I really enjoy Grand Strategic wargames. There is something to be said for an experience that attempts to simulate all, or at least more than normal, various aspects of warfare including politics, economics, diplomacy, technology development, etc. In a Grand Strategic wargame you are making long term decisions on a nationwide, some would say even continent-wide scale. Grand Strategy wargames are meant to simulate actual historical events and what it would be like to attempt to maneuver the highlighted war in the real world. I have heard it said that at the Grand Strategic level of wargaming, you’re going to be making major decisions with long-term impacts without getting caught up and bogged down in the micromanagement of aspects that are found in smaller scale wargames. Certain aspects can be glossed over, or abstracted to create the ultimate attempt to practice overall strategy and the approach to waging war. This kind of described my recent experience with a new 2023 wargame called Downfall of the Third Reich from do it games and I wanted to share my first impressions with you.

Grand Strategy Sandbox with Guard Rails

Historical wargames have somewhat of a problem inherent with their design. We want them to be accurate to history but we also want a bit of choice in how we prosecute the war to see if we can achieve an outcome different from historical. The conundrum is really hard to overcome. As a student of history, I know when certain events took place during WWII. I am not a walking encyclopedia but know enough to understand what was attempted and why. In a game that tells the entire story of World War II in Europe, there are things that have to be accomplished, such as the invasion of Belgium and the subsequent surrender of France, the invasion of Norway for the iron ore found there and the raiding of commerce on the open ocean to slow support from the United States to the beleaguered Allies. These aspects have to be included and are more often than not included in designs on World War II at the Strategic scale.

Downfall of the Third Reich includes these elements very well but also goes to another level by allowing some things to happen that maybe were not historical results. I posit the launching of Operation Sea Lion with the Germans invading across the English Channel into lower England and London. This is a real possibility here….especially if Belgium and France surrender in Winter 1940, which is plausible however unlikely, or even as early as Spring 1940. The Germans have units there and the British have only 1-2 armies to defend due to the losses at Dunkirk and with the fall of France. It is really possible for the Germans to successful invade England. But, you must ask yourself why would you do that? Well, the immediate answer is that it forces the Allies to have to build up in England for a turn or two to fight off the German incursion, spending their scarce Actions and resources on this effort. But also, if the Axis control London, the Allies will lose an Action each turn. And, if the German player has successfully built up their wolf packs in the North Atlantic and used Submarine Missions they will be taking both of the Allies Action by denying them (more on this later). This could be catastrophic! But the Guard Rails put on this possible action is the presence of the Soviet juggernaut building up in the east. If the Axis spend their resources solely on attempting a rash decision such as Operation Sea Lion, or even if they commit multiple resources in an effort take the Suez to deny Supply points to the Soviets, they will be falling behind in the race for Operation Barbarossa. And if Barbarossa doesn’t go well for the Axis in the game, the game is lost before it really even gets going. And a successful Operation Barbarossa requires the development of technology, investing in Armor Production, recruitment of tanks and the preparation of Air Missions to assault the East Front. Herein lies the sandbox being limited by history. I am fine with this. I do wish it was more open and feasible but the guard rails keep the game in balance. This game is a bit of a sandbox, but is more scripted than I thought it would be.

Boils Down to Number of Actions

One of the interesting parts of the design is the concept of Actions. Each nation has a specific number of Actions that can be used each 3 month Turn. These Actions are abstractions of all of the elements you would think go into this concept including production capacity, relative industrial development, shipping lanes and access to markets, size of the nation, command structure and leadership. All of these points get boiled down into a number that tells you a lot about the outlook for the game. As you can see from the chart pictured above, there is a distinction about how many Actions there are based on the commitment of each nation to the global conflict identified as Limited War and Total War. Limited War covers the period of 1940-1941 when the world watched as the Axis expanded and grew the size of the Third Reich by annexing the Sudetenland (1938), invaded Poland (1939) and then saw Britain and France declare war while the United States declared its neutrality and later launched Blitzkrieg and invaded Belgium and France (1940) and drove the BEF back across the English Channel at Dunkirk. During this Limited War period, the Axis will get the most Actions with 3 while the Western Allies only receive 2 and the USSR 2 respectively. Total War is entered into when the calendar moves into Winter 1942 when all side enter the conflict. In Total War, the Axis increase their Actions to 4 (an increase of just 1) while the Western Allies get 5 (a jump of 3 total Actions) and the USSR gets 3 (an increase of just 1). If you look at this number in context with the history, you realize why the game is called Downfall of the Third Reich. The numbers are simply against the Axis and it is important for them to work really hard in those first 2 years of the war to get a good lead and then hold on for dear life as the Allies storm back with a vengeance.

