Castle Itter is the name of a castle in the Brixen Valley area of Austria located in the western part of the country, along Austria’s border with Germany. During World War II, the Germans used it as a prison for French VIPs including leaders of state, generals, and the like. Castle Itter tells the unlikely story of the defense of the castle from an SS attack near the end of the war.
You might have noticed the subtitle of the game and wondered what it is in reference to. The “Strangest Battle of World War II” refers to the unlikely alliance of defenders who worked together to protect the French prisoners of the castle from SS attack. The defenders included a combination of US tankers and infantrymen, Wehrmacht officers and enlisted, an SS officer, and an Austrian resistance fighter. Some of the French prisoners also contributed to the castle’s defense. The Battle of Castle Itter is thought to be the only time Americans and Germans fought side-by-side during WWII. Definitely not a common occurrence for sure.
The game is a solitaire design with 2-player competitive or cooperative options that sees the SS units activated by cards and then advance on the Defender’s positions inside the castle along various tracks. The defender must simply last till the deck expires and move units around the board to various positions and eliminate units before they enter the castle.
In this series of Action Points we will take a look at the game board focusing on the combat positions and assault tracks for the SS, examine the SS card deck and how the cards drive the assault and work against the player, will take a look at the various Defender units and their Special Actions and finish the series looking at a few examples of actions including Suppress, Attack and Recover.
The game board represents Castle Itter and the surrounding grounds. The buildings are broken up into several named areas including the North Terrace, Great Hall, Gatehouse, Besotten Jenny (which is actually a parked M4 Sherman Tank), the South Terrace, the Keep and the Cellar. The colored square areas are combat positions used by the Defenders. The large colored circles with numbers printed in them are where SS Counters are initially placed on the board after a card is drawn from the SS deck and the smaller colored circles are the SS Counters advancement positions as they are forced to move up the track as units are played on the same track. The large areas that are outlined in white represent key locations as mentioned before.
In this next closeup picture we focus on the various locations in the center of the map. First thing to notice is the three numbers that appear just below each of the key locations’ name. These numbers represent the location’s Defense Value and the current value is marked with a green shield counter. The Defense Values range from 4-6 with 6 being the highest value. As the location is attacked and hit by SS cards such as Attack Location it will drop and the Defense Value will decrease becoming easier for the SS attacks to do damage to the Defenders. The numbers are the required number on a d6 that must be rolled to hit. As the track lowers the to hit number becomes easier to achieve.
The Cellar is a key location that is connected to the Great Hall and is where the Germans were keeping the French prisoners. The Defender can only move these counters out of the Cellar after they have initially placed the 20 Defender Counters in their supply on the board in combat positions in the various locations. There are no combat positions in the Cellar and the Defender cannot attack SS Counters from this location.
The Gatehouse and Besotten Jenny are separated from the other locations. There are five special combat positions contained in these areas. These special combat positions are marked with a [T] and four are located in Besotten Jenny and one located in the Gatehouse. The positions are useable by any Defender Counters but only a Tank Crew Defender Counter can use the special attack and suppress values printed on the combat positions here.
These special combat positions represent the various heavy weapons found on an M4 Sherman Tank including the 76MM Cannon (there also is a special loading position), M2HB Browning .50 caliber Machine Gun and two M1919A4 Browning .30 caliber Machine Guns.
Line of Sight of the combat positions is an important concept in the game and is used to determine if a Defender can attack an SS Counter located on one of the tracks. Defender Counters have Line of Sight when they are in areas of the same color. For example, a Defender Counter in a purple combat position can only fire on an SS Counter located in either a large or small purple circle.
You will also notice there are a few combat positions that have two colors, such as the red and purple position in the North Terrace. This position allows a Defender Counter to Fire on an SS Counter in any red or purple circles. If you think about this position and it’s location on the corner of a building it will have views to the north and the west through windows and can fire on units in either of those areas of the compound.
One other thing to notice about the positions is that the colors cross the boundaries of several of the key locations. For example, purple combat positions are located in several different locations including the North Terrace, Keep and Great Hall.
The final part of the board I want to point out is the Suppression Box. This is where suppression tokens are placed when a Defender Counter takes a Suppress action. A suppression token is placed in the box that corresponds with the color where the Suppress action is taken. These suppression tokens are very important as they are the only way for the Defender to keep SS units from appearing on the board as their cards are drawn from the SS deck.
The board is very well done and truly guides the player on how to play the game. I love the concept of Line of Sight and the colors used to identify targets for each position.
In Action Point 2, we will take a look at the SS card deck and how the cards drive the assault and also work against the player.
If you are interested we published an interview with the designer David Thompson on the blog during the Kickstarter campaign and you can read that at the following link: https://www.google.com/amp/s/theplayersaid.com/2018/11/05/interview-with-david-thompson-designer-of-castle-itter-the-strangest-battle-of-world-war-ii-from-dan-verssen-games-coming-soon-to-kickstarter/amp/