HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDLate on the night of 5 June 1944, thousands of Allied paratroops began to parachute into occupied France. Their mission was to seal the approaches to the nearby Normandy beaches and to secure safe landing zones for the glider-borne infantry that was scheduled to come in behind them. Within a few hours, the follow-up glider infantry — along with heavy equipment and artillery — began their landings to reinforce the paratroopers who were already on the ground. Because of unexpected cloud cover over the drop zones, however, these airborne units were widely scattered and disorganized during the first hours after the drop. At the same time the gliders were plowing into French fields, waves of Allied planes roared over the Cotentin Peninsula. It was now 0300 on 6 June, D-Day, and flights of Allied bombers had begun to rain thousands of tons of bombs down on the German bunkers and obstacles that bristled along the beaches of the Normandy Peninsula. The initial phases of the most complex military operation in history were finally under way. At 0500 hours, the vast naval armada that had escorted the 150,000 American, British, Canadian, French, and Polish troops who would shortly be landing in occupied France began to shell the German defenses directly behind the beach landing zones. Operation “Overlord,” the amphibious invasion of Hitler’s “Fortress Europe” was about to begin.
In the coastal waters off the 7,000 yard wide American landing sector, code-named “Omaha Beach,” the first of many assault teams prepared to land in occupied France. Naval bombardment had commenced almost as soon as the Allied air strikes had stopped. At 0630 hours, 96 specially-equipped amphibious Sherman tanks, the Special Engineer Task Force, and eight companies of assault infantry — four each from the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions — began their invasion run into the target beach. The Allied plan called for 34,000 men to land in the Omaha Beach sector in the first wave of landings. The second wave was scheduled to begin after 1200 hours and was expected to put another 25,000 men ashore by nightfall. Instead, the landings went wrong almost from the very beginning because of a five mile-per-hour tidal current; virtually every assault group drifted well east of their original objective. American units became hopelessly intermingled; finally small ad-hoc teams of thirty to forty soldiers, their backs to the Channel, began to clamber over the seawall and to attack the German positions in the beach draws and on the overlooking bluffs. Gradually, despite heavy German resistance and even heavier American casualties, the GIs pushed inland and away from the deadly expanse of open sand and water that was the beachhead. By the end of this first day of the invasion, Omaha Beach had earned a morbid but accurate new name from the men who had survived the landing: “Bloody Omaha.” In this one beach sector, over five thousand men had been killed, wounded, or gone missing during just the first fourteen hours of D-Day. Nonetheless, despite terrible casualties among the first wave, the beachhead had been held and even expanded. General Eisenhower’s Great Crusade to liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation had finally begun.
FORTRESS EUROPA is an operational (regiment/brigade/division) level simulation — based loosely on the old SPI BATTLE OF MOSCOW Game System — of the Allied crusade to liberate the captive peoples of Western Europe from German occupation. The game begins with the Allied cross-Channel invasion of Europe in June, 1944 and continues through the first week of March, 1945. The game map covers Europe from Erfurt in the east to Bordeaux in the west, and from Toulon in the south to Cherbourg in the north. In essence, the game map encompasses virtually all of the territory in France, Germany, and Northern Italy over which the Germans and the Western Allies maneuvered and fought. One player commands the armies of the German Wehrmacht, and the other controls the Allied forces (the Americans, British, Canadians, and Free French). FORTRESS EUROPA is played in game turns; each of which is equal to approximately one week of real time. Each game turn is further divided into a German and an Allied turn; the Allied player is always the first player. Each game turn is composed of a specific sequence of player actions and proceeds as follows: the Weather Roll (Allied player rolls a die to establish weather conditions for the entire game turn); the Joint Air Mission Allocation Phase; Allied Replacement Phase; First Allied (impulse) Movement and Reinforcement Phase; the First Allied (impulse) Combat Phase; the Second Allied (impulse) Movement Phase (during this phase the Allied player may move any units not in enemy zones of control again); the Allied Second (impulse) Combat Phase and Supply Determination Phase. At the conclusion of the Allied player turn, the German player repeats exactly the same phases as his opponent, excepting the Weather Determination and Joint Air Phase. Once both players have finished their moves, the game turn is over and the turn marker is advanced one space; a new game turn then begins.
