Monday, June 20, 2005

ConsimWorld Expo 5.0 - Part 3 of 3 - Europe Engulfed

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am a big Europe Engulfed fan; it was my top pick of the wargames of 2004(ish), and has made it on to my Top 20 All-Time list. But I've never played the full campaign game, 1939-45; I've always started in '41 or '42. Part of this is practical; I've played a lot of games with inexperienced players, and in that case, '42 is the place to start. Also, if you start in '41 or '42, everyone gets to play in a 3-player game; if you start in '39, the Soviet player may just sit around for 2 hours before Britain is conquered (or the German player massively chokes Poland & France), and he hasn't exactly gotten a great return on his time investment. Part of it is also aesthetic; how much fun is it, really, to clobber the French, Poles, Yugoslavians, etc.? Better to start just as the clash of titans is kicking off. And, of course, EE is a long game, so trimming off 10 turns or so makes it more managable.

At CSW Expo, though, time is not a major concern. Rick Young wanted to show me that the whole thing could be done in one day, assuming the German player knows what he's doing. And after a bit of an EE drought, I realized I'd been missing it and was eager to get back in. I was the US/UK.

First note: if you are the Germans, build those subs. In the '41 game, Germany does not start with a huge U-Boat fleet (only 22), so your options are somewhat limited in this regard. If you start in '39, though, you can get the subs up to 60 in fairly short order, and this is absolutely murder on the British. It's hard to get anything done on 5 (or fewer) WERPS a turn. My general rustiness did not help things here, but the biggest problem I've run into in defending Germany in the late war is the US/UK running amok. If you combine the subs with the optional US production rule, this makes things much tougher on the Western Allies. This is a good thing, I think.

Second note: It's interesting the level to which having just played EuroFront lead me astray. In the Front games, you can run an offensive and make progress, even decisive progress, without substantial overall force superiority. With an appropriately pointy spear and judicious blitzing, you can rip apart front lines and force back a defender that outnumbers you, if you've got tanks and mech. This is not the case in EE; if you want to win here, mainly you just need a larger club, and defensive positions like river lines and entrenchments are very tough. Obvious, you might say, but I'm often an instinctive player, and my instincts needed some recalibration here. We ended up having an almost identical situation in the desert war in my EuroFront and Europe Engulfed games: equal numbers of Axis and British blocks staring at each other across the Nile. In EuroFront, I could run a British offensive under these conditions and win. In EE, such an attempt resulted in disaster.

Digression: It's very interesting to compare the order of battle for the US in EuroFront vs. Europe Engulfed. Both are roughly the same scale – a block is a Corps. But their portrayal of the US is radically different. In EuroFront, US units trickle in: one block in October '42, one in November '42, the Paratroopers in April '43, then half-a-dozen units in the first half of '44, then another 8 or so through the end of '44. By comparison, in EE the US can be launching Torch in late '42 and easily fighting in North Africa with half-a-dozen or more blocks. EuroFront's buildup schedule is obviously a lot more realistic; the US could never have deployed as much force as EE allows them regardless of how much cash they were not spending on convoy escorts or bombers. On the other hand, in a game, having more options is rarely less appealing and the US budget will be stretched thin early if you play with the recommended optionals.

We played through early '45 – almost, but not quite, to the end in 14 hours. Part of this was because my Soviet ally vehemently vetoed using the chart that allows you to substitue a 3d6 roll for various multiples of 12d6. As my friend Rich once said, "it's that chart that makes the game playable" (or something like that) given the colossal numbers of dice sometimes involved on the eastern front and in France. Get some dice with pointy corners (so they don't twirl endlessly) and use the chart and you can probably trim at least an hour off the game's playtime. Seriously. Part of it was also that we had some intersted onlookers to whom we were explaining bits of the game as we played. But overall, this result was not unexpected ... unless you're the designer or otherwise have mastered playing the Axis, this isn't a game you're going to finish in a day. Two reasonable-length sessions should do, though, and the game is not hard to record. What can I say? There aren't very many games, wargames or otherwise, that I could sit down and play for 14 hours more-or-less straight in one day anymore; EuroFront and Europe Engulfed are both compelling and playable enough to enjoy for such a long time. It helped too that Rick, as you might expect from his dedicated, helpful, and friendly support for his game in the various online forums, is a great guy to game with.

Was playing '39-'41 worth the extra couple hours? At the end of the day, I'm ambivalent. It lets the Germans go into Russia with the forces they want instead of the ones that were historically built; they can juggle the composition of the army, or put more emphasis on U-Boats and air defense. I'm not sure the effort really pays off though, especially if you have 3 players. If you have only two players, I think it's somewhat more compelling, simply because oddball but fun-to-contemplate German strategies (Sea Lion, Spain/Gibralter, or Malta/North Africa) aren't going to potentially leave one player twiddling his thumbs for an extended period and/or feeling like he only partially participated at the end. Overall, the early war years are handled well by the system, they do play quickly, and can give you more of a sense of scope and ultimate closure. But to my mind, they simply aren't as fun as '41-'44. Given the overall length of the game, I think cutting an hour or two off the beginning is a good deal. But try it once if you get the chance.

And build those U-Boats.

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