Old school Grognard #wargame with WW2 Deluxe: European Theater (canvastemple.com. 2018)

ON A RAINY DAY CLOSING OUT THE LAST WEEKEND OF THE YEAR, I decided to go old school (sorta) and play a more classic hex & counter wargame. Searching my shelves, I pulled down WW2 Deluxe: European Theater from Canvas Temple Publishing in 2018. The CTP motto is, “Old codgers trying to retire!” and their designs reflect a desire to satisfy “more senior” wargamers with larger counters with larger fonts. As CTP says themselves:

We at Canvas Temple have been at this a long time; designing and playing wargames. The youngest of us has been playing over 35 years. Like many old-school wargamers, our eyesight has declined, our fingers have become fumbly, and our time has become scarce.

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.

Another World War II

My World War II started off with a mostly historical situation in 1939. In WW2 Deluxe you can start some setup variations possible. In this game, the Axis started with the historical setup (Panzer Divisions at full strength) whereas the Allies were joined by a Republican Spain (can join the Allies starting in Winter 1940, automatically once the USSR joins the war; Portugal may also be Allied). The Fall 1939 turn (each turn is a season) saw the historical German conquest of Poland. Winter 1940 saw the Germans shift to the French frontier and the invasion started in Spring 1940. Maybe the Germans should have waited; although they blew thru the Ardennes and besieged Paris, the British were able to bring reinforcements to the continent. Summer 1940 saw Paris fall to the Germans only to be heroically retaken by a reduced 1st French Armor**. In the course of retaking Paris an entire German armor unit was destroyed and an infantry reduced. Of course, lots of RAF support also helped the French defenders as the Luftwaffe suffered terribly in air-to-air combat. Fall 1940 saw new German armor drive on Paris and retake the city, only to be ejected once again. Meanwhile, in the south of France, the Italians had joined the fight and took Toulon, robbing the French of one Production Point and thus making them dependent upon US Lend Lease aid if they want to rebuild lost armor or air units. A German offensive drive against Paris in Winter 1941 fell short and the Germans went over to the defensive in Spring and Summer 1941 as rumblings from the Eastern Front started to become alarming.

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Spring 1941 – France stands & Germany goes on Strategic Defense. The war is all but lost for Germany at this point….

That really was the end of the war for Germany. As fast as the Germans tried to rebuild they had lost too much with the failed campaign against France. When the Soviet Union entered the war it was Operation Bagration – in 1942. With a toehold on the Continent (remember, both France and Spain were part of the Allies) the Americans didn’t need a Normandy invasion to get to the battle. Italy fell in 1943 and by the time Spring 1945 arrived it was an Allied Major Victory with a much reduced Germany remaining the sole Axis Major or Minor power still standing.

Game Thoughts

The Armored Action phase of a turn where Armor gets another movement and combat phase is very evocative of the era. The Blitzkrieg is real!

Aircraft are so powerful with a Strategic Warfare role and air combat for land and sea. The RAF dominated the French Campaign and the Luftwaffe was swept from the skies leading to Paris surviving and France not falling.

I underplayed my naval forces. The Battle of the Atlantic took place but the Germans had to focus on rebuilding lost ground forces to defend the Fatherland. The U-Boat campaign never really got going and the Germans never deployed enough submarines to seriously threaten either Lend Lease or the movement of US troops to Europe. The British controlled the Mediterranean and enjoyed strategic mobility against the soft underbelly of Europe.

WW2 Deluxe: European Theater is a fun afternoon’s diversion. With a relatively simple set of rules you can refight the European Theater in just a few hours. My game took about three hours although the first 75 minutes or so decided the war. In addition to the 1939 setup, there are six other scenarios that start at various points of the war. Fall Gelb and Weserubung (Spring 1940) is the historical invasion of France. Barbarossa and Battleaxe (Summer 1941) is the historical German invasion of the Soviet Union and the British defense of North Africa. Fall Blau and Torch (Summer 1942) looks at that pivotal period while Citadel and Avalanche (Summer 1943) starts with those two offensives. Overlord and Bagration (Summer 1944) is followed by Wacht Am Rhein (Winter 1945) for the final showdown. Any of those could be interesting and well worth another afternoon of play.

Kudos to John Compton of CTP for a very simple, yet highly enjoyable, old school wargame design. WW2 Deluxe: European Theater, though a newer title, is a perfect old school renaissance wargame and rightly deserves a place in both my game collection and on the gaming table.

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** Looks like I misplayed this whole game! Rule 12.2 Vichy France and Free France states, “The instant the Axis captures Paris, France is conquered and Vichy France is created.” Oh well, my play was still enjoyable. I haven’t cleared it off the table yet so a reset and some evening play sessions seem called for now!

