September 13, 2014–My colleague Stephen Rawling of Against the Odds (and several other boardgaming ventures), came up with quite a nifty idea with his “Four Roads” series. A package of games, smaller than a full-dimension wargame but still substantial. In days of yore there was a formula called the “quadrigame,” or just the “quad.” In those sets the games were linked because they were all on different battles of a war, and all had the same, very simple rules. Steve’s dared to forge a fresh trail, wherein the games are linked by means of all being on the same subject, but no longer simplistic and each the vision of a different designer on that theme. The first assay in this direction was called Four Roads to Moscow and framed the German invasion of Russia in 1941. Steve’s new selection is going to be four designer’s ruminations on the German defeat of France in 1940.
In history, of course, France virtually collapsed when the Nazis invaded that May. That makes a game on the subject a dicey matter. If you go “simulation” then the French have to collapse and there is little competition in the game. If you go for play balance you need some device to accord the opponents a reasonable chance without sacrificing the simulation quality. All in all it’s a challenging proposition.
Designer James F. Dunnigan long ago postulated one answer–a scenario-based approach. In Dunnigan’s France 1940 (published by Avalon Hill in 1972), players each selected a force mix that had a weighted value, in effect handicapping various alternate possibilities against the historical. Many subsequent gamers have adopted similar approaches.
For this game I wanted to ensure the French (read Allied) side has a chance but without biasing the game. I also wanted to make it enough of a simulation that action on the board retains some of the flavor of the history. And I wanted to accomplish those things without artificialities. The scenario-based approach is fine, but what it does is tie the players to a moment in time, with backstories (the force mixes) that were completely made up. It is not at all clear that in the real Europe of the 1930s a nation’s procurement of the particular force mix represented by one of those scenarios would have been uncontested. The politics and diplomacy of the arms race could have gone so many different ways.
So, for my “Road to Paris” I decided to bring the players to the table in 1934. The Maginot Line is funded and construction largely complete. The massive buildups of armor and air forces are in the future, the big expansion of the German Army has yet to happen. What this game seeks to do is to bring the players to a combat contest (the blitzkrieg of 1940) based on an evolution of the game–active play that can take many directions.
To make this happen I have created a “scripted game.” Here we create a new narrative of the 1930s that will be different every time you play. Gamers who like Beyond Waterloo will be familiar with the idea of Diplomatic Status. This game takes the crisis level of Diplomatic Status and makes it the baseline for such game events as mobilizing forces or moving troops on the board. At the same time, the players are not the only actors in Europe and there are events outside their direct interactions which affect them (for example the Spanish Civil War). So the system introduces a “Chronology” device which influences war budgets and diplomatic status. Event Cards impact the players for every year-turn, and those play out very differently in successive games. There are two other kinds of “events”–command and intelligence–and both award the players capabilities they will exercise once it comes to combat.
This game contributes a mechanism for accommodating the impact of spies and espionage in an unusually detailed and straightforward manner.
The combat system accommodates air forces and mobile forces, has armies whose strengths reflect what the players were able to obtain with the military budgets the game allowed them through active play. Thus they arrive at war with military establishments conditioned by game events. I think that a more satisfactory arrangement than simply working off a scenario base.
There are some new wrinkles in the combat system but, for now, I’ll leave those for the future. Look forward to this piece of Four Roads to Paris.