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Wind in the Wires and An Escapers Log by D Grinnell-Milne Review First off I have to admit I'm a WWI obsessive. This prob...

Wind in the Wires and The Escapers Log book review Wind in the Wires and The Escapers Log book review

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Wind in the Wires and An Escapers Log by D Grinnell-Milne Review

First off I have to admit I'm a WWI obsessive. This probably doesn't come as much of a surprise to those who know me. I've always had an interest in the Great War for as long as I can remember, more so even than WWII. Though at some point this interest crossed a line and I freely admit now borders on an obsession.  I think it was when I first watched the film Regeneration, which had quite an impact on me. From then on, I devoured memoir after memoir, which to this day is still the case. So you can imagine I've a pretty fair sized library of WWI books, which will probably continue to grow long into the future.

As just mentioned, I've read a lot of memoirs. Though most deal with the War on the land, I have read a few written by those who fought the War in the air. I think air warfare during WWI is fascinating. More so than in later wars, as we are dealing with the birth of war in the skies, in machines that had only recently managed to get man airborne.  So, you were more  likely to be killed just trying to fly the thing or due to some sort of failure than actual enemy action. Yet all nations never had any problems recruiting young men (boys to be honest) to go through the Russian roulette of training and then, with just a few hours solo under their belt, off into the skies above France or wherever it was they had been posted to. Life expectancy was low and could drop a lot lower depending on the role of the plane and plane type you had been assigned to. God help you if you had been assigned to a Be2C Recon plane during April '17 for instance. Even if assigned to a fighter squadron, your chances weren't great of getting past three weeks, though being assigned to a squadron like 56 Squadron which was full of great pilots would increase your life expectancy, a bit.

You'll find the pilots in the RFC would have come from a public school, though many had first served in the trenches and maybe came from a prestigious regiment like the Guards, though this was not always the case, as during the rush to enlist many public school boys joined whichever regiment would get to France first. One of the requisites the recruiters were looking for at the start of the RFC, apart from youth, was the ability to ride a horse, showing how little really was known about flying and what would make a good pilot! Yet you'll find it was a certain type of person that volunteered to be a pilot. You'll come across  extroverts, rebels, risk takers, adventure seekers, all extremely confident young men, when you start reading about the RFC. Though stress may eventually take its toll on those traits, for the most part the pilots are as interesting to read about as the machines they flew and died in. The author of this particular book is no exception to the rule. Well educated, proud, loyal, witty, determined, confident, aloof, eccentric and with a great turn of phrase (you can add fatalistic to that as the War went on, a trait most pilots gained at some point, if they lived long enough. Usually shown through, what today we call, a dark sense of humour). The book is so good because the author was not only a pilot but also a brilliant writer. A reason many Officer accounts are such great reads is due to the high standard of education they had been through.

Wind in the Wires is a great read. Easily up there with the other classics like Cecil Lewis' Sagittarius Rising. Though Grinnell-Milne wasn't in such a famous squadron as 56 squadron, which Cecil Lewis flew in, doesn't detract from the memoir at all. In fact, his training and first deployment early on in the War was being assigned to a recon squadron. I found this extremely interesting, as usually you'll find most memoirs come from fighter pilots and cover mid to late war. So it was a refreshing change to read about what was the beginning of the RFC, and what it was like to be in a Recon squadron around this time. As you'll find out, it wasn't exactly how you'd have imagined. The squadron was definitely not a stereotypical RFC squadron. His experience during the first phase of his War in the air wasn't ideal. It's fair to say the squadron wasn't too friendly or supportive; whether it was due to low moral being a recon squadron is hard to tell.  Halfway through the book he becomes a POW and there follows a brief description of his POW experience (the second book An Escaper's Log covers that period). Many failed attempts later, he finally escapes and once back, this time, he is assigned to a fighter squadron for the remainder of the War. Now you'll find that typical RFC squadron and you'll love being in their company for the rest of the book. This is the period Duncan got 5 out of his 6 confirmed victories. Anyone with any interest in WWI and the air war will love the book. Duncan is a brilliant writer and has an excellent eye when it comes to capturing all the little nuances, traits and mannerisms of someone's personality and then getting it onto the page. The book is a real page turner and for a while you'll be with him, through the highs and lows of being a pilot in the RFC during WWI. Highly recommended.

An Escaper's Log is his second book which covers the period of his incarceration as a POW and we follow him through the highs and lows of many failed escapes. The fact he never gives up shows the type of man that he was. I haven't previously read any accounts from prisoners of war in WW1, so it was very interesting and an area I'm keen to explore more. When he finally manages to escape and get back home, he has the chance to stay home and train new pilots, yet he turns it down, a testament to the man and his desire to get back up in the clouds again. Though it was the first book, Wind in the Wires, I was really interested in, I also really enjoyed An Escaper's Log. A book I probably wouldn't have read on its own but I'm glad I have. Well worth reading!

I also highly recommend a trilogy by Derek Robinson, Goshawk Squadron, War Story and Hornet's Sting. A fictional account of a RFC squadron and its pilots. Full of humour, as well as horror, the author does a brilliant job in bringing a squadron to life, from the fantastic banter between pilots to the vivid realistic descriptions of air combat and the author of Wind in the Wires, Duncan Grinnell-Milne, could easily have been a character in one of those books. So if you've read any of these books you'll have an idea what Duncan was like!

'We have no hesitation in ranking it with the very best of the war books.' Daily Telegraph

'Wind in the Wires is a war book in class by itself…. From beginning to end the book a lure to read…outstanding.' Flight

'An addition to the number of books about flying needs more excuse than the mere subject of air fighting. This book is excused by the charm of the author's style, by his judgement in pruning his story, and by the interest which his own personality arouses.' Manchester Guardian

'The most beautiful air book that has yet appeared.' Birmingham Post

'The most interesting and attractive quality of the book is the fact that it gives a graphic account of the fledgling days of wartime flying. When the time comes for the great writer of the future to compose a comprehensive narrative of the war, this is one of the books that will help him acquire a true perspective.' Nottingham Guardian

Another impressive collection from Thomas Gunn gets reviewed. It really is a great day when a parcel arrives from Thomas Gunn, ful...

Thomas Gunn latest releases. Thomas Gunn latest releases.

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Another impressive collection from Thomas Gunn gets reviewed.

It really is a great day when a parcel arrives from Thomas Gunn, full of goodies to review for the blog. Every time I go to open one of those silver boxes the contents always exceed my expectations! As it's Thomas Gunn my expectations are high as well. This time was no exception.  Though the previous miniatures  I've reviewed have all been outstanding, this particular collection, from my perspective, is the stand out one so far. Some of you know I have an obsessive interest in WWI, so it will come as no real surprise why I love this set of new releases so much. I have a group of what can be WWI air crew or just soldiers relaxing in the rear areas which includes a real life footballer and another historical figure of a War artist. We also have a WW2 Royal Canadian Commando, WW2 ANZAC sentry and finally a WW2 Japanese SPG to review! All have been released this month, September '16.

The first miniature is a historical professional footballer from WW1. His name is Ben Butler and he enlisted into the Pals battalion 17th Middlesex which was also known as the first footballers'  battalion.  Prior to enlisting, he played for Reading and Queens Park Rangers. Sadly he never got to play professional football again as he was wounded by enemy shelling in 1916 around Lens and like many others in the 'Great War' died of his wounds. 

Rev. Samuel Green, a chaplain of Casualty Clearing Station No.22, recorded his impressions of the rugged centre-half: A great, big chap lies in this bed – a guard bulges up the blankets over his leg. ‘Well, Corporal, how are you now ?’ – ‘Bad. This leg is done in. No more football for me. I’m a ‘pro’ and play for…..’ I look at the papers and see his thigh is shattered – always dangerous, these wounds. However the danger is not immediate, and I shall have many more half-hours at this bedside. He fights for dear life for ten days, and then goes out. He has played the game. I doubt not that he has won. A fine fellow – may he rest in peace.’ May he rest in peace. He was wounded on 3rd May '16 and died ten days later. He was 29 and left behind Kate, his wife.

