August 1914:
Second Edition Preview

As soon as I designed the game that became Panzer Grenadier, I started thinking about a World War One version. I was a teenager at the time, and had a lot of ideas that weren’t exactly rational. But this was an actually good one; Infantry Attacks, the series, has been very successful for us and as its designer I’m very pleased with it creatively – both the game design and the history it conveys.

For the second edition of the series’ first game, August 1914, I introduced a concept I’d worked up for its sequel, Fall of Empires (which actually released after August 1914). It’s what we call the story-arc format, with the scenario set divided into chapters; each chapter has historical text, and the scenarios help carry the story forward on top of that.

Infantry Attacks is our series of games based on tactical combat in World War One. Units are infantry companies, cavalry squadrons and artillery batteries. Leaders are vital to activate those units, and move them toward the enemy. Each hex represents a piece of ground 200 meters across; each turn, 15 minutes. The game is designed to be interactive, but the side with better initiative usually gets to do more things.

Infantry Attacks: August 1914 tells the story of the August 1914 Russian invasion of East Prussia, Germany’s easternmost of most exposed province. The German Eighth Army met them at Gumbinnen, just inside the province’s eastern border, and the Russian First Army pushed them back. With new leadership, the German Eighth Army turned on the Russian Second Army, advancing from the south, striking them from both flanks and inflicting a crushing defeat on them, known as the Battle of Tannenberg. Fresh reinforcements from the Western Front arrived too late to affect the outcome at Tannenberg, but they helped defeat the Russian First Army in the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes.

That’s a lot of story to tell, and it involves Russian attacks, German attacks, meeting engagements, and cavalry battles ranging from small to large scale. August 1914 does so in nine chapters, each of which has a “battle game” linking the scenarios together, so you can play all of the scenarios in a chapter and have an overall result for the battle. All told, you get forty scenarios, and while you don’t have to play them in the battle game structure, it’s more fun that way. I put a lot of research into August 1914’s scenario design, burrowing into the “dusty old tomes” to craft a full story told through game scenarios – the sort of result I now want from all of our tactical games.

These are the early days of the Great War, with both sides as close to full strength as they’ll ever get and sending the professional core of their armies into action (which the Germans supplement with reservists and even aging Landwehr men). That means that while the Germans are pretty good at war, with plenty of leaders and firepower, the Russians aren’t far behind them (and in general have better artillery). No one has enough machine guns yet. They both still field lots of cavalry, and the situation’s fluid enough to get the horsemen into action even in the fairly dense woods and swamps of East Prussia.

Artillery is the god of war, but doesn’t yet dominate the battlefield the way it will in just a few short months. Battles are going to be decided by the men with rifles taking ground and holding it.

For the most part, I liked the first edition rules for Infantry Attacks. I thought they handled infantry and cavalry combat well, and the importance of leadership to fire and movement. All of those rules concepts draw heavily on Panzer Grenadier, and it would have been surprising had they not worked well given that series’ long history with dozens of books and games and thousands of scenarios published and played.

The artillery subsystem for Infantry Attacks changed substantially during the first edition’s development, and not, I think, for the better. The problem lies in forcing players to write stuff down (in this case, the target hexes for pre-plotted artillery fire), which takes a great deal away from the fun and I’m not convinced is particularly accurate in simulation terms, either (at least for the mobile battles of 1914). So, we’ve switched to a simpler system that does away with writing stuff down. Panzer Grenadier is both intuitive to play and interactive, and that needs to apply to Infantry Attacks as well.

There are two types of artillery in Infantry Attacks: “artillery” means guns held off the board and not represented by playing pieces. These are the big guns that rarely if ever moved during the course of a single battle of some hours (an Infantry Attacks scenario) and had the range to strike any target on the map.

And then there are “field guns,” the German 77mm, Russian 76.2mm and (in Fall of Empires) Austrian 76.5mm (8cm in Austrian parlance) batteries that made up the overwhelming majority of the artillery on the Eastern Front in 1914. These move and fire alongside the infantry, and while they have greater firepower and range than the men with rifles, they’re also fantastically vulnerable if the enemy gets to close (since they have to limber and unlimber in order to move or fire, respectively, and they’re bigger targets)

Cavalry squadrons are represented by two pieces: one when mounted, one when dismounted. Usually, once you dismount you can’t easily mount again in the course of a scenario (the horse-holders aren’t going to stand there in the line of fire waiting for you). Infantry and cavalry each have their own leaders, and can’t fully affect the other branch (artillery responds to either, depending on the gunners’ parent formation).

Otherwise, the Second Edition rules are written to mirror Panzer Grenadier’s Fourth Edition as closely as possible, at least for similar concepts. You shouldn’t have to come up confused by doing the same thing (like spotting, or morale) differently in the two game systems.

August 1914 turned out exactly as I’d hoped: the game system models combat in the early months of the First World War very well, yet is easily played by real live humans. It tells a coherent story through its game-play, with plenty of detail yet allowing you to jump in at any point and play a scenario.

We expanded it with Winter’s Battle, a Campaign Study of the February 1915 Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes that took place just to the east of these battlefields. It’s got another eleven scenarios, plus the battle’s history.

August 1914 is one of the very best things we’ve ever done.

You can order August 1914 right here.

You can order Winter’s Battle right here.

Infantry Attacks Package
      August 1914
      Fall of Empires
      Franz Josef’s Armies
      Winter’s Battle
      Black Mountain
Retail Price: $247.95
Package Price: $200
Gold Club Price: $160
You can experience the Infantry Attacks Package 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, three children, and his new puppy. His Iron Dog, Leopold, could swim very well.

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