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 News January, 2021

Designer’s Blog: January, 2021


16 January, 2021

Resuming the milestone playtest game. This is the Spring 1943 turn.

Spring, 1943

The turn began with production, both armies rebuilding their War decks to 11 cards each, and the Soviets adding two armies, one in Moscow and one in Stalingrad.

To review military operations, let’s start with the south, in what was a complex and dangerous set of stikes and counterstrikes by the opposing mobile forces. The Soviets went first, with an attempt to take Donbas, but ran into heavy resistance at Donbas, and were then struck by a German attack from the south, aiming to cut their supply line and destroy the Soviet tank army leading the attack. The Soviets, however, once again had strategic depth, deploying armies from the Stavka Reserve, including another tank army, for which the Germans had no answer. The result was a Soviet drive that took Rostov, almost trapping a German panzer corps there, but which in the end was narrowly able to escape.

In the north it was the Germans who attacked first, attempting to drive on Yaroslavl. The attack stalled, however, and was ultimately driven back.

Unfortunately for the Germans, with all their resources diverted to either the north or south, they had no means to resist when a Soviet two-prong center offensive was launched, erasing all of the gains of the German Autumn of 42 center offensive. Worse, a panzer corps was lost, out of a refusal to abandon its position northwest of Moscow until leaving in good order was no longer an option.

Compounding the German woes was that with Rostov under Soviet control, almost the entire Caucasus region so recently conquered had to be abandoned, including the oil site at Maikop.

The bad outcome for the Germans for the turn can ultimately be said to be due to the fact that the Germans failed to realize the extent to which their army had weakened and that of the Soviets strengthened. Even local attacks had become risky for the Germans (two were attempted, neither succeeded) and the threat from the increased Soviet strength continued to rise.

With that, on to Summer 1943.

Summer, 1943

Before talking about this turn, I want to give some historical and design background.

Historically, in 1943, there were evidently (extremely) quiet secret peace talks going on between the Germans and Soviets. Stalin was frustrated with the lack of a second front from the western allies, and with his hopes of a quick victory, raised and dashed after the Winter of 1941-42, and again after the German recovery from Stalingrad in early 1943, he was willing to consider alternatives to a long and (no doubt costly) continuation of the war. Hitler, having gone through the same experience in the summers of 1941 and 1942, was also willing to consider alternatives to fighting it out.

Historically, these talks came to nothing. The Germans wanted an in-place peace, whereas the Soviets wanted a return to the 1941 borders. While conceivably some kind of compromise might have been reached, the Soviet victory at Kursk and the allied landings in Italy put an end to any Soviet interest in anything other than crushing Nazi Germany once and for all.

In designing Stavka, a major game design question is how the Germans can “win” the game. Realistically, the pre-war German ideas about destroying the Soviets and occupying almost all the European Soviet Union up to the so-called “A-A line” (from Archangel to Astrakhan) were not realistic as game objectives. After trying some alternatives, I decided to use the historical 1943 negotiations as a baseline: If the Germans had more production than the Soviets on any turn in 1943, then the game ended with a Germany victory (representing a separate peace).

In the current game we’re narrating, this kind of German victory was on the edge of happening if the Soviets could not take one of three production cities (Leningrad, Kharkov, or Donbas) by the end of the Summer 1943 turn.

And with that in mind, let’s return to the game commentary.

The opposing armies again recovered their card strength to the levels about those of the prior turn. The Germans were still at reduced strength after the loss of the panzer corps during the Spring, and the Soviets actually reduced their paper strength by breaking up two armies so as to have more resources for those that remained.

The Soviets made three attacks: on Leningrad, Kharkov, and Donbas. The northern drive proved almost successful, but was stopped at the gates of the city. It did, however cut off a German panzer corps which attempted to hold its existing position. The drive on Kharkov likewise failed, but with no positive results at all for the effort expended. With three Soviet tank armies committed along with against three German panzer corps, the Donbas attack, after a ferocious exchange which was very nearly driven back, instead prevailed, taking the city.

Large-scale German territorial losses continued, with the German northernmost forces cut off and forced to surrender, along with smaller losses in the south, although those losses included Donbas.

On to Autumn 1943.

Autumn, 1943

Both armies rebuilt their war decks to the prior turn’s levels. The Germans rebuilt a panzer corps to replace the one lost in the previous Autumn, and the Soviets added a new army in Moscow.

Once again, the main activity was in the south, with two Soviet offensives, one aimed at the recapture of Kharkov, and the other aimed at the German resource sites on the west bank of the Dniepr. The latter succeeded, and Kharkov was finally recaptured by the soviets. The former made progress but ultimately fell short and made it to the Dniepr, but failed to establish a bridgehead there.

