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Subject: My first attempt at a review - Ukraine 44 rss

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Lewis Kenyon
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Ukraine ’44 Review

This is a complete game found inside Multiman Publishing’s Special Ops magazine Issue 2 covering the Soviet Winter Offensive in the Ukraine in 1943-44 involving the German 1st Panzer Army that was encircled by the 1st and 2nd Ukrainian Fronts in the area of Kamenets-Podolsky (or Hube’s pocket as other may know it). Subsequently this is a game of manoeuvre, thrust and counter thrust, with the Germans trying to escape with is much of their army intact with the Soviets trying to crush and destroy them. This game was designed by Yasushi Nakaguro and originally published in Japan’s Command magazine in 2006. The graphics are done by Francois Vander Meulen.

This is my first attempt at writing a review and is based on a face to face game with my regular gaming friend who I will hope chip in if there is anything he feels I have missed out. Depending on responses I may write some more.

Components & Appearance
Counters – The counters are nicely done a fully functional and of good typical MMP quality with standard NATO symbols with a picture of either tanks or infantry. The picture of the type of unit isn’t entirely necessary and if they were not present, it would not detract from the game in anyway. The opposite side has the NATO symbol, formation information and the attack and defence strength of units. This means that there is a significant fog of war when playing as your opponent does not know the value of your units until combat is declared. This is something I really like as it models reality in a sense no commander can be entirely sure of his opponents strength or will to resist, this means offensive action must be considered before initiation as you may find yourself gambling and attacking with unfavourable odds.

Map – The map is beautiful, this one of the nicest maps for a magazine game I have seen in while. The map covers the area from Ternopol in the north to Chernovsty in the south and Stanislavov in the west to Bar in the east. The initial set up and deployment areas for both sides are clearly marked on the map making for a relatively quick setup. The edges of the map also include the combat results table (CRT) the printed movement allowances for the various units, German infantry and mechanized and Soviet Infantry and mechanized, turn record track and a holding box for German air supply and Tiger battalion counters. My only criticism is the lack of a printed sequence of play anywhere on the map, which meant the need for quick checking to ensure actions were completed in the right order.

Rules & Mechanics
The rules are very well written with few if any areas of ambiguity that we could find when playing. We only had to check back into the rulebook on a couple of occasions to check rules and this was usually with regard to the use of German Tiger tank battalions, being out of supply/isolated and less than standard combat i.e. bridges, rivers involving multiple counters.

The zones of control (ZOCs) rules are relatively standard to anybody familiar with consim games such as must stop when entering an enemy ZOC, cant retreat or trace supply through enemy ZOCs, cant slide ZOC to ZOC etc.

Supply for bother sides comes from a series of lettered icons around the map edges some for the Germans and some for the Soviets. For a unit to be in supply they must be within 5 hexes of any road that then leads an infinite length back to your sides supply sources, providing there is no enemy ZOC covering any part of the route if so the supply line is cut and causes a progressive set of restrictions on units as they go from out of supply to isolated. The German player also has air supply to help him when/if his units find themselves pocketed by the soviets.

Stacking is restricted to one unit per hex except in the case of Tiger tank battalions which do not count towards stacking.

Movement is pretty standard with modifiers for things like moving through rough and wooded terrain. The different unit’s movement values are clearly printed on the map. Here is where I have a few points to make, for both infantry and mechanized units move in clear terrain costs 2MP with 1MP for staying on a road? Mmmhhh by this time the Soviets as well as the Germans were well versed for moving and dealing with snowy conditions and manoeuvring large forces in them (Operation Uranus for example) I understand that generally the Germans were a more mobile force than the Soviets which is accounted for in the rules by the German player getting and extra mechanized movement phase for those units within in their game turn. However at this time the Soviets were beginning to receive large amounts of American Studebaker trucks for moving infantry and guns. So with clear costing 2MP for infantry means Soviet infantry can only move two hexes unlike the German infantry that can move 3 hexes, unless using strategic movement which is useful as its doubles unit’s movement but that unit cannot start end or go through an enemy ZOC.

Combat is relatively straight forward with your standard odds based CRT so you add each sides attack or defence value then roll dice on the appropriate column of the table checking for results, obviously taking into account modifiers such as terrain and flanking attacks. When damage is inflicted on a unit is usually takes a numerical loses and a possible retreat. When a unit retreat it has to move a minimum of two hexes. This combat system produces both things I like such as the fog of war which I mentioned earlier in that you don’t know the strength of your enemy until your attack is declared, but on the other hand when units have taken damage there are numerical markers placed on units showing the level of decrease in their combat power. So when combat involve several units it can become fiddly to pick them all up and do the subtraction of number values from their initial start values. To make this combat system work it is a necessity and in my opinion worth it.

