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Air Assault On Crete/Invasion of Malta: 1942» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Overview of the Malta Game rss

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Paul Rabe
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During the time my wife was a Fulbright Scholar in Malta, I read several books on the experience of that nation during The War. As such, I was elated when I finally obtained the Avalon Hill game dealing with a hypothetical invasion of that island. This review will deal entirely with that extra game in the box, as I haven’t even looked at the mapboard for the battles in Crete.

This board game has many features common to Avalon Hill games: hex-layout; zones of control; players alternating turns of move and attack; combat resolution by computing odds and rolling the die; terrain effects on movement and defense strength; etc. Although the map-board is small enough that a complete game can take only couple of hours, this game is not a good choice for first-time war-gamers. The rules for parachute drops, a bewildering variety of units that are good at one thing but terrible at another, and severe (but realistic) limits on Axis forces; all combine to make this game only for those with a bit of experience in general war-gaming.

Plain and simple, the total Axis forces far out-number and out-gun those of the Allies. Also, as the Axis can send paratroopers to just about anywhere on the island, and can land amphibious forces at any one of four beach areas, the Allies must spread these smaller forces pretty thin during Initial Setup. In addition, the Axis have total air superiority, and can bomb and strafe any Hex during any Daylight Turn, with no worry about losing any of their planes.

The only advantage for the Allies is that it is VERY difficult to get all Axis forces onto the island at the same time – a fact faced by the real Axis planners and (basically) the main reason they decided not to invade.

One potential – and all-to-common – problem with any board game is that it can become predictable and repetitive when played more than once. One of the nice features of Assault on Malta is that, although the objectives make the direction of the Axis attack pretty clear, two things remain fluid:
1) The attack strategies through which the Axis can hope to achieve their objectives.
2) The flow of the game as the handicaps imposed on the Axis begin to take more of a toll than the Allied forces. For instance, a highly successful airborne assault can make an Axis victory seem certain at the start, but the Allies can still turn the tide by preventing significant reinforcements.

The handicaps faced by the Axis are as follows:
1) The Allied Player begins the Game with all Units upside-down, and is given ten Decoy Units to add to his “real” ones. Thus, the Axis Player has no way of knowing, prior to attack, the location of any Allied weak points.
2) During parachute drops, Airborne Units rarely land exactly where the Axis wants them to. A die roll determines how far from that Hex the Unit must land – the higher the roll, the further from designated Drop Hex – and each Anti-aircraft Unit in range of the Drop Hex adds ‘1' to this die roll. If the adjusted die roll is ‘10' or more, the Airborne Unit is eliminated even before it lands. Thus, judicious placement of Allied AA Units can make it all but impossible for the Axis to land Airborne Units near a useful objective.
3) Once a certain level of Axis Airborne Units – just three German Units is enough – are eliminated, the Axis Player must withdraw ALL German Units and can not land any more the rest of the game. The real German military was simply unwilling to risk a repeat of the casualty levels of the conquest of Crete, so this restriction is realistic.
4) At game’s start, the Axis Player is required to reveal the Beach Head at which he intends to land his Amphibious Units. This is also realistic, as the Allies’ ability to read German military messages sent by Enigma gave them just such an advantage.
5) The Allies possess Coastal Artillery Units that can fire on Axis Amphibious Units during the Landing Phase. Each Coastal Artillery Unit can fire at multiple Axis Units in this phase, and even a weak Coastal Artillery Unit has a one in three chance of eliminating a Unit before it reaches the beach. Thus, the presence of just a few of such Units in range of a Beach Area can make that area pretty much impossible to land at.
6) After the initial beach landings, the Axis Player can only land amphibious reinforcements at a Hex where a successful landing took place. If only one or two Amphibious Units survived the fire from Coastal Units AND the attack on Units on the Beach Hex, then beach-head reinforcements will arrive very slowly.
7) Certain Axis Units can only land at a captured Airport, and, if the Allies place Units with even minimal foresight, only one Airport can be captured quickly.
8) Unless Axis forces can capture one of two Ports by Turn 15, their supply situation is such that both movement and attacking becomes significantly more difficult.
9) Although the Axis side has enough men and firepower to eventually overwhelm the Allied defenders, the game requires that it does so without major losses. Thus, the Axis Player is forced to seize well-defended objectives without attacks that could result in serious casualties.


