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A review of the Stalingrad: 1942-1943 boxed set

1 год 10 мес. назад#48223от JonDee
JonDee создал эту тему: A review of the Stalingrad: 1942-1943 boxed set
Here is a copy of my English-language review of Stalingrad: 1942-1943 which I posted on BoardGameGeek, HERE.

Russian miniatures-and-games company Zvezda has just released the latest boxed set in their Art of Tactic World War II series: “World War II: Stalingrad 1942-1943", which I'm calling "Battle for Stalingrad” here.

When I first saw early information about the set’s contents, I knew I would have to evaluate this game from two different directions. First: how well did Zvezda accomplish what they set out to do? Second: how well did they accomplish what I had hoped for them to do?

The Battle for Stalingrad game box

Setup for Scenario 1

Ever since I started playing Zvezda’s WW II series, I’ve been waiting to see their treatment of Stalingrad. It would be a chance to see a native Russian game company’s portrayal of that infamous, sprawling, epic, and horrifying battle amongst the rubble of a bombed-out city. I wanted to recreate the bitter contest between exhausted, starving men locked in a terrifying struggle, pushed to the limit, ill-equipped and desperate yet fiercely resolute to the end.

Let me start by saying at the outset: this is not that game. As a representation of the cataclysmic Battle for Stalingrad and everything most people associate with that terrible cauldron, I think this game fails badly. This is partly due to the tiny handful of units in the box that are used to portray such a titanic struggle. It’s also because there are no new rules provided to capture the special tactical and logistical challenges that loomed over the battle. In this regard, the game is a lost opportunity.

But… that said, it’s clear that Zvezda never set out to make the game that I had in my mind. Like last year’s Battle for Moscow, the game visits some of the very broad historical phases of the whole battle around Stalingrad in an abstracted way, using just a handful of models to represent elements of a whole army. It dutifully ticks the box in Zvezda’s chronological treatment of the major conflicts on the Eastern front; but nothing particularly sets this battle apart from others we’ve seen for the system… except that it employs significantly fewer units.

The Battle for Stalingrad game comes with fewer components than any of the other WW2 starter boxes, heralding what looks like a new streamlined and lower-cost entry strategy for Zvezda. It also costs about $20 less than Battle for Moscow ($60 U.S. retail instead of $80). (And in Russia at least, Zvezda Is re-releasing a smaller version of Battle for Moscow with similarly reduced content and price.) I can understand the business case for this new strategy; but the epic Stalingrad setting might not have been the best time to make that change.

In a way I’m reminded of Zvezda’s “Tank Combat” mini-game. That game included just three tanks per side, and was a good introduction to Art of Tactic because it let players focus on just the rules pertaining to tanks. Battle for Stalingrad offers just five units per side; but these are a nice mix of unit types (HQ, Infantry, a support weapon, an AT gun, and a tank; plus fortifications and minefields in most scenarios). Battle for Stalingrad also provides a more varied environment (because it comes with both summer and winter boards). In a way, I think the best way to approach Battle for Stalingrad is to treat it as “Tank Combat Plus”.

The scenarios that come with the game make good use of the components you do get, and make a point of using the fortification pieces that come with the game and the game's minefield rules. For the first time, the game's scenarios are linked together to form a historical campaign in which units carry forward (in a limited way) with modest benefits to the survivors.

The game comes with three map boards; four sides represent green summer terrain, but the flip sides of two of the boards show winter terrain. The result is the ability to play with two very different environments that allow for different experiences using the small but diverse set of units.

Taken together these positives mean that, if we put the concept of a grand “Stalingrad” game aside, what we have is Zvezda’s best small-scale introduction to Art of Tactic’s World War II system so far.

Right... so who should buy this game?
To save you a long read through the details, let me jump straight to my conclusions about who should, and should not, buy this game:

Are you curious about Zvezda’s Art of Tactic WW2 system? Great; this game is for you. You get small but diverse forces (infantry, AT guns, mortars, command, and tanks); some modest but competent scenarios; and both summer and winter game boards that provide diverse terrain effects. If you’re looking for an introduction to the system, this is the best single box yet.

Are you an Art of Tactic veteran? Cool, this isn’t a bad purchase for you either. Most of the units already came with the Battle for Moscow set, but there are two new, heavy AT guns and a new Pz IV variant. New scenarios, if simple, are always welcome. And the new boards, and the big city in particular, are useful assets when designing your own scenarios.

Are you a keen student of the Stalingrad battle looking for an epic and detailed recreation? Then this game is not for you, since so much that defines that battle is missing here. It’s not that the Art of Tactic system can’t do Stalingrad justice; there are some great, epic, fan-made scenarios on Zvezda’s own Russian-language message board. But within the confines of this scaled-down starter box, there just aren’t enough assets to do the job properly.

The rest of this review is broken down into the following sections:

1. Overview
2. Components
3. Scenarios
4. Gameplay
5. Conclusions

1. Overview
I won’t delve into the rules for Battle for Stalingrad here. They’re the same rules I described in my Barbarossa review HERE, with the third-edition changes I described HERE. Also, for a review of a similar game to compare and contrast, see my Battle for Moscow review from last year HERE.

The Stalingrad components, minus the plastic units themselves and their unit cards.

2. Components
Battle for Stalingrad comes with the following components:

- The third-edition rulebook (the same that came with Battle for Moscow)

- A campaign book comes with six linked scenarios for Battle for Stalingrad. This book also includes a new table of unit costs for everything released so far.

- Dice, a dry-erase marker, and cards for record-keeping within the game.

- Three double-sided map boards, with four summer maps and two winter maps. One of the summer mapboards includes a particularly large multi-hex city.

- A sprue of fortifications (a pillbox, razorwire, tank traps).

- Detailed plastic models and cards to represent the following units:

Soviets: 1 HQ, 1 Infantry, 1 AT Rifle, 1 AT Gun, 1 T-34 tank

Germans: 1 HQ, 1 Infantry, 1 Mortar, 1 AT Gun, 1 Panzer IV tank

The Soviet units in Battle for Stalingrad

The German units in Battle for Stalingrad

As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, the plastic models are excellent, but come as tiny bits on sprues and require careful assembly. Putting these together will require an evening or two before you can play. You’ll need sprue clippers or a sharp hobby knife. Glue isn’t required (everything snaps together), but I recommend it just the same.

All of these units are also available for purchase separately in their own box. Unfortunately, Zvezda has stopped including laminated unit cards with the individual unit boxes; you’ll need to download the card image from the Zvezda website and print the cards yourself.

3. Scenarios
For the first time in Art of Tactic, the six scenarios that come with the game don’t just tell a story with a shared narrative; the scenarios are linked in game terms, with successful units reappearing in some later scenarios with promotions, and in one case with losses subtracting from the forces available in the following scenario. These promotions allow the player to increase a unit’s Accuracy or Defense by 1.

After reading through the campaign book and flipping back and forth a few times, I made the following illustration to capture how the six scenarios are linked together, and what effects carry forward from some scenarios to others:

The linked scenarios of the Battle for Stalingrad Campaign

The scenarios also make a point of using the fortification pieces that come with the game (trenches, AT barriers, razor wire) and minefields, which didn’t always see much use in previous sets even though the pieces to represent them were included. In most scenarios, one or both players can deploy a few of these defenses on the board before the game begins.

Most scenarios are won by destroying the enemy HQ unit. This can be more difficult than it seems, because HQ units in Art of Tactic have the Concealment ability; you can’t see an enemy HQ unless one of your units is adjacent to it. So some scenarios that look like an easy win on the first turn actually require some determined manoeuver and cat-and-mouse gambles.

Scenario 1: Assault.
The Germans approach Stalingrad and force the Soviets to withdraw to defensive positions within the city.
Duration: 5 turns
Boards: 2 (summer)

Forces: Germans get HQ, Infantry, Mortar, and Panzer IV. Soviets get HQ, Infantry, and AT Rifle; they can also place two minefields, one anti-tank barrier, and four trenches before the game begins.

Objectives: Soviets need to move their HQ into a nearby city hex “by” Turn 5. Germans need to destroy the Soviet HQ by Turn 5, OR ensure that there are no Soviet units in the city hex *at* the end of Turn 5. Units destroyed here aren’t available in Scenario 2.

Comments: The victory conditions seem to allow both sides to win (Soviets get HQ to hex before turn 5; is then killed before turn 5, or Germans eliminate all Soviets from that hex by end of Turn 5.

Scenario 2: Not One Step Back!
Germans push the Soviets from the suburbs back into the heart of the city.
Duration: unlimited
Boards: 3 (summer)

Forces: All (minus any units lost in Scenario 1). Survivors from Scenario 1 are upgraded.

Germans place two AT barriers, two trenches, and two minefields before the game begins. Soviets place two minefields and two trenches before the game begins.

Objectives: each side must eliminate the enemy HQ. The game continues until this is achieved by one side.

Scenario 3: Interception
Soviet infantry have captured a pilot and plans from a crashed German plane, and must get them to HQ.
Duration: unlimited
Boards: 3 (summer)

Forces: All. Forces in this scenario are not affected by the outcome of previous scenarios.

Objectives: Soviets must move their Infantry into the same hex as the Soviet HQ on the other side of the board (which can also move to meet the infantry). The Soviet HQ with the prize must reach a particular hex near its starting point. Germans must prevent this.

The outcome of the game affects the setup for Scenario 5.

Scenario 4: Urban Combat
Germans deep in the city are attacked from behind by Soviet reinforcements.
Duration: unlimited
Boards: 3 (summer)

Forces: All, with those that survived Scenario 2 on the winning side gaining upgrades.

