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Posted on Dec 4, 2018 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

“My center is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking.” The First Battle of the Marne 1914 AD Game Review

“My center is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking.” The First Battle of the Marne 1914 AD Game Review

By Rick Martin

The First Battle of the Marne 1914 AD Game Review.  Publisher: Turning Point Simulations Designer: Jon Compton Price  $32.95 (ziplock) or $37.95 (boxed)

 

Passed Inspection: mounted board, good solo play, multiple scenarios, small footprint, can be played in one afternoon, educational, living rules updated on company’s website

 

Failed Basic: Set up is a little confusing, black printing on dark background makes both some of the counters and some parts of the board too dark to comfortably see, army boundary rules and “no Central Powers in Paris” may be realistic but are too constricting on freedom of game play

 

“The First Battle of the Marne” is the 18th game in Turning Point Simulations’ wonderful “Twenty Decisive Battles of the World” series which is based upon Sir Edward Creasy’s book.  It looks at the victory during the 1914 “mobile” battles of the First World War and clearly illustrates why the war then bogged down in to the devastating trench warfare for which World War 1 is now remembered.

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As I have in past Turning Point reviews, while I could go in to my own dissertation on the basics and historical significant of this battle, let me quote from Turning Point’s expertly written description for the game from their own website:

 

“It DID appear to be a miracle. When the war started, the French had gone all-out in their Plan XVII offensives aimed at recapturing Alsace and Lorraine, losing a quarter-of-a-million troops in the process and nearly losing Paris as well.

But the canny Joseph Gallieni, charged with defending Paris had done so by marshaling his forces and looking for the right opportunity to strike back. The Germans gave it to him.

The Marne has many novel wrinkles. It was the first battle in which observation planes are credited with providing critical information – they spotted a gap between German armies and the opportune place for a counterattack. Paris was on the edge of defeat. Two German armies were almost surrounded and destroyed. And then, there were the 600 taxicabs, legendary for rushing reserves to a critical area. Gallieni’s quote was, “Well, here at least is something out of the ordinary!” And so much about the battle was exactly that – out of the ordinary – like miracles.

When it was over, the casualties were staggering. Two million men had participated. Half-a-million were lost. It was the largest “open field” operation of the war, with both sides fighting in desperation and the highest daily combined casualty counts of any battle in the war.”

 

The game scale is 1 turn equals roughly 1 day, each hex is approximately 3 ½ miles and each unit is a division or a brigade.

 

The game includes the following components:

  • One 11″x17″ mounted game map
  • Two 8.5″x11″ Order of Battle Charts with Game Tracks
  • 158 die cut mounted ½″ double sided Counters
  • a 12-page Rules Booklet

A 6 sided die comes with the boxed version of the game.

 

The game, itself, takes up very little space making it perfect for taking on trips and, since the whole campaign can be played in two to four hours, the game is perfect for an afternoon’s play.

 

Each unit is rated for its attack, defense and movement values.  In addition, each brigade or division is usually represented by two counters – one for its full strength on one side and first level of damage and disorganization on the other, and one counter for its third level of damage and disorganization on one side and its fourth and final level of damage and disorganization on its back.  In addition, each unit is color coded for its country – French, British (Entente) or Central Powers.  French and Central Powers cavalries can take more damage than the British cavalry units so French and Central Powers cavalries are two sided while British cavalry units are easy to break and have only 1 side.

 

To begin the game, punch out and set up the counters on their respective Entente or Central Powers Order of Battle Chart.

 

Before the Entente counters are placed in their set up areas on the board, roll on the Entente Corps At-Start Reduction Table.  These units will usually have at least one step loss of reduction at the start of the game which simulates the Entente’s command and control issues at the start of the battle.  These units may regain their strength during the Recovery Phase as more recruits, competent commanders and supplies reach them and moral increases.

 

I found the set-up phase to be somewhat confusing as some of the counters and some of the setup hexes on the board are marked with blank ink on a dark background.  Perhaps this looked acceptable on a computer screen during the game design but, in practice, after printing, the wording is difficult to make out.  I also found the description of where the Central Powers are to be set up to be somewhat sketchy so I had to use my best guess as to some locations and units.

 

There are a few restrictions on set up and final positions after movement which are interesting.  The Entente must keep a line across the board with their units and their zone of controls.  In addition, both armies must keep in to specific zones of operation and counters are given to the players to mark these zones. I think the zones should have been an optional rule.  As a player, I wanted to try out some strategies and the zone rule is too restrictive even if it is authentic to the operational planning at that time.

 

Once set up is complete, the Central Powers have automatic initiative until turn 7 and then initiative is rolled for. If the initiative shifts to the Entente, they retain it for the rest of the game!  This represents the strain on the Central Powers as they advance and the reorganizations in the Entente’s command structure as well as the French and British increasing morale as the Central Powers thrust towards Paris is blunted.

 

The turn sequence is as follows:

 

1) Initiative Change Determination Phase (turn 7 onwards)

2) Initiative Player Turn

  1. Army Boundary Phase
  2. Movement Phase

Movement Segment

Reinforcement Segment

Disruption Removal Segment

Recovery Segment

  1. Combat Phase

3) Non-Initiative Player Turn The second player now becomes the phasing player and repeats steps A through C.

4) End of Turn Actions

  1. Victory Determination
  2. Advance the Turn Marker

 

Movement utilizes the same standard with other strategic hex and counter war games and includes rules for zones of control and for strategic movement by trains and trucks but, strangely, Central Power units are incapable of entering the city of Paris if I am reading Rule 6.1.7 correctly. This artificial construct can seriously interfere with trying new strategies much as the army zone of operations rule can.

 

Combat is the standard ratio based upon Attack Strength and Defense Strength with artillery abstractly factored in.  When units are successfully attacked, they may dish damage back at the attacker as well as retreat, get disrupted or suffer step loses.

 

Reinforcements are critical for both sides but especially for the Entente and the famous taxi cabs filled with reinforcements coming from Paris, the “Marne Taxis”, are represented.

 

Two scenarios are included.  A full campaign which covers 14 turns and a shorter scenario which focuses on the Entente counter attack around day 9 of the battle.

 

Optional rules should have been included to break up the realistic but highly structured nature of army operations at that time.  I would also have included optional weather rules to see how changing weather conditions could have affected the battle.

 

As it is, “The First Battle of the Marne” is a fun game and a nice simulation of the famous battle which is highly educational but a little too structured and limiting in game options for my taste.

 

Armchair General Rating:  85 %

 

Solitaire Rating: 3 (1 is not suitable, 5 is perfect for solo play)

 

About the Author

 

A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!

2 Comments

  1. For better or worse, this was more Lembit Tohver’s design than it was mine.

    • I liked the game. I just wish it had a few more options. Good work.

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