Sunday, March 13, 2016

La Bataille de France 1940 - First Play

I picked this up last Fall, gave it a brief look but wasn't motivated to play...

Beginning Turn Four of Scenario 1, Guines is Not a Beer

My recent and persistent interest in platoon/company scale WW2 games enticed me to give it another try, and boy, am I glad I did!

I'm really enjoying this game. La Bataille de France 1940 is part of the War Storm system published by Compass Games, from designers Juan Carlos Cebrian and Nicolas Eskubi. The system emphasizes the role of company-level officers and uses and activation system for WEGO turn resolution.

Some of what I'm really liking about this system:

  • Actual company formations with specific leaders. Leaders can't command just any unit on the board, they have specific formations. Those formations are made up of specific platoons, and belong to a specific service branch. Unit activate a formation at a time to execute a single action for each platoon. Note that these may be different actions, but the formation activates as a group.
  • Leader coordination. Leaders can attempt to coordinate during an activation, but only if they are within a certain range and only if they roll equal or less than their combined coordination value. This makes things like infantry-armor coordination possible, but unlikely for lower quality leaders to pull off. 
  • Formation-wide morale effects. Why, oh why do more games not do this? Losing steps from your units causes the morale of all units in a formation to decrease. Losing a unit, losing a leader, or losing in an assault causes a formation morale check that can cause all of the units in that formation to rout. 
  • Different assault procedures for infantry, armor, and mixed assaults. Despite being a game of only moderate complexity, the designers have incorporated assault rules that reflect the differences in how the different arms work.
  • A logical reaction fire mechanic. Not all units can fire willy-nilly. For full effect, a unit has to have been designated for reaction fire. Units that haven't been so designated can only fire at half strength. Units that have already taken an action are very constrained in doing any reaction fire.
  • Alternating activation WEGO system. Play flows very well and feels very balanced. Because each side takes turns by formation, it's important to consider what the enemy reply to a formation's action will be, and how well your formation is likely to survive that before you get to activate another formation.
Overall, the results feel very realistic. The narrative from this game is very strong. Playing really tells a story, which is all the more immersive for having named leaders with their own formations.

A quick example: During turn 3, Captain Hicks and his company of A13 tanks from 3 RTR charged across the river and conducted an armor assault on two platoons of Hauptmann von Martial's infantry platoon on the low hill in hex A510. As Hicks' A13s charged up the hill, one of the defending German platoons assaulted the attacking armor, knocking out a few of Hicks' tanks (1 step loss to one unit). Despite the casualties Hicks' and his men overran the outnumbered Germans. The attack smashed von Martial's company, who took serious losses (5 total step losses out of 9 available) in the assault, and they broke back toward German lines (failed morale check and routed).

However, before the British could exploit their victory, Hauptmann Koenig, overlooking the area from the hills to the south (A413 & A513) with his tank company of Panzer IVDs and Panzer IICs immediately took Hicks' charging tanks under fire. The concentrated fire of the German armor wrecked nearly all of the British tanks, including Hicks' command tank (six step losses out of eight available). Hicks was able to escape to another tank, but the devastating fire was too much for his company and they plunged back down the hill to safety and out of sight of the vengeful German panzers (failed morale check and routed).

All of that was just two formation activations, first British and then German, in a single turn. 

There are additional games and add-ons in development for the series, including a re-issue of the first game, A Las Barricadas! covering the Spanish Civil War, Paths to Hell covering Operation Barbarossa, and finally Alone in the Storm, a programmed solitaire system. I would say that the game plays very well solitaire already, but I'm definitely interested to experiment with Alone in the Storm.

I will definitely be play a lot more of this game, and hopefully the series. The maps and counters are nicely done and the rules are solid. I love the scale. The game is very, very immersive. What's not to like?