Advanced European Theater of Operations
Advanced European Theater of Operations was designed by Eric Harvey in the late 1990s, and he based most of its combat mechanics’ (the rules designed to simulate combat operations during game play) on the foregoing European Theater of Operations (from whence Advanced ETO derives its name.) First published in 2002 by Decision Games (who had previously purchased the rights to ETO), AETO was praised for its impressive detail, but likewise criticized for its excessive complexity.
Advanced ETO was an ambitious attempt by designer Eric Harvey to inculcate as much accuracy and detail as possible within a two-map game of the European Theater. Indeed, AETO’s counter manifest is double that of ETO, and it includes an impressively detailed variety of units representing virtually every major and minor nation of Europe during World War 2 (approximately 90% of which are combat-representative units, and only about 10% are informational or play-aid pieces.) The AETO rules are ponderously lengthy as a result (nearly 150 pages as edited), and entail much more complexity and detail than almost every other similar game system (nearly equaling or exceeding the preceding versions of World in Flames, and subsequent World at War, despite the fact that they encompass both the European and Pacific Theaters.)
According to Mr. Harvey's comments at the consmiworld.com forums, the system expanded to such lengths based on several intentions:
- to formulate ratios of game counters and associated rules based upon historically accurate data, and not upon any preexisting limitations inherited from ETO.
- to write the rules with no lexicon or abbreviations whatsoever (using only normal English vernacular to ease understanding and comprehension).
- to write each of the game’s rules with intentionally excessive verbosity (in an attempt to minimize ambiguities and loopholes.)
Advanced ETO has two large (22” x 34” each) maps that together represent all of Europe, North Africa, and much of the Middle East, with each hexagon representing approximately 50 statute miles (80 km). The AETO maps were based upon the ETO maps, but are notably evolved. Harvey made an effort to accurately reconstruct the ETO maps, and then to add a rail network, historically researched ‘resource hexes’, more cities, rivers, lakes, islands and so forth, and completely re-rendered mountain ranges (to be more geographically accurate.) The various ‘large sea areas’ that represent the Atlantic Ocean were also re-rendered; in the early stages of the maps’ redesign, Harvey spoke at length about the calculations involved to accurately represent the correct “movement point number” (i.e., the movement point cost required of naval pieces to transit sea areas) of each sea area, asserting that the foregoing ETO maps’ values were incorrect.
The maps’ artwork was drawn by renowned wargame map-artist Joseph Youst, to whom Harvey credits the idea for the re-rendered mountain ranges.
In addition, the corners of the AETO maps include a variety of printed charts and player-aid boxes. While convenient, and in some cases necessary, some players have criticized their presence for taking away space that could have been used for enlarging the maps’ cartographical area. Such criticisms are arguable because the charts tend to only cover areas of Europe where no significant historical battles occurred.
Together, the two AETO maps are considerably larger than the maps of games such as “The Rise and Decline of the Third Reich”, but not as large as those of “War in Europe”.) In any case, the AETO maps encompass all of the European Theater (even Northern Norway, which is often ‘cut off’ on many wargame maps).
The Advanced ETO playing pieces are not especially unique for a strategic-level game, sporting a combination of icons for air and naval units, and standard NATO symbols for land units. However, an effort was made to improve on the original ETO pieces.
Advanced ETO includes 2240 game pieces (eight sheets of 280 counters each) representing most of the nations of Europe during World War 2. In this regard, AETO bears no resemblance to ETO at all; AETO’s “Order of Battle” was a complete re-mastering by Harvey. The variety of game pieces includes numerous unit types (for example, panzer-grenadier divisions) not present in ETO.
The most effort was devoted to the data of each AETO game piece. Even before production, Harvey claimed prolific personal research of every combat unit, and his fervent desire to achieve as much technical accuracy as possible. The ratings of the original ETO pieces were largely disregarded. Mr. Harvey claims to have conducted redundant research to compensate for conflicting data from different sources. Some research mistakes have been noted (for example, the armor value of the U.K. aircraft carrier HMS “Eagle” should be rated a 9, not an 11), but less than a dozen technical errors have been uncovered since AETO’s release in 2002.
