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  Death in the Trenches The Great War 1914-1918 by Compass Games  'The Great War', 'The War to End All Wars', these were epi...

Death in the Trenches: The Great War 1914-1918 by Compass Games Death in the Trenches: The Great War 1914-1918 by Compass Games

Death in the Trenches: The Great War 1914-1918 by Compass Games

Death in the Trenches: The Great War 1914-1918 by Compass Games

 Death in the Trenches

The Great War 1914-1918


Compass Games

 'The Great War', 'The War to End All Wars', these were epithets that have been used to name the First World War. This war was a first for many reasons: aerial bombardment, poison gas, tanks, and masses of machine guns were used in it. Death and destruction of civilians was not a new thing. It had been happening since the dawn of wars. The First World War just took it to a new and frightfully unprecedented level. The western countries have always looked at it from the mostly static trench lines in France. The Eastern Campaigns usually had more freedom of movement and only stayed in one place for at most a year and usually not even that long. Four great empires were dissolved by the carnage of World War I: the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and the Ottoman empires all fell. The horrific loss of life led straight to the devil-may-care 1920s. All of the soldiers who escaped this abattoir were scared by it, whether mentally, physically, or both. In this game the designers have tried to put you into the shoes of the Entente or Central Powers from a strategic viewpoint. You will be in control of your forces across the globe, whether it be in the sky, on the ground, or at sea. 

 Compass Games has once again produced a game about World War I. As I mentioned in another review, they seem to be on a roll as far as games taking place during it. So far, their batting average has been excellent as far as each game goes. Let us see if they can keep this streak going.

 This is what comes with the game:

1 34×22″ map covering Europe and the Near East – Mounted

3+ countersheets (9/16″) of military unit counters, markers and chits – total 400 (double sided)

1 rules booklet (Game System and Random Events included)

6 8½ x11″ color player aid and display sheets

10 six sided dice

1 full-color box and lid set

 This is the hex size and turn length etc.:

Complexity: Medium (about 6 out of 10)

Playing Time: 10+ hours

Solitaire Suitability: Excellent

Time Scale: 1 turn = 3 months

Map Scale: 1 hex = approximately 80 miles

Unit Scale: Army and Corps

Designers: R. Ben Madison and Wes Erni

Artist: Jonathan Carnehl

 This is a blurb from Compass Games that I believe is worth reading:

"Death in the Trenches is a strategic-level World War I game covering the entire war, from the opening shots in Serbia and Belgium to the final defeat (or victory!) of Germany and its allies in 1918. The map, executed by Jonathan Carnehl, is designed to give you a feel for 1914 by using textures and colors featured in atlases of the time. It stretches from the Pyrenees to Moscow, and from Norway to the Sudan, covering every square inch of territory in Europe and the Near East which saw combat from 1914 to 1918, in a manageable 34×22″ format. Colonial battles around the world take place on an additional 8½x11″ map showing Germany’s empire.

The game also features 456 beautifully-illustrated counters depicting all the national armies that fought in the war – from the Germans, French, British and Russians all the way down to the Persians, Montenegrins, Armenians, South Africans, and a host of specialized units (French Foreign Legion, Gurkhas, Italian “Arditi”, Cossacks, Tyrolean Kaiserjäger, Zionists, Bavarians, “Dunsterforce”… even China may send a small expeditionary force).

For the World War I buff, the game’s simple off-map system of Allocation markers fills your world with historical detail: Tanks, Alpenkorps, artillery barrages, flamethrowers, poison gas, Krupp guns, Mustapha Kemal, the Royal Air Force, French elan, Rommel’s mountain tactics and Galliéni’s taxicabs… while the great wartime leaders all leave their mark (good or bad!) on history: Bruchmuller, Haig, Hoffmann, Mackensen, Hindenburg and Ludendorff, Rennenkampf and Samsonov, Sarrail, Von Francois, Foch, Brusilov, Nivelle, Plehve, Putnik and Yudenich. All this detail is added without forcing you to remember special rules.

What other WWI games make ruthlessly complex, Death in the Trenches simulates with elegant simplicity. Face-up units are entrenched; face-down units aren’t! Simple as that. Emphasis is on the fun stuff rather than the boring stuff; there is no bean counting of production points, supply rules and strategic redeployment are easy, and in combat there are no complicated terrain modifiers to memorize – those are baked right into the combat die roll."

 Let us first take a look at the components. The heft of the box is pretty good. However, now that so many games, this one included, come with mounted maps this is no longer a variable denoting gaming goodness (it actually may never have been). We grognards were always sucked in by large and heavy boxes. 

 The map has been judiciously set up to give the player the entire European and Near Eastern areas where campaigns took place, and more, on one normal sized map. That the designers were also able to include the turn record track and some other tables, and a subset map of India, is even more impressive. The map, while appearing plain, has an innate beauty, at least to me. The major cities that did and could have been a part of the campaigns are included. It would seem from the amount of area squished into the map that it would lose something in the conversion. However, at eighty miles a hex it seems just perfect for a strategic view of the area. Naturally, with this large of an area depicted you do not get much of the tactical obstacles, or benefits. The map's muted colors seem to match the somber tones that should accompany this war. There is a one sheet mounted map that has the areas in the Pacific, German East Africa, German Cameroon, and German South Africa that were also fought over during the war. This game is one of the very few that depict these areas. 

 The Rulebook is in full color and is twenty-eight pages long. The type is a bit on the small size. The rules go out of their way to explain that this is not your father's wargame. The game rules etc. have been based on Wes Erni's calculations and his WESCOM (the Warfare Equivalency System and Combat Operations Model). I will have more to say about this later in the review. The Events Book is twenty pages long and has a little color but is mostly in black and white. The first few pages are for the game setup. The next few pages are a complete catalog of what is in each hex. I do not remember ever seeing this in a game before and it is a nice touch. The last eleven pages are of all the events that can take place in each year. The game comes with six hard stock Player Aids. There are two fold out Omnibus Markers Track sheets. One is for the Entente and the other for the Central Powers. Then we have two Special event sheets, one for each side, that both have twenty-five events on them. Then there is a Battle Board and an Attacker Battle Chart. Some of the printing on this is also on the small side. Next up, we have four countersheets. These are adorned with the owning country flag on them. They come pre-rounded and easily come out of the sprues. These would be the most colorful part of the game. A few of them also come adorned with ships, artillery, and planes. The package on the whole is one that your game table will be calling for. 

 Now we will have a blurb from the Rulebook on WESCOM:

"WESCOM (the Warfare Equivalency System and Combat Operations Model) was created by Wes Erni, for the game Absolute Victory (designed in the 1990s but not published until 2016 by Compass Games; the first edition of Death in the Trenches was actually published first). It has been used in several other
games. The principle behind WESCOM is to engage a player’s personality in the Battle system, so that a player’s own level of aggression, or timidity, is vividly expressed in the way that player approaches each individual battle. The key to the WESCOM system is the infamous “Overroll”, where the player rolls as many dice
as he wants to, trying to achieve a die roll as high as possible but without going over a limit; if you go over the limit, you achieve nothing! In this way, the aggressive player constantly risks disaster. While critics who don’t understand the system complain (“What do you mean I rolled all those dice and did no damage?!”), thoughtful players of these games enjoy the emotional roller-coaster that the system forces them to ride. Firepower is essentially an index of offensive power, and takes into account morale, equipment, low-level commanders, and national temperament.

Fortitude is essentially an index of defensive strength, and takes into
account morale, equipment, low-level commanders, and national temperament.

