Castle Itter Review by David Lent
Castle Itter is a simulation of the strangest battle of WWII. What makes this battle strange is that U.S. forces fought alongside Wehrmacht infantry, Austrian resistance, and French prisoners of war to battle an S.S. Panzergrenadier Division. The U.S. and it’s allies have to keep elements of the S.S. Panzergrenadier Division outside the Castle until the deck runs out or until the 142nd Infantry Regiment card is drawn from the deck.
This game can be played solitaire or multi-player competitive. There is a slightly different setup for multi-player along with an SS planning phase. In addition, there are variant rules that can be used to increase the difficulty of the game.
The components for Castle Itter are very good quality, just like every other DVG game. Included are a large mounted map, SS and Tactics cards, SS and defender counters, player aid cards and some informational tokens.
Castle Itter’s map has the castle divided into areas including a cellar. Most of the areas have defense values of 6,5,4 or in the case of the tank 6,5,4,0. When the defense value of an area drops to 4 then the occupants will be disrupted the next time the area is hit (if a disrupter counter is disrupted again, it is killed). In the case of the tank, when it drops to a defense value of 0 all the occupants are killed and the tank is destroyed. It also has a couple of areas with armored vehicles that U.S. tank crews may occupy to operate the armored vehicle’s weapons. The SS has 12 starting spaces with tracks the SS units can advance on. It reminds me of the tracks used in various States of Siege games.
The SS cards are used to attack defenders or locations, place SS counters, disrupt defenders or call in reinforcements for the defenders. The attack defender card is a sniper, while the attack location cards are Pak-40s, Flak 37s and Panzerfausts. The areas they attack are randomly determined. The 20mm Flak 30 disrupts defenders in a randomly located position. Machine guns, mortars, rifleman, scout and sturm cards place SS units in random starting locations on the map. The machine guns and mortars just stay in the starting location and never move. They attempt to disrupt defenders whenever a disrupt defenders card is drawn. Riflemen, scout and sturm cards have a stacking limit of 1 and whenever they enter a starting location they displace any infantry unit that is already there and it moves forward on the track towards the castle. They push forward any units they displace. If a unit on the last space of the track is pushed forward into the castle, the defenders have lost.
Tactics cards are used in the variant rules and competitive multi-player game. They typically enhance the effects of certain SS cards. These cards make the game significantly more difficult for the defenders.
The SS and defender counters are large and easy to pick up. SS counters have disrupt and defense value on them. Defender counters have attack, suppress and special actions and attributes printed on them. The special actions and attributes are inspire, low morale, Wehrmacht officer, reinforcements, sacrifice, tank crew, command and escape.
Castle Itter has three player aid cards. They cover defender attributes, SS cards and defender actions. What’s really fantastic about these is each piece of information on the cards has the page number of the book where you can go to get further information. I wish more games did this with their player aid cards.
The informational tokens included in this game are action tokens, command tokens, disrupted tokens and a load token. Each turn, the defender gets 5 actions and places an action token on a defender after he has used an action. When a commander uses a command action to give three recover actions to three different defenders a command token is placed on each one to signify that that defender may not take an action this turn. Disruption tokens are self-explanatory. The load token just shows when the tank is loaded and ready to fire.
The cellar is a special area of Castle Itter that deserves some explanation. The French defenders start there in the beginning of the game and no SS forces are within line of site of the cellar. French defenders can exit the cellar after all the non-reserve defenders have entered the castle. They have the inspire attribute, which allows them to give an extra dice to any defender in the same area that’s attacking. In addition, inspire provides an extra suppression token when a defender in its area is trying to suppress the enemy.
Borotra is the most important French defender, because he is the only defender with the escape special action. If he is in any location other than the cellar or great hall and there are no SS units in colors corresponding to that area, he can use his action to escape. When this occurs, he is removed from the map and the 142nd Infantry Regiment card is shuffled into a location of the deck determined by what number SS deck is in play. The 142nd Infantry Card causes the game to end immediately when it is drawn. This card is extremely important and the only way to end the game early.
Solitaire Sequence of Play:
1) Defender takes five actions with defender counters
2) Play three SS cards
Multi-player Sequence of Play:
1) First turn only: SS player draws 4 SS cards and 3 tactics cards
2) SS player chooses 3 SS cards and 1 tactics card for the turn
3) SS player draws 3 more SS cards and 1 tactics card
4) Defender takes 5 actions with defender counters
5) SS player reveals tactics card and its effects apply for the turn
6) SS player resolves the 3 SS cards in order
The actions that a defender can take are initial actions, attack, suppress, move within a location (done with another action), move to a new location, recover, command and escape. All of these actions except for escape and recover exhaust the defender. An exhausted defender may not take actions on any of the following turns unless he executes a recover action or a command action orders him to recover.
When the game begins, all the defenders are in a ready pool waiting to be deployed except those with the reinforcement attribute. Each turn, five defenders in the pool execute the initial action to be placed on the board. They may then carry out one regular action.
Attacking and suppressing are how the defenders deal with the hordes of SS troops that want to get into the castle or suppress the defenders. Attacking will kill an enemy troop within line of site if you roll well. However, some defenders have a better suppression than attack rating. They can place suppression counters on the map in the colored area that corresponding to the track color they have line of site to. This means when the SS attempts to put a unit into the starting space for that color, the defender has an option of using one or more suppression counters to try and roll and prevent that unit from entering the map.
Move within a location is done as a free action that’s combined with another action. However, moving to another location is not free. It’s often necessary, in order to get your units where they are the most needed.
Recover removes exhaustion or a disruption counter from your unit. Command allows a commander to remove exhaustion or disruption from three other units in its location. They cannot activate until the following turn though.
The first game I tried was the multi-player game. It was easy to setup and figure out how to player after reading the rules. The allies did a good job killing SS troops during the early stages of the game. However, the SS player gets to pick his cards for the turn and was usually able to use the appropriate tactics card to complement his SS cards. This caused extra SS units to enter the battlefield or enhanced the effect when firing heavy weapons at the defenders. The allies were able to get Borotra to escape though and this put the 142nd Infantry Regiment card into the SS deck. The first ¾ of the game, the defenders were successfully holding the SS at bay. However, the final SS deck put a lot of SS units into play near the end of the game and most of them entered in the same location due to the SS player’s lucky die rolls. This caused their units already on the same track to advance 3 times during the same turn and enter the castle causing an SS victory. The multi-player game is significantly harder for the defender than the basic solitaire game, because the SS player gets to choose his cards and use them synergistically. Bad luck caused the 142nd Infantry Regiment card to be shuffled into the deck as the last card also.
Castle Itter is easier in the solitaire game, because the AI doesn’t choose the best cards to play and instead uses the three cards from the top of the deck. It is easier, but not easy. The player has to carefully choose the order he brings his defenders into the castle and put the defenders near each other in locations where their abilities will complement each other. There is a constant need to move units out of the way so French units can enter the Great Hall. In addition, they need to be moved to areas where their inspire feature will help the most. Another consideration the defender has is whether or not to use suppression counters right away or save them for when things get really hairy.
This game is really easy to learn, but difficult to master. The rules are simple enough that you can read the rulebook and play the game a couple times the day it arrives. In addition, you can adjust the difficulty level once you start getting good at the game, so you always have a reasonable challenge. Castle Itter plays a bit like a States of Siege game, but the enemy has units that can fire at you. In addition, the escape mechanic and the ability to crew armored vehicles adds more depth to the game. I thoroughly enjoyed Castle Itter and recommend it for wargamers of all experience levels.
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View the components in the unboxing video below: