Fall of Empires:
Design Notes

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
May 2018

After a whole lot of delays, it took a pretty simple production change to move Infantry Attacks: Fall of Empires onto the fast track: swapping its six original maps with six of them from Panzer Grenadier: Fire in the Steppe.

The campaigns took place over almost the exact same ground (and in some cases, the very exact same ground), 27 years apart. And looking at the Fall of Empires test maps right after helping to assemble hundreds of copies of Fire in the Steppe, I began to wonder why the same ones couldn't be used in both games. When our map artist told me he'd be stuck doing great creative things in the real world for a few months before he could make the new maps, I couldn't ignore the signs any longer. Fall of Empires and Fire in the Steppe needed to use the same maps.

And with that decision, the last bottleneck keeping this huge game of World War One tactical combat from release fell away. It's time for Fall of Empires.

Fall of Empires is a game based on the battles of the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian and Imperial Russian armies in Galicia (southern Poland) in the late summer and autumn of 1914. The Austrians fought surprisingly well, given their logistical breakdowns, overall numerical inferiority, outdated artillery and incompetent-bordering-on-lunatic strategic command. The Russians faced command problems of their own, nearly handing victory to the outnumbered Austrians.

At the tactical level, where the Infantry Attacks system focuses, the odds were fairly even. Austria probably had better-motivated infantry, better small-unit leadership and superior cavalry. The Russians countered with immeasurably better artillery (both their materiel and their doctrine for its use) and better adaptability to the tactical realities of 1914, entrenching against Austrian attacks well before the Imperial and Royal Army allowed its own infantry to do so (the cavalry dug in from the war's very first days). The motivated, intensely loyal and multilingual officer corps perished leading brutal bayonet charges.

We've issued one game in the Infantry Attacks series, August 1914, and Fall of Empires makes a few changes in the game. The rules received a re-write, and now sport the same full-color charts and player aids as Panzer Grenadier (not the exact same, but in the same style). The artillery rules have been overhauled, with most artillery moved to the game board instead of firing from some secure location behind the leftmost beer can. Most artillery pieces in this campaign were classed as “field guns,” which meant exactly that – they were expected to accompany the infantry into the field. In game terms, they would usually fire over open sights.

In 1914, that category included all Austrian artillery – even the heavier pieces could not engage targets with indirect fire. Therefore, in the game the Austrian player never has to deal with what the earlier game termed “off-board artillery.” Every Austrian artillery unit is there on the board, and so are most of the Russian ones. This has the added benefit of terrifically speeding game play.

To better reflect Austrian tactical doctrine of 1914, the Austrian player has the option of forming storm columns, stacking three rifle companies together in a hex (usually only two are allowed) with an appropriate leader and charging the enemy, accepting the likelihood of higher casualties for the chance to inflict greater damage on the defenders in close combat.

Those are the most noticeable differences between August 1914 and Fall of Empires; though there have been a few years between the release of the two games I wanted to keep Fall of Empires easily playable (at least to those familiar with our tactical games). When you keep a game design on the table for years, it's tempting to keep adding stuff to it. But in this “golden age of wargaming” when most titles are admired far more than they are played, I wanted people to play my game. And that meant making it no more difficult than August 1914, and easier wherever possible.

With that said, the game still looks good enough to look at instead of play, if you wanted it for that reason. It has a much larger set of playing pieces than August 1914, because Austria-Hungary fielded multiple armies: the Common Army (the actual Imperial and Royal forces), the Austrian Landwehr (a first-line professional army, not a reserve force like its German namesake) and the Royal Hungarian Honvédség, likewise a first-line professional army. All of those armies appear in their own colors, with their own weapons and leaders, as do the Bosniaken, the tough regiments recruited in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

The Russians aren't all that different from those of August 1914, but they do now include Reservist infantry. First-line Russian and Austrian infantry are pretty much equivalent, but the real difference is quickly apparent in their artillery: more guns and better guns. The Austrian gunners are determined, long-service professionals (in game terms, there morale is almost always very high) but there's not much they can do with steel-bronze weapons that were already outdated when introduced in the 1880's against the superb Putilov 76.2mm that would still claim Nazi tanks during the Great Patriotic War.

Fall of Empires has six of the eight maps that appeared in Fire in the Steppe; I didn't see the need for the “city” board or the wide-open-spaces board. The remaining six don't look very different from the ones I sketched for Fall of Empires and used in the initial design phase; had they need swapped out in development (which happens sometimes), I never would have noticed. Revising the scenarios to reflect the different maps turned out to be pretty easy.

Fall of Empires is a Holy Grail game, meaning one I always wanted to make regardless of its sales potential (which would be classed as “not much”). It now has a well-crafted scenario set that tells the story I want to tell, a solid rules set and a very fine set of silky-smooth playing pieces (I'm actually kind of glad we delayed it long enough to use these).

This is one of the best games we've ever published. While the subject is going to be obscure to some (okay, to just about everyone), players and history nerds alike are going to like Fall of Empires.

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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 an uncountable number of books, games and articles on historical subjects; a few of them were actually good. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold enjoys gnawing his deer antler and editing Wikipedia pages.