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The Game

In the summer of 1944, the Soviets launched the greatest offensive in history against the German armies that had occupied Russian soil for three years. Operation Bagration was a terrific success, rolling up the Nazi forces back to the 1941 borders. For decades, the operation had remained relatively unknown in the West, in large part due to the fact that it coincided with the Allied invasion at Normandy. Yet, the Soviet effort was a far greater affair.

In 1973, there had been at least two games on D-Day, but none on Bagration. Jim Dunnigan remedied this situation with The Destruction of Army Group Center, a two-player simulation of Bagration's first 10 weeks. While admirably simple in design, and addressing a hitherto neglected piece of history, it is, unfortunately, not a very good game.

The Components

As is typical of SPI in this era, the components are pretty drab. These are exceptionally so, however. Where Winter War and even Year of the Rat and impressive use of a few colors, Destruction looks almost unfinished. White terrain looks fine for Russia in the winter; in the summer, it looks ugly. The counters come in just two colors, though the Ukrainian front units are a little paler than the regular German pieces.

The Rules

Destruction's ruleset is very simple--perhaps too simple. There is very little chrome, no air rules. Units stack three to a hex. ZOCs require additional movement points to enter and leave--only armored units and cavalry can go from one ZOC to another, as a result. There are two movement phases, before and after combat. The CRT is full of exchanges at anything above 3 to 1, even on the 9 to 1 chart, but you can voluntarily pick a lower chart to avoid this. There is an innovative "both retreat" result that is almost as good as a "defender retreat" since the defender retreats first.

Supply is troublesome. For the Germans, it's the standard trace-a-route-to-the-edge-of-the-map, but for the Soviets, you have to be within 10 hexes of three rail-head units that can only move one hex per turn. Being out of supply cuts attack strength in half.

Both sides have front lines that double defense. The Soviets have a very gamey map situation where their front is right at the east edge of the map. This gives them no room to retreat (I guess this represents the Nazi wall of lava that was left behind during occupation).

The strangest thing about the game is the victory conditions. Points are awarded to the Soviets only for the destruction of German units, particularly armored divisions. The Germans get points if the Soviets do not maintain an unbroken line of ZOCs from North to South.

There are 4 scenarios. In the historical one, the Germans cannot move from their front-line positions until Turn 3! This represents Hitler's "stand fast" order. In the other three, the Germans can start at more sensible, more western positions. The Soviet victory point ratio to win is correspondingly lower.

Gameplay

Destruction is a very fiddly game with great though required in placing and moving pieces. Because there are no victory points awarded for geographical objectives, gameplay is odd. The first Soviet turn is essentially three 9 to 1 attacks on the German front and praying for few exchanges. If there are none, the Soviets have essentially already won. I'm not sure why they would ever leave the safety of their front. If they get mauled, then they have to chase down the Germans. The problem is that it's very hard to get behind the faster Germans. If the German units are not sufficiently pocketed by Turn 3, they will escape if they want to. It is hard to take advantage of an exploit, as the Russians, due to the supply restrictions, however. Once the Russians do the initial punch-through, they want to encircle and only use the 3 to1 chart to avoid exchanges.

The Germans can arrange a nice counter-attack, if they place their units right, and I could see this leading to a decisive victory--provided they don't get pocketed in the process. As for the best Soviet strategy, I have not had much success in distributing my rail heads such that all units were in supply, only obtaining marginal victories. I wonder if a strong central punch is more effective, leaving half-strength units at the front on the wings to hold the line.

If the game were more interesting, I suppose I might be tempted to find out...

Conclusion

I suppose it's my own analysis paralysis, but I hate any game that feels like it has a "perfect" setup, and any deviation compromises the whole game. Moreover, the drab simplicity of the rules and the restriction of most of the action to the first couple of turns (I suppose a game that is fairly balanced with exchanges and with players really going for decisive victories might be different) does not generate much excitement.

Don't get me wrong--I like any game where I get to kick Nazi tuchis with Soviet boots, but this just didn't grab me.
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Michael McCalpin
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It makes me feel terribly shallow that the old, drab SPI games of that era cannot grab my interest. Surely a grognard like myself should be able to look past mere graphic representation, but no, I don't even get far enough to find out if the game is any good because it is just so darned ugly.

Thanks for the great and thoughtful review. The artwork is, as always, first class. Between the cracked swastika, the bravely airdropping Soviet pararodents (?), and the copyright notice, it told a story and brought a smile.
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mmccalpin wrote:
It makes me feel terribly shallow that the old, drab SPI games of that era cannot grab my interest. Surely a grognard like myself should be able to look past mere graphic representation, but no, I don't even get far enough to find out if the game is any good because it is just so darned ugly.

Thanks for the great and thoughtful review. The artwork is, as always, first class. Between the cracked swastika, the bravely airdropping Soviet pararodents (?), and the copyright notice, it told a story and brought a smile.


Thank you! Lorelei's getting to be quite impressive. She's even drawing and selling comic books at conventions now, for which she's gotten her own domain and is making a website.

As for drab, I can usually look past graphics, but everything about DAGC is drab.

Winter War shows what you can do, dramatically, with the same color limitations.
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Bruce Jurin
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mmccalpin wrote:
It makes me feel terribly shallow that the old, drab SPI games of that era cannot grab my interest. Surely a grognard like myself should be able to look past mere graphic representation, but no, I don't even get far enough to find out if the game is any good because it is just so darned ugly.

Thanks for the great and thoughtful review. The artwork is, as always, first class. Between the cracked swastika, the bravely airdropping Soviet pararodents (?), and the copyright notice, it told a story and brought a smile.


As an old grognards, I don't worry worry about the graphic representation; but this just wasn't that good a game even when it came out regardless of graphics.

I thought the game had one interesting point - since the idea was to destroy the German Army, the game is won by destroying the Germans.

I thought the game was better as a history lesson. I agree with Gideon- the key to the game is the slow speed of the Soviet supply movement. So there is a big difference between the stand fast historical scenario and the optionals. The Soviets debated whether they should hit hard at one point or multiple points, and the game let's you decide.

The Soviets have to hit hard when they can. But I agree with Gideon that a lot of the game is the set-up of the Soviet supply system.

I thought interesting history, boring game. Not a 'bad' game, but I thought there are better ones out there.


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