Fall of Empires:
Scenario Preview, Part Ten
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Infantry Attacks is a fairly simple game system, as wargames go, at least from the players’ perspective. It was designed that way, concentrate on the decisions their real-world counterpart (a regimental or brigade commander, usually) would be making. Brigade commanders don’t correct the fall of artillery shells; their artillery either hits the target or it doesn’t.
A great deal depends on the quality of your formation at the moment battle begins; a division that was elite last week may only be hanging on after seven days of constant combat. That’s reflected many ways: the morale rating for a side’s units, their side’s initiative, how many leaders they have and how those leaders are spread out over the “bell curve” of ranks (the classic bell shape is best for chain activations), how many losses force that side to lose an initiative level.
Most of those aren’t going to be very noticeable to most players. But they all come together to play a role; so in Infantry Attacks: Fall of Empires you see an elite division like the Austro-Hungarian 3rd “Edelweiss” Division turn the Russian 61st Reserve Infantry Division into so much Leberkäse even though the Edelweiss advantages might not be apparent at once. It’s when those game mechanics interact that an elite unit shows its eliteness, and vice-versa.
Fall of Empires remained in the design stage for a very long time. I think it’s really good. Let’s look at the final chapter.
Komarów, The Finale
The planned Austrian encirclement would have bagged two Russian corps, the V and XIX, while the flanking Russian XXV and XVII Corps were defeated and driven in opposite directions where they could perhaps be destroyed afterwards. But the Austrian infantry was already spent and could not make the rapid marches that would have been necessary, while the Russians had a say as well and continued to put up fierce resistance.
Auffenberg did not yet know that victory had eluded his grasp, and continued to urge his divisions forward. Heavy fighting would continue throughout the day.
30 August 1914
The Russian XXV Corps staff realized that they faced only a token Austrian force in front of them, and on the morning of the 30th launched a large-scale attack. FML Rudolf Stöger-Steiner, who would become the Dual Monarchy’s last war minister, could not break contact and sent in the “Cider Heads” of the 49th “Freiherr von Hess” Infantry Regiment to push back the oncoming Russians.
The 49th Infantry Regiment pushed over the Labunka Brook and by nightfall had advanced about six kilometers beyond the rest of the division. It had suffered heavy casualties in exchange for this success - a constant theme of this campaign - but had decisively stunted the Russian counter-offensive. During the night hours Stöger-Steiner pulled them back in line with the rest of his division and the Lower Austrians did not have to suffer further for their impetuous advance.
This is an unusual scenario; the Austrian player has to push the Russians back, and gets reinforcements to help with that. But then he or she also has to escape off the edge of the board after beating up on the Russians. Deciding when enough beating has been doneand it’s time to run away is going to be kind of tricky.
Heights of Rachanie
30 August 1914
With the Russians seemingly close to defeat, the battered Austrian VI Corps rose from its hastily-dug fighting positions and shelters to assault them once again. Once they abandoned their own hopeless offensive, the Russians steadily dug in their infantry and cleared fields of fire for their pre-sighted field guns. The Austrian leadership knew that their infantry would advance into a well-prepared killing zone; they sent them forward anyway.
The Austrian division undertook the assault on its own initiative, and it failed miserably under what in August 1914 was considered heavy pre-registered Russian artillery fire. The Austrians returned to their start line, where in the afternoon the survivors in their turn shattered an attack by the Russian 81st Reserve Infantry Division.
Very few scenarios in Fall of Empires follow the standard popular vision of World War One, with artillery fire raining down on the poor bloody infantry trying to stagger forward. This is one of the rare ones that has a little of that, but in August 1914 what the troops considered heavy shelling would be termed harassing fire two or three years later.
30 August 1914
As the broken 61st Reserve Infantry Division streamed off the battlefield, Austrian cavalry found their march columns and added to the misery. The Austrian cavalry had a mixed record in this campaign, and lacked the inherent firepower to truly operate independently on the battlefields of 1914. But the traditional mission of harrying defeated enemies remained well within their capabilities.
The Austrian cavalry had ridden around the Russian flank, and now dealt out even more punishment to the hapless Russian reservist division. The Austrians cut down still more infantrymen and destroyed their supply columns, but lacked the strength to completely wipe out the Russian division. This would be one of the handful of instances on the Eastern Front where the cavalry managed to carry out a destructive pursuit as described in their branch’s dearly-held mythology.
The Russians are string out all along a lonely highway, trudging away from bitter defeat. And then, on the horizon, come the hussars. It’s not a good day to be a Russian infantryman, pulled away from hearth and home just a few weeks earlier. As a scenario, this plays more like 1814 than 1914, with the cavalry for once carrying out a pursuit.
Night of the Kaiserjäger
30 August 1914
The Russian XVII Corps had been repeatedly defeated, but had not yet lost all capacity to resist. Several hours after darkness fell, the supposedly-incapacitated Russian 35th Infantry Division conducted a rare and daring night assault on the resting 3rd “Edelweiss” Infantry Division.
Conclusion Elite or not, the Edelweiss Division’s 5th Infantry Brigade was caught sleeping, its sentries driven in before the exhausted troops could form themselves. The Austrians were pushed back four kilometers with heavy losses before the 2nd Kaiserjäger Regiment - making a rare night march - arrived to rescue their comrades and drive off the Russians.
Night actions are rare in Fall of Empires (because they were rare in the Galician campaign), and the Edelweiss didn’t expect this one, either. It’s a surprise attack, but the Austrians are still elite and they have reinforcements coming to kick the crap out of the Russians, who need to deal out some destruction and then run like hell.
Without the extensive railroad network available to the Germans in East Prussia, the Austrians had little chance of replicating the German victory. Their hard-marching infantry wilted under the late-summer sun, while their brutal storm tactics saw their numbers melt away. Austria-Hungary won this battle, but an ancient King of Epirus had a name for this sort of victory.
The Austro-Hungarian high command would declare the Battle of Komarów one of the Monarchy’s great military victories, and while in terms of numbers engaged and casualties inflicted there was some truth to this, it was in no way an accurate statement. Plehve’s Russian Fifth Army had indeed been punched in the mouth and driven back, but his prompt acceptance of defeat, and steps to mitigate it, spared the Russian Empire a southern analog to Tannenberg.
And that’s all.
You can order Fall of Empires right here.
Gold Club members can score an extra 20 percent off.
Sign up for our newsletter right here. Your info will never be sold or transferred; we'll just use it to update you on new games and new offers.
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.