#Wargame #FirstImpressions – WW2 Deluxe European Theater (Canvas Temple Publishing, 2018)

I recently took took delivery of WW2 Deluxe: European Theater (alternatively WW2 Deluxe: The War in Europe) from new-ish wargame publisher Canvas Temple Publishing. As the publisher’s blurb puts it:

WW2 Deluxe is a grand-strategic game utilizing armies or army groups, air forces, and fleets. The game covers the entire conflict in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. There are two players or sides in the game. The Axis controls Germany, Italy, and all friendly minor countries. The Allied player controls France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States when it enters the conflict.

The game aims to make the war in Europe playable in an evening. Contents include 1 x 22×34 inch map,  1 x book of rules , 1 x sheets of 3/4″ inch counters, and charts and tables.

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The war in Europe, on a card table

The game funded with just over $24,000 on $6,000 needed. The extra money unlocked several stretch goals including a mounted map. There was one more stretch goal at $28,000 that would of unlocked blocks (more on that later).

Components

In a phrase, VERY NICE! I really like the mounted board (a folded paper board is also included). The big counters are really nice for this old grognard. When I opened my box, several counters had fallen off the sprue. CTP owner Jon Compton explains:

Lastly, be advised that the printer did a very fine job of die-cutting the counters for WW2 Deluxe. Perhaps a little too fine, as they barely adhere to the sprew. So be careful when you examine the counter sheet. Personally I consider that a bonus as it means I won’t have to trim off a bunch of rabbit ears. But everyone has a different use for these games, so if that’s a problem, my apologies in advance (and before anyone asks, no, I won’t be reprinting them to make them stay in better. It’s a feature, not a bug :-).

A great feature of this bug is that the counters are easy to get off the sprue and they really look awesome when clipped – and clipping goes quickly because there are not that many counters to go through!

If I have a complaint it is that I wish there was a Production Track somewhere. Production Cities on the map are often covered up by units making counting them up a bit painful. Rule 7.1.2 also details bonus production points; wish all that was captured on a chart or track somewhere. Alas, I guess I will make my own….

Game Mechanics

In play and scope WW2 Deluxe is not much different from Axis & Allies. However, unlike A&A, WW2 Deluxe uses many “classic” hex & counter mechanics in play. Each turn includes Strategic Warfare (Strategic Bombings and Convoy battles), Production, Axis then Allied Turns (Movement & Combat), an extra Armored Action phase, Supply and End of Turn Adjustment. Classic wargame Zones of Control (ZoC) are used. Combat resolution is via a Combat Chart with the number of attacking/defending factors cross-referenced with the type of combat and column shifts based on few modifiers. Roll 2d6; every “hit” first reduces then eliminates a unit (most are two-step, front & back).

Some markers are required for the game. Air and Fleet units will need Ops Complete markers at times but the few markers keeps the map relatively uncluttered. Errata to date has also been limited (a few misprinted counters and very few rules clarifications).

When I first looked at the map, I wondered about all the “extra” areas like the Middle East and Spain and the like. At first I figured it was just there because the map is rectangular and it would look unusual to cut it out. However, the rules make those areas important! Not only does WW2 Deluxe include neutrals, but those “extra” areas are important for Production. Iraqi oil or rebellion? Rumanian oil and Swedish steel; those “peripheral” areas have value!

Scenarios

Playing time is rated as 2 hours and up. The game is advertised as, “playable in an evening.” My first solo play-thru (with rules learning) of the full 24-turn Fall 1939-Spring 1945 campaign took around 5 hours. In addition to the full campaign, six other scenarios are provided. Each starts at a different point in the war and proceeds from there. Choices are:

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

I guess I could have started with Wacht am Rhein and only played two turns. But I would have missed out on the full experience and not really see how streamlined, or not, the game is. There are also several Optional Rules and variants to choose from. This will certainly help with replayability; one can either use the random variant rolls to see what you get (like Ireland goes Axis and no Soviet purges) or pick-n-choose what experiment you want to try.

Blocks

I don’t miss the blocks. Indeed, I think this game would NOT have worked with blocks as each would have to be two-sided meaning you either stack them (like counters) or face the unused side to your opponent (losing the fog of war blocks often bring). The mapboard would have to be larger too.

Final Thoughts

WW2 Deluxe delivers what it promises; a simple wargame of the war in Europe that is playable in an evening. Nice components complement a somewhat classic hex & counter wargame. In many ways WW2 Deluxe is a good candidate for a convention game; easy to teach and playable in a reasonably short time period.

In this age of “innovation” I am quite happy and satisfied with this classic wargame approach. WW2 Deluxe proves that “innovative” is not necessarily better. WW2 Deluxe is a wargame that lets players refight World War II in Europe without fancy plastic minis or custom dice or “innovative” mechanisms and rules. Canvas Temple Publishing has given us a thematic-enough game on World War II in Europe that’s plain, simple fun!