Game:Piercing Fortress Europa
System(s): Windows, Mac
Release Date: February 26, 2014
Publisher (Developer): Matrix Games (Frank Hunt)
ESRB Rating: (Everyone 10+, most likely)
Pros: Simple rules, unusual WW2 theatre
Cons: Little appeal for the casual gamer, nothing special in the game
World War II is a rich environment for gaming. You have the fun of submarine warfare, the big naval battles in the Pacific, the fast tank wars in Africa, the clash of mighty armies in Eastern Europe, and, of course, the bloodbath of the D-Day invasion. One arena that gaming basically ignored is Italy; there was a full Allied invasion there, but games detailing the battles in Italy are few and far between. Piercing Fortress Europa seeks to change all that, with a compact system focused on various aspects of the conquest of Italy.
First Sicily, then the world!
There is no formal tutorial for Piercing Fortress Europa; the 44 page manual (small-ish for these kinds of games) explains everything you need to know. Piercing Fortress Europa offers half a dozen campaigns. The invasion of Sicily serves as tutorial–each side (Allied and Axis) gets a handful of units. The Allies (US, British, and Canadian forces) must conquer the island quickly, while the Allies (feeble Italian and a few strong German units) must try to delay things as much as possible. While the game allows for “hotseat” play, it’s much more fun as the allies–the Axis mostly sits around and responds to the Allies (at best), or sits helplessly with nothing to do but take a pounding and hope to last.
Every World War II game is unsatisfying in some way. Almost always, it’s some aspect of the realism that some players will find grating. Piercing Fortress Europa addresses the issue of supplying the armies, the most often overlooked part of WW2 games. Each unit has a supply rating, and only well-supplied forces can mount a serious offense. A player only has so many supply points to issue in a turn, and unit getting resupplied can do nothing else. A player can’t simply “attack everything” and hope to get lucky, somewhere, and must plan his attacks a few turns in advance; the defender must try to guess where the attack is coming, and supply accordingly.
While most of Piercing Fortress Europa looks and played like any “old school” board game, the other big nod to realism is simultaneous movement. Players give the troops their orders, and then both sides execute those orders at the same time. Thus, you can’t just blast one infantry, and move whole army through the one weak point. Defensive lines tend to hold, because it’s much more difficult to exploit a breakthrough in this system.
It’s a grey world after all
While Piercing Fortress Europa plays well enough (except for the occasional “division by zero, must crash now” bug), there’s not much excitement here, nor is there much detail that a player can see (it’s there, just well hidden). As a simple game, it doesn’t appeal to the grognards who want their Italian troops to use more water because they cook so much pasta (I’m not kidding, there seriously is a board game with this much detail). The rules are simple enough for a beginner to pick up quickly, but beginners aren’t jaded from having played a D-Day invasion a few dozen times in the past. They won’t learn any of the history of this neglected (from a gaming standpoint) campaign through play, as the game just doesn’t have much in the way of detail–the above campaign summary is typical of what you’ll learn about history while playing the game.
In short, Piercing Fortress Europa accomplishes it’s designer’s goals (making a simple system focused on Italy, with more realistic supply rules than usual), I’m not sure this game will really catch on, since neither veterans nor beginners can readily appreciate “no frills” World War II gaming, especially with a $40 price tag (it’s a good $10 game, though). Hard core WW2 gamers looking for something different might find the game worthwhile, but most other gamers will probably be better off with something else (and Matrix Games has plenty of other options).
Product Page [matrixgames]