Three greatest chess players ever: Bobby Fischer, Mikhail Tal, and Victor Korchnoi.
Zhukov’s War is an operational level game covering military operations on the Eastern Front from the summer of 1942 until the summer of 1943. Each turn the two combatants launch their operations via a chit pull system which means one side could get activated several times in a row allowing them to create pockets and inflict heavy damage on the enemy before their adversary can react! Victory points are scored only by the German who strives to either control or lay siege to the usual targets of Leningrad, Moscow, Stalingrad and the Caucasus.
Playing Time: Due to the chit pull system this game can last a long time, particularly when playing solitaire. There is a total of eight chits to be drawn each turn and there are eight turns in each game unless the Germans can achieve victory during the turn four victory check. So make sure you leave at least a long evening (more likely a few) and pack a snack: it can get tiring out there on the Eastern Front!
Map: The map covers the Eastern Front from Leningrad to Rostov and from Smolensk to Stalingrad. As with most magazine games there are also the game record track, terrain effects chart and various holding boxes along the top and bottom of the map. As can be seen below the map is a long one as you have to stack the sheets top to bottom:
That did not leave much room on my game table and its 86 inches long!
The map is overall nicely done with good colors, nice big hexes, and the information is well organized. The biggest drawback to the map is the turn record chart which is totally inaccurate! There is an insert in the rules with the correct information for each turn:
Counters: The counters are nice and big. They contain only two numbers one for attack the other for defense(movement is handled by the operational chits). The colors are crisp and clear so you not only can tell Soviet from German easily but also with just a glance it is easy to see which units belong to which of the three German army groups (North:orange, Center:blue, South:green). Mechanized and non-mechanized are also easy to spot as seen in this pic which shows my, shall we say interesting deployment for Case Blue
Rules: This is one of the more interesting and interactive sets of rules I have come across for an Eastern Front game.
There are the usual suspects when it comes to supply and zones of control. However, movement and combat are regulated by the chits.
The game begins with the German player secretly deciding whether he will launch Operation Kremlin (Drive on Moscow) or Case Blue (Drive for oil and Stalingrad). The choice has big consequences as only the section of the front selected will have full logistical support while in the other areas there are penalties on the first three turns. There is also a specific rule on how to launch the Caucasus drive as that area is not covered by the map. At first it may seem a little odd but when put into practice it works out just fine.
The stacking rules are a little interesting in that the German player can stack up to ten units in non-city hexes and that allowance increases to twenty when in a city! As a result I have had German stacks that remind me of Alexander’s siege towers at Tyre, battering away at the enemy walls (or in this case the Soviet Front line).
Each turn the players bring in their reinforcements and gain replacement points. Then each side places four chits into the pool. These come in three categories A,B, and C.
As you can see the “A” chits allow greater opportunities while the “C” chits make life more difficult. Once a chit is drawn the owning player must then decide will he go move/fight or fight/move. The chits award movement points for both types of units and can also give combat bonuses.
Movement is typical of most wargames. The combat results table however gives only step loss results, no retreats! The only retreat rules to be found cover Soviet Panic on the first turn and Luftwaffe Field Unit panics. So if you create big, juicy pockets in this game, don’t think you’ll be able to just reduce them with retreat results! Be prepared for your infantry to get their hands dirty as they reduce the pockets.
After battle is joined there is the opportunity for advance after combat and mechanized units can also take advantage of momentum combat where they can attack again, allowing the audacious general to roll up the enemy flank or continue to exploit a deep Panzer thrust behind enemy lines! And while supply status is checked at the beginning of movement and combat, no unit can be removed due to lack of supply until the end of the turn during the Terminal Supply check phase which comes after all the operations chits have been drawn.
So for example here below I have a picture showing the pockets created by the Panzers toward the end of turn 1
and then this picture showing the situation at the end of the turn when the Soviet units that were OOS were eliminated.
I had to make a choice whether to fight to reduce the pockets or leave them alone and maneuver other forces which, while not costing steps, did cost time.
Another good thing about the rules is their clarity. So far after two exhausting and lengthy plays I have had only one (that’s right one) rules question. I will pause here to allow those of you who need a moment to steady yourselves over the notion that a Decision Games product has almost no rules issues (and a magazine game to boot!)
