Vae Victis. Nicolas Stratigos, ed. Published by Histoire & Collections, 5 avenue de la République, 75541 Paris Cedex 11 France. Web site: www.vaevictis.com. Bimonthly. €6.95/issue; €35.00/year (France); €41.00/year (rest of the world). Available from Boulder Games for $11.00/issue (the easiest way for Americans to obtain copies). In French.
If you read French, Vae Victis is the best wargame magazine in the world. If you don't, it is still the most colorful. Articles are profusely illustrated with dioramas, photographs, period paintings, maps, computer screen shots or whatever other graphics may be appropriate. European printing costs must be way lower than ours in order to make this periodical economically feasible. Publication is bimonthly and monotonously regular, a feat that no U.S. publication in the field has ever achieved. Each issue contains a game, also impressively colorful, though requiring assembly, since the counters are printed on light cardboard rather than die-cut. Also appearing in most issues are miniatures rules or scenarios and Advanced Squad Leader scenarios. The other content is divided fairly evenly among historical articles, boardgames, miniatures and computer games. The emphasis is strictly historical, with fantasy peeking in rarely and science fiction never.
Number 51 (July/August 2002)
Every wargame publisher dreams of developing a World War II tactical system to dethrone Advanced Squad Leader, a game that has grown so mastodonic as to require a lifetime commitment. Vae Victis’s entry into this competition, called En pointe toujours, is modest in size but highly promising. It was introduced in issue 16 with scenarios based on France’s Indochinese War (1946-54), then adapted to World War II’s Western Front in issue 31. This issue brings it to the Eastern Front under the title En pointe toujours III: Koursk. The changes from the prior version are mostly general improvements to procedures, not add-ons that reflect only conditions in the East, and the new rules can replace the earlier incarnations in toto. Despite the invocation of Kursk, only two of the four scenarios provided here are set during that battle. Four more are promised for the next issue.
Compared to ASL, EPT has less finicky detail and greater attention to command control and tables of organization. Translated into English and furnished with a few dozen scenarios, it would be an attractive package.
The customary “long” historical article (ten pages and not a lot of white space) is “La premiere chute de l’aigle: La campagne de France de 1814” by Jean-Christophe Raguet, covering in detail Napoleon’s desperate attempt to beat back the converging Austrian, Prussian, Russian and British armies following the Grand Armée’s retreat from Germany. The emperor displayed as much military genius as ever in this campaign, repeatedly frustrating foes that outnumbered him by two-to-one, but he had no real chance of victory. On March 31, 1814, the Allies entered Paris. Six days later, Napoleon abdicated, and the French Senate proclaimed Louis XVIII king. M. Raguet’s account is informative and well-illustrated with maps and reproductions of period paintings.
A second, shorter historical piece, by Julien Desharbes, deals with the Fashoda Incident in 1898, when French and British forces almost came to blows along the Nile. Accompanying it is a miniatures scenario (using the Principles of War rules set) for the battle that might have occurred had the French cabinet not ordered Captain Marchand, the man on the spot, to stand down. The situation looks heavily unbalanced; Marchand was fortunate not to have been given leeway to follow his private, bellicose impulses.
Luc Olivier furnishes an article on the play of last issue’s game, Paris vaut bien une messe. The tactical advice is extremely elementary, but the piece is a good overview of how the system operates. It may prove informative to prospective purchasers of the two sister games This Accursed Civil War and Sweden Fights On (both from GMT Games). We learn incidentally that the designer is working on a game covering French battles during the Thirty Years War, tentatively titled Under the Lily Banners, and that Vae Victis plans to publish two more battles from the Wars of Religion during the coming year.
Three fairly long reviews cover Kevin Zucker’s latest Napoleonic design, The Sun of Austerlitz (OSG), Clash of Arms’ WWII Western Front game Brute Force and a French set of miniatures rules De Sumer B Constantinople. Frédéric Bey is highly enthusiastic about the first, on which he bestows an unprecedented five laurel wreaths. This is the ninth game (eleventh if one counts two mini-games) using the system pioneered in the original, 1978 version of Napoleon at Bay, now polished to the point where, in the reviewer’s words, it is “the perfect example of a successful historical game, at the same time very detailed historically and playable with relative ease”.
Luc Olivier’s review of Brute Force, the second game in a trilogy that began with the Eastern Front title War Without Mercy, is less glowing. He likes “les mécanismes . . . simples mais riches” but laments the shortage of scenarios. Accompanying the article is a short interview with designer Rob Beyma.
