Monday 1 April 2024

WWII Campaigns - 1940 (France)

In the late 70’s, Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW) released a number of games under the umbrella of the 120 series. The idea was that they were individual designs (i.e. not sharing a common rulebook), but commonly, would each have less than 120 counters and play in under 120 minutes.

Compass Games have just brought three of those titles back into print and combined them into a single boxed game called WWII Campaigns 1940, 1941, 1942.

1940 deals with the battle of France and was originally designed by Frank Chadwick. 1941 covers the Barbarossa campaign and was originally designed by John M. Astell. 1942 looks at the Japanese campaign against Malaya, Java and the Philippines and was originally designed by Marc. W. Miller.

As is happens, the Barbarossa and France games have some similarities, which I hope will make it a little easier to move between those two games when the time comes.

They are pretty much straight reprints of the originals, with even the maps being done in the original style, which used the old 4 colour process of the time.

For the rest of this post, I will be taking 1940 - The battle of France, out for a spin and using that to example the package. Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post. 

Each of the games get their own map, counters, play aid and rules. So, for France 1940 we get 94 counters, a play aid chart and a 12 page rule book. The map (graphics by Art Lupinacci) as far as I can tell is based around the graphic style of the original, save for the growth in hex size, allowing the now bigger ⅝ counters to be used.

The total map area is 22” x 28”, using a very heavy paper, with a good quality surface and the folds do not cause any cracking along the seams, as can sometimes be the case with coated papers.

As an initial observation, whilst there is a charm to the ‘copying’ of the original, I feel some opportunities have been missed by a slavish reproduction. Firstly, the maps are a matter of taste, there is no good reason for current publishing practices, with superb and subtle graphic effects to be locked in to a 'look' that reproduces the old four colour process.

The counters are in effect single sided, on their reverse side they have the year of the game that they are from i.e. all of our 1940 counters are simply stamped 1940 on their rear side. This has a single use …… sorting out the counters when first punching them, so the right counters end up with the right game. After that, the ‘1940’ stamp serves no purpose, yet in this game, units can end up DISRUPTED and are flipped over to their rear side and so that rear side could have been better utilised.

Disrupted units lose their Zone of Control and cannot move or attack and importantly, enemy units are not obliged to attack them. It is something of a puzzle therefore, why, when this information and status is integral to playing, that the reverse side of the counter does not show unit details, but instead has what amounts to a redundant ‘1940’ stamp.

Worse (who ever had this idea?) ALL the backs of the counters are a single colour - BROWN! so when they are flipped over as disrupted, the players not only don’t know what kind of unit they are, but don’t even know what nationality they belong to, something that does have an impact on smooth admin. (this caught me out, as a Panzer unit sat there on the front line and from game memory, I thought it was a French unit and I missed an opportunity).

The rules also have some basic edit fails that should have seen them more cohesively aligned to the latest reprint. The map is described as 17 x 22 inch (the old size), when now, in this printing, it is fact double that. It says there are 120 counters, no doubt true on the original game, when the standard counter frame would have been created for up to 120 counters across the series, but actual counter numbers for this game, as already mentioned, are 94. 

There are 4 German counters in the game that have their fighting value bracketed, the 'why' is not explained in the rules and was never explained in the original rules - they are just totally absent. An internet search shows these 4 divisions were positional units for defence, so one can presume with some certainty that the attack value can only be use in defence - not attack ..... perhaps!

I have no idea how much of the rules are simply a straight reprint, but small things like this, taken together with the look of the map and the issues with counters, leave me wondering whether this is all simply just a copy of the original game, without any errata being smoothed out etc or improvements made to the administration of the game, other than giving the maps big hexes.

There are also some administration distractions within the game, such as units going out of supply and there are no 'out of supply' game markers or say a counter that would be useful to show Eben Emael active / destroyed or aircraft counters etc. This could all have been a better out of the box experience had some better and more caring thought gone into this.

Anyway, that aside, I still start out with some relish at exploring these games, partly a nostalgia thing I suppose of Old School gaming, but I also have an interest in the subject and I like the original designer …. Frank Chadwick.

Looking at the simplified map, a 12 page rulebook and an ethos of the 2 hour game, I got an initial impression of this being a simple game - but it is certainly not simplistic. I am reading the rules a second time before play, because there is plenty tucked away here and my initial reading, with note taking was not enough to make a good start. 

I am also seeing things here that I have been reading about in Lloyd Clark’s book on the subject 'Blitzkrieg', so it looks like a good effort has been made to get the history into the game.

