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Review: Battle for Stalingrad – The Epic East Front Battle Game (DVG)

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on July 2, 2014

Stalingrad_box_mockup200Game: Battle for Stalingrad – The Epic East Front Battle GameReview

Publisher: Dan Verssen Games (DVG)
Published in: 2014
Designer: Dan Verssen

Era & Topic: WW2/ Urban Warfare in Stalingrad
Game Type:  Card Game
Contents: 168 Full Color Cards, 1 Full Color Counter Sheet, 1 Full Color Rulebook 

Number of Players: 2

HFC Game-O-Meter: E

 


Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 9
Rules: 9
Playability: 8
Replay Value: 9

Overall Rating: 9

PRO Quick set-up, well written rules, many options despite using simple mechanics, fitting to the historical theme, both sides play differently, enthralling and tactical game play…
CONTRA  …that might be slowed down because some cards are not as clear in their meaning as they should be; Uranus cards can be crippling for the German player if no counter cards are in hand; a tracking sheet for combat would have been nice

Introduction

Many (if not most) wargamers who are interested in the World War II topic are particularly drawn to the fightings of the Eastern Front. The fierceness of the battles fought on that front, the gigantic scale of this Clash of Titans, the different style of the tactics used by the Soviets and the Germans, all this seems to create the background for a scenario that is ideally suited for wargames.

Fighting for Stalingrad on the gaming table!

Fighting for Stalingrad on the gaming table!

Today the name Stalingrad is directly connected to the senseless brutality of war and is the epitome of the war of slaughter fought on the Eastern front. When the Wehrmacht started the largest invasion in the history of warfare, Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, with more than 4 million soldiers, 600,000 motor vehicles and 750,000 horses along a front almost 3000 km long, the city of Stalingrad was rather unimportant – as General Field-marshal Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist said:

The capture of Stalingrad was subsidiary to the main aim. It was only of importance as a convenient place, in the bottleneck between Don and the Volga, where we could block an attack on our flank by Russian forces coming from the east. At the start, Stalingrad was no more than a name on the map to us [Clark, Lloyd, Kursk: The Greatest Battle: Eastern Front 1943, 2011, page 157]

In the course of the later events of the war, it became a battle of prestige however – for both Hitler and Stalin – and this caused it to turn into one of the bloodiest battles of WW2. For over 5 months, the city saw extreme close quarter battles, soldiers fighting for single rooms in buildings like grain elevators, apartment blocks, factories, warehouses etc. or for other ‘strategic points’ like streets, staircases and sewers and both sides had high casualties to suffer. The nerve-wrecking close combat and man-to-man killing (which was called Rattenkrieg (rat war) by the German soldiers) was accompanied by the terror of artillery and air attacks that laid the city into ashes. The harsh winter weather, a lack of supply and ammunition because of a complete encirclement of the German forces in the city in the later stages of the battle, and the ability of the Soviet forces to bring in reinforcements eventually ended the Battle of Stalingrad and resulted in an total of about 2 million Axis and Soviet casualties.

Because of the fact that wargamers usually have the historical situation in mind and know a great deal of their era of particular interest, there is always the point of “how close and how accurate can a wargame be” in regard to the historical battle and how good it works as a game. The new DVG game we are reviewing here was announced with the promising words:

The Battle For Stalingrad puts you in the rubble-strewn streets as the German forces fight through one block of the city after another. The only hope for both sides is to secure the city before they run out of blood and food.

As the game unfolds, you’ll see one section of the city after another ground into rubble by your ceaseless fighting. As the city deteriorates, the amount of supplies generated for your men decreases. Supplies are the lifeblood of your army. Without them, you cannot move or attack, and you’ll suffer higher casualties in combat.

In the end, you’ll be scrambling through the ruins, as much in search of food as the enemy.

Let’s see if the PR announcement actually matches the game experience and what you can expect on your table 🙂

Presentation

Battle of Stalingrad (BoS) is a card game that comes in a very sturdy box that has a glossy finish, giving the feel of quality even before you open it. The first thing you see is the striking cover art done by Christian Quinot (who also did the great artworks for DVG’s Cards of Cthulhu game), evoking a feeling of desperation and chaos that seems rather fitting to the topic of the game.

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Posted in Games A-Z, Historical Games A-Z, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

HFC On Tour: Battle of the Bulge – Bastogne and the Ardennes II

Posted by Denny Koch on July 17, 2013

Bastogne: Mardassone Memorial

Bastogne: Mardassone Memorial

Last year, we toured the Eastern Ardennes in Luxembourg and Eastern Belgium, visiting famous locations like Clervaux, St Vith, Ettelbrück, and Diekirch.

This year, we set up base camp in one of the most important (and certainly the most famous) locations of the Battle of the Bulge: in Bastogne.

From there, we visited places like Foy with the Easy Company foxholes, Recogne, Houffalize, and La Roche-en-Ardenne, where the US troops joined forces with the Scottish Highland Division.

Bastogne: Place General McAuliffe with Sherman tank and McAuliffe bust

Bastogne: Place General McAuliffe with Sherman tank and McAuliffe bust

All over the area, you can find relics and reminders of the Battle of the Bulge – memorials, museums, and even traces of combat still visible on the battlefields. This combined with the impressive landscape of steep rocky valleys, soft rural hills, dense woods, and tiny villages, the Belgian Ardennes are well worth a trip!

Please check out our photo gallery for MANY MORE photos!!

Bastogne

Despite the fact that there are certainly more picturesque places in the Ardennes, we decided to stay in a hotel in the noisy and congested crossroads town of Bastogne, which is situated on a ridge at an altitude of 510 m.

The strategical importance of this small city (about 14,000 inhabitants) lies in the fact that all roads within the Ardennes lead to and through Bastogne. This was the main reason why both sides were fighting desperately to get control over the city – who controls Bastogne, controls the road network of the entire region.

The same is still true today – and this is the reason why Bastogne can certainly be considered to be the traffic capitol of the Ardennes. The layout of the city is simple: one main road (with shops, bars, church), one giant parking space in the central square, surrounded by bars and restaurants, and a central crossroads with numerous roads leading out in all directions, reminding us of a spider’s net. A never-ending stream of cars rushes through the streets all day long, so Bastogne is easily the noisiest and busiest places in the quite and peaceful Ardennes.

Bastogne: General "Nuts!" McAuliffe

Bastogne: General “Nuts!” McAuliffe

Bastogne then…

Bastogne was captured by US forces in December 1944 and a strong perimeter around the city was built.

