Piercing Fortress Europa19 May 2014 0
General Omar Bradley purportedly said: ?Amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics.? In his study of the Sicilian and Italian campaigns, Piercing Fortress Europa, veteran game designer Frank Hunter of Adanac Command Studies sets out to turn war gamers into professionals by focusing on supply rather than sheer battle rage. The question, though, is: Will this game be yet another exercise in counting oil cans, weapon crates and C-rations, or will it meld logistic considerations with combat functions?
Basic is the new Clarity
The graphics of the game are reminiscent of the old SPI folio boardgames. Terrain elevation is shown in four shades of brown while terrain type ? hilly, rough, etc. ? is indicated by mousing over the hex and reading the hex?s attributes in the bar below the map. The same bar also shows supply and fuel levels as well as available sea and air transport points. Major cities are shown as filling the entire hex with small rectangles while small cities are just black dots. Ports have anchor symbols with the maximum capacity next to them. Roads are simple white stretches and rivers are curving blue streams. Fortified places are denoted by a black-and-white sunburst counter. The map cannot be zoomed and is scrolled by the mouse on the map edge, vertical and horizontal slidebars and arrow keys.
Central Italy has a nice variety of terrain.
Important facts can be superimposed on the map by using buttons on the top menu. A very large overall map shows the entire theater, allowing quick access to units and regions. An overlay indicates supply status on the map. Supply is so important that players may want to play the game with this overlay all the time. Other buttons show lists of all units on the board and replacements. Other nice touches are the ?Find Unit? and ?next Unit? buttons as well as a quick peek at the victory status.
This large minimap gives players a good overview of Sicily.
The units in green on the lower middle are in good supply; not so the unit to the east.
Gaining Taranto is the first step toward victory.
Units may appear simple but are actually chock full of information. Counters have NATO symbols and markings for division through brigades and special unit types. German units are grey, light blue and black for army, Luftwaffe and SS troops respectively. Italian troops are present in the Sicilian campaign. The Allies have nine different nationalities, each with its own color scheme. More importantly, counters have more functional data on them. A yellow dot in the upper left contains stacking points, the true indicator of unit size. Small red markers above this dot designate Special Forces such as commandos, mountain troops or paratroops. A triangle in the upper right indicates experience with three colors from green for vets and red for rookies. The all-important combat supply status is shown by a triangle in the lower left with four colors, from green to black, indicating supply levels. Beneath the unit symbols is units? actual combat strength with its ?paper strength? in parenthesis. Red bars at the top and bottom of counters indicate the level of disruption and if a unit has orders. Units soon to be withdrawn are shaded red. Clicking on a unit brings up a panel with nine factors including efficiency and morale. Adding replacements and adjusting air support priorities is done in this panel.
All of these Allies units could use some more supply. Note the sidebar.
Animation is limited to counters moving hex-by-hex during the simultaneous turns. Sound effects are unobtrusive; turns begin with drum beats, airplane engines and machinegun fire can be heard when apportioning air points and satisfying clicks can be heard when scrolling by arrow keys. Thunder, wind and rain indicate the weather. The first fifty-page PDF manual was inadequate but a revised version explains the game well.
A Quartermaster?s War
When playing Piercing Fortress Europa, two aspects of the game mechanics should be kept in mind. The scale is twelve kilometers per hex with turns of five to six days during winter and four days during summer. Thus, action will be deliberate with no chance of unhistorical lightening moves. The other key point is that turns are resolved simultaneously (WEGO) with each side giving orders before action happens. Therefore, movement and attacks may be halted in mid-move by opponents? actions. For example, when opposing forces meet while moving to the same hex, the game?s algorithm will halt the weaker movement short of its goal. Similarly, a unit that is attacked when withdrawing can win the battle but still withdraw.
The game has six scenarios. The Sicilian campaign serves as an ad hoc tutorial as the Allies have overwhelming force so the only question is if Messina can be captured before the time limit is reached. Three scenarios look at specific parts of the Italian campaign: the advance from the south to capture the Foggia airfields, attempts to break through the Gustav line and the advance to the Alps. These scenarios have between 22 to 63 turns. The whole Italian campaign can be played in 131 turns and an alternate Italian campaign posits that the Allies kept up a good level of supply throughout the war. In most scenarios, victory levels are determined by how many cities the Allies take versus how many the Germans hold. In the complete Italian campaign, the Allies can boost their level by ending the game before the turn limit.