In the north, both armies strengthened their positions, where the rebuilt German panzer corps was sent, opposed by two Soviet armies, but the only conflict was the Soviet seizure of the lightly defended Leningrad.

The Germans accepted the unpleasant reality of their situation and attempted no offensive of their own, limiting themselves to local counter-attacks to try to throw back (or at least slow down) the Soviet advance.

On to Winter 1943.

Winter, 1943

In production, both sides rebuilt their decks. Although the Soviets had retaken 3 production cities, none of them would be in operation for several months.

The Soviets continued their push in south, seizing the resource sites on the west bank of the Dniepr. After a quiet autumn, the Soviets also resumed the offensive in the center, driving through Smolensk and seizing Vitebsk. Afraid of having their forces in the north cut off, the Germans pulled back, ceding Pskov.

Next up, of course, would be Spring, 1944. But we’ll save that for the next entry. Til then!

14 January, 2021

So, let’s pick up our milestone playtest game where we left off. Next up is the Soviet 1941 winter offensive.

Soviet Winter Offensive, 1941

The game has harsh rules for the Germans in the second Military Phase of 1941 (a -2 penalty for all momentum draws, and no deployment moves), and the Soviets take the Initiative and so get first move, so Winter can be a dangerous time for the Germans. However, the tactically successful but strategically meaningless Soviet Autumn offensive of the previous turn used up a lot of what strength the Soviets possessed, so the only thing the Soviets were able to accomplish in the Winter was a small offensive towards Leningrad, which fell short of the city. Apart from that, all they did was some re-deployment in the south.

The Germans, for their part, huddled in the cold and sat tight, waiting for Spring.

One thing worth mentioning is an additional penalty, applied at the end of Winter: the Germans have to transfer 6 cards from the Junk deck into their Production deck, diluting the quality of the Germans card draws. Anyway, onto the Spring of 1942, where, to pick up the pace, we’re going to cover the entire turn at once:

Spring, 1942

This was an important turn for the German war economy, as 3 captured Soviet resource sites started production this turn, boosting German production from 9 to 12. This enabled enough of a recovery of card strength to enable them to return to the offensive.

The Soviets, for their part, perhaps didn’t make the best choices, trying to keep too many units in the field with too little production. Almost their entire card income for the turn went into maintenance, resulting in a Soviet net loss of card strength from the start of the previous turn.

Operationally, the bad Soviet run continued. A poorly judged attempt at redeployment in the north from offensive to defensive posture left the Soviets caught unprepared when the Germans attacked, resulting in the loss of 2 Soviet armies. The Soviets fared no better in the south, where 4 German panzer corps struck, destroying 3 Soviet armies, with the German breakthroughs taking them close to Stalingrad, which the Soviets reinforced with an army committed from the Stavka Reserve.

But lost in the gloom were some important shifts: the quality of the Soviet armies (reflected in card values) was clearly improved from 1941, while the average German card quality declined.

On to Summer 1942:

Summer, 1942

The Soviets rebuilt 2 of the lost armies from the Spring, putting one in Stalingrad and another in the north, this left them with an increased card count from the prior turn for operations (7 cards, up from 5). German expenditures were stable, but were not able to replace all the cards used in the Spring, and so entered Summer with a slightly lower card count than that turn (11 cards vs. 13).

Displaying a mix of caution and confidence, the Germans felt unenthused about an assault into Stalingrad, which now contained 3 Soviet armies, and decided instead to open up an offensive into the Caucasus for its oil. To enable shipment of that oil, they needed to deliver a killing blow to the Soviet Black Sea fleet by taking Sevastopol, its only usable base, and thus diverted one panzer corps into Crimea, while a second panzer corps made a limited advance into the Caucasus, establishing a position south of the Don.

The Soviets for their part were likewise economical, limiting their operations to sending an army from Stalingrad to cover the route to Grozny, a city whose loss could well have been decisive.

On to Autumn, 1942:

Autumn, 1942

This is a pretty complex turn, but we’ll walk through it slowly.

After a quiet Summer, both armies built up more cards than either had had in a year (15 German and 12 Soviet) and were ready for major action.

The Germans had the initiative and so struck first. They opened with an renewal of the Caucasus offensive, destroying the Soviet army to their front, but as a new Soviet army was transferred in from the north to continue to cover Grozny, the Germans settled for taking the oil site at Maikop. There were now 2 panzer corps in the Caucasus offensive: one acting as spearhead and the other acting as reserve.

The Germans also launched a two-pronged offensive towards Moscow, not so much with the aim of taking the city, but instead to draw off Soviet resources and increase the threat to the Soviet capitol. The northern attack ran into heavy resistance against the Soviet army there, but after destroying it still made it half-way to Moscow, with the Soviets responding by moving up an army into Moscow from the east. The southern attack covered more distance, but lacked the strength to generate much of a threat without support.

