and Italian fronts represents 9.5 miles, every hex on the Russian front is 22.5 miles. The different ground scales are handled by doubling every unit's movement allowance on the western front (so a 2-4 French infantry division is really a 2-8.).

Units are the standard attack-defense-movement factor layout. Where the attack and defense factors are the same -- as in the aforementioned French division -- a single combat factor is listed.

The core of the system (supply, movement and combat) only take up five pages of the 22-page rule book. Most of the rest is devoted to all the myriad of special rules needed for the chits and other special for neutrals, strategic moves, etc.

The most notable facet of the game, aside from the chit pull, is the initiative system, where whoever has the initiative on one front has to give it up on the other. For example, at the start of the game the Germans have the initiative in France (Italy is not yet active) while the Russians have it in the East.

After every two or three operational turns there is a strategic turn where victory conditions are checked, reinforcements arrive and new chits are added to the pool.

Physically the game is XTR standard. There are two full-sized Beth Queman maps. The west map has the French and Italian fronts, while the east map depicts the Eastern Front from St. Peterburg to Constantinople. There are more than 800 units from 13 countries included in the game.

The 1/2-inch counters use XTR standard colors for the major powers (French blue, Russian green, British red, German field grey, Austo-Hungarian grey, American olive) and a rainbow of other colors for the various other countries.

Raicer's stated design intent was to eliminated the benefit of hindsight as much as possible. The effect of this is to essentially force the players into refighting the whole war. There is very little scope for winning some kind of decisive victory or doing anything far outside the scope of what happened historically. For example, if the Allies decide to try an amphibious assault on Constantinople they MUST land at Gallipoli, even though the accompanying magazine article points out there were other (perhaps superior) beaches they could have chosen. Even the chits, for the most part, are mechanism for introducing historical events, rather than exploring many things that might have been.

This is a long game. Setting it up by itself will take more than an hour, assuming you've sorted the counters ahead of time. The game could continue for as many as 51 operational turns (to Jun 1919), so it is clearly a multi-session project. Play length for this sort of game is highly dependent on the style of the group, but a total of 40-50 hours is a good start for planning purposes.

Victory is achieved by capturing victory hexes. If the Central Powers capture enough there is a chance they can cause a collapse of Western morale for a sudden death victory. This seems unlikely to occur, however. Even less likely is an Allied sudden death victory, which comes from capturing Berlin or the Ruhr. So most games will turn on the Central Powers attempts to capture 20 victory hexes and hold them during a victory check phase. Every Central Powers city held by the allies reduced the victory hex total by one.

If the game makes it to June 1919 without the Germans getting to 20 then the game ends in a draw. The historical result was the Central Powers player conceding defeat after the October turn as the front disintegrated making the position hopeless.


(Conditional Yes) for Wargamers: IF you have to have hexes and counters and want to get into a lot of detail, that is. Otherwise you might be better off with Paths of Glory.

(Yes) for Collectors: Unique treatment of the war at this scale and unlikely to be repeated.

(No) for Eurogamers: Like really, really "No."


  1. I'm surprised you don't mention that the game has been republished in the last couple of years by GMT Games as The Great War In Europe Deluxe, and it includes the follow-on XTR game The Great War In The Near East as well. The rules have been cleaned up a little, but it's more or less intact.

    There were some incredibly extensive counter issues (the game was delayed to include a sheet of corrections, then a later sheet was mailed to pre-order customers correcting even more, including some of the corrected counters), kind of surprising for a reprinted game, but apparently no one had an unpunched copy laying around. Thank goodness it wasn't republished by Decision Games.

    At any rate, it's an unusual game in many respects, not the least of which is that there are *no* ZOCs, so you must present a continuous line to the enemy at all times. On the other hand, being put out of supply can be a real problem, so any breakthrough you have needs to be significant and span at least three or four hexes in width. I think this results in driving historical behavior, so a good thing.

  2. I don't know much about the new edition, so thanks for the additional information.