Friday, 19 January 2018

Anzio the Bloodiest Beachhead

Anzio - The Bloodiest Beachhead is a boardgame, designed by my own hand some time ago, looking at the desperate first six weeks of Operation Shingle, the Allied landing on the Anzio beaches, Italy 1944.

The battle was characterised by an initial sparse German defence, giving the Allies the potential for an immediate advance inland, with the way to Rome open to them. Rather than advance immediately into the unknown, the invaders first consolidated the beachhead, but the Germans, who already had a response plan (Case Richard), fed forces into the area, increasingly solidifying the defences. When the Allies did resume the advance, it was against a determined and strengthened defender, aided by a battlefield that had become a landscape dominated by mud and soft ground.

The following post offers a few observations and discusses why this design ended up being self-published rather than getting the commercial treatment from one of the mainstream game publishers. It then leads onto an older post that looks at the system in detail with the usual AAR that shows the flow of play.

Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.

Sorry about the purple / blue shade on the photographs, my white balance on the camera must have been well out.
I put this game together in 2011, putting a lot of effort in both the design and development. It was submitted to a publisher who liked it and the next thing, there was a contract in the post.

However ..... In following correspondence, the publisher pulled back, having identified two issues during play-testing. They said that they were concerned that the Allies could land on Turn - 1 and make immediately off the map to the North and instantly win the game before the Germans could react. I have no idea where they got that notion from as it is clearly impossible.  Indeed as a prime victory condition, this outcome is a rare achievement for the Allies over the total course of the game and instead victory will likely be based on casualties and the occupation of settlements.

Secondly, they were concerned by the disengagement rule. The rule is that anything in an enemy Zone of Control must roll a dice equal to or greater than the enemy combat value if they want to disengage from the enemy. They felt that the game scale having turns equalling 3 - 4 days, that this was unnecessary. They possibly had a point, but it was one of my favourite rules in the system. It brings a lot of nuance and reflected that movement around this small, mud filled and artillery zoned area was at best very difficult. I would have been loathe to lose this rule, but perhaps a developer working with a publisher would have jettisoned it anyway - who knows.

Anyway the straw that broke the camel’s back was that they suggested changing the game to go down to battalion level and increase the scope of the game to bring the ‘Road to Rome’ and that southern front into the map - in other words a total re-design and a different game!

So that was the end of that and instead, I initially self published as a Desk Top Published design using an A3 colour printer and selling the game direct and then later submitted the files to wargamedownloads dot com, where it still lives as an available download, but of course the disadvantage is that gamers have to paste up and mount / cut their own counters etc.

It was all rather a shame really, especially as in my humble opinion this had been brought to a more-or-less a ready to go design.

During my latest clear-out, I came across the game in my ‘design box’ and thought it was worth getting onto the table and just getting familiar with it again. I had intended to do a follow up game for the east front because I quite liked the way that a side with a big artillery advantage was represented and built into the sequence of play.

I played the game face-to-face with Mike last night and from a play point of view, it was probably one of the tightest sessions we have had with this game. We both had good attacking opportunities and stalemates at various locations and frequently all at the same time.

To the east, the Allies surprised the Germans by making an early advance into the Pontine Marshes, denying the Germans a reinforcement route and springboard to launch attacks into the Allied soft flank and rear. For the most part the Allies managed to hold their positions on the German side of the Mussolini Canal, though failed to bring the important hub of Cisterna under any pressure.

To the North, the Allies maintained a constant pressure on Aprilia, eventually capturing it, successfully defending it against one counter-attack and then losing it to another. They eventually retook it, but the resulting battles had brought heavy losses to important German formations. From this base they pressed on towards Campoleone — a critical victory location and major reinforcement hub for the Germans. While they did not capture it, they significantly contained the Germans in this sector and on the left flank managed to cut off three German hexes with several formations from their supply, seriously impacting on German capability and losses.

Neither side got their sudden death victory locations (the Germans were not even close) and so it went to casualties and occupied settlements, giving the Allies a clear victory, nicely reflecting their better game.

The various mechanics of the game, together with the topography, bring a ton of nuance on a hex by hex basis, each hex can really matter and the control of some become pivotal to the immediate sector.

The system has some interesting aspects such as combat being fought one hex against one hex, rather than typical ‘counter gang - ups’ from multi-hex attacks and units have a bonus rating for use against armour, so for example the powerful Elephant Tank destroyer unit has a relatively low combat value against just infantry, but a very desirable bonus against armoured formations, so that it performs to role. As stated above, units must test to disengage from an adjacent enemy and armour must always test for bog (the mud) in every hex that they want to move into that isn’t made using road movement. So the player on a turn-by-turn basis does not have everything under their control. Add to that a Random Events Table and the result is that both players are intimately engaged with the map and units throughout the game, looking for the smallest opportunity to make gains.