In DEATH IN THE TRENCHES, Fortitude ratings are a little hard to decipher as they have been abstracted to show vast disparities in unit sizes. But the effect is to make every Division worth “one” on attack and defense, which enormously simplifies Battle mechanics for the player compared with the First Edition. Players should note that while Firepower seems like an “offensive” quality and Fortitude seems like a “defensive” quality, both ratings are used by both sides
in a battle, because Battle is simultaneous. While most games have a simplistic "I attack you all along the front, then you attack me all along the front” system, WESCOM accurately represents the intricate ballet of forces on the battlefield."

 Per the above, I hope that I am seen as a 'thoughtful player'.

 This is from the designers describing their thoughts on each country's relative strength:

"The basic unit of force in the game is the “division,” abbreviated “Div”. The exact size of a Div in the game is a mathematical
abstraction, but conceptually you can think of a Div as equaling approximately this many men: AH 20,000; USA 19,000; Russia 18,000; Italy 17,000; France 16,000; Turkey 15,000; Britain 14,000; Germany 11,000. Those numbers are not trivial! The Battle and logistical systems in Death in the Trenches are driven by Wes Erni’s finely tuned mathematical calculations. For game purposes, for instance, an Austro-Hungarian Division is nearly twice the size
of a German Division. This means that an Austro-Hungarian Division has a Battle advantage over a German Division, if only on account of its enormous size. The effect in the game can seem bizarre at first glance – Austrian units actually perform better on attack than Germans do! This is only because they are so much
larger. The flip side of this, however, is that Austrians are much harder to replace, because their casualty rates are so much higher. While this may feel like the Austrians are hard-to-replace ‘élite’ units while Germans are below-average ‘grunts’, the per capita effect is exactly the opposite. Just be aware that this entire system is extremely counterintuitive and takes some time getting used to. "

 Precisely because the system is so 'counterintuitive' is why I have decided to post the designer's words in full. On the outside this game seems like a cross between Axis and Allies and the old Avalon Hill game 'Guns of August'. While the ideas are simple, they do seem to be completely different than almost any other wargame. Most wargames battles are still based on a CRT and a set of modifiers. In simple games it will only be a few modifiers while in others it will be a list as long as your arm. Having a game based upon how lucky or belligerent a player feels means that you get a game where you can have battles like the Somme or Verdun. The battles can be absolutely brutal as far as casualties go. 

 Another interesting concept from the game is Reserve Divisions. These can be used by the player for:

Strategic Redeployment

Building Armies

Special Event Loss

Destroyed in Battle

 I must admit having been taken in by the look of the game. I was not expecting the game to be anywhere near as deep as it actually is. The game mechanics also help with the counter clutter. You do not feel as if you are a God that is using a tweezer to negotiate the buildings of the Manhattan Skyline. The designers have actually gone with a KISS style to the game. The only thing the player needs to do is to open himself up to new ways of thinking about wargames and their rules. Without, hopefully, beating a dead horse, they are counterintuitive. However, they work and work very well to simulate World War I. The game is listed as being as either one or two players. It is also given high marks for playing in solitaire mode. I can agree wholeheartedly with this assertion.

 Some of the Events are:

Achtung, Panzer - Germany's lumbering clumsy A7V tanks attack. This gives +7 firepower to any German attack in a clear hex.

Bruchmüller - Artillery genius, great for surprise attacks. This gives +30 firepower to any German attack

Strosstruppen - This gives +10 firepower to any German attack.

Foch - At the start of any EP pulse, you may "unflip" one stack of French Armies.

Voie Sacrée - At the start of any EP pulse roll three die. The French may add that many Divisions to Armies in any one hex in France.

Smith-Dorrien - At the start of any EP pulse, you may "unflip" one stack of EP Armies (at least one Army must be British).

 This is the Sequence of Play:

2.1 First Random Events Phase
1. Draw one chit to determine what Random Events occur (see 3.0).
2. Divisions are now added to Reserves/Armies by the Events just drawn (3.1).
3. The EP player may now transfer Fleets from Sea to Sea (8.2).
4. The CP player may now transfer Fleets from Sea to Sea (8.2).
5. Players may now challenge Naval Supremacy (see 8.3).