Tiger tanks battalion are units which the German player can attach and detach to any German mobile unit in the correct phase of the sequence of play. These units give the Germans a combat bonus when both attacking and defending this is done by rolling d6 and half of the value rolled is added to the German combat strength this can give a bonus of up to 3 extra points to the German player.

Victory Conditions
Soviets - Sudden death victory if they control 3 of 4 victory cities (Ternopol, Chernovsty, Berezhany and Stanislavov)
Otherwise for every Axis mobile point lost is worth 2VP. Each Axis infantry step loss is worth 1VP. A Tiger battalion eliminated is worth 3 VP. Axis garrison step is worth 1VP. Air supply marker destroyed is worth 10VP and each of the above mentioned victory cities in supply is worth 10VP.

Axis – Each step of any Soviet Unit is worth 1VP and each mobile step of units from the 1st Panzer Army north of the Dnestr and in supply is worth 1VP.

Gameplay
I will briefly describe some of the main events of our game. From the Soviet point of view as that was the side I played. Initially I was able to break through the Germans line and with plenty of reinforcements was able to start pushing the Germans back. On the southern bank of the Dnestr I advanced as quickly as possible towards Chernovtsy (one of the 4 victory cities) which I would eventually take later. My second main thrust was in the north where I broke of a small strike force of town tanks units and some infantry to head for another VP city of Ternopol while the rest of my northern force began to push down on the Germans. Over the following turns my opponent was very skilful in using his advantages in mobility to largely keep out of my strong tank unit’s way with me only managing to roll up a few infantry units. By mid game it was clear that I was not going to be able to capture the 3 VP cities I needed for a sudden death victory so I decided to turn my attention to the German armour which for every point of strength lost was worth two VPs to only one for Soviet armour so for a couple of turns I pounded as much as I could on German armoured units. Unfortunately my opponent got wise to this plan and began screening his forces and using the successive river lines in the area to limit and negate possible attacks and damage on his units. My opponent was also very skilful in picking of any of my infantry units left slightly exposed out of the main line, as with his first movement phase he would move his armour up , then attack and in his mobile movement phase move them back again out of harms reach before I could counter attack with any real joy. I was only able to create small pockets of one or two German units towards the end of the game. This was really well done by my opponent and with the game winding down and his powerful SS reinforcements arriving he was able to retake Ternopol on the final turn as I had drawn of most of my northern units to go after the German centre.
In reference to the Victory Conditions above, the final result was the Soviets 172 VPs to the German 176 VPs, due to the closeness of the result with a single combat result being the swing we decided it was a draw.

I have already mentioned the pros and cons of having hidden combat values with regard to fog of war but also the fiddling with counters.

The German player is generally on the defensive throughout the game and generally running away from the Soviets and with their mobile advantage is made perfectly possible. This may be down heartening and restrictive for some players. However the Germans do possess some very powerful tank units which if used well can cause severe damage particularly to the brittle Soviet infantry. The German mobile advantage can be really frustrating for the Soviet player as you always seem to be that one hex behind in catching them and dealing out some damage. And its seems that I would move up my frontline units as far as possible and then spend lots of time sorting out a mass of lagging infantry into a cohesive a useful group
The key is to plan ahead your attacks and movement as best you can and if possible force your opponent into a choice of actions or the sacrifice of units to save the situation. I attempted a larger envelopment than happened historically and it didn’t quite come off as I hoped. My advice would be to formulate a strategy and stick to it as long as it is practical to do so.
The game is certainly historically playable in recreating history, but it is also open to many other strategic routes of action for players such as one I attempted, this game certainly has a better than reasonable replay value.

Scenarios
There is only one scenario for this game, which is understandable as this is a magazine game. Also it would be difficult to model smaller elements of the campaign due to the pocket character of the battle. However it may be possible to have a small learning scenario for those less familiar with consim games covering action on the southern area of the Dnestr River.

Conclusions
So….basically I really enjoyed this game. It was a tense affair with many decisions to be made and was difficult to tell at times which side was winning with many possible strategies to pursue providing replayability. To go with this is a beautiful map, functional counters and well written rules that is all playable in around four hours.

Andy feel free to chime in with any thoughts you may have mate.

The magazine is also very good with a strategy article covering both sides of the game. As well as ASL/ASLSK , Mighty Endeavour and GCACW scenarios and interesting articles on little known Soviet commanders during WW2. On the whole if you’re interested in a little simulated eastern front battle this package was well the money.

