steve mizuno
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Looking back over the early years of my development as a grognard, I find that I must credit Avalon Hill with the majority of the blame for my fascination with conflict simulations. Not that I wasn’t exposed to SPI games - as a matter of fact, I subscribed to S&T starting with issue #39 (Fall of Rome), and played and bought many of their titles. However, SPI games were kind of like a light snack, whereas AH games were a four course meal.



Already I can hear the crows gathering to pick over the carcass of my game review here - but listen for one more moment before you join the flock and begin selecting the ripe entrails.

SPI games were entertaining - and some were very rewarding - Winter War was the first title I really grew to love - but AH games offered an abundance of opponents (due to the club movements of the time), and the larger print runs. It tended to be easier to acquire AH titles, and the games themselves shared, for the most part, a common combat results table, as well as a common set of assumptions.

My first couple of AH war games were Afrika Korps and Blitzkrieg. I followed these rapidly with Battle of the Bulge, D-Day, and Gettysburg. Next up were Waterloo and Stalingrad. All of them had their strong points, but some were flawed - Gettysburg in particular was almost impossible for the Confederates to win - and most of them required a pretty heavy commitment of time and beat downs to acquire the experience and knowledge of how to play the game properly, not just push counters around on the board.

Of the games I’ve listed above, only Blitzkrieg and Battle of the Bulge did not use the common AH CRT of the time. The "classic" AH CRT is reproduced here:



As you can see, this CRT doesn’t give much room for error. Get a 3-1 or better on a stack or unit, or you have a pretty large chance of pretty terrible stuff happening to your army. Those AELIM results will blow your chance of winning the game - and may even spell defeat.
To do Stalingrad, the game, full justice in a review would require 3 things - first, at least another 10 or so games under my belt, with a pretty highly ranked AREA personality. Not that I’m not good - but S-Grad was never my poison of choice, even when I was playing the classics a lot - and it has been many years since I last lined up a 7-10-4 along the Bug-Nemunas river line. Secondly, it would require a full review of the different versions of the game, including the prominent variants. Thirdly, it would require a review of the many (and I mean MANY) articles about the game - both in the General, Campaign, and the smaller gaming publications of the day. So what you’re going to get, if you read the rest of this, will be a kind of abbreviated look at the game, from the point of view of a grognard, looking back on one of the seminal games that created the love of conflict simulations back in the early 1960’s.

Stalingrad was initially published back in 1963 (I was 4 years old!). There was a revised edition released in 1974, but the game components were left the same. The revision was just a rules revision, and was available in a rules manual only release. The game is a traditional hexagon game, covering the entire Eastern front, including Finland. Like most AH games of the time, the board size is 22" 28".



As you can see from the map, the terrain is pretty basic - there’s swamp, rivers (doubled defense behind rivers), cities, and some mountains and rail lines. There are also a couple of extra rules to handle crossing the straits in the Sevastopol area. No real complex movement issues here.

Movement is fairly basic - rigid zones of control, no mechanized movement phase, no automatic victory rules, and a railroad bonus - just move, attack, resolve combat, and then watch the other guy do the same thing. Mud slows down movement (duh), and snow can freeze river lines and lakes, undoubling major defensive lines, and allowing for infiltration over lake squares. Wanna guess what happens if you’re on a lake square that unfreezes?

Stacking: both sides may stack to 3 units per hex.

Combat: the aforementioned Classic CRT is in full play here, as are the classic "soak-off" attacks. Units can also be attacked individually, even if stacked together.



Unit mix: there are 34 Russian units, and 65 Germans, which includes the minor allies - Romania, Hungary, Italy, and Finland. I think all units are based on corps sized formations. German infantry is usually rated 4-4-4, while most Russian infantry is 4-6-4 or 5-7-4. German Armored corps are rated anything from 6-6-6 to 8-8-6, with some mechanized formations at 4-4-6. Finnish units are 2-2-4 or 3-3-4’s. Other minor-allies tend to be 2-2-4 or 3-3-4, with some 6 factor movement units.

