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WW2 DELUXE: EUROPEAN THEATER FROM CANVAS TEMPLE PUBLISHING As quality of components has been a consistent thread in the majority...







As quality of components has been a consistent thread in the majority of my reviews, I felt on pretty safe ground when I saw the word "Deluxe" in my current game's title.  Canvas Temple Publishing is a new undertaking that proclaims that it's "founded by Jon Compton and friends to publish games they want to publish without the pressure or angst of a publishing company trying to make a fortune."  Well, all I can say is that I'm glad they chose this as one they wanted to publish.  It's more than worth their effort and the quality shines out of it, especially the mounted map board.  

Apart from the large sized hexes to match equally large counters and the clear, but clear graphics, it stands out as the first eight-panel board that folds perfectly flat immediately on the very first play!  The subject is as obvious as the title announces and its treatment is at the opposite end of the monster spectrum of my recent review of Thunder In The East.  Here we've got the whole European war, West to East and beyond as far as Saudi Arabia and from the Nordic countries to the whole North African coastline.  As you can see the map is surrounded by a series of Sea Boxes that take you from America to the Persian Gulf

Just in case you don't want to play on this great mounted map, an identical gloss printed paper map is also included in the package.  Along with that is a large gloss card display for game set-up, plus three A4 sized gloss, double-sided scenario cards that allow you to begin the game from six increasingly later start dates.  Of these, three start dates will probably attract most attention Barbarossa, Overlord and Wacht Am Rhein. 

Set-up for the whole WWII 1939-1945

An important point to note about all these shorter scenarios is that you are still dealing in each scenario with the whole set of the European theatres.  So Wacht Am Rhein is not a focus on the Battle of the Bulge [you'd be fighting over a single hex!], but simply begins at that historical point.  With the low unit density and speed of play, even if the Barbarossa scenario had focused purely on the German invasion of Russia, it would have provided little more than a learning exercise for the system - and an interesting system it is.

Both the rule book and the double-sided player aid provide a thorough, detailed sequence of play, which appears to be exactly what you'd expect, but does contain some rewarding novelties.

Its essence is as follows:

Strategic Warfare
Axis Player Turn
Allied Player Turn
Armoured Action
End of Turn Adjustment

I'll outline the basics of each Phase with some comments on original or unusual features.

Strategic Warfare Phase

This begins with alternating player use of their air units to bomb cities, with any loss destroying a city's one production point ability.  Interception is allowed and results in air to air combat prior to the bombing attempt.  A notable rule is that units used now can still operate in later Movement and Combat Phases, whereas units used in those later Phases will be marked Ops Complete and unable to take part in next turn's Strategic Warfare Phase.
A very helpful example is given of key concepts
-above is the Convoy attack-
This is followed by an Axis Convoy attack in the Atlantic Box.  Initially the Axis fires and the losses are taken in Production Points.  Then both sides fire simultaneously and losses are taken in fleet steps, or air/submarine steps if they are present.  Here I feel a mite uncertain about being able to take losses from air units to avoid fleet losses.  However, it does provide further choice and decisions needing to be made which I always like as a feature in any game.  I also like the little detail that as the war progresses, the Allies improved ASW & Convoy ability is reflected by having the fleet combat occur before the Axis Convoy attack.  This means that if the Allies score more hits than the Axis, the losing Axis will have to withdraw and no Convoy Attack occurs.

Production Phase

This is a fairly standard process, with Production points being provided by each friendly city and applied to the relevant nation to upgrade [i.e. flip a reduced unit on the map back to full strength] or create a unit at reduced or full strength from a player's Force Pool. 

A few simple rules give an appropriate flavour to this process, such as Britain receiving 2 pts from overseas Dominions or US production being used purely for Lend Lease until they enter the war.  Minor powers' production is extremely limited, producing only a single point every Winter turn, and here it's important to point out that each year is made up of 4 turns with Winter being the first turn in each new year! Beware, this creates some confusing nomenclature, as a result e.g. the Wacht Am Rhein scenario begins technically in what is marked on the Turn track as "Winter 1945."

