"The Italian Front" (TIF) is part of the "Der Weltkrieg" (DWK) series by SPW Games and covers the complete Italian-Austrian war theatre on operational scale. Combined with The Eastern Front: 1914-1917 or all games and The Grand Campaign it becomes a part of a much larger campaign.
Initially allies, Italy and Austria-Hungary didn't come along very well at the begin of World War One. Italy didn't participate on the 1914 attack and betrayed the Central Powers by declaring war to Austria in May 1915. They hoped to regain several terretories lost to Austria at the beginning of the 19th century.
In eleven (!) battles between May 1915 and June 1917, Italy tried to break through the Austrian defense at the Isonzo river. But Italy suffered huge losses but gained little.
Only after the eleventh battle at the Isonzo, the Austrian front was near collapse and called out for German support. With German help, the Italians were pushed back to the Piave river at the battle of Caporetto in October 1917. But similar to the Western Front, the Austrians and Germans couldn't keep up the supply during the offensive and another stalemate was inevitable.
After the final assault of the Austrians at the battle of Piave in June 1918 failed, the Italians finally managed to break through the Austrian defense in October 1918 and ended the war for the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The game comes with one map (86cmx56cm/34"x22"), two countersheets (560 1/2" counters), a standard rulebook, a scenario book, one die, and several displays and tables on thin cardboard.
Box content (image by .::Clarté::.)
There are two editions around. While the game specific differences are minor, the components of the second edition have better quality, e.g. thicker countersheets. Also the counters of the first edition are side mounted which annoys some people but I didn't mind. The second edition also has a slightly updated map and the most recent rulebooks (called "Sterling Edition").
So, I recommend getting the second edition, but having the first edition is sufficient. The updated Sterling standard rulebook is also available online from www.spwgame.com in PDF format. And you can get the updated Sterling TIF rulebook as a PDF file by sending a scan of the front page of your TIF rulebook to SPW Games. I recommend getting the updated TIF rules because supply and reinforcement points were altered. They are more scarce in the new version.
The maps in the series are unique because hexes are divided into six slices that can have different terrain. That works quite well although the map of the Italian Front isn't the prettiest with all the mountain hexsides. The scale is 20km per hex, counters represent divisions and brigades.
The standard rules of DWK aren't overly complex or difficult. The rulebook is only about 20 pages long and well written.
The game is played in 7 turns a month. Additionally there is a monthly special turn for the construction/destruction of trenches.
Thus playing a duration game covering several years results in a lot of turns. In TIF the longest duration game covering 1915 to 1918 can have over 250 turns to play. The scenarios are much shorter with 11 to 32 turns.
Let's look at the phases of a turn in detail, each turn has 4 phases for each player:
During the Reinforcement Arrival Phase reinforcement units are placed in certain key cities. Also, sometimes units have to be withdrawn. The game comes with a complete list of reinforcements and withdrawals for the whole war. Handling the withdrawals can be quite tedious as you hunt for a specific unit in several large stacks.
The Movement Phase is as you expect. Units may move up to their movement allowance. Or up to 50% more if they are in column mode but are not allowed to enter an enemy ZOC. Railways can transport units much farther but have limited capacities.
The combat during the Combat Phase has some interesting twists. From headquarters nearby the player can pay supply points for all attacking units while unsupplied units have their strength halved. The player then rolls a die on the CRT and applies some modifiers (e.g. terrain) and gets the number of strength points the defender has to eliminate. But before elimination the defender counterattacks at triple strength (also halved when unsupplied). The results really give a feel of the exhausting killing of these battles. By 1917 the CRT gets more deadly and the Central Powers get assault units but the grinding continues.
Afterwards during the Replacement/Recombination Phase reduced units can be refreshed with limited replacement points.
Stacking allows for up to three artillery units and six divisions. Now add to that an engineer, a headquarter, a fortress, a trench or a railhead marker and strength reduction marker, then you get very large stacks.
Stacks in the June 1918 scenario, at the battle of Caporetto the stacks are even higher
Of course there are more details and special rules but it still plays smoothly.
Scenarios and Campaigns
May 1915 -- First Battle of the Isonzo
The first three months of the war are covered in this scenario. The Italians do have quite a lot of troops but their absurd "broad front" strategy does not allow a concentrated attack. Instead troops on the Isonzo front are assigned to two different HQs and have to attack different targets. Thus when the one HQ attacks, the other has to attack with at least half as many strength points. This is one of the stupidest ideas in warfare since the daily command alteration of Roman consuls leading to the disaster of Cannae.
