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Subject: Review of Leningrad: The Advance of Army Group North, Summer 1941 rss

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Swamp Hamster
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Title: Leningrad: The Advance of Army Group North, Summer 1941

Basic information: Designed by Dick Rustin, SPI, 1979

Overall Evaluation: This is a good but not great game. However, I do like it and still have my original 1979 version of the game. It has been updated since then with the latest under Decision Games in 2013. While reviewing the original 1979 game, I shall reflect on a few comparisons to the 2013 version. Yes, I occasionally pull it from the foot locker and play it. The game is very solo friendly for a two-player design due to the hidden combat factors of Russian units -- a system similar to the one introduced in the classic Panzergruppe Guderian. It is excellent for introducing individuals to their first war game and I have “initiated” two or three newbies using this game over the years. One major complaint of the 1979 version is the near impossibility for the Germans to win. Supposedly, this has been corrected in the 2013 version. However, I must add a caveat that many have not understood. The designer stated this himself in the original 1979 game. He wrote that a player following the historical strategy and tactics of the Germans, generally will not win. Thus, while this is a complaint about the 1979 version by many gamers, it is actually quite historically accurate and demonstrated the game to be a pretty good simulation of the German offensive. The key to winning the 1979 version as the German player is to alter your strategy and tactics from the historical 1941 offensive. While some would prefer a more balanced play in the rules, there is quite a bit to be said about tackling a game along historical parameters to better understand the situation faced by commanders of the past. Can you do better than the historical results? At the same time, I’m in favor of historical-based rules that are accompanied by alternative rules that provide the opportunity for greater balance of play.

Background Theme: The game represents the northern axis of the German invasion of Russia in 1941. Army Group North attacked eastward toward Leningrad in June 1941. The initial advance moved quickly overrunning Russian defenses. However, Soviet defenses outside of the city, as well as other factors, stymied a German seizure of the city resulting in a siege that lasted from September 1941 until January 1944.

Format and Components: The game consists of a 11” x 17” map that stretches from the German frontier to the city of Leningrad. It is very typical of SPI maps of the 1970s with three basic colors -- white, blue, and a light “greenish” color that defies my exact description but represents a single set of hills. The 2013 map is more colorful and eye appealing in the use of colors to represent terrain and even to name bodies of water. Despite these comments, the 1979 map is quite functional and works well. A single counter sheet included 100 counters. The rules booklet includes a black-and-white reproduction of the counter sheet but without specific lines between the counters. I always liked this since if a player lost a counter, one could be reproduced by copying this page. The counters carry NATO symbols for unit types while the 2013 version utilizes silhouettes (for example soldiers for infantry and tanks for armor). I prefer counters with silhouettes rather than NATO symbols. The rules booklet is eight pages in length but this includes one page of charts, the page with the counter reproduction, and nearly a page of designer notes.

Abbreviated Play and Rules: Leningrad is a hex-based game with battles resolved on a combat results table that emphasizes step loss and retreat over elimination. Thus, the Germans need to quickly encircle Russian units in order to destroy them. Supply is abstractly handled by tracing “lines of supply” to all units. However, supply is an important factor in the game. The Germans have air power support and the Russians can establish forts near Leningrad. Special rules handle Russian surprise on Game Turn 1. The gem of the game is the fact that Russian units begin with unknown combat values. This aids solo play as the German. Victory is based on reduced or eliminated units and whether the Germans have captured one or both hexes of Leningrad locate south of the Neva River. Historically, if the German player does not capture Leningrad, the long siege begins. The German player will find himself/herself on a quick dash toward Leningrad that begins to slow the further the troops push. The Russian player will find his/her forward forces destroyed and/or in hasty retreat until reinforcements and the construction of forts begin to stymie the German advance.

Replay Value: Fair. After a couple games, play begins to look familiar. Replay value is based on altering tactics on one or both sides.

Solo Play: Good. This is based on solo play as the German commander who must still play both sides in the game. However, the unknown Russian combat factor does aid fog of war and solo play.

