I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Mike Tan, the game designer, talking through some of his ideas for the game and doing a one-turn playtest - the first turn of an Eastern Front scenario.
There is a lot to like about Sturm Europa. As I'm sure Mie is going to list out all of the basic details, I'm just going to focus on a few of the things I really like about it:
1. Nice implementation of a block system. Mike chose to put extra information on the block face, to make turns and actions go faster. Not only that, but built into the blocks is a sensible promotion/veterancy system. Using an easy-to-understand letter and number system, this mechanism easily communicates strength and initiative and serving as the cornerstone of the veterancy system. German regulars fire before raw Russian recruits; Russian veterans fire before German partisans. Its really elegant and, since the nubers are on the blocks, there is no need to remember rules or charts despite the operational complexity.
2. Smart use of cards to complement the action. Mike shares my philosophy on gaming, namely that a great game is strategically complex and heavy without requiring rules lawyering and contant references to rulebooks and charts to play. One of the key ways he pays that off in this game is in the use of cards. While the focus of the game is the block warfare on the board, Mike uses cards as the mechanism to integrate historical events, technology, political considerations and more. The beauty of Mike's implementation here is that the cards not only add a lot of depth to the game, they serve to contain the various "special" rules that are ostensibly present in a deep game. For example, the thing I dislike about Europe Engulfed (a game that, on the whole, I very much enjoy) is the endless political considerations and special rules that bog down gameplay. By moving much of that into the cards, Mike removes a LOT of weight fom the gameplay. Very sweet. Plus, the cards themselves are delving deeply into critical historical and creative aspects of the war, greatly enriching the WW2 experience in a way that no board game I've played before does.
3 The gameboard brings its focus one level deeper than Europe Engulfed: there are approximately twice as many territories on the board. This allows more nimble and creative tactics, and discourages the massive block stacking that happens in EE or even less sophisticated games like Axis & Allies.
The turn we played through only included the blocks and warfare, without either cards or purchasing. Thanks to the board and the blocks, it was fast and fun. My strategy was to try relatively balanced attack over the entire front, assuming that some of my attack points would enable a breakthrough and others would meet stiffer resistance. From there, I could make decisions on where to press the attack and sice into the Russian heartland. Similar to the real war my Germans decimated the Russian front on this turn. Since I pursued a wide front I did not have enough acions to penetrate particularly deep, but I did have two points on the board that seemed to have a lot of potential for a deep thrust with his either overrun or overwhelmed. Not that accomplishing that is anything special compared to the historical result!
Wold War 2 is definitely my favourite period to play, and Sturm Europa! appears on track to be my new game of choice. It has a lot going for it - this report only touches on some of the things that I personally responded most to, and could be an ideal marriage of strategic complexity and elegant simplicity. Keep an eye on this one.