Sunday 31 December 2023

Velikiye Luki - Something for Everyone

This is an ideal game for anyone wanting their first dabble with a board wargame, but will also hold interest for the seasoned gamer. 

Velikiye Luki, designed by Michael Taylor and published by Legion Games, is a rather nice small boardgame that comes in at low cost, has a small footprint, plays quickly, is solo friendly and has short, straight forward rules. That might tick a lot of boxes for you.

The subject concerns the Germans holding the town of Velikiye Luki (east front) around November 1942 through to February 1943. The situation sees a bitter struggle between an advancing Soviet army and a defending German army that had been given ‘hold fast’ orders. It was an engagement that became know as the Stalingrad of the North.

For the rest of this post, which takes a closer look at the game, please use the ‘read more’ tab.

Firstly - about buying this game.  This is a full wargame with die cut counters and an unusually attractive price of $20. 

When I ordered it direct from Legion Games ( U.S.), it was on offer for $16 and I doubt whether there is enough money in this game for Legion to be able to sell via distributors, so to be sure of a copy, I bought direct.

My experience of doing this from the UK was very positive. I was charged $18 for shipping, so the total cost was $32, which equates to around £28 Sterling.

I felt that the $18 postage was good value. The package is tracked. It went through 11 different handling points in the U.S. ending up in New York, from where it was flown out to me. Once in the UK it went through Customs and was then was given Royal Mail 48 hour delivery service (good), so for all of that, $18 seems a fair price, especially if direct buy is the only option.

What I wasn’t sure about was whether I would get a Customs charge for import duty. This would matter as I would pay the duty (items can be rated from zero up to 25%, I have no idea what wargames are rated as) plus a £10 handling fee by Royal Mail to collect the duty, potentially making the package much less attractive.

I can’t pretend to understand the rules of our Customs service. I did try to find out the likely charge on their website, but I must have used up all my grey cells this week because I couldn’t make any sense of it.

Anyway, none of that matters, because postie just left it on the door step and there wasn’t a charge. The tracking shows that it went through Customs so that must be correct. These days, I don’t think parcels can just ‘slip’ through customs, so I assume it is duty free to the UK, but in truth I can’t point to the rules that say it is, maybe I was lucky.

Bottom line, this was an easy transaction, a delivery time of around 12 days (good for the Christmas period) and a total price of £28.

What do you get? This is a ziplock package (not boxed). The map is 11” x 17” on a heavy paper. The title page is on card and the art is quite evocative, but the rear is blank and that is potentially a wasted opportunity to do something with that space.

There is a very nice single sided play aid card (perhaps that could have gone on the back of the title sheet). There are 64 counters of the 0.6" variety, these came away from the sprue easily. I have clipped the corners.

Finally you get an 8 page rule book of which just 5 pages are rules. The front has a one page history of the situation (nice) and the rear 2 pages have the set-up information, plus the combat chart.

You provide your own D6.

All told, it is a nicely presented package that invites itself to get quickly to the table!

Rules - the very first impression I got from this game is that it would serve a similar audience as the veteran Battle for Moscow game.

[For those who don’t know, BfM was developed in the 80’s by Frank Chadwick at Games Designer Workshop and given away for FREE, intending that the small footprint game would give the basic mechanics of a boardgame in a simple format and provide an ideal wargame introduction for people joining the hobby. It was also a good stand alone game to be played by regular players. It has since had two later versions, both made commercially by other companies].

In fact, graphically, it looks like the edition of BfM that the 3Ci Magazine put out some years ago, adding, I suppose, to the sense that it is a similar sort of game.

It does cover the basics just like BfM, but I would say it takes a step up, so the Zone of Control rules have a bit more subtlety, there are supply rules and the Combat Results Table is slightly more nuanced, there is even a rule for surrender, so that destroyed units give the enemy reduced victory points - but these rules remain every bit as suitable for new wargamers as BfM did.

I found the rules to be clean and I didn't have any questions that needed clarification or errata. Now whether that is gamer experience filling in any gaps, I don't know - it would need the view of a newbie gamer to say for sure, we will soon see, if the listing at BoardGameGeek dot com starts showing questions.

Set up is super fast as few units start on the map, with most of the order-of-battle for both sides arriving as reinforcements during play.