On December 20th, 1944, German forces under the command of Lt. General Freiherr von Lüttwitz managed to bypass Bastogne and encircle it. The besieged city was held by the 101st Airborne Division under the command of Brigadier General McAuliffe and elements of the 10th Armor Division, which were outnumbered by surrounding German forces 5-1. The situation in the besieged city was rough because medical supplies, food, and ammunition were soon running low. In addition, winter 1944 was one of the coldest winters ever recorded with temperatures dropping as low as -28°C / -18.4 F and the soldiers where not properly equipped with cold-weather-gear. In the beginning, there was no hope for air support or supply by air because of the bad weather.

Over the following days, the weather cleared and the Allies eventually managed to supply the surrounded soldiers by air drops. The Germans attacked the town relentlessly, but didn’t manage to break the defense line. This was frustrating for German command, so finally German commander von Lüttwitz requested the surrender of the forces in Bastogne. McAuliffe’s response was simple – and consisted of only one word: “Nuts!” (which can be roughly translated into German with: “Ihr spinnt wohl!”).

On December 26th, two of the German besieging forces where commanded to press forward and leave Bastogne behind, so that the only attackers left where Panzer Lehr’s 901st regiment and the 26th Volksgrenadier Division. Since both of these units where ill supplied and near to exhaustion, they were not able to continue the attack on Bastogne from all sides, but were limited to small assaults on certain points here and there. This wasn’t very effective, so in the end, the US forces managed to destroy all enemy tanks. On December 26th, the city was liberated by General Patton’s 4th Armor Division and a corridor to the Allied controlled parts of the Ardennes was opened.

Crossroads town Bastogne is certainly the noisiest and busiest place in the Ardennes

Crossroads town Bastogne is certainly the noisiest and busiest place in the Ardennes

…and Bastogne now

As mentioned before, Bastogne is still a crossroads town. The central square “Place General McAuliffe” was transformed into a giant parking lot. There is a tourist information next to the main road which almost exclusively sells war souvenirs – you can get anything from mugs, key rings, t-shirts with a “Nuts!” logo, posters, caps, postcards related to Bastogne, the USA, the 101st Airborne, and the Battle of the Bulge.

At the edge of the parking lot is a Sherman tank (which is the main tourist attraction and very famous among kids who love climbing on top of the tank) and a bust of General McAuliffe. The parking lot is surrounded by bars and restaurants of mixed quality.

Bastogne is located in the francophone part of Belgium, in Wallonie, so the dominant language is French. We made the experience that many locals only speak rudimentary English (if at all), so knowing at least some basic French expressions is highly recommended (and much appreciated by the locals). Many information boards and signs are in French only, in rare cases with a Flemish and sometimes with an English translation. Luckily, at least some information boards regarding the Battle of the Bulge are multilingual.

014_Bastogne

War Memorial at the Main Street

Despite the fact that there are lots of hotels in Bastogne as well as many restaurants, it isn’t the typical “tourist town” – we rarely saw any tourists at  all and in the evening, we were almost exclusively among Belgians. Most battlefield tourists probably stay in one of the many beautiful and idyllic Ardennes villages, which are much more catered to tourism, with higher quality restaurants and bars.

Since everything in the Ardennes is in close proximity to each other, it doesn’t really matter where you set up your base camp. Last year’s Clervaux was perfect because it is probably the most central town in the Ardennes with everything within a 30 km radius (including Bastogne). If we had known how beautiful La Roche is, we probably would have booked a hotel there. Wiltz is also a very nice town with many cultural highlights.

The Main Street

The Main Street

But so we had the chance to make the curious experience of spending several nights in Bastogne, which was at least interesting, if not very relaxing, due to the constant traffic and the ugly parking lot which comprises the city center. At least there’s no problem to find a place for your car, but we had a car-house rented for our Mercedes because we remembered our experience in Arnhem, where all places to park your car cost 2,50 € per hour and parking spaces were limited.

In addition to everything related to the Battle of the Bulge, other touristic sights include the annual bicycle race Liège – Bastogne, the museum en Piconrue (a museum about religious art and popular belief in the Ardennes) and Eglise St Pierre, a Gothic church with a Romanic bell tower. The three bells were donated by veterans of the 101st Airborne, German Fallschirmjäger Regiment, and the Anciens Combattants de Bastogne to commemorate the destruction of  Bastogne in 1944.

You can get a city map for free in the tourist information with the location of all relevant sites in and around Bastogne and the staff will gladly give you directions.

Church St Pierre

Church St Pierre

It’s difficult to get to Bastogne without car – the town had a railway station once, connected to Wiltz and St. Vith, but it was cut off from the railway net in 1984 because the route was unprofitable. So despite the fact that Bastogne is the central traffic hub of the Ardennes, it’s hard to reach with public transport. There is a central bus station and several bus routes lead to the city, but getting there by car is strongly recommended, or you will miss all important battlefield sites outside town, which are impossible to reach by public transport (if you are the sporting type, you could get there by bicycle, though, the area is very popular among bike and hiking tourists and the cycle and hiking path network is good and well signposted).

There are several museums in and around Bastogne dedicated to the Battle of the Bulge. Unfortunately, the largest one, “The Bastogne War Museum” is currently closed and under reconstruction. It will reopen in March 2014 as one of the largest and modern World War II museums in Europe.

Another large museum, the “Battle of the Bulge 44” museum (9 km outside of  Bastogne, close to the Luxembourg border), was (theoretically) open, but each time we got there, it was closed – despite the fact that we went there during the official opening hours, so we finally gave up on visiting it.

Unfortunately, many information boards are French-only

Unfortunately, many information boards are French-only

Bastogne: Patton Memorial

Bastogne: Patton Memorial

The 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne

The 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne

The 101st Airborne Museum Bastogne

The 101st Airborne Museum is located in the town center, close to the central bus station. It is located in a historical building, the former officers’ mess of the Belgian army, which was later used as a German “Unteroffiziersheim” during the occupation of Bastogne. After the war, it served as a Red Cross hospital. The building was carefully restored and is a perfect location for a museum (as is the Villa Hartenstein in Arnhem-Oosterbek). The museum is quite new, modern and nicely styled.

What distinguishes this museum from the many other Bulge museums we visited during our tours, is the fact that there are no common shop window mannequins used for the dioramas – but lifelike, very realistic figures with highly detailed faces and expressions, reminding us of wax figures in Madame Tussaud’s. Every soldier and person depicted has an individual, expressive face and conveys strong emotions. So all dioramas appear to be realistic and naturalistic.

Together with these excellent mannequins, decent faint and classic music from hidden speakers conveys an almost pious atmosphere, in contrast to many other loud, crowded and colorful War museums. Especially remarkable are the “re-enactments” of famous photographs with life-size figures.

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Remembrance Day – The Longest Day

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on June 6, 2013

June, 6th

June 6th, 1944 – D-Day – was the startingpoint for the liberation of Europe

How can you “play war”?

