Storming the Reich [Review]

Andrew Carlstrom Shares his thoughts on Storming the Reich! I like Andrews writing style and detailed assessments after several plays. This helps the reader feel that the opinion is well informed.

A Review of Storming the Reich

Components

Compass Games has done a tremendous job producing Storming the Reich (hereafter StR). From the excellent box artwork, to a stunning map, and extremely attractive and functional counters and play aids, this game is at least as well produced as any wargame I own. The counters are clear and easy to read, even for aging 40-something eyes. The play aids, in particular, as outstanding. The game comes with eight full glossy color play aids on heavy cardstock – four for each player. Two of the aids (one for each player) include the CRT and Terrain effects on one side, and an extraordinarily helpful flowchart of the sequence of play on the other.

Incidentally, the flow chart is repeated on the map, and it really helps learn the game’s fairly complicated turn sequence (more on that later). The other aids include two each (again for each player) with the game’s three scenarios setup and reinforcements, and one each with helpful reminders of key rules and a “how to read a counter” summary. Even the duplicated aids are unique for each player, with minor adjustments and coloring.

Components pictures courtesy of RPardoe

Rules

The rulebook is well written and easy to understand. I didn’t have a single question that I couldn’t answer using the rules as written – which is pretty rare. I also didn’t notice any errata (though I imagine there must be some somewhere.)

The rule book also contains a fantastic ten page example of play, which is probably the best example I’ve ever read. I literally learned the game by reading the example before I even skimmed the rulebook. The example introduces a concept (with a picture of the units on the map) and then refers the reader to a specific rules section to read a couple of paragraphs. Then it’s right back to the example and into the action. By breaking up the rules reading into bite-sized chunks, learning the game was incredibly easy. It was quite fun to follow along with the example by pushing counters around on the map, then read a few rules between phases. I wish every wargame came with such an incredible example of play.

Another helpful tool to learn the game are the rule number references everywhere you can imagine – on the backs of every marker, on the tables on the map and the player aids, etc. Whenever I had a question I was instantly directed to the appropriate section in the rules.

If there is one weakness in the rulebook, it’s the index, which is effectively too complete. Every topic has a many rules section references, and none of them are bolded as the “primary” section. Luckily, between the rules references on the play aids, and the numerous and very clear rules headers, it was vey easy to find anything I was looking for without having to look up every reference in the index.

In short, I am extremely impressed with the production and development of Storming the Reich.

Game Play

So far, I’ve played the game solitaire three times – once for each of the two scenarios and once the full campaign. The two scenarios are for the Normandy Breakout (turns 1-6) and the Final Battles scenariowhich begins with the Battle of the Bulge (turns 11-15). The scenarios are probably about 3-4 hours long and the campaign three times that.

The Final Battles setup, and beautiful map, courtesy of Pavlo

Ted Racier is definitely a “design for effect” sort of designer. He sets up rules systems to guide the game on a path that is relatively historical. Personally, as I’ve only played this game solitaire, and use it as a fun and interactive way to “study” the campaign, I greatly admire this approach. I think for two like-minded opponents, this would work very well, but I imagine that after 6 or 8 games a scenario may feel scripted, particularly for really competitive play. That’s not a problem for me, though, after that many plays, I would definitely consider that I got my money’s worth (in fact, I already do).

The goal of this review is to arm the reader with enough information to determine if this is a game they should try. To accomplish that, I will discuss several major elements of game play including the sequence of play and some of the “chrome” rules that drive historical flavor and play. Let’s start with the sequence of play.

