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David G. Cox Esq.
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Decision in France
An Operational Simulation of the Allied Campaign in France, 1944



Designed by Mark Simonitch
Published by Rhino Games (1994)


Decision in France is a fifteen year old design at the time that I write this review. I bought it two years ago on eBay as it was cheap and I was able to get a good postage deal as I won several auctions from this particular seller.

To say that I bought it because it was cheap is not really accurate – I bought it because it was cheap AND because it was designed by Mark Simonitch, a guy that I have a lot of time and respect for. To buy a game just because it was cheap would actually be a silly thing to do and something that I would advise against.

I have played several of Mark Simonitch’s other games – The Legend Begins, Hannibal vs. Rome and Successors.



I have also played heaps of other games on the Second Front – Fortress Europa, D-Day, The Mighty Endeavour, Against the Reich, Breakout: Normandy and Onslaught to mention just a few.

When I first received the game I glanced through the rules and, for some reason I no longer understand, assumed that it was going to be fairly similar to The Legend Begins (it may simply have been the fact that both combat systems use the concept of “magnitude”, the counter design/information is very similar/identical and the fact that both game systems use multiple counters for the larger units). Last week I started to read the rules carefully and cut out/clip the counters in anticipation of actually playing the game.

At this point I shall digress. I have multiple books on the Allied Campaign in Western Europe in 1944-45. Having six books on the same topic means I have six different viewpoints. I see wargames as being similar to a library – six different games on the same topic, while having some similarity, will also have differences as each designer emphasises those aspects that they think were most important.

I was stunned, reading the rules, to find how incredibly different it is from other games on the topic. Basically, in Decision inn France Mark Simonitch has redefined the way movement, zones of control and combat work in a gaming situation.

If you are familiar with other Second Front games, be prepared to throw away all your previous assumptions before you sit down to play Decision in France.


Vive La Difference


I will try to give you some idea of the ‘flavour’ of the game by going through the rules that are different from what you would have experienced with other wargames.

Movement Markers
– at the start of each turn the active player will remove movement markers from all of their units. During their turn as each unit moves it has a movement marker placed upon it (unless it only moves one hex and the hex into which it moves is not adjacent to an enemy unit). During the next player’s turn, any unit that has no movement marker will be doubled in defensive combat strength. This gives both players some really tough decisions – by not moving a unit will double its strength. This means you have to give a lot of thought regarding positioning of units as you will want to avoid ‘shuffling’ units around once they are in place.

Tactical Movement – “All units with a movement allowance greater than zero have a guaranteed ability to move one or two hexes each friendly Movement Phase, even if they do not have sufficient movement points to do so…Units using Tactical Movement may ignore enemy Zones of Control and all Movement Point cost for terrain.” WOW! That’s different – if you are in a tactical situation you can move your units one or two hexes, regardless of the presence of enemy units.

Operational Movement
– if a unit does not engage in combat it can have its movement allowance increased. If a unit uses Operation Movement and ends next to an enemy unit it will automatically become disrupted.
Corps Headquarters – there are several corps HQ units – combat units stacked with an HQ may be placed on the Corps Display card – these cards are kept hidden so it creates a large element of ‘fog-of-war’.

Zones of Control – combat units may exit enemy zones of control for additional movement points (except when using tactical movement and you just ignore them). Units entering an enemy ZOC may continue moving if there was already a friendly unit in that hex. Units may retreat through ZOC’s at the cost of additional step losses.

Combat – there are several elements to the combat system that make it different from most ‘standard’ wargames. The CRT lists the number of steps lost by the attacker and/or defender and there is a possibility that the attacker will be allowed to advance – the attacker will never retreat. In combats involving more than six steps of units on both sides two dice are rolled and the two results combined. The attacker may declare a “determined” attack which will increase both his losses and the length of his advance. The defender also may choose to make a “determined” defence which may increase their losses and will reduce the length of the enemy advance.



Disruption – disruption markers are removed from a player’s units at the end of their turn – disrupted units may not move, attack or receive replacements. Units become disrupted for retreating more than one hex, being carpet bombed or ending their move next to enemy units after having used operational movement.

Mobile Assaults – “Units Advancing After Combat may conduct an attack against units to which they move adjacent.” However, mobile assaults may not be conducted against disrupted units – I assume this is to stop multiple attacks against a single defending stack in a single turn.

Reserves – both players are allowed to create reserve units. This is done during the movement phase – units that do not use Operational Movement may have a reserve marker placed upon them. For the attacker, reserves located within three hexes of a successful attack may join in the advance after combat even though they were not involved in the combat – this really does allow breakthroughs to occur. The defender is allowed to move reserves into hexes where an attack has been announced, but before the odds have been calculated. Also advancing attackers must stop their advance if they move adjacent to an enemy reserve formation.

Trucks, Petrol & Supply Heads – the allied player is particularly limited by supply. They have two supply heads – to move them forwards in itself consumes truck points – there is a logistic aspect to the game which will give the allied player some important decisions to make.

Scratch Forces – as the allies approach French towns small scratch forces of Germans will popup to defend them.

Substitute Units
– both players are able to break a large unit into a number of smaller units and to later recombine them.



Scenarios

The Battle of the Bocage
– several months before the invasion Churchill had written to Roosevelt, “I do not doubt our ability in the conditions laid down to get ashore and deploy. I am however deeply concerned with the build-up and with the situation which may arise between the thirtieth and sixtieth days.” This is the situation in this scenario – the game goes from June 25th to July 19th and it is up to extend his front by ten hexes.

Breakout – This scenario starts with Operation Cobra and runs from turn ten to turn twenty four.

Decision in France – This is the full 24 turn campaign game – it utilises both the set-up for the first scenario and the victory conditions for the second scenario.


Balance

I have read reports that there are balance problems in the game – I don’t know if they are true as I haven’t played the game enough to have formed my own opinion. Suggestions to improve the balance are the elimination of German replacements during overcast turns, a die roll modifier and the mandatory use of the Hitler’s Will optional rule which limits the ability of German units to withdraw/redeploy during the early stages of the campaign.



The Final Verdict
I am very happy with the game, and getting it really cheaply was a bonus. The physical quality of the map and counters is quite good – the map looks gorgeous and, while they could have been a tad thicker, the counters look good. The system is a real breath of fresh air and makes you totally rethink the way to go about achieving battlefield success. The application of Tactical Movement and the non-effect of Zones of Control allow for a much more fluid battle situation than is the case in most wargames. The use of reserves is absolutely crucial to both players. The Allied player will have to be willing to take losses to make headway. The Axis player has to walk the tightrope between defending too hard up front and pulling back too quickly as both approaches will create problems.


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Chris Buhl
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I know I'm getting here just a tad late, but I have to say, great review. I'm going to see if I can scare a copy of this up somewhere.

My first Simonitch game was the recent The Caucasus Campaign. A lot of what you describe here is in that one, but a lot is not. I wish it was.
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Skip Franklin
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A Japanese company republished this game.
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