Against the Odds magazine some months ago published an intriguing four-pack - four games by four designers with the theme, "Why Did Barbarossa Fail?" Here on BGG (and on CSW for that matter) it is listed as a single entry, Four Roads to Moscow. This is a review of one of those four games, Slaughterhouse: The Soviet-German War 1941-42.
Slaughterhouse is a relatively simple game mechanically. There are three infantry types - infantry, shock infantry, and panzer, each of which is rated for attack, counter-attack, and movement. And there are leaders for all German and most Soviet units, rated to modify a unit's attack strength.
The counters on the right-hand side are for Slaughterhouse.
The Map: The game has an attractive and functional map that, despite the big hex symbols, is basically point-to-point movement. The hexes with the red stars are victory hexes - the objective. The Germans can win by capturing Leningrad, Moscow, and Rostov - or by holding 10 VPs at game end. Three units per side can jam into one of those hexes, with accompanying leaders - a space with both sides in it is contested. The "zones" - the large hexes like Gorki or Germany - can't be entered by the enemy.
The game is only five turns long, covering the ten months from June '41 thru March '42. Each turn is divided into impulses, the Soviets and Germans alternating in taking their actions, with a variety of options available. There is an "advantage" marker which if it is on you side, can be used for various benefits ranging from improving the results of a combat, to being allowed to move more units than usual, to avoiding an unfortunate logistics roll. When you use it of course, it goes onto your opponent's side where it can be used against you!
Short Game/Variable Turn Length: One of the interesting things about Slaughterhouse is the impulse and logistics mechanism. The impulse track has numbers which grow larger as the turn progresses. The first German 2d6 die roll in an impulse (called the "logistics roll") not only resolves the combat in question, it also determines whether the turn ends or not - so a variable turn length, to reduce predictability. The rain and snow turns - turns 3, 4, and 5 begin on higher impulses, making those turns tend to be shorter than the summer turns. So, good stuff. Anyway, if the logistics roll is less than the impulse number, the turn ends after the Germans finish their impulse. If the roll is equal to the turn number, the Germans endure a "logistical pause" during which it cannot attack. Bummer, but better than having the turn end.
Moving and Impulse Choices: Players have several choices in how to move in an impulse. One option is to assault then move - pick a hex which is contested (units from both sides already present), attack there and then (if you have movement points left) move. Other options let you move every unit on the map - but not do any assaults; conduct strategic moves; or (and this is interesting) transfer a step from one unit to another by flipping the first to its reduced side, and turning the second (which was reduce) to its full-strength side.
These spaces cover a lot of ground, so as I mentioned, both sides can be in a hex at once. In fact, your units can move out of a contested hex behind your opponent, with possibly serious effects for an out-of-supply defender, so you have to watch out for that.
Simple Combat: Combat is quite simple and interesting. Basically, add one attacking unit's combat strength plus leader ability, bonuses for accompanying attacking units and possibly air support for the Germans, for the attack value. Defender value equals the number on the hex - ranging from "1" for the open plains of Uman to "5" for fortresses like Leningrad and Moscow - plus one for every full-strength infantry unit. Difference between the two is a number that you will want to roll below using 2d6. Simple and elegant.
Oops - the Counterattack Is Coming: Wiped the other guy out? Great - but now for the counterattack. This is a neat little thing - in an "overrun" - an attack which has wiped out the defender in a hex - the defending unit before being removed can counterattack, using its middle value modified by the terrain of the hex (only) to see if it can inflict a step loss on the way.
Michael Rinsella's design I think does a good job of making the Germans go all-out; this covers only the opening months of Barb so this is the only chance for the Germans to win. And they have to do so facing Soviets that get six replacements per turn to their two, and without any German reinforcements (Soviets get several). My two plays saw the Germans advancing smartly but running out of steam under the weight of mounting German losses (second game I rolled pretty poorly for the German, too). The Soviets' ability to attack is only moderate - but the counterattacks give destroyed Soviet fronts and armies the chance to do damage.
I like this. Slaughterhouse is fairly simple, and I think quite interesting. There is more than one way to try to win, which is a plus. Works very well solitaire. I'll try the other games in Four Roads to Moscow, but I feel like this one alone was worth it.
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- Michael RinellaUnited States
I think you hit the nail on the head in every respect, with regard to what I was trying to accomplish in this design. Kudos also for ATO's developer Lembit for his contributions too.
Thanks for taking the time to post this.
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- Tom Swider(tswider)United States
Rulebook ClarityI think the game could be improved by cleaning up the rules. Played the game for the first time over the weekend, and it seemed like we were both frustrated trying to locate rules and interpret some of those. I didn't record any specifics just because I felt frustrated in general and as a result didn't feel like I was having a fun time playing the game.
Part of the problem may be trying to fit the rules and ideas into a quad game format. Some examples would really help. Michael's been a good sport in posting and replying so I am confident any serious rule issues will be addressed either here or on consimworld.
We also thought that the 10 point VP condition basically forces the Axis to to straight for Moscow and grab the cities on either side. One alternative may be to grab the entire Ukraine. Then again, the game only considers the initial invasion rather than the the whole war, so you can't expect the Axis to play for the long term. One nice feature is that the game doesn't end abruptly in December so the Axis can't squeak out a cheap win on a Moscow dice-out, but have to secure it well enough to live through the counterattack.
The advantage marker didn't seem dynamic as we thought that the obvious play for the Germans is to play it on the second turn for another turn of activations for entire army groups rather than single areas (forgot the name of the option).
The game does work in the sense of being able to produce the historical outcomes, and the impulse system and "pause" work well. A high roll for combat usually means failure but the turn continues, while a low roll means success but the turn ending. Nice solution to balancing luck!
Of course, wargames have the habit of proving me wrong, as somebody will point out a different approach that I hadn't considered. I'll likely come back to the game but not until after trying all the other titles within the quad.
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