May 11, 2021

Grognard Gaming – WW2 Deluxe: European Theater (Canvas Temple Publishing, 2018)

RockyMountainNavy, 28 Jan 2021

I started playing wargames in 1979 when I was almost a teenager. If you do the math you will discover I am now a much older gamer, what some might affectionally call a Grognard. I really think I fit the Wordnik definition:

n. An old soldier.
n. Someone who enjoys playing board wargames, particularly the counter-heavy strategy board wargames from the 1970s and 1980s.
n. Someone who enjoys playing previous editions of roleplaying games when new editions of the game are available.

Although Grognards like me enjoy older games, I also am always on the lookout for new games to try. With the many games on the market it takes something special to catch my attention. When I saw the Kickstarter campaign for WW2 Deluxe: European Theater from designer/publisher Jon Compton at Canvas Temple Publishing this part of his ad -which eventually made it to the box back-  caught my eye:

What Makes it Special?

Many of us have been playing historical board wargames for a long time. And, as time has gone by, our eyesight has faded and our fingers become less steady. So we decided to make the perfect wargame for us old timers. A grand strategic game that is big in scope (and in lettering) that can be played in an evening. Utilizing 3/4” counters, a full-sized map with giant hexes, and a tried and tested game system that approaches its subject with enough abstraction to keep the game tight, but just enough detail to do justice to history and create an array of complex decisions.

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WW2 Deluxe – Box Back (Photo by RMN)

 

click images to enlarge

When I got this game I asked myself, “Just how well does WW2 Deluxe: European Theater, meet its goals?”

Of note, WW2 Deluxe is an updated version of another game, 2WW by designer William “Bill” Banks originally published by 3W back in 1991. The box back of WW2 Deluxe tells me this is the “fourth edition” of the game. I never owned nor played the previous versions so this title is fresh to me.

It’s Bigger on the Inside

When I first got the box for WW2 Deluxe, it looked like nothing really exceptional. After all, it’s an industry-standard 2-inch bookcase box. It was not until I opened it up and explored the components that I discovered the ergonomic design tailored for older Grognards. The 22”x34” map (both a mounted and unmounted map shipped in my copy) uses very large 1” hexes. Add to that the 3/4” double-sided counters and it immediately became obvious that Jon Compton had indeed made a game for “faded eyesight” and “fingers less steady.” 

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WW2 Deluxe counters (Photo by RMN)

 

The rule book in WW2 Deluxe is printed on glossy stock and uses a two-column layout with text that is a bit small for this older Grognard. That said, I was happy to see (literally) that the font used did not get lost against the muted background color of the pages. A similar font and layout is used for the Player Aid cards. Although the text might be a bit small, the end result is actually a rule book and play aid that is highly readable even for this bifocal-hindered Grognard.

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WW2 Deluxe Rule Book – Yeah, it comes looking a bit worn (Photo by RMN)

 

The title of the game, WW2 Deluxe: European Theater, is a bit misleading. This game actually covers the conflict not only in Europe, but also North Africa and the Middle East. To cover such a wide area in a shorter play time, the scale of the combatants is raised to the level of armies or army groups with air forces and fleets. There is a light political element in WW2 Deluxe with neutrals and invasions, conquest, and liberation possible.

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WW2 Deluxe – Full map setup (Photo by RMN)

 

Each turn in WW2 Deluxe represents three months. A full campaign game from Fall 1939 to Summer 1945 is 24 turns. If you don’t want to play the full war campaign, WW2 Deluxe includes five other scenario set ups beginning at various start times of the war:

    • Fall Gelb and Weserbung (Spring 1940)
    • Barbarossa and Battleaxe (Summer 1941)
    • Fall Blau and Torch (Summer 1942)
    • Citadel and Avalanche (Summer 1943)
    • Overlord and Bagration (Summer 1944)
    • Wacht am Rhein (Winter 1945)

Each scenario set up is thoughtfully printed on nice laminated card stock that makes set up easy to see and follow.

Mechanically Reliable

WW2 Deluxe: European Theater uses many standard (classic?) wargame mechanics assembled into a very streamlined system to depict the Western theaters of World War II. Units exert Zones of Control (1-hex for land units, 3-hexes for fleets, and 3- or 6-hexes for air units). Stacking is simple given the low counter density. Stepping through the Turn Sequence also allows one to see how the different mechanics come together.

Strategic Warfare

Each turn of WW2 Deluxe begins with a Strategic Warfare phase. In this phase the focus is on air and seapower. Air fleets can bomb or defend and fleets (with naval air) fight convoy battles. The convoy battle is very important because the players are trying to move (or prevent the movement) of Production Points.

Production 

The second part of a turn in WW2 Deluxe is production. This is how new units arrive. There is little innovative about this phase; place arriving units in the force pool, determine your production points, and purchase units. 

If I have one complaint about the packaging of WW2 Deluxe it is related to counting Production. There is nothing hard about counting production – count your in-supply production cities and add a few other situational bonuses. The problem is production cites get covered on the map by those nice big counters and remembering the situational bonuses is not easy. How I wish that Mr. Compton had added a simple production tracking chart somewhere in the rules or on the Play Aid.

Axis/Allied Player Turn

WW2 Deluxe uses the tried-and-true Igo-Ugo turn sequence between players. Each player turn begins with movement followed by combat. However, instead of a classic combat odds-based Combat Results Table, WW2 Deluxe uses a Combat Chart that cross-references the type of combat with a total combat value to determine results (stated in number of hits). Both sides roll and the side with the lower point loss is the winner, which in land combat forces the loser to retreat.

