Battles of The Black Cavalry
Hill 262 – Chambois: August 1944
Author: Paul Comben
Designer: Adam Niechwiej
Some readers may recall an article I wrote for this site around fifteen months ago featuring another game by the same company, Festung Breslau. That design covered the 1945 siege of the German city, in which Polish forces under Red Army command played a far from insignificant role. My review was very largely positive, given the character of a relatively simple system in relation to the nature of a bitter street fight that lasted throughout the last months of the war in Europe.
Now, the same designer, Adam Niechwiej, has approached a very different subject, one that presents Polish forces fighting alongside the Western Allies in the struggle to close the Falaise Pocket. This is, arguably, one of the most controversial episodes from the 1944 campaign – many believe that no German forces should never have been allowed to leach out the pocket and thus live to fight another day. Blame is often assigned to various figures and formations for a lack of verve – but one thing that we can be certain of is that the Poles themselves did all they possibly could.
Tactical games, of which this is very much one, often invite the presumption that they are going to be long on rules and time-consuming on procedures. However, before I actually received this game I quietly suspected that this might not be the case here, given that Festung Breslau had got an awful lot done with a very modest set of rules. If anything, the rules to Black Cavalry, which are of a series type covering more than one design (two others presently, one of which covers Polish campaign events of 1939), are even shorter. The system itself can take just a little getting used to, given some of its idiosyncrasies and a few passages where the English is not absolutely ideal, but for all that, someone who has this system grasped could teach it to another experienced wargamer in a handful of minutes.
by Paul Comben
Designer: Ray Weiss
Publisher: Conflict Simulations LLC
Some readers of this article may recall that I spent time last summer playing the old Conflict Games design, Verdun: Dagger at The Heart of France. I posted my turn reports on the Vintage Wargames page over on Facebook. This was a design I had first played shortly after its publication in 1978, and forty years on, I had to report that my feelings about the game had not really changed much. It was certainly interesting, and after its own fashion it was probably fairly faithful to its theme. Its main fault, at least in my opinion, was that it was all a bit too literal – there was lots of artillery at the battle, so the game gave you lots of artillery units, and by the time they had all been squeezed onto the playing surface, those same units came to resemble cars parked around Wembley Stadium on FA Cup Final day. Everything became a vast repetitive exercise in counting up factors, and it was hard to distinguish a design philosophy moving the game forward. In short, it just was what it was.
By Michael Stultz
Publisher: Legion Wargames LLC
Designer: Andy Loakes
Recently, the Maine Historical Wargamers’ Association held its annual convention. Primarily a miniatures event, there are those blasphemers like me who prefer to battle on a map with cardboard pieces. Thankfully, the Association is happy to accommodate the grognards by making space available for us in a corner where we may huddle over our cardboard minions in deep contemplation. As is my custom, I usually host a game or two each year. This year, the simulation I brought to the table for my willing comrades in arms to play was Legion’s Toulon, 1793. A fascinating subject that I don’t believe has been the subject of treatment before, one that reminded me of the SPI game, the Art of Siege, or AH’s Siege of Jerusalem—two of my early favorites. Toulon was the battle that generally ushered Napoleon onto the European stage, and while rather obscure when compared against his later victories, it was here that Napoleon attracted attention and formed friendships and loyalty that would come to serve him in the years ahead.
Usually when one thinks of Napoleonic battles, what comes to mind is a combined arms battle that involves climactic cavalry charges, artillery bombardments, large formations of infantry marching into position for the assault, and a battle of maneuver. There is none of that in Toulon. This is siege warfare. Battle is methodical and development slow. There are no hugely bloody clashes. Playing this game is an exercise in planning and patience. Grab a cup of Earl Grey, hot (thank you, Captain Picard, for that enduring memory), and enjoy the experience for victory is the reward of careful resource management and thoughtful development of position. But, time is not eternal. Each player, especially the French, will be up against the clock and limited resources as they strive to defeat the Allied forces.
by Paul Comben
Designer: Denis Sauvage
Publisher: Golden Games, Shakos
Napoleon’s 1806 campaign in Prussia was one of those occasional examples in military history where two culturally similar nations, armed with much the same sort of weaponry, and this in the hands of more of less similar numbers of men, managed to produce entirely different results. To be blunt, from beginning to end, this campaign really wasn’t close. One tempting comparison (involving much the same combatants, broadly speaking) was the German offensive against France in the spring of 1940. One side (no two guesses which) had the modern method to match the modern weapons, and a daring plan to match the method and the weapons. The other side (narrowed down to a choice of precisely one) thought they were still fighting their last war, and thus had no relevant method, no daring plan, and not that many commanders who would have looked out of place posing for one of Mister Fenton’s photographic portraits in the Crimea.