The only criticism that I can offer of the game became apparent at this point. On the sprue, the colour difference between the Germans and Soviet counters are clearly different. Off the sprue, in good daylight, they remain fairly distinct, but I found that under artificial light, that to my aging eyes, I would have preferred more colour contrast between the two sides. It is not critical, but just an observation.

The font on the counters for the unit values is very large, so combat and movement values are easily seen ….. thank you!

This is a 10 turn game. A player wins my amassing the most victory points. Victory points are gained for destroying enemy units and capturing objectives.

There are several hexes that are worth 1 VP to the side that controls the relevant hex, but the gem is the town of Velikiye Luki. This is worth 9 VP’s to Germans if they control it …… but only 1 VP to the Soviets if they take it, but take it they must, to prevent the Germans claiming such a high number of VP’s from a single location.

Another place to keep an eye on is Novoskolniki (left circle in the above photo), which is on the German baseline, this is worth 3 VP’s to the Germans and 2 VP’s to the Soviet side.

Looking at the above map, the Soviets (starting on the right) must drive across the map and capture ground.

Initially, this plays out like a meeting engagement with the arrival of the reinforcements on turns 1 and 2 moving across the map. As they meet, the front line solidifies. 

With town of Velikiye Luki being such a tough nut to crack, there is every chance the Soviets will get hung up on it and that the lines will initially tend to solidify on that axis.

Should the Soviets push past Velikiye Luki and deal with it later? or should they mass assault it early while also trying to isolate it? ….. a puzzle for the Soviet player to solve over a couple of games!

We shall now do an exploded view of Turn 1, so that the reader gets a full idea of the sequence of play and to demonstrate how some of the mechanics work. 

This will be a bit more detailed than usual as a main point of this post is for potential new boardgamers to get an insight to the system.

The Soviets always go first in each turn.

Turn 1. November 19th - 27th.

Firstly, any replacement points are taken. The turn track indicates how many can be taken that turn. These can rebuild reduced (flipped) units or bring back units from the ‘dead pile’ on their weakest side. There are not that many replacements in the game and indeed, the Soviets do not get any this turn.

Movement Phase.

The Soviets can move their units now. However, it so happens that they have started the game in good attack positions so have no need to move. 

The map is very nuanced (i.e. interesting) with plenty of obstructive terrain. Weak units might be able to hold the enemy up if in good terrain.


It is in fact still the Movement Phase, it’s just that reinforcements arrive after all ‘on map’ movement is done and then the reinforcements themselves move. 

The Soviet reinforcements are placed on the pink stripe on the right of the map, which is the Soviet baseline, but there are three sectors here, 3rd Shock, 5th Guards and 2nd Motorised and reinforcing units are set up within their respective sectors.

In our game, the reinforcements once placed, move up and strengthen the Soviet attack positions.

Combat Phase.

Above, there are three German locations that are now next to Soviet units, so therefore there are three potential Soviet attacks that can be made.

The Soviets do not want to attack at the top (position 3) as they are not strong enough, but they will attack at the two lower locations (positions 1 and 2).

We will take the lower of the two attacks first, against the German mountain troops. Both sides must check to ensure that they are in supply - can they trace a line, free of enemy interference, back to their map edge? Those that can’t will suffer a penalty in combat for being out of supply. We check and all units are in supply at the moment.

The total number of attacking points from the 4 Soviet units is 26. The defender has a combat value of 5. Converted to a ratio, that gives the attacker a 5:1 attack, which puts them on the top column (best) on the combat chart.

The defender occupies the village of Ookukino, which does not offer a defensive benefit, so the attack stays as a 5:1 combat. However, at least one attacker is attacking across a minor river, that will reduce the attack die roll by 1 pip.

The Soviets roll a 3, reduced to 2 for the river. Checking that score against the 5:1 combat column gives a result of DR (means Defender Retreat 1 hex).

Retreats must avoid unnegated enemy Zones of Control (ZoCs) if possible (otherwise the retreater loses a step), so they pull back towards Velikiye Luki and the Soviets can advance after combat, so their 7-6 and 3-8 units advance into the now vacated hex.

In the second combat, the German infantry regiment is defending in a wood, so they get a defensive benefit of reducing the attack column down to the next column. Note, this attack is also coming across a minor river, so again the dice will be reduced by 1.

