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Subject: Review/Article and interview with Rick Young from 2005 rss

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Björn Hansson
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Bromma
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The following text is a translation of an article in Swedish that I wrote almost a year ago.

Europe Engulfed has received very good reviews all over the world, but has just recently made a discrete entrance on the Swedish market. It’s currently at number 12 out of 19,143 [now at 38, ed.] games on the online Mecca of board gaming, Boardgamegeek.com.

The year is 1990. The place: Origin’s game convention in Los Angeles. Columbia games are set to premier their new game, East Front. The two youngsters Rick Young and Jesse Evans have ventured there, filled with expectations. Unfortunally the company postpones the release. Disheartened Jesse asks Rick if he’s not going to design a game of his own about the war on the eastern front. Rick, without prior experience of game design, replies:
- If I’m going to do it it’s got to be the whole war, not just the east front. Do you want to help?
13 years, several revisions of the rules and more than 200 test plays, Jesse and Rick held the finished product in their hands: Europe Engulfed (EE). Since then praise has been given from all directions, and gamers across the globe have expressed their passion for the game. The fact that it’s at number 12 on Boardgamegeeks top list speaks for itself. I spoke to Rick about how the game was received:
- We are flattered and extremely happy that EE has been received as well as it has been. We personally have felt for many years before its publication that our game was the best WW II game out there, at least to our tastes, and we certainly hoped that others would agree with our tastes. We envisioned maybe a spot in the top 200 or maybe even the top 100, but we never dreamed so many would share our tastes for a strategic game so fully.

Smoother, not smaller
So, what is EE? The game allows 2-3- players to simulate the second world war in Europe, North Africa and parts of the Middle East. The first distinguish feature is that the playing pieces are made up of square wooden blocks with only one side displaying information. The side facing your opponent is blank. This creates a so called “fog of war” – you know how many units your opponent has, but not their type or strength. Each block represents one corps i.e. ca 2-4 divisions. Among the different unit types are infantry, armour, airborne militia and elite forces. Each is identified through standard NATO-symbols. The information on each block is simple and made up of a number of dots. One dot equals one point of strength. When a unit takes damage the block is rotated 90 degrees and the unit value changes.
Even though the focus of the game is on the land based part of the war, the strategic air and naval warfare plays a significant part. With the exception of markers for fleets and tactical air support, that part of the war is handled smoothly by different tables.
- We always intended to keep the game playable in a day, says Rick. In Europe, the focus of the war was on sweeping maneuvers and huge land battles. Therefore we simplified the other elements, without diminishing their impact.
Just like in many other games in this genre, the players themselves decide what to produce, makes sure that his armies are supplied and uses every mean possible to sabotage the opponent’s convoys, railroads and transports.

Historical political game balance
But what makes EE so special. In my opinion it’s primarily two things: The political rules and Special Actions.
Those of you who read my review of Age of Napoleon in Sverox #43 are familiar with the difficulty in maintaining the balance between historical feel and playability. In some aspects EE is scripted, but the political events are dynamic and you never get the feeling that the game is playing itself. Rick explained their intentions:
- We wanted to incorporate a political model we felt realistic given the feelings and strategic direction of all the nations within the historical period, but we needed to also ensure that the game would not become derailed by a strange political result. Players are still allowed to try different strategies within the historical political framework, but this is not a game about WW II alliances as they might have happened in parallel dimension X.
The political rules cover everything from the export of Swedish ore and the Finnish winter war to the American lend-lease program and Germany’s dependence of the Ploesti oilfields. Some historical knowledge makes the political rules easier to understand and relate to, but you definitely don’t need a PhD in history.

