I bought a copy of Blitzkrieg published by the Avalon Hill Game Company (circa 1965) on EBay a while back simply to add it to my growing collection of board games. Having played but once back in 1977 the purchase was not stimulated by any nostalgic devotion to this old classic. For, by the time my childhood friend Glen and I sat down with a borrowed copy, we had already become veterans of the war gaming genre. We had fought across the deserts of North Africa, smashed the British lines at Waterloo, and pushed Alexander the Great back at the battle of Gaugamela.
Neither one of us had much hope that Blitzkrieg, a fictional representation of warfare between two countries (Great Blue and Big Red), would stir us to greatness once again. In that, we were correct, for the lack of historical backdrop quieted my inspiration and I was forced into a mechanical situation in which I did not feel invested in the outcome. Without the chance to change history, my imagination was dulled, my drive quieted. So I bought this title simply to flesh out my Avalon Hill collection nothing more.
Yet this game does have its merits as evidenced by a dedicated and faithful following.
Blitzkrieg is a two player strategic board game where each side is trying to either; annihilate their opponent’s standing army (my kind of warfare) or to occupy all of their enemy’s cities. It makes use of the basic Avalon Hill hex map board and NATO symbols on the unit counters. This hex and counter layout is the standard for the majority of AH games and once learned a player can easily transition from one AH game to another with very little or no problem. This title can be played at three different levels of difficulty using, the Basic, Optional, or Tournament rules. For beginners, it is best to lay out the basic game first and forgo some of the more complicated rules for another day. Once the mechanics of movement, attack, and position are learned using only armor, infantry, artillery, and paratroops, you can introduce more advanced options like air power and even Nukes.
The counters, representing army divisions, have two primary numbers printed on them below their NATO symbols. These numbers are the unit’s Movement factor (MF) and Combat factor (CF). The Movement factor is the basic number of hexes a unit may be moved over clear terrain in a turn. Certain terrain features cost more to move through (mountains) and some less (roads).
The Combat factor is a unit’s basic fighting strength whether attacking or defending. Modifiers for terrain bonuses may be added to a defending unit’s strength only. Attackers never receive terrain bonuses. For example, city hexes double the CF of all units within the hex when attacked but no bonus is awarded if the units in the city attack from the city.
The meat of this war game just like all of its type is the act of combat and combat is resolved through simple odds calculations and a Combat Results Table (CRT). It actually sounds more complicated than it is. First, you determine your odds by adding up the attacker’s combat strength then comparing it to the defender’s combat strength (including any terrain modifiers). Example Infantry attacker has a CF total of 8 and defender has a total CF of 4, then the odds are 2-1 in favor of attacker. Next a six sided die is rolled and that number is cross referenced against the Combat Results Table which will determine what happens. Obviously the better the odds in a player’s favor the greater chance of winning the battle.
Blitzkrieg basic, is very direct and easy to play. However, it can turn very quickly into what has been deemed a “Sitzkrieg”, in that without some of the optional rules, such as amphibious assaults and landings, players tend to gravitate to the center of the game board. When this happens defensive lines are formed and rather than a “lightning strike” with mechanized forces, the game starts to play like a WWI western front scenario. This does not always happen but when it does you should be bold and flank the enemy.
I decided to set up the base game and was lucky enough to share my session with our friend Mike who expressed a modicum of interest in trying this old classic. Mike had never played any strategic war games before, but after about fifteen minutes of explaining the rules he was all set to go. He quickly mastered, zones of control (the six hexes surrounding a unit that they “control’ in game), use of paratroops to effect by blocking retreating unit’s escape, and most importantly the command of terrain features for defensive and offensive purposes. We had a pretty good time trying to outwit one another with maneuver and feint tactics. I was too late to realize that though, Mike was new to war games, he had definitely grasped the concept. I was hard pressed early on (deservedly so) as I underestimated my opponent’s ability to recognize and capitalize upon my glaring mistakes.
Overall this title is great for introducing new folks to war games in general. The basics are all covered and the tools learned can be carried over to other more complex games. With the varying levels of difficulty and rules I feel one could play Blitzkrieg through all three degrees and come out a well-rounded novice gamer.
Will I play Blitzkrieg again? To be honest, probably not unless someone asks me directly. The lack of historical basis and backdrop undermines my ability to get behind the armies and be passionate. Though Blitzkrieg may play better than some other titles at this level of war gaming, I just don’t “feel” it, if you know what I mean.