The Germans also made two support moves: the panzer corps in Crimea was recalled and took up a position near Rostov, while another corps made an tactical offensive to increase the buffer between German-occupied Kharkov and the Soviet front lines.

In response the Soviets launched their strongest offensive of the war. An infantry army and the first Soviet tank army were committed from the Stavka Reserves (as shown by the face-up cards at the top of the map) to strike west from Stalingrad towards Rostov. Parallel and to the south of the attack of these two armies was a second drive with two more infantry armies to its south. Both ran into German panzer corps stationed to cover such a possibility. The northern drive was defeated and driven back, but the southern drive succeeded and drove halfway to Rostov.

The Germans, although alarmed by the extent of the Soviet advance in the south, had still in the end brought it to a stop, and were by no means ready to give up the offensive. On to Winter, 1942:

Winter, 1942

Both armies rebuilt their War decks to start the Winter, with the Germans at 12 cards and the Soviets 11. The Soviets also built a pair of new armies, one in Moscow and one in Stalingrad to replace those lost in the Autumn. With a new tank army in the field, overall the Soviets were stronger than they had ever been.

In spite of the Soviet offensive in the south, the Germans retained the initiative and struck first, with a three panzer corps offensive towards Stalingrad, with two more panzer corps providing strategic flank security, one near Kharkov and one in the Caucasus. The main drive on Stalingrad was from the east, by the two panzer corps that had engaged the Soviet Autumn offensive, while the third panzer corps in the offensive, recalled from the Caucasus, hit the salient from the Soviet autumn offensive on its southern flank.

The main German attack ran into the Soviet infantry and tank army securing Stalingrad. Counter-attacking powerfully, the Soviets threw back the Germans to their starting positions. Then it was the Soviets turn: committing a second newly-ready tank army from the Stavka Reserve, the Soviets hit hard, and drove the Germans before them. While the German attack from the south had success, destroying a Soviet army, the great strength of the main Soviet advance to its north was more than it could overcome.

In response to the strength of the failure of their own attack, and the success of Soviet counter-attack, the Germans re-contrated their armor, pulling the remaining corps from the Caucasus, and the summoning the panzer corps that had been guarding Kharkov to the south. With both Rostov and Donbas in danger, the Germans concentrated all their available strength to face whatever the Soviets might attempt in the Spring.

And with that, I’m going to close off this entry. Til’ next time!

12 January, 2021

So, it’s been a busy few weeks. Playtesting, revisions, playtesting, revisions, that’s my life. Last I wrote we were on V39, and are now on V43. What I’m about to review was an important milestone in the game’s playtesting, a V41 game. (V42, incidentally, was a busted version, which I create now and again, because sometimes I can be stupid and/or careless.) V43 was just released, but no games with V43 have yet been played, so V41 is very nearly current.

So, here’s the game before set-up:

Prior to Setup: Barbarossa Turn, 1941

The cards in the top-left have not yet been dealt to the different decks in the game. On the left are 8 German armor units (broadly equal to panzer corps) that will be set-up in Germany and Poland, and bottom-left one German infantry unit (broadly equal to an army) for set-up in Romania. In the middle are 8 Soviet units (each broadly equal to a reinforced army, although the Soviet organizational scheme varied wildly during the war): 2 have to set-up near the front line, and the other 6 in Soviet production cities (the red circles). Also, the Germans have an infantry cadre (bottom-left) available for conversion into an infantry unit, and the Soviets have 3 such cadres (top-left).

With the stage set, let’s move on:

Setup: Barbarossa Turn, 1941

Let’s start with the card decks. They’ve been sorted and dealt. The windows on the right side are both private to the players and contain the cards in their respective War decks (Soviets top, Germans bottom). In the physical game, each player would have a single deck and would thumb through it, but for the Vassal version, thumbing is hard and sorting is easy, so they’ve been sorted into suits. The Germans have an enormous advantage in War deck cards at start, with 47 (almost all high-value) vs. a Soviet total of 8 (probably most or all low-value).

A critical thing to understand is that the units are conduits for the application of military power and capability, which is what the cards represent. The fact that the Soviets have the same number of units at start as the Germans isn’t going to help them at all. With so few cards, and even fewer (if any) high-value cards, the Soviet army is essentially hollow: it looks better on the map than it will be able to function in battle.

Speaking of the units, the Soviets set-up first. They’ve put one front-line army in to cover the Ukraine, and the other in Minsk to cover the center. The rest of the Soviet army is in resserve formations far to the rear. The game pretty much locks the Soviets into their historical state: grossly unprepared for what is about to happen. The Germans have initially put 3 panzer corps with Army Group North, 2 with the Center, and 3 with South. Putting more weight south than the Germans did historically is pretty common among the playtesters, though there is quite a bit of variation. (Incidentally, I’ve prettied things up a little for the picture.)

