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"Suicide of Europe" variant

Domenico Licheri
Paths of Glory is a great game. The topic is so vast that most players come up with ideas about alternative rules or game mechanics that they would want to test. Suicide of Europe is a set of alternative rules for Paths of Glory that arises from this natural love of the game. Unlike most of the other sets of rules published, SoE includes alterations to the core mechanics, so that play is significantly impacted: you will feel SoE is not quite the same game as good old PoG.

What if? The outbreak of the War

The prevalent opinion on the frantic days that led to the outbreak of the War is that governments lost control over the development of the crisis as soon as they allowed the military authorities to commence mobilization. The Generals argued that a mobilization did not mean war, but then pleaded that the process leading to war could not effectively be halted, save at the price of gravely endangering the chances of winning.The critical question for game design is: how much leeway should the players be allowed in changing the plans for war that had been mulled over and fine-tuned for years? SoE allows the exploration of some of the most recurrent “what-if” scenarios. The Central Powers Player must address the critical question of whether to declare War on France, as required by the German mobilization and War plans. The change in plans that would have been required to avoid a state of War with France, being taken very late in the process, would inevitably have caused a great deal of confusion and disruption to the German mobilization operations, and this is reflected by changes to the opening set-up if that option is taken. The lack of flexibility in plans naturally affects the Allied Powers as well, particularly as regards the French opening plans.

War Status (or “Should The Bolshevik Revolution really Depend on Sinking the Lusitania?”).

The Russian Revolution and the US Entry have a large impact. In SoE the progression towards the two events is de-linked, so players do not have a disincentive to try and push them to their maturity. Both Players will probably devote significant energy to ensuring these events occur, given that the timing of their occurrence can have decisive influence on the outcome of the game (as was the case historically). The mechanics of the events’ occurrence remain otherwise the same as in PoG.

The BEF and MEF

Representation of specific units and events is always problematic: game design has to settle for objective probabilities, while different persons will have different subjective assessments around the likelihood of the various possible developments. PoG includes several specific rules for the BEF, but interestingly the player incentives thus introduced often lead to non-historical behaviours. The solution adopted in SoE is based on the set of cards proposed by the excellent Banquet des Generaux website. In SoE keeping the MEF expedition alive has a significant cost in terms of Replacement points and in terms of political energy diverted from the effort to involve the US in the war. The rewards will be unlikely to outweigh the investment if the expedition is not immediately successful, and a wind-up will probably be a more economic solution than allowing the expedition to linger on season after season.

Sequence of Play and Action Rounds

In PoG, as in many strategic war games, the presence of an end-of-turn phase breaks the fluidity of the action and distorts strategic incentives. SoE turns the Action Phase into the “core” of the game, as all the steps and phases previously executed either before or after the Action phase are now performed “at some point” during the Action phase. This creates a “continuum” of play from action to action, removing most of the strategic interference related to whether play is at round 1 or at round 6, with a “terraforming” impact on game mechanics. The tactics that used to work are left by the wayside, and the options the Players find viable in SoE bear little resemblance with those favored in PoG. Players have incentives to stop the action and devote attention to the progress of their war effort. The aggressive Player will still be able to limit the ability of his opponent to take a breather by continuing to present challenges, but this attitude will have to be balanced to manage the risk of running out of steam first. Some of the rigidities related to the offer of Peace Terms and the play of SR, RP and event cards have been weakened: accepting Peace Terms does not immediately end the war, and the rush for last minute gains on the ground before the Armistice is agreed can go a long way in securing a better outcome for the struggle. Players have Diplomacy and Foreign Policy segments in which they can influence the Russian Revolution and British or US Entry dynamics. SoE introduces the possibility to take automatic RP1 and SR1 actions, so that it is possible to SR one corps without play of a card, and also to provide replacement points to a minor nation without having to play that all-important card as RP. Players have levers to manage the timing of arrival for replacements, and strategic flexibility is enhanced as Players can effect SR and OPS or RP and OPS actions with the same card play.

Peaks and troughs in hand size

In PoG the number of cards in a Player’s hand typically swings, from seven (or eight) at the start of a turn, gradually down to two or one at action six, to then magically jump to seven again at the start of the new turn. In SoE the number of cards in hand is more stable throughout the game, with a disincentive to excessive frequency in activation of spaces. One very interesting difference in SoE relates to the effects of a changing War Status: in PoG the increase in commitment level results in the Player drawing all of a sudden an average of three or four cards from the new commitment level deck; in SoE the transition to the higher commitment level is much more gradual, as typically only one card is drawn each round.