All members of the wargaming community are sometimes facing trouble when explaining their challenging hobby to others – and there are often questions like “how can you “play” war” and “how can someone enjoy such a brutal and nasty event, turning it into something “funny“.”

Especially in Germany, the need of explanation and lack of understanding for the hobby “wargaming” and “historical conflict situation” is significantly higher than in the US or UK, at least for games dealing with WWII or WWI, while other historical eras, for example Napoleonic or Ancients, are at least tolerated, but nevertheless frowned upon.

Of course nobody would be playing these games if there wasn’t any fun in playing them, but such debates often don’t end very satisfying because it’s very difficult to explain “wargames” to folks who are strongly opposed to violence in general and war in particular. The fact that these games are “about war” makes it difficult to explain to ‘outsiders’ what the fun actually is we see in playing them:

That it’s about understanding tactics and strategy, understanding historical decisions, that we use it as a sort of ‘educational tool‘ to get some insights you don’t get by simply reading a book or watching a movie. That we love the chess-like competition and the challenge of tense decison making in an interesting and historical setting. That you can use historical consims to answer “what if” questions (“why didn’t they do this and that historically”, keyword: Operation Sealion) and to understand historical situations better, for example battles for seemingly useless hills or other positions. Last but not least, “those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat ist”.

A counter today was a real soldier then

But of course there’s also some truth in the allegation and we in the HFC think that we should from time to time aknowledge that we are playing something on our maps which was a real battlefield years ago, and that our little counters were indeed real men who did hope to survive, fought bravely and often lost their lifes under terrible conditions. To remember that what is today just calculating maths on the CRT was a real bullet those days. To lose a scenario today is totally different from losing one’s  life in the real thing…

Our maps and counters were real battlefields and real soldiers once

But we also think it’s not necessary to excuse ourselves for loving this hobby – and it is well known that one can get interesting insights into some battles, which is leading to a better understanding of the whole picture. This way wargames can help to provide a better understanding for the real men fighting in those battles – and dying.  If you read in a book that men died while taking a seemingly useless dirty hill somewhere in nowheres land may sound absolutely crazy and like a damned waste of life, but to set up the battle yourself may change your view about it entirely.

Sure, it’s still a hill and war as such is a crazy thing and everybody dying in a war is indeed a tragedy – but the consim you are playing about this specific battle might give you a better idea of how difficult it really was what these soldiers accomplished by taking the hill. And it might also become clear what the reason behind the assault on this hill was and how it affected the ‘bigger picture’. You might understand that it was a keypoint in a supply line and that by taking it other soldiers could be supplied with necessary stuff to stay alive. Or you might see that the whole situation was doomed to failure right from the beginning when generals thought it to be a good idea – giving you the necessary background to judge certain responsibilities of those who were in charge of a certain operation.

If you play a military strategy game about certain battles or operations, you come much nearer to it than by any other means. Wargamers – at least those who play historical conflict simulations – usually don’t just “play games”, but they use a whole bunch of ‘tools’ to understand and evaluate historical situations and learn about certain aspects of military doctrine executed in a historical battle. Reading books, watching documentaries, visiting historical battle sites, discussing with others, playing consims… all this is done in order to understand military thinking  and to learn from history.

Because of this, we consider it a good idea to hold a special day in memory and honor of all those soldiers who fought for the freedom we enjoy today.

It is because of those lads who died for liberating the world from dictatorship that we are allowed to  play these games today – in times of freedom and peace – and that is something we should at least be conscious of once a year.

We have chosen the Longest Day, June 6th, D-Day, as our Remembrance Day, because this brutal battle was the beginning of the end of WWII and therefore seems to be a very good choice for representing all other battles in that war.

On that day, in that battle, all soldiers fought for what they thought to be good reasons to fight for – and in our opinion that’s true for the entire war. The real bad guys those days were the politicians that were in charge and not the average, common soldier who was as abused in this war as he is in any war.

Remembrance Day is a perfect opportunity for visiting historical sites, for example Remagen Bridge

Thus, the Longest Day is held in remembrance of all participants of WWII in particular, but in honor to all soldiers that fought in other wars as well.

We suggest that those involved in THE HOBBY either do not play wargames on this particular day or do so with a heightened awareness of being in a lucky situation today. Maybe you choose to read a book instead, watching a movie about that time or visiting specific warfields, war-museums, taking a look into old family photos portraying those who perhaps lost their life in WWII etc..

If you choose not to play any games on this day (or any other day that you find a better choice for such a personal Remembrance Day) consider it a sacrifice of possible playing time, of having fun, once a year as a symbolic sacrifice to those who didn’t have the opportunity or choice to play it all out on some maps with a few counters, and were forced to take part in the brutal events on June 6th, 1944 that nevertheless finally gave us back – freedom!

So in a certain way this day was indeed the Longest One because the freedom it brought to us still continues today…

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HFC on Tour: Luxembourg City and General Patton’s grave

Posted by Denny Koch on October 19, 2012

The casemates of Luxembourg city are the world’s biggest casemates

On our tour through the Ardennes this summer, we became fans of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg – a small, friendly, and very relaxed country in the heart of Western Europe. We didn’t have enough time to visit the capital Luxembourg City then, so we decided to make another trip into our neighboring country and visit the capital as well as the US and German war cemeteries in the city vicinity.

We went to Luxembourg city by car, using the opportunity to fill up our car (Luxembourg has very cheap gas prices, compared to the incredibly expensive prices in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands).

Despite being a medieval city, located on several sandstone plateaus and cliffs above steep valleys, your first impression when you enter the city is the skyline of the banking district  dominated by skyscrapers of several banks, funds, and the European Parliament. These are in a stark contrast to the Frankish castle, the Gothic Cathedral and massive forts that dominate the old town.

Topography and Language

The old town, as seen from the Bock Casemates

The topography of Luxembourg city is quite dramatic – most of the city is located on various sandstone cliffs which are separated by two deep-cutting rivers – the Alzette and Pétrusse – with pittoresque parks and recreational areas 70 m (230 ft) below the plateaus. The city districts are connected by large bridges and viaducts, one of them the world’s 2nd largest arch bridge (the largest being in China), the Adolphe Bridge. This bridge is one of the main tourist attractions and a kind of  unofficial national symbol, symbolizing Luxembourg’s independence.

The city has about 100,000 inhabitants and is the largest city in the country of Luxembourg.

The official languages are Luxembourgish, French, and German, but French appears to be the most popular language by far, followed by the curious Luxembourgish which is a close relative to the Mosel-Frankish German dialect. Both are hard to understand for Germans from other regions. Strangely enough, many shops (even McDonald’s or Saturn, one of the largest electronics shops) have German product displays and ads, but the staff only speaks French and if you switch to German, they answer you in English… You soon get accustomed to the Babylonian language mingle-mangle in this country, so if one language doesn’t work, you simply switch to the next language, and the answer will probably be in a third language or with hands and feet. The inhabitants even tend to mix French and Luxembourgish within one sentence, using both languages in their conversations simultaneously. English also isn’t a problem at all since Luxembourg City is a very international and very European city.

