A Preview of a New Game from Lock ‘n Load Publishing
By Brian Train (Designer)
Originally published in Line of Fire #6.
Exclusive 2nd digital rights granted to The Boardgaming Life.
Summer Lightning is an operational-level game of the invasion of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union in September/October 1939. The game scales are 20 miles per hex, two days per turn, and mostly division-size units.
Why the Polish campaign?
It is not an extensively gamed topic, but probably because the conventional wisdom is that it was a very unbalanced contest. This is informed mostly by hindsight. The German Army knew it had superior numbers and organization, but much of its equipment was no better than that fielded by the Poles, the concept of Blitzkrieg had not been proven in actual combat, and they were not at all sure that the campaign would not become bogged down by static fighting. As it was, the Germans lost over 16,000 dead during the five-week campaign.
The Game System
The game system has two basic hooks:
- Its HQ-activation system makes game play quite interactive. Each game turn, chits for headquarters (HQ) units are picked randomly from a pool containing all chits from all sides. The corresponding HQ unit on the map can then put a certain number of units near it under command, enabling them to move and conduct combat. When the player who controls the forces commanded by the chosen HQ unit has finished his operations, the activation chit is placed to one side and another chit is drawn. This continues until all chits have been drawn or both players pass.
- Its combat system is what I call near-diceless and revolves around selection of missions. Combat is voluntary and units can attack only once, but units may be attacked several times in separate battles over the course of a game turn, allowing for follow-on waves of attacks to create or exploit breaches in the enemy line. In combat, the attacking player secretly chooses one of four Attack Missions (Blitzkrieg, Balanced Attack, Frontal Attack, or Infiltrate) and the defending player secretly chooses one of six Defend Missions (Standfast, Balanced Defence, Defence In Depth, Counter-Attack, Delay, or Withdraw). The mission chit they choose depends on what they want to do, and what they think the enemy will do. For example, the defender would choose Withdraw if he wanted to retreat a longer distance, and the attacker would choose Frontal Attack if he wanted to inflict greater casualties. The two chits are matched on the Mission Matrix Table, which indicates any advances or retreats for the units involved and whether one or both sides has to check for casualties; and if so with what modifiers. Both players then simultaneously roll dice to conduct casualty checks, and then conduct advances or retreats with any units that are left.
The three armies represented in the game are differentiated in various ways within this system:
- The German forces have a larger number of HQ units (17 corps level and five army level) in the pool to activate, and the ability, when any army HQ unit is drawn, to activate it and then choose to activate a nearby corps HQ unit. They also have a number of combat advantages: a larger overall number of divisions; infantry that is equal to or slightly better than the Polish; groupings of heavy artillery and airpower; and, of course, a greater amount of motorized units that can be designated for exploitation movement and combat.
- The Polish forces have some good defensive terrain and fortifications, a number of decent-quality infantry divisions, and a full complement of the famous cavalry brigades. However, the Army is still mobilizing at the beginning of the game and there are fewer HQ units (eight army level and one Supreme Headquarters), so they have fewer chances to move and fight during a turn.
- Finally, the Soviet forces, shown at corps scale, have the most combat power per unit, but the smallest number of HQ units: only two front-level ones.
Special rules peculiar to the campaign include: Polish evacuation and internment; the not-very-good Slovakian corps; Soviet intervention; first-turn surprise; and a variable game-ending mechanism.
Winning the Game
How do you win? When Poland finally surrenders, a variable number of turns after Warszawa falls, the game ends and Victory Points are counted. The Axis player is generally going for a swift victory by seizing cities, while the Polish player wants to both draw as much blood from the Axis forces as he can and deny his enemy further Victory Points by evacuating his troops through neutral countries.
I think the system successfully portrays the historical German superiorities in C3 (Command, Control, Communications) and in combat power, but I also think it is flexible enough to allow players to explore many variations, so that the game can be as equal (or unequal) a contest as desired, and lend itself to greater replayability. Before the game, players can select from 15 options, awarding more or fewer Victory Points to their opponent depending on the option’s likely effect on play. Options include:
- different Polish deployments and postures: historical, defend everything, free deployment, faster or slower mobilization, or complete surprise;
- changes in force structures: more Polish mechanization, more effective Polish air force, more German infantry;
- changed attitudes of the Soviet Union or neighbouring countries: no Soviet invasion, unfriendly neutrals that prohibit Polish evacuation, no dismemberment of Czechoslovakia under the Munich Agreement;
- French intervention: more than the token historical effort, that is;
- Plan Zachod: the Polish plan that envisioned withdrawal into southeastern Poland and drawing supplies through Romanian territory, while France and Britain carried the war to Germany; and
- the possibility that the Blitzkrieg, so appealing in theory, fizzles on the battlefield: the Axis player must, in the midst of combat, discover how effective his airpower and motorized/armor units really are.
Finally, because so many war games are designed for two but played by one, an optional solitaire-play method is included.
The game system is the third iteration of one I developed some years ago for corps-level operations. The other games are Autumn Mist (2004), on the Battle of the Bulge, and Balkan Gambit (2009), a game of the Allied counter-invasions of Greece and Yugoslavia that weren’t (but did exist as several strategic-deception plans to exploit German fears). I’ve been designing games for many years, and found this an interesting project. I hope you will too.
To pre-order Summer Lightning, go to www.locknloadgame.com