Europe Engulfed

My Europe Engulfed play tailed off a bit in the second half of 2004 unfortunately. It’s a big game, and so hard to schedule. But I was tracked down by Clark, a local guy (well, “local” by Bay Area standards anyway) on BGG. We decided to play the 1941 scenario and see if we could get it done in a full day of excessive gaming. I’ve played from ’42 a fair amount – either the one-mapper, or the tournament match, or playing the tournament game until the Germans throw in the towel – so I was glad to try something a bit different. We also threw in all the balance-neutral “designer” optionals. I was the Germans.

When starting the game, I imagine my thoughts were similar to many gamers: the Germans had trouble focussing, and spread their efforts too thin amongst too many objectives; with just a couple more panzer corps, maybe they get to Moscow and maybe they have a chance. So that’s what I did – I sacrificed U-Boats and interceptors to build more ground units and hammer on the Soviets.

This produced gratifying results in the short term. The Soviets reeled from the invasion, and lost Moscow to the opening assault, with many unit losses; the Summer ’42 start line was similar to the historical one, but included Moscow as a bonus. The Summer ’42 offensive mauled the Soviets again, and had the Germans doing their shopping for fall fashions in Gorky, although, at the end of the campaigning seasons they returned to the ’42 kickoff line satisfied with another large count of eliminated units (including the destruction of two of the valuable Soviet elite infantry).

While this was going on, the British were revelling in the lack of U-Boat action, and maxing out their fleet builds. For reference, in the ’42 scenario the Good Guys start with some 8 fleets (5 Atlantic, 3 Med), same as they start with in ’41. By ’42 in our game, the Allies had over 12, which gave them great flexibility and made the Med completely untenable for the Axis. In fairness, I’m not sure how the Axis could limit the Allies to 8 fleets in ’42 – they get two in Jan ’42 when the US arrives, so Britain and the US would have to build no fleets and the Italians would have to somehow manage to eliminate 2 to match the “historical” situation. At any rate, a note to future Axis players: letting the allies have this much economic leeway is bad. What’s generally keeping the Allies from seriously considering Overlord in ’43 is fleet capacity, it seems. Ground units are pretty cheap when your baseline budget is 50-60 WERPs. Without pressure on their economy and SRs from U-Boats, they will run amok.

In our game, this meant a powerful invasion of Italy, and a premature Italian collapse. This diverted a significant number of German units from the Eastern Front, and started to really thin the German defenses. The crisis then came when the Allies invaded the Balkans (side note: the method that they used – a paradrop into Albania followed by pouring in reinforcements by a breakthrough op-move – turned out to be illegal, as you can’t paradrop into rough. However, almost exactly the same effect could have been fairly easily achieved with an amphibious assault on Salonika, which was not heavily garrisoned).

As usual, when this sort of thing happens the Germans are between a rock and a hard place. SR their guys out of Russia to crush the landing, and then get reamed by the Soviets as you’re out of special actions? Or try to contain the landings with more conservative special action expenditure? It was especially tough because at the time I had a pretty devastating offensive all set up in Russia. I ended up splitting it down the middle, launching a smaller offensive in Russia (which did eliminate a gratifying number of units, but was nowhere near what I hoped) while sending what turned out to be an inadequate conterattack force to the beachhead. Ironic, that. My only defense is that the last time I played, I got burned by over-reacting to Allied invasions (last time I was the Germans in the late-war, the Allies did like 4 amphibious assaults in Western Europe, all of which but the last were brutally crushed).

This resulted in a nightmarish Balkans campaign in which 2 British units wandered around taking out minor allies, which was especially painful given the Rumanians were basically holding the southernmost portion of the line in Russia all by themselves, which opened up a huge hole which the Soviets were more than willing to exploit. I then failed to take into consideration that even cut off and with no hope of reestablishing a supply line, the Brits could still move and capture territory, territory that has to be physically recaptured even once the units in are long gone, since isolated territory doesn’t convert. The last gasp of the British was to move one out-of-supply unit into an ungarrisoned Ploesti (the Rumanians having just surrendered).

These are the sorts of mistakes you only make once. Or at least, one hopes.

I’m not sure what the takeaway message here is. I think it’s to make sure Thessalonika is adequately garrisoned, preferably with two decent units (similar to Trondheim). I think the Athens beach is too far south and too bottled in to worry about too much, but Salonika could be trouble if you leave it to a 2 CV Bulgarian.

While all this was going on, and despite the severe mauling they received in ’41 and ’42, the Soviet steamroller was becoming recognizable again. It seems unless you knock them out entirely (winning the game), the Soviets just keep coming back. No other WWII game I’ve played has ever really given the Soviets their due the way Europe Engulfed does. By ’43 the Soviets were again quite dangerous, and with the Germans now down a special action and having to cope with the Americans and British, the best you can hope for is a delaying action. When the critical minor allied filler disappeared, there just weren’t enough guys to hold the line; the Germans seem really hard-pressed to scrape up enough units, another thing I like about EE compared to other strategic WWII games.

We ended up making it from Summer ’41 through Winter ’43, when I conceded, in about 10 hours.

So that was my first trip backwards in time from 1942. At the time, it was great fun for the first 8 hours but then to have it end in a slightly weird-feeling Balkan campaign was frustrating. On the other hand it was a great learning experience, and after I had gotten over the exhaustion of gaming for 10 hours straight, I was able to analyze my mistakes and was left craving more Europe Engulfed.

Couple last things: one thing I came away with here is that a third player really helps late in the war. We made pretty good time through the first couple years, but the Allied player has a lot of very diverse activities to manage. Secondly, we used the playbalance-neutral optionals, and I liked them a lot (I usually resist optionals until I have a handle on the game). Next time I’m planning to upgrade to using all of the “designers'” optionals.

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