Tag Archives: game

Scenario Review – Ingermanland

Ingermanland is an odd little scenario from the Operation Barbarossa campaign in Campaign Book 1, for Memoir ’44.  Two weak forces duke it out in ugly terrain, and a single good move from either side can swing the battle in one direction or the other.  I quite like the scenario, but it has proven divisive.  My regular gaming partner hates it.

Outrunning its air cover, Kampfgruppe Raus pressed north from the newly captured town of Ostrov into the woods and swamps between the lakes Peipus and Il’men. Remnants of the Red Army and partisans in the woods, by now short of armored vehicles used other methods to harass the German advance. They employed snipers, minefields, abatis (trees bent, shaped, and cut to block roads and paths), and other obstacles to delay the Panzers’ advance. Isolated Russian KV-1 tanks roamed the woods threatening German supply lines, and then became giant metal pillboxes when they ran out of petrol. Von Leeb wrote in his diary that “the Russians defend every step.” The Kampfgruppe attempted to push through heavily defended woods to the north of Lake Samro in an effort to break out into open territory where their superiority in armor could impact the conflict.

Here’s a photo of the map.

Ingermanland

Note the three Russian snipers.  It’s that sort of map.  The Russians have an incredibly small and weak force, and they can’t really take many losses.  This is compounded by the fact that half the Russian backfield is an exit zone for the Germans.  On the other hand, the German force needs to hit in a concentrated fashion that is incredibly hard to do.

The Germans need to move up and either park tanks beside the snipers, or kill them outright.  If they get lucky and roll those grenades, the whole character of the map changes.  On the other hand, if the Russians can knock out the German artillery with sniper fire and maul the German infantry before it comes into attack range, then the game becomes very hard for the Germans. As Russians, I always had the feeling of impending doom.  If the German player has the cards, he or she can push hard in a single sector, and take advantage of the exit zone to get an unstoppable victory.  However, it’s bloody hard for the German player to actually pull that off.

I must admit that this map is rather controversial.  My regular gaming partner does not like it at all, and is convinced that it should be a Russian Turkey Shoot in most cases.  In his opinion, the Russian player needs only pull back, and mangle the Germans with long-range sniper fire.  To prove the point, he mopped the floor with my German army in our second test game last week, losing only a single unit in the process.  This, of course, was just after a nail-biter of a game in which I just barely held off his final advance on the Russian left flank.  I think it’s actually fairly well balanced, given competent play on both sides.  Days of Wonder Online supports neither of us, giving it a 43/57 split in favor of the Germans.  Try it out, and form your own opinion.

General Evaluation – 3/5 – This is too odd and too controversial to score any higher.  Players who love plodding plink-fests where neither side has good options (such as myself!) may love it, while other players may hate it.

Balance Evaluation – ? – As described above, I can’t find a consensus opinion on the matter.

First-Turn Win Possibility – None – Neither side has anything approaching the force to win a quick victory.

Plink-Fest Danger – High – If the battle becomes a close-quarters fight, the Germans have, in all likelihood, already won.

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Scenario Review – Staraya Russa

Staraya Russa is an Eastern Front scenario from Campaign Book v. 1 for Memoir ’44.  It’s a Soviet counter-attack on German positions in the first year of the war, as the Germans were pushing towards Leningrad, and it’s interesting for several reasons.  First off, it’s incredibly balanced for an Operation Barbarossa scenario, and is interesting to play for both the Germans and the Russians.  Second, it’s a good example of a low-unit-count scenario, where neither side has an overwhelming force and must make real strategic decisions.  Third, it’s got a really good mix of open fields and forested cover, an just exactly the right number of tanks – one each.  Finally, it’s got Russian cavalry, and as I’ve said before, any scenario with cavalry is a ton of fun.

The Northwest Front, under the energetic Chief of Staff Vatutin, decided to attack the Axis forces south of Staraya Russa. It was hoped that this would divert Army Group North’s energies away from Leningrad. Indeed, von Leeb over-reacted to the Soviet attack and diverted elements of the LVI Panzer Corps to help stabilize the front. The LVI Panzer Corps met an attack made up largely of cavalry because the Soviets were increasingly reliant upon cavalry to provide mobility to their forces due to the rapid depletion of their tank forces.

Here’s my bad photo of the map.