Ben sits on a crate holding his beloved football. The sculpt is a mini work of art. It really exudes character. The sculpture has to be applauded for catching so much and managing to tell a story. The pose he is in couldn't be any better. It's bordering on genius and it's easy to get into his mind, sat there on that crate. The detailing is superb and the paintwork faultless. It's not just another toy soldier I'm looking at, but a real person. This makes it even more poignant. He is most likely dreaming about his exploits on the pitch before the madness started. Also no doubt, hoping the War finishes soon, not only to get back to his Kate, but also so he can eek out a couple more years playing professionally before he retires.

At the ripe old age of 29, time isn't on his side, he thinks to himself. Well it's near the end of April and who knows the big offensive due any time soon might end the War and I'll be home in time for the start of the new season. The thought cheers him up. They go back to the front line the next day the 30th April.  "Anyone fancy a game?" he shouts as he gets up from the crate.

I love this miniature. Plus not only do we have Ben but we also have two other variants.  The first is Daniel Minogue. an Aussie Rules Footballer. Daniel was lucky and survived the War.

Next we jump forwards to WW2 and is Fritz Walter. He was drafted into a Luftwaffe unit, one designed to keep certain men out of too much danger.

Ben Butler comes in the usual Thomas Gunn silver box, and as standard for Thomas Gunn, great care has gone into padding, so the miniature doesn't get damaged in transit. Actually one of the boxes had taken an obvious knock, yet the miniature was safe and sound, surrounded with foam padding.

The next historical figure from WWI is war artist Muirhead Bone GW066A. With the first name of Muirhead it's obvious he was a Scotsman. He was commissioned an 'honorary second lieutenant' and sent to France in May'16 as the first Official British War Artist. He was sent to capture life in France with his pen and paper. Lithographs were the big thing back then and he produced two volumes and around 150 lithographs. After the War he was knighted and during WW2 did similar work. He died 21st October 1953.

Muirhead is in relaxed dress, even sporting what looks like a cravat tucked under his shirt, as he sketches an aeroplane. Over his shoulder is a satchel that no doubt contains the tools of his trade. The paintwork is faultless and again the sculpture has caught a very natural looking pose. Looking at his face, apart from sporting a moustache, you can also discern an intense concentration in his eyes as he takes in this new wonder of science before him, an aeroplane. He stands on a texture base which is standard for Thomas Gunn miniatures. He comes in a silver box and just like everything to do with Thomas Gunn miniatures care has gone into the foam padding to ensure he arrives at your home damage free.

There is also another war artist GW066B;  this time Australian War artist  George Lambert. He produced some excellent images of Anzac cove in Gallipoli.


Muirhead and George are limited to 100 each and retail at £32.


We move on from historical figures. Here we have The Orderly GW065A. Sitting outside (camp site or airfield) using a crate as a chair and putting his typewriter on a little campaign table, he has decided to do his typing outside today. Just finished his cup of tea, he lights up his second to last army issue cigarette. He glances over to see that war artist in deep thought looking at the Be2c that's sat outside its hanger, as one of the squadron's observers climbs out of the front seat.

This little set consists of four separate  pieces. We have the orderly seated on his crate, then we have the table, followed by the typewriter and finally his cup, so you can arrange as you see fit. I love the pose; you can tell he is enjoying that cigarette. The paint work is excellent, with great use of shading.  The table does look like it's made from wood, as the painter has done an excellent job replicating wood grain. I've just noticed on the base that they have used something to create little tufts of grass that look so realistic. It's a detail I haven't noticed until now, but it shows just how much work and thought goes into their miniatures. A sign of superb quality. Damn, I do love Thomas Gunn!

He comes in a silver box which is well padded with foam.

