By Harvey Mossman
Republishing older designs has become very popular lately. I suppose it is nice to have these older games back in circulation especially for newer gamers who missed the golden era of gaming in the 1970s and 80s. However when an older game is republished, I do expect the designer to make improvements to the game including consolidating rules errata, refining the game system and updating the graphics. Paul Koenig’s Fortress Europe has done this and more. The first edition, called Fortress Europa, was designed by John Edwards and published in Australia by Jedko games in 1978. Avalon Hill reworked the rules and published the more well-known version in 1980 followed by a 2nd edition rules set. In PKG’s edition, we have a worthy successor to this classic.
Of course, when a game is republished, everyone wants to know what differences exist between the old and new editions. The map has received a graphics update; while not spectacular it definitely is a big improvement from the Avalon Hill version and it includes 5 additional hex rows that extend the map to Berlin.
The original game ended in March 1945 but the timeframe has likewise been prolonged ending in May 1945. The order of battle has been tweaked with the Allies now having some upgraded 8-4 infantry units at the start and innumerable changes have been made to minor units regarding organization, combat values, etc.
One of the problems with the Avalon Hill version was that it was difficult for the Allies to get ashore when facing an experienced German player. This resulted in some significant play imbalance favoring a German victory. The designer has addressed this issue by increasing the number of strength points that can land in the first invasion by 150% and allowing invading units normal hex stacking of 3 instead of 2 units as per the original game. Furthermore, the 12 rated Mulberry is now a beachhead supply counter which is not subject to storm damage. However, the 9 Supply Capacity Mulberry, that arrives on the 2nd turn after a Channel Coast invasion, remains vulnerable to severe weather. These changes greatly increase the odds of an Allied successful D-Day invasion.
Sequence of Play
The play sequence is similar between old and new. First there is the Weather Phase where the Allied player rolls a die to determine if the weather is clear, overcast or storm. A welcome change in favor of the Allies is that they there is clear weather automatically on the first 2 turns. Partisans appear on a roll of 5 or 6 during this phase and are placed to try to disrupt German rail movement.
The Air Phase has significantly changed to favor the Allies. On all but the first turn, the Germans choose their aircraft missions first allowing the Allies to respond and cancel German air units (both Allied and German air units are removed when canceled). Remaining Allied airpower now proceeds on their missions. There are quite a variety of air missions to accomplish including Strafing, Ground Support, Railway attacks, Bridge attacks, attacking German replacements, U-boat attacks, V-1 site attacks, Counter Air, Carpet Bombing and some optional rules for attacking V- 2 bases and German fuel supplies. There are 2 types of air units, Tactical and Strategic, each with different range limitations and certain missions have restrictions on which type of aircraft can be assigned.
Wise allocation of airpower is extremely important and must be coordinated with what you plan to accomplish during the turn. For example, Railway and Bridge attacks are useful to isolate portions of the battlefield preventing German reinforcements from arriving in a timely manner. Ground support, which favorably shifts the combat odds column by one for each aircraft assigned, is extremely important when trying to take a critical position or break through the enemy line.
Some of the air missions seem somewhat superfluous in that they could have been modeled more easily in some other way. For example, if the Allies do not assign aircraft to U-boat attack and V-1 site aircraft missions, their replacement rate is reduced. These missions really have a very modest effect on the game.
Overall, the Air Phase is a little sub game unto itself but does a fair job of modeling the air war over Western Europe.
After the Air Phase there is an Allied First Invasion Special Sequence (first turn only) whereby Allied ground, naval and airborne forces attempt the D-Day invasion. This special sequence is skipped in all subsequent turns. Players must carefully pick beaches to assault with an eye towards strength point restrictions in the first and second waves, proximity to ports (which will be desperately needed to increase Allied supply capacity) and German defensive deployments. Most German units are frozen in various Military districts only activating when Allied units enter their region, but the Germans deploy some hidden units at the beginning of the game which can be a nasty surprise if they suddenly pop up in the midst of the Allied landing. The US and British beaches must be contiguous and landing on enemy occupied hexes is allowed but friendly units are eliminated if the hex is not cleared by the end of the first impulse. The first wave can only attack in the hex they land but follow on second wave forces may attack enemy occupied adjacent hexes.
