top of page

Flagging Morale In ETO Campaign Games

Flagging Morale in ETO Campaign Games

OR “Can’t you see they are only a few lousy Morale Points from collapsing!?”

By Frank Chadwick

Lance McMillan (left), Frank Chadwick (center), and Alan Emrich (right) discuss The Middle Sea

How do you win a war?

In answer to that question, one thing is for sure: it's easier in a game than in real life, and not just for the obvious reasons like the absence of wide-scale death and destruction. It's also easier because we actually tell you how to do it. We specify victory conditions and, if you achieve them, voila! You have won the war; game over!

Real-life strategic leaders should have it so good. Much of the strategic soul-searching that goes on at the highest levels is determining exactly what it will take to win the war. Why? Well, there are only two ways to win a war:

  1. Make the other side admit they have lost to you and surrender (the “Say Uncle” method); or

  2. Kill everyone.

This second method (killing everyone) has not been seen for a very long time because someone reaches the breaking point first and throws in the towel. It is not always the side which has suffered the greatest losses, either – ask the Germans if they thought they won the war in the east because the Soviets suffered such heavy losses – so victory determination is not as simple as just counting casualties.

The Morale System in ETO

Allow me to introduce the ETO Morale System design intent, and then we will examine it with a closer look at the Soviet Union’s situation in Thunder in the East.

I wanted to create a set of morale penalties and rewards that would motivate historical gameplay for historical reasons. That is, one where what the actual participants did “makes sense.” A duality of concepts for this was to:

  • A) Make alternative results attainable so that players can explore alternative strategic approaches, while

  • B) Minimizing a player’s ability to “game the system” so that eccentric play does not produce grossly ahistorical results.

For that, we needed to set each nation’s Morale Level such that historic play and outcomes would produce its historic Morale Collapse (or failure to achieve a Morale Collapse), so we watched the numbers closely in design and development to make sure that Morale Points “stayed on the rails.” (My morale flowchart for Italy’s participation, for example, neatly demonstrates motivations behind Italian behavior during the war.)

Two key issues soon emerged:

  1. Numerous nations surrendered or switched sides throughout the war, usually at critical points during the fighting. These are game-altering events that required careful handling.

  2. There must be an objective game mechanism for determining the Morale Collapse of each Faction’s Large nations (i.e., Germany, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union) so players know how to drive toward such a victory (or avoid such a defeat). These are potentially game-ending events, and we are constantly monitoring “the patient’s health” as the ETO series evolves.

What does it take for the Germans to crack the Morale of the Soviet Union?

I’m glad you asked.

There are six elements that comprise National Morale, at least as we measure it in ETO. They are:

1. Casualties

When you bleed, you feel it. That is not always the case in ETO, however. When you suffer losses defending, you feel it; when you take losses attacking, you don't for two reasons:

A. First, the population is more accepting of losses if they feel they accomplished something by them; that those losses were not in vain but to take the war to the enemy. Moving the lines forward on the map (or trying to) accomplishes that. To keep it simple, therefore, we only count casualties when you are defending.

B. The second reason is a sneaky, manipulative game designer trick: Games are interesting when one side is attacking and even more interesting when both sides are attacking at every opportunity. We did not want a game where a player could "defend their way to victory.” In the ETO series, you cannot “bleed the attacker off the map.” Instead, there are a multitude of things in the game, some subtle and some (like this) not-so-subtle, that reward aggressive, offensive-style play and penalize conservative, timid play. "L'audace, encore l'audace, et toujours l'audace!"

The value of key game activities in terms of Morale Point gains and losses

2. Objective Cities

Your people are very distraught when your Objective cities fall to the enemy. They will like it when you take them back from the enemy, but sometimes not as much as they disliked losing them in the first place since it's probably trashed and liberating it is likely to uncover some pretty horrific things. So hang onto Objective hexes for as long as possible and, if you lose them, bend your efforts to getting them back. If you can reclaim a captured Personnel City quickly enough (i.e., before they cycle through their four turns and become a usable supply source to the enemy), all the better.

