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David G. Cox Esq.
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Drive on Stalingrad
Road to Ruin: The German 1942 Summer Offensive


Two-player WWII Military Simulation
Designed by Brad Hessel
Published by Simulations Publications, Inc. (1977)


It may be exaggeration to call Drive on Stalingrad (DoS) a ‘mini-monster’ game, but it certainly is larger than your average war-game. DoS uses the Panzergruppe Guderian (PGG) system – this salient feature of the PGG is that Soviet units come into the game in an untried state. That is they enter the game face-down – both players know the type of unit and the movement rate of the unit but, until the unit is committed to combat either as the attacker or the defender, neither player knows the combat strength of the unit. Some units have strengths of ‘zero’ while others have strengths as high as ‘ 9’.


Components

There are two 22” b 34” map sheets. The map extends from Saratov in the north to the Caucasus in the south and from Kharkov in the west to the Caspian Sea in the east. The map is typical of SPI at this time – a cream-coloured base with shades of brown, green and blue to represent mountains, rough, light woods, heavy woods and rivers. I find the map to be quite attractive.

The game comes with 600 counters. Most units are divisions and corps. There are some Head Quarters units and the Germans have some armoured regiments. Troop types include infantry, mountain, cavalry, panzer and mechanized.

In addition, there is a Game Turn & Reinforcement Track. The DoS Charts & Tables is a separate sheet that has the Combat Results Table, Terrain Effects Chart, City Victory Points, Hitler Directive Table and Directive Contents Index on one side and Designer’s Notes on the other side. There is also a page of errata – personally I find it stunning to discover, each time, that when T.S.R. republished an S.P.I. game they included the original errata for the game, rather than updating the rules to include the errata – at least it gives a better result than Decision Games when they try to improve an S.P.I. game by changing and making it worse. I have made up my own chart to keep track of the current state of victory points and another chart to keep track of multi-counter units.


Rules

The Sequence of Play is standard for a PGG-type game.

1. Hitler Directive Inter-phase – the German player rolls a die and if he rolls an even number then nothing happens. If he is unlucky enough to roll an odd number he must then make another die to see what orders he receives from Berlin. The Hitler Directives make the game different from many other games using a similar system. It adds an element of realist frustration for the German player as he discovers that his victory conditions can change from turn to turn. It forces him to adopt what may be less than the best strategic options – but that was the curse of German Field-marshals.
2. Axis Movement – all German units may move. Those out of supply have their movement halved and units may conduct over-run combat during movement.
3. Axis Combat – combat between adjacent enemy units is voluntary.
4. Axis Mechanized/Cavalry Movement – Panzer, mechanized, motorized and cavalry units may move again and conduct over-run combat during movement.
5. Disruption Removal – Axis units may remove disruption markers.
6. Air Interdiction – the Axis player may spend air points to place air interdiction markers on the map.
7-11. The Soviet player repeats the previous steps with the exception of the Hitler Directive Inter-phase – the Soviet player is allowed to make his own mistakes without any assistance from Joe Stalin.


Playing the Game

It is a big game with a large map and a lot of counters. I feel that it is difficult for the Axis to win the game. Even though they have a qualitative edge regarding the troops available there are significant factors that they have to cope with. The Hitler Directives will force the Axis player to participate in fights he doesn’t want to and will sometimes limit him so that he is not allowed to make the decisions he would like to – I see this as an interesting feature of the game as you are placed in the role of the Military Commander having to comply with the wishes of your political overlord.

The Soviet player has two other strengths. He has a lot of men – as Stalin said, “Quantity has a quality all of its own.” He also has a good defensible line behind several rivers.

For the German to have a chance of winning he must move fast and hit hard so that the Soviets can’t build a strong line of defence behind a river.

The game runs for 25 turns and will take several sessions to be fought to completion.

If you like the PGG system and are looking for something bigger you may enjoy this game. Like many S.P.I. games it is a simulation first and a balanced game second - there seems to be general agreement that DoS is seriously flawed as a game.

Look at the bright side – if you play the Axis and lose you can always say that you were just following orders.


arrrh “Dead Men Tell No Tales.”
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Pete Belli
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Re: Drive on Stalingrad – A ‘Mini’ Monster Game.
Before brushing the dust off this game it might be a good idea to read the brilliant analysis of Drive On Stalingrad written by Fred Helfferich in F&M #11...


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David G. Cox Esq.
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Re: Drive on Stalingrad – A ‘Mini’ Monster Game.
pete belli wrote:

Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

Before brushing the dust off this game it might be a good idea to read the brilliant analysis of Drive On Stalingrad written by Fred Helfferich in F&M #11...




Is this review accessible on the internet?
 
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David G. Cox Esq.
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Re: Drive on Stalingrad – A ‘Mini’ Monster Game.
Pathirtle wrote:
I've been reading the rules to Decision's remake of DoS, and Ty Bomba makes some very critical remarks about the original in his designer's notes. Have you had a chance to play the newer version, which I understand is a complete re-design?


