This was a truly fascinating and exciting match. Here is a brief recap:

AUG 36: Great battle for Gijon, which changes hands three times, finally secured by Insurgents with help of Regia Marina which sinks the entire Republican Atlantic Fleet. Another RM squadron helps a weak Insurgent force to secure Malaga, whose main garrison had taken to the hills in a futile foray against Granada. Basques and Santanderos on offensive, but attack on Pamplona fails. PA cavalry raiders from Cataluna penetrate into Zaragoza but are overcome. Teruel is surrounded.

SEP 36: Insurgents break through overextended Loyalist lines to seize Bilbao and San Sebastian. Santander falls soon after. Breakout of pocketed Basques southward to join main Loyalist forces in Aragon fails. Loyalists take Zaragoza and Huesca. teruel supply by air drops holds out.

OCT 36: Mop-up in the Biscay gobiernitos is completed. Insurgents secure Sierra Guadarrama (north of Madrid), recapture Toledo, take Guadalajara. Almeria changes hands three times and Insurgents advance to just short of Lorca. Loyalists finally overwhelm defenders of Teruel.

NOV 36: Insurgents shred front south of Madrid. Alcazar de San Juan on Madrid-Murcia rail line changes hands three times.

DEC 36: Insurgents cut last rail line into Madrid north of Cuenca. Loyalists abandon supply corridor to Madrid, hole up in city.

FEB 37: Madrid falls. Insurgents shift troops to start offensive in Aragon. At south front Lorca is taken.

MAR 37: Insurgents recapture Zaragoza.

APR 37: Insurgents Aragon offensive reaches Cinca river. Barcelona revolts.

JUN 37: Insurgents stop Aragon offensive, initiate new one south of Madrid, take Albacete.

AUG 37: Loyalist front in Murcia breaks, Legion Condor’s 88 Regiment races through gap to cut vital coast road at Alcira, just short of Valencia, hold out until relieved.

NOV-DEC 37: Cartagena-Murcia-Alicante pocket is liquidated.

JAN 38: Insurgents start new Aragon offensive along Ebro.

APR 38: Condor 88 Regiment reaches sea just south of Tortosa. Loyalist attempts to break through corridor to sea fail.

JUN 38: Tortosa falls.

JUL 38: Valencia pocket implodes, Loyalists retreat best units into city, Insurgents mop up everyone else. Lerida falls.

OCT 38: After months of slugging, Insurgents finally break into Cataluna’s last, Pasionaria defense line shielding Barcelona. Loyalist counterattack fails to restore front, which disintegrates.

NOV 38: Cataluna collapses. Last-minute Insurgent attack on Valencia fails. Loyalist government surrenders.

The highlights were the great battle for Gijon, the breakthrough to Bilbao and San Sebastian that broke the back of the northern front, the capture of Zaragoza by the Loyalists, the siege of Teruel, the envelopment and capture of Madrid, the Condors’ 88’s two races to the sea at Alcira and Tortosa, and the final shredding of the Pasionaria line.

This contest certainly had the drastic changes of pace typical for Bell Tolls Civil War games: from the chaotic scrambling at very low unit density and raids far behind porous font lines to consolidation of positions, to World War One-style slugging to crack entrenched defenses hex by hex, to eventual disintegration of one side’s front. Early on there was ample opportunity for daring maneuver. Then, when the Insurgents had gained the initiative, it was their choices of where in Spain to attack to best effect. The last phase then a head-on pounding of maximum-strength stacks against maximum-strength stack on an ever narrowing front.

Yes, with no longer any room to maneuver, that last phase would have been quite dull, had it not turned into a race against time with everything depending on a very few nail-biter die rolls. The Insurgents made it just under the wire, on the last turn of fair weather with their last combat engineers and almost last ASPs (only 2 were left) and just before the Loyalists would have started to collect VPs for Cataluna and then the central government not having collapsed.

