Against the Odds
Against the Odds. Edwin Erkes, ed. Published by LPS, P.O. Box 165, Southeastern, Pennsylvania 19399. Web site: www.atomagazine.com. Quarterly. $29.95/issue; $65/year (extra for shipment in a plastic box).
Against the Odds is the newest venturer into the perilous world of "game in an issue" wargame publishing. The games published so far have tended to the "heavy" side of the hobby and have tackled unfamiliar topics like Philip of Macedon's Greek campaigns and the final stages of Napoleon's Russian campaign. Aside from the game, it emulates Strategy & Tactics by concentrating on historical articles, though a regular "Simulation Corner" column by veteran designer John Prados adds a touch of gaming content. A worthy effort that will, one hopes, find the audience it needs to survive and flourish.
Volume 1, Number 4 (April 2003)
This issue's game recreates one of the most desperate moments of Napoleon's career, the crossing of the Berezina River during the retreat from Moscow. For several days, it looked as if the remnants of the Grande Armée were trapped by three converging armies. Only a combination of luck, skill and Russian lethargy preserved the French Empire for three further years of fatal warfare. Rob Markham's Napoleon at the Berezina is designed primarily for solitaire play, with the player maneuvering the French. Rules for two players are also provided, though the Russians are given only limited freedom of action. Without heavy constraints, no live player would act as timidly and sluggishly as his real world counterparts. The scale is 475 yards per hex and four hours per turn. Units vary widely in size, with most of the French being fragments of the original formations. The rules have many interesting twists. For example, Russian movement allowances change each turn, depending upon the state of their army's morale. It is on the longish side, covering the four crucial days of the action in 25 turns.
Supplementing the game is an article, also by Markham, tracing the course of events between November 4, 1812, when Napoleon and the Guard reached Smolensk, and the French army's exit from Russian soil on November 28th. The account is well-written and informative but is unfortunately responsible for an embarrassing typographical blunder. Noticing a misspelled place name, some genius did a universal search and replace that turned "brilli" into "brillowo" wherever it appears throughout the issue. Thus the word "brilliant", which the writers use too often, is transfigured into "brillowoant".
A second Napoleonic article, "On Guards: Napoleon's Imperial Guard" by Andy Nunez, is a rather routine summary of the organizational development of the Empire's most illustrious corps. It includes a few solid but uninspired suggestions for representing the Guard in wargames.
By far the longest article is "Field Marshal Walter Model" by the father-and-son team of Warren and Stuart Kingsley. Despite being limited to English language sources, the authors provide a thorough history of General Model's military career, from a strongly pro-Model point of view. On the military side, that perspective is fair enough. Model is conventionally downgraded for favoring improvisation over careful planning, but it is not clear that his preference was faulty in the circumstances in which he was placed, and he displayed quite adequate strategic skills when he found himself with the principal responsibility for trying to turn Hitler's impractical Ardennes Offensive into a reasonable operation. (He failed, of course, but the task was impossible, and Model's effort was probably as able as anyone's could have been.)
Defending "the Führer's fireman" is a more dubious enterprise when one turns to politics. The Kingsleys characterize Model as essentially apolitical - not quite le mot juste, since it here means that he unquestioningly accepted the National Socialist state, to the point of committing suicide when he could no longer deny the inevitability of defeat. Fittingly, that last act of devotion to the Führer guaranteed the eclipse of Model's reputation. He was not alive to counter denigraton by his many enemies among the surviving German generals or to defend himself against trumped-up Soviet charges of ordering atrocities on the Eastern Front.
The two remaining articles touch on current events. An editorial discusses the way in which Stalingrad dominates contemporary discussion of urban warfare and sensibly suggests that there may be other useful approaches, a point that the U.S. military strikingly demonstrated in Baghdad not long after the magazine went to press.
John Prados, looking before the fact at "Iraq as a Wargame", proves less acute. Convinced that American planners will be impatient to capture Saddam Hussein and his top aides, he predicts that the war will open with a daring airdrop on the outskirts of the capital, after which we will face a repetition of Market-Garden: an isolated paratroop bridgehead that will have to be rescued by an overland push. Getting from Kuwait to Baghdad will, he foresees, be a difficult task, and expectations of fewer than 5,000 battle deaths "will almost certainly prove wrong". No one can be blamed for failing to see the future, but Mr. Prados' analysis is a "best case" Iraqi scenario, assuming that the U.S. will follow a plan that minimizes American advantages while taking maximum risks and also that the Iraqi military will perform much more competently than in 1991. Admittedly, it would make a more interesting game than the war that actually took place.