1940: The Last Days of May
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
I had a vision for 1940: The Last Days of May. When we re-made Panzer Grenadier: 1940 The Fall of France, our Panzer Grenadier game of the 1940 French campaign, designer Philippe Léonard added new scenarios. The game needed them; in chapter format, the way we tell stories in our games, some of the chapters needed more scenarios to flesh out the narrative. And we wanted more tank battles.
That squeezed some scenarios out of the game, and I decided that we’d publish them in 1940: The Last Days of May, a Campaign Study (what we call our small scenario booklets). That seemed pretty easy, except that Philippe wanted to add more scenarios there, too, and for the same reason – to make the story flow.
1940: The Last Days of May extends the story of 1940: The Fall of France. It’s a small scenario booklet, not a complete game. You’ll need 1940: The Fall of France to play all of the scenarios, and Panzer Grenadier: Road to Dunkirk to play two of them.
Like every other scenario-based wargame out there, Panzer Grenadier in the early years featured scenarios (usually a lot of scenarios) based on battles that took place during whatever campaign the game covers. From the start we included many more scenarios than other publishers, but they still fit the same pattern: each scenario stood alone.
In the chapter format, the scenarios still can be played alone (and will almost certainly be played that way far more than as complete chapters). The difference is in presentation: when an action has five or six separate encounters, we might in the past have created scenarios for one or two, which showed the situation at a particular moment but didn’t show how the opposing armies got there.
By designing instead a string of scenarios taking place over the course of several days, it’s possible to tell a much deeper story than just a handful of different “typical action” scenarios that tell you nothing about how the war was fought or why the battle took place at that time and place, with those forces and in that fashion.
Philippe built 1940: The Last Days of May as two chapters, one with five scenarios and the other with six (he actually submitted seven, for a total of twelve, but I couldn’t make the last one fit into the book and it was sort of an outlier anyway). Of those eleven scenarios, five of them are completely new (so was the one that got squeezed out). Of the six that carry over from 1940: The Fall of France, all of them have been completely re-made: the map alignment, orders of battle, historical text and victory conditions. I also changed the titles of most of them, since there was so little left of the originals. Like its parent game, 1940: The Last Days of May is completely new.
The chapters cover the French stand in front of Dunkirk, to allow the British Expeditionary Force to escape, and the counter-attack against the Abbeville bridgehead, with Col. Charles de Gaulle’s 4th Armored Division trying to throw the Bavarian 57th Infantry Division back across the river and nearly succeeding – only De Gaulle’s hesitancy, surrendering hard-won gains that had to be taken back again and again, kept the French from victory.
That last sort of battle is where the story-arc structure really shines. You can see the French try again and again, and succeed, only to be pulled back close to their original starting line for the next scenario, when De Gaulle’s will falters. De Gaulle would win many plaudits for the hard fight of his hastily-assembled armored division at Abbeville, some of which are well deserved. But the histories usually leave out the part where France’s future hero threw away those successes.
It's one thing to tell you that Charles de Gaulle snatched defeat from the jaws of victory; it’s no secret and you can find it written in many histories of the campaign (though usually not in such stark terms). What Philippe has done here is to show it, so you can play it out yourself, and feel the frustration of the French commanders on the ground who saw their tank battalions drive forward again and again, saw the colonial infantry – middle-aged fathers and husbands called from their homes to fight a new war – fight and die for hard-won ground, only to give it up and have to do it all again.
This is a dramatic story, and Philippe tells it in a unique format, a participatory one unlike anything you’ll find in a book or a movie. And you certainly won’t find it in other games, that might tell you how many bicycle battalions were there, but they won’t make you feel it. This is an extraordinary experience, one delivered right to your game table.
In the other chapter, it’s a story of French sacrifice, both the soldiers fighting desperately to hold off the advancing Germans and the civilians caught in the crossfire. It’s a powerful story, and there’s no doubt who the protagonists are here. The French are out-numbered, they’re out-gunned, but their nation has been invaded by a relentless enemy.
Rebuilding 1940: The Fall of France took us a longer time than I might have liked, as its publisher, but this is the sort of game that I want to design and that I want us to publish. From a business standpoint, it wasn’t the brightest decision, to go back and re-make an older game into the best we can, a work of game-play and history that can make us proud. By any rational measure, we should have forgotten 1940: The Fall of France and just churned out something else that we could forget a year later.
That’s not how I want to publish games. I want our games to provide a rich experience of both history and game-play, and that’s what we’ve done with both 1940: The Fall of France and its extension, 1940: The Last Days of May. These are great additions to Panzer Grenadier.
You can order 1940: The Fall of France right here.
You can order 1940: The Last Days of May right here.
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 a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects; people are saying that some of them are actually good.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children, and new puppy. He misses his lizard-hunting Iron Dog, Leopold.
Want to keep Daily Content free of third-party ads? You can send us some love (and cash) through this link right here.