Removal of deck culling and substitute event cards

PoG provides incentives to play (or not to play) the unique events cards because of the related deck culling effect. For example, playing the Italy event has the drawback that one of the few powerful 5-5 cards will disappear from the deck as the event is played (this had clearly been intended in game design). In SoE the average OPS value of the cards the Allied Player should expect to draw is not influenced by whether the “Italy” event has occurred or not. The experience of all governments and societies was that they had begun the war with the assumption that it would be similar to the other wars the world had known. As the commitment level increased, the new nature of this war was unveiled, and the realisation of finding themselves in dangerous and previously unexplored conditions weighed heavily on the leaders of the time. The growing and unsettling feeling of uncertainty is recreated in Suicide of Europe as the size of player’s decks swells dramatically with increasing war status, from 18 cards in mobilisation, to 44 in Limited War and to 73 once at total war. Players face higher levels of uncertainty, and struggle to find ways to cycle through their decks to pick up the critical cards needed to bring about the US Entry or the Russian Revolution. The average OPS value of cards in the deck is stabilized as unique event cards are replaced by substitute cards with the same OPS, SR and RP values. The uncertainty is also enhanced by the fact that SoE does not have the comfortable chess-like structure of PoG: Players are allowed to invest cards to try and surprise the opponent with consecutive moves.

Combat Cards

In PoG the play of combat cards in the first action rounds of a turn is more efficient, as this gives a higher chance of “doubling” their use in a later round, opportunity not available for combat cards played in round six. Undefeated combat cards can remain in play in the Played Cards zone until the end of the turn following the one in which they were played. Cards are still discarded normally when “defeated” in combat, and in addition, the Player can decide to “recycle” them to gain a draw.

Movement, Combat and Control of Spaces

PoG and SoE reproduce a four year long siege of the Central Powers, both sides fighting with huge but very cumbersome Armies. Within the limits of the counter mix available to each nation at a given point in time, Players in SoE have some more flexibility to re-organize their forces by exchanging Army steps with Corps, or vice versa, or by merging reduced Corps into a full strength ones. Given the different loss factors of units of different nationality, each Player will have different incentives, and re-organization is one additional tool to achieve tactical and strategic results In PoG units gain control of spaces they move through, and it is possible to isolate many enemy units by simply moving one single corps around them, especially in the Eastern war theatre. The introduction of a requirement to spend 1 additional movement point to gain control an area being passed through, and to stop if un-supplied, will significantly affect the play dynamic and the ability of small forces to isolate enemy units. In SoE the progress of lonely units that move deep behind enemy lines will be slower, while the ability of units to advance relatively fast when adequately supported by reserves and friendly forces in the vicinity is fully retained. Limitations preventing units from terminating their movement in spaces activated for Combat have been removed, and Players will be able to activate a space for both movement and combat. The cost of SR for Armies has been reduced to 3, and a “cheaper” form of Tactical Redeployment has been introduced to allow Players to move single units in multinational spaces without having to pay the full activation cost.

Attacks and Advances

In PoG no attacks are allowed against empty enemy spaces, friendly controlled spaces, or spaces besieged by friendly forces. In SoE attacks against spaces not occupied by enemy units or forts will result in an automatic advance. Allowing attacks against empty spaces enhances the flexibility in sequencing moves and attacks. Rules on Advance after Combat allow advancing units to “fan out” behind enemy lines. On the other hand, an attack executed by a single unit will rarely result in a two-space advance. Corps will now be able to execute flanking attacks.

Consequences of Isolation

In PoG isolated units instantly lose the ability to move or attack, and survive in place until friendly forces open a new supply path, or until the end of the turn, when they are eliminated if still isolated. It has been widely noted that this mechanism is asymmetric: units isolated during action 1 of a turn will resist for 6 turns, while units isolated during action 6 will not survive even for a single round. It also works in favour of the Allied Player, as he will have the last move in each turn. In SoE units have a limited capability to autonomously react to lack of supply, and the consequences of being isolated are not influenced by when in the turn isolation occurs (i.e. whether isolation occurs during round 3 or round 6). Isolated units can be activated for attack (only), with appropriate adverse modifiers to their efficiency. Since attacks into empty as well as into friendly spaces are now allowed, the activation of isolated units for attack lends them a limited movement allowance. The impact on play is significant: it is no longer enough to cut off a group of enemy units; now their attempts at breaking through need to be repelled while fending off the rescue efforts of other groups of enemy units.

