a Brief Review of Drive on Stalingrad by Mark Mokszycki
This review is for the Decision Games version by Ty Bomba. The old version borders on broken.
This newer version features a drop dead gorgeous Mas Yamazaki map (2 mapsheets, actually) and counters that are colorful and functional even if rather plain. I wish the counters were not die cut with 8 points of attachment... this means more dogears to clip, and when you're all done they still don't look as nice as normal counters. But this is a minor gripe.
(edit on 1-4-08: It has been brought to my attention that many people do not like the maps, with some even calling them "ugly." Everyone is entitled to their opinion. The maps are not busy or complex, but I found the spare and subtle textures very soothing and pleasant. They also have a distinct Japanese style that reminds me of watercolors. I personally love the look, but the reader may agree to disagree with me.)
The game play is sleek and elegant, with minimal rules and details so you can get right into the action. Still, it does a reasonable job of simulating the overall feel of these actions. There are actually two games in one here... the drive itself, and a seperate game that covers the Germans' fighting retreat from Stalingrad and the attempt to break out of the pocket.
Some folks complain about the treatment of the axis satellite troops (Rumanians, Hungarians, and Italians) who all receive just one step and a variable defense factor (roll a die when attacked!). I didn't mind this aspect too much. It's just a game, after all, and the uncertainly of how the Axis minors will perform during each combat just helps to capture the tension the Germans face. Taken as a simulation, this could be a justified complaint. But taken as a light beer-and-pretzels style game, the uncertainty adds to the experience.
The quick and easy rules have disadvantages. The units are fairly generic, and the game can feel a bit dry at times. But I will gladly make these sacrfices for the sake of playability, and the game certainly plays quickly for one with 400+ pieces! In fact, it probably wins the award for fastest game time relative to sheer number of units. If I'm in the mood for playing a detailed simulation, I wouldn't choose this title. But for a relatively quick, fun game that can be taught within ten minutes and played to completion in a couple sessions, you can't beat this one. It would also be good for introducing newbies to the wargaming hobby, although the large number of pieces (and the stacking limits of 8 units per hex... 11 for the Soviets if 3 of these are artillery!) might scare away newcomes.
There isn't a lot new here, but Ty manages to add enough nuances to the rules to create a rather unique experience. For example, there are no ZOCs for supply or movement, thus players are encouraged to create an unbroken line of units across the front.
Attacks are never mandatory, and units are halved when attacking across rivers, excepting artillery which attacks at full strength across rivers (and at this scale, artillery may only attack adjacent enemies). At some random point during the Operation Uranus scenario a freeze will occur, and then rivers are treated as non-existant, and marsh is treated as clear. Nice touches, if not overly original.
I especially like the mechanic whereby players may choose to move then attack, or attack then move. Germans, by default, move then attack, and they are penalized slightly if they choose the opposite order. Soviets on the other hand attack then move by default, and are penalized slightly if they move then attack. Nice touch which helps to capture the feel of the differing capabilities of these two armies, and without bogging us down in loads of additional rules.
Supply is another unique aspect of the rules that I really like. There is no supply phase. Instead, supply is determined at the instant of movement or combat. To be in supply, units must trace along a "chain" of supply nodes (towns or cities), tracing no more than 7 hexes from one node to another, back to an "ultimate supply source." This puts a premium on control of certain critical towns, and creates a real reason for player to try to capture them other than just to earn victory points, as in most games. I like it.
Out of supply units have combat and movement values halved (nothing new there) except that once per game turn the Germans can place an aerial supply marker on a hex, which puts it and all adjacent hexes in supply for movement and defense purposes only for a game turn. Nice touch. This means that Germans caught in the pocket, for example, will be forming some rather large, powerful stacks, but then attacking a half each turn as they attempt to break out. But the instantaneous supply determination also means that if a break is created anywhere such that the surrounded units can trace 7 hexes to a supply "node" they are back in supply for making their attack. Thus order of attacks and careful planning is necessary. This adds surprising depth of strategy to a game with such simple rules.
I recommend this game to anyone with an interest in the campaign for Stalingrad and the subsequent fighting retreat to Kharkov/ Stalino / Rostov... UNLESS that person is looking for exacting detail. This is more of a strategy game than a detailed simulation, so true grognards be warned. I also recommend it to new wargamers, unless they find the 400+ pieces intimidating.
My overall rating: 9 / 10
Complexity: about 3 or 4 / 10 (the Operation Uranus game is about a 3, the Operation Blue game is about a 4)
- Last edited Sat Jan 5, 2008 5:34 am (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Wed Nov 1, 2006 12:25 am
Great review. The maps are definitely not "ugly" aesthetically nor functionally. Very clean and actually very standard wargame maps...if they are ugly then so are half or more of all the maps by Youst or Simmonitch.