2.2 CP Logistics Phase
1. Each CP unit in a CP Units Holding Box may be built, or rebuilt, by the CP
Player (5.3). You may leave units in the Holding Box if you choose. Armies built at this time may also be reinforced by attaching Divs from Reserves (as in step #3 below).
2. CP may transfer Divs from one unflipped Army to another unflipped Army of the same nationality within 3 hexes (marching distance).
3. CP may transfer Divisions from Reserves, to unflipped Armies (Rule 6.4). This includes the transfer of Minor Forces (4.3) from the Minor Forces Reserve Box to the map.
4. CP may now transfer Divisions from unflipped Armies, to Reserves (Rule 6.4). This includes the transfer of Minor Forces (4.3) from the map to the Minor Forces Reserve Box.

2.3 EP Logistics Phase
The EP player repeats the preceding steps (2.2), using his own Armies and Divisions. Both Players can do this simultaneously if they trust one another.

2.4 Pulse Phase (see 6.0 and 7.0)
[2.4.1] During the Pulse Phase, play proceeds by a series of alternating pulses, kind of like chess moves. First one player goes, then the other player, and back again, alternating until both sides either have nothing left to move, or don’t want to move anything.
[2.4.2] The player who moves first in the turn is indicated on the Turn-Record Track next to the turn number (CP on Turns 1, 2, and 3; EP on Turn 4, etc.)
[2.4.3] During a Pulse, the player who is moving (“the phasing player”) moves one stack of units as explained in Rule 6.0. If this results in the moving stack entering an enemy-controlled Hex occupied by enemy units, the Battle occurs, as explained in Rule 7.0.
Certain Special Events (3.4) are done during, or instead of, movement.
[2.4.4] A player may also “pass” during his Pulse, and hand the right to move to his opponent. If both players “pass” consecutively, the Pulse Phase ends. (So be careful – don’t give the other Player a chance to end the Turn unless you’re prepared to live with the consequences!)

2.5 Unflipment Phase
1. All Armies on the map which were flipped, now “unflip” and return to printed-side-up.
2. Spend Divisions to Repair forts (8.4).
3. Roll for Armenian Massacres (14.2).
4. Surrender Checks (12.0); check Russian “Hammer and Sickle” cities (13.2).

2.6 Second Random Events Phase
1. Draw again for Events, as in 2.1 (every turn).
2. Divisions are now added to Reserves/Armies by the Events just drawn (3.1).
3. Put all Event Chits back into the cup for use during the next year (Fall turns only: see rule 3.0).
This concludes one turn. The cycle repeats until one player resigns, or Fall, 1918 has ended (see 16.0).

 As you can see, deciding to when to 'Pass' during the Pulse Phase is an important decision on the player's part. 

 Another interesting rule is 'Reds' (Partisans). If any Great Power Surrenders (except Russia), the victor places two Reds Armies in the territory of the surrendered nation. These will be commanded by the opposite player. So, if France surrenders, the Reds would be under the control of the Central Power Player. The Russian Revolution has its own set of rules. 

 Thank you very much Compass Games for letting me review this great addition to World War I games. The most important thing about our hobby is to learn things, at least to me. This game does not really teach you that much history, you should already know all of that. It does make you open your mind to learn a new way of thinking toward playing and understanding wargames. A day without learning something is a day wasted. I have really enjoyed playing this game.

 Please remember that Compass Games Expo is coming up on November 10-14, 2022. This will take place at the beautiful Comfort Inn & Suites in Meriden Ct. I hope to see you there.

 It is also that time of year again. Compass Games yearly sale is in full swing. Please take a look.


Death in the Trenches: The Great War 1914-1918:

Compass Games:

Compass Games Expo: