We've been playing this game recently — the Game, I should say — called 1914. Hell of a thing.
My buddies Kyle and John, we love history. It's sort of our thing. So when Kyle dug the Game out of his father's closet, we thought it'd be a hoot to try out. An unplayable board game from the seventies, two hundred little cardboard squares marching across a grid of hexagons tracing all the rivers, mountains, and cities of France. Each counter has three little numbers on it for attack, defense, move. There's tables of numbers for moving, for combat, resupply—endless columns on dozens of dusty papers.
John and me, we're the Germans. Kyle takes Frenchies; he's the only one who can make heads or tails of all the numbers, so we follow his lead.
The game starts slow. Set up takes three hours and the pieces move about half an inch a turn if you're lucky. Still, it's a blast. Belgium goes under real quick. Holland never stood a chance. Deutschers strike towards Verdun and the Foreign Legion leads a charge to surround Metz. Just a bunch of squares shuffling, though.
Around session four things start to get a little weird. French infantry encircled outside Antwerp are running low on supplies and Kyle tells us he's going to start eating the horses of his cavalry division — to keep the front line troops fed. Says he gets a bonus if they eat the riders too. We try to laugh that one off but he cracks open the monstrous rulebook and sure enough the “cannibalism efficacy chart” says it plain as day, though God knows how often that particular contingency was expected to come up.
That discovery put a whole new spin on gameplay — we started seeing what other optional rules we could dig up. The Osirian Appendices — right after the "Play by Mail" section — changed my whole Brussels Offensive. It's amazing what the hoisted ribcage of an enemy does for the morale of your troops — at least according to the designer's notes.
Turns out there's all sorts of mechanics that'll give you an edge, for the right price. Blood sigils let you add +1 to your rolls, but only if the blood is fresh. “Hallowed gore” gives you an experience bonus — Marshal Foch swore by it. Barbed wire is tougher when woven with bone. Who knew the First World War had so much to do with arterial logistics?
We weren't happy about sending the second line troops off to the slaughterhouse. But I think the improvement of our positions around Flanders more than justified that particular decision.
By now I hear the armies marching at night, but Kyle's the one who gets real into it. He doesn't just address the day's sacrifices by name — we all do that by now; it negates a bunch of debuffs — he's begun tracking the turns on his skin. And eyeing John's vertebrae.
He announces the construction of a pyramid of skulls large enough to encompass Paris and visible from the moon. Keeps producing page after page of optional rules in a frankly suspicious red ink. John just sits and hums. Hasn't been the same since we ate Bucephalus.
We're on to something special.
By 1918, things have…escalated. This next offensive is the big one — we've been preparing. What was Belgium is painted red, the dykes retaining human viscera instead of water. That's crucial to our success — the viscera, I mean. Our armies of millions are long gone, just a few hundred thousand now, but what thousands! The femur of your closest friend strikes more true than any bullet; vests of Belgian tendon are as good as kevlar in the hands of our tailors. Supply problems are a thing of the past; easier to keep our food on the hoof, or rather, the boot. Each German carries a hundred souls within his gullet. I don't want to think about what the French carry there.
All but the best have been expended. Our modern soldier is frightfully effective, but requires a lot of ingredients.
Summer of 1918. Kyle sits atop the Parisian Ossuary and mocks us. There isn't going to be a 1919.