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Subject: East Front Playable Monster? Is it possible? rss

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Matt Irsik
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Overview

Most wargamers at one time or another look at games such as World in Flames, Highway to the Reich, The Longest Day, and others with all of their maps, counters, etc., and think it wouldn’t just be great to own one of those “monster” games, but to play it as well. It’s the playing part of the deal that is the biggest challenge, however! Most monster games have three or more maps, thousands of counters, charts, and the rule books will definitely take some time to figure out. The set up can be hours, then getting through the first few turns can be quite the achievement all by itself. In the end most of these monster games end after a few turns and the dawning realization that you’re never going to get through all of it anyway, so maybe it’s time to move onto some other game.



Proud Monster Deluxe certainly fits into the category of monster game. Originally presented in Command magazine #27 back in 1994 where it started out as a two map, “mini-monster” that covered Operation Barbarossa at the brigade/divisional level. A follow on game, Death & Destruction, which appeared in a later issue, continued the game into 1942 and through 1944. Proud Monster has had an almost cult like following and its popularity has endured for almost two decades. There was a high level of excitement when it was announced that Compass Games would reissue the game as Proud Monster Deluxe and it would be redesigned/developed by Don Johnson. It was touted as a “playable” monster game, which leads to the question, is it or just another overly produced massive game that won’t see the table?”



Components

I already owned a couple of Compass Games offerings, including Bitter End and Red Storm Over The Reich, so I had pretty high expectations for PMD. I was not to be disappointed. The game comes in an almost detergent sized box that makes one remember the old SPI monster games. There are four 24 x 32 maps, 2000+ counters, a stack of players aids, and the rules. The maps are a thing of beauty, covering the Leningrad area all the way down through the Caucasus region near Turkey and Iran for those panzer commanders who think they can get that far during the game. The hexes are large, which greatly aids handling the large stacks of counters during a game. Cities, towns, villages, district HQs, forts, etc., are clearly marked and together they will just fit on a 6 x 4 table.

The counters represent all of the brigades, divisions, mechanized corps, assault gun battalions, and more that fought on the Eastern Front during WW2. Units can have anywhere from one to four steps and for those with four steps they have replacement counters for the third and fourth steps. The numbers are in the traditional attack-defense-movement format with entry and withdrawal numbers on the top, which greatly aid set up. Most of the Russian units are untried, so both sides have no idea what their capabilities are until they are in combat. I thought this was one of the more interesting facets of the game as you can be surprised when attacking what you thought was a weak position, only to find out that it’s defended by several very good units. Likewise, when attacking it can be disheartening to flip over stacks of counters and see that they don’t have the strength for a successful attack. Managing the untried units and conserving the good tried units is one of the major challenges for the Russian side.

The turn track, at least to me, was the single most important play aid included in the game. Everything, from which weather chit to choose, replacements, special rules that are in effect, and more are contained on the turn track. It’s also a great place to stack the reinforcements so that each player can see what is coming in. Also, there is critical information about Guards conversions, mech upgrades, refits, etc., that are critical to the game. It sounds strange to have to explain this, but if you don’t pay attention to the turn track you are not going to do well in this game. Both sides need to pay attention 2-4 turns out to make sure they are protecting tried units for conversions, withdrawing units that will undergo upgrades, and what the supply situation will be to plan out offensives. Overall, the components are top notch, well thought out, and there is very little, if anything, to complain about.




Rules

This is where at least in the initial response the game has received some criticism. The rulebook isn’t as long as you would think for a game of this size and scale, being 40 pages long. Most of the last 12 or so pages deal with the special units that arrive throughout the game and the designer’s notes. If you’ve been playing wargames for any length of time, most of this is standard fare. No zones of control, stacking up to five in regular hexes and ten in cities, strategic movement, replacements, combat, overruns (mobile assault), etc., so there aren’t really any surprises. You can actually go through the rules pretty quickly and see where the system is going without too much difficulty.

The problems seem to lie in two areas at the time of this writing. The first isn’t so much of a problem as it is a new way of doing things, which is close combat. The Germans start with six of these markers while the Russians have none, but they have to “earn” them throughout the game. Close combat allows the attacker to move into the defenders hex, which can be particularly effective for cities, across major rivers, etc., so that the defender can’t reinforce the hex. It also doubles the step losses, so the close combat markers have the tendency to force decisive results.