These Actions can be used to initiate several important aspects of the game including creating Supply (supply is used to move and fight armies as well as paying for Armor Production and launching Air and Submarine Missions), building up Reinforcements for the Major Powers, Armor Production, Air Missions, Submarine Missions (Axis only), Development of technology and Lend Lease (Allies only). In a turn, only one Action of each type can be performed, except the Allies who can perform two of each type in Total War (only one of Lend Lease) and the Soviet Union who can perform two Developments in 1943 turns and two Supply in 1944 turns. This limitation is very historical and takes into account all of the aspects mentioned before.

But, the key here with the Actions is not only using your owns Actions wisely and efficiently (the game is designed by an Economist and you must expect this aspect to be important) while also ensuring the Axis is attempting to deny the use of Actions by the Allies. From the outset of the game, the Axis player has to invade France, ready their forces on the East Front for the invasion of Russia while simultaneously developing advanced technologies and also launching Submarine Missions to take out shipping. All, with just 3 Actions. Pretty hard to do but very important. The use of Submarine Missions in the Battle of the Atlantic is key for the Axis as each turn that they place 2 Submarine Missions in the associated area, they will deny the Allies the use of 1 of their 2 Actions. This cuts the Allies in half and makes it so they cannot do what they need to do and buys the Axis time to buildup.

I like this concept and enjoyed trying to accomplish this while playing the Axis. It was very challenging. With just 3 Actions, and having to use 1 pretty much each turn to build up Supply and using 1 to develop technology it left me really with few choices about how to use those Actions. I would also say that launching Submarine Missions each turn is key. So how can I then built up by using an Action to build Reinforcements? Or get needed Armor Production to build tanks with those reinforcements? Or get Air Missions to aid in my attacks? It is just really hard with just 3 Actions in the early going and I found that my choices became somewhat predictable. On Turn 1 (Winter 1940), I would invest in Logistics to improve the amount of Supply that I would get from each Supply Action (7 with Logistics vs. just 5 without or an increase of 40%) by spending an Action to do Development. Then I would spend an Action on Submarine Missions to build 3 missions (I started with 2) so this gives me enough to lay missions for the first 2 turns to deny the Allies that 1 Action and then used my last Action for Armor Production getting 3 Armor points that can be used to build 3 steps of tanks during a later Reinforcement Action. Then I would follow that up in Turn 2 (Spring 1940) with the 2nd required Development Action to finish the Logistics, take a Supply Action to get a total of 7 Supply as the new technology works immediately and then take a Reinforcement Action to place new units on the Western Front to use to follow up an invasion of Belgium and France if taken during Turn 1 (you start with 5 Supply so can do some limited movement and attacks) or to begin the buildup on the East Front.

The efficiency part of the design spoke to my heart as I do believe in that concept in games. If you act efficiently, you will gain greater advantage than your opponent and theoretically do better. But there is a lot that has to be done and you are so limited it makes it hard to be efficient. But you must stick with it and continue doing what you need to do. In Turn 3, I would start developing Air Industry to increase the number of Air Missions you create with a single Air Mission Action, then develop more Submarine Missions followed by another Supply Action to get more fuel and bullets to move and attack again this time in North Africa as Italy will join the Axis once Belgium and France surrender and you can start making your way toward Suez to capture that point to deny 2 Supply Points to the Soviets when they take the Supply Action, which will slow them down.

Choices. Choices. Choices. And a real feeling of tension that I liked quite a lot.

Geography is Abstracted to Enforce the Historical Process

I wanted to expand my comments on the historical process a bit and share my thoughts about the geographical elements of the theater and how those were designed to somewhat guide the decision process. My comment will focus on the amphibious landing aspect of the design and how only certain areas can be used to do such a landing. Naval movement is a process where either side can move between 2 controlled coastal areas. Axis armies cannot cross the Strait of Gibraltar or move across the Black Sea. An Amphibious Landing is to move from a controlled coastal area to an uncontrolled coastal area. Without the development of Amphibious Landings this is only possible with one infantry army per turn and following Landing Lines drawn on the board that appear from England to France and from North Africa to Sicily and then from Sicily to mainland Italy. THe other guiding principle on landings is the idea of designated or plausible landing areas. These are identified by the letter D in various shapes including squares, circles and pentagons. The key element to understand is the idea of moving from a controlled area to another controlled area. You simply cannot land on areas that are not controlled by the Allies or their minor nation allies. This has turned much of the board into a no landing zone and I am fine with this concept as it makes for the process of planning and building toward these landings necessary.