One of the famous viaducts

Since the city is located on several plateaus, connected by bridges, understanding the geography isn’t an easy feat. We tried to follow the parking guidance system into the city and ended in a parking garage near the “gare” (meaning railway station). We were under the impression that a railway station must be located close to the city center, but learned later that the station was intentionally built outside the city center (about 2 km, on a different plateau) for defensive reasons.

We walked through the area around the station which is a modern shopping district, dominated by the usual combination of McDonald’s / Subway / fashion stores of a typical European major city.

Then we reached the Adolphe Bridge and were impressed by the height and the dramatic landscape all around us. We later asked a tour guide how often people jump from this bridge in order to commit suicide, and learned that there was an ever higher bridge which was the favorite suicide location until they built a high fence instead of a handrail.

Deep below Adolphe Bridge is a river with a nice park, which is used by tourists and Luxembourgers alike when they want to skate, bike, relax, meet, or read.

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HFC On Tour: Battle of the Bulge – the Ardennes

Posted by Denny Koch on September 5, 2012

Clervaux is the perfect base for an Ardennes tour – every other interesting location is in a 30 km-radius!

This summer, we decided to tour the Ardennes in Luxembourg and Eastern Belgium. In villages and small towns like Wiltz, Diekirch, Ettelbruck, or St. Vith you can find (official and private) Battle of the Bulge museums and memorials next to medieval castles, monasteries and old churches. The scenery is impressive as well, you find deep valleys, cut by small rivers, surrounded by steep rock formations and dense forests. If you happen to visit the Western Ardennes around Bastogne, you should also consider taking a trip to the Eastern battlefields – here is why 🙂

Clervaux

Don’t miss our extensive photo gallery with many more pictures from our tour!

Clervaux castle contains a Battle of the Bulge museum

Our hotel was located in the medieval town of Clervaux (Luxembourg Ardennes), which is a perfect central basis for exploring the surrounding locations.

The small town (app. 1000 inhabitants) is dominated by a massive castle from the 12th century, which also contains a Battle of the Bulge Museum. Clervaux is also famous for a Benedictine monastery on top of a hill above the town. The village is located at the small river Our, lies deep in a rocky valley, and is almost completely surrounded by tree-covered, steep hills.

If you don’t travel by car, Clervaux has a small railway station and you can reach it by train from Luxembourg City or Liege / Belgium. Parking your car isn’t an issue here (in contrast to the difficult and very expensive parking situation in Arnhem!), you can park your car almost everywhere by simply ignoring the no-parking signs because they are of no consequences (a recommendation from our hotel owner, and it proved to be true, we never had any parking problems in any towns in Luxembourg).

Clervaux Memorial for the 6th US Armored Division

From December 16th to 18th, 1944, Clervaux was the scene of heavy fightings during the Battle of Clervaux (which has been referred to as the “Luxembourg Alamo“). American forces from the 110th Regiment and 109th Field Artillery Battalion were encircled by overwhelming German forces from the 5th Panzer Army and 126th Infantry Division, and retreated into the Clervaux castle. In the end, the US forces were forced to surrender when German tanks broke into the already burning castle, but at least they had managed to delay and bind large German forces for two days, thus slowing the German timetable of the time-critical offensive. Clervaux castle was heavily damaged during the battle, and the restoration was not finished until 1994.

In front of the castle are a German 88 artillery and an US Sherman tank which participated in the Battle of Clervaux. There is also a memorial next to the central square of Clervaux, commemorating the liberation of Luxembourg in 1944.

Other interesting sights in Clervaux are the Saint-Maurice and Saint Maur Benedictine Abbey, where you can listen to the Gregorian chants of the monks inside the church several times a day, and the impressive catholic church Saints Cosmas and Damian. In the Abby catacombs is an ongoing exhibition about life at a Benedictine monastery. There is also a golf course in the vicinity (which is rumored to be quite good) and most of the hotels also offer wellness and Ayurveda.

Clervaux War Memorial

Beware, there is no pulsing nightlife in the quite little town of Clervaux (in contrast to lively Arnhem)! There is a nice restaurant with beer garden in the woods above the city, “Ecuries du Parc“, which is located in the rustic building of the former horse stables of the Earl of Clervaux. Prices for meals are, as everywhere in Luxembourg, quite expensive (compared to prices in Germany), but the restaurant is excellent, as is the beer, and the historical, rustic atmosphere is very enjoyable. Everything in Clervaux is reachable by foot, so there is no need to drive by car from your hotel and you can enjoy the various beers offered here.

Another recommendation for spending your evenings is the Bistro 1895 in our hotel, the Hotel des Nations. It offers good meals, diverse local beers and other drinks, so we drank ourselves through the various Luxembourgian and Belgium beers here. The atmosphere is relaxed and familiar – the hotel and the bistro are family owned since 1895, and the couple who own the hotel will happily tell you about the history of the hotel, their ancestors (who are displayed on family photos on the walls and even on the menu card), and about the good old times in Clervaux.

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Visiting battlefields: The Bridge of Arnhem – Operation Market Garden

Posted by Denny Koch on October 19, 2011

John Frost Bridge as seen from the Airborne Memorial

This summer, we decided to visit the battlefield of the largest airborne operation in Europe during World War II: The Arnhem region in The Netherlands, scenery of “Operation Market Garden” in September 1944. As a guide-book, we used “A Tour of the Arnhem Battlefields” by John Waddy.

Arnhem then…

The main idea behind Market Garden was the seizing of the most important bridges across the rivers Rhine and Maas which would allow the advancing Allied ground forces to flank the Siegfried Line and to march straight towards the important industrial areas in Germany.

Original bridge pillar

British, Canadian, Polish, and US paratroopers got the objective of capturing bridges between the Dutch cities of Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem. The first bridges could be seized successfully, but the bridge in Arnhem was “one bridge too far”, so that the Allied forces suffered a disastrous defeat and had to retreat under heavy losses – which prolonged the war and led to the “Hungerwinter” of 1944 where 18.000 Dutch civilians starved to death due to the fact that the Germans cut off the supply to the Netherlands as a retribution for the Dutch support and aid of the Allied landings.

What went wrong in Arnhem? Well, the most important mistake was to underestimate the German presence in the area. Allied intelligence suspected that the German forces were scattered, poorly equipped, and that some of the spotted tanks were dummies or decoys. As a matter of fact, the German forces around Arnhem were the II SS Panzer Corps, consisting of the 9th and 10th SS Panzer divisions who were drawn back behind safe frontlines to be resupplied and refitted. So the Allied forces met some of the few remaining German elite forces at Arnhem, restored to full strength and equipped with all kinds of heavy equipment.

