Last updated 22 December 2000


Blitzkrieg was one of Avalon Hill's first boardgames back in the 60s. It was an abstracted operational level of modern (or maybe WWII-era) combat, with each counter representing a divisional- or regimental-sized unit and three folding mapboards that were put together to create a fictitious continent comprising two major powers and five minors. You won't see Blitzkrieg in the shops nowadays as Avalon Hill (now owned by Hasbro) dropped it from production some years ago. My own copy dates back from 1979, together with the Blitzkrieg module created by the late SPI company. I also found a second-hand copy for a friend at a games fair, but the SPI module is now probably rarer than gold dust.

Blitzkrieg came in the original package at three levels: Basic, Intermediate and Tournament. The Basic level was a simple knockout contest, with the losing counters in a battle being eliminated from the board. Troops supplied were armour, infantry, airborne, airborne armour(!), artillery and marines, who at this level did not have any amphibious capability. At the intermediate level Rangers, supply and naval rules were added, plus an abstract method of attritional combat for the five nameless minor countries, although the game was still fairly straightforward. Complexity was really added with the Tournament level, which supplied fighter, tactical support, medium- and heavy bombers and a host of air rules. Most importantly, it added a system of step reduction for units instead of complete annihilation. While this was more realistic, the way it was handled by the game system in practice led to a middle game of slugging attrition, the two sides lined up facing each other and making endless die rolls to inflict casualties. There were also some fairly reasonable rules for production of units and supply centres.

The one thing that really spoilt an otherwise good game was the map, or more particularly the stupid names placed on it due to some nerdy sense of humour by some designer somewhere. The minor countries were all nameless, but the two major powers went under the inspiring names of "Great Blue" and "Big Red". As Redmund Simonsen of SPI remarked, these were names to make you gag rather than envisage important modern nations. The mountains and wooded areas were also unnamed, but the rivers and lakes were also given bizarre names that were apparently connected with Avalon Hill staff. Other than that, the artwork was simple and by today's standards rather primitive, but the terrain itself was well selected in order to give a maximum of different types of situations.

SPI's Blitzkrieg module came with an issue of their Strategy & Tactics magazine, and comprised several pages of articles and explanations of new rules and a supplementary set of counters. A new Combat Results Table was added, which effectively gave armoured attacks more punch but at the risk of more casualties (the armour took hits first). Another important innovation was the changing of roads to railways, and the inclusion of Railroad counters. Now, instead of both armies moving at three times their normal speed along the roads towards a bruising battle in the middle of the board, players had to use their limited supply of rolling stock to move forces forward from the rear. The range of intercepting fighters was halved, but flak units and rules were introduced.

The other interesting innovation was the replacement of the old Orders of Battle (virtually identical for both players) with new and different ones. Now each player had to select a different one from a choice of seven, which ranged from armour- or aircraft-heavy forces to 50s-style mass infantry armies. In fact I played most of them and felt that some of them were uneven, particularly when faced with the tank-heavy Blitz army. Also, the production levels of the higher-numbered (and technically inferior) OOBs seemed to be pegged too low, so a patient player could destroy enough 2-2 infantry units in order to make victory certain by sufficiently widening the deficit between the two sides. The minor countries at last were given names, albeit ones that corresponded to points of the compass (eg "Süd Walküre", or SW!), and were given small OOBs themselves. Finally, instead of just a 19th-century style slugging match between two powers, a variety of scenarios were introduced, including guerilla warfare (guerilla counters and rules included) and internecine strife between the minor countries.

As a game system, Blitzkrieg still plays quite well compared to many modern games. In some ways it has not aged badly, and it is a pity AH never saw fit to update it accordingly. The rules, even with the SPI module, are still fairly simple, and there are not too many counters - indeed, the SPI Orders of Battle actually removed a lot of counters from the players. The only drawback is the space required for the three mapboards, which easily takes up a whole dining room table. Suffice it to say that if I wanted to play it now I would have to clear our kitchen table and put the cat outside.

The other possibility for anyone with old Blitzkrieg boards and counters laying about is to use them as a basis for a campaign game using miniatures or some other game system, eg tie it in with ASL or similar. This I feel is an area that has not been explored fully. Obviously at the tactical level things would have to keep reasonably fast-flowing and simple, or players might find themselves taking a month to take the first campaign turn. But it's worth a thought. SPI obviously thought so, as they then went on to produce their own abstracted boardgame, "Strategy II". This, like SPI themselves and their games, went out of production long ago, but again I saw a copy at a games fair. If only I'd had the five quid at the time....

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