Turn Sequence

The turn sequence is very detailed and procedural. I won’t say complicated, because while there are a lot of individual steps, each step is very straightforward and the aforementioned flow chart turn sequence makes walking through a turn easy. At a high level, a turn looks like this:

d10-1 Reinforcement, Replacement, Refit Step (both sides)
d10-2 First Allied Air Phase (Airborne drops, strafing, carpet bombing)
d10-3 Allied Assault Phase (which is a combined move/combat/move phase)
-Logistics and Supply (Logistics has a HUGE impact on game play)
-Movement (which is variable, and the MP’s are used both for moving and for combat)
-Combat (which uses a variable number of any remaining movement points)
-Breakthrough Movement (with whatever MP’s are left after combat)
d10-4 German Assault Phase
-Supply
-Movement (also variable, but lower for leg infantry than mechanized, whereas for the Allies infantry rides trucks and can keep up with the armor)
-Combat
(NO break through movement phase for Germany!)
d10-5 Second Allied Air Phase – strafing only
d10-6 Allied Exploitation Phase – Movement for all and Overrun combat only for mechanized forces
d10-7German Exploitation Phase (same as Allied, generally used to patch up broken lines)
d10-8 Attrition (from OOS status) and End Phase

Let’s examine some of the key features of the Turn Sequence. First, note that the Allies get three chances to move, twice in the Assault phase and once again in the Exploitation phase, while the Germans only get two.

Second, airpower is quite powerful, with two phases where it can strafe (where it removes a number of movement points from targeted German units) while air units that don’t strafe can support combat in both the Assault and Exploitation Phases.

The turn sequence really drives the game forward – as long as there as some gaps to exploit. One of the things I love about this game is the way the Allies slog though the first 4-6 turns, pushing ahead a hex at a time against resolute German resistance (particularly around Caen) but once the line breaks, it completely shatters and it’s time to open field run all the way across France, if it weren’t for those pesky supply shortages…

Variable Movement

The variable movement in StR is interesting. At the beginning of each Assault and Exploitation phase, the moving player rolls a die to determine their available movement points for the turn. For the Allies, each command (the 21st, 12th, and 6th Army Groups) gets a roll, for the Germans, a single roll defines movement for infantry and mechanized separately. While in supply, moves of 10-12 for the Allies, 8-10 for German mechanized, and 3-4 for German infantry, are typical. While the Allies are in limited supply, though, values half that are common.

A shot of the variable movement chart (my pic)

Combat Duration

Combat Duration is determined at the start of the attack phase, by rolling a die and dividing by two (minimum one), and expending that many MP’s. Used all your MP’s moving around? Then no attacks allowed. After the initial Movement Phase, and Combat Duration, any left over MP’s can be used for Breakthrough movement. At the beginning of the Exploitation phase, the player gets another roll and a new allotment of MP’s.

Chrome/Design for Effect/Historical Play

There are a considerable number of “chrome” rules that simply and effectively drive historical behavior. They can seem pretty complicated at first, but again, the amazing player aids, extremely clear rulebook, and the fact that each rule makes intuitive and historical sense make them easy to remember.

Allies about to break out of Normandy, courtesy Pavlo

One thing that drives of historical play, and will likely help you decide if you like the game, is that the game picks up with the Allied boys already on the beaches. There is no beach selection, and there is no special invasion turn required. While I wouldn’t like everyNormandy/Liberation of France game to start like this, I rather like that this game does, since it dispenses with a lot of special, one time use rules. And as I mentioned above, since I’m generally looking for a historical study when I solo a game, I always pick Normandy as the invasion site for the first few games anyway! Again, though, this will likely hurt the game for repeated competitive play in some player’s minds.

Wacht Am Rhein

The coolest chrome rule is the Hitler counter offensive. On turns 10 or 11 (only) the German player can declare a counteroffensive, which completely turns the Turn Sequence on its head. Basically, the German player and the Allied player switch roles for a turn, and Germany gets an Assault Phase that includes a Breakthrough movement step, and the Allied player completely loses their Assault step and can only react during their Exploitation step. So, instead of a 3:2 movement phase advantage, the Allies suffer one turn with a 1:3 movement phase disadvantage, plus they forfeit one of their two Air phases. Additionally, the German player can drop a bunch of reinforcements on the map that they husband away over the course of the game (by moving them into a strategic reserve called the “Watch on the Rhine” box on the map).

This rule exemplifies Mr. Racier’s design philosophy. There is no particular reason why the turn order should be flipped at exactly turn 10 or 11, but by doing so, it presents a perfect opportunity for the German player to counter attack in December, as they did historically. Combine this bit of chrome, with another called “Ike’s Blind Spot” which limits the Allies to five divisions in the Ardennes forest until Germany attacks (or the Ruhr is captured) and you can guess where the likely point of the attack will be.

