Storm Over Stalingrad - Published by Multi Man Publishing (MMP).
The system, originally seen in the 'Storm Over Arnhem' game (Avalon Hill 1981) uses area movement combined with game turns broken down into highly interactive game impulses. They make good 'players games', being easy to pick up and play in a single evenings session.
The following post examines the game engine by way of an AAR, with the opening turn being fairly detailed to highlight the sequence of play and processes involved, after which the AAR will resume to a more usual overview of play.
The article may also interest readers who are thinking about buying the latest game in the series - Dien Bien Phu.
Please press the 'read more' tag for the rest of this post.
The front cover of the box has the eerie image of children at play (statue of the 'Children's Round Dance') against the backdrop of burning buildings in the city. A simple but impactive and thought provoking game cover.
Basics - The map is divided into areas, each has a defensive value based upon terrain therein and can hold up to 10 units from both sides. Each area is controlled by either one side or the other and control is important as it affects movement and decides victory.
Units have two sides, a fresh side and a spent side. With the fresh side showing, a unit can move or fire. Once done, it is flipped to its spent side. A spent unit has a slightly lower defensive value and cannot activate again until the start of the next turn, after it has been returned to its fresh side.
During a turn, players take it in turns to take an 'impulse', with play alternating back and forth between the two layers. During an impulse a player can activate a single area and do something with any fresh friendly troops there, or they can play a card from their hand (sometimes the card will allow both those things in the same impulse). It then becomes the other players impulse and so on until both sides pass, which usually happens when both sides have run out of fresh units. This is not a card driven game, rather the cards assist play.
When effective attacks are made, damage points are created and these must be absorbed by the defenders. This is done by flipping, retreating or eliminating units or a combination of any of those three options.
Setting up - The nature of the battlefield is that of a linear city pressed against a waterfront. There are three landing ferries (positioned on the river bank to serve the left, centre and right portions of the map) and these are the lifeline of the Soviet defenders, allowing reinforcements to trickle in and hopefully prevent outright collapse of the defences. The set-up positions are fixed. The Germans are generally stacked as divisions and since only 1 division (plus any independents) can activate at a time, it suits the German player to keep them in their divisional stacks when possible.
The above map shows the linear nature of the battle, with the red squares indicating Soviet controlled areas at start of play.
Above - There are a respectable number of reinforcements that enter game over the 6 turns, though the Germans do have some forced withdrawals on game turn 3. The reinforcements act in the turn following their placement.
Above - The left side of the map has 4 important areas controlled by the Soviets at the outset of play. On the river bank, left to right, the 3 objective areas are The Rail Station 2, The Grain Elevator and Rail Station 1. The large area in the centre of the map with the yellow circle is the Army Barracks, which can normally be rellied upon to hold out for a few turns. Just going off to the right (green circle)of the map is Mamayev Kurgan. Whoever controls this area gets an extra card dealt into their hand each turn.
Above - The right side of the map. There are 4 more objective river bank areas. From left to right, The Tennis Racket, Red October Factory, Barrikady Gun Factory and the Dzerzhinsky Tractor Factory. You can see the right hand Ferry Landing on the waters edge at the Barrikady Gun Factory. Reinforcements can enter play here, one at a time per impulse and they can eventually feed into the adjacent areas. A useful German tactic is to get into the Barrikady area, so that raised movement costs prevent the Soviets from feeding other areas from this location. Fighting can become very intense here.
The seven river bank areas are the German objectives. They each have terrain defence values of +3, making them hard to take and hard to win back. At the start of play a bidding process decides how many of these 7 areas the Soviets must hold to win the win the game. Three areas gives a good friendly game.
Sequence of Play - (a) draw cards to make the players hands to full. (b) use fresh units and cards to move and fire. (c) When both players pass sequentially, they may discard any remaing cards that they do not wish to take into thee next turn, flip all units back to their fresh side, remove all fire markers and place reinforcements on the map.
Turn 1 - The Soviets draw 3 cards (+1 for holding Mamayev Kurgen to make 4 cards) and the Germans draw 6 cards. The Germans take the first impulse and play a card that gives them an artillery strike worth 10 fire points. They will fire from the Stalingradsky Airfield which they control, into the adjacent Mamayev Kurgan.
