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Subject: A Primer on Defending the Soviet Union in ‘41 in Stalin’s War rss

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Chris Farrell
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Stalin’s War is a clever game which appeals to me, but it has two big problems: defending the Soviet Union in ‘41 is slightly tricky, and there are no shorter scenarios that start the game in ‘42 and ‘43. Getting slaughtered by blitzing Nazi panzers in ‘41 can be off-putting. In the hopes of helping Soviet players enjoy the game, here are my tips on how to hold out against the Nazi juggernaut and get the most out of the game.

I think you have to bear in mind that as the Soviets, you have three overriding objectives during the first year of the war. They are, in priority order:

1) Preserving the strength of the Red Army
2) Avoiding a Nazi auto-victory
3) Getting a few crucial events played, and getting 1-ops cards out of your deck

The first and most crucial point, force preservation, obviously encompasses a lot of ground. At start you are out-numbered and badly out-gunned, and completely unable to inflict meaningful attrition on the invaders (beyond what they are going to inflict on themselves). Plus, look at the replacement point values on the cards and you’ll see you don’t even have a significant advantage in terms of your ability to replace losses. So you need to be absolutely driven by the need to alter this set of facts. The priority for the first few turns is going to be keeping what guys you have alive.

What this means, though, is not running away, trading space for time, and avoiding combat. Unfortunately not only are the Nazis vastly stronger, more resilient, and slightly more numerous than you at start, they are also faster. So, you have to choose defensive lines carefully, picking strongpoints that can be defended and from which you can trade losses as evenly as possible while simultaneously at least sketching out your next line of defense, so you have something to fall back to and units to cover your inevitable further retreat. And it means avoiding being blitzed at all costs. You will lose units in combat faster than you would like. But the way to lose crippling numbers of units is by letting the Nazis surround you, which they will assuredly do if you give them any chance to blitz.

So, we come to the crux of the matter, and the unintuitive thing about Stalin’s War that you must grasp in order to play the Soviets well: ZOCs defend hexes much more strongly than actual units. If the Germans have to move through two of your ZOCs to get to a hex, there is absolutely no way they can do it in one phase. If they have to get through a ZOC and a unit, they’ll blast the unit in combat and advance. If there is a hex you critically want to keep the invaders out of, the best way to do it is with ZOCs, not units.

A related fact here is that a perfectly solid defensive line can be completely crippled by adding a unit to it. A stack in a city flanked by open ground, with the open ground in turn covered by ZOCs from stacks behind major rivers or in woods is a solid defensive line which will slow the invaders down and cannot be catastrophically breached in one impulse. However, if you add a unit - even a decent unit - to one of those open ground hexes, the line becomes fatally compromised. The Germans can simply assault the unit in the open, blitz through the hole in your line, ZOC-lock your defenders, and before you know it everyone is dead and you’ve dug yourself a major hole on your primary goal of force preservation. Try to defend strongly with units only the minimum number of hexes that you need to defend to cover the line, with ZOCs doing the rest. Defending hexes already covered by ZOCs rarely serves any purpose.

Something to watch for here is when you have a whole mess of units falling back to the next defensive line, and one unit doesn’t have the MPs to get across the river. In that case, that guy has to stay in the line and get killed where he stands while hopefully tying down German units with his ZOC. To pull him back as far as you can, leaving him in the open on the other side of the river, is to invite disaster.

So: form lines by anchoring them in woods, swaps, cities, and behind major rivers. Never, ever, ever try to defend a blitzable hex. Try never to even occupy a blitzable hex the Nazis could theoretically reach. Use ZOCs to cover them instead. Force them to assault you to take territory, inflicting a Panzer step loss every time. I’d even go to the extreme of saying that if there is a unit in open ground that is blocked from retreating by interlocking enemy ZOCs, is potentially blitzable, and is near your lines, have that unit make a suicide attack rather than potentially allowing the Nazis to score a ZOC-negating blitz.

Let's take a quick look at what this means in the context of defending the approaches to Moscow on the northern route.