I noticed in both plays that the reached this point in the campaign, that while the Ike rule provided some incentive for Germany to attack as they did historically, it was not a requirement, and in one of my games I opted to attack in a more southerly direction where the open terrain allowed more room to advance. Also, in my campaign play through, the Allies were running a bit behind schedule, and if that happens, then the Hitler Counter Offensive doesn’t work well since it effectively must be launched from German soil (that’s where the Watch on the Rhine troops come into play).

Allied Logistics

The other key and flavorful rules that drive historical behavior relate to the Allied supply situation. Once the Allies pass the Seine, they go on limited supply until they can capture Antwerp. While on limited supply, the Allies get approximately half the movement points they received on full supply, so even at this point in the campaign when the German defense is in tatters, and can’t hope to string an effective defensive line from north to south, the Allies’ ability to exploit this weakness is somewhat limited. Additional rules for Red Ball Express and Priority Supply allow a limited number of units to gain extra fuel and therefore movement points, so the Allies can manage one or two primary armor spear thrusts, while the usually zippy truck mounted infantry falls behind. As with every other rule in the game, I found this both interesting and simple to implement, since they game provides markers for each unit gaining this type of priority supply – very straightforward and easy to understand.

There are several other colorful rules, but I’ll point out just one more that typifies this style of design. The Allies can use the invasion beaches as a source of supply on turns 1-7, but starting turn 8, they had better have an alternative source (read: Cherbourg) ready to go. When Cherbourg falls, a die is rolled to determine how long the port will take to repair, and the max is 6 turns. The Allies, therefore, must take the city on Turn 2 – if they don’t, and they roll a 6 on the port damage roll, they are screwed since the entire army will be OOS. The designer’s solution? The “Cherbourg Assault” rule which the Allies can invoke once in the game, which allows them to make repeated attacks during a single combat phase, until the city falls (or the attackers all die – which is bad).

Bloody Combat

One other item to note is the CRT. There are no retreat results on the CRT, only step losses, and on all attacks, both the attacker and the defender roll for losses against the opposing player. This makes the game quite attritional as even the attacker suffers casualties much of the time. Interestingly, neither side feels like they can afford to take excessive casualties, but I suppose it’s worse for the Germans who have many single-step weak infantry divisions. Another interesting impact of the attritional CRT is that only armor divisions can be refit (that is, increased from one step back up to full strength). Infantry units just get run into the ground and then come back as replacements 3 or 4 turns later – a nice, simple way to show the shortage of manpower on both Allied armies, especially for the British. Because all units in a stack must be reduced before any can take a second step loss, in competitive play this might lead to some gamey tactics where a full stack of reduced infantry is sent on the attack in order to kill them off and get them back full strength later. For casual face to face play, and solo play, though, I think this is an elegant solution.

Conclusion

Storming the Reich is an outstanding game – particularly for solitaire play. It is now in my top 10 for solitaire. The production values are fantastic, the game is very interesting and fun and drives a great narrative. It’s also incredibly easy to learn (for a wargamer) based on its excellent example of play.

Admittedly the game has some very unique aspects that may turn some folks off – I can imagine the criticism of the game “being on rails” being leveled against it – but that would be unfair in my mind. The fact that the game plays out historically is a huge plus in my book, and believe me, there are still hundreds of tactical decisions to make every turn along with several strategic courses to explore. For example, strategically I had a hard time keeping the Allies on their advance schedules once across the Seine, and next time I’ll try a more northerly drive (as Monty wanted). Tactically, I had a hard time pulling off an effective airborne operation, which is something I’ll work on next time.

I’m surprised, now that I’ve played, how little attention StR gets. Not having played competitively, I can’t speak for StR’s face-to face potential. It appears, though, that its strengths will come out more in solitaire play – for which I give Storming the Reich a solid 9.

Now to hunt down a copy of Red Storm over the Reich.

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