Process - The firepower is 10 plus 2D6 (7 is rolled) to give a final firepower of 17. The defenders pick their best defender, which is valued at 10 and to that is added the terrain defence value, in this case +1, giving a final defensive score of 11. 17 v 11 causes 6 points of damage which the defenders must absorb. Eliminating a fresh unit would absorb 3 points, but the Soviet player does not want to lose units at this location and time and so instead they flip three units to their spent side and retreat them to an adjacent area - each of the three units absorbs 2 points doing this, to satisfy the requirement of six points. This leaves a lone unit still holding the area.
It is now the Soviet impulse and they activate 2 fresh units in the Army Barracks and move these into the adjacent Mamayev Kurgan. They are flipped to their spent side and will not be able to activate again this turn.
Play returns to the German side. Seeing the weakening of the Mamayev Kurgan defences, they use their impulse to activate the 71st Division (in Stalingradsky Airfield) and they play an 'Overrun' card from their hand, which allows the activated units to fire and then move into the target area (to do that would normally need two activations of the unit which could only be done over two turns).
Process - Add up all the attack values of the German units (10 points) and add 2D6 (they roll 10) which gives 20 attack points. That is high and so the Soviet player interrupts and plays the 'Heroes of the Red Army' card, which forces the attacker to re-roll the attack dice. They do and score 8, which instead gives a final attack figure of 18. The best Soviet defender is valued at 10, gaining a further +1 for the terrain to give 11. 18 v 11 creates 7 points of damage. The Soviets remove the fresh unit for 3 points and the other 4 points of damage can only be satisfied by removing the 2 spent units. This has emptied the area of Soviets, though they still retain control of the area.
If this had just been normal fire, the Soviets could have used their next impulse to try and re-occupy the area, but the Overrun card allows the German firers to now advance into the area (they are then flipped onto their spent side). A German control marker is placed in the area. This is an important victory as the German player will now get an extra card each turn and can threaten river bank areas.
Soviet impulse, they play an artillery support card for 6 firepower to fire on the (now) spent Germans at Mamayev Kurgan. The result is 6 points of damage. The Germans do not have any fresh units so they only have 2 choices (or a mix of the two) retreat units for 1 point per retreated unit or destroy a spent unit for 2 points per removal. They do not want that sort of loss, so they retreat 6 units. This splitting of the division will cause them to take a turn to re-organise and the three remaining units in Mamayev Kurgan are less likely to be harmful to the Soviets in the next turn.
German impulse ..... and so on. The rest of the turn is largely uneventful. At the end of the turn the Germans discard their ' Engineer Support' card and all units are flipped to their fresh side. The Germans do not get reinforcements on turn 1, but the Soviets get some, which are placed on any of the three Ferry Landings. The Soviet player spreads them evenly.
Turn 2 - The Germans get several air and artillery strike cards in their hand but despite this they do not make any real headway. The first German reinforcements arrive (100th Infantry Division) and they are placed at the Radio Station on the German left, a clear indication to the Soviets where the next push will be. They respond by putting more than half of their reinforcements into the right hand Ferry Landing.
Turn 3 - German attacks actually start at the Army Barracks, but do not make any headway as the Soviets kept feeding in just enough units to keep control. The 100th Division then moved into the Dzerzhinsky Tractor Factory area, while the 295th pushed down from Red October Park into the Barrikady Gun Factory area to lock down the enemy and prevent units deploying against the 100th, but the 295th got a bloody repulse in the process. At the end of turn 3, two German divisions have to leave the game, though 14th Panzer and 305th Infantry arrive (placed on the German right by choice) and an additional tank regiment from 24th Panzer Division joins the rest of their unit. Suddenly the vulnerability of the Soviet left is obvious and they respond by placing the bulk of their reinforcements into the left Ferry Landing.
