Rise and Decline of the Third Reich

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Avalon Hill 3rd Edition cover

Rise and Decline of the Third Reich or more commonly Third Reich is a grand strategy wargame covering the European theater of World War II designed by John Prados, and released in 1974 by Avalon Hill. Players take on the roles of major powers—Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States—from 1939 to 1946.

The game was popular because of the balance between economics, politics, and land, sea, air and strategic warfare. Players can try alternative strategies (e.g., a German invasion of Spain or the United Kingdom). The game is complex and can take many hours to complete.

At Origins 1975, Rise and Decline of the Third Reich won the Charles S. Roberts Award for Best Professional Game of 1974.[1] Revised editions of the game were published in the 1980s.

A further redesign of the game, Advanced Third Reich, was published in 1992, followed by a Pacific theater counterpart Empire of the Rising Sun in 1995; in 2003, yet another redesign of these two games was published by GMT Games as A World At War. In 2001, Avalanche Press released a separate new version, more closely resembling the original game, known as John Prados' Third Reich.


The game normally starts in Fall 1939, although scenarios are provided for starting in 1942 and 1944 (the latter is recommended for learning purposes). Each quarterly turn (Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter) represents three months of real time.


Each major power has a pool of Basic Resource Points (BRPs - sometimes pronounced "burps"),[2] to represent economic power, and used to build units, declare war (35 BRPs to declare war on a major power, 10 to declare war on a minor power), or offensives (15 BRPs). The side with more BRPs moves first, so by economising the previous season, a player may gain a "flip-flop" and make two consecutive moves, possibly allowing a devastating offensive. A Double Turn across winter 1939/40 is common: Germany moves first in Fall 1939, reduces her BRP total by building lots of units, so moves second in Winter, then first again in Spring 1940 as her BRP level refreshes, allowing a spectacular German offensive in the West. Italy's BRPs are included with Germany's even when still neutral, but US and Soviet BRPs are not included until they join the Allies, requiring careful play around the initiative change in the mid-war.

The annual Year Start Sequence ("YSS") begins with strategic warfare in an off-map box. German U-Boats fight Allied Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) factors - ASW become more effective later in the war. Allied bombers, which are not as cheap or effective as U-Boats, fight German interceptors, or German air factors withdrawn from the map. Excess bombers or U-boats eliminate enemy BRPs. After Strategic Warfare each power receives BRPs equal to its economic base, which may increase or decrease by a percentage of the unused BRPs at year-end (the growth rates are 60% for USA, 50% for Germany, 40% for Britain, 30% for the USSR and 20% for Italy - any extra are lost, so saving BRPs to increase the base is not sensible for Italy). Extra BRPs are received for minor countries controlled; a conquered major power (France or Italy after surrender) is treated as a minor worth half her BRP base. Germany, Britain and the USA may then spend up to 10% of their totals on strategic warfare for next year. Each major power's per-turn spending limit is half the total remaining after Strategic Warfare. Britain has a base of 125 BRPs, but as any BRP deficit from Strategic Warfare reduces the base, she often has to set aside half her BRPs to absorb U-Boat losses in mid-war. Germany begins with a base of 150 BRPs, but in mid-war will often have 300 or more BRPs including conquests, and after building all her forces may have enough of a surplus to see her base increase sharply.

Countries may transfer BRPs to one another (Italy may give her spare BRPs to Germany for the high growth rate). Allied aid to the USSR, usually sorely needed, must go via Murmansk (the Germans may oppose these transfers with naval, air and U-boat battles in an off-map box), or Lend-Lease via Persia (certain to arrive, but taking an extra turn to reach the USSR, with an initial one-off payment need to open up the pipeline).

Land movement and combat[edit]

Most counters in the game represent corps, or Soviet armies roughly the size of other countries' corps. In general two counters may stack in a hexagon, or five on a bridgehead (a bridgehead provides unlimited supply for the first post-combat supply phase, and supply may be traced to it in subsequent turns as if it were a port). Only armour units have a Zone of Control, which costs an extra two movement points to pass through (German and US armour have 6 movement points per turn, enabling them to move through two zones of control, other countries' armour units only 5; US armour units, and the two German SS Panzer corps added in 1943, also have 5 strength points rather than the usual 4). British and US infantry have 4 movement points rather than 3, reflecting their higher degree of motorisation. Units remain the same throughout the game, as both sides copied one another's technological advances throughout the war.

