Finishing the Pocket

A few weeks back I finished an extended session of play with Jaws of Victory. Here are my likes and dislikes.

What I liked

  • The maps are gorgeous.
  • The counters are equally nicely done.
  • The rule book, scenario book, and play aids are also of high quality.
  • Game play is immersive. (There’s a downside to this which I’ll cover in the dislikes.) While you can just push the counters around, to be successful you must come up with a plan and then execute it. For example, when and how to use artillery. As another example, which troops to commit first and which to be reserves.
  • The supply rules are a lovely balance of playability and realism. You cannot simply attack everywhere all the time. So, naturally, there are lulls as supplies are built up before the next offensive.
  • The air support rules are another wonderful creation. You can call for support but you are never sure if you will get any. It’s easy to play and adds to the suspense. (And reflects real-life doubts.)
  • The tank and anti-tank interaction is superb. It’s easy to use and delivers believable results.
  • Similar to the last point, the terrain effects and different unit types give a real sense of the limitation the actual forces faced. This is not a game where you get your powerful tank units up front and they sweep all foes away. Oh no. You need infantry, engineers, and artillery. And you need replacements to fill the ranks.
  • There are plenty of one map scenarios.
  • Achieving historical results is challenging. That’s the way it should be. The result is not scripted. I know that I only scratched the surface of the game play and I am much happier knowing that the Soviets, for example, cannot simply just attack away and succeed. I’m also pretty certain that watching an expert play this game would be highly entertaining and instructive.

What I didn’t like

  • It’s slow to play if you are doing things properly. There are three sources for this. First, most hexes have more than one unit in them, so there’s a stack with one visible and one or more hidden. Second, only infantry units with 3 steps or more project a Zone of Control. (ZOC). So, you often need to disturb a stack to see if a ZOC is in effect. Third, there are rules for armor interception. So, you may need to check to see if a stack has a potential interceptor. This is the price you pay for the level of detail on display.
  • There are lots of special rules setting up the historical restrictions on when units, for example, may be activated and where they may go in early turns of the scenario. You get the history, but it’s not for free. No, I don’t know a way around this. (Yes, I am trying to have my cake and eat it.)
  • That’s it…

In summary, this game has been one of my best buys. I spent hours playing it and enjoying it. And if I can ever get back to a convention, this will be high on my ‘to-be-played’ list because I very much want to see how the campaign goes.

Pocket on the Table

On the table, a meaty game called Jaws of Victory about the WW2 campaign around Korsun and Cherkassy in early 1944.

It’s designed by Milt Janosky and published by New England Simulations.

Here’s an overall view of the first scenario (on one of the two maps) dealing with the Soviet encirclement.

And here’s a closeup showing where the breakthrough is going to be attempted.

Those red counters are Soviet barrage concentrations. Nasty stuff.

The game features turns of a day, hexes that are two miles across, and units ranging from battalion sized to division. It’s “I go, you go” with some reaction allowed and the creation and utilization of reserves. Other points in no particular order:

  • Airpower uses a simple but effective system so it doesn’t take up disproportionate time. (OCS, I’m looking at you.)
  • Extensive use of artillery on attack and defense.
  • Supply uses points and depots, but is streamlined and easy – no magical tricks as to when to supply units. (OCS…)
  • Easy and evocative armor rules dealing with superiority and taking losses.
  • Stacking is not too bad – 3 units maximum – but there are exceptions and restrictions to learn.
  • Combat is odds based with chunky shifts for terrain, artillery and air support, combined arms, armor, and so on.
  • Most units take losses in steps, with different size and quality catered for by different classes (types) of step loss chit.

The physical components are good quality with only a few small, irritating counter errors. The rulebook and playbook are well done with ‘living’ versions maintained on the publisher’s website.

As usual, putting the game on the table has triggered a flurry of reading (and book buying) so I can have a good grasp of the historical context. Some of the source material quoted by the designer is hard to get or expensive, but there’s other material around that should at least provide the basics.

This is wargaming at its finest for me: a meaty, good-looking game that oozes history and makes me want to learn more. I could probably play nothing but this game for the next year, but of course I’m too much of a gaming butterfly to do that. While it’s on the table, though, I’ll enjoy every minute.