Grand Illusion

I am reposting this review from 11 years ago and will comment on a recent play session as well in a new post.

From 2005:

Review of Grand Illusion

Grand Illusion (GI) is a wargame published by GMT Games in 2005. It covers the opening campaigns of WW 1 on the Western Front. It was designed by Ted Raicer, a well-known wargame designer who is something of a specialist on World War 1. Other Raicer designs include Paths of Glory, Great War in Europe/Near East, Reds and WW2 Barbarossa to Berlin.
The GI map uses very large hexes in which combat units of both sides are placed. Combat is intrahex as opposed to the more traditional interhex arrangement. Like all Raicer games, supply is a very important, if not the most important, consideration for the players.

GI is billed as a unique look at this often simulated topic. After reading the rules and playing around with the game on a very nicely done Cyberboard gamebox on my laptop, I noticed some similarities to other games.

The most obvious similarity to me is to Breakout: Normandy. Rather than hexes, BKN uses irregularly shaped areas. The shape and arrangement of the areas is based largely on the terrain of the actual area in Normandy, where rivers and hedgerows defined the areas naturally. In GI, the areas are all hex shaped. In this part of the world at this time, it was the rail net that controlled the movement of the supplies of the armies. GI uses +# terrain modifiers and blocked hexsides in a very similar fashion to BKN. And most similarly, GI uses an inning impulse system (you go then I go, etc). Whereas in BKN, the impulses continue until an end of day die roll, in GI the players are given activation points to spend. Still the two games are similar in that players have to time their actions so as to try to accomplish everything they need to do before the points run out.

Another game that bears some similarity is the old Clash of Arms Civil War Campaign series, another area movement game design. In that series of games, the entry of units into an opposed area, combat is mandatory, unless friendly units are also present. GI uses very similar rules. GI also uses a concept from this series called area boundary control, which in effect,
blocks enemies from escaping a hex through the units that just entered. And GI uses a battle board to resolve combats somewhat like the CoA Civil War series.

I think Ted also draws from some of his own designs for GI. There is a strong sense of similarity to his earlier WW1 designs in the Clash of Giants series as well as some familiarity with Great War in Europe. And it should also be noted that Raicer did design a game with a system almost identical to Breakout: Normandy: Royal Tank Corps covering the WW1 Battle of Cambrai (first major use of tanks).

So is Grand Illusion a unique look at the topic as advertised? I would have to answer with a qualified yes, with the caveat that this is a very derivative design, paying homage to some great designs that have gone before. However, having said that, I will also give Raicer his due here. He took these various systems and synthesized them into a very good game on this most interesting topic. Grand Illusion will definitely have a place in the games closet.


  • So 11 years after my first encounter with Grand illusion, the game came to the wargame night table last night. It was the first time to play an actual game for both of us. Since it was a new experience, we decided to try the short 2 turn introductory scenario. The system in the game is not terribly complex, although it suffers from some opacity within the rules. It isn't terrible in this case and once you get into the game, it is really pretty simple.

    We got through the two turn intro scenario in only about 90 minutes, which is actually pretty fast for us. Mark's Germans fought a nice delaying campaign for the first turn against determined but ultimately fruitless assaults by my French and British. In the second turn, the Germans were allowed to conduct a withdrawal and then entrench. This is where the game system really got it right. As difficult as my assaults were in the mobile phase, once the trenches came into play, successful assaults became nearly impossible. The designer got this aspect of the history exactly right without the need for a different combat system or a bunch of special rules.

    Grand Illusion is a very engaging game on the opening months of World War I on the Western Front. In my 10 year old review, I mentioned the similarities to Breakout Normandy and other games like it. Mark also made that comparison, although in G.I. units that activate are not necessarily spent after their activation. In G.I. units can continue to be activated multiple times. The game's similarity to the old Clash of Arms Civil War series was also very apparent, especially in the rules for area control, area border restrictions and battle resolution. I enjoyed this game and thanks to Mr. Robbins for selling his P500 copy to me all those many years ago. Grand Illusion is a very worthy game on this topic and we will certainly see it another wargame night in the future, only with the full campaign. It is that good.
  • Fun stuff. I love retrospective posts.

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