For game background, see here. What follows are notes about my experiences in setting up and playing Prelude to Disaster –so far.
As previously mentioned, there’s a challenge with the map because it doesn’t clearly distinguish Woods and Forest hexes from one another. As Markus Stumptner pointed out in Consimworld, there is an attempt to fix this by way of a Read Me First! warning, and a list of Forest hexes. Unfortunately (a) the warning is on the back page of the Exclusive Rules booklet, and (b) the list is wrong.
I originally planned to sit down and write my own list. However, I did not have the stamina and gave up in frustration. I decided I would deal with such issues on as is basis, letting a die roll decide in cases of uncertainty.
I decided to use the rules included with the game. The previous occasions I played this game – years ago – I know that I did not do a good job of learning the rules, because all too often this time around I found myself being surprised by new features. Although the language and organization of the rules are not to my liking, I made a concerted effort, and slowly felt I was getting to grips with the system.
I used Mike Rizzo’s rules – see here – to clarify one annoying piece of obtuse rule writing. (How you traced command radius.)
And I also used his setup, though had to tweak it as I found one or two mistakes. For example, some of the HQs started with more units than they could command. Further, the Soviets were not complying with the setup requirement to have the front line occupied or in a ZOC. To be fair, constantly remembering that units in this system have a ZOC unlike any other system I know, is a challenge. (Units have a ZOC rating which can be reduced by terrain, supply, and weather.) I will come back to the setup later.
I like them. Even after 20+ years, they are easy on the eye. Well die-cut, clear, and they stand out on the map.
One piece of counter errata was published: the Soviet 10th Tank Brigade should have an ER/MR of “2.”
I think there’s at least one other counter errata, but deal with that in the setup section.
Speaking of which…
I have prepared a separate document with notes about the Superior and Operational HQs, their respective command ratings, and the forces under their command. (If you want it, email me.)
Apart from minor adjustment of Soviet forces to comply with Operational HQ limits, the big bad issue is that SouthWest Front – according to its counter – does not have enough of a command rating (4) for the armies (6) it leads.
I could see nothing in the historical commentary, or remember anything from that part of the source material I have read, to explain this. Indeed, given that the rules highlight the issue with the Axis and the Rumanian Operational HQ, I strongly suspect it’s a mistake. Further, as it seems to me that the Soviet player has it hard enough even assuming all the HQs are in command, putting 2 HQs out of command control would be an impossible handicap to overcome.
It’s noteworthy that there are different setup requirements: the Soviets need to have every hex in the front line either occupied or in a ZOC. The Axis only need to have every hex in the front line either occupied or adjacent to a unit. There is a subtle difference, and it gives the Axis a slight advantage.
Rules in practice
With all the setup out of the way, I started playing PTD, in particular the first (historical) scenario. I found the following:
Reinforcements are placed in Phase 1 of the Game Turn Sequence. The scenario starts turn one with Phase 7 of the Game Turn Sequence. (Interestingly, the Exclusive Rules wrongly refer to this as the Soviet Operational HQ Movement Phase, instead of the Soviet Operational HQ Operations Phase. It looks as if the terms were changed in development, but this original version slipped through.) So, if you start with Phase 7, how are you supposed to deal with the reinforcements? I ignored the inconsistency, and just brought them in when every other combat unit was eligible to move.
There is a separate issue which is that reinforcements are supposed to enter in Independent mode – not requiring command control. However, that mode is only available to those Soviet units that are Guards. Guess what? The Soviet reinforcements are not Guards. Hmm. I ignored that, too.
In the first turn, the Soviets cracked open the Axis line. I wanted the Axis 8th Corps to do a General Retreat. This requires permission. However, permission is sought in Phase 5 of the Game Turn Sequence, and that had already happened. So, the poor sods had to do their best waiting for High Command to become available on turn two. On balance I thought that was OK. However, it does cramp the style of the Axis player.
According to the rules, you can base air units offboard “paying the MP costs listed by the offboard airfield display.” Two of the Soviet aircraft must be assigned to South Front. This can be done at Lozovaya, where 57th Army HQ starts. It might be preferable to have them based offboard. Unfortunately, the display is silent as to how far away that is. Shame.
Playing this game is unlike any other WW2 game at the same type of scale. It’s in the same park as OCS, but the experience is completely different. I’m not taking sides here, because I have enjoyed both. What surprised me was how quickly I got used to the detailed modifiers that the Winter Storm system seems to thrive on. For example, there are ten different ways a unit’s movement allowance can be affected, and even more ways its Effectiveness Rating can change. Previously I balked at this state of affairs. This time, I stuck with it and was rewarded with an enthralling playing experience. Sure I missed stuff, but in general was happy that I was doing things correctly.
When I say correctly, I mean according to the rules. I did not stack up as a Soviet commander, failing miserably. Although the Soviets made a turn one breakthrough, they could not – under my command! – exploit it, and the Axis forces struck back to great effect. I didn’t keep turn by turn records, but at the end (if I can read my writing) it was a Substantial Victory for the Axis forces.
It’s a challenging game system. It was hard work, but it was fun. The Command Game is well worth the effort, albeit it can be very frustrating to lose the flexibility 99% of other wargames give you. Here, you truly are playing a role that is not totally in control.
Worth it? yes. I need a break now, but I’ll come back to it again.