The second problem area deals with supply. For the first few turns everyone is pretty much in supply for offense and defense, so everything in this area is pretty straightforward. In 1942 both sides need to use what are called OSMs, which have ranges on them for offensive supply. OSMs come in 0, 3, 4, and 5 denominations, so if you’re in range of one you can attack at full strength. If not, you can attack at half strength. This has the effect of localizing offensives from 1942 on and dictates the tone of operations each turn, so if both sides only have a 3OSM in February, for example, there’s not going be much offensive activity. If you have a 3, a few 4s, and a 5 OSMs, then you can pick several sectors to launch attacks for that two week turn.

The problem is from when the Germans reach the GAS line, which is a line down the maps where German supply in 1941 had some serious problems. You can either choose to use 18 concentrated supply markers, which enables up to 18 units to move and attack at full strength with no ill effects (however, every other German unit can only move one hex and can’t attack), or use the OSM system. The OSM system will supply more units, but you have to roll on the GAST table which lowers the odds of the German attacks. The problem is that it’s not explained very well in the rules, leading to some confusion in this area. It’s weird because this only covers less than a dozen turns and is only used for the end of 1941 and early ’42, but it’s caused the most problems as far as I can tell. If there was a table or something explaining your options for those several turns it would have prevented several questions during the game.

Fortunately, the rules are available in PDF form so you can do an online search for terms, which can be quite handy. For example, I saw on the turn track something about the Finnish garrison requirements. I looked and looked through the rules and couldn’t find it, but because there’s no index I couldn’t go right to that section. Found the rule by doing a PDF search and it was in the front of the rules where I never expected it to be. Overall, while there are some quibbles and some minor annoyances with things in the rules, there’s nothing that “breaks” the game or that should cause anyone to give up on the system.



Game Play

Now here is where the system shines in my opinion. I believe that for a wargame to have success that it has to accomplish two things; first, it must give each side choices, so no scripting out the first few turns, seasons, or years. Second, it must have some value in being replayed. If each game repeats itself or if you can see what’s going to happen every single time you set it up, why play? Fortunately, PMD gives you a bewildering array of choices, which again in my opinion, leads to a very high replay value.

Basically, the Germans run wild in the first few turns, crunching everything in their path. The beauty of this is that both sides can try various strategies, such as spreading out the panzers, defending in depth, sacrificing Minsk, setting up a forward defense, and more. The Russians start arriving in massive numbers and even here there are a number of decisions to be made. Should they be sent to cities as garrisons, moved up in single lines to act as speed bumps, conserved for a counterattack, etc. The Germans soon run into supply problems, creating more decisions that need to be made in terms of objectives, where to attack, transferring troops, etc. Then the Russian winter offensive kicks in and the German infantry gets chewed up while offensive operations grind to a halt. This is followed by a rebuilding phase by both sides before the weather improves and the Germans attempt a massive offensive for a second time to try to end things on this front.

The game system flows pretty quickly for such a large game. Each turn is broken into two week long segments, with refits, movement, combat, reserve movement for both sides, and then a cleanup phase. Again, nothing that is difficult to grasp and there isn’t much down time for either side. Once you get the hang of the turn sequence and play a few turns the game flows pretty quickly. I thought the various special units such as heavy artillery, assault gun battalions, Axis minors, and more are a great deal of fun to see and use on the board. The rulebook does a good job of explaining many of the new units , upgrades, and changes that will occur during the game.



Summary

So, where does PMD fit in the glut of games about the Eastern Front in WW2? It’s at a much smaller scale than one of my favorite games, War Without Mercy, and considerably more involved than another favorite, Russian Campaign. In both of those games you have the inevitable Russian counteroffensive, but here in PMD you experience the buildup of units for it, the shifting of reserves, and the several weeks of continuous assaults along the line. What those games do with a handful of counters and a few die rolls equates to hundreds of counters and numerous die rolls in PMD. Some gamers are going to love this and others will stick with their strategic level games. There have been several other monster games on the subject, but PMD may be the first one that is “playable”. By that I mean that you can actually set it up and play it to a conclusion, even though it may take some time. You will not finish PMD in an evening (unless you’re really, really good as the Germans), or two evenings, or maybe even several long weekends. There are a lot of turns and a LOT of counters!



