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Subject: Some variants after conclusion of campaign game rss

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Tom Kassel
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Recently (mid-June), I finished a pbem campaign game of The Dark Valley which began in mid-March. The final turn was quite exciting. The Soviets (with deep battle, move chits) smashed through thin defences and moved strong forces adjacent to Berlin surrounding it with zocs, surrounded Prague and the USIR. Then Germans drew move, Pz army chits ,winning a 1-1 attack on the Berlin ring enabling movement into the city, making it impregnable (thanks to two successful air strikes which left the air available for defence. Prague fell but not one of the USIR hexes for a German win.

What’s not to like? Quite a lot actually. Mainly 1943 and 1944 which were amongst the most tedious experiences in 50 years of my gaming life. The game was pure attrition with large German stacks every other hex backed by a double line of junk, just in case anything dangerous happened. It never did until attrition had taken its toll. Occasionally the Soviets could make a few 3-1 or 4-1 attacks, more often the Germans simply moved back a hex out of contact. The dream Soviet chit sequence is finishing a turn with Move, then starting the next with Deep Battle, Combat, Move. The start of this sequence occurred just once in 1944, the turn before Deep Battle could use both Hq, but next the Germans pulled back before combat or move. The dream sequence first occurred in January 1945 with much combat loss and 37 steps isolated. The entire German army was destroyed in a single turn – just 2-3 steps escaped by sea. The defence then fell to the emergency reinforcements and returning SS Pzs – that and the considerable distance the Soviets had to travel in bad weather. That they almost made it was largely due to a few mistakes by the greatly fatigued German player.

During the whole period 1943-1945, until the successful relief at Berlin, the only German attacks were using units about to be withdraw so that losses were irrelevant. Otherwise there was no reason to attack. German steps were precious, while Soviets were quickly replenished (the entire Soviet counter mix was always on the map – some reduced from time to time but usually only those not eligible being adjacent to Germans). There was no ground that the Germans wished to hold or retake, no pockets to rescue, just relentless retreat a hex and reform the line. I feel that this completely fails to capture the nature of the eastern front in which heavy Soviet offensive provoked one crisis after another before running out of steam due to logistical strains and gathering German response.

So I’ve gathered together a series of variants which I might use should I ever play again. They address many aspects of the game.

Barbarossa generally works nicely with much to like: Germans slice through Soviet positions creating large pockets (a bit too large on turn one but let’s not quibble), German infantry struggles to keep up with the advance while closing pockets, Soviets counterattack!! – sometimes with a degree of success. TDV doesn’t give Germans huge combat strengths relative to Soviets to achieve this. The main weapon is speed, frequent movement via the Pz army chits and lack of zones of control of most Soviet units which makes the front porous. The main tool that the German uses for deep penetration is air strikes which destroy first the potent mech corps, then open holes for the pzs to move through. This type of free ranging drone strike seems very far from actual usage which was far more limited to a close support role.

So the first change:

German air bombardment may only target hexes adjacent to active German units. Multiple air strikes may target the same hex. Furthermore the target hex may then be attacked by land units. Note that an air strike may occur after advance after combat, killing a second line unit and enabling further German movement.


This seems a more credible use of air. Further it may make late war counterattacks against Gds army stacks a practical proposition by reducing the target first.

One of the early uses of German air is destroying the strong Soviet mech corps. This becomes harder if they are shielded from the front. To ensure that they are a one shot proposition, there is the next variant:

Combat loss priority is changed . Multi-step units are the first priority, then the strongest combat strength. So when the Soviet counterattacks with several one step units including mech corps, he can no longer take a 1-4 as a loss but must lose a powerful mech corps. This also makes the rule on Gds army priority redundant as they will naturally be the top priority.

Even with the counterattack chit, the Soviets are still rather too free to retreat in the early turns. By late war, the Germans do this excessively with Hitler’s demands to hold ground completely absent. To address this, the next variant:

Once per turn, the initiative player can return the chit just drawn to the cup. Sometimes this will leave the defenders unable to move out of trouble, other times it enables the initiative player to defer his move until later in the turn, setting up trouble for the next turn.


One of the worst chit draw that the Germans can get in the early turns is very late logistics as this threatens deeply advancing units with out of supply status.

Initiative player has the option to choose Logistics as initial chit.

This may allow Soviet to escape with an early move, although moving too early risks having to survive through many German chits without response. As supply is assured for all German units for the entire turn, the Soviets are given a large incentive to try to hold forward positions rather than merely run out of supply range. On the other hand, when he has encirclements in prospect the German would choose a more active chit, hoping for a later logistics when the pockets have closed. Possibly he might choose to return a Soviet move as above to gain time to close the pockets.


A problem of 1942 is that the Germans have little incentive to over extend themselves in a dangerous fashion. The 1942 VP threshold is essentially a Barbarossa target while the 1943 VP threshold is a Soviet one (though most unlikely to be reached). The Caucasus victory condition seems so remote that they are more likely to just take a large chunk out of a weak area and kill a few months of Soviet replacements. They need to push for a war winning attempt, even if it is a phantom.

The German must occupy at any time in 1942 any two of Leningrad, Moscow, Sevastopol, Saratov or Stalingrad. They don’t have to occupy both at once. If they fail to do this, Hitler explodes in rage, executing Manstein and Model while decimating the officer corps. Remove a Pz hq and Pz army chit for the rest of the game as well as Manstein chit.


1943 has a similar problem. Why would the German ever attack? Perhaps if playing against a quick moving and careless designer at a con, but otherwise there is no point.


When the Fortified Zone is complete, if not attacked sufficiently as specified in the Kursk scenario, the Soviet can convert the FZ into an offensive zone which adds two shifts to all Soviet attacks within 6 hexes for two turns.


While the German chits reflect a gradual decline in capability, the Soviet chits are scripted to actual offensives which may be irrelevant to the board position. The worst culprit is March-April 1943 which is just Stavka and Move. This may properly represent the pause at the conclusion of the winter offensive and the impact of Manstein’s backhand blow, but those circumstances may not have occurred in the current game. So next variant:


Restore combat Stavka/Zhukov to March-April 1943. From November 1942, the Soviets have a Deep Battle chit. It can be used on any turn for the rest of the game, but may not be used on consecutive turns. This makes it more likely to be used on appropriate turns (when heavily in contact at turn start) but imposes a logistical penalty for the following turn as supplies must be built up again. If Deep Battle is used purely for movement with no combat or arty bombardment, it can still be used on the following turn. Pursuing fleeing Germans doesn’t impose the same logistical load as actual combat.


During the attrition battles of 1943/1944, combat yields many BL1, the occasional EX and rare DE. A huge proportion of German losses are sustained by the growing number of Soviet artillery which gradually pings the weakest units in stack along the front. This gradual attrition takes its toll but seems far from the actual use of heavy breakthrough artillery concentrations which were used to power heavy offensives, so the next variant:


Soviet artillery can target the same hex multiple times per combat phase. In addition to the one free arty stacked in the hex, an additional arty can substitute for one other unit so a stack may contain two armies, one corps, and two arty. This enables four barrages on a usual defender or six against the more vulnerable corner position. If Soviet arty does bombard, the Soviet are committed to make a ground attack on that hex. Simply pinging away is not allowed.


Even at maximum 6-1 odds, there are two feeble BL1 results. At 6-1 this may have some credibility but not at 10-1 which can sometimes be achieved. Add three move columns to CRT B (7-1,8-1,9-1), shifting results each time so that at 9-1, BL1 results have vanished.


Stavka plays a critical live-saving role in the early game but becomes progressively useless. While reinforcements are pouring in it is easy to stock the reserve but later the 4 step rail capacity is a severe limitation unless the German obliged by killing some units. In my experience, armies take almost all the casualties and usually only the initial step so there are no replacements to place in Stavka. Furthermore, even with a sizeable reserve, deployment is usually limited to two armies, two corps and an arty – the HQ stacking limit. Nearby cities are rarely available for further deployment. Furthermore, late war assault guns and possible air reduce most possible attacks to a pointless exercise.


Remove the need to rail to Stavka HQ when railing to reserve. That is a highly artificial constraint that pointlessly infringes on HQ placement. Stacking on HQ is unlimited when Stavka chit is used – only the die roll limits number of units deployed. Maskirovka makes an appearance.