Combat is completely voluntary. Units are always at least doubled on defence (exception: German units in the first winter after their attack on Russia). Terrain, which has no effect on movement, triples units on defence, while fortresses (Maginot Line, Westwall, Gibraltar, Malta, Leningrad and Sevastopol) quadruple them. Each combat may result in the complete elimination of either side, or an exchange, or a compulsory counterattack, either at face value (i.e. ignoring terrain effects) or at odds dictated by the table. A 2:1 attack is almost certain to succeed (albeit with some risk of an exchange), with only a 1 in 36 chance of an "attacker eliminated" - the dreaded roll of 4, followed by 6.[3] An attack at odds of 3:1 or greater is guaranteed to succeed, the only uncertainty being whether or not the defender will be eliminated outright or inflict some exchange losses.

If the defender is eliminated, victorious attacking units may advance after combat into the hex. Provided at least one attacking unit was armour, any other armour unit which did not attack, but which was adjacent to an attacking unit, may now be placed on the newly gained hex (the "breakthrough hex"). These armoured units may then "exploit", i.e. move again, provided they keep to a chain with no more than one empty hex between each unit, and then attack - a key tactic in surrounding enemy units. There is no limit to the number of armour units which may stack on or attack from the original breakthrough hex, provided the overstack is rectified by the end of the turn. Breakthrough against an empty enemy-controlled hex is not allowed, but a key position can be attacked by obtaining an overstacked armoured breakthrough against a weakly held hex adjacent to it.

An alternative type of combat is "attrition". The attacker totals the land factors in contact with the enemy (air units play no part). The die roll may require the enemy to lose counters (major countries have replacement units - immobile single-factor infantry units - used to garrison remote areas or to remove to fill attrition losses, apart from the USSR which has many cheap single-factor infantry armies) or hexes - the attacker may not choose a capital, red objective city or bridgehead. The defender may eliminate units from a hex to prevent it being chosen for attrition occupation. There are three fronts (East, West and Mediterranean) on the map; in a multi-player game, attrition may only be selected if all players of one side choose that option for that front - if one player wants to take an offensive, his allies must do the same or else pass (neither movement into enemy-controlled hexes nor combat allowed).


Each country has a prescribed "forcepool", which lists "allowable builds" as well as forces initially on the map (around a quarter of Germany's forces start the game on the map - for other countries the proportion is much higher). Units built each turn appear at once in the home country (except a rebuilt 9-factor fleet - see below). Infantry costs 1 BRP per factor, armour 2 BRPs per factor, and air, naval and paratroop units 3 BRPs per factor (e.g. 15 BRPs for a whole air unit). In Winter 1941 and the early turns of 1942 the USSR may - for a stiffening in her victory conditions - build some units for free (the "Siberian Transfer", only half of which may be armour) representing transfer of troops from the Manchurian garrison after Japan goes to war with the USA. Most countries add a few new units to their force pool in 1942. The USSR's forces are initially feeble, but she adds more powerful infantry and armour units in 1942. Germany adds some new armour and infantry units in 1943 and 1944.

After construction each country may strategically redeploy a certain number of units. SR is not permitted adjacent to enemy units, so a 3-hex corridor is needed. SR from Britain into the Mediterranean requires either two fleets (via Gibraltar - one of the fleets must be based there) or else 2 SRs and a one-turn delay (via the Cape of Good Hope). The USA also has an Initial Deployment Limit, which restricts how many units may be moved by SR each turn from the USA (shown as a box in the top-left of the map) to its main base in Europe (normally Britain). Germany's SR limit (9), although large, is not enough to cope with war on three fronts from 1944 - rebuilt Hungarian units can take a year to walk back to the Eastern Front - and can be a key factor in her collapse in the late game.

Supply may not be traced through zones of control, even if the hexes in question are occupied by friendly units. Unsupplied units cannot move, and are eliminated after the construction phase, and cannot be rebuilt in the same turn in which they are lost (unless the owning player deliberately loses them in poor-odds attacks).

Air warfare[edit]

Paratroops do not count for stacking, and negate the effect of rivers, but are lost permanently if not adjacent to a friendly unit when eliminated. They may also drop during armoured exploitation. For the first half of the game the German FallSchirmJaeger Corps is the only paratroop unit on the map. Britain and Italy each add a paratroop corps to their forcepools in 1942 (the USSR adds two slightly weaker ones); the USA also has a paratroop corps in her forcepool.

Up to five air factors may base at a city, or at an airbase counter (each major power has three of these, one of which may be placed each turn - once placed it can only be moved by SR or relocated to the country's capital if out of supply). Initially Germany has 6 air units and Italy 2 (i.e. 40 factors), against three British and two French (i.e. 25 factors). By the end of the war 5 German air units (i.e. 25 air factors, assuming some have been transferred to fight Allied bombers) might be facing 5 US, 4 British and 3 Soviet (i.e. 60 air factors). Air units may be voluntarily split up, and single factors may be rebuilt provided they are combined by SR to form a complete air unit.