Stacking

SoE introduces a stacking distinction between Corps and Armies, allowing the concentration of a large number of Corps in a single space. The difficulty of supplying large armies in remote locations is reflected by the lower stacking capacity of spaces in the Near East map. Players of SoE may voluntarily overstack spaces and then eliminate excess units.

Trenches

Around the end of September 1914 the Armies on the Western Front started to dig-in and entrench, turning the war in a four year long siege of the Central Powers. Units will have a limited entrench ability even before play of the Entrench Event. Corps, as well as Armies, will now be able to entrench (although Corps will be generally less effective than Armies in entrenching, due to their lower Loss Factors). Both Players are allowed to play the Entrench event, and doing so will trigger a permanent improvement in their ability to entrench, so that the Player calling the event first will enjoy a temporary “technological” advantage. The introduction of the zero level trenches proposed by the “Banquet des Généraux” is an effective way of fully recreating the conditions that led to stalemate on the Western and Italian Fronts.

Withdrawal

Corps can rarely withstand proximity with enemy Armies and quickly melt away when called to do so. On peripheral fronts (Serbia, Near East, etc.) it is the number of Armies that carries the day, if it were not for the Corps’ ability to cut supply lines. In PoG the “raids” to isolate enemy units, especially on the Eastern Front, are one of the most effective uses for Corps units. The effectiveness of Corps in gaining control of spaces is reduced in SoE, making it more difficult for a single Corp to cut deep into enemy territory. The ability of Corps to entrench somewhat enhances their uses, but they need a better ability to withstand contact with opponent forces: the extended use for the Withdrawal event allows Corps to reduce losses by retreating.

Firing Tables

Attacking or defending forces made of Corps and/or Forts will be able to fire on the Army table if their total Loss Factor is 4 or more in a single space (a concentration of force equivalent to an Army). The ability to use the Army Fire table will give groups of Corps an increased staying power, making them tougher nuts to crack, especially if defending in intact Fort spaces. The strategic and tactical value of fortifications was an accepted tenet of all defensive strategies. Fortified areas were built and maintained in efficiency as a matter of ordinary military policy, and this is reflected by the numerous fortified areas portrayed in PoG. During the war years fortification technology evolved and adapted to the new conditions. SoE allows Players to invest resources in the fortification of new spaces (up to CF of 1) and in the restoration of destroyed forts (again up to a CF of 1; only the original owner being allowed to rebuild them progressively up to their original strength).

Italy

Italy is widely perceived as being a liability to the Allied cause. SoE includes an amended version of a variant proposed by the “Banquet des Généraux”. Together with many influences from other rule changes, the variant is in my view sufficient to turn Italy into a significant asset. For those not convinced, however, an Optional rule previously published by Ted Raicer has been included that limits the ability of the Central Powers player to concentrate German Armies against Italy before the Central Powers reach Total War.

Vesting Holland

SoE incorporates an amended version of the Vesting Holland variant proposed by Mr. David Meyler. The increased freedom of movement awarded to the German Army is reproduced by the lifting of the “race to the sea” restrictions from the moment Holland is invaded (most often this means from the start)

Variants

Many PoG cards have been altered to fit into the mechanics of SoE. In addition, substitute Event Cards have been introduced so as to mitigate the deck culling effects of removing the unique event Strategy Cards. A few additional Event Strategy Cards have been added to reproduce famous or significant historical occurrences or characters; these are mostly inspired by variant cards previously published: full credit for the original ideas is recognized to the authors. Suicide of Europe also includes many variants and concepts “borrowed” by other authors , including various optional rules proposed by others. Deserving of mention are surely the excellent “Banquet des Généraux” (the site boasts many other brilliant solutions that I decided not to adopt into this Suicide of Europe variant), the Vesting Holland variant originally designed by David Meyler, as well as many ideas published in various forms by Ted Raicer and others. The map and opening set-up have been modified and adapted in a number of instances. The rules include copious design notes that comment upon the rationale for the solutions proposed and provide some insight into the likely consequences on game play.