As you know, we have really enjoyed our plays of games designed by Mark Simonitch, including Holland ’44, Stalingrad ’42 and most recently Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul. He has an amazing ability to boil down all the elements involved and come out with a very playable simulation of the historical event. Over a year ago, his newest game called Salerno ’43 which covers the Allied invasion of mainland Italy in September 1943, was announced on P500. It has quickly shot up the P500 orders and now sits at 1,475 orders as of May 2021. We reached out to Mark to see if he would be willing to give us the details about the design and he was more than willing to share.
Grant: Welcome back Mark. You have been real busy since we last spoke about Holland ‘44 over 3 years ago and we are the beneficiary of your hard work. What has been occupying your time?
Mark: Mainly working for GMT Games in the art department with all of their great projects. It has grown a lot in the last year and that keeps me busy.
Grant: What is your upcoming game Salerno ‘43 about?
Mark: Salerno ’43 is about the Allied landing in Salerno Bay in September 1943 and the 3-week battle afterwards. The interesting thing about this game is it uses the exact same map scale and unit scale as used in Normandy ’44. I did this so I could compare the two landings in a graphic and spatial way. When you see them side-by-side you can really appreciate how big the Normandy invasion was. They landed with four divisions at Salerno and eight at Normandy.
Grant: Why did you feel your systems could be easily used to tell the story of the Allied landings in Italy?
Mark: I felt the Determined Defense rules I have in my games would work well with Italy. One of the first things I did was make sure I could reasonably recreate the battle of Cassino. There the Germans held up the Allied advance for about 120 days. With each turn representing a day, I needed a system where players might fight over a single hex for 100+ turns! A pretty insane goal, but using a modified City Battle rule from Stalingrad ’42 and the Determined Defense rules, I got it to work. Especially if the German player sends their Fallschirmjäger there and rain and supply shortages make attacking impractical.
Grant: What changes have you made to the system since Holland ’44?
Mark: There has been lots of little changes. I’m never happy with the Determined Defense Table so that gets tinkered with a lot. I added a Major City Battle rule to Stalingrad ’42, and in Salerno ’43 I will be adding a new CRT result where there is No Retreat but the Defender is Disrupted.
Grant: What about the history of the Allied invasion of Italy did you need to include and model in the game?
Mark: The Normandy ’44 System worked fairly well with Salerno, I didn’t have to make too many changes. There were a couple challenges — one was the British sector where the British line hardly moved in 2 weeks. Some play-testers got frustrated but they didn’t realize they were often making better progress than the British did historically. The other challenge was how to show the effects of the 8th Army coming up from the south. The arrival of the 8th Army was the reason the German divisions retreated north. So the first half of the game is the battle for the Salerno beachhead and the second half is the withdrawal of the Germans to the north map edge. They have to delay as long as possible to give time for the building of the Gustav Line.
Grant: What is the scale of the game and the force structure of units?
Mark: The map scale is 2.35 miles per hex, 1 day turns, basic units are Regiments and Brigades but there are many battalions. The German forces are thin so most of their units are battalions.
Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters? Can we see a few counters of more interesting units?
Mark: Here is a look at a Sample Infantry Unit from the rulebook for Stalingrad ’42. Salerno ’43 uses the same layout for counters and the Attack, Defense and Movement values are in the same locations.
Here is a look at some of the American units, which include Airborne units and several different Infantry units as well as an Artillery unit. The counters are mostly done with some minor tweaking needed.
Grant: Your maps are always so well done! What role do you believe the map plays in the game and how do you feel it sets the tone for the operation?
Mark: I think the map is extremely important. It is hard to understand why forces went in certain directions if you don’t understand the terrain. I was fortunate enough to visit Italy about 3 years ago and travel around the Salerno area. I even got to travel a bit of the Amalfi Coast road and over one of the mountain passes on the map. With that experience I removed sections of the roads in those areas because I could see that a single demolition charge placed on the Amalfi Coast or that mountain pass I crossed would block it for weeks.
Grant: What are the highlights of the terrain and the focus of the play area?
Mark: I think the mountains are the highlights — particularly surrounding the Salerno plain as they are very steep and rugged mountains. In the game, motorized units are not allowed to cross mountain hex sides and non-motorized units will be Disrupted and likely out of supply if they cross. The focus on the map is the Salerno plain and the two main exits of that plain: towards Naples and east towards Eboli.
Grant: How much pressure is on the Allies once they land in the Bay of Salerno? What Axis units are there to apply this pressure?
Mark: The Allies are under a bit of pressure, some play-testers have lost a couple of beachheads from German counterattacks. Waiting for the Allies is the full-strength 16th Panzer Division which is soon reinforced by elements of six others: the 3rd, 15th, and 29th Panzergrenadier Divisions, the 26th Panzer Division, the Hermann Göring Division, and five battalions from the 1st Fallschirmjäger Division. The problem the Allies had was they did not have enough shipping. After they dropped off the four initial divisions it took them 6 to 8 days to return with more divisions.
