In part 1 of this series, designer Lou Coatney explained his thinking behind the name "Teutons!", and the historical background for the first of the three games in the box, "France 1870". This time, he takes us through the design of "France 1914". Next week we'll finish off the series with a look at "Blitzkrieg: France 1940". All three games are collected in a single box, "Teutons!: Assaults on the West, 1870-1940".
The First World War was a frightening example of how easily such world holocausts can start: entangling alliances and each side thinking the other wouldn't be so stupid as to match or exceed military escalation. It started on 28 July 1914 and ended on 11 November 1918, thereafter known as Armistice Day. The human and material losses were staggering: there was a total of 11,000,000 missing and dead soldiers and 7 million dead civilians. One of the first modern, officially recognized cases of mass genocide occurred in Turkey, where Armenian people were the victims.
I grew up Presbyterian. I went on leave from my NATO unit in Hanau, West Germany, in December 1968 to Belfast, Northern Ireland just before it blew up - where, among other adventures, trying to find a beautiful Irish girl I had seen at a wedding, I had the very dubious privilege of meeting Protestant rabble rouser Reverend Ian Paisely, who had presided. Walking, one day, I chanced upon the Presbyterian headquarters for Northern Ireland and went into its library. It had the church diaries for the various counties and as I looked through one for a year of World War I, I saw one young man's death entry after another to the point it was so depressing I had to leave ... with a greater realization of the massive grief war inflicts on us, its victims.
Patrick Tremoureux (left) and Lou Coatney in September 2013
I had always considered World War I military operations to be boring in comparison with the air and armored operations of World War II, but hearing some GMT 1914 game playtesters whooping it up at the little Games Galore mini-convention in Gothenburg Sweden in February 2013 made me realize that virtually any game topic can be exciting if the game is properly designed. As well, my host Patrick Tremoureux is Breton French, and so on the train back to Oslo, I outlined my little France 1914.
There have been a number of games about World War I, even just about the Western Front in 1914, but I have not yet (looking through the game listings of ConSimWorld and BoardGameGeek) identified one at France 1914's scale and with its playability.
Overall, I am satisfied with France 1914. The game took only a week to design, but the game scale seems perfect for enabling sufficiently realistic tactical maneuvers at its higher operational scale.
The German player has the option of not invading Belgium (and activating the British) and instead hitting one fortress and river line after another trying to get to Paris, or of indeed following the von Schlieffen Plan and trying the historical end-around through Belgium.
With only about 20 units on each side, relatively basic mechanics, and 12 turns, the game should take about 2 hours to play.
As to Mata Hari, I doubt she was as effective a spy as she can be in the game. She was originally Dutch, had been married and divorced and the mother of 2 children. Her fame was that she was the first woman and "legitimate performer" to cavort completely nude on stage in Paris, which even attracted wayward royalty. However, her figure was understated, and she had a rather homely face, so she was soon eclipsed by better equipped competitors. She then became a shrewd and popular courtesan, rapporting well with France and Europe's powerful men ... and took up espionage as a sideline. When she was finally arrested, there was controversy, some claiming the charges were false and/or unsustainable and others suspecting her case was a diversion from the terrible, embittering losses at the front. (An entire generation of Frenchmen was being wiped out.) However, German records found some 40 years after her execution in 1917 verified she was indeed their spy.
I should mention that this was the first time I designed a map entirely on computer. Using my simple, cheap little program, I set limit marks for the West Point Atlas map I based my game map upon. I then inset the map on the CAD page and superimposed over that a hexagonal grid I had (very easily) created. I had also converted the grid to a graphic jpg format using a photo/graphics program, and I created my game map on that.
Play Advice: If going through Belgium, the crucial Liege bottleneck must be broken through. For the 2 stacks attacking Liege on the first turn, use a 4-2 and a 3-2 army, the Guards infantrie korps, and 3 1-factor korps, so that you don't have to sacrifice a second 4-2 army and/or the Guards infantrie korps to take the city.
In our games where the Germans have attempted to punch through the French/German border (or vice versa a la France's Plan 17), the attempt has proven as prohibitive as it was historically.
The purpose of the Belgian route - the von Schlieffen Plan - is to get into more open country and stretch out the French and Allied armies ... even if there are ultimately 8 of those vs. the Germans' 7 ... to enable breakthroughs. (Remember that the Belgian Army and BEF are irreplaceable.) As the Germans going through Belgium, you will generally want to avoid exchanges - replacements have to travel a very long way, and Allied vs. German relative strength equalizes over time with the replacement rates. Using breakthrough, try to out-flank Allied armies and maneuver them out of entrenched defensive lines, and go for destroying units by surrounded attacks.
Remember that you should have the BEF positioned on or near a Channel port and ready to escape to England if a French collapse appears to be inevitable and imminent.
Regarding play balance, I had originally intended that there only be 8 French infantry corps, and if you think the Germans are having too hard a time of it, don't use the 9th. I did consider dropping the Liege fortress to a factor of 1, but it should be a significant obstacle and an object of high, early anxiety for the German Player.