I have found Piercing Fortress Europa to be an easy to learn, great simulation of the Italian Front. I have had some very fun, interesting games with it, so I thought I would attempt to share the experience, as well as trying to explain the basic mechanics of the game.
I will be playing the Gustav Line scenario as the Allies. North of Naples and well south of Rome, the frontline looks like this:
Now before we go on, let me tell you, that I have been mostly playing the “grand campaign” scenario, and this situation in the above picture is:
a) Something I always try to avoid finding myself in as the Allies
b) I never succeed avoiding
The German AI will perform merciless counter attacks if given the opportunity, will abandon an exposed line of fortifications if required, and will dig in and hold the ground in a determined fashion if needed. As such, it is not impossible to cut off their units and achieve major breakthroughs, but it is quite hard to do, so during my plays, sooner or later I find myself in a situation resembling this historical setup, also because the game portrays the challenges of logistics, terrain, and weather, very nicely. But more on that later.
Let’s first analyse the situation, and the map. The most important thing about the unit counters which you should know right now, is the lower part of them: the first number is the current strength of the unit. The number in parentheses is the maximum strength of the unit. You can replenish units from their replacement pool, if you have any. Also note the triangle next to these units: it shows the level of combat supply for the unit: black means none (can still defend), then red, yellow, and green means increasingly bigger stockpiles. You can raise the level by one each turn as the action taken by the unit, in exchange of spending precious combat supply points.
As you can see, the supply level of my units is not exactly great. This leaves me with options on where I want to prepare my Big Push.
Because, you see, I do have some stockpiles. Let me show you the supply screen, where you make as important decisions as on the map:
Okay, so everything you see listed there (supply, fuel, sea transport points, airborne drops), you want as much as you can, since the more you have of these, the more flexible you are. Needless to say, your resources, while plenty, are still limited, especially when it comes to getting the materials to your troops. That slide there, setting fuel vs. combat supply priority is something you often tinker with. Sometimes it is quite straightforward, at other times you can find yourself severely hindered by not anticipating correctly how much of a resource you would need.
How to set things up right now, though? I, of course, have the forces in Messina and Naples, which historically were used to conduct the landings at Anzio. They are also red in terms of combat supply status. That might be enough if not encountering big resistance, but personally I like to be prepared. So I need to burn through most of my supply this turn to prepare for a big offensive, but I will use up considerable amounts of fuel as well, stockpiling up sea transport points.
What IS my plan, though?
Originally, I wanted to perform a landing behind enemy lines somewhere else than Anzio, to show you an “alt-history” turn of events, but if you take a look at the map, you can easily see why Anzio was chosen in real life, and why it is the most optimal choice for me, as well:
It is by far the easiest terrain around for an attack, as it would be easier to get bogged down in the rough terrain of the east. So let’s invade Anzio, and hope I do better than my historical counterparts!
Needless to say, a simultaneous offensive at the western part of the front would be needed to link up with the landing forces.
Hopefully the Germans will react to the invasion by retracting forces from the Gustav Line. If not, and they also fail to close off the beachhead with their reserves, then the general plan is to try and threaten the Gustav Line’s lines of supply while shipping reinforcements to Anzio as much as the shipping capabilities can be stretched.
Let’s get going then. I will write the happenings in a diary-like fashion.
TURN 1, January 2, 1944
I have decided that the initial invasion would be a true Commonwealth affair, performed by the South African 6th armoured division, and the Indian 10th division, both stationed at Messina at this time.
After buying necessary number of amphibious points (the stacking value of a unit, which determines this, is the one in a yellow circle at the left of each unit), and increasing the combat supply value of these units, as well as the US Rangers’ in Naples (they would be the first to reinforce the beachhead if needed) my combat supply stockpile has been spent. Which means no preparations for an assault on the main enemy fortifications, which prompts me to wait one more turn before launching the invasion.
I have also moved two of my 3 available French units in Naples closer to the western edge of the front line, as well as some other reserve units, including two New Zealand ones near the eastern edge. I feel I should be ready to exploit any retreats the AI may decide on due to my invasion. These reserves would not receive extra combat supply though, as there is precious few as is.
I have also spent most of my different available replacement points for British and American units in the front line, speculating that the landing forces would not see major combat, but the frontline units will, as I am about to send them into a meat grinder.
I have had a view of the regular supply situation as well via the supply map, seeing that situation is excellent in this regard. Naples (easily the most important port of the theatre, its importance cannot be overstated) distributes to most of the hexes despite still being only at 50% capacity, except for the eastern edge which is drawing from the port of Termoli. As such, I have removed port workers from most of all other ports. They will be needed in Anzio shortly.
I have set the fuel/combat supply priority to 30-70. The amphibious point purchase decreased fuel reserves significantly, but I need a boost to my combat supplies before the big action starts.
Last, but certainly not least, I had a look on the air force allocation. There is no report of meaningful enemy fighter activity, but I allocated 3 strength points to air superiority missions regardless. Since I am anticipating no combat this turn, but I want to slow down German movements across the theatre, I have allocated all other points to interdiction missions.
TURN 2, January 8, 1944
Apart from some shuffling of the frontline units, I could not spot any major German movements. The bad news can be easily seen on this screenshot showing the start of Turn 2, however:
Yes, it is snowing. Not usual for January of course, but it does restrict movement and combat ability. I really have no time to wait for Spring, though, so I will probably still carry on.
To continue preparations for exploiting future German retreats, I ordered the reserve American units to spread out along the frontline, while I intend to have a force of local reserves both near the western- (mostly French units) and eastern- (Commonwealth forces) edge of the frontline.
The 36th US division facing Cassino, and the 5th British divisions at the western coast received combat supplies in preparation for the Big Push, but I have only two CS points left after this, not enough for further stockpiling for units of meaningful size. (which begins at 3, really).
A (relatively) impressive German effort of putting 5 units at air superiority has been reported, so I have allocated around half of the total Allied air strength to air superiority myself. I need to tackle the Luftwaffe while I do not really need my airforce for much else.
TURN 3, January 14, 1944
You may notice the emptied westernmost hex on the German line of forts (the white counter there represents German fortifications. The German player can build those from supplies). The zones of control units project to neighbouring hexes (unless out of supply), would not let me just march through there anyways, so it is not a blunder from the AI, although it does let me move up to that hex from just south of it. The real question, rather, is whether the AI just reacts to my troop concentration with its own (the 29th mechanized division defending that hex just moved one hex to the east), or it is actually planning a counterattack. We shall see.
This turn, I keep stockpiling combat supplies with the units in front and near Cassino. They will proceed to launch attacks along the line next turn. But it is time for the invasion now!
As planned, I have ordered the South African 6th armoured, and the Indian 10th division to make the amphibious landing at Anzio.
In terms of secondary movements, I have moved the British 5th division and the French mountain unit stacked with them into the westernmost empty hex offered by the Germans, and I have spread out the British armoured forces in Termoli, along the eastern half of the frontline. I want to be ready to exploit any German movements.
Thanks to my concentrated effort, German air activity has decreased to near non-existent, so most of the air assets have been switched to interdiction missions.
TURN 4, January 20, 1944
Landing two such strong divisions has turned out to be a good idea, as Anzio was defended by the German 90th division, but the invasion force has overcome the resistance and landed successfully.
The German 90th may have retreated, but with a strength value of 11 it is still a force to be reckoned with. I expect to see a counterattack from them soon.
As you can see, the AI rectified his move away from the westernmost hex by moving two units there, blocking my movement. Remember, this game is WEGO!
Time for the Big Push! I have switched half of my air assets to combat support, and basically ordered a head-long attack on the western half of the front line. I have sent additional combat supply stockpiles to a couple of units not being able to join the attack (due to stacking) and bought two amphibious transport points, depleting my CS reserves.
The Rangers, and the US-Canada special forces unit has been shipped to Anzio, as they can be sea transported to friendly ports or beachheads without amphib point cost. The original invading forces will start a cautious spread out toward Rome, in an effort to make the Germans panic.
Clearly the most important turn so far!
Let’s see how it ends up:
TURN 5, January 26, 1944
Looks like the Germans decided to fall back almost all of their front line!
Where combat took place, my forces were soundly beaten. A sacrifice which was not only costly but also meaningless as it failed to stop the German movements, except for the 15th Mechanized defending Cassino.
At the very least, I should be able to dismantle most of the Gustav line next turn.
You might notice the Rangers icon in Anzio having it’s designation in red. That is because they will be removed from the theatre next turn. Something I should have paid attention to.
Next turn will be fairly straightforward: ship a unit from Naples to Anzio, occupy the positions the Germans abandoned, and then look for a way to close up with the invasion forces along the western road leading to Rome.