Grant: How do you model the reinforcement of the 82nd Airborne? Do they parachute in or land?
Mark: Two regiments are air dropped on Turns 5 and 6, and the other arrives via sea on Turn 8.
Grant: What new rules did you introduce regarding crossing and fighting across mountain hex sides? Why is this so important?
Mark: Units are halved attacking across a Mountain hexside. In addition, any unit that moves or attacks across a non-road/non-pass Mountain hexside is Disrupted and can’t recover until it is back in supply. It represents them crossing but with with very little equipment. In later games in the system I’ll have mule counters so players can bring supply across a mountain hexside.
Grant: What is the makeup of the CRT? Can you show it to us?
Mark: Here is the CRT in its final form. Or I should say near final.
Grant: How much of a role does Breakthrough Combat play in the game?
Mark: Breakthrough Combat doesn’t happen very often since it is hard to get odds above 4-1 and Hill terrain can stop an advance after combat. This game is focused on hex to hex fighting and will be slow going for the Allies.
Grant: How did you model artillery support?
Mark: Artillery is the same as in Normandy ’44: A division or corps HQ can provide a CRT shift if you use a Supply Point.
Grant: How similar is the landing procedure to Normandy ‘44? Are the landings contested?
Mark: The landing procedure is a very similar procedure, but it is rare that a unit will lose a step. The landings were only lightly contested on the beach.
Grant: What different support assets do the Allies have at their disposal?
Mark: The Allies have a fair number of tank battalions and both the British and USA forces have one air unit and one naval unit that can be used in combat to provide a CRT column shift.
Grant: What role does the Floating Reserve Box play? How are units released from this box?
Mark: The Floating Reserve Box is just to hold units that have arrived but haven’t landed yet. It’s mainly for units in the invasion convoy that landed on D+1 and D+2.
Grant: Overall Salerno ’43 appears to be much smaller than your other games. What is the average play time?
Mark: The short 9 Turn scenario can be finished in a day. The full game will take 2 days.
Grant: What are the victory conditions for each side? Which side has the harder time of meeting them?
Mark: To win the Allies need to exit the map before the end of September (Turn 22). So the German player needs to be stubborn in his withdrawal which begins when the 8th Army arrives around Turn 11. For the Germans it is key to use Desperate Defense and to have units ready to fill gaps so that any breakthroughs can be minimized. Terrain here is the defenders friend and the player use it to their advantage.
Grant: What are the various scenarios included? Which scenario do you like to play and why?
Mark: As you mentioned earlier, the game is much smaller in scope than some of the other games in the series and therefore there are only two scenarios: The short game, consisting of 9 Turns and the full 22-Turn game. I like them both, I think players will want to play all the turns since there are interesting decisions to make all the way up the map.
Grant: Is this game easy to learn for new wargame players? What is key for them to understand to be able to pick up the game play quickly?
Mark: I wouldn’t classify it as an introductory game, it is more of a smaller ZOC BOND game. The important concepts to understand for the Allied player are the limits of terrain on both movement and supply and how to overcome them. The German player has got to understand ZOC Bonds and how they can use them to their advantage to plug holes and hold back the Allies while also using Determined Defense at the appropriate times.
Grant: What do the Player Aids look like? Can you spoil them with a picture for us?
Mark: Yes. Here is the other Player Aid that we haven’t shown yet which includes the Terrain Effects Chart, which shows all the different terrain on the map and how it effects both movement and combat. I have always tried to make the Player Aids as useful as possible as they can speed along the game as they provide all the important information needed by both players.
Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design? What do you think it does well?
Mark: I’m pleased that by the time we finished tuning and testing we ended up with a game that often had historical results. Early in testing we had some odd things happen but those were all easily fixed.
Grant: I understand that Salerno ’43 is just the first of three games in this series that will take the U.S. 5th Army to Cassino and eventually to Rome. What are the other games called? What area do they focus on?
Mark: There are two more games planned that will link with Salerno ’43. The Gustav Line (Italy 43′) will take the fighting through Naples, across the Volturno River, and up to Monte Cassino. Anzio ’44 (Italy ’44) will cover the Operation Shingle invasion and the fight at Cassino. Here is a map that can be found on the game page on the GMT Games webpage showing the general locations of the two follow-up volumes. These games are still a ways off as I have had my focus on this project and finishing up others.
Grant: What other games do you currently have in the works?
Mark: I’m currently finishing up an expansion to Stalingrad ’42 which takes the game from the end of December ’42 to February 5, 1943. It covers the Soviet Little Saturn offensive, the German Winter Storm offensive to relieve Stalingrad, and the start of Manstein’s Backhand Blow. That game should be going on the P500 shortly.
Mark as always thank you for your time and for your work for GMT Games. I have really enjoyed your games and I look forward to Salerno ’43 as well as the follow up games in the series.
If you are interested in Salerno ’43, you can pre-order a copy for $28.00 on the P500 game page on the GMT Games website at the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-868-salerno-43.aspx