Air units may "stage" (move between bases up to twice their combat range - during staging or SR they may fly across water up to their combat range) and still be used for combat. Air units may Counterair (attack enemy air at their bases - British air factors in Malta may decline combat but must be inverted if they do so), give Ground Support to attackers (including exploiting armour) or Defensive Air Support. For Ground Support or DAS air factors up to three times the face value of the ground forces may be added; these factors can be removed as part of an exchange, to allow the survival of ground units, or may be eliminated if that side loses the combat altogether. While the attacker may intercept DAS, a numerically superior defender cannot add extra factors to this air battle; a common house rule was to allow the defender to fly "escorts" to fight off interceptors.

In air combat from counterair or interception each side rolls a die, the larger force adding the number of factors by which his force exceeds the smaller. Italy, France and USSR add a Die Roll Modifier of -1 and minor countries -2. The difference in the rolls is the number of factors lost by the defender - the winner loses half as many; in the event of a tie both sides lose factors equal to a third die roll. Used air units are inverted for the rest of the turn. It is sensible to keep air units out of counterair range, especially inverted units which count for zero in combat. Air superiority is vital in offensives, and the cost of rebuilding air factors is a major drain on BRPs.

Naval warfare[edit]

Each major power has generic 9-factor fleets: Britain has 10, Italy 5, Germany 4 (2 on the board at the start), France and the USSR 3 each. Four fleets (36 factors) may base at a single port. They may not be voluntarily split up and only whole fleets may be rebuilt (at a cost of 27 BRPs, and with a one-year delay).

Fleets may carry supply, may carry ground units for invasions (3 factors to carry each ground factor, i.e. a whole fleet to carry an infantry corps - a beach hex containing a port may not be invaded if a 9-factor fleet is in the hex), may give shore bombardment (3 naval factors count as one ground factor in invasions or attacks on coastal fortresses), may sea transport (carry ground units in the combat phase, 2 factors per ground factor - Germany often transports units into Latvia) or may sea escort (a whole 9-factor fleet to help a single ground unit SR over water).

Interception (determined by a die roll) is less likely to succeed over longer distances. Combat is similar to air combat (including similar national DRMs; Germany has a DRM of +2, Britain +1 and Italy -1), with losses multiplied for size in large battles. Unlike air combat no losses are taken in the event of ties, and naval units assisting ground attacks are seldom required to take losses. SR may not be intercepted so naval combat is quite rare.


Finland, Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria (Bulgarian units may not enter the USSR) enter the game in 1941 as German minor allies, their troops controlled and paid for by Germany. Their entry may be delayed by Britain or the USSR granting them BRPs as "Foreign Aid". Turkey activates as a British minor ally in 1945 if not already involved in the war. Other small countries, if attacked, may become "Associated Minors" (Poland is a British Associated Minor in 1939), whose units may be rebuilt by her patron but which may not move more than one hex beyond their home country.

Each player may draw one of ten "variants". Many of these were minor amendments to the force pools, e.g. extra French armor units instead of the Maginot Line. Two of the German variants were potential game-throwers, allowing Spain (and hence seizure of Gibraltar and transfer of Italian fleet to the Atlantic, prior to invasion of Britain) or Turkey to join the Axis. The fourth edition diluted the chances of this happening by adding an extra 10 for each side, including "Hitler Assassinated" (requiring Germany to pass for a turn, with a chunk of her BRPs frozen).

Minor countries are conquered at once if their capital is captured. Britain, Italy, Germany and France have a turn to recapture their capital, although only France is allowed only those counterattacks which have at least some chance of success. This prevents French suicide attacks, as half France's remaining forces (including naval factors, which return to Marseilles) form the new pro-German state of Vichy France. The British player rolls separately to determine whether French North Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) and Syria become Vichy French or Free French (some Free French units may join the British force pool). Vichy French units are removed from the game when the Allies deactivate her by die roll.

The USSR is not conquered on the loss of Moscow, but may be forced to offer to surrender (see below); if this one-off offer, which still leaves part of the map under Soviet control, is refused then the USSR is eliminated only on the loss of her last unit. The USA cannot be conquered but will end the war at once if all France, Britain and the USSR are conquered (a Soviet surrender does not count as a "conquest" although American chances in the absence of Britain and France, the USSR having surrendered, would be minimal).

