Map Graphics: 8 hexes
Counter Graphics: 7 hexes
Rules: 3 hexes
Fun Factor: 3 hexes
Replayability: 8 hexes
Hex ratings range from a high of 10, nirvana, to a low of 0, your head will explode.
Overall recommendation: play a friend's copy
The possible recommendations are: "buy," "play friend's copy," or "do not buy."
Now I know that I've irritated all the fans of Proud Monster Deluxe; their eyes are turning red and they will look for every opportunity in which to slay the evil one who has dared not to give an overwhelming recommendation. Remember, this assessment is mine and others will differ.
The original Proud Monster is game that I had the opportunity to play to completion several times and I found it to be a highly enjoyable game; I never played the Death and Destruction extension. The announcement of Proud Monster Deluxe; intrigued me and I was looking forward with much anticipation to its release. I had the opportunity to "complete" two face-to-face games [of i]Proud Monster Deluxe[/i]. Complete is in quotes, although the games both ended we did not get very far into the turn record. One game ended on turn 118 (turn 7) with a German automatic victory and the other game ended earlier when the Germans threw in the towel, as the Soviets had nearly a double line of defense extending from the north Luga line west of Leningrad to Dnepropetrovsk and then on to the the Sea of Azov. Nearly each hex having at least 3 Soviet units, note units and not necessarily steps. These results reflect more the game play and skills, or lack thereof, of the two opponents and game's learning curve, at least for us.
Figure: The first turn, Turn 112, with the Axis just starting operation Barbarossa. A few German Panzer columns have opened holes in the Soviet lines. The infantry and remaining armored units ready to roll.
The Axis automatic victory occured at the end of turn 118. The Soviets were virtually eliminated from the map, south of Moscow. Initially, the Axis pushed directly towards Moscow with small, mostly leg, screening to the north towards Leningrad and in the south through the Ukraine. The Soviets partially over committed to the north and due to the limit Axis effort, defended too far forward in the south. When the Axis finally broke through in the south, large encirclements of Soviet forces occurred. Thus, the armored formations heading towards Moscow, by passed the city and headed south. On turn 118, 10 victory points were obtained, forcing Stalin to capitulate.
Figure: Position in the South on Turn 118 with the Axis achieving an automatic victory.
Each game turn has two complete weeks where each player essentially undertakes movement and combat. Reinforcements occur once at the beginning of the turn, essentially every two weeks. At the beginning of the turn reinforcements arrive, withdrawals occur, replacement steps are determined and close combat markers return to the players. Each of of weeks has the Axis perform movement and combat followed by the Soviets Each weekly turn has 6 phases: refit, initial movement, combat, enemy reserve movement, friendly reserve movement, and clean-up. After the second week, a check of the victory conditions are made.
Combat during the combat phase is generally referred to as PA (Prepared Assault), except when its referred to as Combat, as in the turn sequence. During movement, Mobile Assaults (MAs) are allowed, which are also referred to as Overruns. MAs are allowed in all three movement phases, initial, enemy and friendly. An important concept is that OOS (out of supply) status for both sides is judged at the beginning of each phase. Thus a player is able to move units to put enemy units OOS during the following combat phase. However, an individual's unit only progress through the ISO (isolation) sequence, where they will eventually suffer attrition and disappear (ie surrender) if not put back in supply. The minimal time to recover from an OOS is two weeks, which may be increased if in a a fort. Available air units are assigned to a unit or stack of units, essentially whenever desired and remain with that stack until the owning player's next refit phase. Close Combat is special type of combat, either MA or PA, which is required when attacking cities and optional, using a Close Combat Marker, elsewhere. Close Combat Markers allow attacking units to enter the defender's hex, up to the allowable stacking limit, counting all units, friendly & enemy. This mechanism allows for the attack to slowly take a hex or to be decimated unit by unit. Close Combat markers are also essential to take particularly well defended location. The Axis start with 6 Close Combat Markers, while the Soviets start with none. The Soviets must earn their Close Combat Marker by either destroying a German, not Axis, division, or attacking a stack with at least one German division at 2:1 odds or greater. Close Combat Markers allow the Soviets to increase their ability to stack units which is generally limited to 3 division, compared to the Axis 5 divisions. City hexes allow for the stacking of up to 10 divisions. The use of reserves and MA are essential to recreate the deep operations and encirclements that were employed by both sides.
Figure: The Long Road to Moscow:
immediately after the start, the view from the Axis perspective, AGN & AGC, with Minsk manned by the Soviets and Moscow in the far distance.