Overall, I find PMD to be a wonderful gaming experience. High quality components, an astounding number of choices and options for both sides, and a system that is not only fun, but feels right historically. You can experience the pockets, shifting of panzer reserves, supply problems, and what to do with hundreds of units across a massive area. It’s probably the first monster game I’ve owned where you feel like you could finish the game or play to a reasonable conclusion. With most monster games you see an attitude of “Let’s set it up and try to get through the first few turns…”. With PMD that is a feeling that you definitely won’t get.

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Iain K
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Nice review Matt, a couple questions.

Can you explain why you feel "there isn’t much down time for either side." I know I'm going to face difficulty convincing my regular FtF partners that a 2000+ counter Igo-Ugo treatment of the eastern front has no down time as the opposing player takes their turn.

Have you played the predecessor or this title multiple times?
How is airpower handled?
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Bill Lawson
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Thanks Matt!
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Matt Irsik
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Yeah, saw that and fixed it!
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Matt Irsik
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Iain, during each weekly turn there is a reserve movement phase for both sides, so if you've placed reserve markers on stacks you will get to move them during your opponent's turn. This means that you need to pay attention to what they're doing and see if you need to seal off any breakthroughs or strengthen a sector that might get overrun in your opponent's reserve movement phase. Turns go pretty quick as well, so there's no, "You do your turn and I'll be back with a pizza in an hour" type moments.

Airpower. Yes, I forgot that. Basically, both sides get markers representing large groups of aircraft that stay with stacks of units throughout the turn, adding in offensive and defensive factors. Simple, effective, and it works well for this scale of game.
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Iain K
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mirsik wrote:
Iain, during each weekly turn there is a reserve movement phase for both sides, so if you've placed reserve markers on stacks you will get to move them during your opponent's turn. This means that you need to pay attention to what they're doing and see if you need to seal off any breakthroughs or strengthen a sector that might get overrun in your opponent's reserve movement phase.


Interesting ... so reserve movement is similar to the "reaction movement" seen in other titles. You can ask Bill, I love games that give me some way to respond to developments *during* my opponent's turn. I see from the PDF on Compass' site that they move *after* combat, but before friendly reserves move ... so they can plug holes ... interesting.
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Donald Johnson
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Thanks for the overall positive review. Hope you are having fun.

2 minor clarifications

1. Close combat does not double losses, what it does is mean the players alternate choosing losses with your opponent going first. So it can become a meatgrinder.

2. The supply concentration markers are used in conjunction with the offensive supply markers. The former are a way to avoid the GAS line penalty for combat, which can be up to 3 CRT shifts depending on a die roll.
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Steve Massey
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If you have played an OCS title, you will be at home with this game. This system is almost OCS scaled up to the next level.
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Stan Grossman
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Nice review Matt, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the game!
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Bob Schindler
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Thank you for the review. Great pictures.
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Tony Kerstan
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Execllent review and thank you for the photos as well.

I should be getting my copy anyday now cool

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Alan Sutton
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Fantastic detailed review. Thanks a lot. My regular gaming friend has just bought this so I suspect I'll be playing it pretty soon.
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Joe Linares`
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I've played many monster games in my time (All of the old GDW games and few SPI) but never Proud Monster. I got it a few weeks back and have been playing it almost nightly. Two other gamers have now joined in and we have completed a few trial turns.
All of us agree that the game plays very well, much better than I had expected.
The map is top grade, the counters are excellent and well designed. Turn sequence is short but quite dynamic and full of power. The rules are short and to the point, but leave the player lots of room to play 'his game'. From a rules standpoint you are NOT boxed in. Some rules needed a little explaining but what game doesn't? Don is there on ConSim to answer them ASAP.

Compass did a great job, it shows that it was well play tested.
All in all I give this game the highest marks, and I will be playing and enjoying it for some time to come.
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