The Orderly also comes in a variant GW065B, a German version.

Both versions are limited to 100 and retail at £35.


The Tinker GW067A. This is another exciting little set that oozes atmosphere and is a diorama in its own right. The 'tinker' has grabbed the officer's wicker chair, whilst he is out on a long recon patrol.  Having put up the campaign table, he's decided to get some minor repairs done to the mess kitchen equipment, which had been damaged during the previous night as the pilots let off steam.  With a cigarette firmly gripped between his lips, he picks up his hammer and one of the pans, which needs a few dents hammered out, and goes to work. Funny, he thinks to himself, those pilots certainly got hammered last night, hehe, especially young Jones. I do hope he comes back safely today, being his batman has been very pleasant. Most likely the best officer so far. Not to say the other four had been bad in any way, just something about Jones reminds me of my son I suppose.  God rest his soul, god rest all their souls, though hopefully Cpt Waverly is a prisoner; I liked him.

 Altogether we have nine pieces. The first is the actual figure seated in a wicker chair. Then we have a campaign table, a hammer, large pot, pot lid, cup, two small pans and a large spoon. The hammer and one of the pans you slot into his hands. It really is a great set though be careful as it would be very easy to lose a cup or pan, as they are very small. This chap is busy repairing some kitchen equipment, with the obligatory cigarette in his mouth.  He is sitting outside and if you look closely you can see tufts of grass. Such amazing detail and little touches like this put a smile on my face.  Everything has been sculpted with great care even the little cups and pans. The wicker chair looks excellent. You'd think it was made from wicker, just as the campaign table looks to be made from wood. The paintwork is yet again faultless (honestly I do look for something to fault, just every little thing has been done to such a great degree I can't find anything). He comes in a silver box and great care has gone into the padding.

There is also a German variant GW067B. This time in German dress.

 The sets are limited to 100 and retail at £35.00


Following the 'Tinker' we have the 'Tailor' GW068A. Another impressive miniature. It's time to do some repairs to his service issue trousers. As the sun is out, he decides to get some fresh air rather than stay in the current abode, a hot, flea-ridden barn with barely enough light to find your boots in the morning, a typical enlisted man's abode whilst travelling around the French countryside. Grabbing his trusty little OXO box which contains his darning tools, he grabs a crate, finds the tear caused by barb wire whilst out in no man's land the previous night when out on patrol. He was one of the few who actually loved going out at night into no man's land, loved the adrenalin rush. In the early hours of the morning, his battalion had pulled out of the front line into the rear for a rest. Being a pre-war soldier, he had also learnt the art of smoking whilst never taking said cigarette out of his mouth until finished, keeping his hands free to do the important jobs.

This miniature is just one piece - so no need to worry about losing anything. I love the OXO box. A fantastic detail and I think you know by now Thomas Gunn is all about the detail. He is using what looks like a small set of scissors, though I could be wrong here as it may be some sort of darning tool I'm unaware of. There is a set of large scissors resting on his trousers. Like the others, the pose is very natural and realistic. The paint work is, and sorry I'm going to use that word again, faultless. Shading is excellent. The painting of the OXO box is perfect, for such a small part of the sculpt great care has gone into making sure you can read the word OXO Cubes on the box. You can see the concentration in his face as he works wonders repairing his trousers; he'll get lots more wear out of them now. He has what looks like a pencil behind one of his ears. Even the hobnails on the bottom of his boots have been sculpted. The base also has small tuffs of grass, something I love, small things please small minds - is that how it goes? He comes in the usual Thomas Gunn silver box with the miniature encased in foam padding. This is the final WWI miniature released this month and completes a great little set.

There is a German variant GW068B.

Both versions are limited to just 100 and retail at £32.