Some "Morale Cricical" cities (including Capitals, Leningrad, Tripoli, etc.) are more valuable than others. That said, other than Minor nation capitals, there are no cities close to providing an instant defeat, nor should there be. For a while, the Germans imagined that taking Moscow would be the silver bullet which would end the war, but at some point, someone must have mentioned that Napoleon took Moscow, the Tsar evacuated, and the Russians kept fighting. Moscow falling would have been a blow (and it is in the game), but by itself, it isn't enough (and wouldn't have been enough) to force a Soviet collapse unless The Leader (Stalin) was also removed from the picture.

Moscow is still a big deal; it's a "unit magnet"

Moscow is still a big deal, however. The Soviets begin the Barbarossa scenario with 150 Morale Points (MPs). By the time the Axis march to Moscow, that number will be about a third of that due to defensive casualties (see the Morale mat, above) and maybe a dozen lost Objective hexes (at -4 MP each). Evacuating Stalin to Kuibyshev is -8 MPs, and losing the Capital is another -10 MPs on top of that (beside all of the economic and strategic/military devastation that losing Moscow entails), so Moscow remains a siren of destiny.

3. Strategic Attacks

In the main ETO game “strategic attacks” cover a couple of different things, including the need to maintain some strategic convoys – foodstuffs to Great Britain from North America, iron ore from Scandinavia to Germany. That's where U-boats get important.

Where are the Ural Bombers when you need them?

The other form of strategic attack, and the one potentially important to Thunder in the East, is bombing attacks on objective cities. The USAAF 8th Air Force specialized in this sort of thing, but both sides managed it a few notable times in the east. The only strategic bombing campaign the Soviets carried out was against Romania, and the Luftwaffe bombed Moscow a few times. In the game, there are times when it makes sense to try a strategic bombing campaign, particularly if the opponent is close to going over the line, and that's exactly when it was done in the war (or in the case of Romania, to hurry it toward that line).

4. Living the Good Life

If your people feel things are going well on the home front, they have a sense that things are also going well with the war effort, and we measure that in two ways.

A. One is the number of men eligible for military service not called up; these men pursue their livings in the civilian economy. In game terms, this amounts to one Morale Point (1 MP) added each Season for every chunk of men available but not called to arms (i.e., usually for every 5 Personnel Points (PPs) left unspent in your resource reserve).

The Soviet Union is a great example of this. During the early years (1939-40) when the Soviets were not involved in the main part of the war, the Red Army remained very small (compared to the Soviet Union's population base) and so the USSR "banked" a steady flow of Morale Points in this manner each Season. They began their build-up in 1941 and had not completed it by the time the Germans invaded, which is why they start with such an enormous pool of PPs on the track.

You can only call people to arms so fast (hence the spending limits in the game). There are only so many rifles available while you are making more, and only so many instructors who know what they are doing. So even through the early months of the German invasion, so the Soviets continue to get a steady stream (instead of a flood) of MPs each quarter from their dwindling pool of manpower. When they hit bottom, the German player will have a pretty good idea of how much of a mountain they have to climb to eliminate them and take the Soviet Union out of the war.

There's a similar example of this in The Middle Sea when the Italian army largely demobilized in the autumn of 1940 to release manpower back to the civilian economy. It caused a nice boost in Italian civilian morale, but it really raised hell with the Italian Army when Mussolini turned around to invade Greece and then had to scramble to recall all those men to arms.

B. The second way we show the civilians are living the good life is a diversion of industrial output to produce consumer goods. Each Season, each nation may spend from its Faction’s pool 1 Equipment Point (EP) to gain 2 Morale Points (MPs). Reducing shortages and keeping the black market small makes civilians happy, of course, but spending vital, precious EPs on anything is always a tough decision.