When the attack / defence values are initially calculated, the attackers have a 6:1 advantage, but the chart only goes up to 5:1 so the attack starts on that top column, but it is then dropped by 1 column left to the 4:1 column because the Germans are defending in a wood.

The attack die is rolled ….. a 2 (Oh Dear, low is bad), which is reduced to 1 because of the minor river. Looking at the 4:1 column, a score of 1 gives us an EX1 (Exchange and then defender retreats 1 hex).

An exchange means that each side loses 1 step as casualties.

However, the German unit is not very strong, it does not have a flip side, it is a 1 step unit, so it is removed from play and placed into the ‘Dead Pile’. Obviously the removed unit ignores the ‘retreat’ part of the combat result.

Of course the Soviets also have to lose a step in this exchange and they choose to take it from their weakest unit - likewise, this unit does not have a reduced side, so it too is removed from the game and placed in the dead pile.

Each side gets 1 Victory Point for the casualty inflicted on the other. The Soviet side advances into the vacated hex.

That ends the Soviet part of the turn and the German player now runs through the same sequence of play, starting with replacements.

Their line is really under pressure now, how will they contain the Soviet advance?

Above - By the end of the German turn, the Germans have had to pull back and straighten the line to keep a cohesive front and prevent the Soviets out flanking them. Note that a German unit has moved up behind Velikiye Luki (white arrow). This is to ensure that if the Soviets start to encircle the town, the occupants will still have a protected route to give a line of supply backwards via the German unit.

Overview of the game.

Turn 3 - December 7th to 15th

The Soviets are now occupying 3 hexes immediately adjacent to Velikiye Luki, but this does not give them enough ground to apply enough good strength units to launch a good attack. Their chance will improve a bit if they can gain another adjacent hex to the town and attack from 4 sides and will improve significantly if they can properly surround the town to also cut it off from supply.

Turn 4 - December 16th to 24th

There is fierce fighting for the hex directly below Velikiye Luki, to get that 4th adjacent hex. 

Soviet strategy for this playing has been based upon  (a) isolating the town, while (b) massing their forces on the left flank to breakthrough and sweep around towards Novoskolnki.

Turn 5 - December 25th to January 2nd

(above) The first Soviet success as they break through on their left.

Turn 7 - January 12th to 20th

The German defenders at Velikiye Luki are on their knees and German positions on both flanks are collapsing. They have kept back 331st Division at Novoskolnki as a reserve.

What should they do? abandon Velikiye Luki (and those 9 victory points) or reinforce the town and hope that the occupants can survive to the end of play, even if they become isolated?

Hmmmm, not sure! ............. The eventual decision is to reinforce the town and use the last reserve to bolster the German line, hoping the Soviet offensive runs out of steam.

Turn 9 - January 30th to February 7th

Velikiye Luki is now isolated and out of supply. The combat strength of the occupants will be halved for being out of supply. It looks tough for them, but they manage to withstand the first assault.

Velikiye Luki is a tough position because in addition to the troops that they have there, even if they are out of supply, the defenders get a favourable 3 column shift leftwards on the combat table, -1 for the town itself and a further -2 for the fortification marker. Also, there is a -1 on the attack die if any part of the attack is made from across a minor river.

Turn 10 - February 8th to 16th 


Both Velikiye Luki and Novoskolnki are under pressure from Soviet forces. The Germans have pulled back to protect Novoskolnki and abandoned Velikiye Luki to its fate.

But the Soviets only have this turn to conclude their attacks.

Against Velikiye Luki, the Soviet attack goes in and they get a D1 result (1 defending step lost). The Germans decide to absorb that loss by flipping the -2 Fortification counter to its -1 defensive value.

Anyway - it doesn't matter, the Germans are left still holding Velikiye Luki and with it a whopping 9 victory points!

On the other side of the map, the Soviet attacks get them adjacent to Novoskolnki ..... if they could have had just one more turn, they may have taken it!

Regardless, it is the end of the game and we must count up victory points. The Germans get 7 points for the losses inflicted on the Soviet unit, but the Soviets get 13 points for the casualties that they have caused.

Added to this the Germans get 15 victory points for objectives held, this includes 9 points for Velikiye Luki and 3 points for Novoskolnki.

