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Subject: Strategic Command & Control Complexities and the Crop of Ost Front Games rss

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Severus Snape
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For a while know, David M. Glantz, and, more recently, David Stahel, have highlighted the critical complexities of German strategic thought during the Barbarossa Campaign. The command infighting, from army leader (e.g. Guderian) to army group leader (e.g. Bock) to OKH (e.g. Halder) to Hitler himself shows a paralysis of thought and indecision. The Soviets, too, had their own problems; purges and Stalin will do that.

Thinking about the Germans, do any of the Eastern front campaign games reflect this in their designs? If so, how effectively? If not, should they? Think about your own experiences in playing them, and how your worries were supply (critical), having any HQ's around and at strength (Columbia's Eastfront), getting your infantry up to the panzers, and, of course, all those Soviet counters who refuse to roll over and die.

But strategic command paralysis? No, it is you who decide Moscow or Kiev. It is you who decides that Leningrad will fall in the fall of 1941.

What do you think?

goo

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Leo Zappa
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The only game that I've played that had any such considerations built into it was the original SPI version of Drive on Stalingrad (first edition). In the case of this game, it was not so much command and control friction within the military that was being modeled, but interference from Hitler himself. The "Hitler Directives Table" required the German player to roll a die and consult the table to see if his objectives had been changed by Der Fueher. Depending upon the outcome, the German player could find himself having to turn his army around in mid-offensive to take a new set of cities by a certain date, or face penalties. I actually quite liked this feature of the game, as it did represent the fact that the German commander had to heed a higher authority and could not fight the campaign simply as he pleased.
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Mike Windsor
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What seat does the game put me in? Am I a kinder and not crazy Hitler? Am I in overall command of the army, but I have a nut for a boss who might screw up my plans at any moment? I think it matters.

In Liberty Roads there is a Hitler satisfaction track that effectively places you in the seat of army commander in France.
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Matt D
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I think I'm going to have to print a new set of Cards for No Retreat. Rather than using Carl's new rules I'm going to handicap the German side by stuffing the deck with a bunch of cards that change the victory cities, or increase reinforcement costs for one turn as Hitler pulls troops, etc.

What else would be good?
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Iain K
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Mention of Glantz is irreverent. The vacillations of Germany's high command have been reported and understood for decades from a plethora of authors who documented Axis involvement in the East Front much better than the Soviet focused Glantz attempts to.

I have seen many games capture the Axis strategic vacillation in victory conditions (VP values that change) and changes in operational supply and reinforcement (different army groups receive priority via increased / decreased supply points ... units leave the Eastern front for deployment elsewhere)..

Most recently and simplistically perhaps was Fury in the East's Hitler Table which changed objectives turn by turn and penalized players from failing to foresee or react to the changing objectives.

The use of supply to emphasis given objectives (as dictated by higher command) is very common in wargames. Most might not recognize it at first glance . For example, it can be seen when playing the East Front Series particularly when playing an obscure front like Crimea which gains and loses forces, supply, aircraft, etc at the whim of high command.

As for the "Happy Hitler Track" approach seen in Liberty Roads, I agree that in some ways it casts the Operational commander into their role, but I dislike that it is ripe for "gamey" abuse by both sides. i.e. the Allied player can make smart game moves because he knows exactly how Hitler will react. The cagey German can do the same, including intentionally getting himself "sacked" at just the right moment.

Good topic Professor, it should make for an interesting discussion and some decent game recommendations.

Cheers.
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Matt D
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mwindsor wrote:
Am I a kinder and not crazy Hitler?


I don't want to play that seat. In fact having a game driven Hitler role would make me feel a lot better about playing as the Germans.
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Severus Snape
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desertfox2004 wrote:
The only game that I've played that had any such considerations built into it was the original SPI version of Drive on Stalingrad (first edition). In the case of this game, it was not so much command and control friction within the military that was being modeled, but interference from Hitler himself. The "Hitler Directives Table" required the German player to roll a die and consult the table to see if his objectives had been changed by Der Fueher. Depending upon the outcome, the German player could find himself having to turn his army around in mid-offensive to take a new set of cities by a certain date, or face penalties. I actually quite liked this feature of the game, as it did represent the fact that the German commander had to heed a higher authority and could not fight the campaign simply as he pleased.