May 1915 separation between HQ2 and HQ3 (cyan line) for the failed broad front strategy
Because of the broad front strategy the battle at the Isonzo river quickly became a stalemate in my play with the Italians gaining a few hexes only. A breakthrough was highly unlikely.
May 1916 -- Strafexpedition
In an ill-fated attempt, the Austrians try to break through the fortified mountains in southern Tyrol and cut off the Italians at the Isonzo front.
In my game the attack stopped after the Austrians gained two or three hexes. The Austrians just don't have the supply and troop quality to break through the Italian defense.
May 1917 -- Tenth Battle of the Isonzo
Again and again the Italians attacked at the Isonzo. At least they gave up the broad front strategy in 1917. So here we can try to fully attack with combined strength at the Isonzo ... to probably gain not much.
I haven't tried this scenario yet but again I don't expect much front movement here. This might be a good start for a shorter duration game though.
October 1917 -- Battle of Caporetto
The Germans are coming and they send in the Stoßtruppen! Surprised by these assault units, the Isonzo front breaks and the Italians are pushed back to the Piave river.
October 1917 scenario setup
Finally we have a scenario with some action. The huge German stacks are unbeatable and the Italians have trouble to orderly withdraw and not being cut-off. Of course this scenario is lopsided but this is still the most interesting one in the game.
June 1918 -- Battle of the Piave River
The front line is now the Piave river but the Germans were pulled out. The Italians are nearly broken but French and British troops help out. The Austrians launch a final desperate attack but again cannot break through the Italian defense.
In my play Austrian supply was so scarce that the Italian could withstand the attack quite easily.
The Duration Game 1915 - 1918
The Duration Game is the long campaign. It can start at any scenario and it ends when either country surrenders or at the beginning of November 1918. The demoralization of a country is measured by the amount of strength points its force loses and it determines when a country is shaken or breaks.
Playing the whole campaign would be over 250 turns and due to the stalemate this is very tedious. Although I haven't played the Duration Game yet I recommend starting in either May or October 1917 skipping the static first two years.
TIF can also be linked to The Eastern Front: 1914-1917 in a combined Duration Game. And it is of course a part of The Grand Campaign covering the complete war.
"Der Weltkrieg" is a very good system with clear rules and it plays very well. It also catches the essence of the World War I battles nicely. You really feel the frustration being stuck in the stalemate. I like how supply is essential and still easy to handle. I also like the overall flow of the game turns.
The Italian Front gives you the complete Italian perspective of the war which is a good thing. When you combine TIF with the East Front you also get the complete Austrian perspective. However, at the given scale of 20km/hex the Italian front is extremely static. Month after month the Italians try to wear down the Austrians but the front doesn't budge. This is where TIF fails as a game. It is a good simulation of the Italian front and you get a very good feel how attritional the battles were fought. However, sitting down with a friend and playing one of the Isonzo battles or even the Strafexpedition is just not very interesting. There are no tough decisions to be made and there is no space for maneuvers. The battle of Caporetto is the exception but it is lopsided and therefore more interesting for solo play. The campaign games are too long and too static and the constant withdrawal of units can get tedious as criticized by others too.
That said, I do recommend The Italian Front, just not to everyone:
+ It is an interesting situation shown at an operational scale and a great system.
+ It is for those who are really interested in the Italian war with Austria.
+ It can be part of a combined Eastern Front game or even the complete war.
+ It plays well solo.
= This is rather a simulation than a game.
- It is not the best introduction to the Der Weltkrieg series, the Eastern Front is probably better suited.
- It is not very thrilling when played opposed.
- Duration games are very long.
Just remember, this is about World War One. The front was a bloody static stalemate.
Thanks for this review.
I was considering this game but after reading your review I'm starting to wonder if it is for me.
Reading between the lines I get the impression that even you, who seem to like the game, thinks it is a bit boring.
Of course you would not expect anything else from trenchwarfare so I guess as a simulation it is great, but as for a game.
I am one who likes to move troops about, come up with some kind of clever outflanking plan and get the old gray matter working.
I feel this is more a game where you try and pound your opponent into submission.
Any thanks for the helpfull review.
Yes, indeed. Boring as a game because you don't have many maneuvers. The Eastern Front: 1914-1917 is probably much better suited for that.
Still, I enjoyed the game solo. Maybe because I didn't have to consider too many decisions all the time.