Military History

Blogging about the Battlefield since 2005

Some thoughts on They Shall Not Grow Old

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on December 18, 2018

I took in the special screening in Bismarck on December 17 of Peter Jackson’s documentary film They Shall Not Grow Old that covers the experience of soldiers during the war, focusing on the British. It was a project that was designed and developed during the centennial commemoration of the war and was released in Britain in time for Remembrance Day 2018. There is another special showing on December 27 at selected theaters in the United States and I must encourage everyone to go and see it.

Jackson utilized the film holdings at the Imperial War Museum, as well as hundreds of hours of oral history interviews with veterans to create a masterful work that brought the 100-year-old film to life in an exciting way. The veterans’ voices were dubbed to the film, capturing the overall story of the war within a couple of hours.

Viewers are taken on a journey, as the outbreak of war is noted, followed by the men choosing to enlist, with several noting how they lied about their age to serve. Early enthusiastic days of basic training are recounted, with the air of the unknown and feeling that the war will be quick.

Life in the trenches and at the front in general is an important subject of the film. However, the sequence dealing with combat was intense and the aftermath was harrowing. Finally, the end of the war and the post-war experiences illustrated the hardships and camaraderie shared by the veterans on the front by their collective experience of the horrors of the conflict, as well as the division between those who served and the rest of society that seemed to carry on as if nothing had happened.

What truly stood out to me was the humility and dedication of the men. They experienced the horrors of trench warfare for years and reflected on it years later as a job they had to do and that they did it. Further, they expressed a willingness to go through it again, that their service made them the men they were. Listening to the voices of men that have been silenced by death for years made me question if we have left a legacy worthy of such sacrifice.

The other thing that came across in the oral histories employed in the film was the psychological effects of the war on the veterans. While a few segments included men choking up when reflecting on lost friends and combat experiences, all had the air of trauma to them, just under the surface. The interviewees were middle-age or older when interviewed and you could sense that the invisible wounds and scars of the war were present. The film certainly represents a wonderful example to study the psychological impact of World War I on its veterans and broader society.

As an archivist, I was amazed with the ability to use technology to alter and restore archival material used in the film. While I do not work directly with film resources in my work, I am aware of some of the issues present in working with the medium, especially material as old as the film created in World War I. Seeing how Jackson was able to sharpen, restore, and colorize such film was amazing. Further, his use of sound and the colorization of the film gave it a much more life-like quality.

While the 100th anniversary of the end of the war has passed, there is still much to learn and be written on this conflict. The war altered our world in ways we still are unable to comprehend and shaped history to such a degree that we still deal with the consequences today.

They Shall Not Grow Old is a film worth seeing. It presents the war in a gripping, raw, and real fashion that no other documentary has been able to. It will hopefully cause you to reflect on the sacrifices of past generations and want to learn more about your connections to the war, but most importantly, it will hopefully keep the memories of a now-deceased generation alive a little longer in our hearts and minds so that we might remember them.

Posted in 20th Century Military History, Conflict, World War I | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812-Kickstarter campaign live

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on June 18, 2017

Following up on my earlier post about the upcoming strategy game, Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812, I wanted to share in a brief post that the Kickstarter Campaign Hand2Hand Entertainment is starting for the game is now live.

The stretch goals look quite interesting, including extra scenarios, units, and illustrated battle cards. One thing to note is that the project is based in Canada, so the backer levels will be in Canadian dollars, but are converted into USD below. To get a copy of the game will set you back about $57 based on the exchange rate. Thus far, the project is 20 percent towards its goal.

My only critique of the campaign is that they have the backer level jump from Recruit at CA$75 where you get one copy of the game and all stretch goals to Officer at CA$340, where you get five copies of the game and all goals. In my humble opinion, I feel a middle-level “NCO” backer level in between those two, where a backer could get two, or three copies, would also help entice folks to back the game, as this is what I have seen from other board game campaigns. I also feel this would be nice, as then a backer could opt for this to have their own copy of the game and give one (or two) as a gift.

I do hope you will consider going to their Kickstarter campaign and check it out and, if you are so inclined, support it, as the game does look interesting.

Posted in 19th Century Military History, American Military History, Game Review, General | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

An exciting new game on the War of 1812

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on June 12, 2017

Cross-posted on Frontier Battles.

I was recently contacted about a new two-player strategy game that deals with the War of 1812 that will be launching on Kickstarter later this week. Created by Hand2Hand Entertainment, Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812 looks to be an interesting and tantalizing game that employs a mechanic similar to the game Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, though with some differences. You can view a video they have created below.

I recently reached out to them for a Q & A via email with Eric, one of the creators and wanted to share it with you all to let you know about this game.

How long has your company been in existence?

Our founder started working on Sabres and Smoke: War of 1812 in July of 2016. Sabres and Smoke is our first game.

What is your company’s overall mission?

We want to create a game that has a high level of historical accuracy but is also fun and not to complicated to learn. We hope that this get people interested in the War of 1812 and want to learn more about it.

How did you come to choose the War of 1812 as the conflict you would design a game around, and, what interested you about this particular conflict?

We chose the War of 1812 because there are very few other board games that focus on the War of 1812. There are lots of games that focus on other wars but we thought a game featuring the War of 1812 would be really unique.

How did you decide on the style of game to create, and, did you consider other types (miniatures, point to point map, etc.)?

We considered elements from different games that we really like and how we could bring those elements together to create something different that we could call our own.

How long was the design process from conceptualization to prototype?

The design process took a very long time. We started making rough drafts of the Battles in August of 2016 and had finished our final prototype of the Game by April 2017.

What has been the biggest struggle during the design and play testing process?

The Biggest struggle was finding different people to play test our game. We played the game ourselves a lot but had difficulty finding other people to play it in the early stages. Since then we were able to have multiple board game bloggers publish reviews of Sabres and Smoke and give us some really valuable feedback. We also play tested it with some 12 year olds to make sure that kids enjoy the game as well.

This question is for those interested in designing their own game. How did you go about designing the components and where did you source them?

We actually did all of the illustration and prototype design ourselves. Creating the prototype copies was very labour intensive for us, it involved a lot of printing and cutting on our end. The only part of the prototype games that we did not make ourselves were the plastic stands and the dice, which we used from sample orders we received from our suppliers.

Why do a Kickstarter campaign?

We decided very early on that a Kickstarter campaign was right for us because it would allow us to raise the money for Sabres and Smoke before it goes into production. This helps reduce a lot of the financial risk that comes along with producing board games on a large scale. Also, a Kickstarter launch is a great way to get people excited about our game.

What are your favorite elements of the game?

My favourite part of Sabres and Smoke is the way units are ordered. A lot of other games like like this have rules that make it difficult for players to carry out their battle strategies. In Sabres and Smoke, the only thing stooping a player from executing their strategy exactly how they planned it is the other player. This adds depth to the game and forces players to think more strategically than they might when they play other games.

Did any interesting situations arise as you play tested the game that potential players should be aware of, or that you realized needed editing?

Not really. There were a few minor things like typos in the rule book and certain battles needing to be more balanced, but there were no major changes that we needed to make to the game.

Do you have plans for expansions of Sabres and Smoke, or creating similar games around other historical conflicts?

We have some extra battles that we are using as stretch goals for our Kickstarter campaign and maybe for an expansion pack to be released later this year. We are not sure what type of game we will create next or if we will create further expansion packs for Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812, we have been focused lately on making this upcoming Kickstarter a success.

What is the best way to reach out to you regarding the game itself, and/or looking to get involved with your company?

The best way to contact us is by email, you can reach us at hand2handentertainment1812@gmail.com. People can also reach out to us by sending us a message through our website and can receive more information and updates about our game by joining our mailing list. This can be done through our website https://www.hand2handgames.com.

I would like to thank Eric for his time and will be following this project in the coming weeks and am seriously considering backing this, if my finances permit it.

Posted in American Military History, Game Review, General, US Army, US military | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Review of Escape from Colditz

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on November 19, 2016

I was privileged to receive a copy of Escape from Colditz about a month ago from Osprey Games, a division of Osprey Publishing, who is famous for its series of military history books. I was pleased to be able to finally test play the game with some friends at Broken Sentry Games, a new store in Grand Forks. It was a great time as we navigated the rules and planned our moves. I chose to be the German guards and prevent the escape.

History of Colditz Castle

The game is actually a reboot of a version of the game, with the same title , that appeared in 1973. It is based on the real story of Oflag IV-C, a German POW camp in Colditz Castle that housed Allied officers that escaped from other camps. Several attempts to escape the prison were unsuccessful, but a few were, including Pat Reid, who was one of the designers of the original game.

Several tunnels and bed sheet ropes were constructed to attempt to help prisoners escape. One unique story is that prisoners constructed a glider, named the “Colditz Cock,” from various materials in the camp, which had a wingspan of roughly 32 feet and was to be launched via a pulley system on a runway made from tables. Though the real glider never flew, a replica was built and flown.

Game Components

Osprey outdid itself in the quality of the game pieces. The box art is stunning and the board is quite nice, including the logo being printed on the underside, something I have not seen before.9781472818935

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In addition to the box and board, the other components of the game are quite nice. The cards are sturdy and have nice artwork on them. The pawns represent the nations represented (Americans, British, Dutch, French, Germans, and Poles), more specifically Allied prisoners of war and their German guards.

Another fun thing with this game are the surprises hidden among the game components. There are several replicas of artifacts related to the real history of the POW camp, including a postcard from a prisoner to their family, a Red Cross care parcel, a German Wanted poster for escaped prisoners, and a leaflet urging Allied prisoners to cease escaping. The biggest surprise is hidden in the box and I will not give it away, as you will have to get the game to find out, but it will be worth it.

Rules and Game Mechanics

The rules are pretty straightforward. POW pawns are set up in the white-shaded area of the central courtyard of the castle in a specific way, based on the number of players. The game supports 2-6 players and our play test consisted of four of us, which I felt was a nice balance to grasp the workings of the game.

Each round ends with the German player, with each player rolling dice to determine available movement points, which allows the player to move any number of its pawns up to the die roll. If a player rolls doubles, they may re-roll and add that total to their double roll. Further, if a player rolls a total of five or less, they may draw either an Opportunity Card (Allied players), or a Security Card (German), which can be used during their turn to bring about various events that can aid an escape attempt, or hinder it.1118162019

Allied players navigate the castle, attempting to gather their items needed for their escape kits and equipment to help in the actual escape from the castle, all while trying to avoid arrest and being thrown in solitary confinement, or being shot. Once outside the camp perimeter, the POWs attempt to reach one of several targets on the board that signal a successful escape. The game ends when either two pawns of one nation successfully escape, or the countdown marker reaches the eagle (zero rounds left) and no escapes have succeeded.

The game seems to progress fairly quickly and the cards can affect play in many fun and unique ways. Further, you can feel a little rush when a pawn attempts an escape and the player is attempting to reach a target, or stop an escape.1118162158

One unique aspect of the game is that the rules from the original 1973 version are included in the rule book to allow one to experience the original style of play, which includes “Do or Die” cards that offer the chance of a player getting out by making a break for it. However, there is great risk, as if that player fails, all its pawns are “killed” and removed from the game.

Criticisms

There is much to like about this game, from its relatively simple mechanics and rules, to its beautiful components. That said, there are a couple criticisms I have on the game. First, the circular spaces that pawns move and land on are a bit too small and tight, which can create a cluttered situation on the board in some regards. Coupled with that are the size of the pawns themselves, which are easy to slip out of one’s fingers and slide a bit easily on the board, which can knock other players’ pieces from where they may have been. Slightly larger spaces on the game board would alleviate this issue, as well as perhaps putting a surface on the bottom of the pawns to prevent them from sliding on the board as easily would also solve this minor problem.

The other has to do with the number of rounds in a game, which the rules suggest starting at 50, with an option of starting at 40 if players are more experienced. Given our game took over 3 hours (despite it being our first time), it seems that 50 rounds might be a bit much and the board has marks for up to 70 rounds. That said, like the issue of board spaces and pawns, this is a minor issue that does not significantly impact my feelings on the game overall.

Final Thoughts and Ratings

Escape from Colditz is a great game with a unique and exciting theme that will appeal to a wide variety of gamers, from those into historical games, to those who enjoy strategy with a twist. Osprey did an amazing job on this reboot of a classic and it’s one that you should have in your game collection.

