Matt Irsik
United States
Clearfield
Utah
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Board Game: Poland Defiant: The German Invasion, September 1939


Overview

Probably one of the least addressed gaming areas of World War II is the invasion of Poland. Outside of a few games, Poland is usually used as a training ground for how to successfully pull off a German blitzkrieg in games like War Without Mercy, Third Reich, Supreme Commander, and many, many others. I recall playing the old Jagdpanther magazine Poland game, but outside of that I can’t say that I’ve had a lot of interest in this area. Most of the apathy towards the subject usually deals with the fact that it was a short, one sided war that is usually an obstacle for gamers who want to get on with the invasion of France and then Operation Barbarossa. The question is always, “How do you design an invasion of Poland game where both sides have a chance at victory?” This is the question that Poland Defiant from Revolution Games sets out to answer.

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Components

If you’ve been playing what could be termed AVL, or A Victory Lost type games such as Across The Narva and Konigsberg, then Poland Defiant will be no stranger to you. A standard 22 x 34 paper map, a sheet of counters, and a rules booklet come in a zip-loc sized bag. As I’ve mentioned in my other reviews on games in this series, Revolution Games does not produce a cheaply made product, but tries to pack the most punch with the bare minimum. The counters are well designed with color coded stripes for the various formations, plenty of informational markers, and the colors that are used work well with the game map. The rules are definitely bare bones and while they get the job done, more examples of play, color, and game charts would be appreciated. I understand keeping the costs down, but I would be willing to pay a few extra dollars for these kinds of things.

Special mention must be made of the map, which is mostly good, but there are a few things that could have used some more thought. First, the cities, rivers, etc., are all marked out well and I can’t think of any terrain issues that I had during the game that were caused by the map. However, there are three small things that are annoying, but not a deal breaker. The first is the reinforcement codes aren’t easy to find, especially when there are counters on the hexes with the codes! A list in the rules would have been most helpful along with a general location. The second thing is that the combat results table, terrain chart, and two of the Polish tables for command/replacement steps should have been in the rules as well. When playing solo the tables are at the top of the map and not the easiest to read. Finally, when playing solo with Danzig at the top of the map, the hex grain runs with how the counters would be normally positioned in the hex, although the tables as mentioned above are at the top of the map and not easy to see. When playing as a two player game, the hex grid runs against the grain, so the counters have their top edge against the point of the hexes, which just looks weird at least to me!

From gallery of mirsik


Game System

Again, if you’ve played any of the AVL games then you can read the rules, set up, and be playing in no time at all. If this is your first time playing this type of game the rules are easy to digest and you may have a few questions during the first turn or two, but then it gets pretty easy to play. Each game has its own rules for command chits, airpower, ZOC costs, etc., but there are several standard features that are common to all of the games. In Poland Defiant there is an air phase where the Germans can place interdiction aircraft, then launch up to several ground attacks while the Poles only have one air unit for attacks. This is a simple and effective way to simulate airpower in this opening conflict and it works well. Each side then places all of their available command chits into a cup and then one chit is drawn and acted upon until each side reaches their limit, which is printed on the turn track.

From gallery of mirsik


When a command chit is drawn, units within the command range of the HQ matching the chit can move and/or attack. There is an additional +1 MP to enter or leave a ZOC, while in some other games in the series it is a +2. This does allow armor/mech units to move through ZOCs if needed. Combat is not mandatory and uses a fairly standard combat results table with step losses and retreats. The interesting thing here is that if a defender is in a town or city hex they can ignore the first retreat result and/or loss, so digging defenders out of those hexes is certainly a challenge, making the effort to secure VP hexes for the Germans that much harder. Special mention also has to be given to rivers in this game, where moving and attacking across them provides even more challenges for the German attackers.

From gallery of mirsik


With most WW II games as you approach the end phase you can pretty much see where things are going and the opportunities that may be presented. Not so much here as with the added wrinkle of even more command chits being added to the cup on later turns both sides really have no idea what is going to happen. My guess is that this simulates the evolving commands during the short war, but all of a sudden you may need a certain chit to be drawn this turn, but now a few more are added into the cup. Odds are that chit you desperately need may not come up, even for another turn or two.

From gallery of mirsik


Game Play

The starting situation pretty much says it all for the Polish player. You’re surrounded on three sides (the Russian army and eastern section of Poland is not involved in this game), your army is not in the best defensive positions, and your mobility is nowhere near what the Germans have, although the armored train units can plug holes at times. However, the major rivers with few crossings, interior lines, the need to overwhelm defenders in cities/towns, etc., all play to the Poles advantage. The Germans usually strike quick, overwhelming sections of the various fronts, but in each game there comes a crossroads for the Germans; go for Warsaw or try to seize the various VP hexes scattered around the map. Both are difficult choices, made even more challenging by the chit pull, which may allow Polish formations to escape and reestablish defensive lines. If the Germans can’t seize the minimum VPs listed on the turn chart by the end of each turn, they lose one command chit activation for the next turn, which doesn’t sound like much, but in a game where you need as many chits pulled as possible, it can be disastrous.

From gallery of mirsik


Summary

This is another good entry to the series and if you’ve never played a game about the invasion of Poland this might be a good place to start. The game presents several challenges for both sides and has great replay value due to the chit pull mechanic. The game works great in solo mode as well, so there’s no need to search for an opponent who is interested in this topic. My few plays seem to indicate that the game is balanced, with both sides having a path to victory. Yes, Poland is going to lose the war, but can the Germans replicate their historical advance? If I have any fault with the game, it’s just with the rules and the lack of set up and/or reference cards. Fortunately, there’s always someone who creates set up cards for these games, which is a big help and saves some time during set up. The rules could definitely use a one turn example of play, which would be very helpful for those who have never tried the system and for those of us who have, to confirm that you’re playing the game right! I know that Revolution is trying to keep the costs down, but I think an expanded rule book for some of these games would justify raising the cost of the game. Overall, this is an interesting game with good replay value that will immerse you in a topic that is rarely played in the wargame hobby.
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Ken
United States
McKinney
Texas
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Great review. Thanks.

My copy arrived a while ago and you have motivated me to get it on the table this weekend.
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Rob Steffes

Pennsylvania
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I concur! Great review of a great game. Poland Defiant is something of a mirror image of the first game Revolution Games redid from designer Stephan Egstrom, Konigsberg. Both feature desperate defenses over much the same terrain 5 and a half years apart. Despite the hopelessness of the eventual outcome for the Poles and the Nazis respectively, the games play very well, especially solo.
A rule feature I found interesting in PD was that attritional loses must be taken by the strongest units in a combat, meaning that the Germans can’t use infantry to soak up casualties. Armor was very fragile, the breakdown rate was astronomical and the panzer forces can be badly damaged when reducing strongpoints or getting too far ahead of support.
Yet the timetable forces the German to take chances, making for a well balanced game with high replay abilities.
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Wojtek Makarewicz
Poland
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The problem I find with PD is in the "pure" chit pull system used. The game starts to play itself more and more each turn. Especially as the German player (tight VP schedule) you're just too much dependent on the chit you draw and there's no factor mitigating pure luck (similar to say a Victory Lost where you choose the chits for the turn).
The turns here are mere days. Yet it's perfectly possible for Bernolak and Gerant to activate and for 10th army to stay idle. I don;t think it makes any historical sense.
One minor thing about the Polish side is that the battle of Bzura is impossible in PD as you're never allowed to activate armies Pomorze and Poznań at the same time.
Yet I still like the game and hope for many more fun plays.
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