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Posted on Jul 17, 2018 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Prelude to Dunkirk – “But Not in Vain: The Siege of Calais” Game Review

Prelude to Dunkirk – “But Not in Vain: The Siege of Calais” Game Review

By Rick Martin

But Not in Vain: The Siege of Calais Game Review. Publisher: High Flying Dice Games Designer: Paul Rohrbaugh Price: $20.95 (non mounted counters) $26.95 (mounted counters)

Rick Martin

Passed Inspection: Easy to learn. Fast and addictive game play. Great value for the money. Interesting subject matter. Beautiful components.

Failed Basic: Historical unit set up would be nice. AA guns should have some affect on air strikes. You have to cut the counters out.

High Flying Dice Games (HFDG) has another hit on their hands with their newest release “But Not in Vain: The Siege of Calais ” which covers the fight for the port of Calais over three days in 1940.

“But Not in Vain” breaks from many other HFDG products in that it uses a point to point movement system which is overlaid on top of their beautiful map of Calais and the surrounding country side.


From HFDG’s rule book: “After breaking out of the Ardennes, the German armored and motorized forces drove for the Channel ports to divide the Allied forces from one another. The Allied forces in Calais, composed of recently landed British regulars and reservist infantry as well as elements of the 1st Armored Division received contradictory orders as to whether to defend the port, advance and attack or withdraw. “

This is the historical situation that But Not in Vain throws you into.

The game comes in a zip lock bag and is available with mounted or unmounted counters. This old soldier likes mounted counters and would prefer die cut counters. So, don’t judge me when you look at my pictures and see some ragged edges to the counters – I’m not a counter clipper. I simply don’t have time or energy to make them look beautiful with rounded edges. I use scissors.

And since I’m on the subject of counters – the game comes with 117 single-sided full color counters. Each unit is a battalion, a brigade or a battery. Some French units are companies. Each tank or armored car counter represents around 4 or 5 vehicles.

Each unit is rated for unit type, armored attack factor, infantry attack factor and movement factor. Armored units include Panzer IIs and IIIs, 6 wheel armored cars, Cruiser Mark IIIs (A13) and British Vickers Light Tanks.

The map is a beautiful 11” x 17” work of art showing Calais and the surrounding country side with each area carefully marked as to what the main feature of that are is.

Rounding out the contents of the game is a 5 page rule book and a cardboard player’s aid card.

Some of the counters are Command Activation Counters. These randomize the actions that units can take as well as add random events in to the game play. These counters get dropped in to a cup or dish so that players can draw them each during the turn sequence.

In order to play, the game instructs you what units go in what numbered areas on the point to point map. Each area on the map is numbered and also given a terrain die roll modifier for combat purposes. Areas marked in red represent fortified areas and help with defense. I would have liked to have seen an option to either place your units in a multiple area set up (as the rules allow) or an optional historic set up so that the gamer can see where the units historically started.

The turn sequence is broken down in to AM, PM and evening phases for each of the three days of the siege and plays out as follows:

Artillery and Air Unit determinations – modified based upon how much territory is held by each side.

Operations Phase – draw the Activation Counters from the cup and activate the number of units it instructs you to do. Also, if it makes artillery or air strikes available, use up to your number determined in the previous phase. The one issue I have with air strikes is that anti-aircraft artillery is available but doesn’t seem to be influence the air strikes! I house ruled allowing anti-air units to try and circumvent an air strike in its zone.

It is during the Operations Phase that units move and attack. If a unit is hit one time, it is disrupted. A second hit damages it and a third hit destroys it. Counters are provided marking disruptions and damage.

Units which do not move or attack can entrench and help build up their defensive strength.

End Phase – all disruptions are removed; units can roll to see if they recover from being hit (if they didn’t move or were not engaged in combat). Victory points are calculated and the turn marker is advanced.

Additional rules cover opportunity fire, combined arms attacks, German air superiority, retreating after combat, panzer pull-backs and Allied reinforcements.

The random event chits adds some uncertainty to each turn and can include things like a major RAF offensive, losing an activation owing to FUBAR (look it up or watch Saving Private Ryan), British Navy evacuations, etc.

I wish German scout cars had additional functions as they were critical to locating enemy positions, cutting supply lines and harassing lines of communications.

All in all, this game is very fun and easy to learn. In addition, the terrain adds greatly to formulating either an effective attack or defense.

I found the German side to be very effective in the offensive, but there are times when you have to pull the units back to regroup. The Allies on the other hand, can quickly exhaust themselves if they push too hard with their tanks by performing a counter attack. The Matilda Mark Is are very effective but there are too few of them. Plus, if the chance to evacuate comes, you have to maintain control of the areas leading to the port.

It is these tactical and operational plans which make this game a great one to replay as you think of new strategies that you want to try out. In addition, the game has a small enough footprint that it is easily taken on trips. It sets up fast and is easy to break down. Game play can take from 2 to 4 hours.

For the price, But Not in Vain can’t be beat. It features a unique combat environment combined with interesting strategic and tactical options. Great work HFDG! This is another feather in your cap of high quality/low price games!

Armchair General Rating: 95 %

Solitaire Rating: 4 (1 is not suitable, 5 is excellent 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)!