The Atrocity counter
One new game piece caused unusual public controversy when the “Atrocity” counter was misunderstood by some to allow the commission of ‘atrocities’ as a means of achieving victory. Actually, the Atrocity rule was an AETO addition that penalized the German player whenever he employed “Waffen SS” units (representing the real atrocities committed by SS units.) The artwork of the Atrocity piece (depicting a silhouetted German officer about to shoot a kneeling prisoner) was called macabre (and was, incidentally, incorrectly attributed to Mr. Compton.) On the internet blog consimworld.com in October 2002, Mr. Harvey posted:
...to simulate the existence of things like the einsatzgruppen and the atrocities committed by the Germans (and the negative repercussions), the German player is essentially penalized whenever any SS unit (albeit Waffen SS) is employed into any particular enemy nation (even if conquered). This then increases the allowable Partisan activity therein;
I think, though, some people actually thought that the 'atrocity' chit was a good thing for the Germans to do...and hence the offense. In all reality, the German player will want to avoid the atrocity effect whenever possible (translate: atrocity is not a good thing!)
AETO Force Pools
Perhaps the most interesting and fun component of Advanced ETO is its comprehensive force pools, which is more detailed and complete than any similar World War 2 game. Featuring a relatively accurate tabulation of all the belligerents (and even neutrals) of the Second World War, the AETO force pools present players with an extremely well organized spreadsheet that manages the arrival schedules of all the game’s units and pieces, including units that are purchasable by the players, and units that are automatic historical arrivals (such as the powerful Soviet ‘Siberian’ units, which may arrive just in time to help the Soviet player defend Moscow, as happened historically.) The force pools present a very organized apportionment of each belligerent’s forces according to historical timeframes, and this has the effect of simulating the war more historically than most other strategic-level wargames (e.g., the initial German panzer units...though effective during the war’s early stages...are gradually replaced by better-equipped and more powerful panzer units, as occurred historically.)
Because of Advanced ETO’s extensive scope of units, ships and aircraft, the AETO force pools are quite extensive (7 pages), but they are very detailed for the game’s scale (some players have contended that they are too detailed), and even include the precise comings and goings of naval units that historically transferred back and forth from other Theaters (i.e., the Pacific), as well as obscure details such as the former names of certain ships (e.g., the Soviet cruiser “Petropavlovsk”, which was formally the old German warship “Lutzow”.) Such is the extent of the force pools’ detail, the length of the “notes” actually exceed the length of the force pools unit tabulation themselves, in most cases. Though very detailed, the AETO force pools are well organized, intuitive and easy to comprehend.
Without a doubt, the AETO rules are verbose. Written from scratch and filling 144 pages, the AETO rules are the example of an extreme intent to attain impossibly perfect clarity with no ambiguity.
Though not totally absent of ambiguities, the AETO rules are not saddled with any “wargamingese” whatsoever (such as acronyms specific to the game.) The result is an attempt to express nearly every conceivable eventuality that players may encounter. The rules are intimidating at first glance, though fairly complete, and their application tends to produce a very accurate simulation of the war in Europe...perhaps even uncannily so (players often report game sessions that seem to mirror history, even when unintended.) That said, the AETO rules are fragile (in other words, forgetting some seemingly minor and/or obscure detail can disrupt a particular game’s delicate balance), and it is fair to say that a good comprehension of the rules and their interwoven relation with sub-rules and the game’s overall "engine" requires practice (at least one full ‘campaign game’.)
The initial AETO rules suffered from extremely poor layout and formatting, due to problems converting a document in Microsoft ‘Word’ into a file format compatible with an in-house program (probably ‘InDesign’.) Mr. Harvey has stated that he did not know how the rules would appear until he received an actual production copy, by which time it was too late to make any changes. Worse, the rules had also been edited so poorly by Decision Games that some deletions and altered phrasings of key rules occurred. To add insult to injury, the first production run of the rules had pages missing, and the initial customers were forced to wait for weeks while Decision Games corrected the problem (likely the fault of the printers.) The fiasco was so disconcerting to Harvey that he privately produced a new AETO rulebook (known as the “AETO Kit”), based on his original files, and offered it for sale; these rules were even spiral-bound (perhaps necessarily so considering their length), and also included four new Optional Rules. As an additional bonus, a CD was included which contained bonus files (including the rules files themselves) such as player-aids, and an interesting designer’s notes article (verbose in its own right at 8 un-spaced pages). Mr. Harvey has also provided unrelenting on-line support (which appears to be limited to the consimworld.com forums.)