A few of the system things that stand out are;

The sequence of play is unusual. The player moves through a cycle of Movement, Combat and Recovery phases, but rather than play then flipping over to the other player, the current player gets another cycle of Movement (though only half rate this time), Combat and recovery. So a player will get to move and attack twice before the other player can do likewise.

The Allied and German fighting models were quite different in this campaign, with the Germans executing a ‘Blitzkrieg’ style of fighting and generally out performing the Allies in terms of Command and Control. I might have expected an unusual sequence of play to represent those differences, but it doesn’t, both sides get the same sequence so I am not sure what that ‘attack twice’ feature is all about. EDIT - it doesn't matter, it works.

Secondly, Motorised and Non-Motorised are treated differently when it comes to moving within an enemy Zone of Control, retreating through a ZoC and drawing supply through a ZoC. I shall need a sharp memory to always capture that, but it should create some nuances in play.

Thirdly, if a unit attacks, then every enemy adjacent to the attacker must also be attacked, whether by the original attacker or other friendly unit to the attacker. I like these sort of rules as they put a brake on attackers being able to ignore other enemy presence, while they gang up on one unit. EDIT, one must keep a sharp eye out for this and rigorously apply it, it is easy to slip into old ways! 

In anticipation of this game being released, I started reading Blitzkrieg by Lloyd Clark and as with many modern books, it lays claim to be revisionist, but it really does approach the subject as a bit of a myth buster, showcasing that German success was not a forgone conclusion.

The book looks at the plans of both sides, the constraints on the armies due to military traditionalism and a variety of missed and gained opportunities. The German planners were torn between what the prime objective(s) should be and a good body of staff did not even believe that the German army was ready for such a campaign. Hitler’s insistence on the operation made it happen within a shortened time frame that worried many.

Likewise, Allied planners had internal division, they were entering a war that they did not want or were ready for. The Maginot Line fortification heavily influenced the Allied plan and reduced their flexibility in ‘imagining’ a successful German assault that did not involve the Maginot line, other than through the Low Countries. An approach via the Ardennes was not regarded and not later recognised for what it was … even once it got under way.

The game on the face of it is quite simple, yet our opening task is that each side should secretly select a plan from a choice of three available plans. This uncertainty about what the enemy was doing is a good reflection on the situation that both high commands found themselves to be in.

This is an excellent two player mechanic, but it loses a little bit in solo play, so I have two choices, roll a die to randomly choose the plan for each side or go with the historical plans. For a first game, I am inclined to go with history, just to see how the game copes with the known campaign environment.

For the Germans, this means selecting the prime objective to be capturing towns and ports in northern France and Belgium ……. by attacking via the Ardennes With Army Group A.

For the Allies, they will be selecting 1st Army Group (Allied left flank) to be the lead army group, in the belief that the main German effort will be an attack via Holland and Belgium.

I am ignoring the three optional rules ‘The Mechelen Incident’, ‘Belgian Late Alliance’ and ‘French Air Force’, as the last two are ‘What ifs’ and the first was just one of those chance things that needn’t (shouldn’t) have happened.

This is an 11 turn game, with each turn representing 5 days and hexes each representing 26 kilometres across. 

What follows is a light overview of my game, interspersed with some gaming situations that give some game insight.

Firstly the set up options are a little involved and since I am playing solo and for the first time, I decided not only to go with the historical plans, but to research the orders of battle, so that units would set set up within the areas of their historical Army Groups and so it is, that my opening gets a pretty pure historical start (I have listed that order of battle over on BoardGameGeek).

Now, the truth is, to win well, the Germans must achieve their plan, inflict heavy losses on the enemy, especially the British and if possible, also capture the objectives that are in the other German plans - so in other words, the German player has their work cut out.

Above - this is the 1940 map - (Click for closer detail).

Above - the map populated with 'at-start' units.

The game actually starts on turn zero, representing two days and only has one sequence of phases per side. 

Above - The circled city is Sedan. On turn 2 (which is really the third turn because of the initial ZERO turn) I annoy myself. Despite just reading about how the Germans launched a surprise attack through the Ardenne forest, taking Sedan rather easily and then breaking out ... I capture Sedan almost accidentally and then realise that I don't have enough nearby force to breakout and exploit, while the enemy are all over on the other flank! 

Above -  Holland can be knocked out of the war if two of their major cities are captured. At the start of turn 3, I find myself in the above situation. I decide to invest everything this turn to capturing Holland and freeing up much needed units.

