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: 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: Dirk Vergauwen, Publisher: MDVC Games
This Dutch wargame on the 1944 Arnhem campaign has a big 20×55-inch board, plastic troops, and a couple interesting mechanics. Four of us gathered to play this game: me (British/Polish airborne near Arnhem), Marc (British 30 Corp), Dan (US 82nd and 101st Airborne and supporting ground troops behind 30 Corp), and Rory (Germans).
By Paul Comben
Designer: Emanuele Santandrea
Publisher: VentoNuovo Games
There are a number of ways to describe the nature of the German Blitzkrieg, but for the purposes of this introduction to Vento Nuovo’s latest release, it is probably best described as the military equivalent of a flat-track bully. German Blitzkrieg was fast – but, by that very fact, as well as the rushed reconstruction of the German armed forces operating in the early war period, it certainly did not like having to go too far, or last for too long. Put it in a longer struggle, or take it away from its ideal ground, and the bully would begin to weaken. Take it entirely beyond its comfort zone, and it was likely to die on its feet.
By Russ Lockwood
Designer: Dave LeLacheur
Publisher: Compass Games
To create a global WWII wargame like Blitz! A World in Conflict (Compass Games, $84, released November 2015) means you have to think big — really big. That requires some compromises in terms of physical components and mechanics.
Space proved one concern. If you want to battle across the world on a 3-foot by 2-foot map, you’re not going to model every scrap of terrain or every unit that took part. Risk has a variety of global versions, although not a WWII version that I’m aware of. The most popular WWII wargame of a global type, Axis and Allies, simplified all units into one-hit wonders (OK, battleships are two-hit wonders). Forget the nuances we came to expect from reading about WWII — the game was materialschlact and luck at its finest. It took a long afternoon to play. The successor A&A versions, where you butt the Europe version up against the Pacific version, added a little more nuance, but not much. It also took 12 to 14 hours to fight the entire war.
by Russ Lockwood
Designer: Florent Coupeau
Publisher: Vae Victus
We had been wanting to play this French import wargame, Orages a L’Est, for a while, so we finally cracked it open, popped out the counters (well, used a knife to cut out the counters), and set up the Turda 1944 game. Orages a L’Est actually has two games set in 1944, Turda, featuring a joint German-Hungarian counterattack against the Soviets and the Romanians near that town in Transylvania, and Tali-Ihantala in Finland. I picked Turda because it had a flat, featureless map, and, how many times can you say 1944 joint German-Hungarian counterattack?
by Russ Lockwood
Designer: Craig Besinque
Publisher: GMT Games
Leader of the UK House of Commons Neville Chamberlain strode over and kicked Prime Minster Stanley Baldwin right in the Bewdleys. As the PM bent over with a scream, Chamberlain picked up the gavel and smashed it across the back of Baldwin’s head. The PM collapsed as the head of the gavel bounced across the floor.
Neville tossed aside the handle. Grabbing Baldwin by the scruff of the neck, the muscular Chamberlain hauled the disgraced PM out into the hallway and kicked him down the stairs.
“Thank you for your service,” Chamberlain growled. “I’ll show you how to take on that scruffy little corporal and bobble-headed Commie!”
If the above reads more like bad fantasy from D&D than from Triumph and Tragedy (T&T, from GMT), that’s because T&T offers Neville a chance to right some wrongs in 1930s Europe. Consider T&T a cross between the old AH Origins of World War II and Axis and Allies — only cleverer by far.
By Russ Lockwood and Dan Burkley
Designers: Tony Curtis and Mark Simonitch
Publisher GMT Games
I last played this GMT game covering the battle of the Bulge with Dan back in 2013, at least according to the date stamp on my photo files. It’s been too long to this terrific game. You can probably blame Bitter Woods on that — bigger counters for squinty eyes and bigger hexes for fatter fingers…
Mind you, this is not a simple game. At its base, it is just move and then a combat CRT based on odds, but with chrome.
Nevertheless, we took to the gaming table after lunch and settled in for an enjoyable game of Ardennes ‘44. Each hex is 1.6 miles and units are battalions and regiments for the most part. Each day consists of a morning, afternoon, and night turns.
by Russ Lockwood
Publisher: Columbia Games
Designers: Craig Besinque, Tom Dalgliesh
A couple of weeks ago at Phil’s, we were chatting about Columbia’s block games, comparing those we enjoyed and those, well, not. Phil mentioned he had bought a copy of East Front, Columbia’s WWII block game of Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union, put all the stickers on the blocks, but had not played it. I also mentioned that it had sounded good, but I had not tried it either. At the moment, time was a bit too short to start learning a new game, but I borrowed it to at least read the rules.
The rules sounded promising, with a couple of interesting concepts, notably the interaction of HQs, command radius, and air power.
By Paul Comben
Let us imagine for a moment a book on the battle of Waterloo – a subject wherein, of course, we are somewhat spoilt for choice. This book, with a big portrait of the victor of Waterloo on the cover, is called something along the lines of “Wellington’s Campaign in Belgium” or maybe “Wellington and The Hundred Days”; but when you open this same book, and then scour its contents from page one to page four hundred, there is not a single mention of Wellington at all. His forces move; objectives are gained or lost; but neither actively nor passively is The Iron Duke ever referred to. Odd; in fact, rather disappointing; not quite what one would have expected.
And I begin this way just to stress one particular point – there is precious little Chester Nimitz in Fleet Commander Nimitz; he is there in the title, and his portrait adorns the box lid and rules cover, but he is not coursing through the contents. Yes, it is his theatre of command, and it is his forces and his enemy’s forces on the counter sheets, but the man himself, in character, style, the level of his command decision-making, his relationships with key subordinates and with the government at home, is more of less entirely absent – just like Wellington is in our book. I am not saying this to stick the knife into the game from the start, but simply to offer a statement about my perceptions and values in the area of game design. I have certainly voiced a plea for a more accented and colourful command presence in previous articles, and I find that FC Nimitz makes a lot of those points for me by being entirely bereft of the very things I would like to see.