Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Decision Games (DG) in Issue #9 of World at War (WaW) put a new face of a slightly worn SPI classic, the Destruction of Army Group Centre (DAGC). This treatment utilizes the Bulge type system as published with WaW’s Bulge game in Issue 3. This game has little in common except for the title in my opinion –and that my friend is a good thing. Now June was a bad month is all senses for the German. June was when the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa, the campaign that led to the unraveling of the fortunes of the Third Reich. June was when D-Day happened, the successful return of the Allies to France in force. In terms of raw casualties, no time period was as bad for the Third Reich except for March-April 1945 when everything had spiraled into a cycle of death and defeat. But with the Destruction of Army Group Centre, there was little chance for the Germans to recover in the east. Best summary writing on this campaign can be found in Earl Ziemke’s “Stalingrad to Berlin”, published by the Center of Military History. The best new far reaching analysis is however found in Germany and the Second World War: Volume VIII: The Eastern Front 1943-1944: The War in the East and on the Neighbouring Fronts, just released by Oxford University Press. The German history simply calls it as it is and goes into depth on the failure and near cowardice of Army Group Center's Commander Busch and whose lack of moral fiber condemned Army Group Centre to certain destruction. Its overall analysis is riveting and gut churning in terms of watching an epic military disaster unfold.


COMPONENTS

In comparison to the original DAGC, the new one by Decision games features an attractive full-color map. The 34” X 22” game map with larger hexes is done with a red and yellow border. The bad thing about it is the font on the Combat Results Table (CRT) is located up at the top and is hard to read there and for the lack of bold print. The reason this is an issue is because DG did not include a CRT within the body of the rules as DG often is wont to do. The CRT is also hard to read because of the different shades of yellow. The counters are larger size and easy to read. What is interesting is DG went with black for all the German counters. In most WW II games, Black is reserved for SS units. What this does in a sense is lull the German into a small sense of false security as after all, these are SS looking units who are usually your firemen units late in the war.

RULES

Clean rules that only left me pondering two issues in terms of interpretation and those were minor points. It is always fun to read a series of rules and feel like you can play a game after only one reading. I would be surprised by anyone who could not play this relatively quickly after reading the 13 pages of rules.


GAME PLAY

DAGC owes its game system used in WaW’s Bulge game. This system is a modified you go/I go. Players have a pre-combat phase, followed by movement and another phase of combat. Coupled with an aggressive CRT, units die and holes appear in the German lines. Zones of control are semi-flexible but you pay costs for both moving into and out of them. In an interesting twist, unlike most games, a unit may be unable to move as it lacks the necessary movement points to move even one hex. The eastern front in 1944 as we know was a nightmare of epic proportions for the Wehrmacht. Game length is nine turns. The scale of the game is 16 miles per hex with units ranging from between 5-90,000, a wild fluctuation due to the inclusion of Korps Gruppen. As an example, Korps-Abteilung H was formed from remnants of the 95th, 197th and 256th infantry divisions. On the first game turn, units only within the range of the Operation Bagration Center of Gravity counter can attack.

In terms of forces correlation for the first two turns, it doesn’t seem that bad, as the Soviets have 162 strength points to 102 for the Germans. However of those 102 points, 13 are fortified localities that are wedded until death do them part from their fortified locality, for if they are forced to retreat they die. In the original game by SPI there were 4 fortified areas but here there are 13. I question why Vitebsk is not rated higher for the defense since 3 divisions were assigned to its defense. Oh yeah and there is the juggernaut of the Red Air Force. Every turn the Soviet player gets 8 air points for their main front forces that cause a one column shift to the right on the CRT. Coupled with the fact that on the first game turn during the pre-movement combat phase, the Soviets get a one column shift to the right, and that the Soviet Shock Armies also get this bump, you begin to see the nightmare for the German player. The Luftwaffe? It’s above Germany dying and German flak was being used primarily in a ground support role in 1944. The Germans can get a one column shift should the German Armor Concentration marker appear during a turn.

What seems like a cake walk for the Soviets isn’t quite due to their lack of an adequate tooth to tail ratio. The Soviet Out of Supply (OSS) rules add a high degree of uncertainty for the Soviet player after turn 6. The impact is minimal in terms of combat, as it is only a one column shift to the left. The impact of OSS is on movement. From turn six on Soviet movement is regulated by rolling a die for each unit or stack. The die roll result is how far you can move – elegantly simple to reflect the lack of a professional logistician corps by the Soviets. There is also a 1st Ukrainian Front on the southern map edge whose point is to take two victory towns. However they cannot go outside their boundary, except in one of the alternative scenarios. .