The movable front-line pieces aren’t on the board. This is pretty common with playtesters for the opening turn; there is already a printed front-line on the map, so the movable pieces are redundant.

With the stage set, let’s move on and look at the first attack:

The Opening Attack: Barbarossa Turn, 1941

We’re going to go very slowly at first, to make what’s happening clear so that you can follow what’s happening later, when we will go a lot faster.

The German unit currently in 613 (top-left) has drawn a card (bottom) to set its initial Momentum value, which is a sort of combination movement value and combat strength. So at start, it had a Momentum:4, the value of the card. Each step a unit takes costs it 1 Momentum, so after starting with 4, it reaches position 613 with Momentum:3.

Now, by crossing the front-line, it is Attacking and starting a Battle in 613 with the Soviet front-line forces, which are abstracted in the game and not represented by distinct pieces. Battles have a Score, and the Score at the of the battle determines the winner. (Attackers win on a Score of zero or greater, while Counter-Attackers win on a Score of less than zero. Consequently, actions by Attackers add to the Score, while actions by Counter-Attackers are subtracted from the Score.)

The German unit enters the battle with its Momentum:3. Front-line defenses in the game always have a Resistance of 1. So, the battle starts by subtracting the resistance from the Attacking momentum to obtain the score. After doing so, the battle has a score of +2 (GermanMomentum:3 – SovietResistance:1 = Score:+2)

Now, the initial German Attack gave the Soviets a chance to Block the Attack: to move forward and Counter-Attack. The Soviets declined to do this. Infantry is stronger defending in place than moving to intercept, so the Soviet unit in 619 is content to let the Germans come to it rather than rush forward to meet them.

And thus the battle ends. The German unit wins with a +2 score, which it is able to convert to Momentum:2 and use that momentum to make an Advance move:

Renewed Advance, Soviet Counter-Attack: Barbarossa Turn, 1941

First things first, that card is not the German card we saw earlier, that is a Soviet card. As to what it’s doing there, let’s walk through it.

The advancing German unit has moved on to the position of the Soviet infantry at 619. This time, the Soviets have chosen to Block the German move, and this card is the Soviet momentum for that block. The way the German Advance and Soviet Block get resolved is as an Attack by the German unit and a Counter-Attack by the Soviets, which are resolved separately.

First, the Germans used 1 momentum to reach this position, so after starting the advance with a Momentum:2, they now have a Momentum:1, which they bring to the Attack. Against this, because the Soviet infantry hasn’t moved, it gets a Resistance of 1. (If the Soviet unit had moved out of this position to block the Germans earlier, it would not have gotten this Resistance value.) As before, to get the score we subtract the Soviet Resistance from the German Momentum, and end up with a score of +0. (GermanMomentum:1 – SovietResistance:1 = Score:+0)

But this does not end the battle; we have the Soviet Counter-Attack to execute. The Soviets drew a 4, and so start with Momentum:4, but infantry Counter-Attack Momentum is capped at 3, so the actual Soviet Momentum in the Counter-Attack is Momentum:3. The Germans do not have Resistance (Only the front-line and infantry units defending in place get resistance) so to execute the Counter-Attack we just have to subtract the Sovet unit’s Momentum from the previous score to get a new score of -3. (Score:+0 - Momentum:3 = Score:-3)

At this point, the Soviets are winning the battle. But the battle isn’t over. The Germans are permitted to send more units to the battle before it is finally resolved. And this they do:

The Renewed Advance: Barbarossa Turn, 1941

A second German unit has made a move from 606 to the battle position. Again, it had a 4-value card (no, this is not the same card you’ve seen before, it is a different card with the same suit and value) and so starts with a Momentum:4.

Unlike with the first unit, it does not have to fight a battle when it crosses the front-line. The previous German unit broke the front-line defenses on that route, and now additional German units can move through without resistance.

After two steps, the German unit reaches the battle position, with Momentum:2 remaining. By doing so, it Attacks, and the score is again modified, this time to -1. (Score:-3 + Momentum:2 = Score:-1)

This score is marked by the red die with its 1-pip side face-up you can see above the German units.

The Soviets are still winning the battle, but the battle still isn’t over. The Germans are still able to later send additional units. But they do not have to do it right away; in fact, they have the entire turn to do it. For now, they are going to move on and do other things.

The 1st Military Phase, German Moves: Barbarossa Turn, 1941

I did say were were going to go faster, and so we are. Now, this is not actually a turn-based game, but one player at a time is the Active Player and get to keep moving until they make a Passive Action (like a move behind their own lines with no Counter-Attacks, or a literal Pass Action), at which point the other player takes over, and it goes back and forth until both players have done everything they want to do / can do for the phase.

