Ponyri is a classic scenario, the best of the East Front expansion and one of the best official Memoir ’44 scenarios in general. It offers an interesting battle for both the Russian and the German player almost every time. Both sides have significant decisions to make, and multiple strategies for victory. It is deep and rewarding and wonderful.
The village of Ponyri was the focal point of General Walther Model’s planned breakthrough in the area north of Kursk. Three German infantry division were ordered to assault the village, while elements of two Panzer divisions supported the attack. Soviet minefields, intense fire from dug-in tanks and artillery threw the armor back while the village itselve witnessed some of the most bitter hand-to-hand combat of the war.
Hill 253.3 was finally taken and although the German push gained much of the village, the Soviet defense remained strong. The German force was eventually ‘bled white’ in the days of fighting that followed and an effective breakthrough was never achieved.
The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.
The older official scenarios, like this one, are available online, so I am able to provide a proper shot of the map.
The genius of Ponyri is that there is no fore-ordained key engagement. The Germans can initiate contact in any sector, depending on their hand and their gut instincts. Taking on the Russian armor is risky, but if the Russians move out for a counter-attack the tide of battle can qickly turn. Moving one’s infantry into the town will result in a grueling battle, possibly drawing the Russian flanks in towards the center – but this opens opportunities for the Germans to attack on the flanks. Should the Germans move a tank unit onto their left flank, where the Russians are exposed in the open, it can force a dramatic charge by the otherwise static Russian line, or a desperate charge by the Russian armor to force the Germans’ attention elsewhere. There are so many ways the battle can go, and it can shift so quickly from one side to the other, that it is almost always interesting no matter what happens.
Something that the author of this map understood is the function of artillery in a map. Defensive artillery force the offense to move, by allowing the defender to poke at the offensive force, ever so slowly. The attacker HAS to move up and attack, or their force will be rendered unsuitable for offense before the game even begins. Offensive artillery, especially against a fixed defensive line, makes a fixed defensive position untenable, as the attacker can simply sit back and let his or her artillery do the work. On Ponyri, the German player has no artillery, allowing the Russians to make the most of their fixed position, and thus counteracting their small hand and their armor deficit.
We played this scenario twice this week, once from each side. Of course, both of us are quite familiar with the map, having played it before both online and offline. As anyone who’s watched the recent videos can see, I’ve been on an unlucky streak lately – but that turned around big time for our battles at Ponyri. In the first battle, as Russians, my tanks were simply unkillable. The Germans advanced en masse towards the center, and then backed up the attack with a strong armor advance. My infantry and artillery destroyed his infantry as the entered the town, and my armor soaked attack after attack with barely a loss. German offensive futility gave me the time I needed to finally draw a card on the right flank, and to launch a counter-attack with my armor. It was an ugly, quick Russian victory.
The second game, I moved slowly as German, moving up infantry in preparation for a mass Infantry Assault, while moving two tanks into firing range to plink at his infantry on the line. I hoped to draw out his armor, and succeeded. He moved up for a big attack, with mild success, and I countered it with an Assault that almost completely destroyed his armored units. From there on, it was mop up, and I won by moving three infantry into Ponyri itself, seizing the objective medas for the win.
General Evaluation – 5/5 – One of the deepest and most consistently interesting scenarios around.
Balance Evaluation – Slightly Russian favored – The Russians have an advantage, as reflected by the 55/45 ratio reported by DoW. It’s not overwhelming, but it forces the Germans to be daring.
First-Turn Win Possibility – None.
Plink-Fest Danger – None – The Germans have no artillery, forcing them to attack. This is a brilliant design decision which really makes this map fun.