The Soviets can claim 5 points for objectives captured. 

The final score is fairly close, but favours the Germans at 22 points to 18.

The town of Velikiye Luki certainly proved to be the swing factor in all of this. In my last game it fell and the Germans couldn't retake it. In this game, it came close to falling, but the Soviets couldn't quite close the door on it in time to stop the Germans reinforcing it.

As much as I describe this game as being ideal for first time players, it is equally good as a game and teaser for regular players.

In most respects, I imagine that it will play out along similar lines each game as there is a town and two flanks and not much imagination can be applied to dealing with this other than a head on brutal assault by the Soviets, but the subtlety comes with how units interact with the varied terrain, how units can be cut off, gaining local positional advantage, trading space for time and an early Soviet decision as to where to concentrate their force.

The results of combat are commonly a retreat of one hex and / or a 1 step loss and successful attackers can only advance 1 hex after combat. Because of these low yield results, there is something of a plodding nature to the game, where big breakthroughs and deep subsequent penetrations are unlikely to happen.

By turn 3, the lines are formed and the situation becomes a slogging match - but that is not a criticism, that was the nature of the battle and our battlefield is small, so every hex feels like it matters and over 10 turns, big inroads can be made, as they were in this game.

Other than for movement costs and allowances, units types are not differentiated, so for example armour does not get a breakthrough effect like it might in some games and the unit called engineers does not give enhancement, it simply offers up its combat raw value - it is just another unit (fitting of course with a low complexity design).

The German force does get an artillery unit that has a unique ability. It can locate behind other friendly units and if those other units are attacked, the artillery can lend support. This is a very valuable unit for the German player as it can generally force a decent sized Soviet attack to end up attacking at lower odds ….. or even deciding not to attack!

I didn't really make use of the surrender rule, which essentially reduces the victory point value of units surrendering, that otherwise will likely get destroyed .... for no other reason than I keep forgetting to use the rule.

Play balance seems good, with occupation of Velikiye Luki probably often being central to outcome. 

Anyway, overall, this title gives an enjoyable application of the battle that can be easily set up, played, taken down and returned to and would make an ideal gift to another or oneself as an introduction to wargaming. It is in my collection as something that will ensure that we get a game played to true completion in one of our evening face-to-face games.

Size - This is a small footprint game, with just an 11" x 17" map and 64 counters. It would make a good travel game, be useful to anyone recuperating or for anyone with mobility difficulties, who needs the whole game immediately in front of them and within easy reach (no stretching). It is of course perfect for 'kitchen gaming’. It comes in a ziplock bag, so is easy to store.

Time - the game is rated as fitting into 60 - 90 minutes. I timed my second game and that came in at 2 hours and 5 minutes, so depending upon player style (and playing properly to the end), the stated playing time might be up to 30 minutes more. 

Complexity - This has to be rated as low complexity when set against how games are generally rated. However, if this is your first wargame, no war-game is ever going to feel low complexity on the first run out ... but this IS an easy game to get into with just 5 pages of rules, you will quickly get control of the rules and even though the concepts might be new to you, the routine of the mechanisms being repeated through play, will quickly embed the system to memory. Also the play aid card is helpful and well laid out. For a first wargame, I don’t think it gets easier than this. For frequenters of boardgames - it is all very straight forward.

Solitaire - This is a two player game that plays fine solo. I have played 2 games so far and both have been solo, just playing each side as best you can. There are no game mechanic obstacles to solo play.

Resource Section.

My sister webspace ‘COMMANDERS’  showcases the various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and gives a flavour of where current projects are up to. Link.



  1. Very nice Norm. I could certainly be tempted by this game.
    I note your comments about shipping costs from the US to the UK (still - it sounds a decent little game for not too much cost).
    UK Customs & Excise seems a bit hit and miss - I recall a few years ago having to pay less than £3 for VAT & Import Duty, yet Royal Mail added £8-10 for handling fees. Rather disproportionate I thought.
    All the best for ‘24. Cheers,

    1. Hi Geoff, yes, I laboured a bit about the potential of a customs charge because I really don’t want someone to buy on my recommendation and then be hit by a charge that I didn’t get. Perhaps someone will comment here who has a deeper knowledge on such things.

