Early in the Battle of France, German forces managed to defeat Allied forces and push them back considerably. In an attempt to shore up defenses against the rapidly approaching German advance, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) reinforced the town of Arras.
The latest wargame to hit the RockyMountainNavy table is Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 by designer Michael Rinella using his Take Aim Designs imprint and published by Revolution Games. This is the next game in Mr. Rinella’s Area-Impulse System. Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 (CA:TBoA) takes a relatively small battle and gives it a medium-low complexity treatment that delivers a tense, see-saw battle.
CA:TBoA is the next game in Michael Rinella’s Area-Impulse System. The first game I played in this series was Patton’s Vanguard: The Battle of Arracourt, 1944. I am very happy to see that CA:TBoA is not a straight port of the Area-Impulse System as used in Patton’s Vanguard but a tailored implementation that maintains the proper balance between “known” and “tailored” game mechanics.
Thematically, CA:TBoA is a bit unusual and not what one commonly expects in an early-war Panzer battle. In CA:TBoA it is the Allies on the offensive and the Germans on their heels. This alone should make the battle of interest but what when mixed with the Area Impulse game mechanic it becomes a complex problem portrayed in a very playable manner.
Each turn in CA:TBoA is composed of a Momentum Phase, Combat Phase, Reorganization Phases, and the End Phase. Within the Combat Phase, there is a variable number of “mini-turns” or Impulses. Here designer Michael Rinella uses time pressure to portray the ever changing flow of battle. The player with Momentum executes impulses of movement/combat actions but with each additional impulse the chance of fate swinging the momentum increases. The player can keep going until all units are Spent, the player Passes, or the momentum swings. The ever swinging Momentum is what makes CA:TBoA interesting. Once the Momentum swings your way you want to spend your units smartly and get your actions done quickly before you lose momentum. Of course, when you just need one more Impulse to finish that attack you may get it…or not.
Combat is a straight up 2d6 plus modifiers rolled for attacker and defender with the difference being expressed in Attrition Points. Assault Combat results are Repulse, Stalemate, Success, or Overrun while Bombardment Combat results only occur when the attacker beats the defenders die roll.
Each turn in the game is one hour of time and the map scale translates as roughly 1 mile for every 1.5″. This make CA:TBoA more of an engagement than a battle but the Impulse game turn mechanic highlights the fluid nature of the confrontation and forces the players to think hard about any fleeting opportunities that arise.
Victory in CA:TBoA is very asymmetrical. The Allies can win an Automatic Victory if at the end of any turn they control a pathway from the off-map sections to the south to their supply area off the north edge. The Germans automatically win if they occupy Arras and the Allies do not have units is at least two areas south of the Scarpe River. If neither side has an Automatic Victory then it is up to the Allies to hold several areas along the southern map edge for Victory Points.
Component-wise, Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 hits a sweet spot for a small folio game. the 17″x22″ map covers not only the battle area but has room for the administrative tracks. The counter density is low and the counters themselves are big enough to be seen clearly. The rule book is a bit strange with text very close to the edges, and there are few typos but it is not poorly done, just a bit weird looking.
I did find it strange that the Setup rules in the basic game are variable and the historical setup is an Optional Rule. I was expecting the opposite and actually played using the historical setup the first play so I could learn the game rules before I start experimenting with variable ahistorical decisions.
Overall, Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 is a solid little game that allows one to play out a lesser known but highly interesting scenario. In the historical Battle of Arras, Erwin Rommel dashed amongst the anti-tank and Flak guns-turned-tank killers to bolster the defense. The same can happen in this game. It is also fun to see the British and French on the offensive together (sorta). Fortunately, the game lends itself to creating a fun experience through simple, solid mechanics that capture the essence of the battle in a very playable manner.