Since Advanced ETO’s release in 2002, it has benefited from hundreds of players’ game sessions, and the rules have undergone a paced and methodical update by Eric Harvey. Important errata and clarifications have been steadily introduced, and occasional glitches have been hammered out when discovered. Thus, the present incarnation of AETO is a reasonably smooth-running game system, albeit no less complex. However, a full campaign game (1939 to 1945) can last two to four months (assuming fairly regular sessions), depending on the experience (and number) of participating players.
Besides the main campaign game, Advanced ETO only includes 8 unique scenarios...few of which are particularly intricate; some are even considered slightly flawed (e.g., play-balance.) However, various other scenarios are well-crafted, interesting and fun (the “Crete” scenario being a favorite among AETO players.) Additionally, a subsequent larger scenario covering the entire Eastern Front campaign was designed by Steve Miller (and approved by Eric Harvey) in 2005, and was intended be available in future expansion modules. Nevertheless, the originally published scenarios are regarded as very instructional. In fact, the first few scenarios are obviously designed to focus on different aspects of the game’s primary mechanics (i.e., sea, air and land engagements), and do that much well enough.
AETO Game Concept and Evolution
Advanced ETO’s design philosophy maintains a strict adherence to historical fact, with very little deviation allowed beyond what was reasonably possible during World War 2. Players are given the opportunity to deviate from historical campaign strategies, but geo-political historical deviations are extremely limited (for example, Italy may invade Greece, as occurred, but Italy may not join the Allies against Germany.) Furthermore, the AETO rules restrict players to historically fielded units and combatants (as an example, the Soviet Union cannot launch any aircraft carriers, although Germany may launch one "historic" aircraft carrier...the Graf Zeppelin.) Some historically possible, or at least plausible, allowances, however, are permitted (for example, the United Kingdom may invade a neutral Norway, but France cannot invade Switzerland). Hence, most AETO campaigns tend to follow an overall historic course, except when altered by actual player strategies. Germany, for example, is not required to establish the Vichy regime, but to not do so would invite strong disadvantages for the German player (such that most German players will always opt to establish the Vichy State.)
Generally, historic strategies and decisions will generate historic results, and vice versa. For instance, if the German player prosecutes the “Battle of the Atlantic” in the same manner as history records, he will likely replicate the results (unless the Allied player’s strategy is markedly different than the historic Allied strategy.) Under the rules, any variation from the historic German strategy for control of the Atlantic will result in what would be reasonably true to what would have happened during the actual war (if the same variation had occurred) to the extent that such can be known or hypothesized. In any case, the AETO rules make no allowances for "what if" variations Mr. Harvey considers implausible, such as Germany foregoing the construction of its surface navy so as to increase the number of U-boats.
Advanced ETO players are a widespread community, and as of the time that this Wikipedia article was written, AETO’s international popularity spanned no fewer than 25 countries around the globe, including Japan, Brazil, Finland, and Romania. In fact, the enormous AETO rules have even been carefully translated by dedicated fans into other foreign languages, such as Italian and Spanish. For example, the full Italian translation (by Manuele Cogno) is currently available for download at boardgamegeek.com.