What I am trying to say is that in order for the Allies to land in the Balkans, they will have to ensure that their Greek allies have survived and are still in control of those lands. If not, and the Italians, Romanians, Bulgarians or Hungarians have moved into Greece and now control it, the Allies will have to push on Italy and attempt to land first on Sicily followed then by an attempted amphibious landing at Naples. This abstract concept of control simply makes the game a bit more manageable, especially considering the Grand Strategic Scale. I am not fully sold on this choice, but I must admit that is made the game a bit more scripted than I would have liked. I say that but fully understand the historical ramifications of these attempted landing decisions. When armies cross bodies of water to invade enemy territory, they have to have ready access to supply, support and reinforcements once the beach heads are secure. There are geographical areas that are more suited to this aspect because they have deep water, have good protective terrain or are closer to supply sources than others.

The next point I wish to bring forth, and I think this was a shrewd design choice, was the makeup of the East Front and the different areas. I love how different designers layout the spaces for the East Front in these type of area movement games. If you look at the picture below, you will see that there are 6 different areas on the Soviet side of the East Front and 6 spaces on the German side. But, of those 6 on the German side, three of them are manned by the minor powers of Hungary and Romania. The part that I find really interesting is the 4 Soviet spaces that line up against just the 3 German spaces. This really makes for a quandary for the attacking Germans.

Riga and Vilnius are positioned such that any single attack from Konigsberg from the German side can be counter attacked. This quandary is also exacerbated by the good terrain found there for the Germans with the forest which adds a combat factor in defense and if they attack out of it they will lose that defensive benefit. The Germans have to commit a good number of resources to attack this front and must have a capable backup force in waiting in Breslau to move up and fill the hole left by the German armies leaving Warsaw and Tarnow. This is a real tough nut to crack and lots of planning and preparation has got to go into this attack. The Germans should also have at least 4-6 available Air Missions to assist in strengthening their attacks. I just really love the tough decision that this layout creates and think it is a very important part of the design incorporating the geography into the decision space.

Combat is Simple

In a Grand Strategic game, you have to remember your forces are huge and there are a not a lot of tactical choices about combat. It if basically armies clashing against each other with a few bonuses for Air Missions or defensive terrain benefits. You wont see combined arms bonuses or size bonuses for larger armies. Combat in the game is well done and works for the scale. The core concept of a combat is that it is army-to-army and are resolved after all moves have been made into a territory containing enemy units. You don’t add combat factors of all units participating and then compare that to the defending unit’s combat factors but it is one on one combat between counters. In the case where the attacker has more armies than the defender does, the extra armies can be activated by spending a Supply to passively lend support to the attacks of the other armies. All armies have an attack support factor of +2 when they are on their full side and +1 when reduced. Amphibious Landing armies cannot support other armies in the case where there more attacking armies than defending.

One distinction with combat is that Allied and Soviet armies cannot attack the same Axis army in the same turn.

The process of combat is very simple. The players will simply have to calculate what is referred to as the Adjusted Combat Factors of the attacking and defending armies. This is calculated by taking the Army Combat Factor and adding +2 for each supporting army in the attack. If an Air Mission is used, the player will then add +2 for the attacking Air Mission and remember than no more than 1 Air Mission can be used per combat. In fact, if the defender uses one of their Air Missions in that combat they will simply cancel each other out. The Defender then calculates their Army Combat Factor and adds in any bonus for the Terrain, Fortress or Fortified Line found in the defending area.

After the calculations of the Adjusted Combat Factors is complete, each player will then roll a single D6 and add the roll value to their Adjusted Combat Factor which then leads to the final combat score. It is important to remember that German armor in the Soviet Union but not in Forest, Swamp or Mountain terrain and the Afrika Korps and British armor in Africa, have the ability to turn a die roll of 1 or 2 into a result of 3. Really very simple and straightforward but I like how it works.

Combat results are simple as well. The highest Adjusted Combat Factor score will win the combat and will have to take 1 casualty by flipping the attacking army from their full to reduced side or eliminates it if it was already reduced. The defeated army receives 2 casualties. If the defeated army was a reduced army, the winning army receives no casualties and also the winner receives no casualties if its score doubles the defeated army. In the case of a tie, each of the armies will receive 1 casualty. We did continue to forget that reduced units will not force a loss on the attacker though.

I think that the strength of the combat system is in its simplicity and the fact that is has no frills. Once again, remember that this is Grand Strategy and you normally don’t have a lot of other elements included in the combat calculation. I did find that it was important to really choose your combats carefully though. Because you will take a casualty if you attack, you really are looking for ways to double up your opponent. This can only be done with supporting armies and Air Missions so it is much harder to accomplish in real life. Sometimes you simply have to bite the bullet, brace for the worst and hope that your dice are favorable and your opponent’s are not!

