Thursday, June 7, 2018

GMT's 1914 Offensive a Outrance

Michael, the Good Padre from The Mad Padre's Wargames, and I decided to give this GMT game a try via VASSAL and email.  Our objectives were three-fold: Learn VASSAL as a means for conducting boardgames via PBeM; learn Resch's 1914 series on operational WWI warfare; and play an enjoyable game with a like-minded friend. When did we take on this challenge?  Well, almost exactly one year ago!  I guess one might say we have taken the long, slow road to learning the game.

For a brief overview of the game and its scope, I pulled the following from the GMT's website:
1914, Offensive à outrance, The Initial Campaigns on the Western Front in WWI realistically covers the battles fought in Belgium, France, and Germany during the first months of World War One.
Historically, Germany launched its armies through Belgium and northern France in an attempt to achieve a quick triumph and avoid a long costly two-front war. The first weeks of the war resulted in a series of German victories that took them to the outskirts of Paris. There, in early September, the French counter-attacked at the River Marne and forced the Germans into a short withdrawal. Subsequently, when the Allied counter-offensive stalled at the Aisne River, the belligerents unsuccessfully maneuvered to outflank each other in what is known as the “Race to the Sea.” The campaigning season ended in exhaustion and stalemate at the Battle of Ypres.

1914, Offensive à outrance (translation: Offensive to excess) is a comprehensively researched model that explores this fascinating set of campaigns with an accurate order of battle and detailed game map. The map encompasses the entire theater of war from the English Channel to the Swiss Border. The game system used is a streamlined derivative of the 1914, Twilight in the East system, modified to speed play, with care not to lose focus on those aspects of warfare that made the opening stages of WWI so unique. This game system, in conjunction with the accurate map, allows the German advance to be conducted along historical routes with the eminent “Open Flank” present (instead of units strung out from map edge to map edge). The Allied player has an opportunity to recreate a “Miracle of the Marne” type victory or to stop the Germans earlier. Likewise, the German player has a chance to change history and defeat the Allies’ armies in 1914.

The Grand Campaign scenario covers the period from the fall of Liege on August 16th to exhaustion at Ypres in mid-November. Two shorter scenarios, The Battle for Lorraine (a learning scenario) and From the Marne to Stalemate are also provided.
1914, Offensive à outrance is a playable “Monster Game” designed with the expressed goal that the majority of the game can be completed by four dedicated players in one five-day long Expo. The 24-page rules booklet is concise, well written and organized. The game is exciting and gives wonderful insights into one of the most important campaigns of the twentieth century. The result is that 1914, Offensive à outrance is a game that the "WW1 enthusiast" must have and that a gaming connoisseur will enjoy.

1914, Offensive à outrance is designed by Michael Resch, winner of the 2007 CSR Award for Best pre-WWII Board Game and Best Wargame Graphics for his design 1914, Twilight in the East (GMT 2007).
TIME SCALEEach turn = 2 to 4 days
MAP SCALE8km per hex
UNIT SCALEDivisions with independent Brigades

This is a monster!

In my younger days, a monster wargame would see me heading straight for the full battle or campaign game and dismissing the introductory scenario.  Being older and hopefully somewhat wiser, Michael and I prudently opted to learn the ropes of 1914, Offensive à outrance (OaO) and VASSAL by means of the Introductory Scenario, The Battle for Lorraine.  This scenario is only four turns in length but provides plenty of action and a splendid introduction to the system.  Yes, four turn scenario and we are still playing one year later.  As described in the Playbook, 
29.0 THE BATTLE FOR LORRAINE – Introductory Scenario This scenario is intended to be a learning scenario. Players are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the Player Aid Cards and to practice with the movement and combat mechanics. Specifically players should concentrate on paying MPs when crossing a hexside (rather than when entering a hex). It is also beneficial to learn the Forced March procedure, Cavalry Reaction procedure and the effects of placing Prepared Attack markers. The combat resolution procedure is unique and can be experimented with until the process is mastered. This scenario has not been designed for winning and losing. The intention is to allow players to take a small bite of the apple. Historical Notes In order to fulfill France’s prewar promise to Russia, General Joffre ordered an offensive into German-held Lorraine when mobilization and deployment were completed. The offensive began on 14 August with the advance of the First and Second Armies in the direction of Saarburg (Sarrebourg) and Morhangin (Morhange) respectively. The advance was methodical but whenever German forces were encountered the French attacked “à outrance” as per their pre-war doctrine. The German forces opposing this advance consisted of the German Sixth Army and a large portion of the Seventh Army. Initially ordered to take a defensive stance, the Germans allowed the French to slowly advance. On 20 August, the Germans launched a counter-offensive that threw the French Armies back across the border. The Germans followed this success with an advance into France. 29.1 Scenario Length and Map The Battle for Lorraine begins on the French Player turn of GT 1 and ends after the completion of the German Player turn of GT 4. The scenario is played using a portion of the South map. The boundaries of the playing are (all hexes listed are in play): NW: 48.49, NE: 64.49, SE: 64.60, SW: 48.60. Players can download a 8-1/2”x11” scenario map from of_Lorraine_Scenario_Map.pdf.
At start positions
Using VASSAL and the OaO module provided, everything needed to set up and play the game was included.  After discussing a reasonable process flow, we dove in. 
German counter offensive
The combat engine is nothing like I have experienced in a wargame before.  Despite this being a monster game with a moderately high level of complexity, we have been able to work through the rules with little difficulty.  Some processes had us scratching our heads momentarily but we persevered.  Using VASSAL as our game engine actually simplified play as the designer of the module incorporated much of the required record keeping right onto the counter.  With VASSAL tracking current unit status, we could focus on game mechanisms and strategy rather than bookkeeping.  That is a mark of a good design!
Front line At Game turn 3
OaO is a clever system and models WWI operational conflict distinctly.  With multi-step losses, diminishing combat effectiveness, intrinsic artillery ratings, individual unit proficiency, and an interestingly abstract artillery model, OaO presents an intriguing puzzle.  Sticky ZOCs and an attritional CRT almost guarantee little chance of Blitzkrieg style breakthroughs even at favorable odds.  Participants can choose the level of combat intensity too.  With 550 combat results, a wide variety of results are possible.  Victory in individual combats is never certain and the victor will often sustain as many casualties as the vanquished. 
German Counter attack Game Turn 3
Where we stand at present is the German Move of Game Turn 3.  As seen from the screenshot above, the German player has launched a series of attacks all along the front in the penultimate turn.  Historically, after the French offensive across the border ground to a halt, the Germans launched a counter-offensive.  The German counter-offensive pushed the French back to their borders.  Not likely the situation in this game.  Before the German attacks can be resolved, the French player gets a chance to conduct any counter moves.  Still some play left in this one.