Armored Action

In the one real game mechanic nod to the theme, each Player Turn in WW2 Deluxe is followed by an Armored Action phase. In this phase armor units get a bonus move and then another round of combat with all land and non-Ops Complete air and fleets is possible. Again, the phase is executed in Axis-Allied order.

Supply

After all movement and combat is done players in WW2 Deluxe then conduct a simple Supply Phase. Again, nothing special since it uses a very simple supply lines concept.

Victory

Victory in WW2 Deluxe is straightforward – control of capital cities. Both sides have Total, Major, and Minor victory conditions. 

Optional Rules & Variants

WW2 Deluxe also comes with a slew of optional rules. None of them are necessary for play but a few add some nice flavor (realism?) into the game. Most importantly, none of the optional rules threaten to extend game play time in an unreasonable manner.

When starting with the 1939 scenario, the rules of WW2 Deluxe offer variant start conditions. These simple changes to the set up use several “what-if” scenarios like what if the German Plan Z naval buildup happened, or what if Spain was Republican and joined the allies. As with the optional rules, these simple variants don’t seriously threaten game play time but they do offer a variety of interesting possible replay opportunities. 

Ops Complete

If there is one mechanic in WW2 Deluxe that confuses people, it’s likely the rules for Ops Complete. Air units and fleets earn Ops Complete markers at various points in the turn:

    • In Air Combat, air units gain an Ops Complete at the end of combats during their player turn (but not in the Strategic Warfare phase)
    • In Sea Combat, fleets gain an Ops Complete marker when they suffer a loss in sea combat.

As incredible as it may sound, the Ops Complete concept is perhaps the most important of all the game mechanics in WW2 Deluxe. Some of the toughest decisions a player will make is when to use air and fleet units and place that Ops Complete marker because, once placed, that unit is limited in what further actions it may take:

    • Although air units and fleets don’t earn an Ops Complete marker for participating in Strategic Warfare, if they start the phase with an Ops Complete marker (possible since removal is not until the later Player Turn) then the unit CANNOT take an action in the  Strategic Warfare phase
    • In the Armored Action phase, the Axis or Allies can attack with all land units  plus non-OPs Complete fleets and air.

What this means is that in WW2 Deluxe using your fleet or air unit in your Player Turn phase will deny you its use in the following Armored Action phase (no exploitation opportunity) and the next Strategic Warfare phase (reduce the enemies production). This forces some very important decisions regarding support to ground forces and strategic focus.

World War II using Beer & Pretzels?

I have heard some people refer to WW2 Deluxe as a “beer & pretzels” wargame. Wikipedia (I know, not an authoritative source but stick with me a moment) defines a “beer and pretzels game” as follows:

A beer and pretzels game is any of a class of tabletop games that are light on rules and strategy, feature a high amount of randomness and a light theme. This is in direct contrast to Eurogames, which involve complex rules and emphasize strategy over randomness. The term was originally coined to describe relatively simple wargames that did not require extraordinary focus to play. The name was then adopted by gamers to mean casual, short and easy to play games in general. Examples of beer and pretzels games include Bohnanza, Wizwar and Pit.

Wikipedia goes on the describe the characteristics of a beer and pretzels game:

Beer and pretzels games vary greatly in theme and gameplay, but have a set of common characteristics. Rules are simple and generally explainable in just a few minutes, turns pass quickly and humor is common. Randomness, either in the form of cards or dice is essential. Fortunes may revert quickly and the game often ends suddenly and unexpectedly. Scoring requires very simple calculations.

From a design stand-point, beer and pretzels games are non-trivial to create. They need to have enough depth to encourage repeat play without a stiff learning curve, and need to be enjoyable in quick sessions.

Even the BoardGameGeek wiki doubles-down on the “random” and “humorous” aspects of a beer & pretzels design:

beer & pretzels game: n. A game so random that long-term strategies are nearly impossible, and with such a goofy theme that it is played as a humorous diversion rather than a real competition. Frequently these games feature several mechanisms that can interact with each other in surprising ways. Wiz-War is an example of a beer & pretzels game. (See also light)

The only reason one might describe WW2 Deluxe: European Theater as a “beer & pretzels” game is if they are using the term as an affectionate description of a lite wargame. Even then, if one doesn’t pay at least some attention to the game (extraordinary attention may be a bit much) they will lose. The rules of WW2 Deluxe are relatively simple and the turns pass quickly thanks in part to the low counter density. However, WW2 Deluxe is anything but a random game and there is enough decision depth that one can (must?) develop long-term strategies in order to win. While fortunes can turn quickly, there is no humor in the game (ignoring for the moment the humor of rolling boxcars in a critical battle).

But I Already Own This Game

Some of you might be saying, “Hey, I already own this game and it’s called Axis & Allies: Europe.” I can definitely see why one might say that; both games cover the Western Theater of World War II, both games are relatively at the same scale with seasonal turns, and both games have a production phase and some strategic warfare elements. The major difference I see is play time with Axis & Allies ranging from 210-360 minutes (depending on the version) while even a full campaign of WW2 Deluxe is no more than 180 minutes. Axis & Allies admittedly has a greater ‘toy factor’ with all those little plastic bits, but if you have unsteady Grognard fingers…. 

A Grognard Wargame

WW2 Deluxe: European Theater is a true Grognard’s game. Jon Compton at Canvas Temple Publishing achieved what he set out to do; create a light strategic-level World War II wargame that is physically suitable for older gamers and playable in an evening. He achieved his goal through the use of oversized (but not overbearing) components and careful attention to format. He also utilized tried and true wargame mechanics assembled into a tight, streamlined set of rules that are not only easy to learn but create the right amount of decision space to match the game theme. WW2 Deluxe: European Theater deserves a spot in any wargamers collection regardless of their age.


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