Turning the Tables
Spring 1942, Ukraine; the soviet Army is about to launch a massive offensive to retake Kharkov. Tank corps have been concentrated, artillery is in position the VVS is ready to provide support. Facing this strong concentration is a mix of German and Rumanian infantry divisions supported by and handful of panzer units. At the end the soviets have been crushed, the bulk of the mobile forces in the south crushed and the door left open to the massive Fall Blau summer offensive toward Stalingrad and the Caucasus. It is a wargamer dream, yet only 2 games (opposed to games with scenarios on it) have been dedicated to cover the soviet 1942 spring attempt to retake Kharkov and the following German operation Friderichus. Clash of Arms Prelude to disaster and our own Turning the Tables from Moment in History
Turning the Tables was the first game on what was supposed to be a long series of eastern front games. Sadly after only 4 games (all very good), the series stopped leaving us waiting for more. The system is a classic Igo-Yugo one with odd based combats and multiple action phases to represent the different levels of activity in a given amount of time. Yet the system has two unusual main highlights, command point coupled with multiple phases and the combat chits.
Each turn you get command points. You spend those points (from 0 to 3) in one to three operation phase to generate a random amount of movement and combat points. Each movement point allow you to move one units (or a German multi-counter division stacked together ). Each combat point allow you to perform a combat. Now while it seems very, very easy it is intriguing. You do not know how much activity you will perform in a single turn. The variable amount of command points mean that sometime your operations will be grounded to halt by lack of supplies and support, often when the enemy is getting his own. For example at the start of the game the soviets can usually take 3 operations phases per turn spending three points thus rolling on the highest column of the movement and combat points table. Later in the game you will have to husband your resources and your operations will be slower.
Antoher twist is that you can chose to have combat before movement or vice versa. Often you prefer the second (and more traditional approach) to mass you forces for combat, but the first is really handy when you want to have more freedom of movement after you have created holes.
The second highlight is the combat chit system. Each unit is rated for its combat power and its tactical efficiency. For every tactical efficiency point you draw a chit. These chit represent what today are called enablers (air power, artillery, non divisional units and better leadership) and can increase or decrease losses, die roll modifiers or unit strength. It the efficiency of the unit is equal both sides will use 2 chits, if one side has an advantage that side will use 3 and the opponent 1 chit. Those chits introduces variables in the combat resolution and often can throw a massive combat odds to the proverbial window.
The rest of the system is pretty straightforward, trace supply, ZOC and hex map.
The game comes in zip lock bag. One sheet of counters, one half-standard size map, tables and rules. The map is very nice and the counters are functional. There is nothing glamorous for today standards but the package is pleasant to the eye.
The situation sees both sides defending and attacking in the campaign scenario. An introductory 2 turn scenario covering the initial stage of the soviet offensive is provided as an alternative soviet offensive concentrating on the southern face of the Kharkov bulge instead that directly toward Kharkov. The plan was studied and rejected by Stavka.
The simple overall approach and the operation system combine with a very interesting situation to make a very good and balanced game. The game see both sides The Russian have the edge in combat power but the Germans have the edge in efficiency. At start several German combat chits are dummy giving some leverage to the Russian onslaught, later one, with the Luftwaffe concentrating on the area Russian airpower chits evaporates while the powerful German planes make more and more appearances. Victory is based on losses inflicted (one step loss one point) and objective control. Every turn you check the points.
If the points are lower than a certain threshold the Stalin terminates the offensive had has the soviet player recalled...
if it is above another threshold the German player is relieved by the Fuehrer..
The range of values change every game turn. The more the game progresses the more the Germans have to stay ahead. Again a nice touch.
I like the game. The two armies feel differently. The situation is interesting and you have plenty of manoeuvre room. Yet everything stays simple and easy. It is also easy to explain. Replayabilty and solitaire suitability are high due to the highly variable command allocation system and combat system.
Another reviewer criticized the system because it concentrated the action on limited areas of the map. I beg to differ.
IT is historical, you can or react to enemy moves or implement your own plan. If you analyze the historical sistuation you will discover that the Germans started their own counteroffensive on the southern face of the salient to force the soviet to stop their drive toward Kharkov, but they did not get that effect for several days. In my view the system reproduce this. You have to balance reacting and acting. And yes, often the same sector of the front receives more attention, but again not every area of a front move just beacuse they can do it. So in my opinion the command system work admirably.
Also the timing of the German counteroffensive is very difficult to establish, often you have to sense the right moment. Start too early and your strength will be wasted, start too late and you will race against the victory point check. This create a very interesting dynamic. Also because the victory point are a game on their own. Usually the losses are balanced moving the victory point marker only few spaces. The big movers are the location objectives and the "bridgehead" conditions. The soviet get 10 points if they have units west of the Donets and 10 if west of the Dnepr. The germans get 10 for units east of the Donets. Because at start both sides have forces east and west of the Donets their point cancle each other, but aftert that eliminating the enemy bridgehead is critical. so, while the german bridgehead is just a waste of resources and can be easily cut off, it is vital. Lose it and you will hand 10 points to the soviets, and after turn 3 or 4 those 10 points will make difference between victory and defeat.
The Germans have better quality units, better combat chits and more flexibility yet the they are expected to do more. In the end you have to erase the enemy bulge and keep a bridgehead on the other side of the river. Fail to do this, and despite the fact that you panzers are rolling like a knife through butter you will fail. Thus you will have to take risks early one with your mobile force to avoid the soviets to cut off the bridghead and claim those points. That makes the game very tense.
The situation is not predetermined. Both sides have opportunities. The system is engaging. Definitely a very good game, I would say a little gem.