      That aside, it remains the case that the title itself would be great for the non-boardgamer, who would like a playable game on the side.

      Best Wishes for the New Year.

  2. Norm -
    That is quite an attractive looking board game. I wonder how it would go on my hex board...?

    1. Hi Ion, it is funny you should say that because I made exactly that point to my regular opponent, Mike. The 9 x 10 grid (excluding the reinforcement strips) would easily fit most tables and indeed anyone with M’44 / Command & Colors sized boards could do something with this.

      there are a lot of tree hexes and the major / minor rivers do become important to the game, but proving that one could ‘terrain it out’ properly, then yes, a good fit.

      In any case, the game engine might be usable for other battles. Norm.

  3. A very nice review Norm and it does seem a very nice intro type game for newbies as you say. Whilst the action would seem to be similar each game as one would expect, there seems to be enough nuance within the rules etc to allow one to try different approaches for the Soviet player. Of course one could simply ignore the town and play it as a generic game, with made up scenario and VP's etc.

    The whole customs lottery and Royal Mail handling charges puts me off ordering anything from the US. Our daughter got hits with fees that were more than the item ordered and she learnt her lesson. A friend had to pay hundreds of pounds in fees too, due to an error by the Royal Mail, which he eventually sorted out, but it tooks weeks to resolve. Very unsatisfactory to say the least.

    BTW, is there any way to follow the commanders site as you can with a Blog?

  4. Hi Steve, superficially, it looks like the game will run the same way, but once you play, you get really drawn in to what is going on in ‘that hex’ and this is where the combat results can feel quite nuanced.

    I am at a loss to understand Customs import regulations, which of course is rather stupid and a shame, it should be so much easier to know - perhaps I am just being dense!

    Re the Commanders site, I recall there was an app / program / thingy that I discovered a few years ago that was perfect at providing ‘a feed’ to the ‘What’s New’ page ….. but I just can’t recall it. I will investigate :-)

  5. Thank you for posting this, Norm. I wish more game designers would publish smaller, "entry level" games like this. This game looks to be the whole package, with interesting decisions to make and plenty of tension/ suspense.
    I love the idea of using this system for other battles, and also of "miniaturizing" them :)

  6. Hi Steve, yes, it really is something for everyone. The Combat Results Table on this could be very easily tinkered with to re-imagine other battles in the way that you enjoy.

    1. you have just cost me $21 dollars, Norm :) (the rules are still $16 and shipping was a 5'er, as you Brits say)

    2. A bargain Steve :-) I will be interested to hear your view on these and of course whether they filter into your hex mat games.

  7. Certainly good value there Norm. I made a couple of small orders to Spain which both escaped any charge. In the past I recall that anything below £32 usually escaped but that may have changed since.

  8. Thanks Phil, interesting to note that it may be value based.

  9. Thanks for the overview Norm. I'm glad your delivery went OK, mine is currently in NY so something to look forward to in January.



  10. Hi Jay, the tracking works quite well. I thought tracking ended in the States, as it showed NY for a couple of days, but it extends to over here. If you have any Customs experience that is different to mine, please let us know.

  11. Looks interesting, small, and approachable. The game on this battle to which I am familiar is GDW's 1979 game by the same name.

    Have you tried this old work, Norm?

    1. Hi Jonathan, no I haven’t and I am immediately surprised by that, because if it had the Chadwick / GDW stamp on it, I would typically be all over it.

      before I checked out the link, your reference made me think of the Jack Rady (sp?) line of games, which I did avoid because of perceived complexity as I recall … I must be getting confused between the two ….. it was a looong time ago :-)

      I do know that this designer (Michael Taylor) has several similar style titles in the works and the impression I get is that they will go ahead if VL is successful.

    2. There are hints of Jack Radey’s Black Sea * Black Death system in Chadwick’s Design. Many of Radey’s designs seem more complex than they actually are due in part to rules’ writing and innovative design. With careful study, there is much to admire and learn (still today!) from these late ‘70s and early ‘80s games.

    3. Yes, that is exactly the system I was thinking of, I can see it in my mind’s eye (red box) sitting on the shelves of my game store in the lates 70’s.