Turn 4 - A devastating German artillery attack opens against the Grain Elevator. In their own impulse, the Soviets push two regiments back in there to hold the place. 24th Panzer take control of the Army Barracks. Everything is thrown at the Grain Elevator and the Rail Station 1, the Soviet 133rd Tank Brigade held out against all the odds, but in the end yielded and the Rail Station came under German control. The Grain Elevator just about stayed in Russian hands. The price was being paid here for the over-reaction in an earlier turn to reinforce their right at the expense of the left. However over on the right, that very over-reaction was now giving the Germans substantial difficulty in making any progress.
Turn 5 - Both sides have pushed their reinforcements into their own weakest flanks. For their opening move, the Germans move 24th Panzer from the Army Barracks into Rail Road Station 1 to prevent the reinforcements at the Ferry Landing making towards the Grain Elevator. The Soviets play the sewer card to make that journey underground, but the card is negated with a German sniper card. The Soviets have another sewer card and play it, but the Germans have a second sniper card and again negate the movement. Isolated, the Grain Elevator eventually falls. On the Soviet right, the Germans are again ejected from the Barrakady.
Turn 6 - The last turn, The German performance has not been good and despite having strength, several of their units are badly placed to be effective this turn. The 399th again push into Barrikady to pin enemy movement in the area, but the Soviets have drawn several 'Defensive Fire' cards into their hand, which allows stacks to fire without going spent, so in effect they get to fire twice. This is too much for the attackers to take and any chance of them making progress this turn fades away. The initial German effort was too slow, and they did not inflict enough casualties, allowing the defenders to become too strong to dislodge. The Germans only managed to capture 2 victory areas, leaving 5 still in Soviet hands.
Above - Left side of the map. The Germans have got bogged down and found the defenders too strong at the rail Station 1 to dislodge. The German stack at Kuporosnove (far left) is clearly too far away to be of use in the final turn.
Above - Centre of the map. This position has yo-yo'd back and forth simply because the Germans pushed their strength to the flanks and left the centre too weak to prosecute an attack.
Above - Right side of the map, The Soviets have just about managed to hold onto Drerzhinsky Tractor Factory (bottom right). On two turns they pushed the Germans out of the Barrakady and that gave just enough breathing space to get some reinforcements through to the tractor factory.
Conclusions - This is a players game. Superficially one might look at the situation and feel that it will always play the same way. While broadly true, at the tactical level there is a lot going on, with the defences creaking and good narrative coming from the lone counter slipping into an area to retain control or playing of an Overrun card etc. The impulse play makes this a very dynamic system that will fully hold the attention of both players constantly. So regardless of it seeming like it will play out the same, every game is an exciting contest and it stays fresh for that reason alone and games can often go to the wire.
For someone who plays a lot of different wargame system, it also nice to go to the shelf and pull down a game in which the rules can be back in your head in 15 minutes, helped by the absence of rule exceptions.
Complexity - The box says low complexity and I would agree with that, especially if the player has been exposed to the system before. There is an 8 page rulebook, of which only about 5 pages represent 'real' rules and there are 3 substantial examples of play.
Solitaire - The box says High. The two main things of note for the solitaire player is that the impulse system in which play flows back and forth between sides, makes for more uncertainty within the turn which helps solitaire play. The cards are not an obstacle for solitaire play, but their value is certainly a point lower than they are in a face to face game when there is total uncertainty as to what extra capability the cards give the other person on that turn. It will not matter most of the time, but it is not perfect, though solitaire players are generally used to these small compromises. I would still recommend the game to a solitaire player and the above AAR relates to a solitaire game.
Size - There are 2 maps, each 15" x 21" that fit in a way to form a linear map that is around 40" wide, making it a bit wider than the 'standard' large game map. All the action is on the map, including card storage areas and there are no play aids, so you will not need any other off map space. The shallow depth of the map means that players will not have to stretch to get to the top corners of the wide map.
Time - The box says 3 hours or more. I would not let the 'or more' bit concern you. Unless you are playing against someone who should really be playing Ludo, a typical game will end under the three hours. The AAR played out in this post took three and a half hours and that included substantial note taking and photography for this report.
There is another area movement game (Operation Battleaxe) recorded here, check on the labels to the right under Revolution Games.