Airborne 22nd Division capture The Hague in an airborne operation, that we can imagine involves captured airfields etc. I divert all air support assets to support a land forces attack on Rotterdam, which also falls. The capture of the two cities results in the fall of Holland and the release of 7 desperately need corps.

Above - The Germans have breached the Maginot line (grey hexes), which is starting to suck German units in. Note the three flipped counters, now on their brown side, at the bottom of the picture (Disrupted).

Above - and ..... just above the Maginot Line attack, the French have extended their right flank outwards (white circle), drawing more German units away from the actual point of crisis .... above Sedan! The arrows show the breakout and encirclement path that I SHOULD be doing!

The German attack has become fragmented, perhaps the release of troops from Holland can help bring some focus.

June 11th - 15th (Turn 7) - The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) make their first attack as the Germans begin their approach along the coast to the French ports, closing on Ostende, but the BEF are repulsed.

June 16th - 20 (Turn 8) - The Maginot line falls, the Allies are in crisis as Ostende falls and 1st Cavalry Corps are compelled to fall back to protect Paris!

Above (click) - The Maginot Line (the circle) is fully in German hands. The left arrow shows the vulnerability of Paris and the right arrow shows the drive of Army Group B along the coast. 

June 21st - 25th (Turn 9) - XLI Panzer Corps enters the Eastern part of Paris!

The German High Command urge the advancing Divisions from Army Group B, to push on aggressively along the coast to take the ports, but with Lille still in stubborn British hands, the German advanced elements get cut-off and the Allies counter-attack. They destroy four German divisions, likely saving Boulogne and possibly Calais.

June 26th - 30th (Turn 10, the final turn) - The Germans put maximum air effort into supporting an attack on Calais with their forward and now out of supply troops. The port falls, only to be swiftly recaptured in a coordinated French and British counter-attack. Another four German divisions are lost. The desperate actions around the port have seen the Germans suffer more losses than in the rest of the campaign.

Above - The Allied counter-attacks against the German coastal spearhead. The red star shows the first group of 4 divisions that were lost. The ZoC line shows how the German supply is cut by the British holding Lille. Also note the raft of counters with that anonymous brown coloured rear side.

Paris is surrounded, but strong French forces still control 2/3 of the city.

So, now the important bit ... who has won. As usual, I try and guess before counting the numbers. The Allies have suffered terrible losses and it was only in the last couple of turns that any significant German losses occurred. 

The Germans have taken the Maginot Line and had this been their prime objective, then together with Allied losses, this would likely have given them the game ...... but it wasn't, their prime objective was to take the ports and in that, they have failed, since Boulogne and Calais remain under Allied control.

Counting - well this is all a bit strange. There are quite detailed victory point calculations and outcomes ..... but our result of the Germans failing their plan, but scoring more VP's (casualty based) does not seem to fall within any of the victory outcomes! it sits out in no-mans-land, somewhere between a draw and an Allied Marginal Victory!

Had the Germans chosen the Maginot Line as their prime objective (which they got) then the result would still only have been a draw because they have to also get at least one of the other not chosen objectives, to elevate their victory to something better.

Conclusions. There are some interesting nuances going on within the rules, but keeping on top of them and always using all of the rules fully and properly, makes play thoughtful and the rulebook was regularly in my hands. This comes as surprise as on the face of it, it at first glance seems a simple game - perhaps it is just me and more playings is what I need.

I felt that returning to an old classic has been really enjoyable, but other than the big hex and counters, I don't feel the Compass Games approach to a new print run has been as effective as it could have been.

There feels an obvious lack of admin counter support, I was left relying on using tiddlywinks as markers re the recovery times of disrupted and out of supply units and making notes for some other functions - not game breakers, but neither a sense of real care.

The anonymous nature of the flip side of the counters is a case in point.

The play aid is not as useful as it could have been. The Combat chart is very good, with large print, but the only other thing on there are the victory conditions and points, which is only needed at the end of play and in any case is fully described in the rulebook, so this is wasted space.

Instead they could have listed combat results, added reminders such as the column shift uplift for armour V's non-mech and perhaps just included some other important reminders on areas of the rules.

I have been reading a very good account of the battle (Blitzkrieg by Lloyd Clark) and I felt during play that the designer has done a very good job in replicating the book narrative.

It took me a while to break into this game and to honest, near the start, I almost packed it away and planned to sell it. But I stuck with it and I'm glad I did. I will replay it, now with some additional insight and look forward to the other two games in the package, particularly Barbarossa.