What you see above are 7 more German moves: 3 German units have advanced in the north, 2 in the center, 1 more in the south, and another out of Romania. Everywhere the front-line was crossed there was a battle, so there were a total of 4 front-line battles in this turn, and 1 more battle in the south between the German armor unit and Soviet infantry unit.

In general, each of those 9 German moves required a card, so the German War deck, which started at 47 cards is now down to 38 cards, except that it isn’t: it is down to 39 cards. The reason for the discrepancy is that units are allowed to make 1-step moves without drawing a card, and one of the German units did just that. (If you're interested, the German cards were 4,4,4,3,4,3,3,3.)

With the German Pass the Soviets become the active player.

The 1st Military Phase, Soviet Moves: Barbarossa Turn, 1941

So, what the Soviets have basically done is to move the units initially scattered among production cities in their rear forward to form a defensive line ahead of the German advance. The basic goal is to deploy as far forward as possible without being so far forward that there is a danger that the Germans will break the line with their next moves. The particular concern is that there are two Military Phases in a turn, and German armor can advance in both of them, and it is these second phase moves that the Soviets are trying to blunt.

The way they’ve done this is by making long-distance Deployment Moves which are moves of unlimited distance, but which can’t Attack or Counter-Attack. They are also moves that don’t require using a card, unlike the War Moves the Germans have used.

Also of interest is what the Soviets haven’t done: their two most forward units haven’t moved. The reason for this is that the positions close to the German advance are now Disputed Positions, which is kind of like a zone-of-control: the Soviet units in those positions can’t move except to Counter-Attack, which one of them has already done (the one we reviewed) and the other of which has already declined to do in response to the German advance.

The Soviet moves were all passive, so in theory the Germans had a chance to be the active player after each one of them, but the Germans have no more moves to make, so the Soviets just moved until they were done too.

And at this point, the First Military Phase is complete. Onto the second. Remember that battle we left unresolved? Well, it’s just about over:

Renewed Battle, 2nd Military Phase: Barbarossa Turn, 1941

A third German unit has entered the battle. It started with a Momentum:5, spent one to reach the battle position, arriving there at Momentum:4. Its Attack increases the score to +3 (Score:-1 + GermanMomentum:4 = Score:+3). There was no Soviet infantry defense this time, as a unit only gets to apply that once per battle.

The Soviet infantry unit at the battle position cannot block and Counter-Attack this time: armor is allowed to make War Moves in both the 1st and 2nd Military Phases, but infantry can only make War Moves in one of them, but not both. (Unlike games with a ”Main Movement Phase” and ”Mechanized Movement Phase”, the two Military Phases in Stavka are identical; an infantry unit can make a War Move in either of them, it just can’t be both of them, while armor can.)

The Soviets could, in theory, try to block with the more distant units, but those units would use a lot of momentum to reach the battle position, if they could reach it at all. Their mission in any case isn’t to save the forward unit, which isn’t really something that can be done, but to form a front further to the rear.

So, with no further ability for the Soviets to continue the battle, it is over and the Germans win. The German unit that just moved gets to convert final battle score of +3 into Momentum:3 for an advance move, and with the battle over, the other two German units in the battle position are likewise free to move.

So, let’s skip ahead a ways:

Lvov Pocket, 2nd Military Phase: Barbarossa Turn, 1941

This shows the situation in the south after the Germans complete their 2nd Military Phase moves, and what it shows is the formation of a pocket (indicated with the red highlight). This portion of the Soviet front-line has had its supply cut off. (See where the breakthroughs from the south and Romania meet? There is no gap there through which a supply path can be traced.) That pocket will result in a card penalty for the Soviets at the start of next turn, as we shall see.

Another thing worth pointing out is the newly-started battle south of Kiev. We won’t walk through the details, but the Germans used all their Momentum getting there with and so were at Momentum:0 on arrival. They hit the Soviet Resistance:1, and that resulted in a score of -1 (GermanMomentum:0 – SovietResistance:1 = Score:-1). No more German units can intervene, as they have all gone as far as they can, and so it is going to ultimately get resolved as a Soviet victory. However, while the Soviet infantry we saw earlier was removed from play when it lost a battle, the German armor is just going to be forced to retreat. This is a difference between armor and infantry in the game: armor retreats when it loses battles, infantry dies.

But let’s continue the 2nd Military Phase of the turn:

German Advance in Center and North, 2nd Military Phase: Barbarossa Turn, 1941

First, the Germans steamrollered the Soviet unit in Minsk. A panzer corps hit it with Momentum:3 against Resistance:1, the Soviet infantry Blocked and Counter-Attacked with Momentum:2, but the result was a Score:0 German victory (GermanMomentum:3 – SovietResistance:1) – SovietMomentum:2 = Score:0). The other German armies advanced through the position, up to but not challenging the Soviet unit southeast of Minsk.

Next, the Germans tried to shoot the gap in the north between two of the units in the newly-constructed Soviet defensive line, but the Soviets blocked successfully. The Germans had used all their momentum getting to the battle position, resulting in a -1 Soviet victory (GermanMomentum:0 – SovietResistance:1 = Score:-1).

Finally, note the formation of a second pocket, this time around Bialystock. And with this we’ve completed the German moves for the 2nd Military Phase. With that, the Germans retreat from the battles they lost and the Soviets make their moves:

German Retreats, Soviet Moves, 2nd Military Phase: Barbarossa Turn, 1941

So, the Soviets have made some adjustments, including abandoning the production and resource site city of Kiev, leaving it to the Germans, in spite of its considerable value to both armies. (The Soviets in the game have already given up two major pockets and are in no hurry to give up another one around Kiev.) IN sum, the Soviets have held their position in the north, fallen back to Smolensk in the center, and put three armies in the bend of the Dniepr in the south.

Next up, we enter the Adjustment Phase, where we transition to the next turn:

Adjustment Phase: Barbarossa Turn, 1941

So, the Adjustment Phase is a grab bag of items to clean up the game state from the just-completed turn and prepare for the next turn.

The most important thing is to create a new front line, reflecting the territory that changed control during the turn. Some of the transfers of territory are mandatory and based on units taking enemy territory through breakthroughs, and others are optional: armies are permitted to withdraw from positions deemed untenable. (Generally this is done to avoid having sections of the front-line cut out of supply, which costs cards.)

And after the new front line is constructed, all the breakthrough markers are removed. For this turn, it results in the above.

One step down in importance is that cards are transferred from each army’s production deck (4 a turn, 2 German, 2 Soviet) into the Soviet Stavka Reserve deck, where they accumulate until used. (Further discussion of the Stavka Reserve deck can wait until it is used.)

Oh, there is one thing I want to note, even though it didn’t happen in the Adjustment Phase proper: and that is the accumulating cards in the Junk deck in the bottom-left corner. These are low-value (1 and 2 value cards) that each army can each army can dump there over the course of play in order to remove the low-value cards from their Production decks and increase the overall quality of the cards they draw. (Being able to draw 8 cards a turn can mean very different things if the cards are all 1s and 2s vs. all 3s, 4s, and 5s.)

Anyway, this completes the Barbarossa turn. On to the Summer turn of 1941, starting with the Economic Phase:

Economic Phase: Summer, 1941

Each turn after the first starts with the Economic Phase. Each army gets to add cards to its War deck, and spend any or all of those cards to maintain or strengthen its armies, always trying to save a balance of cards for operations in the turn’s two Military Phases: without cards, units can do very little.

At the start of the Economic Phase, each army counts production from its production sources. The Germans have a baseline production of 9 for the cities and resource sites they control at start. (Production cities and resource sites are in red.) However, until they capture the port of Odessa (which they haven’t yet), which was promised to Romania as a prize for allying with Germany, they can’t count the production from the Romanian capital of Bucharest, so right away the German production is down from 9 to 8.

The Soviets, for their part, start with a baseline production of 12 from their 12 production cities. However, because historically, large portions of the Soviet industrial plant were being loaded onto trains for shipment beyond the Urals, they take a -2 production hit this turn, (the penalty is shown in the Time Track on the right edge of the board), leaving them with 10.

For each point of production, both armies get to transfer a card from their Production deck to their War deck. Additionally, each turn there is a production card swap of 2 Soviet cards for 3 German cards. This sets in motion a slow reduction in the number of cards the Germans have and an increase in the number of cards the Soviets have. This is a game abstraction representing the ever more constrictive limits of the German war economy and the deep strength of the Soviet war economy.

With Production out of the way, the Economic Phase proceeds to Expenditures: maintaining and buying units.

The Germans, for their part, will owe 6 cards to maintain their armor, and 1 card to maintain their infantry. So, for the Economic Phase as a whole, the Germans are net +1 (they received 8 cards and expended 7).

Soviet expenditures are a little more complicated. For starters, they owe 5 cards for the two pockets that were cut off by the Germans in the prior turn. They also owe 3 maintenance for their 6 infantry units. So, for the Economic Phase as a whole, the Soviets are net +2 (they received 10 cards and expended 8).

If we compare to the prior turn, the Soviets started the game with 8 cards in their War Deck, expended 3 in operations, got 2 more and so now have 7 cards. The Germans started with many more (47) but expended 16 (!), and with net +1 for production, will enter the Summer Turn with 31 cards: still a lot, but the German burn rate is totally unsustainable.