A thorough review of Advanced ETO appeared in the September/October 2004 issue (#55) of Paper Wars (published by Omega Games), written by Rick Lechowich, detailing AETO’s sequence of play. Mr. Lechowich’s review serves as a nice introduction to the game’s engine, and he even touches on some actual combat mechanics (unlike Mr. Harvey’s designer’s notes, which only make scant mention of how the combat systems function.) What is more, Mr. Lechowich’s general overview is very positive, and is thoroughly unconcerned by AETO’s complexities (and even explains their necessity), but does acknowledge them (Mr. Lechowich does forewarn timid and new wargamers to be wary of Advanced ETO.) Nevertheless, Mr. Lechowich demonstrates a clear comprehension of the rules, and even a deeper understanding of their purpose with regard to World War 2. Much of his article appears to be filler, of a sort (a summarized facsimile of AETO’s sequence of play), but unwittingly reveals AETO’s depth of complexity as a result. Mr. Lechowich’s interest in the game and its detail shines through, and his excitement about AETO’s prospect for realism is delightfully infectious, especially to experienced monster wargamers that relish the kind of intricacies that Advanced ETO offers. Even casual wargamers that would become overwhelmed by AETO’s scope may become enticed to attempt to play it. For wargamers that love the challenge of dissecting historically themed rules, Mr. Lechowich’s overview conveys the clear idea that AETO is not as overwhelming as its lengthy rules might ostensibly suggest, and is even a rewarding experience, when all is said and done.
From the review:
Advanced European Theater of Operations combines good looks with size and combat system fun with a very large overlay of chrome to live up to its name. The game is indeed advanced and reflects the dedicated efforts of serious players, devoted fans, and the occasional rules lawyer. Depth and thoroughness in the rules is another reflection of the game’s complexity. This is not an introductory level game by any means. It does provide fans of the previous game a much deeper, involved, and realistic look at the strategic issues facing both sides in World War II.
The Summer 2006 Issue (#142) of “Fire & Movement” (published by Decision Games) includes an Example of Play article, written by Darin Leviloff, recreating the German assault on Crete (a scenario included in AETO), and detailing the combined arms challenges of the historical battle for that Greek island in 1941. Mr. Leviloff’s articulation of the relevant AETO rules is well-elucidated, and he gives readers a good ‘feel’ for AETO’s intricacies, and particularly AETO’s remarkable ability to simulate the air, land and naval aspects of warfare during World War 2, especially as they interact with one another. The article is an impressive demonstration of command of the rules, and proper strategy within the context of a difficult battle (e.g., as in reality, the German sea-borne forces will find it very difficult to reach Crete, whereas the British forces will have difficulty repelling the German airborne assault there.) Is it noteworthy to add that most AETO players regard the ‘Crete’ scenario as the most popular.
Though never officially published, a designer’s notes Word file was included [on CD] with the reissued AETO rules, which explained the design process in great detail. Its primary theme pertained to Eric Harvey’s design rationale, and the derivation of AETO’s unit ratings (and the meticulous research invested to that end.) Additionally, some general economic strategies were intimated, as well as a brief overview of the game’s overall structure and balance.
While certainly somewhat gregarious in style, the designer’s notes provided very interesting reading to detail-minded players, and gamers interested in wargame design in particular. But despite its 8-page length, the designer’s notes made very little mention of any actual AETO rules, and did not expound much beyond the game pieces themselves (there was no specific mention of any actual mechanics, or much reference to the innovations of various new rules). They readily acknowledged AETO’s excessive complexity (albeit rationalized), but the reader was accordingly compelled to believe in AETO’s acclaimed accuracy, as it was quite clear that AETO was indeed designed with little...if any...guesswork, and many examples of the actual research devoted to its design process were thoroughly explained.
East African Theater of Operations (AOI)
In 2004, Eric Harvey conceptualized a full expansion game for Advanced ETO known as Africa Orientale Italiana (Italian East Africa) that encompassed the lesser-known East African Theater during World War 2. Mr. Harvey had stated that AOI was initially envisaged as a pet project, and then as a convenient medium to incorporate all of AETO’s errata. From that, the concept eventually expanded to also include the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, and even an entire Spanish Civil War expansion for AETO. Both scenarios would thus be incorporated into the overall AETO campaign game, allowing ambitious players to recreate the entirety of the Second World War in the Euro-African hemisphere from 1935 to 1945.
