A few years ago, Sergio Schiavi broke onto the scene with his new company called Dissimula Edizioni with their first Kickstarter called Radetsky’s March: The Hundred Hours Campaign and that game was then followed a few years later by From Salerno to Rome: World War II – The Italian Campaign, 1943-1944 and their third game called Give Us Victories: The Chancellorsville Campaign. Now, they have launched a very interesting looking introductory wargame on the invasion of Italy during World War II called The Soft Underbelly. I reached out to Sergio and he was more than willing to give us an inside look at the design.

The Kickstarter campaign for The Soft Underbelly, 1943-1945 is currently ongoing and will conclude on Wednesday, June 7th at 3:17am EDT. As of the posting of this interview, the campaign is funded with $5,013 toward its goal of $5,324.

If you are interested in The Soft Underbelly, 1943-1945 from Dissimula Edizioni, you can back the project on the Kickstarter page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/guv/the-soft-underbelly-1943-1945

Grant: What is the focus of your new project The Soft Underbelly?

Sergio: The game deals with the second part of the war in the Mediterranean, that period that starts from the operations in Tunisia and reaches the Italian campaign and the landings in southern France from 1943-1945.

It is a very interesting period for a wargame with the arrival of the United States with a great force, the invasion and the fall of Italy are key events.

Grant: What was it that drew you to doing a game on Operation Torch?

Sergio: When the Americans arrive, everything changes: of course, there was El Alamein, and the Axis is withdrawing, but this remarkable force, this way of fighting with a large quantity of materials marks a decisive turning point in the war in that sector (and not only there!). I wanted to do a game on this subject as it is close to my heart as a native Italian and I have always had an interest in the history.

Grant: What is your overall design vision with the game?

Sergio: First of all, I wanted to make a simple and fast playing introductory game, about a theme that isn’t addressed all that much. Or rather, it is but not in this way: in my opinion the Italian campaign starts from Tunisia and reaches as far as southern Germany. We know that the war went very differently but in the Allied plans there was the possibility of winning quickly in that sector and ending the war.

Grant: What key historical elements are you trying to model in this game?

Sergio: The answer to this question is already contained in the title of the game: ‘The Soft Underbelly’ is the term Churchill uses to convince the Allies to invade Italy, and he does so when the United States, for the first time, begins to pour considerable forces into the Mediterranean. Since that time the war in that theater changes irreversibly, starting with the Axis decision to reinforce Tunisia that forces the Italian fleet to bleed to bring in forces that are in fact not strong enough for the task at hand.

Grant: What type of system is used for the game?

Sergio: This is a completely new system, very simple, which uses wooden cubes, square counters and circular
markers together. It is for two players and lasts about an hour on average. The map is zoned.

Grant: What is the scale of the game and force structure of the units?

Sergio: In general, one centimeter on the game board corresponds to about 50 km; the units do not correspond to precise organic structures, the emphasis is placed on the ability of the respective armies to deploy sufficient units to attack or defend; balancing between them is important.

However, in principle, a block corresponds roughly to a division.

Grant: How are Reinforcement Cubes gained and placed on the board?

Sergio: The Reinforcement Cubes enter at the beginning of each game round or when particular events are played; they enter player-controlled areas and are immediately operational, i.e. they can move and fight or be
converted with specialized units.

Grant: What types of units can be recruited?

Sergio: The specialized units common to both armies are tanks and aircraft; they have different conversion
costs: the Axis pays a lot for both tanks (2 cubes) and planes (3 cubes); Allies instead pay only one cube for both. Then there are other particular units, elite for the Axis and Airborne for the Allies, each with different game effects. There are also fleets and U-boats but they are already in play and if they leave for particular reasons (Overlord, fall of Italy) they never return.

Grant: How does combat work in the design?

Sergio: The combat mechanic is very simple: at the end of the movement I place one of the three attack arrows and start rolling the dice, one for each attacking cube; if a 6 is rolled then he inflicts a loss on the enemy. If tanks also participate in the attack, the result for hitting drops to 5; if there are also planes involved it drops to 4.
Brutal but effective. The concept here is the benefit of combined arms and players want to plan out their reinforcements and attacking forces to ensure this lower to hit number. Never attack without adequate air cover!

Grant: Why did you want to emphasize the use of combined arms?

