Sunday, April 17, 2011


No entry last week: birthdays (mine; child’s) and school deadlines intervened. On the upside, I have a week and a half off for Passover and hope to more than make up for the gap.

As I showed last time, the Italian Campaign 1943-4 is better represented in the wargaming canon than the Allied landings in the South of France, but still nowhere nearly as much as the Normandy landings. On the other hand, one of the most beloved of Avalon Hill designs from the 1969 was Anzio.

I’ve read that the game seemed to attract more than the usual amount of fan-made scenarios and variants. I knew about it growing up, but by the time I got into wargaming in the late 70’s Anzio seemed to be a bit old hat compared to games like Squad Leader and Third Reich. I’d be curious to try it out now.
Much beloved.

SPI, Avalon Hill’s main rival at the time, obviously felt that Anzio was worth a second look, too, because the original Anzio Beachhead was published in 1969 in S&T #20 (I’ll call it Anzio69). I’ve never seen a copy or played it. By 1990, the wargaming hobby was in a state of retrenchment due to D&D, videogames, and demographic shrinkage. The quality of S&T and the games contained therein began to deteriorate. The version of Anzio Beachhead I have was published during this era, released in 1990 in S&T #134 (I’ll call it Anzio90). Was S&T trying to save money on R&D by filling holes in the publishing schedule with recycled game?

As usual with wargames of the period, the graphic design makes few concessions for ease of setup or play. For instance, the reinforcement track is printed on the map but the counters are not marked similarly, which means that you have to hunt through the countermix to place them anyway. I ended up adding turn/phase/area of entry to the backs of all counters, which speeds up setup considerably. 

Another example: victory points for hex locations are given in the rules but not on the map. So I ruined the resale value of the game even further by marking up the map. 

Garish? You decide.
The map is certainly more colourful than the usual SPI fare of the time—to the point of being quite garish in its use of primary colours. It’s a far cry from the muted pastels of Redmond Simonsen’s graphic design from SPI’s peak. The counters are similarly bright.

In terms of rules, Anzio69 was a curious mixture of tradition and inventiveness. It has all the usual rules and procedures around movement and combat, stacking, ZOC, supply, etc. But unlike almost all other wargames of the period, game turns are neither symmetric nor consistent; Allies and Germans rotate through three kinds of phases in staggered fashion, with different restrictions on which units can move and attack. For instance, after a phase in which the Allies get to move and attack with all their units, the Germans only get to move their units half their movement allowances. I can see in this design a reaching toward some kind of impulse-movement system, but the designer couldn’t quite break free of the Igo-Ugo framework.

We don't need no stinkin' phases!
The result recreates the ebb and flow of a military campaign very nicely, albeit through arbitrary imposition rather than arising organically from the subsystems. Anzio Beachhead’s innovation was not widely copied, but eventually another designer—Jospeh Miranda—broke with tradition completely with 2009’s Bulge 20, and dispensed with fixed phase-sequencing entirely. The result is a game which I consider one of the most innovative little gems around bar none.

Returning to Anzio90, I will say that my game-partner and I found it easy to enter into and enjoy. We are veterans of many wargames, so the ruleset was easy to reabsorb. This is one of the benefits of SPI boilerplate rules which we forget about today when every game strives to be different. He played the Germans; I the Allies. The campaign is fun for both players because the Allies are on the offensive for the first few turns, but eventually go on the defensive as the Germans get reinforcements as the Allies run out of steam. As well, the more successful the ‘guys in green’ are in the first part of the game, the more frontage they have to defend. This was my undoing in the end, as I allowed a brave group of Wehrmacht to slip through my lines and cut off my line of communication.

Anzio Beachhead is a good ‘little’ wargame on a campaign which is otherwise unrepresented in my collection, and on that basis will remain part of it.


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