5. Imponderables (cards)

There are a lot of small things that affected morale which it is just easier to put on a card than write a rule for. It's too easy for designers to load the rulebook up with items you will only do once or twice; it makes the rules harder to wade through and that one niggling little rule harder to remember. A card is sort of a one-off rule by itself, and you don’t have to worry about it except when you decide which cards to select and put into, or play from, your hand.

The Build Cost chart reminds players that Germany giving armored vehicles and aircraft to their allies (i.e., “spending EPs on them”) is good for those allies' morale. Those tanks, assault guns, and Bf-109s they could probably have better used rebuilding German Panzer Divisions and Fighter wings, but this equipment was proof to their allies that the Germans were willing to help assist their war efforts, too.

The Axis cards can also affect morale when dealing with anti-partisan activities (i.e., increasing them through atrocities and thus lowering morale as the enemy propaganda comes back exposing your war crimes). Soviet cards have many ways the communist government can manipulate morale as the primary source of war information. Stalin, commissars, propaganda, the ability of the Russians to “suck up” military defeats… all these things can leave their effects on Soviet morale and, as always, timing is everything. Where there is a dictator, they ways of chirping up to bolster morale.

6. Crumbling Alliance

This really only affects the Axis allies in Thunder in the East, but when the morale breaks for one of them, it sends a shiver through the entire alliance and can set off a chain reaction of defections if the German player is not careful. For the Axis player, this is something to keep an eye on. Those hard candy activities allowing you pay something to prop up the morale of one of your remaining allies can suddenly look very expedient.

Zero Point Morale

A nation’s morale collapses by reducing its Morale Points to zero or less.

While the Morale Collapse of a Large nation is game-ending, and Medium nations (e.g., Italy and France) are uniquely covered in the rules, Small nations are “rolled for” to see which outcome befalls them:

Small Nation collapse; you can't always count on these guys to stick with you

In addition, an Allied nation which has not collapsed, and which has one or more Allied Major Ground units in its home territory, can declare a Government in Exile. The ground and air forces disband, but the nation fights on with its navy and merchant marine and can eventually raise units again if it recaptures its population centers.

Historical Small Nation Collapse results include:

  • Belgium: Government in Exile

  • Bulgaria: Switch sides

  • Croatia: Fight on

  • Denmark: Surrender

  • Finland: Switch sides

  • Greece: Government in Exile

  • Hungary: Fight on

  • Netherlands: Government in Exile

  • Norway: Government in Exile

  • Romania: Switch sides

  • Yugoslavia: Surrender

In the fullness of the ETO series, the Germans too will have a National Morale to concern themselves with, as will the French, British, Italians, and every nation (except, perhaps, the USA). Like the dials used in modern instant polling, dynamically gauging an audience’s reaction, so the Morale Point system in ETO gauges each nation’s ability to stomach the losses and suffering of war and still keep fighting.

288 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All

2 comentários

Avaliado com 0 de 5 estrelas.
Ainda sem avaliações

Adicione uma avaliação
26 de abr. de 2020

Thanks for the kind words and the thoughtful suggestion. US morale has some possibilities, and I'll consider it, but honestly, don't get your hopes up. I believe the Allied player whose morale you need to keep your eye on is the United Kingdom. That is the morale it may be possible to crack in 1942-43, largely through the U-Boat war but with some help on the land and air fronts. If so the Allied cause would be lost, or at least put off beyond the reasonable time frame of the game.

Given the comparatively small number of ground units the US has to work with (in game terms) it's striking to me how unflaggingly aggressive senior US military and political…


I have written elsewhere how much I think this outline morale rule benefits ETO.

I do have a suggestion in contrast to the closing comments here which is I would have the USA subject to morale too. I would suggest it might make the end game interesting and give the Axis a chance to ”win” by avoiding unconditional surrender.

The US fought WW2 with a strong commitment to reducing casualties and keeping its domestic economy strong which were also the reasons for staying out of the conflict as long as possible. I don’t know what model for US entry is being planned for ETO but ultimately Germany declared war provoked by economic and military actions the US was already engaged…

bottom of page