Success in that race gave the Insurgents a lopsided VP score, two-and-a-half times as high as needed for a “decisive” victory (see below), properly reflecting the sorry state of their opponents at the end: control shrunk to only 3% of Spains area, 274 RE in the pool, the Fleet gone except for two LCs, the airforce down to two squadrons, all that as opposed to the Insurgents with only 3 RE in the pool (combat engineers), over 200 replacement points accumulated, the airforce completely intact, the Fleet still at respectable strength, nine factories producing. However, the score obscures how close-run the game actually was. If the Cataluna front had held for one more turn, weather would have put a stop to attacks (3:1 -3 at best is a recipe for attacker’s disaster), the Loyalists would have started to garner VPs every turn and, if they had held out until May, the score would have dropped to a “substantial” or even only “marginal” victory (ratios below 4:1 and 3:1, respectively). That “marginal” (ratio above 1.5:1) as a minimum was never in doubt, however.

Victory Point Score


current score Oct II 300
Cataluna collapse 20
enemy surrender 100
pacified cities held 222
enemy pool 274
surrendering enemy units 108
total 1024
current score Oct II 98
enemy pool 3
VP Ratio (Insurgents : Loyalists) 14:1


I believe both Elias and I at first underestimated one another. Even later on, our attacks were well planned and executed, but often did not fully anticipate possible enemy reaction. I learned a lesson early on at Gijon, Elias a little later when he lost Bilbao and San Sebastian, but neither of us ever quite overcame that tendency.

In retrospect, my greatest mistake was not to switch my trucks earlier from supply ferrying to motorizing artillery for support of my puny unsupported m/c units to threaten overruns in exploitation. I could have forced Elias earlier to provide stronger back-stops, to the detriment of his front-line strength. Elias overextended himself early on in the north and in an attempt to link up with the Basques along the French border, and paid for it. Also, I believe it was a mistake to have his strongest divisions in the mountains at Teruel, backed-up even though they had overrun-proof cadres (he even fortified the mountain hex on the Teruel-Valencia RR) and in a position they later on had to abandon without a fight. Second-line divisions could have held that spot, that fort would have been better placed in Cataluna, and the elite was later sorely missed there. Instead, the heavies then languished in Valencia, whose fall would not have materially affected the game. But then, he might give you an argument to the contrary.

The last phase with its predictable slugging on a four-hex front to which all of Spain had been reduced was exasperating except for the suspense of seeing how the die rolls would turn out. But that is not typical of Bell Tolls: Normally, if the Loyalists were swept from everywhere into so little a corner, they’d collapse from attrition in a very short time. In our game, Elias managed to avid losses in almost all major attacks. In these, his luck index (probability of faring so well or better) in the end stood at abour 1 in 1000, and that kept his front and the game alive for so long.

To be sure, that fantastic luck index pertains only to the one-per turn major Insurgent attacks in Aragon and Cataluna. Overall, things were much more even, with the Loyalists only slightly ahead. Specifically, luck was against the Loyalist in their counterattacks to break the corridor to the sea that cut off Valencia and to restore the last, Pasionaria line (they fumbled the chance of trying to break the corridor that formed the Cartagena-Murcia pocket) as well as in air-to-air combat and destruction of the Loyalist Fleet by naval combat, bombing, and submarines.

The last phase with Republican units rotated on limited supply from Barcelona city hexes required a fearsome amount of bookkeeping: about fifty units with eventually seven different states of the U-clock, and few stacks with units in fewer than four different such states. We might have saved ouselves some work by stipulating that everyone would be in full supply as long as the Loyalists would convert at least 4 ASP per turn to GSP, but then we could have run into trouble if, because of poor French-border rolls come December, the stockpile of ASPs in Cataluna had run out. The effect of the U-clock being reset by limited supply may be right, but someone should come up with a better idea how to achieve it.

This wrap-up would not be complete without my stressing that Elias and I played this game WITH, not AGAINST one another. This was a friendly game played for enjoyment, not for the sake of winning. We pointed out to one another obvious goofs or clerical errors rather than trying to exploit them, and the frequent differences in rule interpretation (once or twice in the other party’s favor!) were always quickly settled in a spirit of friendly cooperation. In Bell Tolls with its convoluted, disorganized, and not always unambiguous rules this is a must, but we went well beyond that call of duty. From among all the opponents I have played in decades, if I had to choose one for my next game, it would be Elias.

Well, here you’ve had my story. Elias might add a few words from his perspective of the game, maybe even point out some errors of mine I still haven’t realized. And if we ever play again, we’ll be sure to let you in on it.

this game report (c) 1999 Friedrich Helfferich