The map is visually spectacular along with being exceptionally functional. Determining what terrain and construction exists in each hex is explicit and not ambiguous. Hexside terrain is clearly delineated. with major and minor rivers are distinguished by their width and color. Rivers end by entering the hex at a vertex, eliminating any doubt of which hexsides have rivers to cross and which do not. The seas are an aqua with a darker shade the further away from the coast line, a very beautiful effect. The cities have their hexes outlined which clearly distinguish them from large towns. The size of the hexes are sufficient where the counters fit within the hex and if one clips the 2000 or so counters, then this makes stacking manageable. The map is very functional and should minimize, if not eliminate any ambiguity of the local terrain. This map will set a standard for others to follow.
As the color palette for graphics has expanded, a color combination in one setting may look different under another. The game was played indoors under incandescent lights, with a slight yellow tint, which will have an impact on the colors. Villages have no effect on game play and are shown only for information purposes and are represented by black dots with black text for the village name, or perhaps very dark brown. Small towns are significant for game play, being location to which units may trace overland supply and useful to the Axis for strategic movement. Small towns are represented by yellow dots encircled by a black (or dark brown) line, with name text in white with a shadow effect. The size of the dots and shadowed text is only slightly larger than for villages. As clear terrain is predominantly a 'wheat' color, villages 'pop-out' more than small towns. Under a yellow-tint incandescent light, I found that small towns disappeared when viewing the map from a distance, although villages were always readily apparent. Thus, I found small towns easy to miss. Perhaps under different lighting the impact will be less. Rough and forest also tend toward similar colors under the lighting condition used. Large towns, such as Rzhev (hex 3816) looks nearly like rough terrain, from a distance. At least one city has marsh as its background terrain, which may lead confusion regarding whether or not it is clear terrain, as cities are clear terrain, as mentioned in the body of the rules but not on the TEC (terrain effects chart).
Figure: Proud Monster Deluxe Map Detail: forest, rough and clear terrain, fort lines, a large town, small towns (yellow dot), villages (black dots), minor rivers, major rivers, and a reservoir. Note: the minor river ends by entering a hex at an inflection point.
The map detail shows a 'reservoir', which is a terrain feature not mentioned in the rules or on the TEC. As with other aspects, one should probably assume that reservoirs are lakes; of course, I know of several real reservoirs that are narrower than many rivers.
Figure: Detail of Turn Record Track.
The Axis and the Soviets each have their own turn record track. A tremendous amount of information is on the track, including the number of points for an automatic victory, weather, replacements, reinforcements, among other details. The worst feature of the counters and turn tracks is the lack of a simple mechanism to record each of the player weeks within a turn.
The map has a box with text that reads "1943 Start Line." Unfortunately, no 1943 scenario exists.
Counter graphics achieve the correct balance between form and function. Perhaps not spectacular from a purely artistic sense, they are spectacular from this gamer's perspective. The balance between form and function is critical and sometimes the artistic aspects overwhelm the functional aspects. Here they do not. Unit types are distinguished by NATO symbols with the background color in the NATO symbol a slightly different shade and in a few instances a different color, which renders them easy to read. For games at this scale, my predilection is for NATO symbols such as these ;others may disagree and prefer vehicle, gun and troop silhouettes or pictures. The font for attack, defense and movement factors is large and easy to read. Given that I now need reading glasses, larger text is a boon to my aging eyes. Soviet untried units are represented by the letter "U," my preference would have been for a "?." A nice touch is that the second counter, steps 2 and 1, for German leg units are represented by a different color counter, an overall light gray, opposed to the field gray for the first counter, steps 4 and 3. Of course, this give your opponent some intelligence by an ability to see which stacks have a substantially reduced infantry division screened in a stack of units. Perhaps that is the rational why German mech units are not so distinguished?
First let me begin by stating some obvious rule language around movement. The rules explicitly state that a units move from one hex to an adjacent hex and that movement points may not be accumulated from turn to turn. This prelude is given to indicate that in some areas the rules are very explicit, unambiguous and minimize the gamer having to infer intent; perhaps, such wording is overly obvious?
The rules are the weak point of the game. The use of language is often poor. An example is the following sentence: "The attacker must advance at least one unit in order to maintain the Close Combat marker in a hex beyond the combat in which it was placed; if they either cannot advance or chose not to advance, then the Close Combat marker is removed and placed on the TRT for arrival on the next 2-week turn." Quite honestly, I have no idea what the first part of the sentence is trying to say. The particularly confusing phrase is the one which reads "in a hex beyond the combat in which it was placed."