Let's assume for the moment that your lines are anchored in Gomel (a nice unblitzable hex with 2 left shifts) and Leningrad. Which hexes in between do you want to defend? Gomel-Dvinsk is no good obviously, there is a gap in the ZOCs and no unblitzable terrain to hold to plug the gap. Gomel-Smolensk-Pskov works, but barely; the Germans can move 2220-2320 forcing you to pull back. A pretty solid line is Gomel-Smolensk-2420-Leningrad. But ... would you rather defend 2419 or 2420? Both cover the front line with ZOCs. From the point of view of defending Moscow, you're actually better off defending 2419. That way the Nazis can get to 2319 or 2320, but then they're stuck, to make further progress they have to attack. If you were actually defending 2420, they could attack you there, win, take the hex, and be one hex closer to Moscow. But if you're in 2419, they have to attack you there, making 2420 inaccessible. So if they want to drive towards Moscow, they basically have to go through Smolensk, which makes it an ideal place for a trench and lots of guys. Put some reserves in 2423 and 2520, and your next line is already in place. Even better, you could shift slightly to Gomel-2322-2420-Leningrad so they have to take another lateral step (across a river) before making any more forward progress. They key is to have a guy or two in reserve with a ZOC who remains mobile to make these adjustments.

Note that there are arguments for different arrangements, like 2123-2322-2420-2318, if you've got the guys. Just don't try to defend 2221 - the guys there will get blitzed and all your ZOCs will be negated.

For an example of how to screw yourself as the Soviets, look at the example of play book, p.12. I was trying to figure out how those panzers in 2225 got into the Soviet backfield, compromising the entire defense in a catastrophic manner. If you look at the previous position on p.10, the defense looks superficially OK. The reason it's not has nothing to do with the line itself, but the Front in 1924 that couldn't quite make it back to a solid defensive line and then got blitzed, allowing the Panzers to skate through the ZOCs, with the catastrophic effect of not only eliminated units, but losing the key and extremely strong defensive terrain in 2123/2124/2025. Much better to pull that Front back to Kiev or Odessa, or even just to leave it in place.

Even if you do all this right, the invaders will of course turn your lines. The instant the integrity of a line is compromised for whatever reason, fall back to the next one. You need to time your fall-back carefully. Fall back too soon, and you give up defensible territory before you have to, and it’s possible you could run out. Fall back too late, and the Germans will catch you in the open between defensive positions. This process of falling back needs to be ongoing, with your line being constantly adjusted to account for hexes lost or strongpoints weakened, and with a few reserve units taking up defensible positions close behind the lines to ensure a reverse doesn’t become a catastrophe.

Between the swamps and woods in the north, and the rivers in the south, there should be enough time and terrain to prevent the turn 4 auto-victory. In the north particularly there is enough terrain that you should be able to bog down the Germans unless they commit everything there. So the question is, where to go from there?

It all depends on the German play, of course. They have all the firepower in the early game, and if they set their mind on any one particular objective (Moscow being the most obvious) at the expense of all others, they can almost certainly take it. Bear in mind your overriding objective here: the accumulation of sufficient force to turn the tide. Period. Once the early-game AVs are avoided, there is very little on the board that costs you anything to lose. In fact, the only particular significance any specific terrain holds is how well it can be used to preserve the forces defending it. So, you don’t want to lose Moscow, not so much because of the significance of Moscow itself (the 3 banked ops from Lend-Lease are nice, but you may well find yourself with ops to burn in the early and middle game), but because Moscow is surrounded by highly defensible terrain which is hard to outflank and allows you to fight and trade infantry steps for panzer steps. But if Moscow becomes untenable, so be it, you can pivot on Leningrad into the swaps in the north, or move to the Volga in the south. In general, you cannot make the attrition numbers work to justify counter-attacking before the end of ‘42, and you can’t get your army destroyed trying to defend anything short of the very last VP the Germans need. An intact army can win without Moscow. An intact Moscow without an army can’t. You need to be Stalinesque in your ruthlessness. If the Germans are about to break into the open ground between Moscow and Gorky, you’ve already tried to hold out too long and are probably hosed.

Strategy Card Deck Management

Your event card play is, again, going to be driven by your #1 overriding goal of force preservation and accumulation. When you have an impulse in which the pressure is off, you’ll always play a reinforcement first. Probably RPs are next, but not always.

Industrial Evacuation: It sucks, but you really need to get this down before turn 6. The extra forces card #6 provides in combination with IE are crucial. At that point, you can finally seriously consider counterattacks. In the interim, you’re going to have to live with a 5-card hard for a year. If you had the choice you’d play it right before you need it, but the luck of the draw will determine when you get it, and I think you don’t have much choice but to play it for the event. If it’s your only high-value ops on turn 1 ... well, good luck with that.