Staraya Russa

Note the dug-in Germans on the Russian left flank, in front of the town with a victory medal.  In every game I’ve played, that has ended up the central engagement.  The Russians will move units forward into those forests to begin an assault, and the Germans will counter by moving up to flush them out.  On the Russian right flank, there is a much more favorable situation for the Russians, as only a few scattered German infantry protect the medal at the town of Staraya Russa.  However, the difficulties of moving standard infantry up that far tend to discourage the Russian player from choosing this route.  It’s far easier, and more fun, to dash up with the cavalry and go for the other town.

At first glance, it doesn’t look like the Germans have much of a chance, as the force balance is so heavily in favor of the Russians.  However, this is a 5 medal map, and in these situations the total force size matters a lot less than where the first engagement begins, and who brings what to the fight.  Furthermore, the Russian cavalry units sacrifice firepower for mobility, and as a result the Russian force is not quite as strong as it may seem – at least against dug in units.  A few lucky rolls either way, especially once the tanks come out to play, can rapidly shift this map in either direction.

Like a lot of the maps from the Operation Barbarossa campaign in the first campaign book, this is not a beginner map.  This is a map for canny veteran players, who know how to use their units and know how to avoid the obvious, yet stupid, move.  I had good memories of this map as soon as I looked at it yesterday, having played it at least 4 or 5 times last year, and my most recent play session validated them entirely.  This is a great map.

Overall Evaluation – 5/5 – This is a balanced, tense, and enjoyable map.

Balance Evaluation – Even – Despite first appearances, neither side has a massive advantage.

First-Turn win possibility – None – Neither side has units that are ready and able to deal a major first turn blow.

Plink-Fest Danger – None – There’s just no incentive to sit and plink at distance, as both sides have only the one tank.

Scenario Review – Operation Seydlitz

Operation Seydlitz is a scenario from the Equipment Pack for Memoir ’44.   This is a battle on the East Front, taking place during the German drive towards Stalingrad.  As with many of the scenarios from the Equipment Pack, it has its problems, but manages to be a bit more fun than many of the others because it is quick, and has lots of cavalry.

July 1942 – Having survived the Soviet winter offensive, the Germans set about eradicating enemy forces far in their rear. Assembling a formidable collection of Infantry, Armor and Mounted units near the River Luchesa, they opened the attack with an intense Artillery bombardment on the dug-in Russian defenders. The German Cavalry brigade, assembled from reconnaissance battalions, used its superior mobility to outflank the Russian line, while German Armor and Infantry were able to successfully negotiate the Russian minefields. Caught in the middle, the Soviet forces soon began to collapse.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

Like all the scenarios from the Equipment Pack, the map is not available online.   Here’s a bad photograph.

Seydlitz

There are two important things to note about this setup.  First, the Germans have a nearly overwhelming firepower advantage against an enemy in fairly fixed positions.  The German artillery and mortar can plink the Russian front line to death with minimal risk.  The second thing to note is that the German player has three cavalry units on his right flank.

Cavalry is one of my favorite units, because they can do absolutely nothing but charge.  Thanks to their 2/1 attack rating, Cavalry are totally useless at range – but the itch to use them is so great that many players will throw them forward at the enemy even if that’s really not the best idea.  I’ve played this map a few times, and have not once seen the Cavalry held back.  Furthermore, they can actually accomplish quite a bit, all on their own.  With a little bit of support, the German cavalry can roll up the Russians on that flank, and go straight for the artillery.  With our House Rules in effect, Cavalry are the single best unit for killing Artillery, and knocking out the Russian artillery will almost guarantee a German victory.

So, this map can go one of two ways.  A cautious and serious German player will slowly move up units in the center, and plink the Russian front line to death.  A crazy German player will open up with a Cavalry charge.  In either case, the Germans are likely to win.  It’s just horribly imbalanced.

However, the odds are so obviously stacked against the Russians, especially given the 5 medal victory count, that there’s little incentive for the Russian player to be conservative.  Any map that creates a situation where both sides are crazily aggressive is bound to be fun, and this map delivers.

Operation Seydlitz is a quick and silly refresher between more serious maps.

General Evaluation – 3/5 – This can be a quick and fun map, or it can be a painfully brutal slog of attrition.

Balance Evaluation – Strongly German Favored – The Russian player has little prospect for victory no matter what the Germans do.