One of my prime reasons of buying was to add to my collection of games that can play in a single session for our face-to-face games. In this regard, I'm not sure how to rate this. It is meant to play in under 2 hours, but that was not my experience. I am not a slow or deliberate player (he says!), so I just don't know. Now that I better understand the direction of the game and the system, my speed may pick up.

For the solo player, playing the actual game is very easy, without any solo hurdles. The one issue is the initial setting of plans, which are meant to benefit from secrecy, but really, I dealt with that by going historical and I could have easily done a selection randomly as well.

I have researched a list of which units were allocated to which group and posted this on BoardGameGeek. There is a link below if this is of any use to you.

For those of you that follow this blog, you will know that it is rare for me to be critical of a game. If I like it, I take the time to write about. If I don't then it doesn't make the blog, even if work has started on it. 

Those that read these articles tend to like the same stuff as I do, so that doesn't matter.

This is an unusual beast in which I feel like a good game has remained a good game, but that the production side of things has left my customer experience wanting. If more games are planned in the series then please look at it and say 'how can we make this a brilliant playing experience'.

EDIT - I am just prepping up the 1941 game (Barbarossa) and it looks like it will offer an excellent outing for our next face-to-face session. I think this will be easier for us to break into than the 1940 game, so readers may wish to take that into consideration when selecting which game they play first.

I will likely cover that on the blog in due course. 

Resource Section.

The list of historical deployment can be found at BoardGameGeek at this LINK.

My sister webspace ‘COMMANDERS’  showcases the various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and gives a flavour of where current projects are up to. Link.


  1. A critical review may be rare (almost non-existent) from you but it certainly is refreshing. An opportunity missed but I find this occurs regularly in some of these reprints. Of course, we must be old enough to know the original.

    As a counterweight, I find it equally important (perhaps more so) to see what you do not like rather than what you do like. Seeing both sides of this spectrum provides more balance and surfaces any biases. More honest reviews, please...

  2. Hi Jonathan, as you know, I don’t consider myself a reviewer, I just write about what I like and if I had not actually liked the game itself, then none of this would be here and as always, it is a game that I have paid for, not something that I have been sent, this probably allows me more latitude (and forgiveness!) to be subjective rather than objective.

    I think I enjoyed the game more because of the Blitzkrieg book that I have been reading, it really helps highlight some of the design decisions and perhaps one of the negatives that falls out from reviews generally is the question of whether the reviewer actually has in insight into the subject.

    As a tongue in cheek example, in a Barbarossa game, it might be loads of fun, but there is something seriously wrong if Kharkov can fall on turn 1 - but does the reviewer actually ‘see’ that issue or do they see a fun / good game that works overall? This is probably my main reason for shying away from thinking of my blog as a review blog, I generally don’t have that insight.

    So the reviews are honest from the point of view that I have bought the game, played it at least once and enjoyed it enough to say so.

  3. Thanks for the feedback, Norm. I was considering purchasing this set as I loved the old Series 120 games. I'm bummed with the maps. I hoped they'd give them a makeover. The old Lobositz map (as an example) is seriously dull compared to some of the gorgeous maps I see with counter games published today.

  4. Hi Steve, I think there is a hunger for the games themselves. They just need a bit of help as to where 45 years of wargaming has brought us.

    In the very early 80’s a very starry eyed me looked at getting a game into print with local printers, it was very difficult and expensive, even daft things like getting boxes etc and finding someone who would do die cutting - especially in the UK.

    My inspiring examples that I hawked around were the Games from Swedish Games Production and Prokhorovka from Task Force Games

    Even these with their die cut counters, lived in the shadow of the publishing powerhouse that was Avalon Hill.

    Fast forward to today and self publishing is accessible to many. We are lucky that such a small niche hobby that has niches within niches is so well served by product.

  5. An extensive read with lots of detail covering a whole series of differing issues. I’m not too surprised at the irritating features of replicating a quality level we left behind a long time ago and the lack of concern about correcting past and known issues/flaws. Compass Games, like Decision Games, suffer from this feature. Loved the AAR element, especially the accompanying photos and your annotations on them to highlight points. I know you’ve questioned the possibility of finishing the game(I.e. 1940) in one of our evening sessions, but I’d be very happy to give it a go and attempt it.

    1. I agree with Polydor's assessment although Compass is still a step ahead of DG in production value.

  6. Hi Mike, would like to play this again, followed by Barbarossa, which has a similar system, to get a better feel of the games and an accurate play time.

    The Allies don’t get much opportunity to attack, due to the rule that says when you attack, everything adjacent to the attacker must be attacked and this chain reaction can set up some very low odds attacks, so really, the 11 turns should go faster than I experienced, something to re-evaluate.

