First off, I had almost finished a very lengthy post, but then somehow an error occurred and I lost everything I had done, so this time I will be saving my post from time to time and editing it along the way...
During the Christmas break, I finally managed to crack open one of the many unplayed games on my shelf: Leningrad '41.I played solo and used only the first optional rule (Rail Movement).
Let me start by saying I found it to be a very interesting and intruiging game. It left me wanting to play it again, and I suppose that's always a good sign!
Leningrad '41 and other Barbarossa-themed games
In many ways Leningrad '41 is like many other games covering the subject of Barbarossa, i.e. virtually unstoppable Germans in the Summer months, the offensive grinding to a halt as the bad weather sets in and the Soviets regaining some ground and starting to really hurt the Germans by the time the snow starts falling. However, what makes Leningrad '41 really shine, in my opinion, is the impulse system.
Because of this impulse system, a turn (a month) can theoretically last from as few as two impulses to as many as dozens of impulses, provided both sides manage their resources (HQ strength mostly)and options well. It definitely seems to be in the Germans' interest to make the Summer months last as long as possible -although at the same time they have to be careful not to completely exhaust too many of their HQ's- while the Soviets will want the snow weather to last as long as possible, as this is when they have the advantage.
Another thing which is of critical importance in Leningrad '41 is the initiative disc (ID): having the ID allows you to play an exploitation move as part of a tactical impulse or to play a strategic impulse instead. An exploitation move in green terrain and during good weather ,especially, can truly be devastating, as I learned after the Germans being able to do so three times in my game. A strategic impulse could offer you the chance to e.g. launch one more desparate attack even when all your HQ's are exhausted and may not be able to activate any units at all as they may not share a hex with them (tactical range for exhausted HQ's is limited to the hex they are in)or to call for reinforcements DURING a month as opposed to only at the beginning of a new turn/month. The latter option is especially handy/ needed for the Russians.
The above two features of Leningrad '41 really offer the player(s)tough choices; "I'd really like to call in some reinforcements now, but by doing so I'll give back the ID to the Germans, which may once again enable them to launch a devastating exploitation move" or "Do I want to launch one more attack with my (almost) exhausted HQ or will I save some strength points to be in a better shape during the next turn?"
Below is a picture of the situation at the end of August. As you can see, the Germans are very much closing in on Leningrad and the Russians are in no position to really offer any threat of any meaningful counter-attack. Moreover, they once again find several of their units cut off after yet another German exploitation movement (the third and last one in my game, I'd learned my lesson by this time )
Offensive stopped in its tracks
The three images below show the situation several impulses into December, when unfortunately I had to discontinue playing. Having said that, I do believe the outcome was pretty clear by this time: The Germans would have held on to Novgorod and probably as well to Ostashkov, while the Soviets would have held on to Tikhvin. The Germans got to within one space away from Murmansk. So the almost certain final result would have been Germans 5 VP's, Soviets 2, which translates into a marginal German victory (more on that later). BTW, just ignore the map not lying flat, that's because of the limited surface space I had to put it on and not because of anything being wrong with the (mounted) map.
1.) Do not give up the initiative disc too easily, especially not if you're playing the Soviets and you should get into possession of it (the Germans start the game having it): those exploitation moves are truly deadly; not only will it potentially cost you several units each time, but it also gives the Germans a lot of extra "free" movement.
2.) The luftwaffe-if and when it comes into play-is really extremely powerful as this insightful and detailed thread also aptly points out.
I don't believe it makes the game "broken" -not at all, actually,- but I do feel the Luftwaffe to be overpowered in good weather.I found myself repeatedly throwing 4 dice for air support from a single Luftwaffe HQ and only then realizing I should do so for EACH aircraft belonging to that particular HQ. That basically means you are attacking with 4 more (strong) units; red and white pips respectively.
What I don't really agree with - with regard to the above thread- is the fact that it is supposedly very easy to line up your luftwaffe HQ's in such a way that they're always at maximum strength at critical times and (also because you can only replenish their steps at the beginning of a turn) and once you make it to October/November and the rain or snow sets in, their strength is reduced to 1 or halved respectively.By that time the air support becomes relatively harmless.
What does bug me somewhat about it, is the fact that say the target is Leningrad. Let's assume you make it there by September-which is very well possible- (good weather) and you have a full strength Luftwaffe HQ in range. let's say it's the one with the stukas attached to it. Even if half the planes are aborted by AA (obviously the German player would choose the weaker level bombers), you would still have two stukas throwing 4 dice each at triple firepower, which would on average equal 4 hits. That already deals with the VP absorb bonus and any defensive line there might be in the Leningrad area.
