Campaign: Italy: Soft Underbelly

The rumors are flying around the latest Campaign book! Is the inclusion of “Italy:…“, a direct comparison from the three D-Day books which all started with “D-Day:…“, an indicator of future Italy books? Additionally, Soft Underbelly concludes in December 1943 with significant portions of the Italian campaign still to go. Lest we forget, the Battle of Monte Cassino did not begin in earnest until January 1944. So, will there be an Italy: Volume 2? Only time will tell. Until then, let’s take a look at Campaign: Italy: Soft Underbelly with another Chicago Dice Hot Take!

Hot

  • Abundance of units/rules/Selectors – The book is packed with Theater Selectors, units and special rules. Honestly, it’s a tad overwhelming. Included in this hefty tome are rules for…deep breath; Italian – Army, Commandos, MPs, German – Panzergrenadier, Herman Goring Division, Fallschirmj√§ger, British – Highlanders, Irish, Indians, Guards, Canadians, Airborne, Commandos, US – Army Recon, Nisei, FSSF, Rangers, Airborne and Popski’s Private Army. With so many units and Theater Selectors it’s easy to get lost. There are special rules flying at you from all angles and it look me a few reads just to get my bearings. The formatting and layout do you no favors when trying to decipher how each Platoon works. However, I refuse to say having more units and more options is not the hotness.
  • Appendix – It’s a small thing that makes a big difference. The final section of the book is an Appendix that contains the rules for generic units (Chaplin, Intel Officer, etc.), generic weapons (Demo Charges, Bangalores), universal unit and campaign rules (Multinational Forces, Ad Hoc Units) and a whole mess of terrain and mission rules. Putting all these rules into one easy to reference section at the back of the book instead of spreading them out across the missions is great to see. It’s a quality of life upgrade that is missing for many of the Theater and Campaign books.
  • Achnacarry Training/Mountain Warriors – This rule allows for certain infantry units to pass through/cross impassible terrain. If the terrain crossed/climbed is more than 6″, it takes two turns to make it across. It’s pretty insane to imagine the possibilities for flanking moves and positioning with this ability. In addition, units with this rule can Run through rough ground. Now that is incredible. That means you can assault an enemy unit from inside of rubble/ruins/forest/etc. If you are looking for a highly mobile force, these are the units for you.

Honorable Mentions

  • Armored Infantry Platoon (Sicily and Italy) – This US Theater Selector is pretty standard. With one major exception – it allows for 0-4 Bazooka Teams. I am compelled to give a shoutout to a Selector that allows for four Bazooka Teams.
  • Multi-National Forces – How to effectively play a game with a force comprised of more than one Nation or a Team game is something the community has wrestled with since the beginning. This short section in the Appendix provides clear and concise rules for doing just that. It’s nothing ground breaking but great to see none the less.

Not

Oldie and not so goodie.

  • Old Italians – I cannot speak on the intricacies of either book publishing and plastic model production but it sad to see not a single photo of the new plastic Italians. Every image of Italian troops in this book is of the old (and very dated) metal models. Seems like a missed opportunity to show off the new Italian kits.
  • British and Commonwealth National Characteristics – The British Armed Forces pulled troops from across The Empire and those units varied in the extreme. Having rules to reflect that is great. I am all for widening the pool of Commonwealth forces. However, this is not the way to do it. This, is a mess. Over these two pages (144-145), many of the previous Commonwealth rules are thrown out the window. We already have some fun and unique rules for these Commonwealth forces in Western Desert, New Guiana and D-Day: British & Canadian Sectors so why are these rules different? Not only are they different, they are mostly just a specific National Characteristic taken from Armies of Great Britain.

    For example, the Indian Army is forced to take Blood Curding Charge as their National Characteristic – what happened to Unsurpassed Bravery and The Manpower of the Empire? These are not unique Commonwealth rules, just repeats of existing National Characteristics. Not only that, some units in your Platoon will follow the specific Commonwealth rules, but other units will not. These are not Platoon rules, just rules for scattered induvial units. And that leads us to…
  • Mixed Commonwealth Forces – There are many units that ignore the army-wide special rules and have their own army special rules (that only apply to that unit). For example, if you take the Eighth Army Reinforced Platoon you find yourself in a situation where each Infantry unit in your force has it’s own National Characteristic – Regular Infantry (your pick), Irish (Vengeance), Indian (Blood Curdling Charge), Canadian (Though as Old Boots), Maori (Charge and Boots), the list goes on. Bolt Action does not do well when massive amounts of unique special rules are added at the individual unit basis. I commend anyone for taking a stab at running this coalition and you better bring some unit cards!

    I wish Gregg over at EasyArmy all the luck in the world with this one.
  • Gurkha Mountain Warriors – It’s too much. Gurkhas are already quite possibly the most powerful unit in Bolt Action. Giving them the ability to cross impassible terrain and Run 9″ through Rough Ground for +1pt per model is not an opinion this unit needed.

The Takeaway

We’ve got ourselves a bit of a mixed bag. The asperation is there, but the final product is too scattered and lacks focus. There are far too many small, unique, hyper specific rules and the overall product suffers. I feel the author bit off more than he could chew. Although I love all expansions of the game, it’s possible that Italy: Soft Underbelly is just too detailed. The whole production feels heavy, dense and overwrought. I realize the Italian campaign is both massive and often overlooked, but sadly Soft Underbelly does not live up to expectations.

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