Taken together, the aim of these variants is to produce a mid-war period which is both more exciting and demanding to play and truer to the actual course of the war.

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Michael Rinella
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That sounds like some good ideas.
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ted raicer
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Players may, of course, use any house rules they like. But my experience of 43-44 (along with the experiences of many others I'm aware of, including most recently the game played next to me at Tempe) has been quite different, and imo these changes (certainly in concert) would result in a certain Soviet victory (if they survive 41-42).

The only one I would consider is this:

>The German must occupy at any time in 1942 any two of Leningrad, Moscow, Sevastopol, Saratov or Stalingrad. They don’t have to occupy both at once. If they fail to do this, Hitler explodes in rage, executing Manstein and Model while decimating the officer corps. Remove a Pz hq and Pz army chit for the rest of the game as well as Manstein chit.

But I think it too restrictive, and would just change the minimum VP the Axis need to avoid defeat at the end of 42. Though most players in my experience launch a serious German offensive in summer 42 without the VPs requiring it, if only to make the Soviets start the journey west as late, and as far east, as possible. But also because the chance of a German outright victory is generally higher in summer 42 than summer 41, and they can't resist trying to pull it off.
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Leo Zappa
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Tom,

Referencing your primary point (in bold):

During the whole period 1943-1945, until the successful relief at Berlin, the only German attacks were using units about to be withdraw so that losses were irrelevant. Otherwise there was no reason to attack. German steps were precious, while Soviets were quickly replenished (the entire Soviet counter mix was always on the map – some reduced from time to time but usually only those not eligible being adjacent to Germans). There was no ground that the Germans wished to hold or retake, no pockets to rescue, just relentless retreat a hex and reform the line. I feel that this completely fails to capture the nature of the eastern front in which heavy Soviet offensive provoked one crisis after another before running out of steam due to logistical strains and gathering German response.


I am thinking that perhaps in your game, the German player played more rationally than his historical counterpart. If my reading on the Eastern Front is correct, the reason the historical situation was per your bolded statement was because Hitler insisted on over-extending the German army, and then would permit retreats only under the most extreme circumstances. As a result, large chunks of the German army would find itself precariously exposed throughout the 43-45 period, creating those opportunities for the Russians to launch their various and sundry offensives. Of course, the gravest blunder was Kursk, and that bled the German army of its strategic reserves on that front. I'm assuming that Dark Valley allows the German player to play his side more rationally, perhaps as the German General Staff might have done, had Hitler not overruled them at every turn. Had the Germans not launched Citadel in the summer of 1943 and had instead fortified their positions and held back their panzers as a mobile reserve, is it not plausible that the actual latter years of the war might have played out as they did in your game?

To me, this is always the tough part about modeling the Eastern Front at the strategic level - how to simulate the irrationality of the German decision making process as a result of it being dominated by a single, unpredictable and unconventional personality. SPI's original Drive on Stalingrad attempted to do this with its "Hitler Directive" table, which would randomly influence the German player's decision-making by rewarding sometimes peculiar demands of der Fuerher, and stiffly penalizing the German player if he should ignore Hitler's demands. I liked that mechanism, but I know a lot of other players detested it because it restrained their freedom of action (sometimes wargamers aren't really after historical fidelity in their games, despite their pronouncements to the contrary). So, without imposing some kind of mechanism into the game to restrict or channel German moves such that the German player opens himself up to these late-war Soviet offensives, is it really unreasonable to think that a German commander, unfettered by nonsensical bunker directives, could have fought a successful (albeit tedious, from a gamer's perspective) defensive war in the 43-45 period?
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Kev.
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tdraicer wrote:
Players may, of course, use any house rules they like. But my experience of 43-44 (along with the experiences of many others I'm aware of, including most recently the game played next to me at Tempe) has been quite different, and imo these changes (certainly in concert) would result in a certain Soviet victory (if they survive 41-42).

The only one I would consider is this:

>The German must occupy at any time in 1942 any two of Leningrad, Moscow, Sevastopol, Saratov or Stalingrad. They don’t have to occupy both at once. If they fail to do this, Hitler explodes in rage, executing Manstein and Model while decimating the officer corps. Remove a Pz hq and Pz army chit for the rest of the game as well as Manstein chit.

