This is the game that came with Paper Wars 77 by Compass Games. The designer is Dave Murray, and the topic is the WW2 battle for Anzio and environs from the landings in January 1944, up to March 1944.
Each turn is one day, each hex is “3.5 miles square”, and units are battalions, regiments, and brigades.
The graphics presentation is good. I liked the double width combat counters and the large hexes on the map. The rules and support materials are good – there are separate player aid charts in the center of the rules, bound into the magazine. I did have one or two queries, but nothing that stopped me from playing the game and having a few runs through of the first scenario to teach me the basics. If I have a problem with the rules and the game system, it’s the Editorial Approach. I will come back to that.
The game turn sequence starts with Weather (a die roll that may affect availability of Army assets), Supply (check for supply and then receive new Supply Points), Reinforcement (new arrivals) and Command (receive new Command Points) before getting to the meat: Operations.
The Initiative Player (determined by scenario) starts by spending 1 Command Point (CP) to do something, That ‘something’ can be:
- Activate Army Asset (2 are activated for the 1 CP)
- Emergency Reorganization (Recovery of Combat Capability)
- Activate Units in a Hex
- Activate a Formation
After completing his action, the Initiative Player may go again, but it costs him 2 CP. As CP are not widely available, my guess is this will be rare. If the non Initiative Player goes, he has the same choice of actions, with the added option of claiming the Initiative.
Depending on the type of Activation, the player receives a certain number of Operational Actions, (OA). For example, the player may activate all the units in a hex and spend either 1 Supply Point to give them 1 OA, or 2 Supply Points (SP) to give them 2 OA. Similarly, the players can activate Divisions and give them Limited Operations – a pool of 1 OA for each unit – or Major Operations – a pool of 2 OA for each unit. The system allows activation of independent units, too, and gives the German player the ability to activate ad-hoc units as a Kampfgruppe.
Activation Example: I activate a Division with 3 units in a Major Operation. That gives me 6 OA. I can then use the OA on whatever of the units I wish, with no limit on how many each unit may use an OA. I can move a unit for an OA, recover some strength for another, and attack for yet another. Movement includes the option of taking up a defensive or an attack frontage. (Though multiple movement degrades Combat Capability.)
You will notice I said Combat Capability. That brings me back to the question of Editorial Approach. Why use Combat Capability and not Combat Strength or Combat Factor? Does there need to be a new name? It seemed unnecessary to me. It’s also related to how losses are measured.
Losses can be permanent or temporary. The game uses two different colored markers for these. For example, if a 10 strength unit has taken 2 temporary losses and 1 permanent loss, it will (if I have this right) be marked with a temporary strength of 7 (for the 3 losses) and a permanent strength of 9 (reflecting the 1 permanent loss). So, the player knows he can build the unit back up from 7, but no higher than 9.
It works, but it is just a bit fiddly. I admire the approach, but am not sure about the effort involved matching the return. For sure, the game teaches you about the importance of fresh units, and a reserve. For example, moving from Zone of Control to Zone of Control (though there are none in the game; it’s just my further comment on the Editorial Approach!) costs a 1 drop in TCC (Temporary Combat Capability). Advances, retreats and falling back can also incur TCC reductions.
[I forgot to mention that stacking is limited to 5 Size Factors, which will be a maximum of two units. Again, why use a term like Size Factors? What is wrong with Stacking Points or Steps?]
Combat also follows a unique approach; one I have not seen before. Instead of a CRT, there is a Combat Grid. The attacker and the defender each get a number of chits to play on the grid. The attacker starts, and when he finishes laying his chits (or reaches an edge), the defender puts his chits down. The attacker then adds any left over. The space the last chit is in determines the result.
The number of chits reflects all the usual stuff like odds, armor, terrain, and so forth. And this is where the players get to use their off-board Divisional and Army Assets. (I like the reduction in counter clutter this achieves.) There is a die roll – for SNAFUs – but the maximum effect is to add or subtract 1 chit for each side. Oh, and it allows battle intensity to be reflected, as crossing into the right hand side of the grid to reach the bloodier results means the attacker must burn a SP (what if he does not have one?), and the less gruesome results mean the attacker gets back a SP. Hmm.
The results are split between Permanent and Temporary reductions in Combat Capability, with the defender being able to negate retreat results according to terrain and being in a defensive posture (straddling two hexes).
I think the system works, but it means each combat takes time. Too long for me. I would like to know what others feel.
I tested the game out by playing through the first scenario several times, solitaire. It is about the 30th January to 1st February battle for Cisterna, using only a portion of the map. The US 3rd Division and supports has to get to that town through a mixed bag of defenders. In three attempts, two were German Minor victories and one was an Allied Minor Victory.
Notwithstanding my personal dislike of the combat system and the step losses, I thought the game did what it was supposed to do. It gave me a fair impression of what I thought the battles should be liked, but this was all slog, slog, slog. In fairness, this was selected for its suitability as a solitaire training exercise, and there are five other scenarios which may offer more excitement. I do recommend trying this scenario out first, as mastering the techniques required in it will undoubtedly help in the bigger actions.
Overall I would rate this game as interesting, rather than exciting. The terminology – especially given the aforementioned Editorial Approach – was a bit confusing, at first, but I kept going, and did enjoy the success I finally achieved with the Allies. I would like to see the system put to other uses, but with a normal CRT and a different approach to the Temporary and Permanent losses stuff.