Now we move onto WW2. This time we have Royal Canadian Navy Beach Commando CAN001. These Canadians had been specially trained for the Normandy landings. Their training was extensive as they had to be prepared for pretty much every conceivable circumstance the beach landings might throw their way: from controlling traffic, to removing obstacles, even driving Sherman tanks! Though their No1 job was to control the flow of troops and supplies during the first days of the invasion. They made sure everything was flowing up to the troops on the frontline, so those at the sharp end could keep on pushing off the beachhead and on into the French countryside. Here we have him standing to attention whilst on parade, just before they all set off for D Day.

He is wearing Canadian service battledress uniform with the R.C.N Commando insignia on his left and right shoulder. His rifle is slung over his right shoulder. He has his water canteen on his right hip attached to webbing and his bayonet is on his left hip. Two ammo pouches are attached to the webbing, one on each side of his waist. He is wearing a Mk2 helmet that has a camo net and some leaves added. The painting is top quality. Another excellent miniature from Thomas Gunn. There is one tiny thing though. The first slightly negative thing I've had to say across all the reviews so far. There is a tiny and I mean tiny bit of paint chipped of on his right shoulder where the RCN Commando insignia is. I told you that I do look in great detail for something to fault and this is the first time I've had something to say, which can't be bad. You do really have to look closely to notice it. I may have done it myself whilst handling it. I can't be sure. There is no variant this time. He comes in a silver box with the usual extensive foam padding. Limited to 100 he retails at £32.

Still with WW2 the next miniature is Australian Sentry RS044. He has a black and green insignia on both shoulders and I've tried to see if this is a specific Australian regiment of a standard Australian insignia. I have seen the same for a New South Wales regiment but couldn't be sure it was from WW2. He is wearing the easily recognisable slouch hat. Standing to attention, he has his rifle over his right shoulder. His canteen is attached to his webbing and sits at his right hip, his bayonet on his left hip. Two ammo pouches hang on either side of his waist. The paint work again is excellent. His brass buttons, belt buckle cap insignia, collar insignia and the buckles on his boots have all been picked out. He sports a fine moustache. He seems all set for future deployment, most likely somewhere in the Pacific. There is no variant. He comes in a silver box and is well protected with foam padding. Limited to 100 he retails at £32.

Last to be reviewed this time is one of Thomas Gunn's bigger pieces. A WW2 Japanese SPG (camouflage) RS035A which was released this month. The SPG is the Type 1 Ho-Ni - Japan's first self propelled gun of this type employed by the Japanese during WW2. It used the Type 967 tank chassis. The turret was removed and replaced by a 75mm type 90 field gun mounted on a cut out chassis. With 10 degrees of traverse and -5 to +25 degrees of elevation plus being able to traverse 20 degrees either side, it didn't have to turn to be able to engage the enemy, unlike say Germany's Stug. It carried 54 rounds of ammunition, but a major drawback was a lack of MG for defence, so was very vulnerable to close assault by infantry.

I really can't fault the modelling. It looks fantastic. Though I'm unfamiliar with this vehicle, I have no doubt it's historically correct right down to the number of rivets showing. This is the first large Thomas Gunn piece I've been able to handle and it doesn't disappoint. It's also very reasonably priced. The SPG comes with a Japanese miniature holding a shell. He's all ready to put it into the gun's breach. The miniature is of the usual high standard. Faultless paintwork, just like the SPG. You can place him on either side of the gun but I have him on the left hand side just like in the pictures. There is a variant, RS035B, which isn't camouflaged ,but comes in dark green Japanese army paint.

It comes in  a silver box and extensive foam padding. Both versions are limited to 100 and retail at £135.

Well I've come to the end of my third Thomas Gunn review. My enthusiasm for their miniatures just keeps growing and growing. I do hope you've enjoyed reading the review and do yourself a favour, get collecting! Until the next time!

THE GREAT WAR Command & Colours After my successful venture into the clouds and, for me, the less familiar realm of aerial warf...

The Great War: Review The Great War: Review

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!



Command & Colours

After my successful venture into the clouds and, for me, the less familiar realm of aerial warfare with Phantom Leader, this next game brings me back to a period which I am much more versed in, namely WWI.  Not so many years ago in terms of board games, the period was still comparatively unrepresented and, though Ted Raicer's ground breaking Paths of Glory in 1999 stimulated the interest of designers and gamers alike, the period of The great War remains very much the poor relation in comparison with the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War and WWII.

