S&T plays : Crete

A new series of articles graciously shared by Neopeius
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/user/Neopeius.

Crete is a two-player simulation of the German airborne invasion of Crete in May 1941. It has the distinction of being the first magazine game to appear in Strategy and Tactics (or anywhere?), and it was surprisingly fun.

Vital Statistics

This game seats just two players and takes about two hours to finish. The German player has to land his 13 battalions of paratroopers to take on the 43 weaker British, Australian, New Zealander and Greek battalions. If the Germans dislodge the Allies from an airfield, they can unload a brigade of mountain troops each turn from the captured runways greatly enhancing the German forces. The German player has airplane units which add a bit of strength to attacks improving the odds.

The goal of the game is a bit unclear as the original rules and the errata offer two contradictory methods of computing victory. We ultimately settled on a combination of the two–points are scored for the destruction of each unit (one per strength point) and 5 points are awarded for the occupation of airfields, 10 for occupying the city of Suda Bay, at the end of the game. Whoever has more points wins–the bigger the margin, the bigger the victory. But if the Germans lose too many paratrooper units in the process, their victory level drops.

The Components

This was a DTP product, which is actually a selling point for me. I love building wargames. Construction time was less than an hour, and the components were quite usable. I’ll use thicker poster-board for the ~80 counters and chalk-based pastels for the map next time, but I think this was a fine first effort. I blew up the three hex maps about 5% for an easy counter fit.

The Rules

There is a charm to these old games from the 60s. They tell you that, “unlike chess and checkers, you may move all of your units in a turn,” and, “henceforth, all hexagons shall be called ‘squares.'” The rules are very simple. Germans deploy, move and fight. British move and fight. Repeat for ten turns.

Each counter has a combat strength and movement rate. British unit strength values range from 1 to 6, 4s being the majority. They are slow–average movement rate of 4. The German mountain troops have a strength of 6, as do most of the paratroops, and 4 of the battalions have a whopping strength of 8! The mountain troops move 6 and the paratroopers move 5, so the Germans have a mobility edge, as well.

Terrain effects are minimal–defense doubled in rough terrain or towns, roads triple movement. Travel between the boards is possible at specific road exit points at the map edges.

There are several functional and chrome aspects which make this game interesting, however. The Germans employ a kind of hidden set-up, choosing on which board(s) to drop 7-13 paratroop battalions. The units may scatter upon landing, and they can’t move or fight on the first turn unless they land on some hapless British unit. Leaving some paratroop units in reserve means the British forces never know where or when the next German troops will appear out of the sky.

There are 2 odds-based CRTs–one for limited assault and one for all out action. A common combat result is “counter-attack” which allows the defender to retreat or become the attacker (usually at not great odds). This means fights can seesaw back and forth for quite some time in an exciting fashion. I’d never seen a 2 CRT system before, and it’s neat. There is a lack of granularity, though (only whole odds radios), and beyond 2-1, there’s no reason to do limited attacks.

The only subject not covered by the rules is what happens if a dispersed paratroop battalion ends up in the Mediterranean. We determined that the unit drowns. This limits the hexes into which the German player will chance dropping his airborne soldiers.

Gameplay

The game quickly becomes a pitched battle for one or more airfields. If the Germans can’t secure one within a few turns, it’s all over. The British units are pathetic compared to the Germans

This means the British need to spend most of their time picking strategic defense points, only attacking on the rare occasion that they can attack an isolated German unit (which usually happens during the initial drop phase). The Germans need to be daring in their drop, landing amidst the British formations to cause a maximum of confusion.

Generally, only two of the boards will see action at any one time. The Germans simply don’t have the forces to hit all three at once. Once the battle is won on two of the board, it’s a lost cause for the third, most likely.

Conclusion

This game provided a surprisingly fun afternoon of play–far more enjoyable than the time I spent playing its descendant, Air Assault On Crete/Invasion of Malta: 1942. There are lots of decisions to make, and it can be a real nail-biter. On the other hand, after a few games, the optimum British strategy presents itself, though the Germans have several options for attack strategies. Still, the game is at least good for three or four plays, and it is worth every penny you spend on it. Certainly an auspicious start to the S&T series which went on for over a decade and dozens of games.

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