I have only played the original S.P.I. game.
 
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Darrell Hanning
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Re: Drive on Stalingrad – A ‘Mini’ Monster Game.
Fred Helfferich consistently wrote the most incisive and thorough reviews of wargames I've ever read. I do wish there was a place on the web where they could still be read.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Re: Drive on Stalingrad – A ‘Mini’ Monster Game.
I don't know if I'd like this one (but I do love the cover art), but I enjoyed the Decision Games version.
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Iain K
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Re: Drive on Stalingrad – A ‘Mini’ Monster Game.
da pyrate wrote:


Is this review accessible on the internet?


Sure, on eBay.
 
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Tim A
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Re: Drive on Stalingrad – A ‘Mini’ Monster Game.
This was potentially a great game on a great subject, but turned out to be one of SPI's biggest disasters in terms of game development and final result. There is no easy fix, and with regret I'd caution players that they're wasting their time with this game. I've wasted a lot of my time with it, back in the day, by the way.
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Re: It's Not A Game - It's A Shame!
The conclusion of the F*M article (thanks Mr. Belli!):

"What we have in Drive on Stalingrad is an ideal game situation and an excellent basic game, yet their combination has resulted in neither a good game, nor a valid simulation."

The whole article is a solidly researched and tested testament to a poorly made wargame.

One criticism is that the terrain is completely botched or missing in many areas, and bridges critical in the real campaign are missing.

-------------------

BTW, is there any other game that covers this particular campaign well, or does the most recent reprint fix it?
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Pete Belli
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Re: It's Not A Game - It's A Shame!

The DG reprint is an entirely different game.
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Russell Gifford
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You know, for the record, back in the era of these 'great' F&M reviews, more than once I found I played the game and had a much different response than the F&M review. Often, reading the reviews, I found myself wondering how fast they read the rules, or how much attention they paid to the game because it appeared they missed the points that offered the reasons why something was the way it was. I essentially realized that a bashed game gave more 'credit' to the reviewer than one lauding the game. I often felt the reviewers were too busy deciding how they would bash the game, rather than seeing if they liked it.

Unfortunately, the F&M reviews often became the accepted 'truth' because people read the review rather than playing the game.

This has irritated me in the past, and continues to do so. While there are some issues with DOS, they are not deal breakers. Yes, SPI had to do some retrofitting, and some of that was due to Fred's review, since he was in the arena at the time. But with the errata published in Moves, these problems were overcome, and cleaned up DOS to make it an exciting and enjoyable game.

But FIRST and FORMOST, it remains a simulation that can take the 'game' out of the equation - the Hitler Directives alone make it hard to 'balance' a game.

In My Humble Opinion, of course,

---Russ
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Leo Zappa
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HiTracey wrote:
This was potentially a great game on a great subject, but turned out to be one of SPI's biggest disasters in terms of game development and final result. There is no easy fix, and with regret I'd caution players that they're wasting their time with this game. I've wasted a lot of my time with it, back in the day, by the way.


I have to say that once the official errata (which by wargame standards is not overly extensive) is integrated into the game play, this title becomes an excellent wargame. The German player gets to do a lot of attacking, but must plan ahead knowing that Hitler is likely to intervene. The Russian player must balance preserving units with allowing the Germans to make to rapid of an advance. I find this to be an outstanding game and I'd recommend it to any serious wargamer or student of the Eastern Front.
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Lincoln Graves
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I too love this game. I just can't see why some think this game is a disaster. I share the opinion that many early game reviews were hasty and poorly founded. In fact most. And in my opinion most games don't get mastered before opinions are made. I often suspect that opinions are most often made on these boards without ever having finished a game. Tim's opinion is worth something though and it makes me nervous that he thinks the game breaks down. I do agree that it has the potential to do so and that the Axis must be very aggressive an not be terribly unlucky.

Now I must admit that I play a modified version but not really that different from the original. The chief difference is that much of the Kharkov rules are used. German units can disengage by paying 3 mps. Soviet cavalry can infiltrate as Soviet units can do at the start of Kharkov. Mechanized units get a shift instead of a drm as do air units. Max of one column in your favor. A few other bits and details. The big difference is that disrupted units and soviet units that withdraw keep their ZoC but instead the attacker get's to modify his die roll (after the fact!) when attacking disrupted units. This goes a long way toward opening up overruning in the game. Soviet units that are withdrawn are also marked disrupted with the same effects. Disruption markers are removed for strategic withdrawal units at the end of the German turn. They are differentiated by facing. With these modifications the game plays quite smoothly, still feels like the original and in particular the effect of a column shift for mech really seems to set the right tone for this period.