Ah, yes! I remember this game and this aspect. Too many of my original SPI and AH games died in the basement flood of my mother's house. Yes, it was a nifty design aspect.

goo
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Mike Windsor
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adorablerocket wrote:
mwindsor wrote:
Am I a kinder and not crazy Hitler?


I don't want to play that seat. In fact having a game driven Hitler role would make me feel a lot better about playing as the Germans.


Obviously it's a huge leap to take genocide and utter bat-#@%& craziness out of the German side. It may be equally hard to have a France '40 game where the French commanders are not asleep behind the Maginot Line, or a Barbarossa game where the Soviets had not murdered all of their experienced commanders a few years before the war. I guess the question is what role does the gamer have, and what constraints are placed on him or her? I guess you can have a WWII game where the Germans high command is reasonable, where the French high command is more alert, and where the Russian high command has more experience.

Added by edit: That might be a great game, but it is not exactly a "simulation" of the situation that existed in WWII.
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Severus Snape
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adorablerocket wrote:
mwindsor wrote:
Am I a kinder and not crazy Hitler?


I don't want to play that seat. In fact having a game driven Hitler role would make me feel a lot better about playing as the Germans.


The "politics" are an unpleasant historical reality, and one that we better not forget lest we find similar analogies in our present or future.

But if you think about this in a wargame, you go crazy itself. I cannot imagine shooting another person, unless my life is in danger, and even then who knows.

I play the game to have fun and learn some history. I like the designs that include aspects beyond the CRT and counters. I am not sure how I would simulate the command indecision, but you could have a chart where you have to roll to decide where your main axis of concentration will be: north, south or centre. And this might change more quickly than you want it to. This could be included in a CDG. You just would not want to overdo it because Kiev shows what could be done when everybody is on board, and Moscow shows what happens when you wait too long to take decisive action.

goo

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Mike Windsor
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Quote:
The "politics" are an unpleasant historical reality, and one that we better not forget lest we find similar analogies in our present or future.


Imagine a Vietnam game with no political constraints on the U.S. side. Send in as many divisions as you want, go whereever you want, and hope that the Chinese don't come flooding in like they did in Korea.
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Andrew C
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While it doesn't get much love, I think World War II: Barbarossa to Berlin does this at least as well as any game I am aware of. It puts the player, not in Hitlers role, but perhaps OKH's (above army group but not making all the strategic decisions). It does this with sometimes maligned "offensive" cards the restrict a player from attacking Moscow before "Typhoon" is played as an event, or in the case of Stalingrad it's "Case Blue" (IIRC).

It can be very frustrating to have a shot at a weakly defended Moscow, but not have recieved authorization from "on high" to make a concerted attack. While this mechanic can be viewed as "gamey" I think it's rather realistic in portraying high command's focus on other theaters.
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In Totaler Krieg! you are often burden with politics, not detailed as bent larsen ask for. But picking a card a you want, you may end up with rolling on political tables as well.

Remember after a desperate Hitler assasination attempt (failed) I was stuck with the "No Retreat!" rule- not allowed to move out of enemy ZOC. And some other nasty out of supply, not allowed to move into enemy ZOC rule, the front crumbled fast. Add more strange behaviour from Italy politics, the game was short, fun and kind of realistic.
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Matt D
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Cleitus the Black wrote:
While it doesn't get much love, I think World War II: Barbarossa to Berlin does this at least as well as any game I am aware of. It puts the player, not in Hitlers role, but perhaps OKH's (above army group but not making all the strategic decisions). It does this with sometimes maligned "offensive" cards the restrict a player from attacking Moscow before "Typhoon" is played as an event, or in the case of Stalingrad it's "Case Blue" (IIRC).

It can be very frustrating to have a shot at a weakly defended Moscow, but not have recieved authorization from "on high" to make a concerted attack. While this mechanic can be viewed as "gamey" I think it's rather realistic in portraying high command's focus on other theaters.