Terminology is often inconsistent. "Mobile assault" and "overrun" are defined as synonyms, in the glossary. Thus, in some places MA or mobile assault is used and in other places overrun is used. In my opinion, this exchange is sloppy, just pick one and go with it. GAS (German Attenuated Supply) and GAST (German Attenuated Supply Table) is defined in the glossary and are used in the rulebook. No GAST is to be found, ether on the maps or on the player aid charts. A single table on the map is titled 'Attenuated Supply', which one has to assume is the GAST. GAS effects occur on the east side of the map but the GAST is on the west, near Germany but an improvement would be to have the GAST on the player aid chart.
A positive note is that a FAQ posted on consiworld.com explains what the number means on the Offensive Supply Marker, when used for offensive supply. The number refers to the range in hexes when these markers are used for offensive supply and not as an ad hoc urban center. Additionally, the marker with a range of zero, 0, is the dummy marker. Nowhere do the rules specify how to calculate range for an offensive supply maker when it is used for offensive supply. To further confuse the situation, a table in the rule book converts the number on the Offensive Supply Marker into MPs (movement points) when the Offensive Supply Marker is used as an ad hoc urban supply source.
The organization of the rules is poor. Key concepts are explained as modifying phrases to other aspects. Tracing supply by sea is such an example which is mentioned almost in passing in section 8.4 supply states.
Another aspect is whether or not leg units may move in either a friendly or enemy reserve movement phase. Here the rules are contradictory. Section 6.4 begins by discussing the aspects of reserve markers as they apply to units, which includes both leg and mech types of units. The following is stated:
"Units in reserve may move in 1 of 4 ways:
3) Coming out of reserve in their Friendly Reserve Movement Phase,
4) Coming out of reserve in the Enemy Reserve Movement Phase during their opponent's following week."
Reading this one should interpret that leg units being able to move in either a Friendly or Enemy Reserve Movement Phase. Further reading, the following is stated:
"Mech units and cavalry units coming out of reserve have 2 enchanced movment capabilities:
2) During Friendly Reserve Movement Phase or an Enemy Reserve Movement Phase, they can come out of reserve and move.
Leg units that are not cavalry may be in reserve, but do not gain any enhanced movement capabilities (except during a Seasonal Offensive week when they have both enhanced movement capabilities listed above);"
Thus, the question is whether or not may leg units move in either a reserve phase which is no designated as a seasonal offensive? The first part clearly indicates the answer is yes but the second part tends to negate this interpretation.
Map locations exist where defending units may be PA'd (prepared assault) across both minor and major units. The rules state that all units attacking across a minor river hexside use ¾ of their totaled attack factors, in 1941. A player may correctly state, since not all units are attacking across a minor river hexside and, those units attacking across a minor hexside should attack at full strength, even though all units are attacking across river hexside, some major and some minor. If this interpretation is used then only those units attacking across the major river will be halved. This inference may be incorrect but is consistent with the rules as written.
In section 13.4. 2, the 3 paragraph begins, "a city has clear terrain." This is the only place where it is mentioned that a city has clear terrain, not on the TEC, either under terrain or construction. Note, there is at least one city on the map that does not have clear terrain as its background terrain. Thus, this situation may cause confusion.
On page 3 there is a large graphic with the title 'extra counters mentioned in rule 2.4'. In the 2nd sentence of the 2nd paragraph of the section a sentence read, "some spare units (those without names and possibly attack and defense factors) are provided in case a unit is lost; they are not used otherwise." Note the use of different terms which reduces the ability to search, while "extra" and "counters" are used in the figure, these same terms are missing from the sentence. In my first play, I completely missed this important point and included these counter in the mix.
The Soviets gain Close Combat Markers from points generated by attacking German units at 2:1 odds or greater, 1 point, or eliminating a German division, 1 point. A maximum of 2 Close Combats Markers may be generated each year. Thus, the first 12 points generated will allow for two Close Combat Markers. If the Soviets generate more than 12 points then do these points carry over to the next year?
Throughout my two playings, I found myself struggling more with the rulebook, trying to find that one little phrase, buried as modifier explaining a key concept, such as supply by sea. My opponent and I spent an inordinate amount of time discussing and debating the rules. Thus, one may be in the situation of making moves and deciding on combat based on an interpretation of the rules and then discover your opponent disagree and made decisions on his interpretation. Once we came to an agreement on the game, the game was fun. However, I do not look forward to engaging a different person as we will likely have to undertake that entire discussion and come to terms regarding what are the intent of the rules. Furthermore, deciding on the rules prior to each game may negate lessons learned from a prior play. I prefer to spend my time playing the game than discussing and writing rules.