The meat of the game then takes place over the next three Phases:

Axis Player Turn

Allied Player Turn

Armoured Action

The basics are conventional, with Axis units moving and fighting, followed by Allied units moving and fighting.  Then in the Armoured Action section, the Axis move only their armoured units, but ALL Axis units have combat again.  This is mirrored by the Allies doing exactly the same, moving only their armoured units and then ALL Allied units having combat again.  Fortunately the low unit density makes what may sound a slightly lengthy process much quicker and easier than it seems.  

Also the limited terrain and its effects on movement and combat help to make both processes very straightforward.  However, despite the rules' overall simplicity, ease of understanding and application, there are some very interesting aspects.  The first being the single integrated Combat Table that has separate lines for each type of combat.

Just cross-reference the type of Combat with each player's total strength and both players simultaneously roll two dice, apply the hits and the player taking most hits retreats.  Should both players allocate applicable air and/or naval units to a land combat then separate Air v Air and Sea v Sea combat occurs first and surviving winning unit strengths are factored into the land combat.   Again the limited number of naval and air units make this a minor, but satisfying sub-process.

I also appreciate the fact that air and naval units do not actually move to the combat site but can be applied if in range.  Such units are then marked as Ops Complete and cannot be used again until the markers are removed in each individual Player Turn.  This achieves some interesting effects.  When the Axis player attacks any naval or air units they use will be unavailable for defence in the Allied Player's turn, but those Allied air and naval that defended will become available to attack on their own part of the turn at the expense of being unavailable on the following turn's Axis section.
A close look at some of the Allied Force Pool
Each player's identical movement part of their turn has its mix of familiar and not so familiar factors.  Simple movement factors coupled with the very limited terrain modifiers makes for ease of learning and execution.  What is most unusual is that all units [air, land and sea] can move in any order that you like within the Movement part of a turn, as well as employing normal movement, rail movement and amphibious assault where applicable.  Consequently, I'd strongly advise some simple practice of turning each unit to face a specific direction once it is moved to avoid confusion.

ZOCs too are slightly more unusual.  For land units they're perfectly normal, extending into all adjacent hexes, halting enemy unit movement, free to enter in the phase when all units can move, but costing +1 in the Armoured  phase.  But air and naval units project different ZOCs with different effects.  Naval ones extend three hexes, cause a special type of attack [a transit attack] whenever an enemy naval unit enters any of them and Naval ZOCs also interrupt the supply lines for all units in all hexes they extend into. 

Early Axis domination 

In what is generally a very straightforward set of rules the ramifications and intricacies of the different ZOC rules are probably the most complex element and have caused a few queries and uncertainties.  As is often the case, playing the game and using the rules tends to clarify their usage very satisfactorily.

On the other hand, occasions do occur when applying two different rules, do throw up some anomalous instances.  For those who demand absolute certainty this may cause problems or for  those who are simply rules-lawyers this may be a happy hunting ground!  As the latter type of gamer is generally one to avoid, enough said.

In the main then WW2 Deluxe lives up to many of its promises and expectations.  It does provide a fast playing game with its core of solid rules clear.  Though there are some uncertainties they tend to occur in more peripheral areas of minor importance.  As such this may not make it the best choice of game for a beginner, but for the experienced gamer it certainly provides a lighter experience of a massive topic that still manages to pack in many of the important historical factors of WW2 in the |European theatre.

The one thing I have wished for is a section of designer's notes, so often an element in many games.  Obviously not a requirement, but I'd have loved Jon Compton to share a few thoughts on the design. especially as among his many previous hats is that of editor of the magazine Fire & Movement, many of whose issues I still possess. 

Many thanks to Canvas Temple Publishing for providing a review copy and I look forward with great enthusiasm to the appearance of their next two WWII projects.  Both of them are topics that I think many of you will share my excitement for:  Admirals War which will cover the whole European and Pacific conflict at sea and Wacht Am Rhein, a perennial favourite.

RRP $79.95