The Great War in Europe (Deluxe Edition) Review
This monster game from GMT simulates WWI in Europe from the August 1914 until one side has won (or when the timeline of the game ends, whichever comes first). It’s a traditional hex and counter game.
I don’t actual own this game, but played it with a gaming group that meets regularly. When I got there, the thing that struck me immediately was the sheer size of the game. The full campaign stretches over three maps that depict the different theaters of the war: the western front, the eastern front, and the near east front. The map certainly has an old Avalon Hill feel to it with its hex zones and simple terrain markings. Locations and boarders are easy to locate. You wouldn’t call the map beautiful, but it is a good map that never hinders game play. Units are thick and full of easy to read information. There’s player guide charts, a play book of scenarios, and a long but well laid out set of instructions. If you have any experience with GMT games, it’s what you would expect from the company. Solid quality.
This is a you move, I move style of game, but with one caveat. The Central Powers move first on the western map while the Allies move first on the eastern front. The near east map is split into three sections and not all three move in the same order. This does add some elements of strategy to the Central Powers as they occasionally have the option of flipping who goes first on which map. This came back to bite me as I was playing the Russians and the flip allowed the Germans to move twice in a row in the east, essentially mimicking the Russian catastrophe at Tannenberg. Of course, this also gave the Allies an extra western front turn to solidify defenses which had long term effects on the Allies gaining the upper hand a year later. Units can be stacked and the size of the stack can determine which casualty table is used. Large stacks will result in the horrible bloodbaths associated with WWI. Headquarters are used to gain artillery bonuses in battle.
If playing a WWI game worries you because you don’t want the game to bog down as it did in reality, don’t fret. There’s plenty of player movement and decision making to be had here. Sure, the game does have some built in devices to simulate the senseless slaughter that happened on WWI battlefields. As the war progresses, trenches become more sophisticated which is reflected in negative dice roll modifications. Decisions then need to be made to take risks, which will often result in a high casualty count, or be cautious and probe for areas of weaknesses.
This is done through one of the more unique mechanics in the game, zone of control (ZOC) or lack there of. I say that because there is no ZOC in this game. Units can move right past enemy units without stopping. On one hand, it’s a neat way to simulate how troops can move along the trench and pop up in other spots as they try to break holes in the other player’s line. The bad part is that if holes aren’t filled, an enemy can pour in without being stopped. Couple this with the rule that units are instantly destroyed if their line of supply is cut (you don’t get the next turn to break them free), and you end up with a game that can be quite maddening. This forces you to make long fronts and bash each other repeatedly. I guess that’s the game’s way of simulating the nature of the warfare of the day, but it isn’t without ways to exploit it or end up with some absurd situations.
A game of this scope and magnitude does have some replay ability. The Central Powers need to decide quickly how hard they want to press on which front. Strategic chits can also be drawn to bring in mandatory or voluntary events to add flavor. Still, it’s hard to imagine a game that doesn’t end up in long lines slamming the heck of each other. I would play this again, but it wouldn’t be a must play.
This was a hot topic in our particular game as the game was called in 1916 with the Central Powers feeling that victory was a last cause. Indeed, the Allies had done quite well. I had managed to hold on as Russia, losing my initial push but not having lose any Russian territory. The French and British were now on the offensive and the Germans were precariously thin in the west having had to send troops east to help the faltering Austrians out. I would need to play this a few more times to be sure, but I don’t think a Central Power victory is impossible, though easily mistakes on their part are less forgivable for them than for the Allies.
This is a pretty good game, especially considering its on a war that doesn’t necessarily translate well to the table. It’s not for the faint of heart. There’s plenty of rules to remember and some quirks that can drive you mad. The Near East map is more of an annoyance than something that adds fun to the gameplay. If you just want to play a good WWI game, I would choose Paths of Glory, but if you want something meatier with some solid operational decisions then this is a game worth trying.