The British paratroopers of the 1st Parachute brigade became trapped at the Bridge of Arnhem and surrounded by heavy German troops. The trapped soldiers were shelled by mortars, artillery, and tanks, while most of the attempts to relieve or even evacuate the men were in vain. Lt. Colonel John Frost and his troops defended the Bridge to the last bullet for several days, until they ran out of ammunition.

…and today

You can follow the "Liberation Route" through Arnhem

In and around Arnhem, Operation Market Garden is still very present. You can find memorials all over the area, even in private front yards, and all memorials are well-kept and decorated with fresh flowers or small wooden crosses with personal notes like “we will always remember”. Each year in September, the “Airborne Wandeltocht” (“Airborne March”) takes place which is the world’s largest 1-day marching event. The march is attended by civilians, visitors from all over the world, military, veterans, and police. The route is along the drop zones and battlefields of Market Garden in the area around Arnhem and Oosterbeek.

There are two important museums, and you can even follow the “Liberation Route” around Arnhem which leads you to the most important sites which are extensively described on information boards in English, Dutch, and German. The boards also show photos from the era and of the respective location during the war. In addition, there is the “Perimeter route” around Oosterbeek which is also well signposted.

The area around Arnhem is so rich with history that you should bring enough time. One or two days certainly aren’t enough if you want to visit all important sites and memorials. We spent three days in Arnhem and we will certainly return there one day to see more of this very interesting and fascinating region with their friendly and open-minded people.

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Ordensburg Vogelsang – a field trip

Posted by Denny Koch on April 17, 2011

The eagles of the "Adlerplatz", Ordensburg Vogelsang

One sunny weekend in April, we decided to make a field trip to the NS Ordensburg (“Order Castle”) Vogelsang, located in the western Eifel region of Germany, close to the Ardennes, Huertgen Forest and the Belgian border.

Castle Vogelsang was built by the National Socialists in 1936 in order to serve as an elite educational center for future leaders. It is the second largest relic of National Socialist architecture after the Reichsparteitag in Nürnberg. After World War II, the castle served as Belgium barracks and NATO training area. It was handed back to Germany for civil use in 2006. Since then, it is open to the public and still under transformation into a documentary center.

Location

An old photograph of Burg Vogelsang

Ordensburg Vogelsang is located near the small town of Gmünd in the district of Schleiden, high above the Urft dam in the National Park Eifel. The area of the landmarked buildings is 50,000 square metres, but only 20% of what was planned was eventually finished before the outbreak of World War II, which marked the end of the educational program.

Some minor parts of the castle were destroyed in WWII, but large parts of the castle survived the bombardments (which were mainly directed against the nearby Urft and Schwammenauel dams). The Ordensburg was hastily erected within two years by 1,500 workers. It looks ancient and rustic because the buildings appears to be made of quarry stones from the region, but in fact the buildings were made of concrete and steel frames which were  only hidden under the seemingly massive stones.

The place for the roll-call

Since the educational center was meant to resemble an Order Castle of the Deutscher Orden (Order of the Teutonic Knights), it needed a high tower which actually was a water tower (it never worked as planned, so it wasn’t used). In addition, there are several other buildings, for example community houses, a Thing place, a stadium, a gym, swimming pool, comradeship houses, a place for roll call etc..

Monuments showing the “ideal human” (who was meant to be educated here) can be found all over the place.

The main building next to the tower was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in the original style later. Today, it contains the National Park Eifel tourist information, an educational center, a museum shop, and a small exhibition.

There is no entrance fee to visit the Ordensburg, but it is highly recommended that you participate in a guided tour which costs moderate 5 Euros. The tour guides are highly motivated honorary volunteers who lead you around the area in small groups of 15 people. A guided tour takes between 90 minutes and 2 hours. You can also climb up the tower which is 48 meters (157 feet) high, which costs 3 Euro and is also accompanied by a guide.

If you want to explore the area on your own, you can follow one of the three round tours which are very well signposted with information boards in German, English, Dutch, and French.

The distant ghost town Wollseifen

Close to the Ordensburg is the ghost town of Wollseifen. After WWII, the British forced the population to leave the town because they wanted to use it as a training area for city fights. Over the years, the original city was destroyed and fake buildings were erected. The training ground was later used by NATO forces, preparing for missions in former Yugoslavia, and by the Red Cross and other organizations.

Today, you can visit the deserted fake town (you have to walk there by foot and you are not allowed to leave the marked path when you go there), but it is planned to tear most of the buildings down and leave only the church (which is still the original one, minus the roof which was destroyed and replaced), which should then contain a documentary center about the buildings and life in the old village Wollseifen.

History

Junkers at the roll-call place

In 1933, Adolf Hitler declared that he planned to erect educational camps in order to educate new leaders. He was in desperate need of loyal people with leading qualities who should replace the old cadres who often had a different political opinion. Hastily, three educational camps were built: Ordensburg Vogelsang in the Eifel region, Crössinsee in Pomerania, and Sonthofen in the Allgäu Alps. These locations were chosen with care because they are all located within impressive and beautiful German landscapes – which should help to convince the leadership candidates of the beauty of their German homeland – and the need to expanse it.

Vogelsang was built on a hill above the very popular Urft reservoir which was a local recreation area with hotels and boats. It was also planned to build a gigantic “Kraft durch Freude (KdF) hotel” (“Strength through joy”) by the state-controlled leisure organization of the German Labour Front. The hotel was never built, though. Vogelsang was financed by the confiscated capital of the abolished labor unions and employer’s organizations.

The educational centers were soon dubbed “NS-Ordensburgen” (Order Castles) to emphasize the historical connection with the Teutonic Knights and their crusades into Eastern Europe. Vogelsang was planned by the Cologne architect Clemens Klotz who had also built the colossal KdF building in Prora on the island of Rügen, which is a 4,5 km (=2,8 miles) long concrete building along the coast line.

The panorama view from the tower is magnificent

Within two years, the main parts of Vogelsang were finished and education could begin. More buildings, for example a gigantic “House of Knowledge” or a sports stadium which was even larger than the Olympia Stadium in Berlin were planned, but never finished. Construction was halted with the outbreak of WWII.

View from the tower

In April 1936, Vogelsang was officially handed over to Adolf Hitler. The first 500 hand-picked “Junkers” moved into Vogelsang. They were personally chosen by Reichsorganisationsleiter of the NSDAP, Robert Ley.