The CRT is based on a combat strength differential comparison. Compare the attacker’s strength to that of the defender and see what column it falls on under the CRT. Defensive terrain modifiers are added to the defensive strength of the units in the hex. All most all units in the game are two steps so that a DE result is but a step loss. But if that step loss was incurred on the pre-movement combat phase, the Soviets usually have an opportunity to cause gaps. Another feature I liked was the ability to absorb replacements and move and fight that same turn. At this point in the war both armies were efficient at integrating replacements into their units.

DAGC will run no more than two hours and at tops three in playing time. Victory is simple. The Soviet player wins by gaining thirty-one or more points. Each city is worth four points and each town in one point. All 27 hexes of the southern Ukrainian Front are worth one VP. The Soviet is awarded ten VP for control of certain Baltic Sea coastal hexes. These coastal hexes were perhaps critical to the Kriegsmarine and its desperate training attempts to get the Type XXI submarine sea worthy for war. However the official German history now says otherwise - you decide. The game stress obliquely by the victory conditions of how and why an Army Group Kurland comes to be. The victory condition of giving any city four VP’s needs adjusted in terms of Narva. Narva falls simply because the Germans need to skedaddle from the Panther Line once Pskov falls at the southern end of Lake Pskov. Adjusting its VP value to two to three points makes for a more balanced game for the German. Should the Soviets take Konigsberg, they gain an automatic victory. The victory conditions seem a little more unbalanced than they need to be historically. There are four alternative history scenarios. For real fun and a much more even game play the D-Day defeated and no Bomb Plot scenario.


CONCLUSIONS

I think DAGC will be an underrated game by the general public due to it not being the sexiest battle since its historical counterpart was one sided. Funny how folks get excited about Barbarossa, an equally lopsided initial campaign but shy away from Soviet style steamroller games, isn’t it? DAGC is easy to learn, a pleasant play and there is little in terms of production values that mar your gaming time. Easily worth a look despite a tendency to be tilted in favor of the Soviets.
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Paul Brown
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Good informative review. And I agree about the lopsidedness of wargame folks in gobbling up Axis steamroller games (Barbarossa, Case Blue) but not Soviet steamroller stuff (DAGC, Velike Luki). Strange as I would have thought there would be just as much a challenge for a hapless '44 Wermacht side as there apparently is for a hapless '41 Soviet side.
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Bob Zurunkel
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DotarSojat wrote:
Good informative review. And I agree about the lopsidedness of wargame folks in gobbling up Axis steamroller games (Barbarossa, Case Blue) but not Soviet steamroller stuff (DAGC, Velike Luki). Strange as I would have thought there would be just as much a challenge for a hapless '44 Wermacht side as there apparently is for a hapless '41 Soviet side.


I think a large reason for that is the potential for the Sovies to bounce back and win in the early war scenarios, something completely absent for the Germans in the late war scenarios. The best the Germans can do is to postpone the inevitable.
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Thanks Bob - good points.

Smitty
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Paul:

I like the challenge of playing both sides in these situations. Why is that do you think?

Smitty
 
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Jeb
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Nice review though I have to say my favorite game on this campaign is Hexasim's Victory Roads.

The asset chit pull system give that game a huge amount of replay value and it's not that complicated to learn.
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Chris Friend
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Easily the finest most comprehensive review if a magazine game I've ever seen.

I don't have the SPI game but i do have and have played Red Army the DAGC by GDW. And despite it's negative reviews for being too (duh) one sided I enjoyed it.

You've made me want to contact DG and get this game if they have it.

Well done! thumbsup
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Chris:

Aw shucks - but thank you for the kindness. We all "know" Ty does...whatever. Lost in that is often more than a bit of spark of genius
(disclaimer - my wife REALLY likes Ty Bomba). If someone other than Ty, or had this been but not a magazine game, it's reception might have been different. I endeavor to bring back some of the games I think were simply missed and deserve a fresh look by any of us. Heck I know I missed a number of games because of my service and immersion in the War on Terror.

Smitty
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Chris Friend
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Thanks for your service. And for getting me to order this game from the BGG Marketplace. And of course as with many other wargamers I've got a fair number of Ty's games. :-)
 
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Chris:

My wife think Ty is spiffy - and she has good taste so who am I to argue?

Smitty
 
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Barry Kendall
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Late to the party, but another very nice review, Smitty! I may just have to go hunting for a copy of this . . . . even tho' my wife wouldn't know Ty Bomba from Richard Berg.
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Barry:

It's one that gets "free" table time just for fun - no need to write a session report or review - just set it up and play.

Smitty
PS - And thank you for the kind words.
 
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Ty Bomba
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Interesting sub-conversation up there about the relative popularity and play balance perception of games from both chronological ends of the war in the east.

The two games I've designed for which there has been the most controversy concerning play balance would be this one and Proud Monster.
 
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Both of which I have had no issues with in terms of real play balance except for then I do something dumb...

Smitty
 
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