Franz Josef’s Armies
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Part of the fine balancing act required to keep a tiny game company operating amidst the ongoing extermination of small businesses is the careful choice of what products to make. While some publishers are limited to what game designers choose to send them, we have the luxury of choosing the game topic and other parameters, and then designing it. That process doesn’t always lead to the best choices; sometimes it simply enables bad ones.
My friend Christopher Cummins, who owns Decision Games, shared with me long ago the formula he believes necessary for a successful game project. Such a game must meet two of these three criteria: a recognizable topic, an easy-to-play game system, and a relatively small size. So you can make a game about the Austro-Hungarian campaign in Galicia in 1914, but it had better be easy to play and of reasonable size.
I initially broke the Cummins Rule with Infantry Attacks: Fall of Empires. It was easy enough to play, but certainly broke the “familiar topic” point and the size point. There was nothing to be done about the topic, so I altered the size. And that’s how we came to have the expansion book, Infantry Attacks: Franz Josef's Armies - and that gave me the excuse to put my great-grandfather’s regiment on the cover.
Austria-Hungary fielded anywhere from three to five regular armies in 1914, depending on how you want to categorize the Bosniaken and Kaiserjäger regiments. In terms of organization, equipment and morale they’re all different enough to call for separate sets of pieces in the Infantry Attacks system.
As planned, Fall of Empires included pieces for all of those forces. That added up to three and a half sheets of pieces (including the Russians), and pushed the price tag over the magic barrier of $100. Through sheer stupid luck, one and a half of those sheets were taken up almost exclusively by Austrian Landwehr, Hungarian Honvédség and Bosniaken (the Kaiserjäger were on the same sheet as the Imperial and Royal Common Army). Only a little switching was needed to remove that “almost” qualifier, and without changing overall numbers of pieces.
I didn’t plan it that way, but that let us drop those sheets from Fall of Empires, thereby dropping the price down under the $100 barrier (it will release at $79.99, the current standard price for most games in our Panzer Grenadier series). The remaining sheet and a half are the centerpiece of Franz Josef’s Armies.
The Austrians went to war in 1914 with a standardized corps organization. This would fall apart under the pressures of war (as would formal divisional organization to a large extent), but for the period covered in Fall of Empires it held steady for the most part. Each corps had two of the gigantic (16-battalion) Common Army divisions, and one of the merely large (12-battalion) divisions from the two national armies, either Landwehr or Honvédség. Kaiserjäger regiments were concentrated in the 8th “Kaiserjäger” Division, but the Bosniaken were spread through several Common Army divisions just like any other K.u.K. (Imperial and Royal) regiment.
That means that their stories are closely intertwined with those of the Common Army divisions. While the original Fall of Empires had very few scenarios where Common Army and national army troops appear on the map at the same time, the battle games that link the scenarios together to tell the campaign story did involve both types of formations, since they fought side-by-side.
Austria-Hungary had no reserve formations; all three armies were organized on the cadre system, requiring reservists to fill out their ranks. The national armies had smaller cadres than the Common Army, requiring more reservists during mobilization. The surplus reservists - and there were many - went to Landssturm brigades, hastily-organized formations attached to corps and usually lacking artillery or any other services of their own. Officially these brigades came under the Landwehr.
Franz Josef’s Armies therefore has scenarios featuring the Landwehr, Landsturm, Honvédség and Bosniaken. Some of these are very good formations, as capable as any fielded by the Common Army, like the Austrian Landwehr’s 44th Landesschützen Division, which formed the XIV Corps alongside the elite 3rd “Edelweiss” and 8th “Kaiserjäger” Divisions. Most are a step below the Common Army formations, which had first call on the Empire’s new officers and included far more prestigious regiments than those of the national armies. Ambitious officers sought postings the historic House regiments with their centuries-long records rather than the bland Landwehr or Honvédség.
The scenarios supplement those in Fall of Empires, filling out the rest of the story begun in that game rather than, for the most part, telling their own. Since the story can only be completed with the national armies included, Franz Josef’s Armies has the battle games to go with those chapters (Fall of Empires, unlike most new Panzer Grenadier or Infantry Attacks games, has chapters organized in the same story-arc format but does not have battle games to link the scenarios together).
That makes it a true expansion of Fall of Empires, adding additional pieces, scenarios and the battle games to return Fall of Empires to its original obscure glory. Mostly we’re telling a story, a story of courage, honor and sacrifice at first matched and finally overwhelmed by greed, sloth and stupidity. We tell about the armies, their organization and weapons, and about the battles and how they fit in the larger operational and strategic framework of the 1914 campaign in Galicia. It’s the story of Austria-Hungary’s last war, with the initially successful offensive in Galicia providing a glittering false hope that would quickly turn into defeat and disaster.
The Russians had something to say about that outcome, and we do look at their side of the hill. But this is primarily the story of the Imperial and Royal Army’s last campaign - though it would exist in name for another four years, that new force would be a citizen army forged in the heat of war. The old army perished on the steppes of Galicia, and in Fall of Empires and Franz Josef’s Armies we tell that story.
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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. Leopold approves of this message.