Finally, De Sumer B Constantinople gets four-page, four-author coverage, including a scenario for the Battle of Mons Graupius (84 A.D.) pitting Romans against Caledonians. (Very unusually for this magazine, there is a typographical glitch; the last one or more lines of the main body of the article are missing.) The review describes the rules’ mechanics in moderate detail and compares them point by point with those of De Bellis Multitudinibus, the current market leader among pre-gunpowder miniatures rules. The conclusion, which does not seem too much affected by Gallic bias, is that DSC is more concrete and intuitive than DBM, making it easier for beginners though perhaps less well adapted to the competitive play that is so popular among miniaturists.
As always, there are briefer reviews of boardgames, miniatures rules and books of military interest, as well as four pages of color photographs of recent figurine releases. The computer section has a long review of HPS Simulations’ Sicily ‘43, with a sidebar comparing it to four boardgames on the same topic. Six more computer games receive single-page treatment, among them the free boardgame aid Cyberboard, which, like HPS’s Aide de Camp, is designed to “translate” paper-and-dice games into software form – handy both for traveling and play via e-mail.
Number 50 (May/June 2003)
Given the present state of Franco-American relations, it is interesting that this issue's game, Paris vaut bien une messe! ("Paris is worth a mass", Henri IV's famous explanation of his conversion to Roman Catholicism), covering two battles of the French Wars of Religion, was designed by an American, Ben Hull. The editor hopefully sees this transatlantic cooperation as a sign that men of good will can work together despite disagreements between their governments. I see it as a sign that France is the only market for games about the battles of Dreux (1562) and Ivry (1590). The system, on a scale of 150 meters a hex and about half an hour a turn, is based on the one devised by the same designer for This Accursed Civil War (English Civil War) and Sweden Fights On (late Thirty Years War). Its most notable feature is the division of armies into three to five "wings", each of which receives orders (Charge, Move or Rally) that limit its units' actions and are not easy to change. The concept is a cross between GMT's Great Battles of History and Rob Markham's Royalists and Roundheads but is less cumbersome than either. Accompanying the game is an article ("Les guerres de religion: Renaissance et réforme de l'art militaire" by Jean-Philippe Imbach) on tactical developments in the 16th Century, the period during which firearms established their dominance on the battlefield but did not completely eclipse traditional weapons.
Also on offer are two sets of miniatures rules. "Felicior Augusto, Melior Traiano" ("Luckier than Augustus, Better than Trajan" - a traditional acclamation urging new emperors to emulate their illustrious predecessors), by Patrick Receveur, is a short, but not simple, skirmish system for the first couple of centuries of the Roman Empire. Figures have individualized characteristics and equipment, and the exact location of each blow landed in combat must be determined by rolling a die. Formations larger than about a dozen troops will be tedious to handle, but the mechanics seem generally well conceived.
"Tanks 3" by Pierre LaPorte et al. is the third installment of an introductory World War II rules set, adding infantry to the system. Earlier articles covered armor (VV #30) and assault guns (#35).
The main historical article in each issue customarily furnishes background for next issue's game. (Thus #49 had a long piece on the French civil wars.) This one, heralding the extension of the magazine's En Pointe Toujours tactical system to the Eastern Front, is "L'Armée rouge en 1943" by Philippe Naud, a painstaking survey of the organization, equipment and tactics of the Soviet army during the crucial year of World War II. The author's thesis is that Stalin's forces were more than just a "rouleau compresseur" ("steamroller") dependent upon numbers for victory. That view would not be strikingly original on this side of the Atlantic, but perhaps the old German myths about World War II are more persistent in France.
This being the 50th issue, we are treated to the inevitable celebratory article, consisting of anecdotes and reminiscences about Vae Victis from members of its regular stable of writers.
Rounding out the contents are a long, mostly favorable review of Avalanche's Fading Legions (battles of the late Roman Empire), the standard short reviews of boardgames, miniatures rules and books on military topics, an ASL scenario (Free French vs. Axis in Tunisia, 1943) and several articles on computer games, including both one-page reviews and tactical tips for the WWII game Hearts of Iron. The computer-related materials are, it should be noted, strictly limited to games on historical topics. This is the place to read about the latest HPS titles, not such fare as The Sims or Might and Magic.
Update, 12/18/03: Patrick Receveur, author of the "Felicior Augusto, Melior Traiano" rules, writes to say that an extension into the 5th Century (Attila and the Patricians) will appear in Vae Victis in 2004. His Web site includes a copy of his master's thesis, "La conquête de la Dacie par Trajan", and articles that he has written for Vae Victis and Ravage (all in French).
Update, 3/30/04: M. Receveur's "Felicior Augusto, Melior Traiano" expansion appears in Vae Victis #55.