World War I: The Battle of Vimy Ridge 1917 with Price of Glory

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The Battle of Vimy Ridge, France over four days in early April 1917 was not just a victory for the Allies during World War I. The battle also served as a shining example of Canadian national pride as the overwhelming Canadian-led force was able to stand on its own for the first time without British leadership on the field against Germany. The decisive capture of the German lines at the ridge would hold this section of the Western Front for the Allies until the end of the war.

pogcover“Price of Glory” by Iron Ivan Games

This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers we finally got some WWI gaming in with a quick scenario modelled on the Canadian exploits at Vimy Ridge with the Price of Glory rules from Iron Ivan Games. We unpacked over six feet of beautifully modelled trench works that had laid too long in storage and set up a gorgeous collection of 28mm WWI German and Canadian troops from Great War Miniatures. The three of us new to the rules divided the Canadians among ourselves with four rifle and machine gun squads, a grenade-armed bombing party and a Vickers machine gun to our right. Facing us across the cratered and barb-wired field was two lines of German trenches initially defended by two teams of Germans and a MG 08 on their right flank. The level of Canadian victory would be measured by the capture of the German front line, rear set of trenches or the treeline beyond in a ten-turn game.

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Canadian troops advance on the German lines at Vimy Ridge

The Canadians initially plotted four artillery targets along the front and rear trench lines. After the starting German deployment, we rolled off for the artillery bombardment which we had luckily ranged-in directly on the German rifles and machine gun on the front line. Unfortunately the dice were not with the Canadians, and all four artillery shots missed. From there, the Price of Glory rules progressed simple enough with a D10 roll-off for initiative which the Canadians won and began their advance. Teams alternate on each side of the table taking move, fire or melee actions with short movement of 3″ allowing for a full rate of fire, 6″ at fire at half-rate and a 9″ sprint allowing for now firing.

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Germans hold the front line in the trenches

As the first few turns elapsed, the Canadians at the right slowly advanced from crater to crater as they took heavy fire from the German rifles and machine gun. Defending from the trenches, the Germans were a hard target with only a “1” result counting as a hit on the fistfuls of D10s being thrown. In the rules, a team taking fire must also roll a D10 morale check or become suppressed. Morale rating is based on the command strength of the squad, with squads on both sides initially beginning with two officers each at a “7” and “8” rating. A morale check equal to or less than the command rating for the squad passes and may take an action on their turn. A squad losing their morale check must use their next activation to rally.

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Canadians advance through a gap in the wire

By mid-game, one Canadian squad had met their doom in the open wasteland in front of the German line and a second was torn in half as they limped to the trench line at the German left. At the center, a full Canadian squad made their way through a center gap followed by the bomb team. On the German right, the machine gun was eliminated and a final squad of fresh Canadians made way for the trenches. The Canadians continued to win initiative roll-offs which were modified at -1 on each side for lost squads or squads failing morale checks.

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Germans flee the front line to defend from the next line of trenches

As the remnants of one surviving squad of Germans fled the first line of defense after losing two morale checks against the encroaching Canadians, two reserve units of Germans emerged from the woods to the rear and ran to defend the secondary line of trenches. From there, the final turns of the game became a shoot-out between the two trenches with the Canadian bomb crew and a German rifle squad being nearly eliminated in the firefight. At the final turn, the Canadians had scored a minor yet costly victory by securing the first line of the German trenches for the Allies.

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The Canadian bombing party occupies the first line of trenches

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Germans hold the second line at Vimy Ridge

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Canadians hold the first line for victory

I hadn’t played a WWI game in a couple of years, and the figures and terrain at the club hadn’t hit the table in quite some time either. The Price of Glory rules ran fast, and we were all generally of the opinion it captured the combined fire and morale effects found during the conflict. We also agreed another larger game with a bit more complexity and perhaps some artillery, armor and cavalry would be in order. With many worldwide commemorations this year of the Great War’s 100th anniversary (including an excellent site from the Imperial War Museum), is was good to make time for our own journey back to the Western Front.

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Downloading: Valiant Hearts: The Great War

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World War I has quickly moved from news to memory to history in the past 100 years, especially in the United States. While there are certainly plenty of grand remembrances being made of the lingering historical and political ripples of the Great War, the best parts of historical memory often continue to ring truest to us through personal stories. This is the reason why a classic book like All Quiet On The Western Front or the more recent graphic novel The Harlem Hellfighters resonate still in telling the story of WWI.

