1914 Serbien muß sterbien

I am miles behind in blogging about my wargames activity, but finally am getting round to at least posting something. 1914 Serbien muß sterbien is an operational game about the initial World War One campaign on the Balkan front. The designer is Michael Resch, and it is published by GMT Games. Essentially it’s an attempted smash and grab by the Austro-Hungarians that turns out to be more of a poke and twist against the dogged Serbian defenders.

The physical components are excellent: one standard sized map done at 8.8 km per hex, a couple of countersheets, rules booklet, scenario booklet, organization displays, and other play aids. The other scales are turns of 2-4 days, and units ranging from divisions down to regiments and smaller detachments.

The core mechanics are straightforward, but there are plenty of differences to catch you out, so careful reading of the rules is recommended. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the organization of the rulebook, but I did find 99% of what I was looking for, and on the whole the rules are tight, and the designer’s intent is clear.

The system is “I go, you go” but with a neat twist. After you move your units – with 9 movement points (MPs) plus whatever extra you want to force march – your opponent gets to counter move with 5 MPs plus whatever force march extras he risks. You can pin the enemy by declaring a prepared assault, but if you don’t he is free to spoil your plans by moving away, or bringing in reinforcements.

Force marching can degrade a unit’s combat effectiveness. This is something kept track of separately from combat strength, and well models the gradual wearing down of units in combat. It is an extra something you have to pay attention to, and is a little fiddly (only a little) but is well worth the rules cost.

After movement, you attack, then your opponent attacks. In the opponent’s phase, the roles are reversed. I thought it worked quite well. In this theater, the terrain is quite rugged and the armies are slow and ponderous. Supply is key, with an added burden on the Serbian player of having low artillery supply, and having to husband it carefully.

Combat is straight odds comparison, but the results are modifiers to a post combat effectiveness check. This is a 2d6 roll versus the unit’s current combat effectiveness. So, a typical ’10’ rated unit will stand up quite well. However, that check is where the combat result modifier impacts, meaning that if you have a +3 (for example) to your check from the Combat Results Table, it’s no longer so easy. on top of that, each side’s artillery resources can impact the check. Failing the check can degrade the unit’s combat effectiveness, or cause step reduction, or both. There are some detailed nuisances, like having to cross refer the artillery to the size of the opposing force to get the modifier. Also, step losses are not automatically imposed if the other force is small, and instead this is die roll dependent. Both these systems make sense, but they are finicky. Do they work? yes. Are they worth it? Well, that depends on what you are looking for, If you want the level of realism that the designer is trying to portray, you have to think they are worth it. I’m in the pro camp.

Austro Hungarians (blue) just about holding on against the Serbs (khaki)

I have now played the so called training scenario three times to completion, each time a draw. The first time around, the Austro Hungarians swept all before them in the initial offensive, but were sent reeling by the Serbian reinforcements from the east. The second and third tries saw a more cautious offensive which fared much better against the Serbian counter offensive.

The full scenario is too much for me to play solitaire. This is especially so as I repeatedly cocked up by attacking with units whose effectiveness level meant they should not have been able. I eventually solved this by putting the markers under the combat units, and not on the organizational displays. Further, the full scenario brings in the inevitable trenches,and I am unsure how I would enjoy that static element.

What it has given me is a taste for more of the same as part of a team game, maybe at a future Consimworld.

I enjoyed my time with this game. I liked the system, wasn’t too fussed by the finicky bits, and felt it gave a damn fine feel for the campaign. I particularly like the rules that imposed limitations based on the actual strategic plans of the Austro Hungarian forces.