The mechanics of the FORTRESS EUROPA game system are relatively orthodox and intuitively logical. Supply rules, not surprisingly, are important, particularly for the Allied player. Both sides trace supply through friendly headquarters to a viable supply source. All units in cities and fortresses are always in supply, and German units in Germany and Italy are likewise always in supply. The logistical rules for Allied units are considerably more demanding. The Allies are limited in how many units they can land and support in Europe by their current Supply Capacity (SC) which, in turn, is dependent both on the supply capacities of the Allied “mulberries” and on those of captured Channel ports. Any units unsupplied at the end of the Second (impulse) Combat and Supply Determination Phase are immediately reduced one step. Zones of Control are rigid and “semi-sticky;” that is: units adjacent to enemy counters may move normally at the beginning of the first impulse, but may not move at the beginning of the second, and combat between adjacent enemy units is compulsory. Stacking is limited by terrain: three units may stack in clear hexes; two in rough terrain; and only one unit may end its movement in an Alpine, mountain, or flooded hex. The game uses a traditional “odds differential” type Combat Results Table (CRT), and combat results are typically confined to retreats, unit eliminations, exchanges, and “step” losses. One intriguing, feature of FORTRESS EUROPA is the inclusion of air units for both sides. Air missions can only be flown — with one exception — during “clear” weather game turns. The Allies receive four SAC and seven TAC points at the beginning of each weekly game turn; the Germans, on the other hand, receive no SAC points and a varying number of TAC points at the beginning of each month (four game turns). These aircraft points may conduct a variety of different missions. For example both Allied and German TAC air points may fly Strafing, Ground Support, Bridge Attacks, and Counter-Air missions. In addition, the Allies may conduct several different types of SAC missions, including: Railway Attacks, Attacks on German Replacements, U-Boat Attacks, V1 Site Attacks, and Carpet Bombing.
As might be expected of a game covering the campaign that General Eisenhower referred to as a modern “Crusade in Europe,” a number of design elements add historical color and texture to an already exciting game. There are detailed rules in FORTRESS EUROPA that cover, among other things: Allied naval bombardment; airborne operations (for both sides!); British commandos and American rangers; German coastal defense units; partisans; German Volksturm (militia) units; the Allied mulberries (temporary ports); reinforcements; replacements; and the temporary German withdrawal of panzer units from combat in preparation for Hitler’s last major offensive in the West, “Wacht am Rhein,” in December 1944.
Although the Campaign Game can, in theory, continue from the June I ’44 turn all the way to the March I ’45 game turn, most standard games will actually end earlier. For example, the Campaign Game in FORTRESS EUROPA can immediately be won by the Allies if they succeed in occupying Paris and Bruxelles and four of five major cities in Germany, or if Allied units occupy fifteen cities in Germany (Geneva and Torino can be counted for this purpose). The German player wins by avoiding the Allied victory conditions, and by holding three major German cities at game’s end. Alternatively, players may secretly record “sudden death” victory conditions prior to the start of play, and then compete to fulfill their own objectives while working to block the opposing player from meeting his goals.
Besides the thirty-seven turn (or longer) Campaign Game, FORTRESS EUROPA also offers a set of five different Scenarios or “mini-games” that allow players to refight a single specific phase of the larger war. These scenarios are: To The West Wall (12 game turns); Breaching The West Wall (28 turns long); Invasion (7 game turns); Battle Of The Bulge (4 turns long); and On To Berlin (11 game turns). Victory conditions vary for these Scenarios from one game situation to another, and are stipulated in each of the different Scenarios’ instructions. The designer has also included a number of interesting “optional rules” and historical (what ifs?) any of which permit the players to vary the flow of the game, and also to adjust play-balance between unequal opponents.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONIf THE RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN (1976) was John Edwards’ inspired remake of STALINGRAD, then it is pretty obvious that FORTRESS EUROPA was his design response to Avalon Hill’s D-DAY (1961). However, even if one acknowledges that D-DAY undoubtedly served as the starting point for Edwards’ own distinctive treatment of Operation Overlord and the subsequent Battle for France; this doesn’t change the fact that the two games — except for their overall scale — are really quite different. And even though Avalon Hill revisited the “design well” a number of times in an effort to update and revive its aging invasion game, the reality is that D-DAY was long overdo for a major face-lift or, even better, a complete makeover. Time had simply passed it by, and what had been an innovative game design in the 1960s, had become tired and obsolete by the 1970s. That being said, FORTRESS EUROPA fills the bill as a replacement for D-DAY very well, indeed. It, like its predecessor may take a long time to play, but in every other way, Edwards’ version — particularly after the additional development work of Moon and Hamblen — is a dramatic improvement over the original. In view of this, it should not be surprising that there is much to like about FORTRESS EUROPA. However, there are also a few aspects of this design that are a little disappointing. For this reason, I will continue this short critique of TAHGC’s version of FORTRESS EUROPA with a discussion of the design elements that I find a little off-putting and then move on to the many positive qualities of the game.