When it has been gamed, the level has been predominantly strategic or operational, with only a rare few treating the tactical sphere.  Step in the doyen of tactical systems, Command & Colours, created by Richard Borg [and there's a system I am totally at home with].  First I marched with Lee & Grant on the ACW battlefields in the original BattleCry and its more recent excellent remake and upgrade.  Then came Memoir 44 and here I fought from the hell of Stalingrad and the burning sands of North Africa to Normandy and beyond with add-on after add-on, including the immense 9 maps of the Normandy beaches and the paratroop landing sites.  Most recently Samurai Battles took me to the exotic conflicts of Japan, perhaps best known from the films of Kurosawa.

While stepping out with the many plastic soldiers of these games, I was equally involved with marshalling the wooden blocks for the GMT treatment of the same system.  I began with Romans & Carthaginians and quickly acquired the first expansion Greece & Eastern Kingdoms, if only to follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great.  I've fought the Barbarians and the Civil Wars of Caesar and Pompey.  This time I wasn't quite so all-embracing in my need to own everything - and so never acquired the Imperial Romans or Spartans.

Then the Napoleonic Wars beckoned and the drum and fife led me over the hills and far away to Spain in the first expansion and later to Russia and Austria, though not yet to the Prussian expansion and more recent additions.  Once again poor old WWI lagged behind, but eventually in 2015, there arrived The Great War.

Perhaps it's no surprise for the war that is so linked in our minds with WWII that the physical treatment has followed the path of Memoir 44 and given us plastic figures rather then wooden blocks - especially as the publisher is PSC [the Plastic Soldier Company].  Also considering the latter producers, it does mean that the figures come in six sprues and so need detaching. 

What a furore that stirred up!  There have been many complaints about this and the quality of the figures and I must admit that, despite care and the use of the appropriate clippers, a few of my figures did end up sporting what look more like shotguns than rifles with bayonets.  If you aren't familiar with using the right tools then the number of shortened guns may rise, but comments indicating the loss of all or part of a limb suggest to me that totally the wrong sort of cutting tool has been pressed into service!  In particular, I wouldn't recommend any sort of knife, however sharp.  Once set up, it has been hard for me to spot any of my slightly shortened rifles.

Here you should be able to notice, but later on the map I think you'll find it more difficult.

The other feature is that the machine gun figures do need assembling and gluing - again a very minor job that took little time and effort, though I'd suggest using tweezers to hold one part as you glue it to another [there are only three separate bits!]  Once put together they look very effective, though storing them separately is to be recommended both for ease of finding and to avoid any damage. 

Having said that, if you are at all familiar with Zvesda plastic figures which were used in Samurai Battles which really do need tricky assembly and have very fine and easily broken weapons, these PSG figures are sturdy and moulded as a single unit, except for the machine gunners.  A single storage box contains all my models, allowing the three sets of four figures that make up each machine gun unit and mortar unit to be kept separate from the bulk of the infantry and so very easy to identify for set up purposes.

A final point about these models is the variety of poses; unlike Memoir 44's identical infantry, there is a good range of different stances, as well as the special Bomber figure [an infantry man throwing a hand grenade] that acts like markers do in some of the other C&C games to identify a special unit.

A gloriously well-filled box!

From plastic we move to cardboard.  The double-sided board is excellent.  First of all the title The Great War is discreetly placed at each opposing edge and not splashed across the centre of the board in large letters, as the word ANCIENTS was!  Secondly, one side is a strong green and the other an all too appropriate brown that conveys those deadly muddy landscapes.  It is also deeper than the typical C&C board with 12 hexes by 11 hexes, making for an almost square board, but divided as is essential by the familiar dotted lines into the usual three sections: Left Flank, Centre and Right Flank.