The aesthetics of the game are not really great. The counters are standard for the era - 3 factor units, in the standard Attack-Defense-Movement configuration. They use AH’s standard color mix for the classics - blue and pink. The map board graphics were bland for the era, but fairly clear - not many ambiguities on the map. The other components are standard for the era - a four page instruction manual, and a small manual, along with the classic CRT, and a fairly standard Time Record card.

The victory conditions are fairly simple - the Germans must control Leningrad / Moscow / Stalingrad for two complete turns, or eliminate the entire Russian army. Otherwise, the Russians win. The game runs from June 41 through May 1943. That’s it. Turns are monthly. The Germans have their work cut out for them, particularly if they have some bad luck in the initial part of the game, and don’t do very well in the later weather rolls. Mud is particularly annoying for the Germans, as they will struggle to meet their objectives even with average weather. Bog them down a couple of extra months, and they may well have just lost the game based on the weather alone.

Most of the game lies in knowing the board, the counter mix, and understanding the proper use of delay. Another classic of its time, Waterloo, also does not have Automatic Victory rules. Games without AV rules allow very small and weak units to delay massive numbers of units. As in Waterloo, this is a tactic that must be used to allow the Russians to hold off the German masses, until attrition and combat losses stretch out the Axis force pool.



There are several "standard" opening movement gambits, for both sides. The Germans usually commit their allowed 8 factors to Finland to keep them in the war and avoid the Russians releasing all those northern front units, and in effect, dramatically shortening up their defensive line. They also tend to concentrate on breaking the main initial defensive line through the use of overpowering force, and multiple soak-off attacks.

Without an armored exploitation phase, the general way that the Germans break river lines is by ensuring that sufficient strength moves up into the attack, and wipes out a small unit. These units then stay on the river line, forcing either a counterattack or withdrawal from the Soviet player. Mostly, due to unit strength, Russian units will try to avoid stacking with a small defensive unit - this ends up, quite counter-intuitively, being detrimental to the holding of a river line defense.

Excellent play in S-Grad involves knowing and understanding clearly, what river lines to take on, when to take them on, and how to minimize the possibility of exchange losses and counterattack possibilities.
Every turn, beginning in Spt 1942, the Russian player receives replacement units at at the tune of 4 per critical city (Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad. This goes up to 5 per critical city in Dec 1941, and goes up yet again to 6 per critical city. The initial replacement rate was proposed at 4-6-8. Most wargamers now play with a 4-5-6 ratio. (The Germans also get replacements, but at a pathetic rate. Don’t count on replacing your panzers once they’re gone - you’ll probably need to replace infantry to keep the lines at least thinly held.)



Excellent German play in S-Grad involves making sure that the right river lines get crossed, in the right way, at the right time. Players with more experience than me, will know when to pick up the pace, and when to slow it down.

The beauty of S-grad is in the play. There are critical hexes on the board, and decisions to be made turn by turn for each player. Do the Russians crush the Finns, or do they hold them off? Do the Germans take the risky 1-1 and 2-1 attacks, or just concentrate on as many 3-1 attacks as possible? There are certain river lines that an expert Russian player can make very, very difficult to breach. The first of these is the Bug - Nemunas river line. The key city of Brest-Litovsk is also a very critical area in the middle of the board. Generally, this city is taken by flanking, since it usually gets awarded one of the 7-10-4s as a defensive holding unit.

Expert play in S-grad more resembles a series of small advances with many attendant casualties. The Russians also generally use the small armored units (2-3-6’s) as delay units, slowing down stacks of Panzer Korps. Stalingrad isn’t going to replicate the massive pincer movements and surrounded pockets of the real war - and it isn’t likely to appeal to most of today’s generation of wargamers. However, as a player’s game - it is a good, quick introduction to the concept of zones of control, and the concepts of standard wargaming. Instead of promoting a historical contest, the game promotes a board game challenge. I believe that if you aren’t married to the concept of your wargame replicating the historical results, you may well find yourself enjoying one of AH’s classics.
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Andy Linman
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Shouldn't this be put in the Stalingrad game forum as a review?
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Barry Kendall
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Nice to see some love shown to an old classic again.