Lead-Lease: This is dicier. The main reason to play this is to get the 3 banked ops, which you will likely lose during the critical year to PQ-17 anyway (blitzing mech units are not urgently needed). If you’ve got the breathing space, it’s probably worth playing it, unless the Germans are going full-bore for Moscow. It should give you a couple turns of banked ops at the very least, and those ops can be quite valuable. To my mind, Moscow is defensible enough that this should be played, but your experience may differ.

Sorge: Again, since this enables critical reinforcements, you must play it as an event the first time you see it. You won’t win without getting those Shock armies in a timely manner, and you can generate a legitimate (if local) counter-attack threat in Winter ‘41 with them. Again, remember: killing Nazi infantry is not a particularly useful way to spend your time. The Germans are going to be spending RPs to get Panzer steps, and you are not likely to be able to generate enough infantry casualties in the early war to make any difference to the replacement calculus. Knocking 5 FP armies down to 4 FP is nice, but not on its own worth getting significant numbers of your own guys killed to do.

Partisans: I wouldn’t bother. If you have time to play this, you’ve probably already won.

People's Militia: There are a couple spots where entrenchments can be vital, primarily around Moscow and at the bottleneck to Sevastopol. If sufficiently well-manned, they can turn a blitzable hex into an unblitzable one (because you can always burn an extra step to avoid retreat). But entrenchments aren’t the defensive powerhouses they are in Barbarossa to Berlin. You don’t have the steps to burn for the most part, and heavily fortified positions are sometimes easy to just go around. Still, I think you want this card if possible. A single entrenchment can occasionally extend the lifetime of a defensive line by an impulse or two, create a viable defensive line where one didn’t exist before, or close a gap between two lines. And it happens often enough that there is a single hex which the Germans really have to get through. Just get started with your digging early. If you fail the die roll and get blitzed ...

The Volga has only One Bank: The obvious place to play this is Stalingrad, where the fortress will provide supply and the Germans will then have to get Fall Blau down to take it, which implies a number of good things for you. But, I don't think you're playing this as an event the first time through your deck unless the Germans have made a radical shift to the south.

As for the rest, the goal is primarily to get the 1s out of your deck. Combat Cards are generally easy, although you may be stressed by the 5-card hand inflicted on you by Industrial Evacuation. The events are a little harder, but any chance you have when the Germans are not threatening a breakthrough in their next impulse, and your reinforcements and RPs have been played or you don’t have a good option, you can do a lot worse than to get 1s and 2s out of your deck.

There you have it. I make no claims this is foolproof, and even if you play a perfect game, you can get hosed by the cards one way or the other (the Germans can get great cards, or you can get a terrible hand at a crucial juncture). The situation in '41 is swingy and unstable, which is why I wish Stalin's War had '42 and '43 scenarios. But you get what's in the box. Despite its fearsome reputation, defending the Motherland in '41 is not that hard. Unforgiving, yes; somewhat tricky, yes - a single infantry army left in the open in a seemingly innocuous location can collapse your defense. But once you grasp some of the quirkiness of the system, your defenses should fall into place.
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Richard Pardoe
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cfarrell wrote:
Click on the image to get a legible version (if someone could help me on inserting a full-sized image here, I'd appreciate it):


Add the word Original after the Image number:
[ ImageID=830537 original ] results in:



PS - You can also use the word medium and large as well should those sizes exist
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Chris Farrell
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RPardoe wrote:

Add the word Original after the Image number:
[ ImageID=830537 original ] results in:


Awesome, thanks!
 
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Chris Farrell
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Let me add a couple quick things:

- The calculus of how to use SCUs vs LCUs in Stalin's War is completely different than what it is in Paths of Glory or Barbarossa to Berlin, and it takes some getting used to. In BtB, LCUs are your durable fighting units, while SCUs add firepower but tend to make combats bloodier for you as well. From the Soviet perspective in Stalin's War, LCUs are more like a shell for other units - they give you a better table, and crucially provide reliable ZOCs, but don't have any particular extra staying power (a 2-step SCU is just as durable in the vast majority of real cases), and they don't have much hitting power on their own. Your real firepower is coming from Fronts backed by Shock and Tank Armies. Also, SCUs don't have to go through any sort of Reserve Box, so they are cheap ways to take hits and easy to recycle. Stacking a cheap infantry Army with your Fronts while on defense is a good plan, because it means guaranteed Panzer hits, and it means the first hit you take is easy to replace.