Additional terrain pieces are more limited in variety than usual with a few building hexes, eight hill and nine forest hex overlays and then a plethora of trench hexes that you will certainly be placing a good number of in all scenarios.  Added to these are oblong pieces that have wire on one side and shell craters on the other.  Most scenarios begin with a preliminary round that will turn quite a number of hexes in the No-Man's-Land between the two armies into such shell holes.  All are of very thick, strong card and my single wish is that the wire/crater terrain had also been hex-shaped, as inevitably the four figures that make up each infantry unit tend to be slightly more difficult to move onto the oblong pieces and also tend to fall off the edges.

With all my C&C games, I prefer to lay a sheet of plexi-glass on top of the board once terrain tiles have been set up to avoid them shifting during the game play.  With The Great War, I'd very strongly recommend this practice or you will almost certainly find your trench lines regularly shifting and needing readjusting unless you have a very light and dexterous touch.  [Stop muttering that I must have ten thumbs!]  Added to that, the overlays for wire and the inevitable craters then sit comfortably on top of the plexi-glass, as seen below - hence the slightly blurred effect from the reflection.

Scenario 4 Loos

The British Advance on the Hohenzollern redoubt

Above you can see a small section of what is a typical lay-out.  As a brief aside, before I continue with the description of the contents of the game.  That image of  a solid line of British infantry advancing on a thinly held sector is very deceptive.  It is one you will repeatedly see in most of the scenarios, but what happened in this particular game in question is also one you will encounter frequently.  Some of those units will make it to the enemy trenches.  The ones that do will have taken losses and several won't get there at all.  Those two German units plus one of those hurrying from the back lines actually held on until the end of the game!

Rounding out these substantial terrain pieces are the circular Victory medals familiar to all the C&C games [Ok, I know that in some of them they are square shaped], two hexagonal artillery templates, lots of square HQ markers and several Reserve Artillery markers.  The need for these latter items and their use constitute some of the features that give The Great War its distinctive flavour, especially when compared with its big brother, Memoir 44.

Victory Medals - round not square!

As always there are packs of essential cards.  In this case, a Command deck and a Combat deck.  the former will be familiar to anyone who has played any other C&C game.  The Command deck is the engine that drives the whole game, containing the standard Section cards that designate how many units and in which section[s] they can be activated. and the Tactics cards that allow for special circumstances, such as a number of units in adjacent/linked hexes to be activated, imitating the card that your opponent has just played or the rare replacement card that allows you to gain back a soldier or two.

However, the Combat deck introduces a new element that I think is essential to the successful simulation of this war.  You are allowed a maximum of five Combat cards in your hand and each scenario will determine how many you start with and the basic rules explain how you gain more during the course of the game.  A single Combat card may be played in each Player turn, most often in conjunction with your Command card. 

Most of all, these Combat cards add so much to the feel of the game, as just a few titles will show:  Butt & Bayonet, Gas Attack and Trench Raid.  But none could be more evocative of those early jerky film footages we have once more become so familiar with this year or the last few moments of Blackadder Goes Forth than the card Advance Over The Top.

Even the rather sombre colouring of the cards both back and front with the slightly faded sepia images and small, thin lettering play their part in getting the atmosphere right.

The key twist to using these cards is that generally you have to pay for the cost of playing a card with HQ tokens and, like any good innovative rule, it presents tense decisions, as HQ tokens are also the essential element to calling in Reserve Artillery.  Which is the most pressing need at the moment?  Pay for a Combat card to hopefully tip the balance at a crucial moment or pay one HQ token per artillery die and it's rarely worth rolling less than 3 dice for artillery?  Such difficult choices are a prime element for me in most successful games.

The new and significant HQ counters

What else is new? 

To be expected is the machine gun unit, already mentioned in connection with assembling figures.  What was unexpected was that its range is only one hex more than that of an ordinary infantryman!  But, fire two machine guns at the same target and you add the dice together, a simple and effective way of achieving the benefit of cross-fire.