AOI was designed to include an additional 22”x34” expansion map of East Africa and the Middle East (from where the AETO East map edge ends) to include all of Egypt, East Africa, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and even Eastern Iran.) In fact, the map’s expanded geography was apparently designed to entail tangible strategic significance within the context of an AETO campaign game, because it featured, for example, the Iranian oilfields, the Sahara Desert and its encompassment of the Qattara Depression, and the Western Indian Ocean as hexed sea areas (a potential chokepoint for Allied naval units en route to and from the Suez Canal.) AOI was also designed to include 480 additional game pieces, half of which are said to be all new supplemental combat units specifically for AETO (i.e., not specific to the East African Theater of Operations, per se.) The units inherent to the East African Theater include a complete Ethiopian Order-of-Battle, as well as additional Commonwealth and Italian units that historically remained stationed outside of the European Theater (i.e., those units that do not appear on the AETO Orders-of-Battle.) Overall, AOI...when incorporated into an AETO campaign game...is not reported to impact grand strategy significantly (according to public playtest postings.) Moreover, there is no apparent consensus that the inclusion of AOI is a particular advantage to the Allies or the Axis, although some speculations imply that the Axis are slightly advantaged initially, while the Allies are noticeably advantaged later.
From the outset, a Pacific Theater companion to Advanced ETO had been planned, and the AETO rules even occasionally make reference to an eventual Advanced PTO, albeit without any definitive rules pertaining to the so-called “combined game” (intended to allow AETO and APTO to be played together as a conglomerate, linked game.) To date, not much is known about the pending APTO, except that Eric Harvey has stated to have already completed a workable prototype (as of 2008), which is currently in the final stages of development (and undergoing outside playtesting.) What is known...according to the Decision Games’ newsletter (“Dispatches”)...is that APTO will feature 6 counter sheets (1,440 game pieces), two maps (22”x34”), and a substantially smaller rules set than AETO. Moreover, Mr. Harvey has made repeated references to the compatibility of the APTO rules with AETO (featuring only a few new rules in an attempt to give AETO players an essentially identical game system, and thereby avoiding burdening veteran AETO aficionados with too many additional rules to learn).
From what can be gleaned of Mr. Harvey’s public comments about APTO, there are only about a dozen “new” additional rules for APTO (i.e., rules specific to the Pacific War, such as Kamikazes, A-bombs, etc.), although even this is offset by the numerous AETO-specific rules that are naturally not included in APTO. The stated and probable result will be a substantively smaller set of rules, and less complexity, too. What is more, Mr. Harvey claims to have adapted numerous AETO rules to APTO, such that players who are familiar with tried-and-true AETO mechanics will be able to transition seamlessly to APTO (for example, the “Magic” cryptography rules in APTO are reported to be essentially identical to the “Ultra” cryptography rules in AETO.) For critics of AETO’s complexity, APTO is likely to add very little additional complexity, but much additional scope.
Lastly, Eric Harvey has frequently indicated that Advanced PTO will be an all-encompassing Pacific Theater game, beginning as early as 1937. Even obscure facets of the conflict in Asia, such as the “Nomonhan Incident” (the military clash between the Soviets and the Japanese in Mongolia) are supposedly included as well. Above all, Mr. Harvey has indicated that the detail in APTO will be more “finite”, and feature an impressive demonstration of intense research, helped in part by the thorough research that went into the monster game “War in the Pacific”, which was playtested by Eric Harvey during its development, according to its game credits.
In 2007, Decision Games announced that an updated Advanced ETO would be re-released as a second printing run, to be known as “AETO 2”. In addition, AETO 2 is also to include the East African expansion game (AOI), for a total grand game of 10 counter sheets (2800 pieces), 3 large maps (22”x34”), and 2 mini-maps (8.5”x11”.) More significantly, though, Eric Harvey has stated that AETO 2 would be a complete makeover, taking full advantage of the refinements that AETO has undergone since its release in 2002, as well as a streamlined integration of the AOI rules (i.e., all coalesced into one conglomerating rule booklet.) But contrary to any expectation that AETO 2 will be more complex, Mr. Harvey has stated that he will endeavor to actually streamline AETO 2 (deleting numerous redundancies, and simplifying some mechanics), as well as (and perhaps most significantly) a re-rendering of all of the artwork and graphics, particularly the game piece artwork. To this end, Mr. Harvey has enlisted the aid of professional graphic artist Tom Willcockson (to date, Mr. Willcockson’s wargame graphics credits are the comprehensive ship artwork for “War in the Pacific”.) At the time this Wikipedia article was written, AETO 2 is projected to be released by Decision Games in 2010.
- Advanced European Theater of Operations at BoardGameGeek