Playing the Allies yields the most strategic and operational options while the Axis/German side is constricted by scant air power and limited supply to deciding whether to hold a choke point or back-pedal to a new line with the exception of attacking a weak, unsupported enemy unit.
Allied players? initial decisions are all about divvying up air points and managing supply. The abstract air points are divided between air superiority, ground support and interdiction. If a paradrop is planned, massive air superiority should be assigned. Air superiority should be decreased in following turns to aid in ground combat or to hinder enemy movement of forces and supply through interdiction. Allied air forces are limited to the southern quarter of Italy until Foggia is taken. The need to increase air superiority increases as the frontline moves north toward German airbases in France and Austria. The Germans have the same capabilities with the addition of bombing ports.
Sliding the bars will increase any of the three categories.
Managing supply is more complex. The supply screen has a horizontal bar divided between fuel and combat supply. The slider adjusts the priority of amassing either one in future turns so that, if the front is static, fuel priority can be decreased in order to accumulate combat supply. These adjustments have nothing to do with the amounts on hand which can be used as normal. Supplies can also increase or decrease when ports are taken and lost. Allied players can also purchase fortifications, air drops and sea transport points with fuel and supply. Air drops only require one point per unit but the cost of a sea transport is a function of units? stacking points. Germans have the same supply distribution system but can only buy fortification for future turns.
The supply screen is the most import and interesting function of the game.
The Scaly Underbelly
Game mechanics are simple: clicking on a unit brings up the sidebar with possible actions and orders that turn. Battered units can receive replacements if the ?repel depel? isn?t empty. The units can increase or decrease their priority for air support between three steps. Given enough paradrop points, clicking on a paratroop unit will light up the hexes where drops can be made. Land units can choose between amphibious invasion or amphibious movement if sea transport is available. Invasions are more costly in terms of supply but afford abstract naval support if landings are opposed. Amphibious is simply moving units from one friendly port to another. Once ashore, land movement is handled the same way with clicks bringing up reachable hexes. Moving whole stacks is also an option though players should right-click through the hex to see the contents. Limitations to movement are terrain, stacking points, unit type, weather and fuel cost, all of which can be checked in the PDF manual since the game is windowed. An important action is adding combat supply steps although no other orders are available when this one is chosen.
This British unit can gain more supply, get more air support, move or invade amphibiously or even walk across the Straits of Messina (Monty must be with it.)
Attacks are ordered on adjacent enemies. The game?s almost complete fog of war element comes into play at this point. Enemies are only sighted within one or two hexes depending on the weather. Even then, only the enemy?s type and relative size is known, not the efficiency, disruption and combat supply that make up battle odds. These factors are shown only after the attack along with the battle results. Wary players can choose to attempt a withdrawal instead or have a nearby friendly unit reinforce the attacker. The differences between Allied forces are reflected in a penalty for American and Commonwealth forces attacking from the same stack.
The middle unit can either attack or withdraw.
Battle results reveal all.
Combat supply ranks after terrain as an important element in combat. A unit having the lowest of the four levels still fights at 70% power while the highest operates at 200%. Hence, even a surrounded unit can withstand several turns of attacks before being eliminated. The exceptions are most Italian troops in Sicily.
Considerations of combat supply and fuel are the engines pressuring the Allied player while the German can sit back and play spoiler, trading space for time. The Allies? apparent superiority in numbers and material is tempered by the dual impulse to advance quickly and take ports to keep supplies flowing. Capturing ports and beaches presents the Allied player with the problem of juggling a limited amount of dock workers between them, causing emphasis of efforts between the Italian coasts and not evenly pushing everywhere. The Germans can thus move to meet thrusts, leaving permanent fortifications in their wake. Matters become harder for the Allies as units are withdrawn and supplies drop representing the shift of priorities to other theaters.
Workers should be added to at least to the minimum level.
Multi-play is handled via hotseat and PBEM systems. Players baffled by the canny AI can resort to the two handicap options.
By combining supply concerns with simple, elegant mechanics, Piercing Fortress Europa replicates the slogging match that was the Italian campaign. This game system should be expanded to other fronts and serve as a model for developers seeking accuracy and accessibility.