Obviously, an able German player would also have positioned an HQ adjacent to Leningrad which would add in its artillery support of another 4 dice at 5+.That in itself is all good and well, but as Stalingrad would show a year later, the rubble caused by airial and artillery bombardment makes an area better defensible rather than practically allowing your ground forces to walk in relatively-or even entirely- unopposed, should the artillery and air support die rolls be really extraordinarily good, from the German perspective. That just sits a bit wrong with me, but again, I didn't find it to be as much of a problem as the author of the above post believes. The somewhat randomness of if and when the Luftwaffe HQ's turn up (the Germans would very likely draw one if they choose to start the game with a strategic impulse, but IMHO that'd be a very poor first opening (they don't need the reinforcements to deal with the Russian front line units and the delay would enable the Russians to retreat these weak-yet fast(!) Russian (tank) units, which could become a real nuisance later on in the game and potentially cut the German supply lines, which an infantry unit will have a lot harder time accomplishing. The best start for the Germans is probably a tactical impulse followed by an exploitation, but that'd give the ID to the Russians, so for sure the HQ wouldn't arrive until turn 2. Then it might already be lagging behind the German forward units. Moreover, Luftwaffe HQ's are slow units, so I guess you get my drift (of course when playing with the Rail Movement OR, as I did, causes this not to be a problem anymore).
3.) Create buffers, push those Russians back as far as you can! As you can see in the pictures above, the Germans found themselves contesting, amongst others, Oshtashkov in the South, which is a VP objective. This was entirely preventable, as the Germans had ample opportunity to push them back further, thus creating a buffer between the VP objective of Ostashkov and the Russians who are becoming increasingly stronger. Probably the Germans would still have been able to hold on to it, the probability should have been a certainty.
4.) There's a number of key areas in the game, for example the green area to the South-East of Leningrad, Velikiye Luki, Tikhvin (probably the best defensible VP objective for the Russians, even more so than Leningrad, especially whenplaying without the optional rules, which by and large seem to favor the Russians (e.g. Leningrad becoming more difficult to cut off, Germans having to divert forces to Operation Typhoon etc.).
5.) A major victory seems very, very hard to pull off (although I certainly believe that this has its historical merit; in fact the Germans in my game far outperformed their historical achievements, but still did not achieve a major victory). The Russians had sixteen units surrender and even that wasn't enough for the Germans to pull off a complete win; they got close to taking Murmansk, but Tikhvin would never have fallen barring the Russians making a terrible mistake (of course it could have fallen, had the game gone differently...)
I have also noticed that when playing a scenario rather than the campaign, taking Leningrad suffices for winning the game. This is not the case in the campaign. I assume there are good reasons for this gameplay wise. Focussing all your efforts on Leningrad and having the entire game to take it and NOT playing with the optional rules, it seems to me, the Germans have a very, very good chance of consistently seizing it.Obviously, if they manage to do it in a single month of play (as in scenario 1; The Preludes), this should of course be rewarded with a win. However,...
The historical commentary provided at the back of the rule book (great reading material, btw!), repeatedly points out that historically the Germans diverted their forces and assets too much. One would therefore expect that taking the main objective, which is of course Leningrad, should have a bigger impact. Perhaps not an all-out win, but I do feel it's warranted that Leningrad should count for two (then a draw would be a Russian win or the side controlling leningrad would win) or even three VP's to portray its importance compared to many of the other VP areas. As it is, if Tikhvin is the only area still in Russian hands or whether it's Leningrad, doesn't make any difference for the end result. This doesn't quite feel right.
The Finns, though they seem to provide some nice flavor, don't really seem to be doing all that much. Except for a few occasions, I cannot really see myself choosing to regenerate Mannerheim over one of the other HQ's. Those regenaration points are more desperately needed further to the South. I do like the -easily overlooked rule- that the Finns may normally not advance beyond the Finnish demarcation Line UNLESS there is no unit opposing them. Even though it will take them several impulses to advance beyond that line given the terrain in that area of operations, it also keeps the Russians honest in the sense that they will be somewhat fearful of repositioning too much of the Karelian Front further to the South.
Coming back to the optional rules, although I haven't used them yet (apart from rail movement), I do feel they offer a lot more options and historical detail. At the same time they are certainly not overwhelming, so next time I will be using them all!
As I somewhat hinted at above, I do feel some of them (Rail movement, Road of Life; first tank division defending the Trail of Murmansk)should perhaps be standard rules rather than optional ones. Rail movement because it's just odd for a game of this scope not to have that option when using the standard rules only, the Road of life because it's historically what kept Leningrad in Russian hands- and it also seems the Russians can really use that extra bit of help in the defense of the city- and the 1st tank division, because it makes the progress along the Trail of Murmansk somewhat influencible by the Russian player. Without this optional rule, basically all he can do is hope the Germans won't spend too many regeneration point on Dietl and if they do, that he doesn't roll too many fives and sixes. Having said that, I do really like the way the Trail to Murmansk has been implemented into the game; really in a simple way, but it still really forces the Germans to systematically divert HQ points that way, if they want to stand a chance of gaining a major victory!
I'm also not always entirely sure why the rule book suggests you can't pick and choose from them, but have to use them all sequentially(obviously if you use the Marat, you have to use The Baltic optional rule, but if I want to play with the 1st tank division OR, I don't really see why I need to use the agility OR).
The rule book, player aids and a few questions
I found the rule book to be well written. A few unnecessary repetitions perhaps, but I'd rather have that than not to have something important mentioned at all. I do still have a few questions, most of which I'm fairly certain about, but I'd just like to be 100% sure, so I'll be asking them anyway, but I'll do so shortly in a separate thread.