Things I like about the game:
I love how the chit pull system gives the feel of all those bold armored thrusts along the Eastern Front. And unlike other Eastern Front games with an IGO-UGO format, you can act boldly with the expectation that you will not immediately get cut off, simulating the chaos that those mechanized thrusts caused. Getting several activation in a row with momentum combat to boot gives this game a feel that I don’t get from other Eastern Front games. And it matches what I have always envisioned went on when reading the dozens and dozens of books I have read on this part of WWII.
I like the supply rules. Since you don’t check supply to determine unit removal until the end of the turn, you really do have to maintain and reduce those pockets which can be time consuming activities just like the real Eastern Front (such as Kiev in 1941).
The rules are really well written and clear. I have not had to go to the consimworld folder for this game at all! There are a couple nice examples of combat as well.
I love the nice big hexes on the map.
I love the advance after combat and momentum attack rules.
I really like how the chit pul system gives the players the chance to exploit operational opportunities and take advantage of the opponents mistakes or reckless/bold moves.
Things that can be annoying:
Calculating combat values for the Germans can be tedious if you are even remotely close to the stacking limit.
The no retreat results can take some getting used to especially as many East Front games seem to use retreats to reduce enemy pockets.
The victory conditions are a little rigid but you must remember this is an operational game not a strategic one.
German Panzer divisions only having a combat value of two for attack and one for defense takes a bit of getting used to; and whatever you do, don’t leave any Panzer divisions alone in a hex!!
Overall Evaluation: =Wargame Heaven =I’d rather staple my tongue to the wall for a month!
Map= The map is nice but mainly functional. The terrain in each hex is clear and the charts along the edges of the map are clearly organized.
Counters= I like the size of the counters (which is helpful since you can stack ten or more Germans in one spot!) and the colors stand out well.
Rules= I really like these rules. I love the way they simulate what I have read over all my years of East Front study. While they do take a bit of getting used to at first, they open rich opportunities for both sides. Granted, this can get a little funky if say one side gets three chits drawn in a row, but I think the variations in the chits regarding movement and combat advantages mitigates this. I have always thought how hard it has been to simulate Von Manstein’s Backhand Blow at Kharkov in the Spring of 1943. But this system allows you to do just that! Add in how clear and well organized the rules are and you have a great system for the Eastern Front, IMO. I would like to see these rules applied to a strategic approach(and yes one could argue that The Dark Valley does this but I don’t think it has the same effect).
Deployment of Forces= This is fairly easy, especially the German side. For the Germans you just need to have one unit along each border hex and the different army groups are color coded. The Russians, who have individual assigned hexes, take a bit more time but not much.
Overall Rating= This game could well become my GTG (Go To Game) for the East Front Operational category. First, I love the chit pull which captures nicely the ebb and flow, thrust and counter thrust of the war. Second, the lack of retreat rules really changes the nature of the game and makes a long time East Front gamer like me rethink my strategy for how to win with either side. Third, the game play is quick and has a nice flow. No need for endless turns while you wait for your chance to fight back. Here your chance could snowball into an entire offensive leading to a huge advantage. Fourth, I like how the CRT forces players to reduce pockets rather than just relying on a “force the enemy to retreat into a friendly ZOC”. Pocket reduction here will either inflict losses as you try to use force to get moving or time if you wait for the end of the turn for the supply phase. Finally, the game is a lot of fun to play and it takes very little time to grasp the rules and get going.
Bottom Line: This is one of the best operational East Front games I have ever played. The chit pull captures the flow of the front, allowing players to truly recreate those sweeping Panzer thrust leading to massive pockets as well as those massive Soviet assaults crashing through the lines, smashing everything in sight. The only thing that keeps me from rating this game a is the victory conditions. They feel a bit rigid and while I know they match the historical goals of the Germans, a little more flexibility would’ve been nice. So if you love the Eastern Front and want to really play with history during that crucial stretch of 1942-43, you must try this game!
Thank you very much for your effort!
I've been playing more of Decision Games magazine games lately.
Especially since their rules have been better .
I enjoyed your comment about wanting "more flexibility" in the victory conditions. I'm sure the field marshals on both sides felt exactly the same way.
Great review, but I think you meant the map was 68' long, not 86'?