A few weeks ago, I posted an interview with Paul Rohrbaugh of High Flying Dice Games covering Volume 7 The Attack on Gibraltar Harbor, December, 1941 in the Depths of Courage series of solitaire only submarine warfare games set in World War II. This week, I have a follow up interview with Paul covering Volume 8 The Attack on Algeciras Harbor, July – December, 1942.
Grant: What historical events are covered in Volume 8 The Attack on Algeciras Harbor?
Paul: The game portrays the Italian mini-sub attacks at Algeciras Harbor. Starting in December of 1942, and again in May and July of 1943, the Italians used an interned freighter, the Olterra, as a base from which their “frogmen” limpeters commandoes conducted daring night-time raids against Allied shipping in the harbor near Gibraltar. The raiders’ base of operations was never discovered until Italy surrendered on September 8, 1943. During the time they were active; the Italian commandos sank or severely damaged many Allied ships, making them one of the most daring clandestine raiding forces of WWII.
Grant: Of the two harbors covered in volumes 7 & 8, Gibraltar and Algeciras, which was the toughest nut to crack?
Paul: Both were tough, but Gibraltar was probably the hardest given how well guarded the port was. The Italians were so successful at Algerciras due to their use of the Olterra, that the British never figured it out until after Italy’s surrender. All of their defensive measures and actions were based on something similar to what was done at Gibraltar. The British never caught on that what was happening repeatedly at Algeciras was an “inside job”, that proved very embarrassing, as well as harmful to the Allied war effort.
Grant: What sources did you use for the background of the game?
Paul: The English language sources are listed in the game’s bibliography. They include:
Borghese, Valerio J. Sea Devils: Italian Navy Commandos of World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995.
Bragadin, Marc’Antonio. The Italian Navy in World War II. Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 1957.
Greene, Jack and Massignani, Alessandro. The Black Prince and the Sea Devils: The Story of J. Valerio Borghese and the Elite Units of the Decima MAS. New York: Da Capo Press, 2004.
There are also many Italian language sources (online as well as text), but my Italian is not very good (my wife can read it well, and can speak it a little).
Grant: What does setup for the game entail?
Paul: Similar to the Gibraltar game, the Italian mini-sub/frogmen units set up and the Allied units enter play during the game.
Grant: What are the differences between Allied Transport and Patrol Boat naval units?
Paul: Transports are targets, while the PBs are the harbor patrol warships. The active player (Italian) is trying to target and destroy as many of the merchant ships as possible. The more PBs there are in play the harder it will be to do, or to escape unscathed.
Grant: How does a player determine the enemy units that are located in the target area?
Paul: This is done during the Alert Phase of the turn. The player draws a card from the deck. If the Card Draw number is 5 or more the player draws at random from a cup/envelope or some other devise one of the Allied naval units, and the British Alert Level (BAL) is increased by 1 (with a CD of 4 or less the BAL remains unchanged but a naval unit is not drawn). Its placement on the map is determined by a Die Roll. With a face card draw the BAL remains unchanged but the HDL (Harbor Defense Level) goes up and 1 naval unit is drawn and placed on the map.
Grant: Describe the thought behind the layout of the map. How does it guide game play?
Paul: The map areas represent the spaces in the harbor the mini-subs/frogmen have to transit to/from the Olterra and get to in order to attack the Allied transports and warships sheltered there. These are based on historical anchorages as well as the “speed and stealth” capabilities of the raiders.
Grant: How does the game come to an end? How is victory determined?
Paul: The game ends when there are no mini-subs/frogmen in play (either returned to the Olterra or eliminated). Victory is determined by Victory Points (VP). VP are awarded for damaging or sinking Allied ships. The player wins a Major victory if 10+ VP are scored; a Minor victory is won with 4 through 9 VP. A loss is suffered if 3 VP or less are scored; a Major loss occurs if all of the Mini-subs are sunk.
Grant: What are the various variant scenarios included in the game?
Paul: The base game covers the attacks made in May, July and December of 1942. There is also a variant for the December raid. At that time the Italians thought the aircraft carriers Formidable and Furious and Battleship Nelson would be in port. Another variant assumes a fourth mini-sub was deployed to the Olterra and used in a raid.
Grant: How long do games typically last?
Paul: Most games can be played in under an hour (45 minutes is typical). The campaign game takes about 2 hours to play.
Grant: What has been the experience of your playtesters?
Paul: As with the Gibraltar game, the play testers love it. They report they often play the game between moves/turns of larger games.
Grant: I notice this volume has a campaign mode. What does that entail?
Paul: A “campaign” game can also be played in which the player tries to match or exceed what was done in 1942 during all of the raids.
Grant: Can you do a similar campaign with Volume 7? Why or why not?
Paul: The Italians conducted only 1 raid at Gibraltar. They did not try another. At Algeciras the Olterra was a “gift that kept on giving” and so the Italians were able to mount more than one attack. The campaign game allows the player to see if he/she can be as lucky, or if fate will be harsher.
Grant: What is really different between each of these Volumes in the series (Vol 7 & Vol 8)?
Paul: The campaign game, as well as trying to capture the secretiveness of the Olterra, in the Volume 8 game. The Italian player can push their luck too far and have the Olterra discovered. That may be necessary. In the Gibraltar game, there is more of an “all or nothing” feel as this is very much a one shot raid, and if the Scire is lost, so are all of the mini-subs/frogmen (and the ability to do other raids are severely compromised). I hope players do come away with a better understanding of how daring these raids were, as well as an appreciation of these in the Second World War’s history.
Grant: What was the most difficult part to get right with the AI?
Paul: Play balance as well as remaining true to the history of the events. As well as being fun and challenging, I really want all of my games to be vehicles by which gamers can learn more about history.
Grant: What was the inspiration for the AI?
Paul: The use of cards in this design helped a great deal. I’ve always loved playing card games, as well as board games, and both came together with the Depth of Courage Series of mini-games, in a way that is easy to learn yet still conveying the history. I really hope players will enjoy them!
Thanks for your time Paul and your efforts in designing and publishing these great games from High Flying Dice Games.