French units may not stack with British units - they may commit Ground Support to each other's attacks, as this flies over the German defenders, but not Defensive Air Support - nor may British units enter Paris nor the Maginot Line, but they may conduct joint attacks. France is controlled by the Soviet player if there is no separate French player. Soviet units may not stack or combine with Western Allied units for combat, although the Allies may send a small expeditionary force (of no more than ten factors, i.e. about three corps) to fight in the USSR - this facility was removed from later versions of the game system. Britain and the USA share victory conditions, and their units may always stack and fight together.

The Allies may build partisans, forcing Germany to garrison Belgrade and Athens to prevent BRP loss. Partisans may also be built in the USSR or France. A common house rule was to allow partisans in Poland to represent the Warsaw Uprising.

In 1939 Germany sets up last of the major powers, and has a free offensive against Poland. The Soviets may then seize "Eastern Europe" (Eastern Poland, Bessarabia and the Baltic States), which prevents Germany moving in on the Baltic States which would put her forces dangerously close to Leningrad.

The Axis player has a free choice as to when Italy enters the war, and up to 10 Italian combat factors (often including an air unit or the two small Italian armored corps) may be "lent" to participate for free in German offensives. Italy may declare war during the battle of France, allowing Italian air units to be lent to Germany or for German panzer corps to execute (or threaten) a thrust south of the Alps. In the 1981 and subsequent editions Italy may surrender (as in reality) once there are no Axis units in North Africa (Germany may thwart this by a sneaky invasion of Casablanca), and the Allies have the initiative, control Sicily (or both Sardinia and Corsica) and a foothold on the Italian mainland. Control of Italian hexes (other than ones the Allied player has taken control of) passes to the German player, along with the elite Italian Folgore paratroop unit (which can still stack for free but must now fight as ground troops) and a few (determined by a die roll) Italian naval factors. All other Italian units are removed from the game.

The USSR may not declare war on Germany prior to 1942, provided Germany maintains a sufficient garrison on the Eastern Front (i.e. Finland, East Prussia and occupied Poland). The USA may declare war on Germany (sic - in reality Hitler declared war on the USA) in Spring 1942.

Soviet surrender depends on the size of forces in USSR, although there is a BRP penalty for loss of Moscow and/or Leningrad. Britain suffers a similar penalty for loss of Gibraltar and/or Suez, but surrenders if the Axis capture London. More detailed rules for British surrender (including a provision for some British forces to fight on under US control) were published in the "General" Magazine Volume 18 Number 5.

In a two-player game, Allied victory is determined by how quickly they eliminate the Axis powers, while Germany wins by conquering Britain or the USSR (both for a decisive victory), or can win a marginal victory by controlling 28 objectives in late 1943. In a multi-player game the Western Allies (i.e the USA and Britain jointly) and Soviets separately tally the number of objective cities they control; the French or Italian players "win" by surviving longer than their real-life counterparts.


Third Reich was a favourite at conventions and in Avalon Hill's magazine, The General, with intricate tactics known to experienced players. Paratroops may capture a port, allowing reinforcements to be SRd in, provided another fleet carries supply. Up to three British units may stack in London (in the 4th Edition), to prevent its seizure by German paratroops with massive air support. A double line of defenders blocks armoured exploitation (unless paratroops make a hole in the second line). Paratroops may negate the effect of a river in combat, but a bridgehead, allowing overstacking, may still be placed - useful in taking Warsaw or Paris. Armour, automatically supplied the turn after exploitation (although they may not exploit again unless they can trace supply in the normal way - the same is true of paratroops in the turn after they have dropped) may exploit behind friendly lines to defend against an enemy double-turn. If France places a tank corps in the Maginot Line, Germany must garrison the Rhine with three corps, which otherwise cannot be built in a Zone of Control. Helsinki is not a port so Germany has no way of getting a corps to Finland unless it sets up there. The Germans can take Oslo with paratroops (from an airbase in Denmark) then transfer them to the Hague to threaten both London and Paris; once Norway is conquered, a German 9-factor fleet in Bergen prevents a British invasion. Germany may use air units in the west in 1940 then transfer them to East Prussia as inverted air factors count towards the required garrison. Germany needs to put a replacement in Ploesti to keep the USSR out of Romania before 1941. Partisans can be used to increase an attrition total on a front or to isolate a beach garrison in the Adriatic. Germany may attack the USSR early (e.g. Winter 1940) to get the First Russian Winter out of the way, but the 3rd Edition allowed Russia to defer the effects of the Russian Winter until the following Winter if the initial German foray was weak enough.

