Heroes Of The Great War: World War I Comes to Kickstarter [Part One]

May 1, 2017 by oriskany

Almost every wargamer has a favourite genre of the hobby, usually based on one of the fundamental advantages it holds over others. My personal favourite, of course, is historical, largely because playing the right historical wargame can actually teach you something about the real world and how it came to be shaped the way it is today.

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This was certainly the case when I was asked to review “Heroes of the Great War: Limanowa 1914”.  This is a board-based wargame coming to Kickstarter in May, 2017, presented by Gladiator Games.

I was excited to get a look at the game, not only because it deals with World War I, but the Eastern Front of the conflict, an under-represented field in today’s gaming market.

Heroes Of The Great War

Limanowa 1914

Heroes of the Great War: Limanowa 1914 is a hex-based, operational-level wargame. The initial box set and rules are for four players (two teams of two players each), although variants are also presented for two players, three players, solitaire, and even a full cooperative mode.

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I was fortunate to get my hands on an advanced demo copy of this game and try it out several times with fellow Beasts of War members @aras and @gladesrunner. Over the course of three articles, I’ll be discussing what I thought of the game, and filling in a little background on the Battle of Limanowa and World War I in the east.

In Heroes of the Great War: Limanowa 1914, players control Austro-Hungarian or Imperial Russian army groups in one of the opening battles of World War I in the east. Each piece is a regiment, brigade, or division, so unlike most miniature games, you really are a “general” here with tens of thousands of men under your command.

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Four basic operational-level formations are in play here. On the Austro-Hungarian side we have the “Hadfy Group” and the “Szurmay Group” (roughly corps-level formations named after their commanding generals). On the Imperial Russian side we have the VII and VIII Corps, commanded by Generals Orlov and Eck, respectively.

Players move their pieces across the hex-grid map board and engage in combat, seeking to wrest control of key objective cities while preventing the opponent from doing the same. There are multiple ways for players to win the game, and a wide variety of unit types whose unique abilities must be “synergized” for best results.

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Again, the full review will come in three articles. But to summarize, I definitely recommend this game. Hex-based “general’s table” games ranging over hundreds of miles might not be what you’re used to, but Heroes of the Great War: Limanowa 1914 balances realism and playability to make it a great springboard into this type of system.

Battle Of Limanova

Background

One of the first things that attracted me to this project was the subject matter. Let’s face it, the historical wargame market is fairly well inundated with certain wars and conflicts. Meanwhile, we don’t see a lot of World War I games out there, and practically nothing that takes place in the Eastern European side of the conflict.

This is a shame, since (in my opinion) the Eastern European side of World War I is far more interesting than the war in Western Europe. In the west, after all, after a dazzling opening campaign in 1914, the war slowly ground to a halt and stagnated into a infamous morass of trench warfare.

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While the Western Front certainly sees a lot of innovation, does it really go anywhere? Aircraft, zeppelins, chemical weapons, rapid-fire artillery, tanks, stormtroopers, flamethrowers, all are hurled into the deadlock but they never really break the stalemate.

In contrast, World War I in the East never really grinds to this entrenched halt. Looking at a map, it’s easy to see why. From north to south, the battlefront from Serbia to the Baltic is many times longer than from Switzerland to the English Channel. The armies never really ran out of room to manoeuvre.

This brings about a war that is much more fluid, with everything from cavalry lancers to locomotives maintaining a much faster tempo in which trench warfare never becomes as great a factor. This results in things actually HAPPENING in the East, up to and including the collapse of two of the theatre’s major empires.

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I’m speaking of course, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire, both of which were essentially knocked out of the war by the end of 1917. But of course, such events were still far in the future during the winter of 1914, when the Battle of Limanowa took place.

World War I essentially started between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires after Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo in June, 1914. Imperial Germany sided with the Austro-Hungarians, and through the rest of 1914 the Russian armies sustained some very heavy defeats in what is today Poland.

The Austro-Hungarians thought they could do the same, but their initial battles against the Russians went badly. Soon the Tsarist Russians were pushing through the Carpathian Mountains and into Galicia, threatening Krakow, the plains of inner Hungary, and the stability of the Habsburg dynasty.

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However, the Austro-Hungarians were able to mount a last-ditch December offensive around the towns of Limanowa and Bártfa, and after a desperate two-week battle in the frozen mountainous terrain, managed to push the Russians back across the Carpathian mountains, although the Austro-Hungarians failed to retake all of Galicia.

Heroes Of The Great War

First Looks

Okay, so let’s begin our detailed look at the Heroes of the Great War: Limanowa 1914.

The first thing I noticed was the quality of the components. Although “just” a demo set, it looked very professional. In particular I was impressed by the art direction and graphic design of the board, the counters, and the various cards you get with the game.

Let’s start with the map board. The detail is lavish, yet the “functional” aspects of the board remain crystal-clear. The game effects of each type of terrain hex, the objective markers, the roads and rail lines were all very well-done, easy to read, and very engaging to look at.

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All the components also have a great “Great War” look to them. The cards aren’t simply printed, they look like they’ve been typed on an old manual typewriter and signed by staff officers. Some even have “fold lines” like dispatches just unfolded from a courier’s satchel.

To take the briefest of summaries (again, we’ll be going over this in greater detail in later articles), the rules are also solid. At first, the limitations of the turn sequence might seem restrictive. You can only perform so many actions in a turn, and only rarely can a unit move and attack in the same turn (i.e., in conjunction with certain cards).

However, this is by design. Such constraints are crafted to simulate the dire limitations of 1914 logistics, transport infrastructure, communications, and mobility of the armies. This is before tanks, aircraft, or even large numbers of trucks enter the battlefield. Everything is boot- or hoof-powered, in the mountains … in winter, no less.

These rules also compel the player to think about long-range planning. Because a unit can’t move and then attack in the same turn (usually), do execute even the simplest of strikes requires at least a two-turn plan. Reserves, rail resources, and abilities listed on battle cards, all must be allocated as part of a careful strategic outlook.

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Of course, we’re just getting started here. In the next two articles, we’ll look much more deeply into the rules, the components, the variants, and even go over a couple of “battle reports” where we talk in detail about the results of our actual plays of this game.

Meanwhile, I highly encourage everyone on Beasts of War with even a hint of interest in historical wargaming to check out Heroes of the Great War: Limanowa 1914 on Kickstarter. With very little in the way of “game complexity,” the game nevertheless presents you with the deep dilemmas and stark challenges faced by the World War I general.

Will you be giving this game a look on Kickstarter? What are your thoughts on this relatively unexplored “trench-less” part of World War I? Post your questions and comments below, and keep the conversation going!

James Johnson

If you would like to write an article for Beasts of War then please contact me at ben@beastsofwar.com for more information!

"...we don’t see a lot of World War I games out there, and practically nothing that takes place in the Eastern European side of the conflict"

"What are your thoughts on this relatively unexplored “trench-less” part of World War I?"