Technology Building is Really Great

I would have to say that the Technology portion of the game is the best part. I have always enjoyed the concept of having a tech tree and the ability to improve your units over the course of a game and the Grand Strategic scale is the perfect canvas for this aspect to be included into the game. The Technology is pretty simple and each side will start with a few of these already developed. For the Axis, they have Blitzkrieg, which allows them to trace supply through their own units in an enemy controlled space, and Aviation, which allows for 2 Air Missions to be created. The Development Action consists of placing a tile on the Developments in Progress Box of the map. If the tile has previously been placed in the box, another Development Action, in a later turn, removes the tile and makes the development available. Developments become effective the moment they are completed. The really great part about this process is that you turn these tiles upside down so that you can keep them secret from your opponent. I do wish there more options and more impactful options as they only ones that seemed to be really great were the Logistics (gaining 7 Supply vs. 5 when taking the Supply Action), Air Industry (gaining 4 Air Missions vs. just 2 when taking the Air Missions Action), Tank Industry (gaining 5 Amor Points vs. just 3 when taking the Tanks Action) and Advanced Tanks which gives tanks more firepower.

The Allies cannot use the Development Action in 1940, which gives the Axis a bit of a head start but it didn’t really seem to matter that much. Overall a nice addition to the game that added some depth and thought about how to do what was required but I think it could have had some more flair. A little bit more added pop. Just my thought.

Do the Germans have a Realistic Chance of Winning?

My one real issue with the game is that I am not sure the Germans really have a chance at winning. The victory condition for the Allies is that they have to force the Germans to surrender by the end of the game, which is 22 full turns. If Germany surrenders on the last turn, it is considered to be a draw. If Germany surrenders before the last turn, the war ends and the Allies and the Soviet Union win the game. If at the end of the last turn Germany has not surrendered, the Axis win the game. That is it. Pretty simple and it truly reinforces the name of the game (Downfall of the Third Reich) as there should be no delusion that the Germans are going to run roughshod over the Allies and dominate the whole of the European continent. It just isn’t going to happen that way. The numbers are not there and time is their enemy as the Soviets will build up units and send a continual wave of men and machines clashing against the space German forces on the meatgrinder that is the East Front.

Once Total War is entered, and the United States gets into the war, the Axis will be under assault from both the east and west and will have to simply try to stand up to the attacks as best they can, making each area claimed by the Allies have a high price so they will have to reinforce and put their Actions and resources into coming back for the next attack. This is not a fair fight. And I think that a game that did make it a fair fight would not be one that I am interested in. But, my one concern with the game was that as the Axis I put so many resources into trying to take Suez and in conquering France and Belgium (I had really bad first turn rolls), and I was never able to get Operation Barbarossa to kickoff in time enough to push the Soviet Union and make it hard on them. IN fact, I only was able to take 2 total Soviet areas and control them for a few turns until their 8 Reinforcement Points could be used to bring too many units to the front for the Axis to handle.

I have read posts on Board Game Geek and notes from the designer where they claim that nearly every game comes down to the final few turns but our game was pretty much decided by Turn 16 at the end of 1943. I would like to give it another try and possibly not be as aggressive as the Axis in trying to conduct Operation Sea Lion and in taking Suez in North Africa but spend more time on getting into the East Front and attempting to knock Russia out of the game and force them to have to fight for their lives. I just question how different the game will turn out. I know I said my first turn was a bit rough, as I was only able to get Belgium to surrender and Nancy in France to fall, but I could do better there and then turn my focus to the East Front. I really feel that the victory conditions need to be retooled. I hate to say that about games but it just doesn’t seem very achievable. And the game is pretty solid with that exception. Just my 2 cents!


Overall, I had a good time with Downfall of the Third Reich. This was a new designer (Victor Catalá) and a new company (doit games) for us and I was really very impressed with the production quality of the game. The board is mounted, the counters are simple yet nice and functional, the board looked really great on the table and the game came with a nice little counter tray. The rules needed some work though. And it wasn’t just in translation but some of the points were simply not totally clear and we had to make our best guess. The player aid was a big disappointment as it more often than not referred you back to the rule book without a great deal of detail.

The game is highly playable, and creates some interesting moments and quandaries but is a bit long taking about 4 hours for the first play and possibly 30 minutes quicker in subsequent plays. I would have liked this one to come in at around 2 to 2 1/2 hours as that seemed to be a more appropriate time length for the style of game. I would definitely play again and we also have the other game in the Downfall Series called Downfall of Empires that takes a look at WWI in Europe and I am looking forward to breaking that one out later this year during our Guns of August event.

If you are interested, you can read our interview with the designer at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2022/02/28/interview-with-victor-catala-designer-of-downfall-of-the-third-reich-from-doit-games-coming-to-kickstarter-february-28th/

Also, if you are interested in a copy of the game, you can order from the doit games website at the following link: https://doitgames.com/shop/index.php?id_product=111&rewrite=downfall-of-empires-kickstarter&controller=product&id_lang=1