August 1914:
Second Edition Design Notes

Once they’ve been published, I don’t often play games that I’ve designed. By that point I’ve moved on to new projects, I don’t really want to think about the old ones, and I’ll only notice things I wish had been done differently but can’t be changed.

To prepare for its second edition, I played through the Infantry Attacks: August 1914 scenario set again recently. I had remembered it as a good game, and there’s definitely a good game buried in there, but overall I came away disappointed. The first edition is a serviceable game, and its scenarios yield results within what I consider the expected range. But it gets there through some unnecessary convolutions, and it’s just not as fun to play as I think it should be.

At the time I designed it, I struggled with depression and the results show. It’s by no means a bad game, but it should have been much, much better. The research behind the game is really good - I was always able to focus on details like that, since reading old history in old fonts took lots of concentration that helped shut out everything else. The creative transformation of that into game form suffered. The whole idea of “fun” was an alien concept in those days.

Given the chance to revise August 1914 for a second edition, I set out to make it more fun. Almost a decade later, I felt ready to erase those dark days. Sweeping away the old game became important to me as a symbol of that, and it felt really good to transform it to meet the same standards as our more recent games. The Second Edition has the same playing pieces and maps as the first, but we replaced everything else.

I’d already re-written the series rules, chiefly to revise the artillery procedure and bring some game functions more closely in line with those of Panzer Grenadier’s Fourth Edition. I went back and did it again, this time working over the artillery again to make it easier to play with and bring it more closely in line with actual practice.

There are two types of artillery in August 1914 and its sister game, Fall of Empires. Field guns are the ones that show up on the map, and they move and shoot just like any other unit. They can’t roll around like unarmored tanks, so you still have to limber them (which is not automatic), hitch them up to a team of horses, move them to their new location and unlimber them before you can shoot at something. So that’s not going to happen all that often.

Artillery units can only shoot at what they can see, just like infantry companies but with greater range and a few other differences. They’re not capable of indirect fire in the game; while they had this capability in theory (at least the larger guns), that was a laborious exercise requiring more time than an Infantry Attacks scenario allows.

The guns that can shoot at targets they can’t see are the off-board artillery increments. Their fire has to be plotted before the game begins, which means friendly troops can wander into their own barrage if a player’s not careful. It’s a powerful weapon (moreso than in the First Edition) but it’s a pretty blunt instrument.

I also ramped up artillery firepower, which was pretty easy. Field guns now resolve their attacks on the Direct Fire table (which is deadlier than the Bombardment Table). Artillery barrages are still resolved on the Bombardment Table, but they affect three hexes rather than just one.

That required some changes in the August 1914 and Fall of Empires scenarios: field guns were moved from off-map increments onto the map, and heavier pieces from the map to off-map increments (there weren’t many instances of this in the game). That’s how it should have been from the start, and it was a historical flaw in the August 1914 game that needed fixing (Fall of Empires was pretty much already designed that way).

Ramping up artillery firepower required some scenario adjustments, which wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, but it did mean re-developing and re-writing all forty of them. I think they play much better now, and artillery has its proper role as a powerful but relatively inflexible weapon. Previously, it was kind of wimpy and terribly inflexible; just moving a battery took paperwork.

There’s still a little paperwork, but only to plot Pre-Registered Fire for off-board artillery, which only appears in some scenarios. Once that’s done before the game begins, you’re done with writing things down. It does mean that you have to really think about what you’re trying to achieve in the game before play begins, since you can’t adjust the big guns in time to make any difference to your efforts.

For games taking place in 1914 (August 1914 and Fall of Empires), that model works very well. As the war ground on, artillery practice became more sophisticated. Games set in the war’s later years are going to need more involved artillery rules, but I’m reasonably sure we can keep them within this easy-to-use framework. The games are supposed to be fun and show some history, and overly-involved rules (ammunition expenditure tracking and fire mission writing for each individual battery) don’t advance either of those causes.

August 1914’s Second Edition sets out the new model for Infantry Attacks games (which isn’t that hard, since the “series” previously existed of just the game’s first edition). The game (as well as the upcoming Fall of Empires and Sinai-Palestine) is organized like our latest Panzer Grenadier game, with chapters first describing the action and then wrapping up with a battle game that links all the chapter’s scenarios together with a set of objectives for each player to meet (or in some cases, to deny to the other player).

The East Prussian campaign of August 1914 lends itself very conveniently to this structure; the fighting began with a confused series of border actions against the Russian First Army advancing from the east as the German Eighth Army command panicked. Then new leadership arrived, and set out a much more confident plan: first the Germans set upon the Russian Second Army invading from the south and inflicted a major defeat on them. Then they turned to the north-east and struck the First Army head-on, defeating them as well. They also fought a small series of actions against the resurgent Russian Second Army (which, German propaganda aside, was not wiped out to the last man) and the newly-arrived Russian Tenth Army.

Each of those battles is pretty much self-contained, and that made the story-arc format work very naturally. So we have some history to lead off each chapter, then the scenarios advance the story line, then we wrap up with a battle game to link them all together.

August 1914’s Second Edition is exactly the sort of game I want us to publish.

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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 over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.