- Treat the Turn Record Track as if it was Nazi propaganda. It is misleading in several ways, ALL of it to your disadvantage. Don't forget the crucial Rasputitsa. And draw your reinforcement cards at the right time.
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Michael Rinella
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Thanks for posting this.
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Steve Hope
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I have to say, Chris, I am one of the players who found this game absolutely unwinnable as the Soviets. In 8 games I think we had one game that didn't end in Axis AV, and that was only because it was a learning game and the Axis player wanted to restart rather than continuing from what seemed like an unfortunate position.

I'd love to try it with you sometime if you think otherwise. I guess I would have to play the Axis to try to "prove the case", but would happily play either side. Also, are you going to BAGD Saturday?
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Chris Buhl
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stephenhope wrote:
I have to say, Chris, I am one of the players who found this game absolutely unwinnable as the Soviets. In 8 games I think we had one game that didn't end in Axis AV, and that was only because it was a learning game and the Axis player wanted to restart rather than continuing from what seemed like an unfortunate position.

I'd love to try it with you sometime if you think otherwise. I guess I would have to play the Axis to try to "prove the case", but would happily play either side. Also, are you going to BAGD Saturday?


I'm currently in a game, as Soviets, using this as a guide BUT using the optional rules that were posted later by the designer. It's early, but with those optional rules, this guide is proving to be very effective. As things progress, I think we're going to find that the rules posted by the designer make the game unwinnable as Axis if the Soviet player has read and abides by this primer.

I know that's not an answer to the original question of "does this work with the rules as issued." I've not tried it yet, but I might try that after this game finishes. I'm finding myself intrigued by playing Soviet in this game.

For what it's worth.
 
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Chris Farrell
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stephenhope wrote:
I'd love to try it with you sometime if you think otherwise. I guess I would have to play the Axis to try to "prove the case", but would happily play either side. Also, are you going to BAGD Saturday?


I don't know what exactly I think, I honestly haven't decided if I like Stalin's War yet. I suspect that it's not going to end up being my kind of game - it seems like the '41 situation is so fragile and so swingy that the odds of an interesting game developing into '42 and '43 are pretty low. Regardless, I do know that new players can get severely screwed if they don't understand how hugely vulnerable their lines become when they leave a guy standing around in the open somewhere in the vicinity, and when they don't realize that additional defenders can actually make a line much weaker.

Unfortunately, this is the first BAGD in a while that I'm going to have to miss I'd be up for something in the New Year, though.
 
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John P
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Rule 4.3.1 says that the Soviets can draw a blitz card to their hand (pick any one) before filling their hand to the max of 6 at game start. SU card 4 is allowed as the only reinforcement card that can be picked.

But SU gets card 4 on turn 4 anyway. And they can only play 2 on turn 2 (they get 2 on turn 1) and 1 on turn 3 (they get 1 on turn 3) - so they have enough reinforcement cards to play their max. Why would they want to pick card 4 instead of some other card? Can someone who knows the game well explain this?

Also what is the best card to pick for Sovs when they pick their 1 at start blitz card?

Thanks
 
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Paul Marjoram
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jjdenver wrote:
Rule 4.3.1 says that the Soviets can draw a blitz card to their hand (pick any one) before filling their hand to the max of 6 at game start. SU card 4 is allowed as the only reinforcement card that can be picked.

But SU gets card 4 on turn 4 anyway. And they can only play 2 on turn 2 (they get 2 on turn 1) and 1 on turn 3 (they get 1 on turn 3) - so they have enough reinforcement cards to play their max. Why would they want to pick card 4 instead of some other card? Can someone who knows the game well explain this?

Thanks


Because the card they receive on Turn 3, (card #3) is received at the END of that turn, and so can't be played until turn 4. Thus, if they draw card #4 as their nominated card they will have a reinforcement card to play on turn 3.

Other cards that are worth a thought are "People's Militia", so that you can start building trenches as early as possible, and one of the removable combat cards, so it can be played on Turn 1.
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John P
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Is Strategic Withdrawal or Lend Lease worth picking as the first card? People's Militia is another I thought of but playing Strategic Withdrawal on round 1 of summer 41 would let SU retreat all summer w/o paying ops right?

Or is there some drawback to picking and playing Strategic withdrawal on round 1 of Summer 41?
 
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antonio zarate
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Hello all,

Long time since last message.
I would like, if possible, to open again the debate about the choice of initial Russian hand.

In my opinión, card 4 is very useful to stop the "German push", but i agree with the option of getting Strategic withdrowal as a very poweful oportunity to form a strong defense and avoid attrition what do you think?

Thank you,
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