Sergio: In a campaign like what is covered by the scope of the game, careful planning of movements and coordination between land, air and sea forces is essential. You cannot advance without having proper bases and support.

Grant: What is the range of aircraft?

Sergio: The rules on planes are very particular: they can be used both to support land combat and to bomb
or intercept enemy transports; the range is given by a ruler that measures the maximum engagement distance. I’m thinking of a stretch goal I’d like to add; a longer ruler for the Allies to simulate the use, from ’44 onwards, of supplementary tanks…

Grant: How is ship transport accomplished?

Sergio: Allies can move up to six cubes per turn into ports they control; there is a track that allows you to
record how many stitches are used. The Axis two cubes but only as long as the Italian fleet is in play to offer air cover. The Mediterranean was an active theater and if you have no air cover, then it is very hard to transport your troops.

Grant: How do players execute amphibious landings?

Sergio: Landing is a part of the movement but only the Allies can do it; a fleet must be present in the sea
zone where it is to be attempted. Allies tend to be able to land anywhere, but doing so without adequate air cover is very risky…

Grant: What area does the map cover?

Sergio: The map covers the area of the Mediterranean Sea from from Tunisia to Greece and the center of the map is of course Italy with the south of France and Germany also represented. There are 4 different Sea Zones A-D.

Grant: What key strategic pinch points are highlighted? How important is the terrain of Italy and
North Africa?

Sergio: The subdivision of the zones obviously favors the defensive characteristics of Italy: Cassino and the Gothic Line can be defended for a long time. However, once the Allies are in the Po Valley, then he can potentially go wherever he wants, perhaps aiming towards Munich. Tunisia is not very defensible, but the longer the Axis delays its fall, the less time the Allies have to proceed with their deployment plans.

Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters?

Sergio: Counters have no numerical values, only symbols that represent their type. I hope that the design I have chosen will appeal to the players, in fact it is very unique. Specialized forces are square. The markers and other indicators are round.

Grant: What different events are included with the Event Chits? How are these events triggered?

Sergio: The Events are different: Arrival of reinforcements, Additional impulse (which allows you to extend
the turn), Arrest battle (allows you to immediately end a battle), partisans, etc. But the event markers are generic, it is the player who must decide where to place them on a special track to trigger that type of event. And he can do it at any time.

Grant: How is victory achieved?

Sergio: Some areas are marked with a star (Rome, Naples, Tunis, Monaco, Toulon, etc.) and whoever controls
the most stars at the end of the game wins the game. Again, simple but effective. In this game the
Allies can do much better than its historical counterpart (i.e. occupy Munich).

Grant: What type of experience does the game create?

Sergio: When the United States enters the war, Churchill states (I hope I remember correctly) that, from that moment on, to win the war, it is only a question of using overwhelming force properly. In some respects, the game is a bit like this: you must not make mistakes; if you play with allies it is important to plan every move, trying to occupy areas in order to be able to deploy your forces which are considerable; you have to figure out when to launch a landing, where to place planes, how to exploit a successful attack; if, on the other hand, you play with the Axis you have to use your counterattacks well, understand which areas to leave and which ones to defend. And all this in less than an hour!

Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design?

Sergio: My games generally last a long time, but this one is new, it plays very quickly, it’s a very small game but it works well, it always keeps the tension very high until the end. Graphically you know I love working on maps; but this is very different from what I am used to drawing, I used different techniques and I think the result is very nice.

Grant: When are you targeting fulfillment of the Kickstarter?

Sergio: The campaign ends on June 7th; I intend to produce the game between September and October.

Grant: What other designs are you working on?

Sergio: So, if this Kickstarter successfully funds, I think I will work on two games with this same system; one on the Korean War, the other on the Yugoslavia and Greece campaign in 1941. Of course I’m not abandoning the hex & counter, a game on Operation Husky is about to come out, a great game by Andrea Brusati that I will produce (and take care of the graphics). Then, I have the prototype of another game about WWII on the Eastern Front, but I’ve just started to develop it. It’s a surprise.

Thank you for your time in answering our questions Sergio. From experience, I can say that Sergio is a good designer and his games have been a joy to play. Most recently, we played From Salerno to Rome and it was a fantastic game.

If you are interested in The Soft Underbelly, 1943-1945 from Dissimula Edizioni, you can back the project on the Kickstarter page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/guv/the-soft-underbelly-1943-1945