This year’s World at War event had 26 players refighting World War II in six different games, a 30% increase over the last session in Lancaster Three of the games began from starting positions arising out of Gathering Storm, GMT’s companion prequel game which begins in Spring 1935.
Two of the Gathering Storm games were played before the convention by e-mail and the third was courageously played on the first day of the convention. The first Gathering Storm generated game began at the historical time in Fall 1939. The most significant difference from history was that Czechoslovakia was still neutral, and remained so until 1943, when Germany finally gave on its diplomatic efforts and attacked the obdurate Czechs. It didn’t help – Germany was conquered in Winter 1944 (two turns early), but Japan heroically held out until Spring 1946 (two turns late), so the game was a tie.
The second Gathering Storm generated game started one turn early, in Summer 1939. Germany focused on bombers and went very hard after Russia. Japan also attacked Russia and the Kremlin surrendered in 1942. Russia returned in 1943, but too late to get to Berlin in time, so it was up to the Western Allied atomic program to salvage a tie. The scientists failed in style, and Germany lasted until winter 1945 (two turns late) and Japan lasted until Winter 1945 (one turn late), so the game was a three-turn Axis victory.
The third Gathering Storm generated game started in 1938 when war broke out over Czechoslovakia. The game featured an early Allied atomic program and German advanced submarines. The Pacific players, being involved in the development of the yet-to-be-named Gathering Storm – Pacific, decided to try playing the Pacific theater out of a pre-convention test game. The Imperial Japanese Navy ended up on steroids, but so did China, and an interesting and balanced game followed. Neither theater finished and the game was adjudicated as a tie.
In the first classic game, Germany broke through the Suez Canal in Egypt and took much of the Middle East, eventually approaching (but never taking) Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra. Germany also did well in Russia but eventually had to withdraw units from the eastern front and the Middle East to deal with Western Allied pressure in North Africa and France. In the Pacific, Japan got lucky and sank three American carriers in Pearl Harbor, then took advantage of the weakened U.S. fleet to push hard into India, reaching the India box on the western edge of the mapboard. Japan was unable to force India to surrender. The game didn’t finish because several players had to leave early, and was adjudicated ase a tie in Europe and a one-turn win for Japan in the Pacific, for an overall narrow, one-turn Axis victory.
The second classic game was played by four fairly new players, and was largely true to history. France fell in Summer 1940 and Germany invaded Russia when they did historically – Summer 1941. The Pacific was pretty normal as well. Unfortunately, the game ended in 1943 and so was adjudicated as a tie.
The third classic game was played by four new players and one veteran, and was a very wild game. Japan aggressively bombed China in 1940 and went to war very early, attacking Britain in Fall 1940. The Western Allies focused on production and diplomacy, and Russia subverted Greece, got Sweden to associate with Russia, and invaded Turkey. All of this forced Germany to attack Russia early, and the resulting war was very strange and chaotic. Unfortunately, time ran out before the game was completed and there was no way to know how things would play out, so no adjudication was possible. All of the players definitely had a great time, though, and the game was a blast to watch.
The two most notable aspects of this year’s event was the increase in new players and the continuing trend towards Gathering Storm games being played to generate different starting positions. Gathering Storm provides extra variability and complexity, as known strategies don’t work out quite as expected or can’t be employed at all. On a quirkier note, every year there seems to be a recurring theme, and this year the theme was for the U.S. to lose carriers in Pearl Harbor; as three of the games saw multiple American carriers lost in Japan’s surprise attack. Ironically, the eight-carrier Japanese surprise attack arising out of the Gathering Storm – Pacific playtest missed the American carriers and had to settle for a somewhat mediocre result at Pearl Harbor.
Despite playing only a single game for the entire convention, the consensus among both experienced and newer players was that if the game is A World at War, it is well worth playing! Each phase of the game provided players with a wide range of challenges, and the A World at War journey is as important as the destination. Old friendships were renewed and new ones made, complete with the combination of sportsmanship and trash talk that makes this event unique.