The Valsugana Expansion
Designed by Andrea Brusati
MSRP €50.00 + Shipping or approximately $65.00 + Shipping
Available from Europa Simulazioni
Background information taken from Wikipedia
The Austrian commander-in-chief, General Conrad von Hötzendorf, had been proposing the idea of a Strafexpedition that would lethally cripple the Italian ex-ally, claimed to be guilty of having betrayed the Triple Alliance. In previous years he had had the frontier studied in order to formulate plans with regard to a possible invasion. The problem had appeared to be serious, mostly because the frontier ran through high mountains and the limited Italian advances of 1915 had worsened the situation.
The Battle of Asiago (Battle of the Plateaux) or the Trentino Offensive (in Italian: Battaglia degli Altipiani), nicknamed Strafexpedition (“Punitive expedition”) by the Austrians, was a counteroffensive launched by the Austro-Hungarians on the Italian Front on May 15, 1916, during World War I. It was an unexpected attack that took place near Asiago in the province of Vicenza. The Italians had deployed in the area about 250,000 troops (General Brusati’s First Army and part of the Fourth Army). Hötzendorf requested Germanys assistance but his request was denied because Germany was not yet at war with Italy.
During this time, Italian intelligence had been gathering information about an impending enemy offensive for about a month. However, Cadorna dismissed those reports as he thought that nothing could happen in that region.
On May 15, 1916, 2,000 Austrian artillery guns opened a heavy barrage against the Italian lines. The Austrian infantry attacked along a 50 km front. The Italian wings stood their ground, but the center yielded, and the Austrians broke through to a depth of about 30 km deep which meant that all the Italian forces on the Isonzo soon faced outflanking. Cadorna sent reinforcements to the First Army, and deployed the newly formed Fifth Army to engage the enemy in case they succeeded in entering the plain. The situation was critical.
Then, on June 4, the Russians unexpectedly took the initiative in Galicia, where they managed to cross over onto Austrian soil. While they were effectively countered by German troops, Hötzendorf was forced to quickly withdraw half of his divisions from Trentino. With that, the Strafexpedition could no longer be sustained and the Austrians had to retire.
As a side note, this was the only battle of the First World War in which Benito Mussolini took part.
The components used to print Strafexpedition are of excellent quality. Contained in a very colorful box is:
- 2 – 22” x 34” full color maps
- 840 ½” die cut counters on 3 counter sheets
- 2 cards with Charts and Tables
- 1 Rules booklet
- Eliminated/Surrendered Unit card
- Brigade Activation card
- Valsugana Expansion Map approximately 12.5” x 23.5” full color
Now, the one thing I did notice is that there was a discrepancy between what was in the box when compared to what was printed on the rear box cover. On the rear of the box it states that there are 740 ½” counters but I found 3 counter sheets of 280 ½” counters. This is a very minor item that in no way detracts from this beautiful game.
Each hex on the map represents approximately 900 meters across which is equates to a ½ mile. Each game turn is 1 full day. Typical units in the game represent Battalion level units from the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Italy. Because of the scales used I would say that Strafexpedition falls into the category of an Operational level game.
Let me state right from the start that the rules were translated from Italian to English. As such, there are a few areas in which the translation suffers and the rules can be misinterpreted. All it takes is for the reader to go through the rules a second or a third time and they will immediately locate the areas of possible confusion and begin to have a more thorough understanding of the designers intent.
The rules for Strafexpedition 1916 are only 24 pages long of which 13 pages deal with the rules of the game. The remaining pages in the rules cover;
- Historical Notes
- Design Notes
The rules that I received in the game box were version 1.0. However, a quick glance on their website shows that the latest rules are version 1.1 for both the main game and the Valsugana expansion. The PDF’s on their website http://italianwars.net/STRAFE/StrafeRulesP1-1Eng.pdf and http://italianwars.net/STRAFE/ValsuganaP1-1Eng.pdf have the rule clarifications and differences noted in blue. If you look at the Valsugana rules you will see that these rules add new Scenarios to the base game. What the PDF doesn’t advise the reader is that there is also a new map section included in the expansion and that the gamer uses the base games charts and counters.