Ratings:

Components-5 stars (an awesome board and game components with the addition of replica artifacts and a wonderful surprise too)

Rules and Mechanics-5 stars (relatively simple and easy to learn, plus the optional 1973 rules are a nice touch)

Design-5 stars (beautiful artwork and game play)

Price-5 stars (At $65, you definitely get your value with this game.)1118162220

Posted in Game Review, World War II | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Review of Redeye Fulda Cold by Bill Fortin

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on December 29, 2015

Bill Fortin, Redeye Fulda Cold: A Rick Fontain Novel. Cold War Publications, 2015. Maps, Illustrations, Photographs. $16.15. 422pp.

Readers of this blog who are interested in the Cold War, intelligence, technology, and historical fiction will likely enjoy a novel that covers the European Theater of the great game between East and West.  Bill Fortin, a US Army veteran from 1968-1970, who served in West Germany, wrote a novel based around his experiences in the 3rd Armored Division that provides a unique story into an obscure area of Cold War operations.

RedEye Fulda Cold examines the conflict from the eyes of soldier Rick Fontain. Fontain, a draftee from Maryland, enters the Army in April 1968, when most were sent to Vietnam. Based on his test scores, Fontain is offered a slot at OCS, having some college under his belt, but chooses another path that leads him to Fort Bliss, Texas for training on the Redeye shoulder-fired missile system and station in West Germany. He serves about a year and a half at Coleman Kaserne as a member of 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment, coordinating the implementation of Redeye into the area as part of the defense against Warsaw Pact forces.

During his time in service, Fontain meets Bill Douglas, who goes by several aliases and works for the CIA as part of their efforts to wage the Cold War around the globe. The encounter connects Fontain with important individuals connected with the intelligence game in Europe, while also shielding his career along the way. With his abilities and personality, Rick successfully implements Redeye into his unit, becoming a leading non-commissioned officer (NCO) overseeing the deployment of the system as part of the larger defense strategy in the area against a potential Soviet invasion through the Fulda Gap. In addition, Fontain’s expertise and his connection to Douglas allow him to interact with high-level personnel in the Army and CIA communities. During his time in West Germany, Rick finds time to socialize with the locals, including finding a love interest. Eventually, after several unique adventures, Fontain’s time in Germany ends, but this is only the beginning of his role in the Cold War.

Fortin presents Rick Fontain as an honorable character and capable leader, who looks out for those around him and finds a camaraderie in the Army that is attractive to him in many ways. Further, the men and women he encounters along the way are as interesting, making you want to know more about them as well. The story itself is quite good, with lots of interesting happenings and side stories. While initially expecting a different trajectory, leading to a “Cold War gone hot” situation, I was overall pleased with how the story turned out. Basing the story and characters on his own real-life service, Fortin did an outstanding job of writing a convincing novel on the Cold War that read more like a memoir than a work of fiction. That said, Fortin should strongly consider writing his memoirs of his real service in West Germany, as they would be quite useful to scholars of Cold War history.

Those interested in technology in the Cold War will not be disappointed, as the complexities of the Redeye system are detailed, as are vehicles, aircraft, and early work with remotely piloted aircraft. In addition, those who enjoy spy novels and intelligence/espionage type stories will get something from this book, as while not a work like Ian Flemming’s or Tom Clancy’s, there is sufficient political and intelligence intrigue that should whet the appetite of this audience. Finally, those into military historical fiction will enjoy it simply as a novelization of one common soldier’s service in Western Europe during an often overshadowed time and place in Cold War history.

My only two major issues revolve around stylistic choices. Fortin’s organization of the book somewhat detracts from the typical styling of a novel, as he breaks up chapters into several sections based on a particular time and place, which breaks up the flow of the story a bit. However, it is only a minor issue that helps readers discern where Rick Fontain is. The reason it is a slight issue is that it causes the book to read as a memoir, which it is not meant to be. The other criticism is Fortin’s use of footnotes that explain military slang and abbreviations, as well as certain biographies of important real-world individuals associated with the real happenings of the story arc and technical information. While these make the work accessible to a wider audience, they are also distracting, as they break up the flow of the story. Further, given that this book is going to have a core audience that will likely know what the terms mean, they come across as a bit redundant.

Overall, the book is a solid story of Cold War historical fiction with compelling characters and good prose. It will appeal to a wide and diverse audience and will leave readers wanting to pick up Fortin’s next novel in the Rick Fontain saga, which Fortin will hopefully produce. If looking for a good winter read that has history, technology, and the Cold War, go grab Redeye Fulda Cold.

Posted in American Military History, Book Reviews, Cold War, US Army | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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