Europe Engulfed encompasses the whole of WWII in Europe, and manages to use a fairly simple rule set to cover the bulk of the important decisions you’ll read about if you look up what Churchill, Stalin or Hitler were pondering at the time. Do you build U-boats or expand the Luftwaffe? Maybe it’s more panzers you need (can’t have too many panzers), or is it just more of the PBI that will win the war for you? Across the channel you’ll be considering whether the Royal Navy will be your best defence, or whether you should be reinforcing the French. How many men can you afford to put into the BEF? What if they’re all lost? Will you be able to defend against a German invasion of Britain? And what of North Africa?
As with any game there’s a learning curve to get to grips with the rules. However, with EE it’s not too bad. Sure, there are lots of wrinkles and exceptions to cover the multitude of minor countries, treaties and worthwhile details (such as lend-lease, Vichy France, Partisans, etc), but these will come in time. The core of the rules will be grasped almost immediately by anyone with a modicum of gaming smarts.
And what’s the core? Well, basically the tactical level is as follows: movement is one area for infantry and two for armour, cavalry or ground support aircraft. There are a few terrain considerations, but by and large the areas you’ll actually be fighting over don’t have much awkward terrain in (except marsh which armour can’t go in).
Combat is basically a case of rolling one dice per ‘pip’ of strength left (each unit has from 1-4 ‘pips’ and is reduced by one each time it’s hit) of each attacker and hitting on a 6. Being elite, armour vs infantry and a handful of other situations give a bonus so you’ll hit on a 5 or 6, or 4, 5 or 6, etc. All pretty straightforward stuff. A nice twist to this simple system is that defenders always fire first, and losses to the attacker will not fire back (being dead). Also, the attacker gets to choose whether to fight a ‘normal’ battle, as above, or an ‘assault’, where everyone gets to roll twice as many dice. This can be very costly if the enemy turn out to be better than you’d guessed, and you have to guess as the blocks that represent the units are on their side with the information facing the owner (see the images). Choosing when to assault and when to go in normally can be critical, as too timid an attack can bog down your whole front, and too aggressive will lose you more troops that you’ll need later. A very nice balance and some tough decisions each time you attack, and all from a very simple system.
The particularly clever bit, and the key to the tactical game, is Special Actions. These are what allows you to do that encirclement by pressing your attack, or to keep an area in supply once it’s been surrounded. You can spend Special Actions to launch counter attacks or reinforce areas under assault. Learning how and when to use your Special Actions is the key to the tactical game (I know I said it before, but it’s that important). Different nations have differing numbers of Special Actions available to them, and these vary with tie too. So, the Germans start off with a large number possible, and lose them as time goes on (representing their loss of quality leaders, supplies and so on). The Soviets are the opposite, starting with one and gaining more as they get to grips with the concepts of modern warfare. It’s an elegant and simple way to cover a wide variety of important concepts.
I just mentioned the ‘tactical game’ there. So what else is there? Well, EE is basically two levels of game for the price of one. You’ve got the tactical game where you try to break through the enemy lines with your armies, fussing over the detail of where to put this tank corps, and whether the battered remnants of those infantry corps are best left in the front line to look scary (remember the enemy can’t see how many ‘pips’ they’ve got left), or withdrawn and refitted for later use at the risk of leaving your line looking temptingly undefended…
The other game is the strategic game. This is the one where you worry about your nation’s production, a value measured in WERPs (Wartime Economic Resource Points). This can be spent on new units, refitting existing units and Special Actions to support the tactical war directly, or on strategic assets like bombers, ASW, U-boats, fleets, etc. These will make a large difference to your war effort as they can reduce the enemy’s WERPS, and therefore their ability to fight. They can also reduce their movement, enhance your own, open up the possibilities for amphibious assaults, and so on. The Germans can even build V-weapons if they’re feeling megalomaniac enough.
Now having said there are two games makes it sound like they’re disassociated form each other, and that’s not true at all. The strategic and the tactical game are absolutely intermeshed, and decisions made for each affects the other. However, you do have to deal with each stage of the turn in a very different manner, and so I’d suggest that this split is a good way to envision your different ‘hats’.
I’ve only played this two player so far, but actually it looks like it’d play very well with three. Certainly, after playing the Allies recently, I did feel like I was playing two games at once (Soviet and British/US) because they’re not only fighting completely different wars, but are using different bits of the rules to do so. The Soviets are concentrated utterly on the tactical game and their strategic play is designed to get the maximum number of men on the line staving off the Fritzes. The Brits, on the other hand, are steeped in the intricacies of naval actions, trying to support their North Arrican efforts at a distance, keeping supply lines open and so on. It feels very different. Going from the careful husbanding of the few corps you can support in North Africa as the Brits, to the wholesale carnage of the Eastern Front is a bit of a change of pace. I’ve used armies the size of the entire British force in Africa as diversionary assaults in Russia. It’s a completely different war. I’ll be happy to be left to concentrate on one or the other. Just have to convince another victim… er… opponent.
Production values for the game are high, and it looks really impressive on the tabletop. It’s a big game, eating up most of a 6x4 foot table. There are some 1 map scenarios (the map comes in 2 halves), but unfortunately a couple of these require parts of the game tracks from the other half, and so don’t really save any space. This would have been avoidable if the tracks were on a separate sheet rather than included on the map, but it’s hardly a big issue. Once you’ve got the game you’ll want to show it off…
There are a few minor niggles that could be thrown at the game such as the similarity of some of the colours of block, especially under less than brilliant lighting, and given the slight variations inherent with painting/staining wooden blocks. Some very important rules are stated once and not really underlined by examples or emphasis. It’s not that they’re unclear, but I’d have liked even more examples, or perhaps more tactical notes (or maybe I’m just thick :oP).
Overall, Europe Engulfed is a great looking game with a simple, but characterful set of rules that shows it’s long development time by playing smoothly and with a great feeling for the subject it covers. I took last Monday off work to play it, and after 11 hours straight (and an Axis surrender), we were tired and a little drained, but we both wanted to play it again straight away. I can’t give it a better accolade than that.
Thanks for the great review. I'm eagerly awaiting my first game!
Thanks for this review, seven years after you wrote it! EE seems to be the perfect level of complexity for me and my friends, the components look the business, and your account of the game's mechanics is very encouraging. If you're still around, may I ask whether it still hits the table?
Good, concise review, very useful.