Axis & Allies 1914
This is not World War II. Progress is/was measured by yards, not miles. The Italians were on the Allies side. Turkey, then at the center of the Ottoman Empire, was one of the members of what was known as the Central Powers. Imperial Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were the two other main Central Powers. The major Allies, sometimes referred to as the Entente, but which I prefer to simply call the Allies, consisted of the British Empire, France, Italy, the United States, and Imperial Russia. There were other historical members of the alliance, but they more or less fell under the command and control of one of these great powers. Had General Pershing not insisted that its integrity be maintained, even the American army would have found itself as simply being replacements for French and British.
I’m a World War II buff...always have been and always will be. World War I was something that was somehow not as interesting or exciting as World War II. It was, if anything, only the prelude to the “real” war that followed some 20 short years later. Other than rumors of my mother’s father – so he’d be my Grandfather – being gassed while “over there”, I had no real personal attachments to the war. It seemed to me that all the main historical characters walked around with swords and feathers on their really fancy hats and helmets. The political relationships between the various countries seemed confusing and complicated. The idea of trench warfare was interesting, but frankly it seemed that the commanders must simply have been inept and lacking any imagination on how to conduct a war. It seemed that the entire thing was conducted by lesser men than could be found during the Second World War. Later, as I became more informed, I developed a new appreciation and better understanding of what this war was really about and why it happened as it did. I became intrigued by the strength of the demonstrated human spirit that manifested itself on the many battlefields of this war that was to be called “the war to end all wars”.
I communicate to others by way of games – it’s what I do. My task was to design a game that captured the magnitude and feel of this unique struggle. It was with that in mind that I designed this game. We are indeed high up in the air looking down. The words “gas attack” or “trench foot” are nowhere to be found in the rules. Such specific details had to be passed over if the greater aspects of the war were to be incorporated into the game. The core unit types in this game are infantry and artillery units. Tanks and aircraft, new to war, are also represented, but in a reduced way when compared to other Axis & Allies games. As I became more aware of the history of this war, it became clear to me that it was above all else a war of infantry and artillery – thousands of infantry and artillery. I leave it to you to imagine the use of poison gases and cavalry units that eventually had to get off their horses and man the trenches, the primitive form of aerial bombardment made by Zeppelins, and even the impact of machine guns that killed by the thousands. They are all there, but you can’t see them from your vantage point. You don’t have to in order to understand this tragedy of human history.
I’ve visited many of the battlefields of Europe. Although all of them were fascinating in their ways, the two that linger in my mind are the beaches of Normandy where the D-Day invasion occurred in World War II and the World War I battlefield of Verdun. Normandy conjures up thoughts of bravery and the triumph over tyranny. It was the opening of the door that eventually led to the liberation of Europe. My memories of my visit are those of a beautiful coastline that quickly becomes the most beautiful collection of rolling hills and lush farm lands. Just off the coast is the American cemetery. As tragic as it is to see some 10,000 graves, it remains somehow possible to walk among the perfectly aligned tombstones and still be able to assign colors and even light to the memories of the visit. You can’t help but to be proud of your country and the soldiers, sailors, and airmen that made the ultimate sacrifice on this very spot. They lift you up - and being lifted up in this way feels good.
Verdun is different. It’s dark and dreary. No positive emotions are derived from this place. It was part of a meat grinder that eliminated a generation of European youth. This battle alone entailed the deaths of almost a million, primarily French and German, soldiers. Meat grinder? What else could you call something or some place that experienced 40 million exploding artillery shells that churned up the earth and continues to scar it until this day, almost a hundred years later. That’s when it dawns on you. Verdun, as large a battle as it was, is but one of many World War I battlefields throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle-East. To mention but one other, I suggest you read up on The Battle of the Somme, where the British army alone suffered 60,000 casualties in one day These were places where men found themselves exposed to the full impact of monstrous machines of war which no one, especially the generals, understood. The world was out of whack. The weapons of modern warfare were being introduced during each passing day. All too often, new and frighteningly efficient ways of killing were finding their way to the battlefields, but standard military strategy and tactics couldn't keep up with the new technologies. This resulted in staggering casualty counts on both sides.
It is my hope that while playing this game you develop a better idea and insight into this particularly nasty war. I hope it helps you better grasp the amazing range and scope of the nations, the alliances, and the problems experienced by commanders of the time. I hope you get a feel for what it must have been like to move hundreds of thousands of troops into vital strategic locations only to again move hundreds of thousands more into the same contested battlefield to replace the staggering number of casualties.
While playing this game you will quickly realize that this is not World War II. There are no massive sweeps across continents with blitzing armored divisions and aircraft. Instead, there are a series of determined offensives resisted by equally determined armies dedicated to holding the line. You will find that your depleting resources of men and artillery must be deployed with great thought and efficiency. You will be fighting pretty much the way man has been fighting with each other for thousands of years... only this time the ability to kill your enemy, and for him to kill you, has become intolerably efficient. If you want to better understand World War II, you have to totally understand the war that set the stage for it. I love this game. I like the way it plays. For a game that has no sweeping conquest of vast territories, it sure moves fast and easy. It helped me to better understand what so many went through during what seems a short hundred years ago.