You should pay very close attention when reading the rules as they provide you with the definition of the counters. Each counter contains a lot of information which after only a few turns becomes very intuitive. However, when you are setting up your game, it can take a while to locate all of the units.
(If it is an Italian Unit, it will be of Regimental size and if it is Austro-Hungarian unit it will be a Battalion.)
What we need to remember is the following relationship of the units:
Divisions breakdown to Brigades; the Brigades breakdown to Regiments (Battalions); and the Regiments breakdown to Companies.
So, in a Scenario setup you will read;
64° Rgt (I, II, III), Cagliari Brigade: along the Italian frontline between hexes 3325 and 3628 (inclusive)
Which translates to you have the 1st to 3rd Company of the 64th Regiments of the Cagliari Brigade of the 35th Division which would setup between hexes 3325 and 3628.
Had the designer placed a small organizational chart within the rules to further explain the unit organizational relationship and if the Division information would have been placed on the Scenario setup, it would have simplified the placing of the units on the map. Another way of helping gamers follow Scenario instructions is with organizing their counters after playing a game. If players place each Division in its own envelope or zip lock bag, it will help setup the game the next time it is played. Other than these minor items, the rules are extremely clear and you begin to learn the unit organization and setup rather quickly.
Each player decides the total number of Brigades and which Brigades they will activate this turn. The corresponding HQ counters are placed on the appropriate box of the Brigade Display. Placing a Brigade HQ counter on the Brigade Display requires the expenditure of one (1) Logistics Point. If the player is attaching up to 5 Artillery units to a Brigade this requires one additional (+1) Logistics Point. Specific Artillery units will be attached to a Brigade HQ within Command Range at the moment of the Brigade’s activation, when the Brigade HQ is placed on the map. Spent LPs are immediately deducted from the GT total.
Logistic Points are used in the game to activate HQ units and assign artillery to a HQ’s It is during the Command Phase that each side will use their Logistics Points. So to activate an HQ unit costs 1 LP, but to activate varying amounts of artillery will cost differing amounts of Logistics Points.
Logistics Points are assigned in the game in two ways. First they are assigned during scenario setup. The second way a side receive Logistics Points is with their reinforcements. So, the Italians my begin a game with only 10 LP’s but receive 10 LP’s a turn for the entire length of the game. LP totals are finite and assigned in the scenario. Gamers must learn to use their LPs judiciously or they may become sitting ducks as the game unfolds.
To operate at full efficiency, units need supplies of food, ammunitions, and equipment. A unit is in supply when it can trace an unblocked line of no more than 10 hexes to a road or trail hex. From that hex, an unblocked line of unlimited length along the road or trail net to a friendly Supply Source. A Unit that is Out of Supply will add one Disorganization Point for every Supply Phase in which they do not have supply. When a unit’s Disorganization Level becomes equal to its printed Morale Value, the unit will immediately surrender to an adjacent enemy unit. The supply rule while simple is very effective and provides gamers with another challenge of something to be aware of when they are planning their strategy.
Unlike many wargames, there is no ordinary offensive and defensive ranged fire combat in Strafexpedition 1916. There is only Assault, Counter Assault, and Bombardment and whatever fire combat results that may have occurred in the battle itself, have been factored into the Assault and Bombardment results of the game.
As you will see in the Sequence of Play below, the first thing that a player does during their Initiative Action Phase to perform Tactical Movement and to Declare Assaults with units that he has placed in Command. Follow this; we have the Bombardment Phase during which the Initiative player bombards the targeted assault hex with their artillery.
Next we see that there is Defensive Fire. Initially, you may believe that this may be a type of fire combat but it is more a response to the assault as the defensive fire can only affect assaulting units. During the Counter Assault, the non-initiative player can use artillery in a defensive mode. After this, we refer to our Assault Results Table, taking into consideration any modifiers such as Morale or terrain which are all cumulative and we have the results of the Assault.
However, we are not done with the Initiative Players Action Phase as we now have a Counter-Assault Phase by the non-initiative player. The Counter-Assault differs from the Assault Phase in that any eligible unit within 2 hexes can assist in the Counter Assault to retake the lost hex. The procedure for determining the results of the assault combat are identical except the roles are reversed and Artillery cannot fire.
The final item to mention regarding assaults is the results. Results are given in the form of xDx. The first “x” or number defines the number of Steps that will be lost and the number after the D reflects numbers of Disorganization Points (Morale) lost.
Sequence of Play
At first glance, the Sequence of Play appears to be very long and extremely complicated. However, this goes to show just how deceiving a well-designed game with a full Sequence of Play can fool a gamer. While the sequence seems complicated, it is extremely intuitive and really captures the essence of the battle and historical period. The Sequence of Play for Strafexpedition is:
1. Reinforcement Phase
2. Command Phase
3. Initiative Phase
4. Weather Phase
5. Supply Phase
6. Artillery Phase
7. Event Phase
8. Initiative Player Action Phase: The Initiative player places the HQ counter of a Brigade he has planned to activate from the Brigade Display on the map, then follow the steps below:
a) Tactical Movement and Assault Declaration
b) Offensive Bombardment
c) Defensive Fire (by the Non-Initiative Player)
d) Assault Resolution
e) Counter-Assault Declaration (by the Non-Initiative Player)
f) Counter-Assault Defensive Fire
g) Counter-Assault Resolution (by the Non-Initiative Player)
h) Action Completed
I) Opponent Reaction
At the end of step I, the Initiative Player can perform another Action Phase, repeating all the phases from “a” for another Brigade he has planned to activate, or he can “pass”, leaving the decision to the Non-Initiative Player to go to Phase 9 or pass in turn.
9. Non-Initiative Player Action Phase: The Non-Initiative Player places the HQ counter of a Brigade he has planned to activate from the Brigade Display on the map, then follow the steps below:
a) Tactical Movement and Assault Declaration
b) Offensive Bombardment
c) Defensive Fire (by the Initiative Player)
d) Assault Resolution
e) Counter-Assault Declaration (by the Initiative Player)
f) Counter-Assault Defensive Fire
g) Counter-Assault Resolution (by the Initiative Player)
h) Action Completed
I) Opponent Reaction
As with the initiative Players phase, at the completion of the Non-Initiative Player Action Phase, the Non-Initiative Player can play another Action Phase, repeating steps “a” through “I” with another Brigade, or, they can “pass”, leaving the decision to the Initiative Player to return to Phase 8 or pass in turn. Both players alternate Phases 8 and 9 until no more Brigades are left to activate, or both of them pass in sequence, without activating any Brigade.
10. Non Activated Unit Movement Phase:
a) The Initiative Player moves the units he did not Activate during the previous phases, following the rules for Non Activated Unit Movement. Units may employ Strategic Movement.
b) The Non-Initiative Player moves the units he did not Activate during the previous phases, following the rules for Non Activated Unit Movement. Units may employ Strategic Movement.
11. Replacement and Rally Phase
12. Victory Condition Check Phase
Strafexpedition 1916 and the Valsugana Expansion provide 5 Scenarios of shorter duration and 2 Campaign Scenarios. Each of these scenarios have their own setup, reinforcement and Logistics Point assignments. In some of these scenarios the Italians may start with zero (0) Logistics Points and have them assigned during reinforcement. The scenarios and number of turns for the scenarios are:
1: Drive On Pasubio – 5 Turns
2:Asiago: The Mountains Are Burning – 5 Turns
3: Monte Cengio: The Grenadiers’ Defeat – 7 Turns
4 (Introductory): Last Stand On Monte Novegno – 2 Turns
5 (The Campaign): Strafexpedition, The Spring Offensive – 20+ Turns
6: Valsugana – 6 Turns
7: Campaign With Valsugana – 20+ Turns
The Drive on Pasubio Replay
Unknown writer and Participant Bob H
All of my Italians start entrenched (at least those on the front line) which is nice because there are some big holes in my line. I had little behind these front line units other then some militia battalions and these were of low quality and without machine guns. I had a decent amount of artillery but little supply available in the opening turns to make use of it other then for the occasional defensive fire support. I get reinforcements on on turn 2 as well as turn 4, additionally I start getting supply points beginning on the 2nd turn which I need to start to entrench as you cannot entrench unless you are assigned a supply point.
