Verdun the Game of Attrition
Review by David Lent
Verdun is the game that started the wargame hobby in my family. My Dad bought it a year before I was born and it got him into adventure gaming. I remember seeing the game on the shelf when I was a kid, but was too young to play it. Eventually, my Dad sold it to his friend Ted to make room for new games. Somehow, over the years my friend Len got a hold of this exact copy and sold it to me a few months ago. After first seeing this game over 40 years ago, I’ve finally been able to play the game a few times.
This game simulates the famous WWI battle where over 300,000 people were killed. There are two scenarios. The first is the historical scenario that begins on Feb. 21st and the other is the alternate scenario where the Germans begin their attack on Feb. 19th. In the historical scenario, the French are practically guaranteed victory, while in the alternate scenario; the Germans stand a reasonable chance of winning.
Verdun’s components are ok for a game printed in 1972. The counters are ½” with standard NATO symbols, but the artwork on the map is below professional quality. It is perfectly usable, but is not appealing to the eye. However, it is printed on a vinyl-like material, so it’s more durable than a paper map. Verdun includes an introduction to wargaming article in addition to the rulebook. This was a great idea, because it goes over the key mechanics in wargames to help out beginners.
The game is setup by each player placing their units in the corresponding places on their order of battle sheet. The French order of battle sheet has the reinforcements for each turn. However, the German order of battle sheet has only the starting units and one reserve division printed on it. Germans only get reinforcements if they roll a “6” at the beginning of the turn, while the French always get their reinforcements. The order of battle sheets also state how much artillery ammunition each side gets per turn. All starting units will start directly on the barbed wire line (on their side of the line of course).
Sequence of Play:
1) Check for weather (except on first turn)
2) German roll for reinforcements
3) German movement
4) German bombardment
5) French counter battery
6) German infantry combat
7) French movement
8) French bombardment
9) German counter battery
10) French infantry combat
As you can see from the sequence of play, it’s pretty straightforward. However, there are two aspects of this game that set it apart from typical wargames from the 1970’s. First, there is a limited ammunition supply for artillery and second there are both a demoralized and good order infantry combat result table.
The Germans begin the game with a generous supply of ammunition for their big guns, but as the game goes on they only get a small amount of new ammunition per turn. This means they destroy a lot of French units early in the game, but in later turns they have lots of artillery that cannot fire, because they don’t have enough ammunition.
France starts with lots of artillery, but very little ammunition. However, they tend to get much more ammunition than the Germans on every turn except the first two. This combined with the fact that they always get reinforcements, but the Germans usually don’t means that the French defense stiffens as the game progresses.
Both infantry combat results tables greatly favor the defender. If you attack, you almost always lose units. In most cases, you lose more than the defender. This is a real impediment to the Germans, because they have to attack to win. Due to this, they usually run out of most of their infantry after about 5 turns and cannot do much more infantry attacks unless they get lucky and successfully roll for reinforcements. The defender demoralized table is a little better for the attacker, but only if he attacks at 4-1 odds or better. These CRT’s make the first half of the game a slaughterhouse.
Artillery is used differently in Verdun than any other game I’ve played. You are given four choices of how to use it: standard, intermittent, saturation and counter battery fire. All four types use one ammo for each combat factor of the guns fired.
Standard fire is just like artillery fire in any other game. You pick the target, add the combat factors of all guns shooting at it and roll on the artillery combat result table.
If you are going to use intermittent fire, you declare it and fire like normal. Then you fire other batteries at the same target and any target that receives a second demoralized result is eliminated.
Saturation fire is done the same as standard fire, but you double the artillery batteries combat strengths, but use triple the ammunition. It’s an effective way to ensure the destruction of a target, but you will use up a lot of precious ammo.
There are also some special weapons and chrome rules used in this game. The special weapons are flamethrowers and phosgene gas.
Flamethrowers cause non-demoralized units to be attacked on the defender demoralized table. However, if a stack containing a flamethrower is hit, the flamethrower is the first unit to take a casualty.
Phosgene gas is poison gas that the Germans can start using on March 1st. They affect a greater area than regular artillery, but the direction is determined by the wind. The Germans can only do one gas attack per game, but for the rest of that turn German use the defender demoralized table when attacking.
The French chrome rule is fanaticism. French units inside Verdun are tripled instead of doubled for town defense. In addition, if any German unit enters Verdun the French are obligated to immediately counter-attack.
How does this game play? The first few turns are genocidal as the Germans blow away French units with artillery and attack with their infantry like crazy. However, the Germans are taking a lot of casualties from their infantry attacks due to the CRTs that are completely biased towards the defender. By the fourth or fifth turn the Germans will have pushed back almost all of the French units into the quadrant of the map with Verdun on it.
At this point, the Germans will have almost no infantry units, but lots of artillery with very little ammunition. Artillery is not allowed to do infantry attacks in this game and they have almost no ammunition, so the Germans are essentially paralyzed at this point and are just hoping for a lucky roll to get reinforcements.
The French are getting reinforcements each turn and more ammo than the Germans. They don’t really need to attack though if they want a tactical victory. To get a strategic victory, they just need to hold Verdun and have killed at least 25% more of the Germans. That’s easy, since the CRT caused the Germans to usually lose more units in an attack than the French. At this point, the French just need to wait until the game to end to win.
This game accurately simulates the carnage of this horrible battle. In addition, it shows how difficult the battle was for the Germans. However, the game is fairly pointless after the 7th turn since the German forces have lots of artillery with very little ammo and almost no infantry at this point. Sure, the Germans might roll well and get a division. However, at this point the game is just pointless.
There are some situations that can happen in Verdun that are not covered by the rules. In the extremely unlikely event that the Germans eliminate every French unit on the map, the Germans don’t win an automatic victory. The next turn more French reinforcements arrive and the game continues. That’s ludicrous.
The other situation that isn’t covered by the rules is what is supposed to happen if the Germans completely block the road the French reinforcements arrive on? Does that mean the reinforcements never arrive? Does it mean they can enter on another hex? Does it mean that the French attack that road hex from off the map? I’m surprised this didn’t show up in play testing.
Overall, the historical scenario is fun for the first five to seven turns and then overstays its welcome. However, if you play the alternate setup the Germans actually stand a chance of winning. I recommend playing the historical scenario only once and then doing all your future plays with the alternate setup.
View the components in the unboxing video below: