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Lawrence Hung
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Wan Chai
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Great magazine great game. The recent gaming experience of Storm over the Reich in January-February itches me to take out this game for a quick fix in April to finish the story - seeing how the German Armies defending their motherland to the very end, whereas the race of the Soviet Red Armies under Zhukov and Konev kept going after the Oder-Vitsula campaign and circling around the Germans for the final push towards the Reich Chancellery.

Physically, the game components are awesome! The smaller than usual size counters, thick and glossy, are lined dark on units' full strength and white on their reduced strength, clearly marked with the standard NATO symbols against the darker red Soviets and lighter field-grey Germans. The 140 counters are die-cut with advanced technology like exact science (i.e. easily punched and no mis-cut) and colors are printed sharply (i.e. no washed-out).

The OOB is a beauty of marvelous manifest, containing some of the SS divisions like Nordland 11SS Pz, Nederland 23SS Pz, 1SS Pz, 10SS Pz, 36SS Pz etc. and Soviet Guard Armies and Guard Tank Armies like 1st Shock Army, 2GTA, 3GA, 3GTA participating in what would otherwise have been known as a keen, area-by-area heated contest between the Germans and the Russians, as well as bold thrusts and races to the prize of the Lenin's Order between two Marshals - Zhukov and Koniev. Some Poles are also involved. The counters' NATO symbols are colored black and white respectively to distinguish units of the two players: that the German units are divided among the two players for resisting the opposing marshal's advance into Berlin. This is a genius design, although it is not something undone before as in the old Battles for Germany game.

Race for Berlin is therefore a competing game between the players as to who reaches Berlin first, shelling and penetrating deep into the city and thus win the game by gaining the 8 VPs first. There are other areas worth of VPs but they are mostly in the western part of the map, captured only when the Soviets extend the operations to the west and encircle Berlin completely.

The map is also smaller with 17*22, which fits nicely onto table of limited space. It divides the Soviet two commanders' areas of operations and cut the map in half approximately, whereas Zhukov is in the north and Koniev in the south. Some people think the zone line is hard to be seen but I generally find the map aesthetically very pleasing. Each terrain area (except for Berlin) is either clear, rough or woods, painted like in field yellow, dirt red and light green respectively. A great applause to the artist, who is the owner/ publisher of the magazine!

Stacking limit on areas east of the Oder and Neisse rivers are unlimited, as well as the Bridgehead already established in set up area E by Zhukov. Otherwise, the stacking limit is 2 units for the Soviet (for a "complete Army" which can offer +1 to combat dieroll) and 3 for the Germans. In Berlin, the German, surprisingly, can only have one unit in each city area.

Each area is numbered individually, so as to restrict Germans movement towards lower numbers unless they can pass a dieroll half of the times (on average, with increasing chance as time passes). This is a brilliant rule to simulate Hitler's resistance and refusal to deny request to withdrawal by the local commanders. Until turn 5, a specific phase of "Orders from Hitler" occasionally calls for counterattack 1 in 3 chance every turn, although there is no penalty if the player fails to conduct such attack. Anyway, it is unlikely that there is no German unit in an area adjacent to Soviet units.

Although Zhukov's units in the north are beginning nearer to Berlin than those of Koniev, he faces mostly rough terrain which gives double defense strength to the Germans. Koniev, on the other hand, advances along the Triebel-Zossen-Temperlhol main road, moving at 1/2 MP cost. If the Germans build up heavy defense forces along the main road behind the Defense Line (fortified line), Koniev might need to span out a bit his flank but then he would have to cross two major rivers: Neisse and Spree. No matter what, Berlin is just like a city being clasped in two gigantic hands.

The game is not without some minor quibbles: difficult terrain not defined clearly in the rules (only rough areas are "difficult", not woods as clarified by the designer here in BGG), not enough Into Berlin progress level markers for the 6 city areas (there are only three starting level 1 markers but six level 2 markers!), and whether discarding of event during the event segment without playing it is allowed by the rules. At times, it is quite busy to rotate the units to indicate they have been activated and done something. At the end of turn, they should be rotated back to restore to normal. This is resolved by the Vassal module with a single button.

The U.S. advance is represented in the game, though it is quite abstract. The advance is dependent on a dieroll result based on the turn number, with a decreasing chance to advance as time moves on. The main purpose of its advance is to capture the areas with victory points along the U.S. advance track, taking them away from the Soviets. The U.S. can also advance with the play of the historical event chit "The Allies push towards Berlin".

There are event chits to bring out the historical events. The chits are drawn one each every turn, unless you already have one in hand in the beginning of the turn. You can play the event or not until the right time to play. That means, you have, at any one time, one historical event chit plus the initial "Henrici" chit. Henrici allows the German retreat without taking losses from the combat result. You pass the chit to the opponent player if you use it though. A good player will determine when it is the time to use it for the Germans under his control but not too late when there is no further room to retreat with Berlin just behind. Other historical events like Speer and Henrici try to save Berlin (-10 to Berlin garrison value, favors the Soviet), Everyone to the Front (Zhukov intensified attack efforts, +2DRM to each Soviet army combat and placed in reserve after the combat), Surprise counter-attack (double German unit strength) etc. While they are not game changing, they add splendidly to the feel of the game.

Units are tracing supply line free of enemy units to a supply source. Zhukov units cannot trace to Koniev supply source, nor through Koniev units and vice versa. Quite interestingly, supply line cannot trace through empty zone adjacent to a zone containing enemy unit. A careful retreating German deployment is therefore crucial to delay the Soviet units. An OOS unit can move one zone maximum and fight at half strength. It cannot be placed in reserve mode too (unit that can move half of its movement points). I find this mode is useful for exploiting advance after combat, subject to stacking limit. However, I don't find the reason why I don't activate a unit to combat to achieve maximum odds in the first place.

Activation is made by a group of 4 units each time. Zhukov units are activated first, then Koniev units and German units in the north under his control facing Zhukov, then Zhukov player's German units in the south. So the Koniev player is kind of having a back-to-back activation in each turn. After all 4 parts on the map are activated, a dieroll test is performed to see if the turn continues - the turn ends when the dieroll is less than or equal to the current number of operation phase conducted so far, with an extended operations in turn 1 of +2 to the dieroll because the Soviets are well prepared for beginning the onslaughts. Apart from the dieroll test to end a turn, similarly, a dieroll test to end the whole game is made starting turn 7, with DRM to the die for each zone with a progress level. VPs are tallied at that time and whoever gets 8 VPs first is proclaimed the winner.

The Combat Results Table is constructed delicately with the DRMs to modify the results and at the same time, encouraging certain historical tactics by both players. For examples, other than the usual terrain benefit in woods (-1 to the defender), +1 DRM each if the attacks are made from two adjacent zones, and if the Soviet units from the same Army are attacking as a "complete" Army against the same target zone. It would be +2 if at least one armor unit is attacking into a clear terrain zone while the defender doesn't have any armor unit. But it is seldom to find a place that is of clear terrain in the eastern part of the map.

Combat in Berlin is a bit different than the normal. It is called "Progress into Berlin". It simulates the level of damages done by the Soviets once inside the city, using the City Progress CRT. The dieroll is modified by the usual "complete" Soviet Army, adjacent friendly-controlled unit, or "support point", which is obtained by voluntarily OOS some of the Soviet units...handsomely handling the city-fights without doing too many complicated rules.

After all, is it a good game? It is a definite yes. The game is saturated with many bright spots that are easy to implement and remember. Chromes, but not necessarily heavy, achieve the objective to reflect on this bitter part of the history on the Germans. It might be grim and sullen for the Germans but the game puts, quite intelligently, both players into a share of it. Players have to give thoughts to place the units into well-chosen places/ zones in order to maximize the chances to attack and defend successfully. Some people might feel the overall strategic situation is still quite constricted to a certain pattern or confined to a certain path. But it is mostly due to the use of areas map rather than hex map for a magazine game, offering a short but competitive and intensive gameplay in one day. I recommend the game.
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Francois-Xavier Euzet
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happy that you liked the game

just to answer your inquiries
Lawrence Hung wrote:

In Berlin, the German, surprisingly, can only have one unit in each city area.

this is for 2 things
- the first one was to forbid the players to retreat all units into Berlin at the first moment the front line is breached, which is a natural movement considering the victory conditions. this would have been a game breaker.
- the second one is that it would have been simply ahistorical since Hitler forbid all units to defend into the city as the soviets had to be repulsed before they arrived at Berlin. The German retreat into Berlin was the natural retreat only when Hitler lost command (due to battle confusion) and because the situation became desesperate.

Lawrence Hung wrote:

The game is not without some minor quibbles: difficult terrain not defined clearly in the rules (only rough areas are "difficult", not woods as clarified by the designer here in BGG)

well it is a translation problem. in fact there is only one type of terrain and rough and difficult designate the same terrain. In french (the original game langage) there was only 1 such type of terrain, and only during the translation this appeared. You can read rough or difficult, both these terms apply to the same terrain type. Sorry for this.

Lawrence Hung wrote:

not enough Into Berlin progress level markers for the 6 city areas (there are only three starting level 1 markers but six level 2 markers!)

well the tests showed that the city progress 1 were not the most used as you tend not to stay at this level since at 1 you don't control the area. You usualy go quickly to the level 2 (and this is why there is 6 level 2 as most area tend to stay at this level). This is why there are only 4 level one marker. I unfortunately had to make a choice as to make all this enter in the 140 countersheet.

Lawrence Hung wrote:

and whether discarding of event during the event segment without playing it is allowed by the rules.

it is indicated in 5.5 you can discard an event without using it at the end of the turn if you whant.

Lawrence Hung wrote:

Quite interestingly, supply line cannot trace through empty zone adjacent to a zone containing enemy unit.

well at first it was possible but during test we had odd situation because of this. At the first time you had a small breach in the front line you had units going behind the lines and staying there as there was never enough germans to fill the gap. with this you had entire soviet army in supply just because of a gap concealed deep in the forest and nobody to guard the supply path. With this rule the soviet (and mostly the Koniev's soviets) has to guard the hole in the front for supply which was not the case before

Lawrence Hung wrote:

However, I don't find the reason why I don't activate a unit to combat to achieve maximum odds in the first place.

the problem is usualy not the odd in itself but the occupation of the terrain. Reserve is first to simulate a real soviet doctrine (the units that exploit are not the one that makes the breach, they wait behind), and second to forces you to play with reserves to exploit real breaches. This rule is the best way for Koniev to win as he has the most terrain to go through before getting to Berlin. If he uses it at the right time he can be able to progress fast and get to the town first.

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Lawrence Hung
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Wan Chai
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FX Euzet wrote:

Lawrence Hung wrote:

However, I don't find the reason why I don't activate a unit to combat to achieve maximum odds in the first place.

the problem is usualy not the odd in itself but the occupation of the terrain. Reserve is first to simulate a real soviet doctrine (the units that exploit are not the one that makes the breach, they wait behind), and second to forces you to play with reserves to exploit real breaches. This rule is the best way for Koniev to win as he has the most terrain to go through before getting to Berlin. If he uses it at the right time he can be able to progress fast and get to the town first.



In actual gameplay, at least in the beginning, I find the Soviet hard to combat at favorable odds and be able to make the German retreat for the reserve to advance. Due to stacking limit on a maximum of 2 Soviet units in the west of the Oder-Niesse river, the best they can do is to advance the remaining ONE reserve unit and then make an advance movement at halving movement speed. The areas in the beginning are quite evenly populated with German defending units. To be able to exploit that advance well, a player should exercise skilful movement, combat and reserve mode sequencing.
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Francois-Xavier Euzet
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Lawrence Hung wrote:
FX Euzet wrote:

Lawrence Hung wrote:

However, I don't find the reason why I don't activate a unit to combat to achieve maximum odds in the first place.

the problem is usualy not the odd in itself but the occupation of the terrain. Reserve is first to simulate a real soviet doctrine (the units that exploit are not the one that makes the breach, they wait behind), and second to forces you to play with reserves to exploit real breaches. This rule is the best way for Koniev to win as he has the most terrain to go through before getting to Berlin. If he uses it at the right time he can be able to progress fast and get to the town first.



In actual gameplay, at least in the beginning, I find the Soviet hard to combat at favorable odds and be able to make the German retreat for the reserve to advance. Due to stacking limit on a maximum of 2 Soviet units in the west of the Oder-Niesse river, the best they can do is to advance the remaining ONE reserve unit and then make an advance movement at halving movement speed. The areas in the beginning are quite evenly populated with German defending units. To be able to exploit that advance well, a player should exercise skilful movement, combat and reserve mode sequencing.

you are right, reserve is more usefull once you have breach the line for real, not a t the beginning. But once there are less german unit, especialy in the south, you can pierce and maintain a breach for the entire army to pass. Reserve is more for the south than the north, even if I used it sometimes to get out of this damn rough terrain in the north. and due to their force, one soviet unit is quite hard for the german to repulse (except if you have the surprise attack chit in your hand, which tends to help counterattack )
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Barry Kendall
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My copy is ordered (early Jan. '15) and was on the way, but I received an email reporting that the post office at which the game (and other game orders as well) were mailed by the publisher blundered and returned them to sender--AUGGHHH!!!

They are now on the way again, by Priority Mail, and I'm hoping the East Coast Blizzard will not further delay this much-anticipated game. having just watched "Downfall" again (for the fourth time and YES, it is that good!) on New Year's Day I decided that I must play this game.

I hope posting this will "lift the jinx" and I will find my copy in the mailbox tomorrow!

Edit: As of Thursday's delivery, no sign of this piece of Priority Mail. I believe it's coming by rowboat.
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Lawrence Hung
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Wan Chai
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Great to hear you are going to play this on the battle's 70th Anniversary. Race for Berlin is rather strategic-operational in scope. For experiencing the kind of "Downfall" dimming hopelessness, it is more realistic to play ATS: The Fuhrers Bunker – Berlin Red Victory or Berlin: Red Victory. They are simply awesome! devil
 
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Barry Kendall
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Lawrence Hung wrote:
Great to hear you are going to play this on the battle's 70th Anniversary. Race for Berlin is rather strategic-operational in scope. For experiencing the kind of "Downfall" dimming hopelessness, it is more realistic to play ATS: The Fuhrers Bunker – Berlin Red Victory or Berlin: Red Victory. They are simply awesome! devil


Lawrence, I'm not sure if you were addressing this to me, but I sure hope I have it in play by the anniversary!

Thanks for the tips on the tactical game. I'm sure they're really something special to play, but I sold my ASL collection a few years ago; there aren't enough years left in my life to get what I could sell them for, out of them.

I do like the ATO Battle for Berlin game. Years ago, I read of a rumored Berlin game using the "Streets of Stalingrad" system, which would be fabulous, but I've heard nothing of it recently (though I did read of the possibility of another printing of SoS).

There's just something about bringing down the beast, while at the same time, giving credit to the Wehrmacht's grim sense of duty.
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