1940: The Fall of France
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Consistently, one Panzer Grenadier game remains harder to keep in print than any other: 1940: The Fall of France. It’s not surprising. Philippe Léonard, a master of storytelling in game form, crafted a wonderful game based on the fighting in May and June 1940.
We’ve returned it to print in a Playbook edition, with our beautiful die-cut, silky-smooth game pieces. The Playbook edition has no box, instead putting all of the scenarios in a thick book. And since we have to lay out the scenarios all over again for the Playbook, I decided that this would be the time to revise them. Not content with that, Philippe added seven brand-new ones.
It’s a fine scenario set, but 1940: The Fall of France pre-dates our story-arc format, in which we use the scenarios to help tell the story of the campaign. The scenarios are now divided into chapters, with added historical background text to put them in context and a battle game to tie them together. It’s been a popular approach with those who want some history in their games, while those who just want to push tanks around and make explosion sounds can have fun, too.
While the 1940 campaign is noted for the poor strategic performance of the French command and swift, decisive moves by the Germans, it’s very different on the tactical level. The French Army possessed many fine units, and these fought with fanatic courage and professional determination to hold back the Nazi hordes. France also had some less-than-determined defenders, who crumbled before the German onslaught.
Philippe tells that story with 40 scenarios – no mere dozen can convey the full tale of the 1940 campaign’s history-changing battles no matter how much hand-waving about “typical actions” accompanies them. Philippe's scenarios range from small, tense infantry fights on a single map to the huge tank battles fought in central Belgium in the opening days of the campaign. Most importantly, they show, rather than tell, why the Germans could slice their way through the world’s most powerful army in just six weeks – and that while France may have suffered a “strange defeat” for many reasons, lack of courage was not among them.
I didn’t develop 1940: The Fall of France the first time around, and Philippe had a lot of material he’d hoped to include then, and has added more in the intervening years. So now we’re including, well, some of it (I can’t possibly publish a single book that reflects his knowledge of the campaign). If you’re familiar with Panzer Grenadier, this turns 1940: The Fall of France into a true companion volume to Philippe’s Road to Dunkirk. I don’t choose to work with many outside game designers any more, but Philippe hands over exactly the sort of deep historical insight I want to see under our label.
1940: The Fall of France was a fine game the first time around; that’s why we kept selling out of it. But it was a first-generation game, and it’s fulfilling for me personally to turn it into the immersive historical experience we’re trying to deliver in all of our games. This is the sort of game I want to publish. It’s taken a lot of additional effort than a straight reprint with a new cover would have done; I think it’s going to be a worthwhile investment but I find it difficult to let opportunities like this pass by, even when I probably should. I want to tell stories, and that’s what Philippe has done with this game.
You can see a preview of the game’s maps, and read about their design, here.
The story’s told on eight maps. They represent more built-up terrain than do the maps in most Panzer Grenadier games – France in 1940 was an urban, industrialized society. They are the usual Panzer Grenadier maps on heavy cardstock, 11x17 inches and interchangeable with the huge number of other maps currently in print (including those from Panzer Grenadier (Modern) and Infantry Attacks). The story that unfolds is made even easier to tell with the Fourth Edition rules for Panzer Grenadier, with full-color play aids to make things even more fun.
The game introduces the French to Panzer Grenadier, complete with their angry chicken national symbol (more properly the “Gallic Rooster” or Chanteclair, but we always describe it as the “angry chicken” on internal art directions). The French Army suffers from the legacy of victory in the Great War; much of its artillery is the lightweight 75mm Model 1897 quick-firing gun. The “French 75” was touted as a war-winning weapon, but even in 1918 many generals felt they needed heavier metal to reduce enemy fortifications. Many thousands remained in service in 1940. The Germans, forced to scrap most of their equivalent 77mm light field guns, replaced them with much more effective 105mm weapons for the next war. New French weapons, like the 47mm APX anti-tank gun, are better than anything in the German arsenal but are only just starting to reach the troops.
You can read a preview of French armor pieces here.
It’s a similar story with tanks. Forbidden to develop tanks under the Versailles Treaty, the Germans started later than the French. So on the one hand, the best French tanks (the Somua S35 and Char B1bis) are far more capable than the best German tanks. On the other, the Germans are not saddled with over-aged relics like the FT17 (just with PzI tankettes and useless PzII light tanks). In the categories of both tanks and heavy weapons, the French occupy a broader spectrum of quality than the Germans, better than the invaders on the top end, worse on the bottom end.
You can read a preview of other French pieces here.
It doesn’t work that way when it comes to infantry, and to a great extent it would be the higher quality of their foot soldiers that would bring the Germans victory in the 1940 campaign. The French once again have a broad range of infantry types, though this time it’s because of the French Army’s reserve system rather than development and procurement drawn out over decades. The Germans have just one (plus special pieces for the Grossdeutschland Regiment). The French platoons are smaller and therefore weaker when on an even footing with the Germans, but only some French infantry is that good. Often, the French infantry is just plain terrible.
You can read a preview of Last Days of May right here.
We extended the campaign with the Campaign Study, 1940: The Last Days of May. It has two more chapters with 11 more scenarios, and all you need to play them is 1940: The Fall of France.
You can read a preview of Swallows of Death right here.
We extended it some more with the expansion book, 1940: Swallows of Death. This book gives you 88 new pieces and 30 more scenarios, all showing the exploits of the toughest unit in the French Army of 1940, the 1st Moroccan Division. You’ll need both 1940: The Fall of France and Road to Dunkirk to play them.
1940: The Fall of France is a core game of the Panzer Grenadier series. I’m really happy we can bring this game to the same standard as the new games of the series’ Fourth Age.
You can order 1940: The Fall of France right here.
Le Forfait 1940
1940: The Fall of France (Playbook ed)
1940: The Last Days of May
1940: Swallows of Death
Retail Price: $147.97
Package Price: $130
Gold Club Price: $104
You can order Le Forfait 1940 right here.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects; people are saying that some of them are actually good.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife and three children. He misses his Iron Dog, Leopold.
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