The term “Junker” was also derived from old German feudal traditions, where they described members of the nobility. Junkers were not chosen upon their background, family, education, or job. On the contrary, the backgrounds of each candidate were never a subject to discussion and certificates were ignored. Other qualities were of greater importance: arian appearance, perfect physical health, proof of arian descent, proof of military service, engagement for the community, and they had to be married. Most were in their mid-twenties and some were even overtaxed by the intellectual indoctrination program, so the major focus in Vogelsang was shifted to sports and physical activities. Education mainly composed of the topics race science and geopolitics as well as good manners.

Adlerplatz without Adler (=eagles)

Because of the harsh regiment and drill, many Junkers quit and searched for easier ways to make money and a career. Payment also wasn’t very high; while their families were adequately supplied, they only got a few Reichsmark per day, just enough to buy a beer at the local tavern. 80% of the graduates later died in the war at the various fronts because they fanatically volunteered for the Wehrmacht, despite the fact that they were offered higher positions in the government. Some, of course, became administrators of occupied regions where they often were strongly involved into war crimes.

Despite the fact that the Junkers were supposed to become “the elite” who should later occupy key positions within the Reich, their accommodations were far from being luxurious. On the contrary, they lived and slept in so-called “Hundertschafthäusern” (“houses of the one hundred”) where they slept in large dormitories with about 50 men, side to side. The only other furniture besides rows of beds were lockers.

The day began early at 6.00 AM with morning exercises. 7.00 AM mustering at the roll-call place, followed by lectures, classes, and group work. After lunch, afternoon sports exercises. 5 PM-6.30 PM: more lectures and group work. 10 PM: rest.

The Thing place where ceremonies and festivities were held

Because of the isolated location deep in the Eifel region, the Junkers didn’t have much opportunity to spend their spare leisure time outside the castle walls. Instead, they were sent to various events, celebrations, and Nazi stagings all over Germany as “audience” in order to provide for a large, cheering crowd. The Ordensburg maintained a large motor pool just for moving Junkers around from one event to the next, even to the Reichsparteitag (Nürnberg Rallys) to ensure that there were always loyal, cheering masses in the public who would inspire other visitors and common people.

With the beginning of WWII, the junker program was halted and the castle was handed over to the Wehrmacht which used it as a staging area for large-scale operations, for example the Ardennes offensive in 1944 and the Western campaign in 1940, and as a field hospital.

At the end of WWII, the castle fell into British hands, who soon handed it over to the Belgium military authorities. The Belgians erected the Van Dooren barracks (named after the first Belgium casuality in WWII), and the castle was used as a training ground for NATO troops. NS symbols like swastikas were removed and many monuments were damaged (mainly by using them for target practice), but the buildings remained unharmed. The new barracks were even built-in the original architectural style. Some monuments remained intact, especially a large relief in the swimming bath, and some “torch bearers”.

In 2006, the castle was handed over to the German Government and was opened for the public. Today, a non-profit association is tasked with researching and documenting the history of the castle as well as making new plans for the future. A youth hostel is currently under construction, as well as a “Center for the Youth & Europe” where young people from all over Europe come together for common projects about nature and NS history.

Visiting Vogelsang

All information is available in German, English, Dutch, and French

We went to Vogelsang by car (you can also reach it with public transport, but the castle is located deep in the Eifel, so getting there is somewhat adventurous). If you take a route trough the Eifel hills and forests and small villages, you will get a good impression of the difficult terrain the Allied forces faced in the Ardennes and Huertgen forest.

Vogelsang has a large parking lot. From there, you have a good view across a valley to the ghost town of Wollseifen. From the parking lot, you have to walk about 500 meters (0.3 miles) to the main castle with the tourist information, some restaurants, museum shop, and exhibition.

Guided tours take place daily at 2 pm and you have to buy your ticket at the information. You are then assigned to one of the several tour guides. Vogelsang is highly frequented by tourists from all over Germany, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Belgium, or France. The castle is visited by about 200,000 visitors per year, most of them on spring and summer weekends.

We arrived at 1 pm, so we had one hour left until the guided tour. We went to the roll-call place and enjoyed the magnificent view over the Eifel hills, the Urft reservoir and dam and visited a small exhibition about “Organized vacations in the Third Reich”. The exhibition was interesting, it showcased many original KdF posters and explained the Third Reich philosophy of sending workers and people of all classes on recreational trips, sponsored by the Labor Movement and full of “community-building” activities (in other words: propaganda).

High above the Urft reservoir

Besides information about Ordensburg Vogelsang, the tourist forum also informs about the Nationalpark Eifel which is an important wildlife sanctuary and also interesting because of the geological past (the Eifel is a vulcanic region) and historical locations (military locations like the Westwall, but also ancient Roman and Medieval sites).

At 2 PM, we met with our tour guide. With a group of 15 people, we were then led through the vast castle area. The tour was very interesting, the tour guide was a local who lives in a nearby village. His mother had been a child when Vogelsang was still a Ordensburg and he remembered interesting stories about how the local children had to line up along the road to the castle when Hitler came for a visit.

He also took some large images with him where he showed us how a certain place, monument or building had looked when the castle was still in use. Amazingly, today most of the buildings still look like they did then. Only some of the monuments are severely damaged, for example the sportsmen monument. It was interesting to see how it had originally looked like before the Belgians used it for target practice, especially by shooting at the faces and genitals of the statues.

Taking a guided tour is a must

The guide allowed us to enter one of the houses where the Junkers slept in groups of 50. The beds and lockers had been removed, of course, because the buildings were used by the Belgians and others over the last 60 years. You could still see how hastily the castle was erected and it was quite disillusioning to see the concrete walls within the seemingly ancient and massive “quarry stone” buildings.

You are not allowed to enter the other buildings (besides the main building) on your own and they are usually locked, so if you want to see one from the inside, you have to participate in a guided tour.

Our guide then explained the Thingplatz to us where festivities were held on Summer Solstice or Hitler’s birthday. This place was built along the slope from the castle down to the Urft reservoir in a somewhat amphitheater-like style. Participants sat on over-sized stairs while fires were lit all along the slope and on giant statues like the torch-bearer (which must have been a quite impressive sight, but Nazis were famous for staging impressive events).

We learned a lot about life and education in Vogelsang and the guide was very engaged and open to questions without moralizing or displaying the common “I would not have joined in, I would have been in the resistance since day 1” attitude you often meet in German historical sites dealing with National Socialism. On the contrary, he compared Nazi Germany and the propaganda and brainwashing machine to today’s North Korea and pointed out the similarities between the marching masses in both countries. Since you were manipulated 24 hours a day while being offered work, a simple solution for all your problems, and adventure, fun and comradeship in the Nazi youth organizations, he didn’t reject the possibility that he would have been attracted to the Hitler youth as a teenager or to becoming a Junker where you were constantly told that you were the elite and the best of the best, meant to rule the Reich. This was a very interesting and quite uncommon point of view, and we were really surprised about his open words.