The Soviets, short of things to do before 1941, may invade Turkey - generally a bad idea as it opens another route of German attack, and if left alone Turkey joins the Western Allies in 1945 anyway. Other suggestions included the "crapshoot" (a German attack on France in 1939 if the French player has set up carelessly), an Italian invasion of Turkey, a British invasion of Italy in 1939, the "Spanish Gambit" (a German invasion of Spain to seize Gibraltar, making East European minor countries less likely to join the Germans but possibly allowing the Italian navy to help invade Britain), and the "shotgun" (a vicious German offensive against the USSR over a double turn).


Rise and Decline of the Third Reich saw four editions, which cleaned up inaccuracies and ambiguities in the units (2nd edition), map (3rd edition), and rules (4th edition). Because some elements were not changed in some editions, the labels did not always match; the 4th edition was labeled on the box as 3rd edition despite having 4th edition rules.

At the start of 1986 Avalon Hill published a Gamers Guide to Third Reich. This featured Designers Notes, stressing the game's focus on economics, air and armour (in that order), and mentioning that Prados' original draft had been at division-level with a much larger number of air points, making it an exercise in "finger dexterity". There were also several strategy articles, many of them written by Marcus Watney and many of which had previously appeared in The General, outlining plans for German attacks on France & Yugoslavia, an Italian attack on Yugoslavia, and British, French and Soviet defences against German attack. There was also a discussion of the game's portrayal of economics, and a draft diplomacy system, a later version of which would be included in Advanced Third Reich. The guide criticised the unrealistic weakness of the late war Soviets in BRPs, air and armour units.

Draft rules for British surrender, with some free British forces potentially fighting on from Canada (ie. the US box), were published in The General (Vol 18 No 5). Further draft rule changes by Robert Beyma were also published in that magazine in the mid 1980s, giving the Soviets a few extra air and armour units later in the game, and extra BRPs for control of key cities (several of them in the Urals), and causing the US forcepool to arrive in three annual tranches (1942-4), making a massive landing in France in 1942 as unfeasible as it was in reality. These and other rule changes, including a version of the diplomacy system trailed in the Gamers' Guide, were developed and incorporated into a new version, Advanced Third Reich (1992), designed by Bruce Harper, which also brought together many variants and revised maps. Empire of the Rising Sun (1995), a Pacific theater counterpart to Advanced Third Reich, included rules for aircraft carriers and research (eg. of air ranges, torpedo effectiveness and atomic bombs), as well as rules to combine the games to simulate the whole of World War II around the globe.

Avalon Hill's Computer Third Reich was a computer version of the wargame. Computer Gaming World, in 1992, stated that the AI opponent offered a "sufficient challenge for beginners"; good at finding weak points in opponents but not always good at choosing the right ways to exploit them. The magazine recommended the computer version to those who wanted to learn the game but could not find local opponents, but suggested that experienced players only buy it to play by mail.[4]

A combination of Advanced Third Reich and Empire of the Rising Sun, initially designated "Global War 2000", began development with rules and components posted online, publicly available for anyone who might want to be a playtester and might offer feedback. This was eventually published by GMT Games in 2003, as A World At War. The game's development continues, with updated rules and components available online.

At the same time, Avalanche Press was developing a variation known as John Prados' Third Reich. Designed by Brian L. Knipple and published by Avalanche Press, it has distinctly different mechanics from Rise and Decline of the Third Reich, although it is simpler and resembles the original more closely than the GMT version.


In the November 1981 edition of Dragon (Issue #55), Tony Watson reviewed the updated third edition game components that had just been released, specifically a new map, new rules and new force-pool cards. He found changes to the map to be minor, but changes to the rules to have a major impact on the game, especially in air and naval combat and strategic warfare. Watson recommended that Third Reich players get the new components, saying, "Though some of the new rules take a little getting used to..., once they are understood they prove out to be changes for the better. It would seem that it is possible to improve upon a good thing, and the folks at Avalon Hill should be commended for caring enough to take another look at one of their products."[5]

In popular culture[edit]

Roberto Bolaño's novel The Third Reich features a war game champion that specialized in playing Rise and Decline of the Third Reich.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "List of Winners (1974)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-11-05. Retrieved 2007-10-29.
  2. ^ Gamers' Guide to Third Reich, 1986, pp2-6
  3. ^ a roll of 4 at 2:1 odds requires a counterattack at 1:1 odds; a roll of 6 at 1:1 eliminates the defender (i.e. the original attacker in this case)
  4. ^ Lee, Wyatt (August 1992). "Avalon Hill's "Computer Third Reich"". pp. 116–117. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
  5. ^ Watson, Tony (November 1981). "A classic is given more class". Dragon. TSR, Inc. (55): 66–67.

External links[edit]