Review: Gallipoli, 1915: Churchill's Greatest Gamble08 May 2019 3
Review: Gallipoli, 1915: Churchill's Greatest Gamble
Released 28 Jul 2014
There is an old saying about the British army, that it will lose every battle in a war, except for the last one. GMTs Gallipoli 1915, Churchill’s Greatest Gamble is a hyper detailed tactical treatment of the first four days of fighting from one of those battles which was absolutely not the last one. ANZAC Day remembers this debacle and has only recently passed, so this is a good time to put the game thru its paces.
From the history side, this thing is unbelievably well researched with accurate game play that delivers the battlefield frustration the contest was known for. As for playability, well...
Bottom Line. This thing is for Grognards only, and veteran Grogs at that. Here’s why.
Seriously? This is GMT for Pete’s sake, so you know the game is going to have lots of paper and cardboard and all of it will be drop dead gorgeous, and all yours if you have $105.00 US or thereabouts. There are six countersheets each with 280 playing pieces for a total of 1680 cardboard markers. Of these two sheets are devoted to game or terrain markers such Rifle Pits, Gun Pits, Entrenchments, Hiding markers, Searchlights, and everything you need to scale steep terrain off a narrow beach. The other four sheets represent the combat forces involved, with not only the Ottoman and Commonwealth ground forces available for play, but also Royal Navy units and the French army as well. I was particularly pleased to see the latter because too often we forget that, like the Crimea, the French were on the scene regardless of what Mel Gibson might imply. The counters include a lot of HQ units and mission markers, but for the fighting formations themselves we are talking about infantry half battalions or companies, artillery batteries or sections, all supported by a host of smaller fare such as machine gun platoons or squads. All combat counters are very info intensive.
These forces fight it out on two, beautifully drawn 34 x 22 inch map sheets that fit together diagonally to form the boot like shape of the real estate being contested. Each hex on the map represents 400 meters, regulating movement and combat across game turns that each represent two hours per during the day, or four hours at night. Again, the historical detail is superb.
Managing how said counters operate on said maps is a very heavy lump of paper which includes an indexed 40 page rule booklet for the Fire & Spade series this game falls under, and an indexed 36 page game book which includes not only three intro scenarios and their more complex cousins, but also historical notes, bibliography and related material. Supporting the actual playing of the game is a 16 page Setup and Reinforcement book, six Counter Sled sheets, two Amphibious Landing Sled sheets, two Army Holding Box sheets, four Army Status sheets, a Counter and Terrain Effects sheet, an Extended Sequence of Play (adds Amphibious Assault) sheet, a Turn Record sheet, a Free Landing Charts booklet, five 10 sided die in different colors and finally, two 8 page Charts and Tables booklets. The rules booklet did mention planning maps (hold that thought, because I know what you’re gonna ask), but these did not seem to be included. Sad because the most important of these charts are the Charts and Tables Booklet along with the Army Status sheets, and planning maps would have been helpful. Regardless, a lot of trees were killed making this game.
Like everything that GMT does, all of the above is full color glossy with lots of examples supported by lots of pictures. The text is presented in a hierarchical outline style and prose is very direct and business like, though not without a bit of humor here and there. The author, for example, notes that an empty coffee cup is preferable for pulling chits vice one full of java, while in describing the sound of one letter from the Turkish alphabet he notes, “Too complicated to describe. Pretend you didn’t see it.” Nevertheless, I thought the proofing and editing could have been a bit better, not necessarily for spelling or grammar, but for clarity of content. Why mention planning maps as if they were included when they are not? Likewise, and even though it is defined in the rules book, all charts should have an accompanying legend. For example, on the Army Status sheets there is a Change Orders Matrix where one result is “P.” This means Prohibited, but there is no legend with the chart to confirm this.
Like most hex and counter games, Gallipoli has a lot of rules and supporting gameplay that are pretty standard and need not be discussed. These include movement rates, terrain effects, line of sight, stacking and so on. The big emphasis is Command and Control.
In general the sequence of play goes like this: Step one has both sides receiving reinforcements in parallel, followed by the Supply Phase check to see if their Brigaments (a game term meaning either a brigade or regiment) are within logistics radius. Step three is called the Command Phase where both sides in parallel add or remove Isolated markers on units, form units into Flying Columns, check Officer Points status, Change Orders or determine if current unit orders will continue, and finally complete the Load the Cup segment (seriously, that’s what its called). Next is the Activation Phase where players, Brigament by Brigament, roll a modified 1D10 (high die wins) for Initiative to determine who gets to select a Brigament chit from his side’s coffee cup, with an additional modified die roll determining whether the winner gets to select the chit he wants or must select randomly. For the Brigament selected, subordinate units may perform one action per turn choosing from Engineering, Commanded Fire, Movement or Assault. Once all Brigaments from the opposing armies have been selected and all unit task completed, the turn ends. Yes, it is possible for one side to win several die roll offs in a row and thus activate multiple organizations before his opponent gets to use a single friendly counter.