But I think it too restrictive, and would just change the minimum VP the Axis need to avoid defeat at the end of 42. Though most players in my experience launch a serious German offensive in summer 42 without the VPs requiring it, if only to make the Soviets start the journey west as late, and as far east, as possible. But also because the chance of a German outright victory is generally higher in summer 42 than summer 41, and they can't resist trying to pull it off.


Ted I dont know how the Germans can win in 41, or even early 42. with walls of 1-4 and the loss rules as they are it is close to impossible.

Has it been done against a competent Russian player?
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ted raicer
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The Axis have won in 41 (whether Soviet play was competent I can't say) but in the Barby scenario I have seen many games where they came within a VP, so that simply bidding a VP or two to play the Sovs should take care of scenario balance. The campaign, otoh, was intentionally designed to make an Axis victory in 41 improbable as there isn't much point in a campaign scenario that frequently stops in 1941. I have seen attacks on Moscow that would have won the game but they were all at 1-1 or 2-1 odds and therefor needed lucky die rolls. I'd say the odds of an Axis win in the Barby scenario with a 1 VP bid are about 40%-close enough since the Axis in 41 are having more fun. But in the campaign game I'd say their chances are about 20-25%.

The Axis have a better chance in 42, despite the smaller number of chits, because they are starting deep in Russia, but as was the case historically they have to pick either a southern or north/central strategy as they lack the forces to do both. Still, I'd say the odds of an Axis win in the campaign in 42 are probably only 1 in 3. Regardless, I feel a major offensive is required to keep the Soviets off-balance; a Soviet player who does not face a serious Axis offensive in summer 42 will be starting his push west from considerably closer to Berlin. And sooner.

In general the campaign game, unlike the scenarios, is designed to go to 45 most of the time, but I'd say the balance there is pretty close to 50/50.
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Barton Campbell
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desertfox2004 wrote:
To me, this is always the tough part about modeling the Eastern Front at the strategic level - how to simulate the irrationality of the German decision making process as a result of it being dominated by a single, unpredictable and unconventional personality.


Hitler outwitted his opponents many times invading Austria, Czechoslovakia, France, USSR etc. in surprise attacks. However, once the initial campaigns began what characterizes Hitler best was, on the contrary, his lack of unpredictability. The Kursk offensive was obviously predicted and the only thing that preserved the German Army following Kursk was the disobeying of Hitler's orders by his field generals.


desertfox2004 wrote:
SPI's original Drive on Stalingrad attempted to do this with its "Hitler Directive" table, which would randomly influence the German player's decision-making by rewarding sometimes peculiar demands of der Fuerher, and stiffly penalizing the German player if he should ignore Hitler's demands. I liked that mechanism, but I know a lot of other players detested it because it restrained their freedom of action (sometimes wargamers aren't really after historical fidelity in their games, despite their pronouncements to the contrary).


This Hitler Directive rule does not suggest that Hitler was so incredibly "unpredictable". Rather, the opposite. He was very predictable. The problem with the rule is not that it was incapable of accurately modeling history but that it model's it too well. In other words, it's just as frustrating to be constrained by stupidity to the players as it was to the German generals.

*Honestly, I'm sick of the myth of Hitler's military genius. The man was a military idiot. Granted, he did carry off many surprise attacks. To me this was more indicative of his diplomatic ability, principally, lying. However, most people wouldn't call lying a skill but simply criminal.

desertfox2004 wrote:
So, without imposing some kind of mechanism into the game to restrict or channel German moves such that the German player opens himself up to these late-war Soviet offensives, is it really unreasonable to think that a German commander, unfettered by nonsensical bunker directives, could have fought a successful (albeit tedious, from a gamer's perspective) defensive war in the 43-45 period?


If Hitler's "hold at all costs" orders can be ignored, why must Stalin's "counter-attack at all costs" orders be mandated? I realized that counter-attacks are not strictly mandated, however, the implication is that there are resources available if a counter-attacks are made and if those counter-attacks are not done then those resources never become available to the soviets.
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