In the end, the tour took almost 2 hours.

A "Hundertschafthaus" from the outside...

Inside the Hundertschaftshaus where 50 Junker slept

The tower as seen from the Thing place

The Thing place

Over-sized stairs

The tower

After the tour we decided to climb the tower. You are not allowed to climb the tower on your own, the spiral staircase is very tight and you need to be free from vertigo or claustrophobia if you want to climb up the 172 stairs. Only 15 people are allowed in the tower at a time, but we were only 3, so we had another guide (this time a trainee girl) almost for our own.

The view from the tower was great, you could see all over the Urft reservoir and dam, over the castle area, and up to several Eifel towns with their wind power turbines, and last but not least, the ghost town of Wollseifen. The guide showed us the most remarkable landmarks and explained them to us, and afterwards we could enjoy the view for a few more minutes. Climbing the tower and enjoying the view took about half an hour. There are many castle buildings spread all over the hill, and it’s hard to imagine that they only comprise about 20% of what was originally planned. If the Nazis had had enough time to finish their plans, the size of the entire complex would have been beyond imagination.

The "Fackelträger" (torch-bearer)

We also visited the “Fackelträger” (Torch bearer) monument, which in fact was a giant torch. During ceremonies, the basin on top of the monument was filled with oil and then ignited, so that the entire statue was lit by a giant flame which could be seen even at the Urft dam.

The swimming bath is open to the public and used by the locals from the nearby villages. Amazingly, the relief of three “ideal” humans is still intact and can be seen through a small window, if you don’t want to swim. We went across the Thingplatz, visited the damaged sportsmen, and finally moved back to the Adler place. This huge place was named after the two eagle statues which had been there, but today, the damaged eagles are removed from their podiums and placed next to a wall.

The weather was great, sunny without a single cloud with a fresh wind and modest 20 C (68F) and since it was early April, the location wasn’t too crowded with tourists either. If you are in the Eifel or Ardennes region or visiting Belgium or the Netherlands, you should visit this interesting location – it is well worth a visit!

The size of the Fackelträger compared to a human...

The swimming bath relief is still intact

...while the sportsmen relief was used for target practice

The original sportsmen

If you are interested, visit the official Ordensburg website at: www.vogelsang-ip.de. Information is available in German, English, Dutch, and French. You can get there by car or by train (there is a National Park bus shuttle service from Kall railway station, only on weekends). As mentioned above, there is no entrance fee. The area is open from 8 AM – 8 PM, the forum and restaurants are open from 10 AM – 5 PM.

Visit our image gallery for more photos!

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Review: Lightning: D-Day!

Posted by Denny Koch on February 25, 2011

Game: Lightning: D-Day!

Publisher: Decision Games
Published in: 2004
Designers: Dan Verssen
Era: World War II, D-Day (Normandy invasion)
Game Type: Card game
Players: 2
Contents: 110 full color cards, Quick Play rules
Average Playing Time: 30 min

HFC Game-O-Meter: E


Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 7
Rules: 6
Playability:
9
Replay Value:
5

Overall Rating: 7.5

PRO Very short playing time, almost no setup time: perfect starter, filler, or closer game; nice historical photos, small box and quick gameplay = perfect travel game, strategically challenging, tough time limit, amazingly high simulation value, very short rules…
CONTRA …which may be too short and imprecise for some players, artwork somewhat boring, not too much variety

Introduction

A card game about the Normandy invasion 1944

Lightning: D-Day! was the first game of the “Lightning Series” by designer Dan Verssen, a game series consisting of five very small and fast card games. Other games in the series are Lightning: Midway, Lightning: North Africa, Lightning: Poland, and the contemporary Lightning: War on Terror.

We own the game for several years now and we also had a small review on our old HFC website, but we recently “rediscovered” it and decided that this game is cool and needs a new review in our ambitious Operation Review Reset.

The Lightning games are famous for their speedy gameplay, very short rules (1 sheet of paper!), and low setup time. They can be played within 30 minutes, but they still offer a strategical challenge and are a tough nut to crack. Lightning D-Day isn’t an exception from this rule; the Allied player fights against a brutal time limit while the German player tries to slow him down and to make his advance as costly as possible.

As the name suggests, Lightning: D-Day! deals with the Allied Normandy invasion on June 6th, 1944. One player controls the Allied forces (US, British, and Canadian units), the other player controls the German forces. There is no game board; the play area is defined by five beach cards which represent the historical landing areas (named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah beach by the Allies).

Gaining control over Omaha Beach is much harder than controlling the other 4 beaches

Both players control a fixed number of units or Forces per beach (3-4) which represent the historical units from both sides, for example the Canadian 3rd Inf., the British 7th Armored, or the US I Corps on the Allied side or the 21st Panzer, 352nd  Infantry on the German side. In addition, both players have draw decks of Action cards which heavily influence the combat. Action cards can lower or raise the attack or defense value of units (by representing bunkers, squad cohesion, artillery, the chaos of battle) or add special bonuses to a beach, for example by placing the famous 101st and 82nd Airborne there. Stragglers on the Allied side and reinforcements on the German side can further fortify a landing zone.

A game is played over 5 turns, each turn representing roughly one hour. Each turn, the conditions for the Allied player improve, representing his successful landing and advance on the beaches. After five turns, the number of beaches controlled by the Allied player is counted. The game outcome or victory level depends on the number of beaches in Allied hands. The Allies have to control at least four of the five beaches to achieve the historical outcome; less than four beaches mean a draw or a German victory.

Because of the time limit of five turns and the limited number of actions each player can resolve on a beach, one game doesn’t take longer than 30 minutes which makes the game a perfect starter, filler, or closer game on a game meeting when there isn’t much time left for a larger wargame or for “warming up” before moving over to the more complex games.

Despite being a small and fast card game, Lightning D-Day is challenging and requires strategical decision-making and planning in advance for both players.

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New experimental Wingmen rules for DiF – Aces High (DVG)!

Posted by Denny Koch on November 11, 2010

One of the new wingmen cards

Our review of Aces High inspired game designer Dan Verssen to experiment with new wingmen rules. One of our major complaints was the elimination of wingmen rules from the new Down in Flames game (which were a vital part of the original Down in Flames series by GMT).

Dan Versson developed experimental rules and Wingmen cards for playtest purposes and published a sample dogfight game between two leaders and two wingmen, showing the new rules in action.

“My goal is to return wingmen to the game, while keeping the rules as simple as possible. From what I have heard, almost everyone likes the idea of wingmen, but many people were turned-off by the old rules. For those of you who never played the old game, the wingmen rules were filled with complexity and exceptions. Basically, you had to learn/teach two seperate sets of rules, one for Leaders and one for Wingmen. My goal is to make the Wingmen rules as much like Leader rules as possible, while still retaining their flavor.”