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Jim F
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Airfix Rules anyone?
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A very comprehensive review, thank you. Might have to dip into the pocket for it. I like the fog of war aspect but wondered if you forgot what you had where?
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Isaac Citrom
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Well done.
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Lewis Kenyon
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Hi Jim, it was difficult with the Soviet infantry as you had a few good ones and rest not so, with all their counters being the same colour, but the Soviet armoured units were a bright red, easy to spot and ranging from 18-28 in attack strength if I rememeber correctly.
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Andy M
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Nice work Lewis, think you covered it all! Definitely was a good game we had there.
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Lewis Kenyon
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Cheerz Andy glad you liked it, hope your holidays went well despite the weather. We will have to discuss what to play next.
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Andy M
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Yeah, we made the most of it. France next week! Hopefully will be sunnier.

I fancy a game of the Battle of Stalingrad.
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Mark Davidson
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It was very well written about the look & your tactical approach (useful for those who own the game). But it lacked basic information prospective buyers may want/need: map size; number of counters (combat & marker); scale of units (divisions, corps, etc); number of turns & game length; relative complexity; solitaire playability. Inclusion of those would have made it comprehensive.

Despite their absence, it read better and was more valuable than many reviews. Congrats.
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Lewis Kenyon
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The game is 12 turns long, with all German units except garrisons and Tiger battalions being divisions while the Soviet infantry are also divisions but with the armoured units being Corps.
With regard to solitaire playability, I would imagine it to be pretty good due to the fog of war rules and not knowing the value of the underside of the counters, so unless you have a very good memory it should work well, although you do have an idea due the colour of the counters with Soviet armour being a different colour in comparison to the infantry and these are the stronger units.
The complexity of this game in my opinion is not high, having played consim games for 4-5 years now, many of the rules are standard to most hex and counter games such as ZOC's, Supply, Combat, Retreats and Movement, with only the real need to learn the games chrome which gives this particular battle is flavour.
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alex w
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Thanks for the great review. Appreciate the write up as I was on the fence for this one.

It sounded quite similar to Pamzer Gruppe Guderian. Perhaps that old game might interest you as well?
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Lewis Kenyon
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Hi,
Yeh i believe, my freind owns this game and has played it so i will have to ask him about it, thanks for the tip!
 
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Mark Davidson
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Thanks for the additional information. Makes a big difference.
 
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Andy M
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LewisKenyon22 wrote:
Hi,
Yeh i believe, my freind owns this game and has played it so i will have to ask him about it, thanks for the tip!


I've played PGG once and I don't know if we were slow, but it took an awful long time. It is quite similar, but the hidden unit system works slightly differently. Good game, however! And I'd play it again someday for sure.

Personally I'd put it Ukraine 44 more in the ball park of A Victory Lost.
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Iain K
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I do not think PGG has any similarity to Ukraine 44 except in its use of hexegons.

Consider in PGG neither player knows Soviet unit strength until it is revealed during combat, and then they know it forever. The German unit strengths are known to both players. In U44 each player has complete knowledge of their own units' strengths, but their opponent never has such knowledge except during the brief window of combat.

U44 employs a sort of Hit Points mechanic which is incredibly rare in operational wargames and not present at all in PGG. Units constantly take "hits" that are subtracted from their combat strengths and ultimately eliminate them from the game. In fact, every time a unit attacks, it takes one hit at the very least. PGG has no similar mechanic but rather uses the now typical step loss mechanic with Soviet units having only one step.

One of the most unique things about U44 is the incredible durability of units. They virtual never are eliminated, but rather grind away from attrition.

One of the only ways units are eliminated stems from another core difference between U44 and virtually any other operational level WWII wargame. In U44 there is NO STACKING - EVER. One unit per hex, and this applies DURING ALL MOVEMENT... even retreats. A unit can NEVER move through a hex when another unit is present in the hex. So as the Axis defensive perimeter moves for example, the German player needs to be very careful. His units can't pass through each other. PGG has nothing similar, in fact, I can not think of a single game at this scale and in this theater that has a similar constraint.

I think you've done a very nice review here, but I thought these core differences between U44 and the bulk of similar scale East Front games needed to be stressed.

PGG is a fine game, that I have enjoyed playing and recommend you all play, but it has virtually nothing in common with U44 save its scale and use of hexes. PGG shares much in common with the vast majority of East Front games at this scale ... U44 shares virtually nothing in common with others in the field.

Cheers!
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Andy M
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Points well made. I think my memory of PGG is somewhat faded.
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Martí Cabré

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By my reading of the rules, a unit forced to retreat retreats one hex, not two as posted on the OP.
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