France ’40 – Boardgame Review
Passed Inspection: Provides players with the 1940 Battle of France in two exciting scenarios. Print design and game mechanics are up to the standards of a good GMT wargame. Rules are not overly complex and are fairly light compared to other wargames by this designer.
Failed Inspection: It is hard to find anything wrong with this wargame other than it may have been visually easier to have German reinforcements printed different colors to gauge their movement throughout the game.
The military might of the German army during the initial western operations into France of 1940 shocked not only France and the rest of the world, but the German military itself. Germany had been preparing for what it perceived to be an inevitable conflict against France and her allies, which were also well armed at the time. GMT’s France ‘40, designed by Mark Simonitch, follows similar gaming mechanics from wargames such as Normandy ‘44 , Ardennes ‘44, and Kasserine. In one scenario, Sickle Cut: Guderian’s Drive to the Channel, wargamers can command the advance of German Army groups A and B from the Meuse River towards the western coast while quickly cutting the Allied supply lines, or can play the French commanders tasked with forming a desperate line of defense against the powerful panzer divisions trying to punch through scrambling French lines. The second scenario, Operation Dynamo: Retreat to Victory, focuses on the Allied retreat to Dunkirk.
Game designer Mark Simonitch also provided the map art, a beautifully rendered map for the Sickle Cut scenario, ranging from the Meuse River to the western coast. The Dynamo scenario, in which Allied forces make their way to Dunkirk to evacuate off the continent, uses a separate map, which allowed the designer to continue the battle story from Sickle Cut to Dynamo, although the outcome of the first scenario has no bearing on the second during game play.
The game also comes with 2 countersheets, a 32 page rulebook, three player aid cards, and 2 six-sided dice. There are approximately 90 to 100 unit chits for each side, mostly division scale.
Order of Battle
The Sickle Cut scenario begins on May 13, three days after the Germans made their way through the Ardennes, as the Germans try to cross the Meuse River and then break out for a run across France. The scenario ends on May 22 (Turn 10). The German player begins with 8 panzer divisions, 7 infantry divisions, and 5 markers of air support units. The panzer divisions can be the German player’s biggest asset during the first few turns, when the Allied lines are almost nonexistent. Starting on turn 2, German reinforcements, a half-dozen infantry divisions, enter the eastern edge of the map to follow up and hold any cities or other positions the initial units were able to secure.
The Allied player starts off with almost all French units, consisting of 25 infantry divisions, 4 tank divisions, 7 tank battalions, and a few infantry regiments. This sounds like a lot, and it really is; however many of these units are initially scattered throughout the map, so it can take several turns to form defensive lines and respond to the lightning-speed advances of the panzer divisions. There are a handful of motorized French units that can move quickly to wherever they are needed, but if the Allied player allows the panzer divisions to breakthrough he can face an almost hopeless cause.
The reinforcement procedure for the Allied player in France ‘40 is one of the most interesting features in the game. While the German player has the luxury of knowing which units will become available from one turn to the next, based on the reinforcement sheet, the Allied player will have anywhere from 3 to 5 random units picked from a cup. Essentially, neither player knows what Allied units will enter the map each turn. This mimics the Allied response of sending any available forces to the front line, and it is up to the Allied player to react quickly and improvise as the offensive attacks shift throughout the game. At times this can be frustrating for the Allied player since some units may appear far from the frontline. Fortunately, Allied units can take the train, a maximum of three units at a time, to increase their movement.
The objectives are clear in the Sickle Cut scenario: the Germans must advance far enough to cut off the lines of supply to the north, while the Allies must prevent this by forming defensive lines. However, neither is easily accomplished. The Germans must coordinate an advance that keeps an offensive line moving forward while not leaving the marching infantry too far in the rear. The French must form ad hoc stacks of units to hold back the tide of panzers. Adding to French woes and general confusion are GQG (Grand Quatier General) markers. These (6) markers are placed on hexes containing French units, which greatly reduces their ability to move and prevents them from making any kind of attack. So, just when the Allied player forms a task force of French tanks and infantry to contend with a panzer division, the German player may place a GQG to stop them in their tracks. This represents the confusion, strafing, and logistical problems the Allies faced during the battle.
The German player may suffer a similar disadvantage due to their rapid success while advancing west. On turn 5 the Allied player can place 6 “Halt!” markers on stacks of German units, which effectively stops these units in their tracks for one turn. This reflects the concern that Hitler had after realizing how far the panzer divisions had advanced ahead of the infantry divisions and can help the Allied player regroup his forces in the face of the almost unstoppable panzer divisions.
One of the most interesting mechanics of this game is the ability to impose an “Automatic Devastating Shatter” result on defenders in a hex by achieving 10-1 odds against the defenders. This result takes place during the movement phase, just prior to the combat phase; any defending survivors must retreat 2 or 3 hexes, and all the attacking units involved must halt and cannot take part in regular combat that turn. Other units of the attacking side can move into or through the vacated hex, however, providing momentum.
Operation Dynamo – The Dunkirk evacuation
As noted above, France ‘40 comes with a second scenario played on a completely different map. The Dynamo scenario begins on May 24, two days after the end of the first scenario, and continues to June 4 (historically the last day of the evacuation). The French and British units are at risk of being completely cut off from retreating to Dunkirk for evacuation; Belgian infantry forces are nearby to lend limited support but cannot enter France, and all Belgian forces surrender by the fifth turn, or if Brugge is captured. The Allies begin with a strong defense line, but must retreat quickly or be cut off from the beach. Beginning on Turn 4, the Allied player rolls a die and consults the Evacuation Table to see how many units are evacuated from the port of Dunkirk or (beginning on Turn 5) the two beach hexes beside it.
The Germans have their own problems, with a three-day plague of halted panzer divisions. Both sides’ objectives are difficult to accomplish, making this is the most exciting of the two scenarios in France ‘40.
My only problem with the game was that it was difficult to differentiate between all of the German infantry divisions since they are all printed grey. It would have been helpful during the setup phase to have different colors or some other form of easy identification for each reinforcement group that enters at different points on the map edge. Doing so would also help the German player gauge how far each reinforcement group has advanced throughout the campaign.
France ‘40 is a fairly light wargame compared to some of GMT Games’ other World War II titles, such as Normandy ‘44, Kasserine, or Ardennes ‘44. The rules are simple, yet there are enough key mechanics to give players a feel for the Battle of France. The Allies will constantly struggle to fend off a quickly advancing German army while suffering GQG (Grand Quatier General) markers, and suffering the effects of Disruptions after retreating. If you are playing the Allies—mostly French units—expect to end this game with a bloody nose. This isn’t to say that the Allied player cannot win; the objective is to hold off the Germans long enough to prevent them from securing key objectives. The Germans will have a field day, especially with the panzer divisions, but it can be easy to get caught up in small fights, and the Germans must move quickly before the Allies form any kind of defensive line.
Armchair General Rating: 90%
Solitaire Rating (1 is low, 5 is high) 4, primarily due to random-unit arrival rule
About the Author
Ed William has his Masters in Library and Information Science and works in public libraries. This allows him access to databases of historical content while reviewing wargames. He took an interest in military history and wargaming as a teenager after learning that his hometown was home to General George S. Patton. Ed is the author of an article that explains how to convert interactive games in Armchair General magazine to PC scenarios using the Combat Mission series.