Oh, I like that too. Kinda like Twilight Struggle. Yes I see an artscow "Hitler and Stalin are batshit crazy" variant deck for No Retreat in my future...

I guess No Retreat actually does have cards that hurt you justified by Hitler/Stalin, but since they are under the opposing players control (and they just hurt you don't change your goals) they don't seem to really capture the feeling of what you are going for...
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Severus Snape
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Cleitus the Black wrote:
While it doesn't get much love, I think World War II: Barbarossa to Berlin does this at least as well as any game I am aware of. It puts the player, not in Hitlers role, but perhaps OKH's (above army group but not making all the strategic decisions). It does this with sometimes maligned "offensive" cards the restrict a player from attacking Moscow before "Typhoon" is played as an event, or in the case of Stalingrad it's "Case Blue" (IIRC).

It can be very frustrating to have a shot at a weakly defended Moscow, but not have recieved authorization from "on high" to make a concerted attack. While this mechanic can be viewed as "gamey" I think it's rather realistic in portraying high command's focus on other theaters.


It is too bad, Andrew, that your analogy, which is good, is not as good as the game.

Yes, CDG's can make an abstract attempt to limit or control strategic choices, adding a nice random flavour at times. And other than a die roll or a CDG, how else would we do it?

If would be incorrect to blame all of Barbarossa's failure on Hitler, unless you are using "the buck stops here" approach. OKH was in its own mess, as were the AG and Army commanders below, and whose examples I provided in my original post. The Russian campaign demonstrates an under-prepared German effort made with an overly optimistic attitude. Add a Russian bear fighting for its life, and you have a bear with teeth.

goo

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Severus Snape
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Quote:
I guess No Retreat actually does have cards that hurt you justified by Hitler/Stalin, but since they are under the opposing players control (and they just hurt you don't change your goals) they don't seem to really capture the feeling of what you are going for...


Another good example, but I agree that they will not be able to capture the real chaos. I look forward to eventually playing "No Retreat."

goo

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Severus Snape
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Mention of Glantz is irreverent. The vacillations of Germany's high command have been reported and understood for decades from a plethora of authors who documented Axis involvement in the East Front much better than the Soviet focused Glantz attempts to.


Iain, I appreciate your comments, but I would differ with you about Glantz. Yes, "the truth is out there," was out there, for a long time, but Erickson, who I should have included, and Glantz helped to introduce the depth of this problem to a wider English speaking audience like myself. I remember reading--not Osprey, what was it?--a book on the Barbarossa campaign back in the 1970's which mentioned the indecision. And there is the likes of Albert Seaton, and his ilk, who were early writers on the campaign. But Glantz's access to information from both sides brings new light to an old problem.

goo

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Iain K
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Fair enough. While I believe that Glantz and other recent authors have shed much light on the strategic decisions and indecision of SOVIET leadership, if they shed any light on Axis command, it is though secondary sources. Sources that others wrote decades ago, including the official US Army analysis of German command based upon interviews with Axis leadership.

Have you read Guderian's book? Manstein's? Both discuss at length and in depth the vagaraties of the German high command's decision making.

In other words, kudos to Glantz and Erikson for getting the message through to you, but if you are interested in the topic, there are better sources many of which are actually based upon primary sources.

I'm not sure one can best Manstein's personal account of the encirclement of Stalingrad or Ziemke's analysis of what the Germans were thinking as the pocket formed (published in the 80's).

As they say, if you'd like to learn more, your local library has many excellent books.
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Severus Snape
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Iain, I imagine most, if not all, are familiar with these names, and I seem to recall that I included Guderian at the outset. They have been read repeatedly, but for some time we know that they should be taken for the biased, self-serving accounts which they are.

I only see Glantz as biased towards the Soviets when his particular text is focused on the Soviets. Otherwise, I think he tries to be fair. However, in recent years, perhaps the Soviet emphasis has been seen as a bias; I think of it more as a corrective to counter balance forty plus years of only hearing one side to a complex story.

Quote:
Fair enough. While I believe that Glantz and other recent authors have shed much light on the strategic decisions and indecision of SOVIET leadership, if they shed any light on Axis command, it is though secondary sources. Sources that others wrote decades ago, including the official US Army analysis of German command based upon interviews with Axis leadership.