Bobs first turn was mixed, he had some good attacks and there were others where he wasn’t able to take the hex. As this was our first real playing we really had no idea this early in the game to tell how one side was faring over the other. On my right where the terrain is the heaviest I had some key hexes hold out that created a bit of a traffic jam for Bob as some of his not alpine troops couldn’t cross or pass certain rough hexes. On the left where the terrain is a little flatter I was getting smashed. My center which starts with the fewest units had some units cut off as well. I did little in my half of the first turn as most of my guys were roughed up or too far behind the line to lend assistance. Most of my artillery just sat there being unable to move or fire (lack of supply) offensively on the first turn.
Bob’s AH attackers on turn 3 on my Right
Bob’s attackers clear the road to Posina
I got reinforcements on the second turn as well as starting to receive supply points. I got about a brigade’s worth of troops on my left. Bob was starting to get a little better at attacking on turn two. He was learning that fewer attacks with more artillery support was the preferred method. We also discovered another cool feature of the rules in how artillery can limit supply roads. This would prove an interesting mini game as I would often debate on leaving an artillery unit in a very dangerous position in order to cover Bobs supply roads knowing that I would likely loose the unit but I could often put a group of units out of supply by doing so. Another this we picked up on was that in order for an attack to keep going you will have to rotate units in the attack as attacking leads to much disruption and attacking with a disrupted unit is asking for trouble. The defender will also (when he can) want to send units a couple hexes back to try and reorganize before sending them back up into the line.
Bob’s mounts as attack on my Right
…and is pushed back
Bobs attacks on my left continued but when my reinforcements showed up it started to look like he’d have a hard time taking the VP hexes in this area. In the middle Bob blew big holes in my lines but then ran out of supply as he was unable to supply his lead units, thus the attacks started to funnel down the roads on this side of the map. On my right Bob was starting to clear the initial line and make some progress. I had taken a lot of losses and he was able to make some nice progress. On my far right he was again slowed by poor performance on his attacks.
Turn 3, Bob moving…Yellow dice are the VP hexes
The road to Valmorbia…turn 4
Turn 3 saw these deeper road based penetrations expand. Most of the last lingering units on the front line were now gone having either been eliminated or reduced by lack of supply. But the clock was ticking and Bob had only taken 3-5 VPs thus far.
By turn 4 we were seeing that Bob was behind the curve as it was looking like he would run out of time before he’d get the VPs he needed for a win. I also got the last of my reinforcements this time on the right, which was exactly where I needed them most. Bob got close to Posina here and this was where he would win it if he could be getting to the VP locations before I could with my reinforcements. Bob also lunged down the road towards Valmorbia on my left. I had only some militia here and quickly reinforced this area.
My Italian’s counter Bob’s move
As it was getting late we took a close look at the Victory situation at the end of the fourth turn and decided that it would be nearly impossible for Bob to get the needed VPs for a win. He was essentially playing for a draw at this point so we decided to call it a game at this point.
End of turn 4
All in all I was pretty impressed with the game, it was a lot more fun than I expected and was pretty interactive for a battalion level game. The one sided nature of the scenario however means that the defender has to basically get smashed for five turns in this scenario. The campaign game which is much larger will see the Italians have a chance for some counterattacking
Taking a close glance at the rules, components, maps and the nuances of the game, you get the general feel that Strafexpedition 1916 and the Valsugana Expansion are both designs that are close to the Designers, Andrea Brusati’s heart. You can see that the design of this game was not only done to fill a void, but that it was done as a labor of love. Every now and then you come across a design in which you can feel the designers love all over the design points from Logistics, to supplies to the map and to the counters. Each of these sections must pull together to create that one of a kind special game that warms the heart of the gamer and keeps him coming back to play the game more. Well Strafexpedition 1916 and the Valsugana Expansion is just such a game that as soon as you think you have it mastered, there is something new to learn about it and your begin to plan your strategy from the start once again. It is a subtle game that pulls you in making you want to learn more about this historical World War I battle between the Italians and the Austro-Hungarians. It is not a grand battle like some of the other World War I battles but it is just as important.