Ola Palmquist
Sweden
Skövde
Skaraborg
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Subject: The Ring of Fire series from MIH, or how a good idea can get wird consequenses.
Ring of fire, MIHs games on the Fourth Battle of Kharkov in August 1943 is a really good game. Lots of action and a lot of cool armor units on both sides. Games in this series are Clash of Titans (Kursk), Triumphant Return (Kiev 43) and East Wall (the whole war in Ukraine from August 43 to January 44, like Ukraine 43 from GMT). The game system includes two different major ideas.

1: Units may be assigned as a reserve. This allows the defender strengthen his units before the battle is carried out if the reserve is within reach. For the attacker reserves can be deployed after the battle to move and attack again offering the opportunity to exploit holes in the penetrated defensive lines. Both these things mean that a simple rule has a major impact in a great way. This can be found in other games and it gives the reserves, both offensive and defensive, the importance that they have in real life.

2: Tank Duels. All units that contain tanks, armored cars or assault gun trucks have a duel factor. Prior to "normal" battle execution a special battle between the units that have such a factor (and hence a vehicle silhouette instead of a "NATO" symbol) takes place. This will simulate the fact that when such units clash the losses accelerate dramatically (due to the fire power and the rate of fire tha tank guns are capabe of). An entertaining rule that obviously goes through butter like a hot knife, or should I say as a sabot through armor for tankers. But in the extension of this rule there is unhistorical tactic.

How can this be? The higher duel factor on German armor units mean that they can deal with Russian-tank units pretty easily. To attack them is therefore advantageous. The Russians have to create a substantial numerical superiority in order to damage German armored units. It's not rare that an entire Russian tank corps is destroyed only by the duel. Sometimes even a lonely German unit is knocked out bythe duel. And that is historically worse. The Russian tank brigades consisted mainly of tanks. That the brigade ceases to function as a fighting unit when enough tanks knocked out is OK. But the German kampfgruppe (in the game series the German armor units are mixed units with both panzergerandiere and tanks) often consisted of a Panzergrenadier regiment of two battalions and a tank battalion, which means that the infantry majority of the unit actually is possible to knock out in the duel between tanks. Even if every single German tank is knocked out should not a "normal" battle against the German infantry and their anti-tank weapon take place? Perhaps we should replace the unit with a new weaker one with a NATO symbol and without a duel factor? Not so. This may not neccererily affect the game so much. Rarely is a German armored unit alone, except in Triumphant Return, and rarely are entire German stacks eliminated in the duel segment of battle. It is possible to rationalize that the infantry majority of the unit is now absorbed in the second unit in the stack. German Replacements are generous in the game which means that once the tanks are repaired the entire unit is back at reduced strength.

This rule, with ensuing high Russian losses in the duels, may also mean that the Russians to avoid attacking German armored units with their own armored units but prefer attacking the german often weak infantry units. That makes perfect tactical sense. The Russians will try to protect their armored units from German armored units, using their infantry units as flank protection since they are actually tougher than the Russian's armored units (no duel battle = lower losses). This also makes good tactical sense. This system works well in "Ring of Fire" where the Russians have infantry divisions. German pansarkampfgruppes can destroy them, but it gives faster results to attack teh russian armored units. But in Triumphant Return the Russian infantry is mainly in corps size (while the Germans infantry are regiments, weak regiments ). The Russian infantry corps are very powerful (about three divisions, assault gun units, anti-tank units, etc). Attacks on them results in very little. The result is that the Germans will avoid attacking infantry corps, and would rather attack the Russian tank units. Mmm ... Now is starts to wobble a bit tactically.

If you combine these effects, the result is often an entirely unhistorical tactic.

http://i184.photobucket.com/albums/x128/strv102r/Ola/PICT002...

The picture is from Triumphant Return. The game where the effects are so major that it interferes with the game itself. As you can see, the Russians took Kiev, and have a breakthrough on the far left (north) on the map. There is a breakthrough in the center that can continue west. The German player turn. He gets 7 and 8 PZ as Replacements at about 25% combat value compared to a full strength unit.3 SS PZ, 2 SS DR and 19 PZ are stacked south of Kiev. Each at roughly the same combat value as the replacements. 1 Pz div and 1 SS Pz LAH arrive at full strength from the west this turn. . What should I do? Let us assume that we currently do not care about breakthrough in the north, just one Cavalry unit and infantry moving slowly. The breakthrough in the center is more dangerous since there is a mechanized corps and four tank corps. In the other flank (south), we have a bunch of infantry corps, a tank brigade and one tank corps. The german player has two alternatives. He can choose a direct method, strength against strength, by inserting any additional units in a frontal counterattack between 25 Pz and 20 Pzgren, straight into the tank corps. Or he may choose an indirect method with a flank attack on the softer rifle units and only one tank corps by reinforcing between 25 Pz and 20 Pzgren with the reduced 7 Pz and 8 Pz to delay the enemys pace while 1 Pz and 1 SS Pz together with 3 SS Pz, 2 SS Pz and 19 Pz attack into the flank and cut off the spear head. The latter is of course what any tactics teacher who would prefer. Like Mansteins backhand blow in replay. But the game system and the selected scale in the Russian infantry it is to strike at the enemy's strength to attack the infantry in open terrain with armored units. Sure, it will reduce one or two more corps but that is all and the enemy spear head can safely roll weat. By attacking frontally , I can "guarantee" that at least one tank corps is detroyed because the enemys armored spear head is relatively soft. The enemy advamce will stop dead in its tracks and we will get an armored attritional battle which the Germans have more than a decent chance to win, until the Russian infantry forces arrive and insanely powwerful as they are as start to attack the armored units in open terrain.

Yes, I know that it sometimes can be both good and necessary to use direct methods. I know exactly what was done by XXXXVIII Pz corps during the fighting right there and then at times. But the combination of infantry forces and the duel system mean that the german player, especially the german player, will choose a frontal attack against armored units as often as he can. And how historical is that?

I will soon try Radeys A Bold Stroke on the same battle. Lets see if we get the same effect there or if it is just so that Kiev 43 was not a good battle for the Ring of Fire system. I has played Triumphant Return 5 times and always wiped the Germans out in the end. This sixth time the Russians had a really bad start. The germans massed almost all armor and attacked frontally destoying two tank corps in one gameturn in the situation described above. Everything went just fine for the germans, for a while, until their number of infantry units fell below the critical level and the situation collapsed.

Clash of Titans and the Ring of Fire, however, I can recommend.
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sacha cauvin
France
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That's why i believe TR is best played using the scenarios (not the campaign).

The whole campaign always end up with a soviet victory! And i can tell you i have played this one to death...
 
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Richard Savage
United States
Clearwater
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I was going to give this review a "thumbs up," but then noticed that you don't clip your counters! shake
 
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