  7. A nice comprehensive review of the game Norm and first and foremost, it seems to have achieved its aim of accurately recreating the "feel" of the 1940 Blitzkrieg in France!
    As to the production qualities and potential for improvements - perhaps the aim was just to reprint the game exactly as it was 30 years ago - a lot of people like that sort of nostalgia, for its own sake eg shiny gloss Hinchcliffe or Minifigs figures etc....!

  8. Its Keith here BTW - that "anonymous" thing has never happened to me before - weird!

    1. And now - I am NOT anonymous - FFS!

    2. Hi Keith, yes it does deliver the campaign, so I have high hopes for the Barbarossa game.

  9. Thanks very much for the review Norm; despite the flaws you bring out, looks interesting.

    1. Hi, it is interesting and would make a scenario generator for a figures game or be used as the frame for a figures campaign, with say the most interesting action to the player each turn, being transferred to the figures table.

  10. Thanks for the review Norm as I have been pondering whether to get this boxed set or not. Reading the above it does feel like an opportunity missed to improve upon an old game, both on the graphics front and tidying up the rules. To be honest I doubt I would play it more than once, as I think the action is too zoomed out for me, but understand why they have gone for the 5 day Turn etc, to allow one to cover the campaign in a few hours of play.

    The more I read about the campaign, the more I'm left wondering as to how did the Germans actually win, given the multiple chances the Allies had to stop them or seriously delay the advance to allow for a defensive plan to be drawn up etc. It does remind me that I have a planned BKCII campaign waiting to be played, so maybe I should crunch on with painting some more troops to allow me to kick this off...

  11. Hi Steve, one of my delights wit this game has been the background reading done with the ‘Blitzkrieg’ book, it has certainly opened my eyes to how fraught things were to both sides.

    When I play the Barbarossa and Philippine games, I will likely post both here and so you will get a fuller idea of the gaming potential, which may help any buying decision.

    I very much look forward to your France ‘40 BKC II campaign game. There seems to be quite a few distinct zones that would make for a good campaign ….. you might actually have to have Rommel or Guderian in the front line … they did seem to get involved quite a lot!

    1. I certainly am looking forward to the Barbarossa game and your thoughts Norm. As for France, I'm focusing on the BEF sector, so not too many fancy leaders and Panzers, at least at the start...

  12. A most enjoyable read and report on the game played.

    1. Thanks Peter, I think reading the Lloyd Clark ‘Blitzkrieg’ book has really enhanced my appreciation of the 1940 game.

  13. Like you, I tend to only do 'reviews' of things I like, but we do try to be informative as well and not just "this is good." more like, "this is good, but it might not be good for you if.." Occasionally a review makes it in that is more critical when I was excited about something and ended up being disappointed by it. Like a lot of family members I have. 😁
    this game sounds like it was a little more work to enjoy than it needed to be.

  14. Stew, that is a fair appraisal, but I have just started to delve into the Barbarossa game (1941) and that looks like it will hit the mark for me.

  15. Great review of the game Norm. Good to get perspectives on both the game play and production values.

  16. Hi Ben, also quite sobering to be seeing reprints on games that are 43 years old …… where did that time go! :-)

    1. It only seems like a few years since I pulled Panzer Group Guderian out of a copy of S&T and set it up for the first time.
      It is all faded and grey now - a bit like its owner 😂

    2. It is all too familiar :-) I noted in a convention report that some blokes had set up a huge naval game on a sports hall floor ….. crazy talk and no explanation anywhere of how any of them got back up again. :-)

  17. Thanks for your review Norm I would really like to play some of these larger strategic games but lack a suitable opponent at the moment 🙁

    1. Hi Matt, many can be played as a two player game .. but solo, playing both sides, but it needs the gamer to be happy with this style of play.

    2. Matt, a VASSAL module will be along shortly if not already out.

  18. Thanks for the review - I have been looking at getting back into hex and counter games but am not sure where to start. I did pick up the Musket and Pike / Gustav Adolfus 30YW games cheaply but they seem a little daunting to start with...

    When I saw the headline of the post I was hopefull as France 1940 is a period I enjoy and my 20mm WW2 is all that era.

  19. Hi Mike, I would agree that the Musket and Pike system is somewhat daunting. I am about to do the Barbarossa game from the 1940 / 1941 / 1942 box set and will write some notes here, so that may influence you. On reading the 1941 rules, I think they will be easier to implement than the 1940 rules ….. we shall see this Friday! :-)


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