It was largely the same story in 1806 – just with the roles reversed. Napoleon was the modern military thinker with an army nearing peak performance. By contrast, Prussian leadership was obsessed with the doctrines of Frederick the Great (in 1806, the best part of half-a-century past their best) and the higher tiers of its automaton army were thoroughly overpopulated with aged fossils with no inclination to think or fight other than how it had all been done decades earlier.
by Paul Comben
Designer: Kevin Zucker
Publisher: Operational Studies Group
If you keep fighting battles and if those battles keep getting bigger, and if there is never any end in sight save the nagging feeling that sooner or later your luck must run out, eventually you are very likely to fail. Napoleon did not say this in the first bright twilight of his decline, at least not in so many words, but he certainly suspected it to be the case.
When precisely he first sensed it is open to conjecture, but it is impossible to think of the man in the high heat of a Russian summer in 1812 without his being occupied at various points in his mounted forays and carriage dashes by the first intimations of total disaster. All of a sudden, with his legions still advancing upon the dusty road to Smolensk, he declared that the war against Russia would be a three year affair – 1812 to see his army encamped between the Dvina and the Dnepr; 1813 an advance upon Moscow; 1814 a conclusion in Saint Petersburg.
But this was not the original plan, and it was not even some clever extemporization upon the original concept as events unfolded. It was a consolation. It was a pretense. It was, for all intents and purposes, a bulletin composed for his own benefit as well as for those who commanded the corps and the divisions he led to calamity.
by Russ Lockwood
DESIGNER: Mark G. McLaughlin
DEVELOPER: Fred Schachter
ART DIRECTOR: Rodger B. MacGowan
MAP, CARD, & COUNTER ART: Mark Simonitch
PRODUCERS: Gene Billingsley, Tony Curtis, Andy Lewis, Rodger MacGowan, Mark Simonitch
The great thing about a Weekday Wargame is that taking a full day during the week feels like such a treat. On Wednesday, Dec. 20, at around 11:00am, Marc, Rory and I gathered at Dan’s house for a day of gaming. Fueled by doughnuts, coffee cake, and other sugary goodness, we started with the GMT game Wellington.
This fantastic four-player game — admittedly a little long in the tooth now, but entertaining as ever — pits English and Spanish players against two French players (north and south, or as the counters are colored, blue and green).
By Paul Comben
Designer: Adam Niechwiej
During the October and November of 1944, the newly raised contingents of National Socialist Volkssturm gathered in halls and in city squares across Germany, collecting a variable mix of old rifles, foreign rifles, armbands and panzerfausts, swearing oaths and then parading with determined zeal for the benefit of the newsreel cameras. The largest assembly was in Berlin on November 12th, where, in a constant rain and under leaden skies, thousands of men in their civilian jackets or overcoats, and not a few with medals from the last world catastrophe proudly on display, marched past the stern-faced and saluting Joseph Goebbels. At the same time, two hundred miles to the southeast, many thousands more gathered in Breslau’s Schlossplatz, and were led past the spectating multitudes, mainly women, and boys, by their Gauleiter, Karl Hanke.
Such manifestations of the nation’s will were meant to create an air of imperturbable resolution and invincibility, and yet the Volkssturm’s performance over the coming months of crisis would often fall short of the desired ideal. Breslau, in many respects, was the exception. In Breslau Hitler had a fortress city that actually did what it was meant to do. Invested by Red Army forces following their advance across the Vistula in January 1945, Breslau then resisted enemy attacks for a longer period than the Soviet forces that had defended Stalingrad, and the city garrison was still fighting even as their Führer was putting an end to his life on April 30th.
In the pages of his diary, Goebbels would highlight the role of a dedicated party machine led by a determined Gauleiter for the city’s prolonged resistance. Certainly, those factors played a part, but they never were the whole story. Other factors can be found in other books; but then, if you want an actual working model of the siege, to get to the nub of the hows and whys, where else should you turn but to a bona fide military simulation of the event in question. So, is Festung Breslau such a game, and just who exactly is Strategemata?
by Russ Lockwood
Designer Beau Beckett, Dave Kimmel, Jeff Stahl
Publisher Academy Games
I’ve enjoyed the variety of Academy Games’ war games (1775 and 1812), having played most of them multiple times with multiple gamers. Each game is generally close, with the balancing mechanism of cards and dice blessing and cursing player actions with equal aplomb.
In general, the four-player games are more exciting than the two-player games because who knows what your enemy might do on any given turn — or worse, what your ‘ally’ might do on any given turn.
So, along comes 878 Vikings, a two- or four-player game of the Viking invasion of England. The $75 boxed game has the usual components you expect that justifies the price. Academy also has a $50 expansion that adds more dice, cards, and cardboard counters.
By Paul Comben
Designer: Emanuele Santandrea
Publisher: VentoNuovo Games
(N.B. Blocks are shown exposed in photos for illustrative purposes)
Yes, the title quote is from the film Waterloo, and the game is about Borodino, but the quote, nevertheless, is entirely apposite and appropriately Napoleonic. Bloody Monday is a game very much about timing – timing and unit movement/placement; timing and the ordering of attacks; timing and the waiting game; timing and the implied sense of having not too much time to do anything.