As for the player aids, they are not entirely complete. For example, in snow it says German strength is halved. This is, however, only true when attacking and not when defending! Something the rule book clearly points out, but the player aid does not. Funnily enough, this is very clearly spelled out on the Moscow '41 player aid. Also the combat sequence has a small, yet important, error in it; artillery fire is in the wrong place, it should be right after Finnish sniping. Other than that, I found them to be very, very useful!
Based on just one play, I would rate this game with 8/10 (the components, which I haven't discussed above, are a full 10/10!). It's a very fun game, which to my tastes,offers the perfect mix between playability and historical accuracy. The flow of play is pretty fast once you get most of the rules down and the relatively minor "issues" (although I really feel that's too big a word!, I guess they are just some things I noticed and they didn't quite feel right to me; Luftwaffe firepower, relative lack of importance of Leningrad itself in the campaign game)do not really take much away from the enjoyment factor, as far as I'm concerned. As I said at the beginning, finishing my first play of this game left me wanting to play again and that's to a large extent what I look for in a good (war)game!
I hope you've enjoyed reading and I intend to post a few videos shortly of a playthrough (a few impulses at the time) while highlighting some rules and explaining the process behind certain moves or decisions. Again, I know I never would have considered doing so, had I thought the game was just mediocre, so the 8/10 might still go up rather than down!
- Last edited Wed Jan 10, 2018 1:00 pm (Total Number of Edits: 10)
- Posted Mon Jan 8, 2018 11:37 am
Another lesson I learned yesterday-when playing a few impulses with a friend whom I introduced to the game, and loved it and was eager to play again shortly, btw!- was not to leave relatively strong [Russian] infantry units (one or multiples) on their own in green terrain. Why? Because of the tank attack rule!
Let's say you have two Russian blocks in such a green area with a combined strength of five (all black dots) and the Germans attack with a red-dotted tank unit (strength 3) and a white dotted infantry unit (strength 4). In this example, the Germans would benefit from the tank attack rule and, in all likelihood, most of the Soviet pips would be eliminated right away, especially if the Germans also manage to throw in some artillery support for good measure.
If, however, you position even a 1 strength tank unit (white pips) with the three strength infantry unit, as the Russian player, this would now result in you being the first to throw your dice and perhaps get two hits in, if you get a little bit lucky. Those red pips are pretty expensive to replace and, moreover, the German player will likely be somewhat more careful of using a tank unit that's down to two dots in a future impulse. Even if he isn't, the effectiveness/firepower of said unit would be significantly decreased (by 1/3).
I really like this about Leningrad '41: tough choices:
1.) Do I try to form a new front line in open terrain by calling up units from the rear? (probably a bad decision, also historically, but it would certainly be what Comrade Stalin expects of you and you know what happens to generals who defy his orders, even if they are unspoken!)
2.) "If the German opening moves allow me, do I retreat my fast white units further to the rear, placing them in better defensible terrain and hoping to reinforce them in the logistics phase of the next turn/ month?"
This could really pay off later during the game. Their main asset not lying in the fact that they are particularly strong units (compared to those the Germans have), but their strength being their speed; they are FAST units, of which the Russians have precious few, especially at the beginning of the game!
If the Russians bide their time and wait for an opportunity, which probably will come-and the German has previously had to hand you the Initiative Disk- you just might be able to encircle some German units and then play an exploitation move to cut some of them off. In the worst case scenario, the Germans will be able to reestablish supply with such units-but they are then almost certain of having to divert forces and HQ points to this end, rather than being able to push straight on to their VP objectives!
Certainly an idea/ strategy worth pursuing, but, as I noticed yesterday, this leads to the situation described above, in which any units that you do leave in the green areas in and around the initial front line (to at least slow the Germans down somewhat in and around e.g. Pskov, Velikiye Luki and possibly some to shield the probably previously activated North-West HQ) very vulnerable to tank attack! So do I now:
3.) Decide to basically give up, most importantly, Velikiye Luki, without even so much as a fight and grant the Germans very powerful reinforcements very early on in doing so? (Do note that a city and/or defensive line negates the effects of tank attack!)
4.) Do I decide to leave at least two or three (weak white)tank units in the front line rather than retreat them to avoid tank attack? Along with those probably lost in the opening German assualt this would leave me with precious few of such units left, if any...
The more I learn about this game, the more hard decisions and seemingly little rules which can have a huge impact, I come across and the more I start loving this game!
BTW, note that mechanized infantry, motorized infantry and cavalry (i.e. fast units) do not negate the Tank Attack rule! Somehow I got it into my head that having a FAST unit defending negates it, but such a unit MUST be a tank! It's clearly stated in the rules, but I may have been confused with another game with a similar rule, but it being negated by a friendly fast unit. So don't make that mistake yourself
- Last edited Thu Jan 11, 2018 2:47 pm (Total Number of Edits: 3)
- Posted Thu Jan 11, 2018 11:48 am