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David Weiss
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I've just returned from Origins 2009. While exploring the Exhibitor's Area I passed a booth where two people were intently playing a card game. Taking a closer look I saw that it was called The Hell of Stalingrad. Later the next day I sat down and had the game demoed for me up in the War Room. Within ten minutes I was hooked, and within half an hour I knew I was going to buy the game despite having spent enough already and already owning at least two Stalingrad games (John Hill's Battle for Stalingrad and AH's Turning Point Stalingrad).

Why I Bought This Game Despite Owning Two Other Classic Stalingrad Designs

1) It's playable in 3-4 hours (unlike the others).
2) It's easy to learn and teach (at least to a seasoned grognard).
3) It's drenched in atmosphere and historical 'chrome'.
4) It encourages different styles of play from each side (as any good wargame should).
5) It incorporates mechanics which, though familiar to CCG players and Eurogamers, are new to wargames (at least for me; admittedly, I don't keep up with designs the way I used to).

Brief Summary of the Game

The Germans and Soviets are fighting in four districts of Stalingrad. In each district the Germans are trying to get to the Volga. Each district is represented by a building card, symbolizing (one assumes) the main thrust of the German attack in that district. In a neat twist, only after the Germans capture a building (in general) do the commanders find out whether the Germans have been successful in reaching the Volga and shutting down that sector. This means the Reds have to defend tenaciously, because they never know when their backs will be up against the Volga.

After reinforcements, random events and reconstitution of depleted formations, the Germans (followed by the Soviets) commit formations (represented by cards) to the districts. The formations have 'vanguard effects' which send some troops into the building as well as either do some damage to the other side's forces or damage to the building itself (in the form of fires). Once all commitments have been made, the battle begins.

Anyone who has played the FFG game Cold War: CIA vs KGB will find themselves on familiar territory here. It's a igo-ugo system which continues until time (represented by a 'Break Track' runs out). Each side on their turn can commit addition forces (by playing Combat Cards out of their hands), Reload their hands (which allows them to draw up to capacity as well as perform other special actions), or Hold (which runs down the timer as well as allowing them to perform some minor actions). When the timer runs out--BANG--the battle begins. Each side rolls a certain number which depends on factors such as formation superiority, the number of infernos, the defence value of the building, and so on.

The general result is that troops are slaughtered and buildings are taken or not taken as the case may be. If the Soviets succeed the Germans must try again next round. If the Germans succeed there is (usually) suspense until the players find out whether the Wehrmacht has hit the Volga or not. Any surviving formations retreat and are depleted (they can resupply via the play of Combat Cards).

If by the end of Turn 6 (in the Advanced Game) the Germans have not taken all sectors, the Soviets win. Otherwise, history is remade as the Germans occupy all of Stalingrad (renamed Hitlergrad, presumably).

Various Bits of Chrome

Each side begins with a Supreme Commander who has a rating for Combat Card hand-size as well as a special power when Reloading hands. During the game these Commanders can be 'fired' by Hitler/Stalin (triggered by random events) and replaced with better-qualified commanders.

Playing combat Cards to a battle usually involves adding to one's own forces and destroying the other side, but can also result in things like forcing the opponent to discard a Combat Card from their hand or adding Fires to a building.

Fires can become Infernos which help the Germans.

Some Soviet Combat Cards have Buckets which help put out fires and Infernos.

Each Formation begins with a leader who (if he survives) becomes a Veteran who increases the ability of his formation.

Hero cards give special powers and can sometimes also be used as Intercepts to not only cancel out an opponent's just-played Combat Card but also provide benefits of their own.

Each side can play Snipers which can take out opposing Leaders or Heroes. If a Leader/Hero is killed by a sniper (which happens A LOT) there is additional command confusion--the attacked player must discard 1 (sometimes 2) cards from their hand.

Soviet Formations which get depleted during combat trigger other effects (some bad, some good).

Retreating Soviet formations shoot their own leaders.


Two Criticisms

The rulebook is disorganized and could use a rewrite.

The graphics--both in the rules and of the cards themselves--are rather garish. Not graphically violent at all--just bright and discordant and in-your-face. I did not find this offputting--but some might.


Overall Recommendations

If you are a diehard hex-and-counter gamer who adores historical accuracy you should probably not buy this game (but you might want to give it a go anyway). The Formation cards are all accurate but the nature of the game is that units are sent hither and tither with no respect for history.

But if you are a 'John Hill' kind of player who is into 'feel' rather than 'simulation' I believe you will enjoy the game.
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Mark Mokszycki
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Nice review! Now I'm interested in trying this game. Thanks for posting.
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Dan Poole
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I agree with your review. I really have taken a liking to this fantastic game quite a bit. My wife loves it too. The graphics are kind of firey and loud, but somehow it seems to work well with the theme. I did not find the rulebook too bad. I read it in reverse order (i.e., steps of game play then the specifics regarding the cards).
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Brian Blad
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excellent review..have been leaning heavily towards buying..wanted to see some reviews first. Well written! Thanks!
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Richard Pardoe
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tiberiusdw wrote:
This means the Reds have to defend tenaciously, because they never know when their backs will be up against the Volga.


