Storm over Stalingrad

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Peleg and I finally managed to get some gaming time for a wargame, he having shown considerable interest in this area of the hobby. So, after looking through my collection decided that MMP’s Storm over Stalingrad (SoS) would be a good place to start.

SoS is an area movement game about the 1942 campaign for the city which ended in defeat for the Nazi forces. It’s a fine example of designer Tetsuya Nakamura’s work: classic wargame mechanics given a fresh lease of life with simple tweaks.

For example, in SoS units that fire into an adjacent area become more vulnerable to later enemy fire. So, timing your attacks becomes a key skill.

As another example, units on defense lose terrain benefits when there are enemy units in the same area, so the game encourages the attacker to ‘get up close and personal‘ so as to increase the chances of success.

Finally, each side has a deck of 27 cards with special attacks, moves, and effects. This adds flavor – and tension and fun – to the game – at a very low cost in complexity. Further, each side’s hand size depends on the game turn, but possession of the crucial Mamayev Kurgan area gives that side an extra card. Another simple but effective piece of design.

The game is played in alternating impulses. Each impulse a player may play a card or activate an area. The units in the area may move or fire. (The Nazi forces are restricted by their divisional organization, so cannot muster killer stacks so easily.) Combat is attack strength plus 2d6 (a roll of two ordinary dice) against defense strength, terrain, and 2d6. Each point of superiority for the attacker is a casualty point which the defender must match – by flipping fresh units to their spent side, or retreating, or eliminating units. It’s fast and easy. It’s also challenging.

The one downside is that most of the attacking is done by the Nazis. It’s also the hardest side to play. But as it would be more fun for him, I let Peleg have the Swastika side. Indeed, as I expected, he struggled to match the victory conditions, but enjoyed the game. He was cursed by some bad luck with cards and dice. (I think I rolled 10, 11, or 12 in more than half of my combat rolls!)  He had no trouble with the rules or the cards, and I could see him thinking about the way he would tackle the challenge if we play it again. Of course, I may be tempted to move on to something else. (We gamers are such butterflies!)

One aside. Peleg told me about the history taught in schools which does not cover WW2, apart from the inevitable Holocaust studies. Therefore, I am trying to give a basic briefing about the history behind the game as we play it. I hope he gets something out of it all.