Objectives: Destroy the enemy HQ.

Survivors reappear in Scenario 6.

Scenario 5: Counterassault
While the main German forces continue the fight in Stalingrad, Soviets make a winter counterattack against the German army’s weakened flanks.
Duration: 10 turns
Boards: 2 (winter)

Forces: All. The winner of Scenario 3 can upgrade any two units, and places one pillbox, two AT barriers, four trenches, and two barbed wire sections.

Objectives: destroy the enemy HQ.

The outcome of the game affects the setup for Scenario 6.

Scenario 6: Encirclement
German reinforcements attack Soviet defenders in an attempt to relieve their comrades trapped in Stalingrad
Duration: unlimited
Boards: 2 (winter)

Forces: all. The winner of Scenario 4 upgrades any two of his units. The winner of Scenario 5 removes any single of his opponent’s units (except the HQ) before the game begins, OR places one AT barrier, four trenches, and two barbed wire sections.

Objectives: Destroy the enemy HQ.

4. Gameplay
Gameplay is much like previous starter sets, but with the following points:

a. These scenarios are small enough that experienced players should complete each one within 90 minutes, including game setup. While the small size of forces will feel limiting to veterans, it does mean that novices don’t have too much to keep track of and are less likely to be put off by the task of writing orders for each unit each turn.

b. The repeated use of the same small force mix in almost every scenario, and the repeated use of the “kill the HQ” victory condition, do make the scenarios kind of repetitive. Of course, the campaign system means that some of these units will be promoted and that can change from one play to another. But for the most part you’re solving a similar tactical puzzle several time using the same pieces.

c. The absence of trucks means that, like with Battle for Moscow, there’s no access to ammunition resupply. All units have exactly 10 points of ammo for the full game. This limits the use of Suppressive Fire (or else makes the 0-ammo state more common, particularly for tanks). That’s probably a good thing, particularly for scenarios of this small size. But it highlights the way these small scenarios represent only a small subset of the wide and interesting possibilities with the Art of Tactic WW2 system.

d. I really like the mix of summer and winter boards. Winter makes a huge difference in movement and the pace of a battle (when your normal move is 2, a -1 penalty is a big deal). The mix of seasons in the boards makes for surprisingly different performance for the same units.

e. I also really like the conspicuous use of fortifications in these scenarios. These cool and useful game pieces often languished unused in Zvezda’s other WW2 sets. This time some are used in almost every scenario, and players have a lot (though not total) freedom in where to place them. Good choice.

f. The campaign system is simple, but well suited to the game. The benefits to upgraded units are modest but still significant; and the designers have been careful to avoid a campaign system that penalized losses too harshly and thereby handed inevitable victories to the winner of early games.

5. Conclusions
In a way I’ve written this review backwards, because I already presented my most meaningful conclusions at the start in my list of who probably will, and will not, enjoy the game.

And to repeat my very first point: if you approach this game with Zvezda’s own mindset, looking for an introductory game for Art of Tactic with a low cost of entry and a light burden of unit management, then I think they’ve largely succeeded at what they set out to do.

But still, I pine after the game I hoped this would be: something more epic, and something more tied to the unique and infamously horrific conditions of the real Battle for Stalingrad. I understand that given the Art of Tactic game’s overall scale, it won’t be representing house-to-house fighting. But a Stalingrad game that doesn’t feature the Volga anywhere is a bit... thin.

Maybe a more creative and daring Zvezda could have really seized this opportunity to innovate within their system, and either a) changed the scale of the game to represent street-level fighting using the same units on close-up maps (wouldn’t that be cool!), or b) introduced new rules to represent the logistical challenges, desperate circumstances, and the sometimes fanatical and heroic acts of attack and defense for which this battle is known. Ideally…both.

As things stand, I find that Battle for Stalingrad makes a pretty good starter set for Art of Tactic; in that way, this set works. But for me, it’s disappointing as a historical recreation of the battle whose famous name appears on the box.

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1 год 10 мес. назад#48224от JonDee
JonDee ответил в теме Re: A review of the Stalingrad: 1942-1943 boxed set
One of the oddball considerations with Battle for Stalingrad is that even though most of the units are dressed for winter (because they're re-using the models made for the all-Winter Battle for Moscow), 2/3 of the scenarios are played on green summer maps.

When painting up the units that came in the box, I tried to make bases that would serve both purposes. The full-winter bases I used for Battle for Moscow would look pretty silly on the dark green summer boards.

So while I started the bases for summer (lots of dark brown), I used a rather dead-looking type of grass; and I added some little piles of snow to winter-ify the summer bases, maybe suggesting early winter half-melted snow.

Not a perfect result, but not a bad compromise.

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1 год 10 мес. назад#48271от slflycat
slflycat ответил в теме Re: A review of the Stalingrad: 1942-1943 boxed set
Very nice review.

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