Minor detail....each district has one building card (indicated as River Bank instead of Ruin Hell) that is on the banks of the Volga so there are times when the Reds will know that their backs are against the Volga.

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Barry Roy
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Does this game have a similar feel to GMT's Blue v. Grey card game released some years ago?

Barry
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David Weiss
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Good point--quite similar. Of course the map-building mechanic in Blue vs Grey is absent here.
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Craig Benn
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I'm sorry - I can't take a game that gives General Lopitan as commander of the 62nd army seriously...Chuikov for *&%*) sake - only the second most famous Russian general besides Zhukov after all...

...like basic schoolboy error dudes...
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Richard Pardoe
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Crom Cruach wrote:
I'm sorry - I can't take a game that gives General Lopitan as commander of the 62nd army seriously...Chuikov for *&%*) sake


You are aware that the Russians start w/ Lopatin but that at some point in the campaign he is likely to be replaced by Chuikov and giving the Russians some additional abilities as a result?

Lopatin gives the Russians a 5 card hand and the ability to add a fort to a building.

Chuikov gives the Russians an 8 card hand and the ability to add a molotov or commando to a building.

So as the campaign progresses the tactical options increase (more cards) as well as an offensive benefits.

Sounds like good thematic chrome based on facts instead of a schoolboy error.
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Steven Cunliffe
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I was wondering when someone was finally going to mention Lopatin.

A little bit of History:

Lopatin was a contemptible "Yes Man" who survived Stalin's purges by ingratiating himself with the communist elite. By the time of Stalingrad, he was commanding the 62nd Army but did not believe the city could be held and was only putting half-hearted efforts into building its defenses. His lack of preparation would negatively affect the Soviets when Chuikov took over.

Concerning Lopatin:

I knew early on that I was going to take some heat for including Lopatin, as his relationship to the battle is easily misunderstood. I have him for a couple of different reasons.

1. Historically it is accurate to have him in charge. He was there when the Germans approached Stalingrad, when in doubt I err on the side of history. Now granted he was not in command long and his replacement, the brilliant General Chuikov, is almost guaranteed to replace Lopatin in the first few turns of the game.

2. Having Lopatin in charge at the start of the game is also a way of demonstrating the terrible strategic position the Soviets were in at the beginning of the battle. The army had just been crushed fighting at the Don River and had barely escaped encirclement. The 62nd the Army was a chaotic mess of desperate soldiers fighting a critical holding action and they could have very easily lost everything.

Having Lopitan as the initial Supreme Commander kills two birds with one stone both fulfilling the historical reality of the battle and by showing abstractly the difficulty facing the Soviets.


I hope this helps...

Steven@thehellofstalingrad.com
.



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David Weiss
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Makes sense to me, Steven. At first, I was surprised to not see Chuikov in charge, but then I remembered something like this from an article in MOVES magazine when John Hill's Battle For Stalingrad came out.
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Steven Cunliffe
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Plus it is a lot of fun for the Soviet Player to "execute" Lopatin in the Campaign Phase when Stalin loses favor with him!

Steve@thehellofstalingrad.com
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Kurt R
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It was my life, like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was to let it be.
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Stalingrad Steve wrote:
I was wondering when someone was finally going to mention Lopatin.

A little bit of History:

Lopatin was a contemptible "Yes Man" who survived Stalin's purges by ingratiating himself with the communist elite. By the time of Stalingrad, he was commanding the 62nd Army but did not believe the city could be held and was only putting half-hearted efforts into building its defenses. His lack of preparation would negatively affect the Soviets when Chuikov took over.

Concerning Lopatin:

I knew early on that I was going to take some heat for including Lopatin, as his relationship to the battle is easily misunderstood. I have him for a couple of different reasons.

1. Historically it is accurate to have him in charge. He was there when the Germans approached Stalingrad, when in doubt I err on the side of history. Now granted he was not in command long and his replacement, the brilliant General Chuikov, is almost guaranteed to replace Lopatin in the first few turns of the game.

2. Having Lopatin in charge at the start of the game is also a way of demonstrating the terrible strategic position the Soviets were in at the beginning of the battle. The army had just been crushed fighting at the Don River and had barely escaped encirclement. The 62nd the Army was a chaotic mess of desperate soldiers fighting a critical holding action and they could have very easily lost everything.

Having Lopitan as the initial Supreme Commander kills two birds with one stone both fulfilling the historical reality of the battle and by showing abstractly the difficulty facing the Soviets.


