Marc Figueras

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Some days ago my friend and game designer Oriol Comas brought me Roads to Stalingrad from the gameboard convention held at Cordoba the weekend before Essen '09, directly purchased from the designer Francisco Ronco.

Roads to Stalingrad is the first installment of the Campaign Commander game system, which in the future will offer titles as different-themed as Coral Sea and Hannibal ad portas. Now, I've finally managed to play it, so here goes a review...



Components
Unfortunately for the purchaser, the first thing you see is perhaps the worst part of the game: its components. The box design is average, with a typical MMP box size, but it is a very weak box, which I fear it will be easily crushed if someday I don't remember that this game is under some other heavier and more sturdy boxes.

Now, let's open the box: inside you'll find:

1. A boardgame: A 80x65 cm map of southern Russia, Ukraine and the Caucasus, divided in areas. Maybe the best component of the game, IMHO. It is a functional and clear map. Nothing spectacular but I think it's quite elegant and not cluttered at all with info. I like it!



2. Cards: 70 cards divided in a Soviet deck and an Axis deck (plus some promo cards). They are good quality cards and perfectly functional. They are divided in operational cards, attack cards, battle cards and event cards.

3. Two d10 dice.

4. 176 5/8'' die-cut counters: For me, the worst item in the game. The main problem is the difficulty in reading the info at a glance, especially for the Axis counters. You get accostumed, but bigger and more outlined numbers would help. On the other hand some counters are really bad die-cut. I don't mean the images are off-centered, it's the front and back die-cutting which is slightly shifted, resulting in counters in which the front cardboard is displaced relative to the back cardboard.


Some counters on the map. In the foreground, a supply depot (see below). Image by Lev Mishkin

5. A rule booklet. It includes the general Campaign Commander series rules and the specific Roads to Stalingrad campaign rules. The booklet is ok, although a bit cluttered and without a clear visual structure (titles of sections and subsections and the main text are all in the same font size). Nevertheless, as the rules are quite brief and without many exceptions, that's not a serious problem.

Well, let's go to the really good stuff...

How to play
I must confess I hadn't great expectations, but after reading the rules I was surprised by the mechanics of this game, which I think gives some fresh air with interesting ideas. I'll give here a very broad summary of the mechanics.

The game is played continously in a sequence of operational "turns" until one of the players completely depletes his card deck (or until some special "sudden death" cards are played). In each operational turn each player secretly decides wether he'll conduct operations on the map or he'll play/draw/discard a card. Here you get a typical "I think he thinks that I'm thinking that he will play...", because if both players decide to conduct operations on the map, only one of them will be able to act (both roll 1d10, the player with the initative having a +2 modifier: only the higher roll will conduct the operations). If one player decides to conduct operations and the other one to play/draw/discard a card, the operations player goes first.


Playing the game. Image by Lev Mishkin

Of course conducting operations is essential: it's the way of moving and reorganizing your units and of attacking the enemy. But the cards, on the other hand, beside some very interesting events, are key for having new supply depots, constantly depleted by the operations, and new reinforcements. And the supply depots are maybe the core of the game. When you decide to conduct an operation, you spend a supply depot located on the map and this gives you 6 supply points (SP), which allow you to move a stack (1 SP), stack units (2 SP), reorganize units (1 SP each) or replenish exhausted units (1 SP each). All units using these SP must be at most 3 areas away from the original location of the supply depot. Of course, after conducting some operations you are left with very few supply depots and you desperately need to use cards to get new supply depots. Note, as well, the high cost of stacking units in a zone, so be very careful with your movements!

Battles occur when, after moving, a unit or a stack ends in the same area as enemy units. It must be noted that battles occur immediately (that's not a "move all units first and then fight"), so it's important to think carefully about the timing of your operations. After the battle has ended you go on spending SP, if there are still SP to spend (so possibly moving other units after the battle, reinforcing a just won position, for example).