Summing up, this game imposes severe problems on both Players. If one side can exploit even a small mistake made by the other side, then the latter will find victory extremely difficult. If one Player can out-think or out-guess the other during the first few Turns, then recovery by that other Player will be quite difficult. Wise choices at the start are thus critical.
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Daniel Val
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PaulRabe wrote:
During the time my wife was a Fulbright Scholar in Malta, I read several books on the experience of that nation during The War.


First, thanks for the nice review. Straight to the diferential points in this game.

Second, did you read any of the books by Ernle Bradford on Malta? He's one of the best writers on the siege during WWII.
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Steve Carter
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Thanks for taking the time to write this review. This is a fun, shorter version of the Air Assault on Crete game. Unfortunately I have never found an opponent for this game so have only played it solitaire, which is a bit difficult given the hidden deployment nature of the game.

Malta is a fascinating place, with a long, rich history, given its strategic placement in the Mediterranean.
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Jim F
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Who knew trench warfare could be such fun?
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monkeyrobot wrote:
PaulRabe wrote:
During the time my wife was a Fulbright Scholar in Malta, I read several books on the experience of that nation during The War.


First, thanks for the nice review. Straight to the diferential points in this game.

Second, did you read any of the books by Ernle Bradford on Malta? He's one of the best writers on the siege during WWII.


And the most enjoyable book on the earlier siege!
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Paul Rabe
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Bradford's Book
Was most definitely one of about five that I read.

If you ever get to Malta, be sure to visit the Mosta Dome. They STILL have the casing for the bomb that went through their ceiling with over 300 people inside, which bounced TWICE off walls without exploding. They also have a plaque with the Virgin Mary standing between the dome below and bombers above.
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Daniel Val
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PaulRabe wrote:
Was most definitely one of about five that I read.

If you ever get to Malta, be sure to visit the Mosta Dome. They STILL have the casing for the bomb that went through their ceiling with over 300 people inside, which bounced TWICE off walls without exploding. They also have a plaque with the Virgin Mary standing between the dome below and bombers above.


Sort of like the bombs from the Spanish Civil War they have on display as of today at the Basilica del Pilar in Zaragoza, Spain.
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Odious Maximus
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Interestingly, I was baptised in that church. The bomb still fascinates me. On one of my visits there as a child, there were still machine gun nests standing along the Dingli cliffs with the gun stands still in place. I grew up hearing stories of the war from my family.
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Dan Carey
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Is there a PBEM version of this or the Crete game?
 
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Steve Carter
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SeattleDan wrote:
Is there a PBEM version of this or the Crete game?

Yes. The is a module for each one on VASSAL. In fact, I am playing a VASSAL PBeM game of Malta right now!
 
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Mark Owens
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Excellent Review! There is but one change I'd suggest.
I don't have it right in front of me, but here's what I recall.
The Axis player doesn't have to 'reveal' the landings at the start of play, but rather must plan the invasion time and location. Fortunately, the 'planning' provides only 3 possible turns for the invasion....and some dummy counters. You deploy your chits to the turn record card on the turns indicated but face down. The Brit player thus knows approximately 'when' but not precisely 'when' the initial landing will occur.
The Brit player must try to discern within the first day's actions what the probable location will be.

I will also correct a common misconception as well.
In the Crete game, as it is '41 and the largest airborne drop to date, the German airborne units air drop by companies and can reform into battalions.
At Malta, nearly a year later, the German airborne units drop as full battalions. Many thing this means the companies are not used. IIRC, though, the companies of a battalion can be taken as 'change' for combat casualties. What this does is slow down the possibility of German Withdawal. If you lose full battalions at a time you can reach the 50 points of losses or thereabouts in pretty short order. If you break the battalions down to take losses, it does render the remainder less effective and more vulnerable to other attacks, but it reduces the sting of losses a bit and the points won't accumulate quite so fast.
For the British, the key to the defense is the artillery units. These units can not be bombed effectively by the LW because it was shown on Crete that the British artillery managed to 'hide' from the aircver pretty well.
The Big Challenge for the Axis is to gain the Supply Port. There are only two, Valleta and Birzebuggia. The easiest beach and drop zone are in one end of the island of the Island while the supply ports are further away with Valleta likely garrisoned and heavily fortified ....and Birzebuggia all the way across the island on the more exact opposite coast!

It's a LOT of fun!
I do, though, recommend as the rule book does, to play 'Air Assault on Crete' first to learn the lessons of airborne attack and defense as the Germans and Brits did, and then apply them in Malta. Malta setup and planning will be less certain otherwise. :-)

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