I like the concept here, because its pure chaos theory, and despite those “I did everything right so I should win” gamers, that’s pretty much the way war is. So bravo for this, but on the other hand... well let’s just say using your Brigaments when it’s your turn is just a bit different than what you’ve likely played before. The big reason for this is that Gallipoli requires you to issue orders. These orders are Initial Attack, Attack, Stalled Attack, Defense, Cordon Defense, Disorganized Defense, Regroup or Withdrawal, General Reserve – March and March-Rapid March. The rules describe in painstaking detail what each order specifically means, what its Objectives are, what constitutes Progress, Continuation of the order, what constitutes Failure and issues surrounding Changing an Order. The latter includes both voluntary and involuntary procedures as well as specifying what orders a unit might Change to. On top of all this is a requirement to set a geographic objective by delineating a specific row of hexes to secure and a path of march detailing how your units will get there. Remember those planning maps? Well this is the reason they could come in real handy.
The game supports this concept with something called Officer Points (OPs), which represents command presence and the friction caused when officers and NCOs get shot. Each historical division begins with a specific number of OPs for its Brigaments to use, and subordinate companies, half battalions and so on expend them to perform certain functions. For example, 1 OP is expended for each stack of units moving to Assault an enemy position, another 1 OP per stack when attempting to Rally adjacent to an enemy formation. OPs can be lost thru combat or regained at night, and this is important because the number of OPs remaining to a Brigament will modify a die roll that determines whether the current Orders will Continue or Change. If Change is allowed, another die roll controlled chart determines success, here using two 10 sided die with lower numbers good, higher numbers bad. The “low numbers are better” paradigm is also used on the Fire Results Table where a single 10 sided die is used to determine the number of strength steps the enemy loses. The results are often a fraction such as 2.69, indicating two strength steps lost automatically with a 69% chance of another killed as determined on a second 2D10 die roll. Here die roll modifiers are not arithmetic, but refer to column and row shifts.
And thru all of this, details abound, so a few examples. This is a game that specifies three different Entrenchment statuses for units like rifle companies. You can be Inside, Hiding or On Top, the latter meaning you have entered or departed the field work that turn and thus can trigger Opportunity Fire. Likewise Gallipoli specifies a Messaging Range of either two hexes if you are in close terrain or a connecting trench, one hex if not (pesky snipers) or forever if you have a field phone when calling anyone else on a telephone. In some cases certain units automatically have phones, but in other cases the phones are actually printed on the map (like Serafim Farm) where they were historically. Finally there is the Us-Them Counter. This is placed on a hex where the terrain is so bat-shit-crazy that units from both sides may occupy the same location. This means bush and shrubs so dense you can barely see each other though the lads trying to kill you are only a few meters away. Relevant combat counters are placed in a holding box and if any single rule epitomizes the mantra of this game, this is it.
All in all, Gallipoli is a wargame with emphasis on the “war” and not “game,” almost a legitimate military simulation. This means you’ll have to leave the game set up for a long time even with shorter scenarios, so beware the prying hands of kids, or in my case, Max, the household Flerken Kitty.
This is a solid game that works well for its intended purpose, so if you like low level tactics with an uber amount of detail, you will enjoy GMTs Gallipoli. It’s a game that’s tough to play and even tougher to win, often making a session an advanced lesson in frustration. However, this degree of realism is perhaps its greatest strength. The game does convey the difficulty of fighting such a campaign in such difficult terrain, and it hammers home the how difficult management of military assets actually was in 1915. All of sudden those idiot commanders don’t seem so stupid after all. I strongly you play one of the intro scenarios first and play without the amphibious landing rules if possible, because you are talking about a very big learning curve. But if you really want a challenge and some idea as to what it was really like, here you are.
Otherwise Gallipoli is going to be a very niche product in what is already a niche hobby. For the rest of us - personal preference begins here, BTW - this game is probably overkill especially if playing solitaire. There is simply too much to do, far more than a real commander would be responsible for and this makes the game tedious. As a rule of thumb, in my gaming I tend to go by the generic US/NATO military standard that says a commander should have management responsibility for two levels of command below his own. That means corps commanders worry about brigades and no lower. In this game the player is deciding on the type of ammo and elevation technique of two gun artillery sections. Just not my cup of Earl Grey.
Exacerbating the issue are game processes that lack a common methodology. By this I mean some functions require a single die with a 1 – 10 spread, others two die for a percentage. In some cases higher die roll numbers are good, and in others low die roll numbers are better. In some cases DRMs directly add or subtract from the roll, in others they indicate table column or row shifts. There are also lots of fractions, not just ½ but fractions like 1.88. I’ve designed successful wargames, and this just seems contrary to accepted norms. Its not that the game doesn’t work, it does. I just think it could work a lot easier.
Then there is the $105.00 price tag. Well there is little else out there, but this subject does seem like a John Tiller game just waiting to happen. At less than $40.00 including an AI to keep records and do the math, that’s going to be a pretty attractive alternative.
Yet there is one overlooked gaming pool that might be very interested in the game, and this is the miniature gamer. GMT’s Gallipoli is definitely a labor of love by an author who really knows his history. I mean, really, who reads the Turkish General Staff Study in Turkish to design a game? And when you consider the cost of reference material and the investment in time for research, Gallipoli could be manna from Heaven, so please take a look.
Addendum: You can download the aforementioned Planning Maps as a PDF from GMT's website.