Evaluation: Overall, I found Leningrad to be a good but not great game. Here are a few items I like about this game:

a. The game is easy to learn and easy to play. It is a two-player game that is more solo friendly than the average hex-based game.

b. I like the hidden Russian combat factor. It helps set some fog of war into the game and aids solo play.

c. The game is excellent for those new to wargaming. Playing the Germans will provide them the initial experience of fast moving combat operations before their forces stall. Playing the Russians will help them see how defenders can slow an offensive. Plus, the rules are easy to learn and game play is fast.

d. Despite any issues associated with balance of play, I find the game enjoyable.

There are a few items about this game that some may not like:

a. The original 1979 rules do not lend themselves to balance of play although they offer a glimpse into the historical nature of the campaign.

b. Those who truly enjoy games set on the Eastern Front of World War II might find this game a bit light. The rules are simple and work well but do not include the detail and chrome demanded by some gamers.

c. Although the system has been popular, some gamers may not like playing the Russians and having their initial placement of units based on unknown combat factors.

Bang for the Buck: Good. Even the cost of the 2013 version is reasonable and there is a fun game in the box.

c The Swamp Hamster
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Pete Belli
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Another nice article! Good analysis.
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Swamp Hamster
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Thanks
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Stuart Purvis
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Thanks for a great review. I have just started playing this solo and would agree with your comments. The replay value is also boosted by the fact that it is so hard for the Germans to win so you keep coming back and trying new tactics.

The end result often matches what happens historically which shows to me that the designer has done a great job in simulating the key aspects of the battle.
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Russell King
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Apart from the subject matter and untried Soviets, I'm struggling to see any relationship between the SPI game and the DG game. The DG game is a very difficult game to play.

I think your reading of the play balance issue of the SPI original is the right one. It's meant to be tough to win as the German. If you want balance, set 'em up again and play the other way around.
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Lou Coatney
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My reviews of the SPI original and Perry Moore's also excellent Assault on Leningrad - beautifully republished by Six Angles - is in Richard Berg's Review of Games. Assault on Leningrad

This is a beautiful small game using the PanzerGruppe Guderian system, and Decision Games improved it by including the actual 1941 frontier/border.

The imbalance against the Germans is there. To balance the original game ... and I would say make it more accurate ... there are 2 possibilities: lower the defense factors of some Russian units OR use the simple Disruption mechanic I use in my games, including my own little Leningrad game (which additionally features Russian railroad guns. ) Leningrad 1941: The Embattled City

A defending unit retreated (1 or *2* hexes as the Defender chooses) is Disrupted - faced toward the opposing player - and not able to move or attack during the defending player's following player turn. Additionally, if it is then attacked while Disrupted, the odds are increased against it by a 1-column shift.

German Disrupted units are recovered from Disruption at the end of the German player-turn, but Russian Disrupted units stay Disrupted into the next German attack phase. If they are not to be attacked, they are recovered from Disruption then. If they *are* to be attacked, the attacking Germans get the shift bonus, but if the Russian units are not (again) forced to retreat, they are then recovered from Disruption.

If anyone tries this, let me know what you think.
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Stuart Gillespie
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Riddells Creek
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Thanks for this review, I am getting back into gaming after 30 years, I have picked up a few of my old games that were given away (by my wife) plus some new titles. Leningrad is a new one, it is the old version and I will play it solo. Your review has put it on the top of my list to play now that I have have finshed the African Campaign.
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Lou Coatney
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... given away by your wife ... or ex-wife, Stuart?
 
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Stuart Gillespie
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Ha thanks Lou, she is still the wife, going strong, it’s just that I have forgotten to tell her I am spending up on my ‘new found’ hobby, it’s great to be back! Everyone is so helpful too!
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Lou Coatney
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Have you seen the free games on my webpages, Stuart. There is a subgame for Death Struggle: Barbarossa 1941 for Leningrad at this game's scale. The one for Rostov is even smaller.

And I have a specific Leningrad game, from just south of Pskov as well.
 
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