I hope this helps...

Steven@thehellofstalingrad.com
.


Full disclosure: Steve and I are members of the same game club and I playtested this game. Trust me when I say that Steve knows his shit about Stalingrad. No schoolboy errors here.

I, on the other, can't say I knew as much as Steve, I can say, however, that I always enjoy executing Lopatin!
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Doug Adams
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Nice review. A week ago I hadn't heard of this game, but I downloaded and read the rules last weekend. Sounded great, placed an order Monday morning!
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James Cartwright
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I've not been interested in wargames before but this does look very good. Anyone know when it will be available in the UK and how much it might cost?
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Craig Benn
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Stalingrad Steve wrote:
I was wondering when someone was finally going to mention Lopatin.

A little bit of History:

Lopatin was a contemptible "Yes Man" who survived Stalin's purges by ingratiating himself with the communist elite. By the time of Stalingrad, he was commanding the 62nd Army but did not believe the city could be held and was only putting half-hearted efforts into building its defenses. His lack of preparation would negatively affect the Soviets when Chuikov took over.

Concerning Lopatin:

I knew early on that I was going to take some heat for including Lopatin, as his relationship to the battle is easily misunderstood. I have him for a couple of different reasons.

1. Historically it is accurate to have him in charge. He was there when the Germans approached Stalingrad, when in doubt I err on the side of history. Now granted he was not in command long and his replacement, the brilliant General Chuikov, is almost guaranteed to replace Lopatin in the first few turns of the game.

2. Having Lopatin in charge at the start of the game is also a way of demonstrating the terrible strategic position the Soviets were in at the beginning of the battle. The army had just been crushed fighting at the Don River and had barely escaped encirclement. The 62nd the Army was a chaotic mess of desperate soldiers fighting a critical holding action and they could have very easily lost everything.

Having Lopitan as the initial Supreme Commander kills two birds with one stone both fulfilling the historical reality of the battle and by showing abstractly the difficulty facing the Soviets.


I hope this helps...

Steven@thehellofstalingrad.com
.





Okay Steve,
I stand corrected - not a basic schoolboy error at all, and I apologize for jumping to unwarranted conclusions - you obviously have done the historical research.
However reading Beevor, Chuikov takes over on 12th September and the Germans enter the city outskirts the following day on the 13th...are you including the fighting outside Stalingrad, or is it a case of Chuikov has only just taken over, so the effects of Lopitan are still being felt?
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Ed Wimble
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The game will most likely be in general distribution sometime towards the end of July. You can anticipate it reaching stores in the U.K. then or soon after. In the mean time it is available directly from Clash, either through mail order or at the conventions we attend. The lag is primarily due to putting a lot of effort into making the convention season with it, so some of its components were done in short runs anticipating SNAFUs that could later be fixed. So far nothing major has cropped up (what has, has been utterly insignificant requiring only a minor tweek) and just today I gave the printer the go-ahead for the main run.
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Steven Cunliffe
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Craig,

The disclaimer I give to anyone plays this game with me is that it is not your typical board game experience. You may have victory snatched from you at the last moment or conversely, win a battle against all odds. A break test will always be tilted in favor of the player who plays "the best hand" but just like in real life you should never be entirely sure of the outcome.

Concerning Design Theory:

What I was trying to achieve was to give an accurate "feel" of what it was like to be the Supreme Commander by incorporating "fog of war" elements at every level of the game. I wanted to put you into the battle by not allowing you to be able to predict every outcome.

As a Supreme Commander you have to send thousands of soldiers to into the bloodiest land battle ever fought while unhinged despotic leaders demand immediate victory at all costs. A truly chaotic situation even in the best of times.

The truth of the matter is you don't know when Strategic Level events will occur that will shape your battlefield and I did include specific dates for that reason. The mechanic I use for the campaign phase pretty much guarantees that Lopatin will be replaced early on in the game but you never know what will happen. The Soviet player may have to suffer Lopatin for a few turns or just like in real life he could be replaced just before the battle really starts.

There are many Stalingrad games on the market which are good approximations of battle from the standpoint of a 10,000 tall general. What I wanted to do with the Hell of Stalingrad was jump into the conflict and let you experience the battle from the ground up. Several "what if" situations are built seamlessly into the mechanics, this provides a different experience with every game and captures the very unpredictable nature of war.

I hope this helps...

steven@thehellofstalingrad.com




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Brad Stock
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Steve, we played twice. I won both times (not due to my great experience or skill, I am sure). The first time I played Sovs, the second Nazis.

