By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
A long time ago, we (well, probably I) decided that we needed a supplement to our Island of Death game to add more pieces and scenarios. We called it Fortress Malta and bravely declared that it would appear very soon. Stuff happened and “soon” stretched into a very long wait, but “soon” is finally here and the book is kind of different from that initial project description.
Island of Death makes a great base for an expansion set, since it’s based on an operation that was planned but never actually took place: the Axis invasion of Malta. That gives us the opportunity to explore variations on the plan, and to look at different plans. And that’s what we’ve done.
During the long gestation of Fortress Malta, the project has grown: it’s a regular-sized book, but now comes with 420 playing pieces. That’s more than the 380 pieces that come with the original game, and those 380 include a lot of markers – the 420 pieces in Fortress Malta are almost all additional combat units.
I also re-organized the book from its initial concepts, and threw out a bunch of stuff I guess I’ll salvage for Daily Content later. While I’m dismayed that it took so long to bring this project from concept to completion, in a way I’m kind of glad. This is a much better product than what we would have published when it was first announced. I’m really pleased with what we’ve done. Here’s what you get:
It wouldn’t be an Avalanche Press book without a lot of history packed into it. This time out it’s particularly good, starting with David Lippman’s “Fortress in the Sun” look at Malta’s strategic importance. Dave’s always been a fine writer, but his work has really moved to a higher level in the past year or so (see his tale of the Western Desert campaign) and this is a great piece. There’s also an in-depth analysis of Operation C3, by John Burtt and Davide Pastore. Col. Pastore, of the Italian Air Force, has made study of the planned invasion his lifelong obsession and the piece includes many great details that are not, to my knowledge at least, published elsewhere. And finally some clown wrote a history of Malta.
Davide Pastore poses with the object of his obsession.
There are four groupings of scenarios, collected by year. The 1940 scenarios greatly expand on a former Daily Content piece to look at Air Marshal Italo Balbo’s daring shoestring plan to take Malta at the outbreak of war.
The 1941 package deals with the German alternative to the invasion of Crete. Malta is struck by a full division of German paratroopers boasting sky-high morale, and followed up by a full division of German air-landing infantry. It’s pretty tough on the Brits but mass airborne landings are a recipe for disaster and there’s a reason the German high command decided not to try this.
With so many changes introduced to the game’s original scenarios, I decided it was better to just re-write them and include them in the book, and that’s the basis of the 1942 scenario section. Malta is somewhat easier to defend but the Axis bring more parachute troops, a larger armored component and the dreaded Italian Blackshirt Marines.
And finally, the 1943 scenarios look at an all-Italian invasion with both the Folgore and Nembo parachute divisions. By 1943 the Axis was in no condition to launch an assault on Malta, but the Nembo Division was not operational until then and the 1943 rubric kept the scenarios conveniently organized. It’s best to think of the operation as taking place in 1942, with the Nembo Division having been organized and trained earlier than actually occurred.
The pieces use the same technology we experimented with for the Torpedo Boats special Christmas promotion. If you’re fortunate enough to have received Torpedo Boats, then you know what these are like: pretty much the Holy Grail of counter technology ca. early 2014. They’re a little thicker than most die-cut pieces (because they haven’t been squished by thousands of pounds of die-press force), about the same as our former laser-cut ones (South Flank, Kaiser’s Navy etc.). And since they haven’t been hit by massive force, they’re also completely smooth with no die damage.
While they’re laser cut, they don’t have any residue from the cutting, and most of them have no signs of laser work at all (I did find one Torpedo Boats sheet with a tiny sepia tinge along the cut lines). I think these are the best game counters ever made, and now I’m glad we waited for the Torpedo Boats experiment before releasing Fortress Malta.
Fortress Malta has the largest counter set of any of our books to date: 420 pieces, a sheet and a half. You get all sorts of additional goodies: a full division of German paratroopers (7th Flieger plus the attached Sturm Regiment). A full German air-landing division (22nd Infantry). An additional division of Italian paratroopers (184th Nembo). Four Italian infantry divisions (three new, one re-rated). Italian Blackshirt marines. Libyan paratroopers. Italian battleships. British tanks.
This is a great package, turning Island of Death from a fun game with some historical insight into a simulation of multiple plans, allowing you to compare one against another and determine whether the Axis had any hope of capturing Malta – while still having a lot of fun.
You can order Fortress Malta right here.
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold understands Italian.