The old versions prompted disparate thoughts about where to invade and how. Much of that discourse still applies even though the landings have generally been made easier by the aforementioned rule changes. Nevertheless, one of the most enjoyable aspects and greatest challenge of this game is to pick the right beach and get ashore to stay.
Next the Allies spend replacement points to rebuild destroyed units or augment units that have taken a step loss.
Following replacements, the Allies get a First Impulse Movement Phase followed by a First Impulse Combat Phase then a Second Impulse Movement Phase for any units not in a zone of control. This phase allows units to exploit through holes in the enemy line and is crucial when the Allies try to break out from their beachheads. However, movement allowances for this impulse are dependent on unit type and current weather. Generally you will not be moving far in the second impulse.
After the Second movement impulse the Allied player resolves battles once again and finally checks supply. In the standard game, Allied supply maintains the older version’s simple 5 hex trace to a friendly Allied headquarters which, in turn, traces back to a friendly port, Mulberry or Beachhead Supply. In the optional rules there is a more sophisticated supply system. Either way, the Allies may not have more units in Western Europe than the sum of the Supply Capacity of all captured ports, beachhead supply and Mulberry units. Supply Capacity greatly restricts the Allies and is only finally mitigated by capturing enemy ports. If the German player tenaciously defends the ports, he can substantially crimp the allied buildup in Western Europe.
After the Allied Supply phase, the Germans follow a similar sequence until the end of the turn.
There are rules for rail movement and sea movement which have been changed somewhat from the original version. Armor units now count 1 ½ times against the rail and sea movement capacity of each side which tends to reduce theater mobility on both sides. There are rules for Naval units, Paratrooper drops, Commandos and Rangers raiding inland ports, Coastal Defense units, Training Divisions, Partisans, Volkssturm, V-1 site Garrison units, hidden German units in the initial deployment, the Panzer Reserve, Mulberry and Beachhead supply, etc.
Optional rules allow for limited German free setup, variable first turn German armor release, SS units, decoy counters, attacking accumulated German replacements with airpower, the American First Special Service Force, Panzer Reserve surprise, Skorzeny’s commandos, Allied fuel restrictions, the British “Funnies”, attacking German rocket bases, an advanced air system, Goliath tanks, and… well you get the point. All in all, there is a lot of historical flavor and the designer has done a nice job incorporating it all. The 5 scenarios are: The Invasion, To the West Wall, Breaching the West Wall, Battle of the Bulge and lastly, On to Berlin.
If there is one drawback to this new version, it is the combat system. It still inherits much from its 1980 legacy. All enemy units in friendly zones of control must be attacked which requires German units to frequently make unwanted low odds assaults against large Allied stacks resulting in self-inflicted losses and retreats. The old tactic of soak off attacks becomes important but also results in extraneous losses that the German player can ill afford. Moreover, the combat results still reflect their 1980’s origin with Attacker Eliminated, Attacker Retreat, Exchanges, Defender Retreat and Defender Eliminated. I would have hoped that, in a remake where so many other positive changes have been implemented, the combat system would have been updated to better reflect current war game design. However, this may be too much to ask in a reprint since it could substantially alter the other retained old design concepts.
There is much to like about this new design. Components are quite good including thick, laser cut counters (the soot problem was very minor in my copy of the game), a magazine quality rule booklet, two well-organized player aids and an aesthetically pleasing map update. For fans of the old Fortress Europa, this is a no-brainer. Paul Koenig has greatly improved the play balance and added enough chrome to greatly enhance the original version. For newer gamers who do not have the old version, this game deserves serious consideration for inclusion in your library. There are many other fine World War II Western Europe games, but Paul Koenig’s design has greatly enhanced the comfortable feel of an old classic.
I did a little of the playtesting and a lot of the rules editing for PKFE and I think this is an accurate and fair review. I disagree that the V1 and U-boat missions have only a minor impact. If these missions are ignored, the Allies cannot rebuild any armor losses until they have captured all of the V1 launch sites or all the ports that serve as U-boat bases. Allocating two of the eleven air units the Allies get each turn to these missions pays dividends in a campaign game. These missions were more politically motivated than militarily motivated. V1s didn’t knock out British tank factories, and the U-boats didn’t sink troop convoys en masse. But they are design for effect to force the air commander to fly these missions or face serious consequences.
The combat system is essentially identical to that of AH FSE. Updating it could have been done I guess, but I don’t see how to improve it without going to a D10 system or a two dice system. Admittedly there is a huge difference between the two best attacker results (D1 and DE) if the defender is big stack and isn’t surrounded. No position is safe since a 1-2 attack with three air support and a roll of 6 kills the whole stack, and can really turn a game around. But you can still get a fortified port or the Siegfried Line holding out for long periods, even badly outnumbered. Retained from the AH version is the ability to not have to attack adjacent units if in a friendly fort. In open ground if you don’t want to attack, pull back a hex or sit behind a river and blow up the bridges.
Here are some other improvements that were omitted from the review, possibly for lack of space: Commandoes and rangers are more powerful than in the old FSE but more brittle, so will likely be used more sparingly. The map eliminates the ambiguities of the old map and graphically shows coastlines that can be invaded or raided, raided only, or neither. You can’t launch an invasion of an inland port any more, but you can still make a raid. German paratroop drops are less likely to succeed, and they can’t train new paratroops (make a paradrop with a rebuilt para unit). Battalions and non-armored brigades/regiments don’t count as a full unit for stacking any more, and cost less to move by rail and sea. The Germans get more air to compensate for having to place first. This reduces the total number of Allied air missions during the summer, but the Allies can pretty much guarantee that their most important mission gets through (and can stop German air supporting German attacks) without wasteful overcommitment of air units. Some TAC air may be available on overcast turns, so the Allies may get more air missions than before during the winter.
Some may object to “hidden” German units (same here as in FSE), since Allied intelligence had the real locations of nearly all the German units. But given the very long time needed to plan the invasion, “hidden” really means “moved between the plan and the execution”. To avoid “hidden” units the invasion would have to be postponed for at least a month and that wasn’t going to happen except in an extreme case–like seven panzer divisions showing up within an hour’s drive of the landing beaches. If the German sets up like this, he is probably betting the game that the Allies will land where he expects. Do you feel lucky Hans?
Jim, Thank you for your well thought out comments.
The combat system is indeed a little bit archaic given the present state of wargame design. It is problematical to me that a well defended German line would have to move back one hex row so that they did not take unnecessary losses making mandatory attacks against a strong Allied line when all they wanted to do was sit in place to defend. This has great repercussions when the Germans initially confine the Allied beachhead since moving back often results in a lengthier defensive line which the Germans can ill afford to man. Perhaps a simple rule change such that attacks are not mandatory but, if you wish to attack, then you must attack all enemy units in the ZOC of the attacking units.
Also, World War II combat was definitely attritional and incremental but, as you point out, the difference between losing one step and losing an entire stack is rather narrow. I don’t necessarily think that changing to different dice would fix the problem but perhaps implementing combat results that specify mutual attacker and defender step losses and/or retreats might have been a better approach. Still, we must review the game as published rather than review the game that we would like to see published.
On the whole, I think your comments are valid and I appreciate you taking the time to share them with us
Enjoyed the game, the soot problem was a problem for me and the mostly white Free French units are well soiled.
I was and remain a big fan of the original version of the game. I have been studying the new version in anticipation of playing it at WBC this summer. My fear is that the multiple DRMs, as many as +4 in some instances, may upset play balance (yes, I felt the original to be well balanced, particularly the campaign game). The DRMs of Rgrs and CDOs may simply make it too easy for the Allied Player to blow through the west wall. These are only suspicions at this time, because game play will be the ultimate test. However, my extensive experience with the original version leads me to believe these concerns are indeed real.