Fortunately for the Soviets, in the summer of 1941 they get units through Mobilization, calling up 2nd line units. While eventually the Soviets will be able to mobilize 12 units, they are constrained each turn by the number of cadres they posses: cores around which to build the new units. The Soviets started the game with 3 cadres, and their 2 units defeated in battle were reduced to cadres (rather than eliminated per se) and so can mobilize 5 units. Which they do. Added to the 6 units left over from the prior turn, they now have 11 units on the map.

Picking up the pace from the first turn, we’re going to go through the entire First Military Phase in one go:

1st Military Phase: Summer, 1941

We’re going to start with German operations, working our way from south to north. The German infantry unit broke through the Soviet front-line and took Odessa, fulfilling Germany’s promise to Romania and earning Bucharest’s production for the Germans.

Converging from the Ukraine and center, we see a German pincer movement converging to create another pocket around Kiev. Two Soviet armies were taken off the board for trying to interfere, one by the center panzers and one by the southern panzers. Also in the center, a battle has started as a German panzer corps has driven on Smolensk. The Soviets are (for now) winning at Score:-1. In the north, two panzer corps have engaged a single Soviet army at Pskov, where (again for now) the Soviets are winning at Score:-1.

The Soviet response has been to bring forward the newly mobilized units to create a new line behind the current one. While it may seem like the Soviets should move them forward more aggressively, the big danger is losing those units as well, which could produce a disastrous Autumn. Worth remembering is that the Soviets are desperately short on cards: they started the turn with 7 and are already down to 4. The Soviets are simply not well enough equipped, trained, or organized to go toe-to-toe with the Germans at this point in the game.

(Oh, and by the way, if you look you will notice a red token in the lower-left corner of the map. Red and blue tokens were being used to track cards added to the junk deck, and you will see more of them in that area as the game proceeds. They are not, however, a reliable count to the number of cards in that deck.)

On to the next Military Phase:

2nd Military Phase: Summer, 1941

Again, let’s start with German operations, from south to north. The German armor in the Dnieper bend drove east, destroying a Soviet army at Nikopol, and seizing both it and the production site at Dniepropetrovsk, and then gaining a bridgehead across the Dnieper, threatening Donbas. Somewhat to the north, pincers from the south and center met to create a pocket around Kiev. The remaining panzer corps in the center swung southward as well, not attempting battle with either of the two Soviet armies defending the approaches to Moscow. Finally, in the north, after finishing off the Soviet army at Pskov, the panzers bypassed the next Soviet defensive line, cutting off Leningrad but not (yet) taking the city.

The pockets created by these operations are in red.

The Soviets brought their strength up to 11 armies at the start of the turn, but of those armies 4 have been destroyed, and 2 others bypassed and rendered ineffective. There isn’t a lot the Soviets can do here, but what they have done is dipped into the Stavka Reserve, which makes this a good time to talk about the Stavka Reserve.

The Soviets in the war were always careful to maintain a strategic reserve of forces, of which the Germans knew nothing. In the game, that is represented by the cards in the Stavka Reserve deck, which the Soviets can convert into units. In addition, they can take high-value cards used to purchase those units, and divide them between their War deck and Production deck, while fobbing off any low-value cards on the Germans, thereby diluting the German deck with low-value cards. (At some point, the Germans will draw those low-value cards into their War Deck instead of drawing the high-value cards the Germans would want.)

Anyway, in this turn the Soviets drew two cards from the Stavka Reserve, the 4 and 3 cards you see face-up at the top of the map. The 4 they added to their War Deck and the 3 they added to their Production deck. They used those cards to raise a new army, which they deployed at Donbas and then moved northeast, contributing to a 3-army concentration around Kharkov.

So, to pick up the pace again, what we’re going to do this time is cover the Summer 1941 Adjustment Phase and the Autum 1941 Economic Phase together:

Adjustment Phase, Summer 1941, to Economic Phase, Autumn 1941

Let’s start with the Summer 1941 Adjustment Phase and the front-line. The two Soviet units that were bypassed earlier were in territory the Soviets lost and so were reduced to cadres. (Some would have escaped, even if not the army as a whole.)

The German advance was held back in the center fairly well, and Moscow looks to be in no serious jeopardy this turn. However, in the north, Leningrad is now cut off and is under siege. (Pockets in the game surrender at the end of each turn unless they can receive sea supply. In Leningrad’s case, as historically, the Soviets can still provide limited supply to the city over Lake Ladoga.) In the south, the Kiev pocket surrendered, the Germans have taken Odessa and the Dnieper bend, and are now threatening Kharkov and Donbas.

The orange and green tokens you see on the map represent captured production cities and sites. The Germans can get no production from them immediately, but will after a delay. If you look on the Time Track, you can see tokens of matching colors there. The matching tokens indicate when the Germans will start getting production from those cities and sites.

