Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A visit to the sunny Island of Death

Time to wake up the old blog again, I guess, and see if I can’t bang out a few lines for entertainment and illumination.

The Big Table is currently occupied by one of the newest releases from Avalanche Press, “Island of Death”. It’s a battalion / company level game covering a hypothetical invasion of Malta by the Axis. As a sometimes-fan of “hypothetical” games – and aren’t most wargames somewhat hypothetical anyway? – I find it an interesting and overlooked topic. I’m also a big fan of the game system (more on that in another post), so at basically $20 this game was a lock for me to buy. So far, I have not been disappointed.

Since actually playing the thing is on my mind right now, I’m going to dispense with the introductions and jump right into getting it set up.

In this version of 1942, Malta is defended by a mish-mash of British and Maltese units. Except for coastal defense artillery, the island is weak on artillery support – a single arty battalion. Coastal batteries are plentiful, but they can only fire on Italian warships and on units that are landing amphibiously.

The attackers are primarily Italian troops. Two infantry divisions constitute the amphibious component of the attack, supported by the Folgore parachute division and the Ramcke brigade of German fallschirmjaeger. A third Italian division stands by to land by glider at captured airfields. Add to that a few odds-n-ends (like Italian Marine companies). A number of Italian warships are also on the scene to provide support and suppress the coastal batteries.

The Allied combat battalions, security companies and AA units deploy in ‘historical’ locations. I noticed a couple of oddities about the deployment locations. In a couple of spots Allied units are deployed in open terrain within a hex or two of a fortress, but nothing is deployed IN the fortress. I’m a little curious about that, especially in a couple of cases where British companies are near, but not in, a fortress. It may be something to quiz the developer about, should a motivated mood strike me.

After the fixed setup, the Allies then free-deploy their eight Strongpoint units and their buttload of coastal guns. As I’m playing this one out solitaire, I’ll be using the various solitaire landing tables provided in the game. Some landing locations are more likely than others, so that figures a bit into the setup.

The amphibious landing table makes it most likely that the Italians will land on the North and West beach zones. The areas most easily covered by the Regia Marina, I guess. You roll a d6 to set the landing zone for each Italian division. 1-2 is West, 3-4 is North, 5 is East and 6 is South. The East and South zones are closer to a lot of airfields and such, but they’re also straight in the teeth of the Allied deployment. Two Italian divisions land amphibiously (4th and 20th Infantry). After a couple of die rolls, the 4th is coming ashore in the West, the 20th in the North.

The airdrop location table scatters five drop zone points pretty much evenly spaced across the East-West axis of the island. After you roll up an initial hex, you then go through the scatter routine to place the final drop zone marker. The individual drop serials will scatter from that point. There are two drop zones: One for the Folgore division and one for the Ramcke brigade.

After some more dice rolling the ‘plan’ actually worked out to be interesting. The amphib divisions are coming ashore in the West and North. The Folgore division is dropping in the southwest corner of the island, where they can link up with the 4th Division and drive eastward. The Ramcke Brigade gets the tough job of dropping in the middle of all of the airfields and defenses in the eastern part of the island, ostensibly to tie-up the Allied response while the three Italian divisions get established. The danger is that a badly scattered drop (less likely with the Germans) will give the Allies a chance to chop the Germans to bits in the first couple of turns.

The setup lets the Allies place their coastal guns anywhere on the island, with a restriction that they must place at least 8 of the batteries within 2 hexes of the port of Valletta. So I’ve setup quite a few of the coastal guns farther inland, where they can still hammer the beaches but will be out of range of most of the Italian warships. Of course, that means they generally won’t be able to fire on the warships – but my plan is for them to ignore the warships and blast away at the landing waves as they come ashore.

I tried to site most of the guns inland to cover multiple beaches. Considering the landing areas chosen, most of the guns on the eastern half of the island are kind of useless now. The guns around Valletta can cover a couple hexes of the northern landing zone.

After I rolled for the landing beaches it occurred to me that I probably hadn’t covered the western zone as well as I thought – but then it’s also the beach zone farthest from any important locations. The northern beaches are set to get hammered, though.

The Axis want to take a couple of airfields as early as possible so they can start landing more of their guys. The third Italian division (some glider guys) can only arrive at airfields.

With any luck, I’ll get the amphib landings going and resolve the air drops in the next day or two. It will be interesting to see what happens when the dice start rolling.

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