Castle Itter and the Strangest Battle of World War II
Guide an unlikely group of besieged allies near an Austrian village in the strangest battle of World War II with Castle Itter.
Although it may not be clear from my recent plays, historical scenarios of a defensive nature often appeal to me! It isn’t just the idea, though, but the real stories that inspired the events. Castle Itter sounded like an excellent fit for a long time and it arrived more than a month ago. I eagerly set it up both to play and learn more about that interesting day.
Game Name: Castle Itter
Publication Year: 2019
Designer: David Thompson
Artists: David Thompson and Matt W. White
Publisher: Dan Verssen Games (DVG)
Solo Mode: Designed for Solo (Included in the Base Game)
At its heart, this is a tower defense game. But to boil it down to that is to do it a disservice. The history is simply fascinating and I recommend visiting Digital Capricorn to get the full picture through the companion book. Survival to the end requires attacks, suppression, and careful risks.
January 16, 2021
January 16, 2021
36" x 22"
Sometimes, I overlook the most important components. They’re usually plain. Not flashy. Possibly extraneous. But there is something to be said about reference sheets.
This rulebook isn’t particularly lengthy nor complex, yet the details are spread out over multiple pages.
These thick sheets provide basic information at a glance. So very nice! I rarely point out helpful additions like this, yet I found these to be immensely useful during play.
Better yet, each section mentions where to find detailed examples in the main rulebook. Awesome, awesome!
A total of 20 men represent the defensive force. It’s clear where the distinctions are from the counters, but the historical context brings everything to life even more.
This wasn’t a group of reluctant allies who were ready to turn on each other at a moment’s notice. Each played a significant role in the defense of Castle Itter.
It wasn’t just these men, though. Additional men and women were also present at the real battle.
There wasn’t going to be an exact reenactment from me with my questionable skills, though I was ready to go!
In the Cellar
Also part of the group were 5 French prisoners, recently freed. They weren’t going to be much help in the fighting department, but they had their own parts to play.
Note the “I” designation on most of them, which gave them the powerful ability to inspire. But first, they needed to make their way out of the cellar’s safety.
Jean Borotra was a unique character whose “E” indicator meant he could reenact his original escape to find help.
Reading about the history truly helped, and I couldn’t imagine playing without knowing a little about the day.
Weathering the Storm
It wasn’t long before the starting German riflemen began their advance. I had to manage them on all sides, balancing attacks with suppression for the least risk.
The north terrace took a direct hit early on. It was a wonder the walls held with such force!
Location attacks slowly reduced the defenses of different map regions. In essence, this made it easier for the units to be disrupted or even killed over time.
There was no escaping the flak, though the men continued to press on and protect every side of the castle.
I didn’t pause to record the battle, as it mostly involved rolling dice and drawing cards in a set pattern. More on that in a bit, though that wasn’t necessarily a negative!
When there was an opening to the south later in the battle, I saw the opportunity for Borotra to slip away. The history of this act is fascinating and completely selfless.
Just as defeat was about to set in, the 142nd infantry regiment emerged to end the battle early. We survived!
Well, maybe that was an overstatement… The casualties were pretty severe, and I doubted this was a victory.
By the time this play ended, the German troops were knocking on the doors to the castle! A single movement more and they would have stormed inside.
This was quite interesting in how mechanically simple everything was, yet it flowed very nicely.
My only real trouble was with how mechanical it was. I knew the history but struggled to get into the battle from a realistic perspective. These were mere tokens, not men.
Perhaps that’s my own issue, though! I decided to reset and give it another whirl… For a positive score, if I could!
The Low Rollers
These dice absolutely hated me! For the majority of my suppression attempts, I needed to roll 3 or higher. A 1 or 2 showed up over 50% of the time. How terribly unlucky!
So it goes when actions come down to the roll of the dice, though. With only the arrangement of units to help with attack rolls, luck was the most important element.
I wasn’t necessarily against this, though. The rules were simple and didn’t overcomplicate any of the actions.
At the same time, this constant rolling reinforced the mechanical over the narrative for me. It was different.
On the Idea of a Narrative Battle Experience
As I continued to play, I thought back fondly to Codeword Cromwell: The German Invasion of England, 8 June 1940. It’s been years since I last got it to the table, though it’s still one of my favorite experiences. Why? The characters all have backstories and events unfold that affect them individually. And you can wield pool cues and pitchforks. That’s right!
It plays out hourly during a fictitious battle in a fictitious town. What’s more, someone is a dangerous spy and must be found before it’s too late. This isn’t necessarily a fair comparison between the games since they do things very differently. And this isn’t any knock against historical battles. The defense of Castle Itter is notable and important.
The fact that I didn’t feel as connected got to me, though. I wanted to see through the eyes of these brave men! But maybe that’s where Borotra came in. I felt like his role was paramount and I could picture him racing away. The rest of the experience felt a bit repetitive. Even though it was fun, I couldn’t get past the idea that something was missing.
Let me also point out another unfair comparison. These plays lasted about 1 hour or a little more, and that might go quicker with time. I’m comparing that to a game that takes me at least 10-12 hours to complete! So the focus on more mechanics over the narrative makes sense. You need those stories to keep such a lengthy game engaging.
Without the historical context, I had no idea what the area of the map labeled the Besotten Jenny even meant. But it was immediately clear as I finished reading the story.
This was an interesting spot. During the first play, Lee sacrificed himself to get everyone else out before it was destroyed by the constant barrage of flak attacks.
The next play was even better: No one was inside when it was destroyed, though the Germans didn’t know this!
So the Besotten Jenny took extra damage while the men carefully maneuvered into the right positions.
Play Number: 1 and 2
Solo Mode: Designed for Solo (Included in the Base Game)
Play Details: Standard Difficulty Level
Outcome: -10 and 11 (1 Win and 1 Loss)
Even with the German troops at the gates and ready to claim victory, Castle Itter held out! Once again, Borotra’s escape helped with the early end. I scored well, though far from a major victory. There are additional ways to increase the challenge, too, which I very much plan to try out. This was reasonably satisfying and interesting, so I hope some changes in the future will make it even better!
Price & Value
Challenges & Mechanics
Design & Theme
Components & Rules
Achievement & Enjoyment
Distinctness & Randomness
+ Pros (Positives)
- Gameplay is very straightforward with minimal mechanics so the focus is on strategic positioning and defense.
- The line of sight element is color-coordinated and simple to understand with no ambiguity about targets.
- Balancing attacks and suppression offers interesting challenges and decisions from round to round.
- Many of the historical aspects are integrated into gameplay quite nicely, particularly with Borotra’s escape.
- There are many ways to increase the difficulty level with tactics cards and randomized starting German troops.
- Although the play area may not be small, it’s very compact without any sprawling components.
– Cons (Negatives)
- Nearly everything boils down to the roll of the dice, which can feel very luck-based and deterministic at times.
- It’s important to know the numbers of every space, yet the counters cover these up and must be moved a lot.
- The battle has a very rich and intriguing history, but gameplay can feel more mechanical than narrative.
- Choices are interesting since only 5 actions are allowed per round, yet the options sometimes seem limited.
Score 10+ Points
- Overall Goal Progress 100% 100%
Goals and Milestones
Score at least 10 points.
Win at least 1 game at the standard difficulty level.
Continue the Conversation
Have you had a chance to play Castle Itter? My assessment may seem a little harsh, but I can still see myself trying this out with the tactics cards! Do you enjoy the added challenges? I decided to pack this up to take a break since it didn’t grab me as much as I hoped it would. But if you’re familiar with the designer… You may know what game is up next!