Review: 1918 Storm in the West by GMT Games

1918/1919 Storm in the West is a recent release from GMT Games. Originally designed by Ted Raicer and published in Command Magazine in 1992, a new life was given to the design when it received a boxed edition.

Included in the new edition is a counterfactual 1919 scenario wherein the Germans never launched their spring offensive in 1918 and stood on the defensive in 1919. Lacking any real interest in this bonus game, I did not get it on the table, and it will not be a part of this review.

1918 Storm in the West is a classically styled hex and counter war game. Counters are corps in size and are rated for offensive and defensive abilities as well as movement allowance. Combat is resolved with a combat results table (rather bloody, I might add but more on that later). Terrain and other rules can add modifiers to combat and movement. Incoming reinforcements and replacement points can bolster armies or augment losses on field.

Victory is dictated by gaining or losing morale hexes, notable towns, and fortresses, and when a side has their morale driven to zero, the power collapses and forfeits the field. Practically this is difficult for the Germans to achieve outright but the more morale hexes they occupy before they are invariably forced to go on the defensive then the harder it is for the Allies to reclaim them. If the Germans have not been knocked out by Turn 16 then they win.

To prevent the Germans from going on the defensive from the beginning, they must raise their own morale to 18 and lower the Allied morale to 13 in order not to immediately forfeit the game at the end of Turn 9.

The game is governed by these standard rules and if you have played any of Raicer previous designs or have a passing familiarity with war games, this should be an easy game to learn. But while it may have inherited the bulk of its design from previous games, Raicer has included some elements specific to the Western Front circa 1918.

Firstly, the game addresses the burgeoning tactics adopting by each side to break the stalemate created by the disparity of defensive and offensive weaponry. The Germans, at least for the first half of the game, are equipped with a dozen or so Stosstruppen corps that have better attack, defense and movement factors than the rest of their on-Stosstruppen counterparts. These must be leveraged appropriately to gain the necessary ground in the game’s opening turns. The Allies, on the other hand, have special tank corps that can negate the negative effects of trenches.

But crucially, both these troop types, are afforded an Infiltration Move. After the first round of combat has concluded, all eligible infiltration capable units can move one hex, regardless of movement costs or enemy zones of control. This allows these units to maneuver around units or maximize breakthroughs achieved during the previous combat phase.

The other two defining features of the game that will dictate play the most are the combat results table and the replacement schedule.

This is by far one of the bloodiest and unforgiving CRTs I have encountered. It embodies the attritional nature of campaign and will heavily influence every decision to attack that is made.

You will take losses. Period. Only in rare circumstances, with overwhelming die modifiers, will you emerge from a combat unscathed. This makes every decision to attack agonizing and rewards intelligent layering of modifiers and maneuvering to achieve an edge over the defender. Without these modifiers, an attack can be incredibly risky, especially if you roll poorly and take on multiple step losses with out gaining ground or enemy blood in return.

In conjunction with the CRT, the replacement schedule is equally punishing, especially for the French and British and the Germans starting in the latter half of the game. The high price of attacks are taken from these meager replacement pools and because the only so many losses can be absorbed, every attack becomes important.

The game naturally focused on one or two sectors of the map, as opposed to actions taking place up and down the line. Undertaking a general offensive is nigh impossible given the drip feed of replacements. The Germans only chance for victory will be focused on the sector of their choosing and the Allies will most likely focus their efforts in repulsing this German effort and from there spring boarding their own offensive. Only the Americans in the latter half of the game, with their 3 replacement step every turn, can sustain consistent losses. They will be the bludgeoning tool that cracks the German trenches.

Supplemental rules add some World War One chrome: air units, tanks, the American-Australian Corps, weather and the impact of the Spanish flu all have effects on gameplay.

While this design does not reinvent the wheel, it is thoughtful and organically replicates history with its CRT and replacement schedule to provide a simple but rewarding take on the final months of the First World War on the Western Front.

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