As Sovs, the grain elevator provided a real-life roadblock -- there must have been about 4 turns battling for it (and never was it captured), with about 30 German armored cars vs one Sov rubble fort at the end! My basic 'strategy' (if it can be called anything that sophisticated) was: sniper every German leader in sight constantly, unsupply German units every chance I get, always try to have some shielded units in place, keep Sov units supplied, even if it meant combining units during inter-turn (which greatly risked running out of units), and play Sov hero cards (espec for break dice). It didn't hurt that Tania was immortal -- she was snipered by the Germans three or four times without being hit!

As the Germans,I tried to wipe out Sov units (unsupply unsupplied units), remembering how likely it was that the Sovs might run out of units by turn 6 (or be spread too thin). I tried to set fires constantly, to get infernos and the extra dice. Tried to keep my units always in supply and combine units to keep generals attached, especially to shift +1 generals to my 2 or 3 point units. I would also try to keep the Sov units in the building low and then play a high hit card, with the overkill raising the fire level. I also tried never to redraw if I could help it -- but would try to redraw if I needed one more fire point (since my ubergeneral's ability added 1 fire to any building on redraw). The Sov player was redrawing on purpose to grab a German card and looking for heroes.

The Germans won on turn 6. Admittedly, I think I was lucky -- 2 river cards had been drawn early on, with the third drawn on turn 5.

On game 1, the Germans lost on the last turn, last building, last die roll. That was both exciting and slightly anti-climactice. Felt like some extra step of resolution in that case would have been more satisfying for both players -- something like a sudden death involving all the buildings and units or even an extra card play or something to give some 'resolution' to the great battle. I would recommend adding a rule of that sort (or maybe we missed one).

That is NOT a complaint -- it is a GREAT game. I would say it is ONE OF THE BEST WARGAMES EVER!

I didn't actually read the rules -- my son did and said that he loved the way you taught ideas clearly one at a time. Knowing him, I am sure we must have used every rule in the book on our first play -- and we were not overwhelmed. We played a few small things wrong first time (didn't hurt the game), and easily caught them to fix for the second game (which did improve the play).

Steve, I am not inclined to be flattering on these things nor am I easily satisfied. But this is a GREAT game. Congrats to you and your many years of labor on it. And thanks to Ed and COA for taking the gamble on something radically new.

Basically, you have invented a purely Eurowargame that is fully satisfying as a wargame experience. Amazing!

And it makes me want to learn more about the history.

NOTE: Anyone who does not like CDGs -- the feel is totally different. I wouldn't let your dislike of CDGs get in the way of this. It is worth the gamble -- odds are you will like it. And any wargamer that likes Euros is almost certain to like it. This game should be up for a GAMA Origins award next year and for a Charlie at WBC. Golden!

PS -- I won as Soviets using Lopatin the whole game -- we may have played somethiing wrong there, but I never did get to 'fire' him. So it is possible to survive his incompetency and inertia and still win -- which says something for the resilience of the design (or my excellent skills as the Soviet player...right?....)
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Steven Cunliffe
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Brad,

Wow, thank you for the kind words, thank you for taking the time to post. I am glad you liked the game! I would just be happy if I receive more stories like yours where people can connect and have a good time playing a game together.

Concerning Eurogames:

I wanted The Hell of Stalingrad to be both fun to play and historical. It was built so that no two games would ever be exactly the same.

Ironically I never actually played any Eurogames until this year. I grew up mostly on traditional American war games and various miniature systems. I designed Stalingrad in the ways that made the most sense to me, everything I read discussing the battle stressed the asymmetrical nature of the urban warfare.

I tried plotting the game out using a traditional hex map. To my disappointment, however, I could not capture the chaotic nature of a city fight through any type of set map layout.

The development of my card system was my attempt to go back to the source materials and be more historical. I wanted to capture the unpredictable nature of urban warfare and reflect the chaos of battle in the ways that I have read about.

If you want to learn more about the battle I recommend Stalingrad - The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Anthony Beevor, Enemy at the Gates by William Craig and any manuscript by Colonel Glantz the preeminent Stalingrad historian and all around expert on Soviet WWII military history.



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Jeremy Fridy
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BarryRoy wrote:
Does this game have a similar feel to GMT's Blue v. Grey card game released some years ago?

Barry


I'd say no. This is all about the battle, where that had more of a strategic focus. Both are very good games though.
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Davide Banchini c/o SELED
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Can you post a link to the rules? Thanks.

And yes, nice review.


dougadamsau wrote:
Nice review. A week ago I hadn't heard of this game, but I downloaded and read the rules last weekend. Sounded great, placed an order Monday morning!
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RolloTommasi wrote:
Can you post a link to the rules? Thanks.

And yes, nice review.


dougadamsau wrote:
Nice review. A week ago I hadn't heard of this game, but I downloaded and read the rules last weekend. Sounded great, placed an order Monday morning!


Rules are here:

http://www.thehellofstalingrad.com/
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Davide Banchini c/o SELED
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Thank you Doug!
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