First-Turn Win Possibility – Minor – I suppose that the Germans could open with a Direct from HQ, take out the Russian bunker with their cavalry and artillery, and start the game with 2 medals.  But that’s pretty unlikely, and there are no other quick winning moves available to either side.

Plink-Fest Danger – High – A boring German player could use his mortar and artillery and tank to slowly batter the Russians to death, and there’s little the Russian player could do about it.

Scenario Review – Pavlov Hero of the Soviet Union

Pavlov – Hero of the Soviet Union is another grueling Stalingrad map for Memoir ’44‘s East Front expansion.  The Germans have to fight through a ton of rubble, but the promise of a ton of medals makes the fight worthwhile.  Pavlov’s House was one of my favorite maps on Red Orchestra, so I was super excited to try out this map – and it was a worthwhile experience.

The fighting for control of downtown Stalingrad raged on for days. Battle lines vanished. The armor-supported mobility that the German soldiers had been accustomed to during their rapid progression across the Russian steppe soon degenerated into the utter chaos and madness of urban combat as Soviet troops “hugged” their enemy to death. Each street leading to Red Square became a battlefield… and each building surrounding the square a fortress.

The ?9th of January Square?, just north of city center, was one of these lethal, vicious hot spots. Soviet troops, under the command of Junior Sgt. Yakov Pavlov, barricaded themselves in a four-story apartment building – surrounding themselves with minefields and barbed wire. Each time German infantry or tanks tried to cross the square, Pavlov’s anti-tank gunners laid down a withering fire, beating back one assault wave after another. After each German attack, his men had to run out and kick down piles of German corpses to keep clear firing lines across the square. Sgt. Pavlov was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union for his actions and, months after the battle, Chuikov would still joke that “more Germans died trying to capture Pavlov’s House than died capturing Paris”.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

This scenario was originally included in the Sword of Stalingrad battle map pack, and as such is not available online.  Given the incredibly limited print run these scenarios had, and the fact that they’ve been out of print for years, Days of Wonder should really make them available online.  Here’s my bad photo of the layout.

Pavlov's House

The Germans start out with a moderately superior force, but it’s jammed up against the baseline in fire range of the Russian artillery and snipers.  The German left flank is in a particularly ugly position, with a number of units in the second row that cannot retreat.  If the Russian player is rich in multi-regional cards, he or she can tear the German force to pieces before the attack even begins.

However, a strong assault by the Germans on their right flank can quickly turn things around for the Germans.  They have the units and the firepower to quickly push the Russians out of their front-line positions.  Once that happens, the German can leverage their superior firepower to wear down the Russian forces around the square, and then move in to take a number of victory medals.  In particular, if the German player can take out the Russian artillery unit fortified behind the square, then he or she is quite likely to win.

On the other hand, if the German player suffers from bad dice or a bad hand at the start, things can quickly turn ugly.  Every turn the Germans are stuck engaging the Russian front-line forces, their chance of victory pulls further and further away.  It is entirely possible for the Russian player to beat the Germans on their baseline.

We played this game three times, the first time with me playing Russians, and the second two times with me as German.  A video of that first game will go up shortly.  I lost all three games.  The first game was very tight.  The German player made substantial progress on the German right flank, but I took a serious lead in medals.  However, the German player moved up with his tanks to take medals in the Russian backfield, and my bad hand didn’t allow me to either repel the Armor advance, or to get the final winning medal off long-range artillery plinks.  The second and third were pathetic humiliations.  My German forces had decided to pack rubber bullets, which did minimal damage to the Russian forces.  Both games were brutal Russian romps, where were not in doubt after the third turn.

This is a good map.

Overall Evaluation – 4/5 – If the German player does not have at least average cards and dice in the first two turns of this game, he or she will likely lose in a slow and humiliating manner.  This super-critical early game prevents me from giving this otherwise excellent scenario the highest marks.

Balance Evaluation – Slightly Russian Favored – For the reasons explained above.  DoW Online has this at 55/45 Russians, which sounds about right.

First-Turn Win Possibility – Moderate – As I said, a bad German opening makes victory almost impossible.

Plink-Fest Danger – Mild – Russian artillery and snipers give the Germans an incentive to move up quickly, but in the late game it’s quite likely for the deciding move to be a long-distance plink given the ability of both sides to pull back and hide behind terrain.