Moving on to the Economic Phase, having captured Odessa, the Germans are not getting full Romanian production, but even so, their operations card expenditures in the last turn were heavy, and they’ve gone from having 32 cards in their War Deck down to 17. The core problem the Germans face in the game (as in the war) is starting to bite: the German war economy is not capable of supporting forces of this size operating at this level of intensity. Meanwhile, the Soviets are still suffering the economic dislocations from the invasion, have not yet fully mobilized their economy, and are struggling just to keep their heads above water. For the coming turn, they are now at 9 cards in their War Deck.

What the Soviets have continued to do is mobilize additional armies, adding 7 new armies to the 5 that survived the Summer turn. The Soviets could have mobilized an army inside Leningrad, but elected not to and put their efforts elsewhere. Their basic problem is that even if they had put an army inside Leningrad, it is hard to see how they could prevent the Germans from taking the only remaining Ladoga port from which supplies to the city could be shipped.

Card transfer operations have otherwise continued, slowly altering the capabilities of the opposing armies. Cards have been transferred into the Stavka Reserve deck and between the Soviet and German production deck, and cards continue to quietly accumulate in the Junk deck.

So, we’re going to present the 1st Military Phase and the first half of the 2nd Military Phase together, as these two combined show the German Autumn 1941 offensive:

German Offensive, Autumn 1941

Let’s start in the south, where 5 German panzer corps ripped through and destroyed the 4 Soviet armies attempting the defense of Kharkov and Donbas, capturing both cities and creating a small pocket as well. The center was fairly quiet, with one of the northern panzer armies turning towards the center while the other remaining immobile. And finally, in the north, the Germans completed the capture of Leningrad.

Considering this, we are seeing a clear reduction in the level of German military activity, with the south as the location of the only major German offensive. This has multiple causes: The Germans diverted two-thirds of the armor from Army Group Center to Army Group South. With the only panzer corps left in the center facing off against 3 Soviet armies it was able to accomplish little. The northern armor was divided between one corps sent to capture Leningrad while the other probed towards Moscow, neither by itself capable of major operations. There is also, however, a deeper cause: the Germans are burning through their cards and are being forced to pause operations. The infantry army from Odessa could have started an offensive into Crimea but did not, and one of the panzer corps in the south could have advanced, but instead was held back. The card cost for both was too high. At the end of the German offensive, the Germans are down to 6 cards in their war deck – a far cry from the 47 with which they started the game.

Still, even if the Germans are not what once they were, it was a turn of major accomplishments: 3 production cities were captured as well as 4 Soviet armies destroyed. Now we turn to the Soviet response to Germany’s Autumn offensive:

Soviet Counter-Offensive, Autumn 1941

So while we have seen plenty of Soviet local-counter attacks against individual advancing German units (indeed, every attacked Soviet unit in the game has counter-attacked, a few times successfully, but mostly not), this is the first actual Soviet offensive of the game.

It started with a Stavka Reserve Committal (the face-up cards near the top-left of the map). These were used to buy a unit as well as to add a powerful card to the Soviet War Deck. The offensive was by two armies against the German center, attacking at different points. The first was met by Army Group Center’s remaining Panzer corps, and would have defeated it, except that the second attack followed, forcing the Germans to break-off and leave the Soviets stopped but not destroyed, and rush off to meet the second Soviet attack. The panzers managed to stop the second attack as well, but again did not destroy the Soviet army and was forced to withdraw. (You can see the German panzer moves with the 3 blue arrows in the center.) Both Soviet attacks had limited, local success but did not affect the overall situation. The only remaining Soviet move in autumn was a redeployment to cover the northern approaches to Moscow.

Again, we’re going to pick up the pace, and take the game all the way up to the end of the 1st Military Phase of Winter 1941:

End of 1st Military Phase, Winter 1941

In the Adjustment Phase of the Autumn turn, the front line was updated as you can see. The Crimea has been cut off from normal overland supply, and is depending on what can be shipped across the Kerch Strait. There are bulges in the south and north front lines representing the Autumn German offensives, while the center is almost the same as the prior turn.

The usual card transfers were made (to the Stavka Reserve, and between the opposing armies’ Production decks). The Germans have reduced the infantry army to levels below what it would need for offensive operations (represented in the game by reducing it to a cadre), which was done to save the cost of maintaining it at that strength.

The Soviets have completed their initial mobilization and only added 1 army to their forces. In terms of production, the loss of 3 production cities hurts, but is offset by the start of Lend-lease and the start of war production in Siberia.

In general, both armies exhausted themselves in the Autumn turn and are only just starting to recover. Both armies are now up to 7 cards, although the Soviets do have an additional stash of cards in the Stavka Reserve. German limited offensives this phase are possible, but in this game the Germans have elected to just try to recover strength.

And I think this is a good point to tie off this blog entry. Next entry, I intend to pick it up with the Soviet Winter Offensive and carry on through 1942. Til Later!