Franz Josef’s Armies
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Infantry Attacks: Franz Josef's Armies exists because of a production decision I made, to alter Infantry Attacks: Fall of Empires from an oversized game to just a merely standard-sized large one. That entailed removing a sheet and a half of pieces (254 total) from Fall of Empires and making them the centerpiece of an expansion book, Franz Josef’s Armies.
Fall of Empires remained on my design table for many years, and as a result underwent a lot of re-thinking. Often that’s a mistake, but in this case I’m very satisfied with the result. Fall of Empires is the game I wanted to design and to publish; it tells a tragic story and still provides good game play.
Franz Josef’s Armies is a different sort of expansion; it doesn’t pick up the Fall of Empires story at the end (after the twin battles of Kraśnik and Komarów) but rather fleshes out that story more fully. Austria-Hungary fielded three regular armies - the Dual Monarchy’s Imperial and Royal “Common Army,” the Imperial-Royal Landwehr from the Austrian half and the Royal Honvédség from the Kingdom of Hungary. On top of those were the Bosniaken units raised in Bosia-Hercegovina, the Kaiserjäger from Tirol and the Croatian Domobrana.
Fall of Empires included the Imperial and Royal Army and the Kaiserjäger; the Imperial-Royal Landwehr, Royal Honvédség and Bosniaken are all found in Franz Josef’s Armies (the Domobrana’s 42nd Infantry Division fought on the Serbian front in the early days of 1914). In these first weeks of the war, the Austro-Hungarian armies still followed their official tables of organization, with three infantry divisions in each corps. Two of those divisions came from the Common Army, while the Landwehr or Honvédség provided the third (the Bosniaken made up about a division’s worth of troops and their regiments were assigned to Common Army divisions).
Before long, cross-attachments of divisions to different corps would scramble that neat pattern (and began to do so even before combat operations commenced). But for the most part it still held in August 1914, which meant that Landwehr and Honvédség divisions were intermixed in corps with the more prestigious Imperial and Royal formations. And that means that the full story of the early battle can’t be told without these troops.
And that’s what we’ve done in Franz Josef’s Armies. The book mirrors the chapter structure of Fall of Empires, adding additional scenarios to each chapter and then tying them all together with a battle game like those in the second edition of August 1914.
I probably could have just used the same Austrian pieces to represent all of the Dual Monarchy’s armies, but I didn’t want to do that. I’d spent years crafting the game, through some very bad financial times for the company and for me personally, and I was in no mood to cut corners. I wanted the national armies to have their own colors, and so they do.
There some need for different pieces; the Common Army formations often have better morale than the national armies, and their leaders aren’t as effective directing troops of a different service. Common Army divisions were larger than those of the national armies (sixteen battalions compared to twelve) but at the tactical level where Infantry Attacks scenarios take place the companies and squadrons followed the same organization and carried the same weapons.
They mobilized alongside the Common Army, marched alongside them, and then fixed bayonets and charged insanely into Russian prepared positions alongside them. The Polish 45th and 46th Landwehr Infantry Divisions recruited in Galicia, the site of the battles, fought with tenacity equal to any of the Common Army infantry divisions. Most of the others were not as successful, though no national army division suffered a catastrophic defeat on the scale of the Common Army’s 15th Infantry Division, which lost half its strength in less than 12 hours.
While the Austrian Landwehr was not a militia, despite wearing that tag in some English-language histories of the war, confusingly for those not well-read on the topic it did have administrative control of the actual militia, the Landsturm. These were untrained reservists who had not been called to the colors during their draft year, but now were expected to show up and fight years later. The War Ministry had intended that they fill distinctly third-line duties, like guarding railway bridges far behind the front, but instead many hastily-organized brigades were flung into combat where they soon became heaps of corpses under the hot Polish sun.
The Landwehr did not field any cavalry divisions; it did have cavalry regiments which provided the corps-level squadrons for reconnaissance duties in several formations. The Royal Honvédség did have a cavalry division deployed in the screen in front of the Austro-Hungarian armies at the campaign’s commencement; it didn’t perform very well.
The Bosnians fought as part of Common Army divisions, most notably in the crack 25th Infantry Division raised in Vienna. Before the war they had been stationed in the Dual Monarchy’s major cities as the regime’s enforcers of last resort; Bosniaken crushed street demonstrations in 1905 where regular troops hesitated to fire on civilians. But they had no fear of armed opponents, either. The 2nd Bosnian Infantry Regiment would become Austria-Hungary’s most-decorated regiment of the Great War, and the Bosnians quickly gained a reputation for their prowess in hand-to-hand fighting and disdain for taking prisoners.
All told, Franz Josef’s Armies has 30 new scenarios for Fall of Empires that feature Austria-Hungary’s national armies, plus a battle game for each of the 10 chapters. There are new scenarios for each chapter, and of course for all of the national armies (there’s no sense in printing those pretty pieces and then never playing with them). It follows the format we’ve been using for a while now, using the scenarios and chapters to unfold the story of the campaign. That’s something you can’t do in a book, where the reader by definition is a passive observer. In a game, the player is an active participant, and the task of a game design (at least when you’re using this approach) is to show what happened rather than just tell. It’s an approach derived from role-playing games, but with stricter guidelines for the player than the usual role-playing game as there’s no game-master to assist you, the designer, in telling your story; you have to fill both roles.
Franz Josef’s Armies turns Fall of Empires into the massive game I had envisioned, with a grand total of 781 pieces and 70 scenarios. Together, they provide an intense study of the twin battles in a format that I’m pretty sure no one has ever published before, and likely never will. That makes it a unique project that satisfies me very deeply, even though I know it’s not for everyone.
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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.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold approves of this message.