Not a dice fest
The crown jewel in the creation are the before mentioned Special Actions (SA). These represent a nation’s ability to combine competence, supplies and logistics into advanced operations. By using SA’s a player can make airborne and amphibious assaults, breakthrough movements, multiple combat, emergency reinforcements, fast retreats or counterattacks and much more. This makes EE amazingly dynamic. You can do whatever you want in order to achieve your goals, and still be inside the framework of history and constantly keeping the historical feeling intact. Rick is mighty proud of his Special Actions:
- They were a part of the game concept from day two of the design process. They were a necessity in order to be able to do operations like the German invasion of France in one turn. More and more areas of use were added during the first year of the development process, as an answer to specific gaming problems that occurred.
In every war game the combat system is one of the most central parts. Personally I dislike games where combats are made up an endless rolling of dice until one of the combatants is eliminated or has retreated. It’s both unrealistic and dull. In EE every dot on the active side of a block equals one dice. The combat round, a singular round, looks like this: defender rolls, attacker takes losses, attacker rolls; defender takes losses, the end. Terrain, weather, fortifications, air support and unit type affect the results through simple modifications. It is fast, simple and effective. In order to streamline the process even more there are quick reference sheets for combats with more than 12 dice. No dice fest!

Who should buy?
A lot of people might be deterred when they hear that inside the game box is a 24 page rule book. But the rules are very well organized and contain a lot of examples of play and illustrations which makes the learning process easier. An equally thick book with designer’s notes, strategic tips and more advanced rules are also included. The latter was a demand from the publisher GMT. Rick responded by making a simplified version of the rules: Blockskrieg.
- Blockskrieg was my own initiative, as I wanted the game to be a bridge game that parents could teach their young children, and have the kids’ progress through the game as they got older. GMT demanded that we included the advanced rules in order to suit their clientele. But Jesse and I felt that it only added unneeded complication.
Who should buy Europe Engulfed? Personally I think this is one of the greatest games of all time. I have never in my 20 years as a gamer had the privilege to play a more balanced and entertaining game in this genre. However a few things should be kept in mind:
The size: The Mark Simonitch designed game map measures 112x87 cm and contains not only the aesthetically appealing map, but also a lot of helpful information. Some extra space to house blocks, counters and player aids is recommended.
The time: The 1939 scenario will keep the players busy for approximately 10-14 hours, but there are scenarios that run much faster.
The complexity: In comparison with other games in the same genre I would say that it is much more advanced than Axis&Allies: Europe, but significantly easier (and definitely faster) than ETO [European Theatre of Operations] and WiF [World in Flames]. In my experience both heavy duty Grognards and semi-butch eurogamers will enjoy the game, assuming they have a big enough table and an interest in this historical era.

The future is looking bright
I spoke to Rick about the future. He is keen on following up his success and two new releases are planned. First up is part one in a new game series on operational level that he designed on his own. The series is called Fast Action Battles (FAB). Part one will be FAB: The Bulge and simulate the Ardennes’ offensive. As the name implies the game is meant to be fast, easy and entertaining. It shares a few elements with EE; Special Actions and the block system. Among the new features are rules for battalion sized assignable assets. Unit experience will also affect the game.
FAB: The Bulge is already available for pre order from GMT. Part two is planned and will tackle operation Husky, the allied invasion of Sicily.
This is not all. In mid 2006 GMT will start taking pre orders for the successor all fans of EE have been waiting for: Asia Engulfed!
- Asia is obviously a much different campaign than Europe, with its focus on air and naval over land units. As such AE will have expanded air and naval rules, and greatly reduced political rules. The naval Units are blocks in AE and air units will be much more numerous, but of a smaller scale than EE. All production of ships in AE is over time, rather than immediate. The games can be linked.
I and many more around the world will eagerly be awaiting AE, and until then we will keep playing its predecessor. Everyone who loves war games and hasn’t played Europe Engulfed has definitely missed out on a great experience.
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Trevor Murphy
United States
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Curse you, Björn... now I feel compelled to buy a monster block game that requires 14 hours. Also, I must ask myself a hard question: am I 'semi-butch'?
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Björn Hansson
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Forza Vale!
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FuriousCorgi wrote:
Curse you, Björn... now I feel compelled to buy a monster block game that requires 14 hours. Also, I must ask myself a hard question: am I 'semi-butch'?

Ha ha! Glad I could help.
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Morten Helles
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Thanks for the nice review/interview.

I have been considering buying EE for some time, but now I am convinced: Once GMT gets EE reprinted, I'll buy it!
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