Ted Raicer‘s Dark Valley, published by GMT, is a fresh approach to tackling the eastern front of WW2. Out of the box, there are some issues (see my initial post, here) but it is worth persevering, especially if the topic interests you. I would neither recommend this to a novice gamer, nor a gamer whose playing style is to seek the ‘perfect plan.’ First, there is a lot of game to digest, and yet the game can be won or lost in the details of an encounter at one of several key points on the map. Second, the chit pull sequence of play can – and generally will – cause havoc with plans, challenging you to perpetually weigh your options and your risk taking.
I have played the first (8 turn scenario) through to a conclusion once. I made several attempts at getting the crucial turn one right, and know I got nowhere close. (I decided to pack the game away, for now, intending to return to it in a Vassal format.) My comments are based on that limited solitaire experience:
- Apart from the needless difficulty with the Soviet Military Districts, the graphics – map and counters – are good.
- The different chits and the chit pull system produce a great, fun, exciting gaming experience. The emphasis here is on the game.
- Logistics is not a phase; it’s a chit. Adds chaos, friction, and enjoyment.
- Even at high odds, there is no guarantee of eliminating a defending unit. So, the initial Axis offensive is unlikely to wipe out vast numbers of Soviet units, unless the Axis recreates the historical practice of pocketing the enemy, and letting the lack of supply kill the pocket. A welcome change.
- Not every unit has a zone of control. Maintaining a front line can be a challenge, as it was in the campaign.
- Simple, but effective supply system. There are depot units for the Axis player, with a variable movement allowance. That can really screw things up!
- High replayability.
- Different air unit rules – some have bases, some don’t have bases. I would have preferred a simplification here.
- The rules are full of exceptions tied to game turns. The drag is exacerbated by the way the information is presented. Fan resources partially offset this, but it remains annoying.
- Lack of setup sheets in the box. Again, fan resources to the rescue.
- The game system does not have an overrun (combat while moving) and at times that was very frustrating. This is probably due to my inexperience with getting the best out of the existing system, but it is an aspect I will be looking at again in future plays.
- I cannot help wondering if, for a future design, it would be possible and worthwhile to enhance the different chit system, whereby available chits are dependent on economic resources, rather than just the game turn. In other words, the sides could buy chits with resource points.
This is one I will return to. It is a mini monster, and to get the best out of it, I need to have lots more time available to play than I do just now. I can certainly see why it has been popular at Consimworld Expos.