An interesting and challenging game that provides a plausible model for WWI operational combat.  Clearly the best operational WWI game I have seen or played.


  1. As I was reading through this, I was thinking that this sounds like 1914 done right .... and then your last sentence summed that up perfectly. I am guessing that this is one level higher in complexity than would suit me, though I imagine it is the Vassal thing that is making this work for you.

    Over the years, I have stream-lined my stuff so much towards easy play that one day I realised that much of that in depth satisfying stuff is not in your collection anymore. This looks to be one of those games for the WW1 fan that would certainly address that.

    1. Norm, the use of VASSAL and the OaO module makes this huge game accessible to me for play. While I miss having the game spread out on the table with large numbers of counters everywhere, little is lost in actual execution. In fact, the enhancements I mentioned in the module, itself, actually improve play from my perspective.

      Using VASSAL and a remote compadre really is the best way to learn a new, complex system.

      A splendid learning experience in both the gaming interface, the game system, and the game.

      Great fun! This approach is highly recommended.

      1914 and OaO is well-suited to both gaming grognard and the student of WWI history.

  2. Nice one, Jonathan. I have a copy of this myself, but it's looks like a bit too much game for me to handle at the moment.

    VASSAL is a wonderful tool though - really glad to see you've been getting into it and enjoying it.


    1. VASSAL is a wonderful tool, indeed! I have used it on many an occasion. It is being put to use to chronicle the ongoing Montcalm & Wolfe campaign.

      If you are ever tempted to break OaO out for a spin, let me know. VASSAL and OaO is a good combination.

  3. Jon, I am glad to see that you are playing this game. It's on my to-buy list, but I wanted to get in some games of Serbien Muss Sterbein first.

    1. And I am glad to be playing it, Scott! OaO is a marvelously designed game. Maps and counters are beautiful and the rules well-presented.

      In the Introductory Scenario, supply is not enforced so that aspect of the game is simplified. Probably wise for learning the system. I can add that complexity in another game.

      I look forward to SmS too. That was the first title in the series that caught my eye after reading Lyon's superb "Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914: The Outbreak of the Great War." Fascinating book.

  4. Given a good platform, digital versions of hex and counter games, especially big ones, could be much more viable than in the past--no need to set up and take down (or keep up for extended periods), and the ability to play at distance, as opposed to via postal mail, is also an enabler. Most interesting.

  5. How I regret that nobody in my area playing such a system.

  6. I'm not a board gamer, but this looks interesting. Maybe someday.

    1. It is interesting, Dean. If you start boardgamong, I suggest something a little less complex.

  7. Very interesting post,played a lot of SPI in the 80s, I've just got pike and plunder to give me an Italian wars campaign ,that's the nearest I come to this kind of game and it does sound like the kind of thing that translates well to the internet,so Michal doesn't need anyone in his area!
    Best Iain

    1. Iain, what triggered your move away from boardgames? Pike and Plunder sounds interesting but I cannot find a reference to it on Boardgame Geek. What is it?

    2. I guess I moved away from gaming,college, starting work and the models/figures are what drew me back ,Id say I'm a figure painter first and gamer second.
      Pike and Plunder is by James Roach of Olicanderlad blog and isn't a game but a campaign generator for the great Italian wars, wargames vault have got it.
      Best Iain

    3. Thanks, Iain. I will look into James’ Pike and Plunder. Sounds interesting.

    4. Jonathan, there isn't much on James' main blog, but there is a lot about the campaign fought using the original version of Pike and Plunder (an astonishing ten years ago) at

      I was the warrior Pope - and doing OK - until in an unexpected real life development somebody hired me to go to Little Rock, Arkansas of all places with instructions to borrow $100m. Those were the days.

    5. Thank you! I will investigate.

  8. I will be interested in the final ourcome here Jonathan.


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