Iain, I cannot be sure about the dating, which you mention, but volume 1 of "Barbarossa Detailed," has one and a half pages of primary sources listed in German, plus more German secondary sources throughout the bibliography. There is about a page of Russian/Soviet primary sources, plus more sprinkled in the secondary sources.

goo
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Andrew C
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bentlarsen wrote:
I remember reading--not Osprey, what was it?--a book on the Barbarossa campaign back in the 1970's which mentioned the indecision.


Alan Clark's Barbarossa?

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bentlarsen wrote:
If would be incorrect to blame all of Barbarossa's failure on Hitler, unless you are using "the buck stops here" approach. OKH was in its own mess, as were the AG and Army commanders below, and whose examples I provided in my original post. The Russian campaign demonstrates an under-prepared German effort made with an overly optimistic attitude. Add a Russian bear fighting for its life, and you have a bear with teeth.

goo



Oh I certainly agree with you there. I didn't mean to imply that Hitler was entirely at fault for the failure of Barbarossa. But the "command paralysis" you refer to in the original post is simulated by the possible lack of the appropriate offensive card when you most need it. Where that command indecision lies, whether with Hitler, or OKH, or the AG's, is up to the player's imagination.
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Severus Snape
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Cleitus the Black wrote:
bentlarsen wrote:
I remember reading--not Osprey, what was it?--a book on the Barbarossa campaign back in the 1970's which mentioned the indecision.


Alan Clark's Barbarossa?



Andrew, it was a series of paperbacks that covered mostly WWII, but some WWI and other theaters as well. The publisher began with a "B" in the name, I think. Egad, it's driving me crazy.

And I cannot stand Alan Clark, the hack historian of WWI. yuk

But no offense to you if you like him!

goo

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I guess that due to the shortage of Soviet sources, until 1990 the focus of much of the history of Barbarossa was on the German side. With th opening of the Soviet archives, the balance has shifted, and maybe we do need a new book on the German side, to incorporate new information.

Matt, I don't think that avoiding Hitler will give you clean hands. The Wehrmacht was fully implicated in the atrocities on the eastern front, from the KommissarBefehl to the treatment of POWs and involvement in the Holocaust.
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Severus Snape
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Gadzooks! The series of books I remember was published by Ballantine books. Do you remember those? Like Geoffrey Jukes, "Stalingrad: the turning point," and "Barbarossa: invasion of Russia, 1941," by John Keegan.

The Keegan book is the one, if I remember correctly (and given my memory difficulties in pulling up the file on Ballantine, all bets are off) that referred to the infighting among the German generals over the direction of the campaign.

The Ballantine series was an affordable option for the wargamer who could only afford the likes of AH's Battle of the Bulge, Afrika Korps and their kin. People like me.

goo

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"Thinking about the Germans, do any of the Eastern front campaign games reflect this in their designs?"

A Victory Denied has a die roll half way through the game for "Hitler distracted" or "Objective Moscow" basically: distracted means Hitler has decided on the historical route (south to Kiev) so the game ends two turns earlier, you loose two Pzr Div., and you have fewer chits in the cup (less activations)

Objective Moscow is as it sounds, and the game lasts two turns longer and you get more chits in the cup.

The victory conditions are different for each possibility.
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bentlarsen wrote:
Gadzooks! The series of books I remember was published by Ballantine books. Do you remember those? Like Geoffrey Jukes, "Stalingrad: the turning point," and "Barbarossa: invasion of Russia, 1941," by John Keegan.

The Keegan book is the one, if I remember correctly (and given my memory difficulties in pulling up the file on Ballantine, all bets are off) that referred to the infighting among the German generals over the direction of the campaign.

The Ballantine series was an affordable option for the wargamer who could only afford the likes of AH's Battle of the Bulge, Afrika Korps and their kin. People like me.

goo



Those books were great, and sold for $1 each! These were some of the first 'real' history books I ever read, and I still own my original collection, and have even added to it, via eBay, in recent years. I still read these!
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