On the “minus” side of the game design ledger, there are three elements that I personally dislike about FORTRESS EUROPA. First, there is the map board: it is functional, unambiguous, and really, really bland. I don’t know why, but Avalon Hill seems to have had — with very few exceptions — a penchant for printing boring, unattractive game maps, and this map is no exception. Second, there is the stylized calligraphy used on all of the German unit counters. I may be wrong, but I think that I detect the overzealous hand of Alan R. Moon in this bit of graphics excess. Granted, this is a very small nit, but it is one that I find irksome. Mainly, I resent this pointless little affectation because I think that it falls into the realm of adding “chrome” purely for “chrome’s” sake. Last and probably most important: it would have been VERY helpful if the game designers had included a separate, detailed set-up chart for the Battle Of The Bulge and On To Berlin Scenarios. A single set-up sheet — a la SPI’s BREAKOUT & PURSUIT — would have done the job very nicely, particularly since both scenarios begin on the same game turn and share the same unit starting positions. As things currently stand, it almost takes longer to set up the BATTLE OF THE BULGE Scenario than it actually takes to play it!
The “positive” design qualities of FORTRESS EUROPA, happily, are both more numerous and more significant. For starters, the initial invasion portion of the game is very nicely handled; the Germans, even in the Historical Game, have enough hidden-deployment units to make the Allied player’s choice of an invasion site, in each and every game, a nerve-racking test for both players. Where are those hidden panzer divisions actually going to show up, once the Allies start to wade ashore? In this game, a shrewd guess on the part of the Allied player can put the Germans under heavy pressure from the very first turn; a good bluff on the part of the German player, on the other hand, can be worth as much as an extra panzer corps! Second, the game’s basic mechanics, although not all that innovative, are virtually glitch-free. There is nothing in the basic game design that is either particularly confusing or cumbersome. The turn phases are logical and play flows surprisingly smoothly despite the numerous player operations required during each turn. Third, the dual impulse movement and combat system works particularly well for this type of mobile campaign; granted, the Allies will be doing most of the attacking, but Eisenhower must, nonetheless, always be alert to the possibility of a sudden German counterattack. An unexpected series of German victories might just manage to break through his front and disrupt the entire Allied timetable. Fourth, the importance of weather and its impact on Allied naval operations, and on both sides’ air operations, is represented realistically, but simply. Finally, the air rules are a vast improvement over most games that model World War II campaigns at the operational (brigade/division) level. The mix of different possible air missions and the critical balance that must be maintained between offensive and defensive operations makes for an interesting challenge for both players whenever clear weather permits aircraft to fly.
Clearly, FORTRESS EUROPA is not a ground-breaking new game design. In fact, most of the game’s basic mechanics will be quite familiar to experienced players. That is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, more often than not, it can be a plus when it comes to titles designed to be played on this scale. Is it the best simulation that I have ever seen of the D-Day Invasion and the subsequent Battle for France? Hardly; but having said that, I should also add that — in my opinion at least — it is still an exciting, fast-paced game, and a reasonably good simulation of the bitter fighting that characterized the Allied pursuit of the Wehrmacht across France and into Germany in 1944-45. Most important of all, while it is an interesting challenge for experienced players, its clean game system and clearly-written rules make it accessible — albeit with a little study — to both casual and novice gamers, alike.
- Time Scale: 1 week per game turn (4 turns per month)
- Map Scale: 14 miles per hex (estimated)
- Unit Size: battalion/regiment/brigade/division
- Unit Types: infantry, mountain, paratrooper, glider, ranger, commando, artillery, FLAK, security, training, HQ troops, Volksturm, coastal defense, HQ, armor/panzer, mechanized infantry/panzer grenadier, cavalry, assault gun, mechanized engineer, mulberries (temporary ports), air units, naval (bombardment) units, and information counters
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: below average/average (depending on scenario)
- Average Playing Time: 2½-10 + hours (depending on scenario being played)
- One (three section) 22” x 24” hexagonal grid Map Board (with Combat Results Table, River Crossing Chart, and Invasion Zone Sea Lift Charts incorporated)
- 520 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
- One 8” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions, Terrain Effects Chart, and Movement Allowance Chart incorporated)
- One 8” x 11” combined Time Record Chart and Replacement Track
- Two 8” x 11” German OB/Reinforcement Charts
- Two 8” x 11” Allied OB/Reinforcement Charts
- One 8” x 11” combined Aircraft Mission Chart, German TAC Availability Chart, and joint German/American/British (Ground Units) Replacement Chart
- One six-sided Die
- One 5½” x 8½” Avalon Hill Game Catalog
- One 5½” x 8½” Avalon Hill Parts List and Order Form
- One 5½” x 7” Customer Response Card
- One 11½” x 8½” x 2” bookcase style cardboard Game Box
Recommended ReadingSee my blog post Book Reviews of these titles; all of which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.
THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU