The Great War – A Table-Top Compendium (Part The Second)

As a follow-on to my article a couple of weeks ago, as well as Jim Cobb’s fine piece on the digital side of World War I gaming, the boss has asked me to look at the strategic side of the cardboard counter house. The Army defines strategy as the allocation of national level resources to achieve a specific goal, and that means a lot of logistics and personnel management. As noted before, computer games are uniquely qualified for such activities because they can perform and archive the complex mathematics needed in supply chain management. Nevertheless, boardgames can also simulate producing replacements and bullets, and if you like that sort of thing, or go nuts over trying to remember what’s on the digital map as you scroll screen to screen, take heart.


The Great War is one of few that will forever be known for logistics. Here the culprit was one Napoleon Bonaparte after his devastating defeat of Prussia in 1806. With their army reduced from 63 infantry regiments to 12 by treaty, the clever Germans created a work around called the Krumper system, perfected in 1861 by Prussian Feldmarschall Albrect von Roon. Essentially a young man was drafted into the local regiment for several years. The unit listed 50% strength, the balance made up of reservists who were lads previously drafted into the unit and released home. Thus the reservist returned to the same unit, the same comrades and same leaders as when he was on active duty. After time in the reserves, he reported to the local Landwehr (militia) unit which provided replacements for his old regiment or performed security functions. It allowed countries to field huge armies on the cheap, and by 1914 all Europe used von Roon’s system.

However lots of men means lots of bullets, and given the narrow front making direct assault the only option, with deadlier weapons driving casualties skyward to boot, an unending, vicious circle was created. At war’s start, most countries allocated 1500 rounds per cannon for the entire conflict, but soon the guns were pumping out 200 rounds per day. Indeed, the big reason fighting died down after November 1914 was that both sides ran out of ammunition, as in the British Expeditionary Force had barely 10 rounds per gun remaining. Now add millions of casualties as machine guns per battalion jumped from two to 54 and you kinda get the point.

The following games have this important aspect of the Great War well covered. Just remember “strategic” means managing the sinews of war as much as fighting, and for The Great War, doing it for the entire conflict, not just a campaign or front.

Currently or Recently Published Games

GMTThe Great War in Europe (Deluxe). This is another Ted Racier design and includes 1400 counters, three 22 x 34 inch maps with divisional units, month long game turns (two months in Winter) and 9.5 miles per hex (22.5 miles in the East). Cost is $89.00 US. Every two or three regular turns a Strategic Turn places new units from a master reinforcement list into a country’s Holding Box.

During the next Strategic interlude they move to the Available Forces Box and then to any place on the board next regular turn. Replacements may be built every Strategic Turn as well, based on the number of Resource Points available with countries like France getting 16 per Strategic Turn and Italy only 8. Replacements add combat steps to existing units and are of the “use or lose” variety. Replacements Points may be reduced for some countries due to unrestricted German submarine warfare, so deciding what to buy when and where to deploy it is key. Gorgeous.

GMTPaths of Glory, 5th Edition. This award winning game has but one 22 x 34 inch map, 316 counters, 110 event cards and uses a point to point movement system. Units are corps and armies. The price is $60.00 US with design by . . . wait for it . . . Ted Racier (seriously, he does get around). Logistics are represented two ways and the first is a traditional supply line path traced to a valid supply source. Out of supply units may not activate, may not entrench and suffer elimination during the Attrition Phase of each turn so pretty typical stuff.

However, the heart of the game is a deck of Strategy Cards made available to each player, with more being added as a country increases its commitment to the war effort. One of the ways a country can play a Strategy Card is for use as Replacement Points to rebuild destroyed units. As a nice historical touch each card describes some significant event, to include exotic dancer and spy Mata Hari. The game also has a Mandatory Offensive Phase that forces players to attack, yet another nice bit of chrome.

Decision Games (SPW)Die Weltkrieg: The Grand Campaign. What a game!Here your $79.95 will get you 840 back-printed counters, two 34 x 22 inch maps and two 17 x 11 inch maps. Scale is 20 km per hex, four days per turn supporting brigades and division level units. And guess what, this isn’t even a standalone game. It’s actually an add-on that allows you to link all 12 games of Die Weltkrieg series into a behemoth (monster seems a bit trifling here) simulation for the entire war. Not kidding, this thing is for people who see Chief of the General Staff as an employment goal.

The process is very complex but in very simple terms in order to mobilize, replace and produce units the game requires you control, manage and allocate resources to Weapons Factories, Supply Factories, Manpower Areas and Resource Centers, with the latter providing material for the other three, all of which have to be linked together by rail (and yes, you can build new railroads with this module). The material resources themselves are divided into Iron, Coal, Special Metals and so on, with the capacity for each differing by location. There are also naval rules and specific processes for maritime shipping lanes in order to sustain friendly units overseas, not to mention a full diplomacy module as well. The game even includes a 28 page Economic Resources Production Planning Guide. Proceed at your own risk, but the comprehensive research – as well as graphics – and care that went into this simulation is spectacular. Honestly, I stand in awe.

Decision GamesStorm of Steel. The game costs $160 US and includes three 34 x 22 inch maps, an 11 x 17 inch world display, 1400 counters and 100 playing cards. Units can be from brigades to corps, and each turn represents three months. The game uses a system of Industrial Points by which a player can replace units, build new units or research and deploy new technologies such as tank brigades.

Often the ability to do so is dependent upon committing an appropriate Campaign Card, such as the German Unrestricted Submarine Warfare card which costs 20 Industrial Points to develop the fleet assets to implement the strategy. The cards themselves are played to influence a particular front, so care and planning are paramount as regards when and where to do so. Available Industrial Points, on the other hand, can vary depending on events at home or if situations at the front degrade national morale, sometimes to the point of economic collapse.

Compass GamesFatal Alliances: the Great War. This monster game costs $134.00 US and is actually an expansion module to the very famous Australian design World in Flames which covered the Second World War. The game is unique in that it is actually an exercise in Grand Strategy as each turn covers two months real time, each hex is 100 km for Europe and the Near East (600 km for the rest of the world) with units representing corps, entire armies, as well as aircraft and naval squadrons. Managing this are two 22 x 32 inch maps and 1680 counters.

The game is global in perspective, so if somehow, someway, Japanese expansionism is a factor, its armies and navies will be represented for play. The logistics system is two tier, with the first the familiar supply path from unit to resource center in order to attack and so on. The second tier is the ability to produce, repair or replace units on a circular production cycle. Resource centers and factories are printed on the map and, so long as there are connecting rail lines or sea lines between them, can produce Resource Points by which to build or repair different types of units. Each type of unit – say an infantry division – is segregated into its own pool that tells the player how many turns he must wait to deploy the unit after Resource points have been committed. Resource Points can also be lent to or imported from other.

[Editor’s Addendum] PSC GamesQuartermaster General 1914. This is a WW1 variant of the critically acclaimed Quartermaster General series by Ian Brody. Compared to the other games Bill mentions in this article, it pales in comparison in terms of complexity and realism, however this abstract card-driven wargame does a very good job at capturing the “essence” of the conflict.

Cards can be played for powerful effects themed on events that happened during the time period, or they can be used to help sustain an attack or defence as the Great Powers fight over special control zones for victory points. Supply is key here, as is preparing for the long-haul, not just short-term gains. Your deck is your life, and if you run out of cards you’re pretty much out of the fight. This was a Kickstarted game, but you can find copies online for around £40 – £50.


Avalon HillThe Guns of August. This 1981 game is simplicity personified compared to the offerings above. It uses a single 22 x 32 inch four section, mounted map and 800 counters to recreate the war at the corps level with monthly turns. The game again uses the supply line system that penalizes units for being isolated, but also has a unit replacement system as well. If the reinforcement schedule indicates units are available, they may be deployed IF there is a physical, unused counter in that country’s reinforcement pool.

Replacement points can also be used to acquire available counters at the rate of one point per counter attack point. The replacement points are based on the number of cities controlled by each player, with a few special cases here and there. The game is certainly not as comprehensive as others, but a Hell of a lot easier to play and quite fun. That’s not bad for a game that needs only 12 pages total to get its point across. Rodger MacGowan’s box art remains the best of the bunch IMHO.

Tactical Addendum

Clash of Arms – Landships. In my previous article I noted that the tactical and operational levels of war had merged as regards simulating the Great War, with purely tactical games few and far between. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention the one exception, COA’s Landships, a 1994 game that covers armored combat during World War I. The game has eight back printed geomorphic map sections with 100 meter hexes and 420 counters representing platoons, individual leaders, gun crews, armored cars and tanks. Each turn is five minutes long and while the game is complex (spotting rules, breakdown and frightened horses to name a few), 20 scenarios and a set of quick play rules more than make up for the learning curve. The top down view counter art is very well done, and believe it or not, the game is still available for $50.60 US as is a post war expansion named Infernal Machines.


Many of the games’ supporting Websites will allow you to download the rules and some charts for free as a PDF. Thus you can try before you buy, which is always a good thing. So if diplomacy and logistics is a craving, take a look because these titles boast some very innovative ways to game such systems, both simple and complex. You’ve nothing to lose and very likely a unique perspective on war to gain.


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