All these movements are quickly depleting my fuel reserves, so I am bringing the combat supply – fuel ration to 50-50. I still anticipate heavy fighting if the Germans keep defending the two western roads, so I cannot just abandon CS shipments.
TURN 6, February 1, 1944
The screenshot isn’t showing it properly, but two German divisions (the 42nd and 90th) have closed off my approach to Rome. I could try to duke it out with them, but getting into a brawl so deep within enemy territory when there is no ETA on the arrival of the main forces is something I would prefer to avoid.
A Polish division landed was shipped from Naples last turn (the last unit I still had there). They will be used with the Indian division to form a defensive line north-east of Anzio to hold those defending Germans at bay, while I will switch the South Africans, toward the south.
Everything hangs in the balance via those two German-held hexes in the western half of the frontline. They are blocking my advance. I need to hammer and overpower them. If I manage to do it quickly, the German right flank will collapse completely and it should trigger a retreat all along the frontline.
So, the plan is easy: Cassino must fall!
TURN 7, February 7th
Well, it did not fall:
The battle for the other German point of defense, at the western edge, was even bloodier, 6 British strength points lost, for only half of that in German losses.
While the attacks themselves failed I did manage to get through with a couple of divisions between the German hexes, as you can see. However, something much more dramatic is unfolding up north!
I was way overambitious with my invasion forces.
Here is what happened: Before the South African division could enact my movement order toward the south, the German 11th mechanized moved in to contact with them from the north, making them incapable to do the regular movement order I issued. Simultaneously, the German 71th division, of which I lost sight for a turn in Terracina, and anticipated to move and shore up western defences, made a dash up north, and now within walking distance of undefended Anzio, the only supply source of my entire invasion force!
A terrible oversight on my part, and a good example that one should not underestimate the AI, and that WEGO requires more care than traditional turn based games.
Not much to do, except run back to Anzio and hope for the best. My Poles and South Africans are quite blocked from doing that, but the Indians can move one hex toward the port via a Withdraw order, and I am moving the special forces unit to the west, in a desperate attempt to block the German 71st from moving.
At the front, attacks against the two German hard points will continue. I do not expect them to succeed, but I need to pummel the Germans into yielding them to me.
As the only good news this turn, the American 88th division has arrived to Messina. But I will only have enough transport points to ship them two turns from now.
TURN 8, February 13th, 1944
Moving its 71st division into Anzio would have meant a double trap for the AI: my units would have been out of supply, but so does the 71st itself, probably, after surround The AI decided to not take the risk, and retreated instead, but started pressing down hard on my invasion forces from the north, from where it can do so safely, supply-wise.
Was this a good move? Hard to tell. German units are not exactly numerous to begin with, so risking the elimination of an entire division in a daring raid (which I can make undone by another invasion nearby as far as the AI knows), so I can certainly see the move as rational.
On the frontline, the two attacks more or less replicated their previous result. It took all of my British manpower reserves to replenish the losses suffered in the previous attack on the westernmost hex, and I was already out of my currently allocated American reserves. That together with the fact that most units around these German strongpoints need combat supply replenishment prompts me to delay further attacks a turn at least.
My Anzio forces might avoid cutting their supply lines, but there are too strong forces amassed against them, I need to continue withdrawing to or next to Anzio.
In other words, rapid breakthrough and advance seems beyond my means at the moment. Persistent pressure on the Germans should eventually yield those two defensive positions, but it will probably take several turns. Meanwhile the fate of the Anzio beach head hangs in the balance.
Well I hope you have enjoyed this AAR. The scenario is far from complete, and I may end up continuing this AAR if time permits, but I hope this has given you an overview of how the game works and what it is about.
Although I hinted at it, the failure of my offensive prevented me from really exploring the basic dilemma of the game which comes up during times of advance: balancing your combat supply and fuel transfers to the theatre. If you concentrate on fuel too much to continue a rapid advance, you may find yourself stopped and stranded as you encounter a German attempt at forming a defensive line somewhere. Needing to stop to stockpile combat supply before attacking them means that they in fact will be able to form it!
On the other hand, concentrate on combat supplies like I did in my preparations, and you may find yourself unable to properly capitalize on an enemy retreat. For example, that one big move of the entire frontline emptied my already depleted fuel stockpile!
And of course, if you keep everything always balanced, you might end up lacking both combat supply and fuel in certain situations.
Managing this, plus the combat readiness of your units, as well as a race against the clock for the Allies (and a lack of manpower for the Germans), together with a competent AI means I have been able to replay the game several times and find myself engrossed in it every time.