If the errata, inconsistencies and rules were better organized then likely the 'fun factor' and my entire impression of this game would change. I'm only able to guess, as I have no idea if these changes will come to pass.
Replays appear to offer numerous choices, with each game being its own. My two experiences both ended early but with completely opposite results; likely a result of our own ineptitude with strategy, operations and tactics than anything particular with the game. The Axis have several options in which to pursue victory. Although, the Soviets are somewhat more constrained as they will likely first have to defend against the Axis avenue of attack then reduce them prior to driving the invaders out. The Soviets do have some significant challenges in 1941, as they have a very limited ability to stack and the Axis are able to go anywhere, although not everywhere they want. The Soviets start the game with no Close Combat Markers and must 'earn' them through eliminating German divisions or attacking German units at 2:1 odds or greater. The generation of Close Combat Markers allows the Soviets in increase their ability to stack units, eventually equivalent with the Axis. The Axis start with an ability to stack 5 division per hex, excepting cities. The Soviets start at 3 divisions, which increases by 1 for each of the first two Close Combat Markers are earned.
The four maps require a space about four feet by six feet. Thus, the game will not fit on nearly any table without some additional material. Size does matter and some will be deterred by the physical size and some may purchase it just for its size and number of counters. To complete 7 game turns took nearly 20 hours; thus, the ability to have a face-to-face game play to completion will be a challenge. The game truly is a monster.
This is not your father's Proud Monster, the changes from the initial game are numerous. The concept of "close combat," the Stalin Line fort hexes, reserve, artillery and the victory point schedule are just a few of the changes. The initial set-up and opening moves will be drastically different for the Axis and the push for Army Group South is a very different challenge. While touted as a playable monster, the game has many little components and bits that add a tremendous amount of flavor, along with time and complexity.
The system has minimum player interaction and limited enemy reserve move and should be very amenable to play by e-mail. Although, to play a game from 1941 to 1944 may take longer than real war.
Lessons from playing:
Reserve markers should be used every refit phase. The failure to place a reserve marker should be dictated only by a lack of available units, otherwise every marker should be used. Units marked with a reserve marker may move in the Initial Movement Phase; thus, no 'penalty' is imposed for placing a stack in reserve. The use of reserve markers allow mech units to enter hexes with MA marker without a movement penalty. A tactic is to use a mech stack to MA hex, ideally the eligible stack that is farthest from the target hex. If the defenders are eliminated then a stack in reserve may move into and through that hex.
As written, the rules do not prevent over stacking prior to MA, as a MA is part of movement. MA stacking in Proud Monster Deluxe is substantially different than in Proud Monster. The ability to over stack prior to a MA allows an MA over a hex fully stacked with leg units. The stacking penalty may occur if the defending hex is not cleared but this risk is minimal, particularly for the Axis during 1941. Thus, even with a double line, the Axis in 1941 may MA the first hex and stop in that he then with a followup stack MA the second hex. If the Soviets are thin and have only 1 rifle division or even 2 in a hex, the German should be able to guarantee passing through the Soviet defense like a hot knife through butter. Of course in late 1943 and 1944, the Soviets will be doing this on the Axis.
Military HQ locations are of particular value to both sides. These locations generate replacement points for the Soviets, which is an increasing multiple of the number of locations friendly to the Soviets. Thus, the Soviets will like to hold on to as many for as long as possible while the Axis desire the reverse. The rapid fall of too many such locations early in the game may be hazardous to the health of the Soviet Union.
Close combat is allowed into empty hexes and is an excellent way for a unit or stack of units, of any type or nationality to advance one more hex. A close combat across an undefended river line or into a marsh or rough hex allows a stack of units to advance another hex. Close combat into a marsh hex , allows a stack of Axis mech units another 4 MPs, nothing to sneeze at if trying to turn the Kiev line from the north during the early weeks of the war. The downside is that the marker is not available until the next turn; however, using it during the second week of a turn means it will return the following week, as that is the next turn.
Close Combat is critical to advance into an occupied hex. A tactic useful to cross a well defended hex that is a city, a fortification, or crossing major river.
The Soviets must attack German units to generate Close Combat Markers. A 2:1 or greater attack against a stack with German units generates 1 point towards earning the 6 points to generate a Close Combat Marker. Eliminating a German division also generates 1 point. Up to and no more than 2 Close Combat Markers may be generated each year.