My opinion after several full plays over several decades is that there are multiple potential strategies for both sides. The Germans can win several different ways and depending on what the Germans do the Soviets have numerous opportunities for local offensives and counter attacks. The game like all PGG games really shines due to the multitude of specific operational problems that can be solved with ingenuity in multiple different ways. This game is definitely design for effect but it sorts itself out in such a way to be a good simulation and a good game. What more can one ask?
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Steve
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I too love this game. I just can't see why some think this game is a disaster. I share the opinion that many early game reviews were hasty and poorly founded. In fact most. And in my opinion most games don't get mastered before opinions are made. I often suspect that opinions are most often made on these boards without ever having finished a game. Tim's opinion is worth something though and it makes me nervous that he thinks the game breaks down. I do agree that it has the potential to do so and that the Axis must be very aggressive an not be terribly unlucky.

Now I must admit that I play a modified version but not really that different from the original. The chief difference is that much of the Kharkov rules are used. German units can disengage by paying 3 mps. Soviet cavalry can infiltrate as Soviet units can do at the start of Kharkov. Mechanized units get a shift instead of a drm as do air units. Max of one column in your favor. A few other bits and details. The big difference is that disrupted units and soviet units that withdraw keep their ZoC but instead the attacker get's to modify his die roll (after the fact!) when attacking disrupted units. This goes a long way toward opening up overruning in the game. Soviet units that are withdrawn are also marked disrupted with the same effects. Disruption markers are removed for strategic withdrawal units at the end of the German turn. They are differentiated by facing. With these modifications the game plays quite smoothly, still feels like the original and in particular the effect of a column shift for mech really seems to set the right tone for this period.

My opinion after several full plays over several decades is that there are multiple potential strategies for both sides. The Germans can win several different ways and depending on what the Germans do the Soviets have numerous opportunities for local offensives and counter attacks. The game like all PGG games really shines due to the multitude of specific operational problems that can be solved with ingenuity in multiple different ways. This game is definitely design for effect but it sorts itself out in such a way to be a good simulation and a good game. What more can one ask?

I'm sure that I didn't completely understand your rule changes. But, I like them.

There is one change I think you missed. The major rivers are impossible to cross except against very weak defenders. This is because you can attack from at most 2 hexes and usually just 1. This is because of the wording of the rule for crossing major rivers and the defender is tripled.

Fixes involve reducing the bonus to just doubled or something more complicated.

My experimental complicated idea -- Infantry (incl. PG of Pz Div & PG Div and Soviet Mech) can move across a major river IF they move from a hex next to the river that is NOT adjacent to an enemy unit to a hex that is in the ZOC of an enemy unit even if it is adjacent to the river. This creates a "bridgehead". Units in a bridgehead do not totally break the river defense, they just reduce the bonus to doubled. Also, in the next turn units friendly to the bridgehead units can freely cross the river to a hex adjacent to the bridgehead to widen the bridgehead. [This is necessary to counter the ploy of pinning the bridgehead from away from the river and keeping the units next to the river 1 hex away from the bridgehead.] Also, in the next turn the Pz part can join the rest of their Div. as long as they don't move from a hex adjacent to an enemy unit to another hex adjacent to that enemy unit.] The enemy can, of course, block the widening of the bridgehead by putting units adjacent to the bridgehead on both sides.

And I suggest you use my change to the CRT rules -- units may not take a loss to hold in place if the result is a pure "D1". Or, if it is a "D2" on any roll except a 1. So, if the roll was 2 and the result is D2 the defender must retreat 2. It is not always possible to counterattack, lose a little and hold in place, however this will sometimes work. This will also help with getting over major rivers.

I also suggest that Ger. Inf. Div. use their 1s as 7s. So they are reduced as -- 9 ==> 7 ==> 4 ==> 2 ==> dead. This way they are reduced more like other stacks, without that 1st huge drop.

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Tim A
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My criticism of this game derives from the experience of a number of plays over the years. These can mainly be characterized as contests between skilled players or teams and were intensely competitive. Less skilled or experienced players, less competitive (or solitaire) players, and those who have modified the rules to their own taste, may all have had better experiences than mine.

Despite the fundamental nature of my misgivings, there is much about the game that I like. I haven't played the it now in around 25 years, and it is time to look again at the old girl. After my last disappointing experience I thoroughly rewrote the rules to address those issues that most bugged me, and I'm going to give it a try shortly under these house rules. I'm certain that they will improve the game for me; whether they are a 'fix' is doubtful due to the ambitious nature of what this game is trying to represent. In this regard I think it is interesting to note that in the almost 40 years since its original publication, to my knowledge at least, no subsequent game has successfully represented this campaign. In this regard, and for different reasons, I discount Campaign to Stalingrad (reduced scope, faulty time scale), Case Blue (it falls well outside my definition of a 'game') and the similarly titled Decision Game (no overall campaign included).
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