So, in this centenary year it’s a pleasure to have the distant memory of WWI retold in a vivid modern way with Valiant Hearts: The Great War from Ubisoft. Like any good war story, Valiant Hearts isn’t really about guns and glory, but more about love, friendship, connection and dedication humans strive to maintain when faced with the most hugely catastrophic events.

ValiantHeartsCharactersMain cast of characters from Valiant Hearts: Ana, Walt (dog), Karl, Emile, Freddie and George

The cast of characters presented in Valiant Hearts represents a cross-section of nationalities swept up in the European conflict. The main character is Emile, a French farmer who is pressed into service at the outbreak of the war. His daughter is in a relationship with Karl, a German who is exiled from France at the beginning of the war and subsequently compelled into service with the German army. Just after completing basic training, Emile meets Freddie, an American ex-patriot living in Paris and volunteer in the fight against Germany. Once in the trenches, Emile befriends a military service dog named Walt. A fast-driving Belgian nurse named Ana completes the main cast of characters, although a British pilot named George does make a cameo later on in the game.

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Emile completing basic training in Valiant Hearts

With a minimal amount of introductory back story of the outbreak of WWI, the game begins with Emile marching off to some quick basic training which introduces a player to the basic climbing, attacking, picking-up and throwing actions. Once at the front, the game quickly moves into the more familiar trench warfare settings which were the hallmark of the war.

For gamers looking for WWI first-person combat wielding a bayonetted rifle or driving a clattering tank through No Man’s Land, there will be disappointment. Although death and destruction surrounds the game, there is surprisingly little direct combat experienced by the player. The entire WWI setting and all its trappings of planes, tanks, artillery and machine guns become tools to propel the characters to action, more like a violent ghostly hand lurking in the background than the main focus of the action.

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A typical puzzle challenge in Valiant Hearts

As a game, the main focus of Valiant Hearts is at its core a platform, puzzle and adventure game. It is a game set within the war, but the playable characters are not working on racking-up body counts. More typically, a character will work their way through completing a series of tasks to progress to the next level– break down a wall, crouch in a trench, dig a tunnel, climb a ladder, crank a wheel, set a charge and blow up a bridge.

Different characters in the game also work in combination to get puzzles solved and sometimes work with non-player characters. For instance, the burly Freddie is good at smashing down walls, doors and barriers with his bare fists while Emile is handy at digging and Ana provides care to wounded soldiers on and off the field. Characters can also order commands to Walt to move and fetch objects from areas unreachable by the other human characters, such as crawling under clouds of poisonous gas.

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Richly accurate artwork of the Western Front and equipment such as tanks and biplanes set the scene in Valiant Hearts

Beyond the entertainment of the puzzle adventure gameplay, Valiant Hearts is rich in historic detail. A number of short behind-the-scenes developer videos on the game’s website show the depths to which the team at Ubisoft went to paint a vivid picture of WWI using primary documents. Even within the cartoonish game animation, there’s a ton of detail in the flags, uniforms, weapons, vehicles and settings throughout the game. The diversity of nations participating in the war is well-represented, so we not only see the typical British, German, United States and French soldiers but also those from countries like India. To keep the nationalities with their mix of languages consistent, dialogue among characters is limited to emotive symbols and vaguely accented but recognizable foreign mumbles.

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Historical photos and background fill out the detail in Valiant Hearts

As Valiant Hearts progresses, gamers and would-be historians will find a wealth history laced within the action. Brief cut-scenes do well to set chapters within regional maps and shifting events throughout the war. Pop-up screens provide historical facts and beautifully color-tinted period photographs of life, equipment and stories from WWI. Players who complete puzzles within the game also collect historic artifacts such as identification tags, a whistle, a helmet or actual letters from soldiers of multiple nations. Again, additional pop-up windows takes a player back to the primary sources from which each object is drawn.

Both my 14-year-old son and I have spent time playing through Valiant Hearts this week. As a hardcore gamer, my son found the play pretty rudimentary by modern standards but my greener fingers did find at least some initial challenge to the puzzles. What we both equally delighted in was the art and historical documentation which was wrapped up around the simple human story unfolding throughout the game.

Far away from the politics, grand plans and horrors of combat, every war throughout history has come down to humans and relationships torn asunder or brought together in wartime. This is the journey of the characters in Valiant Hearts: The Great War and one well worth the trip back a century in time.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is available for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Windows PC.