The Soviets have the opportunity to convert units, upgrade to guards status. Only tried units may be converted. The Soviets need to look at turn record track and may need to attack units to allow for the conversions to take place. Also, converted units are removed from the game; thus, the incentive is to convert the weakest units to improve the overall average quality of the 'replacement army.' The replacement army is terminology for eliminated units that may be rebuilt using replacement points.
The Soviets should be able to win the war of attrition. If one looks at the CRT for odds above 2:1 the attacker will lose 1 step, except in terrain that allows for a reduction in loses. A Soviet defender against a highly mobile and strong Axis army needs to think of defense in depth with sometimes a single unit in a hex, such as rough or marsh terrain. While the Axis may PA such a unit, the Soviets will be trading a step for a step. If the Soviets put 2 or 3 steps, essentially 3 rifle divisions, here the Soviets will likely lose all 3 steps with the Axis losing 1 and the Soviets will likely be more vulnerable to being surrounded.
The Soviets should place at least one unit in every Stalin fortification. If the Axis attack then they will take a step loss. Should the Axis decide to bypass, then at least 6 units will tied up for three weeks, equivalent to a turn and a half. The challenge is when to hold a city and when to abandon a city. Since cities are clear terrain, loss reduction is possible but a city doubles the loss numbers. Keeping 4 steps in a city will inflict a minimum of two steps of a losses on the attacker and is something to consider.
Supply has several nuances, particularly for the Axis player. One needs to know when and where the GAS effect apply, the role of the supply concentration to avoid the GAS effect for units so supplied and the negative consequence for units not so supplied. Beginning with turn 117 for the Axis and turn 203 for the Soviets, Offensive Supply Markers (OSM) are necessary to attack at full strength. Eventually the Axis will not have enough markers to cover the front and the Soviets will never have enough markers to cover the entire front. The use of dummy may be used to mask one's intent.
AFV (armored fighting vehicles) are able to gain a favorable column shift when attacking INTO a clear hex. In many games, this bonus negated when attacking across a rive. No such statement is made in Proud Monster Deluxe; the rules allows for an AFV shift when attacking across either minor or river hexsides.
Early game the Axis have several avenues of approach but also need to be somewhat flexible with respect on developments on the field. The victory points for an automatic victory do allow the Soviet so trade a little space for time but the Soviets must attack early in the game both to reveal units and to generate points for close combat markers. The Soviets are hampered by a restrictive stacking rule of 3 units until they generate a close combat marker the first allows stacking of 4 units and the second 5 units
The quality of the components are excellent. The game has real 'eye candy' appeal when it is on the floor or very large table with the units on the map. A 1943 scenario would be a nice addition. Even a 1944 scenario, if the campaign game has the Axis in 1941 crushing all before them then why not a similar scenario for the Soviets in 1944? Can the Soviet push the Germans out more decisively than their historical performance?
The developer maintains an active presence on consimworld.com and is prompt in responding to questions. This effort and time is commendable and is likely much underappreciated. Although, he has predilection not use 'yes' or 'no' when answering such questions but tends to attempt to explain the answer, sometimes quoting the rules, which oftens up in a rambling response that adds little clarity, particularlywhen the rules are quoted, but here I repeat myself, only for clarity's sake; yet, such attempts at clarity often lead to confusion when attempting to clarify a confusing position, excepting, of course, when everything is perfectly clear. Clear?
Once my opponent and I agreed on the rules, the game was enjoyable. While I expect every game to have errata and the need for clarification, we all have an arbitrary line when the amount of errata becomes unacceptable. For me, the level of acceptable errata threshold is crossed with Proud Monster Deluxe. I could see two reasonable people come to very different opinions on two critical aspects one being the ability of leg-units to move in reserve, not during a seasonal offensive,and the other being the stacking limits for units participating in a MA. Another particular peeve is changing terminology, the MA/overrun is such an exampled. Throughout my playing I found myself struggling with the rulebook to find those critical phrases hidden throughout and discussing what the rules meant with my opponent, almost more time than actually playing the game.
In full disclosure, my opponent in the two games believes Proud Monster Deluxe to be the 'most realistic game on the east front' and likes the game, despite his opinion that the rulebook is a challenge mostly due to its poor organization.
In my opinion, as released, the rules leave much to be desired. If the rules were reorganized, clarified and the writing improved, the game would likely be a gem. However, as initially released Proud Monster Deluxe is just cubic zirconia.
edit: 2011-08-11 corrected italics and a couple of typos; yes, we all have errata.