Also a reminder that chrome can kill the pony, or at least take away the fun of riding.
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Steve Herron
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A lot of good memories playing this years ago. I had my house rules I added to the game like the Germans could ignore river lines on the first turn and 7 to 1 was automatic and the defender lost it's ZOC.
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Eric Phillips
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I love that note on the front of the manual: "Instructions: Read First." No thanks! I'm sure I can figure it out on my own.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Stalingrad was the first wargame I ever played, 40 years ago. It sparked an interest that I've never lost, but I don't think I'd play it today. There are so many better games on the subject, including a couple published by AH some years later.
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Hunga Dunga
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An oldie, but a goodie.

I'll have to pull this one out of the vault and play it again.
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Tim Benjamin
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An interesting and often overlooked aspect is that EX are by ATTACK factors!
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Michael Dorosh
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Awesome posting; great to see writing of this calibre in the general interest forums, not just the review sections. And really great to see it so well-illustrated. Very well done.
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Richard Maurer
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This brings back old memories because Stalingrad was one of my first hex war-games. I don't know where this game disappeared to. Maybe one day, I'll get another crack at it. Great report!
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D T P
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Ahh... The nostalgia!
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Bill Lawson
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Too be 12 again. wow
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billyboy wrote:
Too be 12 again. :wow:


And know what I know now! I might actually be able to understand AH's 1914.
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Bob
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You just had to share this and make me feel old again... shake

Thanks for bringing back the memories! thumbsup

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Now lets be honest here. How many of us thought that Stalingrad was just the most awesome game back in those days?
I know I did. I didn't realize just how poor a simulation it was until Russian Campaign came out.
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Jack Tremble
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We had a blast playing Stalingrad, Battle of the Bulge and Anzio with my high school friends in the mid to late 60s. Thanks for the great review and stirring up the memories !
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James D. Williams
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xlhrider wrote:
Now lets be honest here. How many of us thought that Stalingrad was just the most awesome game back in those days?
I know I did. I didn't realize just how poor a simulation it was until Russian Campaign came out.

You are entirely correct, sir! Absolutely correct!

As an apology for the design:
The historically informed would be dismayed by the absence of 'being halfway to Moscow in a month' (etc.). But, they will therefore be confronted mentally with the absolute urgency of advancing as fast as possible.("realism")(or situational "head" realism: Their desire to sack the designers is like the Fuhrer's desire to sack his generals)!
And vast encirclements are possible (given a depletion of available assets, otherwise) which the rules do allow for.
And, the game may be considered "politically correct"...
Edit: A lot of its simulation shortcomings can be rationalized. Even the "slow start" with the Russians "prepared" is balanced by the Germans apparently being "prepared" for the first Winter. Still, the slow start is the toughest nut to deal with, simulation wise.IMHO.

Edit: 8/7/2016: ...so easy to learn, early on I think I played it with Russian replacements as "attack" factors and "all" rivers and swamps froze.
And, years later, forgot Russian replacements didn't start until SEP '41, which made me think the game was really screwed up when counterattacking First turn was so "easy".
BGG and its posters have straightened me out about Stalingrad.
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roger black
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Own 2 copies (1st bought this in the 60s). Also 4 EFS (from GMT) and some other EF tac games. Several games in one what with the Finish front options. A lot of play with very simple rules but benefits from your favorite extra house rules (to modern standards).
The question Stalingrad asks is: Can a simple EF game be fun & easy to play and a little bit realistic at 40 miles per hex ? Can you simulate the Blitzkrieg breakthroughs w/o ginning up the rules to a silly extent ? Air power, HQ's, chit pull ? <- all are easy to add. Answer: Yes.

Stalingrad is so basic that it is easy to modify to a lessor or greater extent (from beginner to expert). ($80 = way over priced.) Enjoy.
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THE MAVERICK
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Fortuna wrote:
I love that note on the front of the manual: "Instructions: Read First." No thanks! I'm sure I can figure it out on my own.

laugh

There was a practical reason for the note though. In addition to the rules folder, Stalingrad included a Battle Manual booklet to supplement the rules. So the "read this first" is not really referring to "before you play the game," it is just letting you know that you should read the rules folder before the Battle Manual booklet.
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