If you are a wingmen fan and want to participate in testing the new rules, you can simply download the rules and sample cards and integrate them into an Aces High dogfight.

Feedback, comments, and suggestions are highly welcome, please leave any comments in the DVG forum on Consimworld!

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Review: Down in Flames: WWII – Aces High (DVG) and comparison with DiF (GMT)

Posted by Denny Koch on November 3, 2010

Game: Down in Flames: WWII – Aces High

Publisher: DVG
Published in: 2008
Designer: Dan Verssen
Era and Topic: World War II / ETO and PTO / Air combat
Components: 110 Full color Action Cards, 110 Full Color Aircraft Cards, Full Color Rulebook, Full Color Counter Sheet (88 – 5/8” counters), 6 Full Color Campaign Sheets
Game Type: Card based wargame

HFC Game-O-Meter: D


Our Rating (1-10): (Rating for experienced DiF players / Rating for casual gamers who don’t know the original)

Graphic Presentation: 9
Rules: 6
Playability:
6/8
Replay Value:
3/9

Overall Rating: 5/8

PRO Great artwork; very modern design; high production quality;  strong glossy coated full-color cards, counters, and rules; fast gameplay; new actions cards; new fighter ratings (firepower, two Horsepower ratings); PTO and ETO; new maneuvering system with speed and action cards; tactics cards; almost no setup time; fighters can attack in chains and be attacked by several other fighters which provides dynamic dogfights…
CONTRA …which are more ahistorical because of the removal of wingman rules; campaign extremely simplified; elimination of almost all simulative aspects of the classic campaign game; only one bomb mode (no more level, saturation, torpedo bombing etc.); simple hit system; simple bombing system without random element; no more variable mission length; no ingress / egress / target / home bound turns; simple Flak rules; no crews; rules describe only 1 vs 1 dogfights for simplicity – but are raising questions for 2 vs 2 (or more) dogfights; ambiguous rules and wording; some rules only mentioned in examples

A preliminary note or warning:

This is not only a review about DiF – Aces High, but also a detailed comparison between the “new” DiF series and the “classic” DiF series by GMT Games. Many wargamers who enjoy the classic GMT series (and own several modules and expansions) are wondering whether they should “switch” to the new system. Information about the differences and about who should switch – and who should not! – are sparse and scattered all over the internet.

Our intention was to review the new Down in Flames series from a wargamer’s perspective who played and enjoyed the classic series, especially the campaigns, and to give you veterans an overview over what to expect from the new system – and what not!


Introduction

Shoot down your enemies... out of the sun!

In 1993, GMT Games published the first module of the Down in Flames series, “Rise of the Luftwaffe“, depicting WWII air combat in Europe, designed by Dan Verssen, Gene Billingsley, and Rodger McGowan. In 1995, the second module, “8th Air Force” was published. The game series was then further supplemented by two Pacific modules (“Zero” and “Corsairs and Hellcats“) as well as several smaller add-ons published in GMT’s C3i magazine.

The first two modules are out of print by now and there are no plans of reprinting them. Instead, GMT announced a new game which will replace the first two modules and serve as a modern update: “Wild Blue Yonder“. This game is still in P500 status and when (and if) it will hit the market is unknown.

If you want to get into the classic and very popular “Down in Flames” series, you have to search eBay or other marketplaces for Luftwaffe or 8th Air Force, and you can expect that it will cost you a nice amount of money. The Pacific expansions are still available at a reasonable price, but if you want to “own them all”, it will require some dedication (and money) to become a “Down in Flames” pilot.

But wait… what about the relaunch of “Down in Flames” by game designer Dan Verssen? Why should I bother collecting the “old stuff” when there is a brand-new, revised, modern version available?

In 2008, Dan Verssen published his own new version of “Down in Flames” in his own company, DVG (Dan Verssen Games). The first game was “Aces High“, supplemented in 2010 by “Guns Blazing” and several smaller card expansions. The new version is not compatible with the old GMT Down in Flames series, but was announced as an advanced, revised new game which improves many aspects of the old game while streamlining the Campaign game (which was quite simulative and of moderate complexity in the old games, so the designer felt the need of making the Campaign more accessible to casual gamers).

WWII air combat on your gaming table!

But should you really sell your entire GMT DiF collection and switch to the new, improved version of Down in Flames with modern and stylish graphics, more fighter abilities, more and different action cards, more maneuvering options, more color, more fun?

The answer is: you could – if you are a casual gamer or a gamer who enjoys playing the basic dogfights variants of the original game and who never touched the campaigns because they were too complex for you, or who always thought the wingmen rules were too static (disregarding historical leader and wingmen tactics which were even more static, so that the RAF pilots were actually dubbed “Idiotenreihen” (rows of idiots) by German fighter pilots due to their rigid and static formations). You will get improved graphics and a more dynamic dogfighting system than in the original game and you will certainly enjoy the new look and feel.

But beware – if you are an experienced wargamer who loved the GMT DiF series, and especially the campaigns, you should avoid the new game system! While the dogfights and several basic mechanics benefit from the new rules and action cards (reducing historical accuracy but enhancing gameplay), the Campaign game is simplified beyond recognition and won’t satisfy you if you loved the old Campaigns – on the contrary, we were heavily disappointed by the dumbed-down Campaign rules.

Aces High: the components

Besides this, the original rules (which consist of two 22-pages-rule books in 8th Air Force) are now condensed into one 24-pages rulebook. The campaign rules, formerly filling a rulebook of their own, are now drastically shortened and integrated into the basic rulebook. The shorter rules are not only caused by a reduced complexity, but also by a new wording which is more ambiguous and less extensive than in the old rule books. They certainly aren’t sufficient to please a classic-GMT-DiF-player, so read this review before considering to sell your old games on eBay!

As we stated in the initial warning, this review of “Aces High” gives a general overview over the DVG game, but also serves as a comparison between the old system and the new system from a wargamer’s point of view, because many wargamers are interested in the question whether they should sell their old games and switch to the new system – or whether they should stick to the GMT games.

Hopefully, our review will help them to decide whether they would enjoy the new game (a more casual gamer with a preference for simple dogfights who loves exciting graphics and thinks the old system to be too static and old-fashioned certainly will, so no game-bashing is intended!) or be disappointed.

What is Down in Flames anyway?

“Down in Flames” is a card-based wargame about Air Combat in World War II (WWI and post-war. Players control single fighters (German, British, Polish, Russian, US, Japanese) and conduct dogfights against other fighters. Fighters maneuver against each other, trying to get an advantaged position from which they could shoot down their enemies. The best position is tailing the opponent, but since each player wants to tail the enemy, there’s a lot of maneuvering until one fighter is behind the other and that’s what makes these dogfights a thrilling and fun experience.

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