It sounds like I am over-enthusing over my own handy work here and perhaps I am, but I did an overview of the system together with an AAR in a 2015 blog post and the reader may want to check that out to explore this game further, with combat examples and the wider impact of various game mechanics explained (Link Below - including a direct link to where the game files are hosted).

As always, thanks for looking.


  1. Tell you what, Norm: if after all this time you still reckon you have a hot item, that is a powerful argument towards your having a hot item!

    I was intrigued by the 2+3 marker on tour PzJg Abt 653. In 'my' gridded war games, something of that idea has occurred to me, too, especially in respect of armour vs infantry (I was thinking in terms of a x2 multiplier.) Just a thought...

  2. Thanks, Separating out the bonus from the base value has been important because something like the Nashorn company has a really light vehicle, but a big 88 gun and so a simple doubling of the base value would not have give the gun the representative power it needs.

    I took as my starter the 88 having a value of +3 and the U.S. tank destroyers needing a higher gun value than the basic shermans, but lower than the 88's, which is roughly how I came to progress things down the +1, +2, +3 route for guns.

  3. Really quite a handsome DTP effort, Norm. Nice, clean graphics. As for the game rejection on erroneous grounds, did you have a chance to rebut the reviewer's claims?

  4. Thank you. I didn't pursue the matter, because at the same time they were pretty much asking for a re-design to do the game at a different level, so there really didn't seem any point other than to take it on the chin.

    These sort of things do have an interesting aspect though, the publishers are respected publishers and designers and yet here they totally misinterpreted the rules or made assumptions that seem strange as the rules are very clear on how far units can move on turn 1 (there is even a separate sequence to control this)and this together with other things I have read suggests that around the globe people (and I suppose I would be arrogant if I did not accept that this will include me) are regularly playing designs outside the rules, but without realising it and perhaps it does not even harm their game.

    In my Hastings game, I once saw a posted AAR with photographs that had all of the counters of both armies facing in the same direction (i.e. towards the Anglo-Saxon baseline) - undermining the most basic principle of the game engine that units had facings and ZOC's out of the two frontal hexes and could only fight out of the two front hexes, so each army should actually be facing the other sides army - despite this most fundamental error, the person really enjoyed the game and gave it the thumbs up!

    So I suppose you can't get too precious about these things. Having put this on the table again, I think the design is solid enough for me to perhaps hawk around again to another publisher.

  5. Hi Norm,

    I have Anzio and think that it is a fine game. I think I have said this before but your combat model (one of my favourite subjects)is great. It is still on my list of things to borrow (with your permission of course!). I suggest you try Tiny Battles who always have room for good small games.



  6. Hi Jay, thanks for the comment and as always, for supporting designs.

    Putting this back on the table has reminded me of the many 'in game' nuances that the design brought about. I have pushed the boat out today by making a speculative approach to a company, but I am not particularly precious about it, so if it falls at the first hurdle, so-be-it.

    Thanks for the suggestion re Tiny Battles, I had not thought of them and agree that it would be a fit for their format.

  7. I can’t even imagine the time and effort to design a game let alone publish one. It’s good to hear that overall it’s a pleasurable experience for you. You obviously think about these way deeper than I am able to. 😀

  8. Thanks Stew. At the time of doing them, they do seem to become all consuming and so I think they do take their toll. I now have two decent game engines that work, but don't have the hunger to use either at the moment to do more new work.

  9. wow, nice blog. And a nice game. Glad you get comments, I don't have any on mine. :( Maybe us "yanks" aren't as interesting.

  10. Hi, thanks. I think commenting on blogs is something of an issue, as the culture of free internet has seen mass consumption of information, without leaving messages of appreciation and I know this can be disheartening. It certainly has been to me as many of my posts run to over 5000 words and take a lot of effort.

    I have at times kicked up a bit of a fuss about it, but since the bottom line is that we post to share and not for reward, it rather is what it is. I am indeed fortunate that a goodly number of people, such as yourself, take the time to comment - thank you all.

  11. Norm, first off, respect to you for designing a game. Second, angry bunny's post and your response are very interesting. I always leave a comment but frequently worry that I say too much!

  12. Hi Kevin, I knowfrom some of my hit numbers that posts are well visited and shared and that my free rule systems are regularly downloaded, but the 'thank you' rate is close to zilch by comparison. Like yourself, I tend to comment when I have enjoyed and appreciated something. The absence of comments has no doubt stopped many a blog from blossoming as the blogger loses interest.



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