    4. Red box, that’s it! Radey published other games using the same/similar engine.

  12. Interesting and well made game Norm. Thanks for the review.

  13. Hi Ben, I think it is the ‘something for everyone’ nature of the design that is the winner and when thought about, one wonders why there are not more games out there that sit in this market space.

  14. Hello Norm

    A really great in depth report on what seems like is a great little game. Alas I have not even have the chance to play Battle for Moscow or some of the Microgame I have had for many many years. I promise myself every year I should play a few of them as they have a small footprint, but alas, the promise seems to end up a goal, not a statement!

  15. Hi Shaun, it is very easy for things to get squeezed out of the schedule, I keep going on about Cobra (my first boardgame) being something that I really must get to the table and it just doesn’t happen ….. maybe this year :-)

  16. whaddaya mean I got to provide my own D6s?? Where do you think I got all my D6s from? from buying games of course. that's why none of my D6s match. How can this be for newbies if there aren't any dice???!!!! clearly NOT for everyone. 😁

    Very long review but nicely written. a good service for the chit and board community. glad you liked it.

    Happy new year!

  17. Hi Stew, I’m hoping that traditional figure games who fancy a dabble at boardgames, as much as anyone else, will be interested in this. Best Wishes for the New Year.

  18. Norm, great report and it looks an excellent game especially to get newbies interested. I took ‘crisis on the right’ to the club on its last night before the Christmas break. Only managed to get the one game in but it got a lot of interest from some of the figure gamers. Lots of questions which I always take as a good sign.
    My only saviour here is that I’m not that keen on the EAST front 🤣

  19. Hi Graham, good to see Crisis on the Right being positively received. It does have an interesting combat system that I think a non-boardgamer could immediately warm to.

    I am dabbling with the remake (Decision Games) of Napoleon’s Last Battles at the moment. I am looking forward to spending more of your money this year :-)

  20. Norm, thanks for your review, I’ve just finished my first play of the game, German victory. I probably spent too much time as the Soviets slogging away and less on the flanking, a bit more attention to supply and cutting off Velikiye late in the game might have produced a different result.
    Great game with its little footprint, it’s one of those that you can put on the table to play while learning the rules for your next (larger) game.
    Definitely reminds me of the VPG Battle for Moscow series.

  21. Hi Stuart, agree with all of that. The centre can become a bottleneck with some of the Soviet units wasted each turn because they just sit there in rear areas.

    The designer has put up some maps for proposed games to make a series. They are at Consimworld. Here is a link.

  22. Nice write up Norm. I'm nearing the end of my first game and thoroughly enjoying it. Nice job Legion Wargames and Michael Taylor!

    1. Thank you and yes, well done Michael and Legion …. More please!

  23. Very enjoyable game report and thoughts; I'll keep an eye out for this.

    I appreciate your comment on counter colour in various lighting conditions - I have found that, once winter came on, my current lighting solution was inadequate for those dreary afternoons. Also, I'm colourblind so I have to watch out for these things; any east front game with black on red counters has to be scrutinised carefully for example. I should be fine here though, and I have ordered an LED architect lamp to solve the lighting issues :)

    Regarding customs duties - it's also possible that individual carriers have fees that they have worked out with customs. I bought three magazine games from Noble Knight games ( $100 value plus $30 for shipping, ouch) and then FedEx charged me a fee of €15, plus a €6 admin fee, for dealing with customs. This fee (€15 on orders of between €10 and €500 value) doesn't correspond to anything I can find on the customs site for my country). So it's definitely a grey area.

    Anyway, thanks very much for the report. Much appreciated!

  24. Hi Pete, thanks for visiting. There was a time when counter art and colour blindness seemed to be a recurring problem in games, but the industry in general seems to have got on top of that. I think a more perennial problem is the way that individual gadgets and screens report colours Vs what the software at the printer translates the colour code to.

    Around 2000, I went to a local printer with a wargame map I wanted printing for a self published game. On my screen the hills were a sort of pea green, but on the printed map they turned out an unsightly brown!

    I can’t remember the game, but a company has just published a game and customers are complaining that the white font does not stand out enough from the counter background, I imagine if the font had been outlined in black, then things would have been better, so these sort of things surprisingly still seem to persist.

    As for customs, I am at a total loss. I’m sure the information must be readily available ……. Somewhere!🙂


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