The battle system is the other interesting mechanics of this game. I suppose it won't be to the tastes of all wargamers, but I liked it quite a lot. The key to the battles are the battle chits (BC). Both sides have their BC in a cup or mug. When a battle occurs each side draws as many BC as the best tactical rating of his units. Then, alternatively, both players use their BC. These BC cause disorganization or hits in the enemy units, usually rolling 1d10 and comparing the result with the cohesion rating of the unit. When a unit is disorganized it must retreat immediately. The battle ends when all units from one side have retreated (or been eliminated, although elimination is very rare, only possible when a unit is completely surrounded).


Some battle chits (not published version). Image by Francisco Ronco

As I stated earlier, the game ends when one side has depleted his card deck or a player uses a "sudden death" card to end the game. Then victory points are awarded to each player as a function of the victory zones controlled and the losses inflicted to the enemy.

Overall impression
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this game. Although I should play more sessions to assess its balance and replayability issues, I think it's a very solid game, aimed at the "low-complexity, maximum 4 hours" sector of wargames. Maybe it's not as introductory and aimed at non-wargamers as the designer states (I don't see my eurogamer friends playing this one), but if you played some simple wargames this one could be your next step.

One thing I liked is that I can concentrate on the global picture of the campaign, without fiddling at each move with attack and defense values, just to get that point I need to go from a 2:1 ratio to a 3:1 ratio. Here it's much more important to focus in how to handle your supply and units, where to build up supplies to smash the enemy again and again in few turns, where to move my Panzer divisions to act as a spearhead without having to stop because I depleted all my supply depots of the zone, etc.

I hope this review will give you a good overall idea of this interesting game. Give it a try if you can!
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Francisco Ronco Poce
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Thanks for your review and "feedback", Marc.
That´s the best way to help a designer/developer/producer.
I like you enjoy game mechanics. I like them too... Specially on the Battle System. I feel it is simple, elegant and makes a lot of different outcomes to happen.
Also, one of the "leivmotiv" of Bellica Third Generation is designing games and system anew. With refreshing mechanics and new ideas to simulate military campaigns.
You got the point:
Quote:
Here it's much more important to focus in how to handle your supply and units, where to build up supplies to smash the enemy again and again in few turns, where to move my Panzer divisions to act as a spearhead without having to stop because I depleted all my supply depots of the zone, etc.


Again, thank you for enjoying the game.
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Marc Figueras

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Oldfritz wrote:
That´s the best way to help a designer/developer/producer.

Indeed! That's one of the reasons that compelled me to write the review (and liking the game too, of course!).

Oldfritz wrote:
Also, one of the "leivmotiv" of Bellica Third Generation is designing games and system anew. With refreshing mechanics and new ideas to simulate military campaigns.

Keep up the good work! I'm really intrigued to see how this same system will work for a scenario like Hannibal ad portas, 2,000 years before...
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Francisco Ronco Poce
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Quote:
I'm really intrigued to see how this same system will work for a scenario like Hannibal ad portas, 2,000 years before...


We are now developing 5 new games: Objetive Moscow (AGC till Dec´41); Hannibal ad Portas (2nd Punic War in Italy); three more with out final name: Punic Island (1st Punic War in Sicily & North Africa), Eagle & Crescent (Bonaparte in Egypt), White Sea (Central amd East Mediterranean 1565-1574).
They are being tunned and balanced. The system works pretty well as some of its components are easy-modelled: cards, counters, Battle Chits and some little Campaing Rules.
I designed the system with this multi-era focus on mind.

Coral Sea is finished and it is a very different kind of game experience -within the same war as RtS.

Best Regards
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Daniel Rouleau
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Are easier to read counters available?

I am much interested in this game but unfortunately, the counter values are too difficult to read for my less than perfect corrected vision.
 
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Bob James
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haven't seen much on these, what is happening?
 
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Francisco Ronco Poce
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Well, we released Coral Sea and Punic Island. Since we are a tiny company we have to focus our production and we have release a different kind of game (Mediterranean Empires) las year and we are preparing our nex release (Santa Cruz 1797).
More Campaign Commander Volumes are awaiting production.
 
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