Perhaps, even more unexpected is the lack of on-board artillery units [though there are still a few mortar units]. Instead, the Reserve Artillery is an off-board token with a designated maximum fire power for the scenario and, as explained, each point of power equals one die and has to be paid for with an HQ token.  Another clever feature is the accompanying artillery template, a satisfyingly chunky piece, the size of a map board hex. 

Off-board Reserve Artillery Tokens

and Artillery templates

In a very simple mechanic, it achieves the effect of accuracy, scatter and intensity at one go.  Place the template [whose hex sides are numbered 1 to 6] on, or rather hold it above, your target hex and roll the dice.  Each die roll achieves a hit on the corresponding adjacent hex, but any doubles or more also add that number of hits on the target hex.  Achieve 3 hits on the target hex in this way by rolling the same number three times and any terrain defence modifier is negated and, after resolving fire, a crater marker is placed.

However, those hits do not mean automatic kills.  You still need to roll the ordinary Combat dice for each hit to see what the shelling has achieved.  Obviously some will have fallen into empty hexes and it's just possible that the Combat dice aren't smiling on you today either.  But, be warned: close your infantry units up for the Push and you can guarantee that those artillery shells will come raining down on their plastic heads!

On to those same Combat dice - something old, something new here:

Old : an infantry symbol kills an infantry figure [but also New, as you then deduct a number of infantry kills for the hex's terrain modifier], a flag symbol causes a push back [retreat a unit one hex, for any of you who are experiencing the Command & Colours system for the first time!].

New: a Burst symbol [looks like an explosion] immediately kills a figure, a Skull symbol only kills in certain circumstances and a Star symbol earns you one of those crucial HQ tokens.

Victory remains the same as in all C&C games: each Scenario tells you how many Victory medals win the game and the first to reach that number is the immediate winner.  Each unit killed earns you a Victory medal and many Scenarios award them for taking and holding geographical objectives as well. 

Inevitably, for a set of scenarios that focus entirely on trench warfare, one side is always going to have more units and be on the attack while the other has fewer and is on the defence.  What then stops the player on the attack from sitting back and pounding the enemy with his Reserve Artillery power, until a portion of the line is weak enough to be assaulted? 

The Great War has taken the decision to force the pace by allowing the Defender [in 13 Scenarios, the Germans and in only one Scenario, the British!] to play a Reconnaissance card and instead of the normal ability to take two cards and choose one, the player can simply take the normal single replacement card and a Victory medal as well.

This I accepted and adapted to fairly quickly, but my friend and opponent in all things wargaming was far less sanguine about the rule and felt it was an artificial solution.  So far, I haven't encountered any complaints on the main internet sites I frequent, such as Consimworld or Boardgamegeek.

Of more concern to me has been the similarity of the Scenarios, as indicated above.  As yet, I haven't tired of playing what are very similar situations, because they've all provided tense situations with a very effective feel of the WWI trenches and, of course, there is the expansion that provides TANKS!!!! 

But, in discussing the Scenarios, I'm rushing on rather to the last part of the rule book.  In total, cover to cover, it runs to 52 pages of A4 and is a handsome, glossy  production.  But, don't be worried by the length.  18 pages cover the 16 scenarios and another 10 explain terrain, Command cards, Tactic cards and Combat cards - all with a great deal of elegant white space!  4 pages describe the components and 2 the Set-Up.  In all, a mere 10 pages cover the rules themselves, with an additional 5 focusing on all the new elements.

Initially, I found it slightly more difficult to grasp everything and the first game did involve quite a lot of checking and referring back to the rules.  In part, I think that was as much due to the extensive knowledge I have of so many other C&C games getting in the way of mastering the new ideas.  After a few sessions, I soon found that The Great War is easier to play and remember than virtually any of my other many C&C games, with rarely any need  to turn to the rule book.

Having hesitated from buying the game, because I wondered whether I really did need another C&C game, I can safely say that I'm glad my craving for just one more got the better of me.  Add it to your collection too.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.