The Dark Valley Early Comments

A bit of a ramble here regarding a new title in the house! I received The Dark Valley in a swap with my new bud Scott Bogen, who hosts The Board Game Show a podcast about all things gaming and alcohol too.

What a super trade! I was immediately smitten by the retro counters, the Feldgrau of the Germans the almost yellow/tan of the Soviets.  Which contrasted against very rich blues on the map for water elements and a range of browns to reflect the various terrain types. Woods were haphazard affairs sitting across hexsides and in random locations, an OCD freaks worst nightmare. Lovely!

Extensive use of clear fonts and color on the command chits made for nice contrasts. The units look EXCELLENT on the board!

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This led me to cracking the designer notes and reading through in detail which in turn reminded me that I had just played a Ted Racier game by the name of Hitler Turns East. That was chit pull too is this the same?

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I delved into the rules. 45 minutes later : “Damn I need to set this up NOW!” came out of my mouth.

Why?

Well firstly I could see the design similarities of Hitler Turns East in some of the rules and elements of the game. However this was done at a more refined and granular level, as HtE is mostly Army scale [n.b. a full aar and video are on this blog].  Soviet command and control, chit pull, Soviet mandated counter attacks, supply rules etc all had base similarities. It worked well at the Army level. I was therefore excited to see if the same could be done at the Divisional scale.

Setting Up the Game

Here is my first beef with the title. For those of us who do not care where the 85th Infantry Division was in the flat lands of the South,  just tell me to put 6 x1-4’s in X -o-grad/ostan spot. I got it! The laborious specific divisions in specific hexes is a bit of a chore and a time since to no value add for me at least.

Sorting all that took at least an hour and a half + in setup time.

I took the time to create a sheet to allow for faster setup just in case I had to restart or wanted a 2nd/3rd bash at the title. This would pay dividends later as we shall soon see.

TDV_unitlocations

The Scenario setup is however straight forward, but the special Barbarossa rules are not. My second beef! There are a lot of little things to catch, which with better formatting, thought or a different presentation approach would have been helpful. I found myself switching constantly from Scenario booklet, the rules to charts then to ‘post production’ guide sheet far too often. This ended up causing me to make 2 mistakes on two occasions. One a game stopper! A simple re format would fix this issue.

After the game was setup there are a lot of counters on the board is the first thing I noted! Many are tough single stepper mechanized infantry 6-8’s! This is not your Grand Fathers Soviet Army. How will the Germans fair turn one? Overall I’d say without knowing that this follows more to modern history regarding the Soviet capabilities than not.

In the first turn a combat sequence followed by move is the first mandated chit action, then you hit a rotation of pulls that end up with about 8 chits played. Right towards my upper tolerance for chits per turn of a game. Any more and chit fatigue sets in. Nice!

Here is one of the reasons I was keen to be starting. If you have played any wargame from the 70’s-2000’s you can play this game. Movement and combat will be second nature to you. In these two sections of the rules there are every few exceptions to manage.  Thank you!

Combat is simplified ratios with column shifts for terrain and DRM’s for supply issues or special weapons  options. Air Support is either a straight DRM or added Combat factors or you can choose to bombard a hex outright.

Once the opening blitzkrieg attack is conducted the chit pull drama unfolds. The Soviet player should at this point go grab a coke or a cocktail. Its going to be awhile. His chits will take some time to show up given he has 2 of 8 in turn one, but fear not, your turn will come and the number of chits evolves over time.

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Supply

It was here that I realized that the in order to do the Attrition phase correctly at turn end and eliminate Soviets I would need to have checked them earlier in the turn for supply under the Logistics chit pull.  I eventually found the big letters at the top of the game supporting chart (thanks Tom Sterns) for chit allocations per turn, and saw “Logistics chit goes in each turn“. Oops.

Game breaker, so I restarted.  This also explained why the Germans got so a-historically far. Their forces would have been in trouble due to blocked rail lines had we pulled that Logistics chit in any case.

After reading again the short sections about the Logistics chits, the Mobile Supply Depot, Lines of Communication and Line of Supply it clicked.

That handful of rules could be better organized. What they meant to say was and what I had failed to grasp in my eagerness to play was that the Logistic chit pull triggers the assessment of LOC and LOS, which will impact you in the Attrition Phase later in the turn, based upon where your units are, your HQ’s are and your clear supply lines reside.  LOC, and OOS are measured differently and have significance at turn end. The cool thing here is that both sides measure LOC/OOS at the SAME time! So when the actual Logistic chit turns up is going to be top of mind, and may impact forces for all of the turn or just the tail end of a turn!

The concept of mobile supply depots (MSD) is not new, nor is how they are handled that different or innovative. But combined with a chit pull mechanic and a logistics counter, protecting these rail bound items and pushing them as far East as possible is going to cause some heart burn for the Axis commander, and opportunities for counter attack for the Soviet player!

BGG user Thaddeus Blanchette wrote an excellent article in BGG that covers strategy in TDV for MSD, and he created a map of routes for them and tied it back to what the Axis player is going to need to do to win. Well worth a read in the TDV folder.

supplyTDV

Play tip: Noteworthy is keeping in supply units next to enemies who are OOS or not in LOC, as they are eliminated in the Attrition phase if adjacent to the enemy. Otherwise they are ok!

Clarity

No where in the rules that I could see does it state the Logistics chit goes in the cup every turn. I just put the chits called for by the scenario booklet in the old cup. Lesson learned. I reset the game in about 20 minutes with my handy dandy sheet above and proceeded to replay with a new appreciation. I would say over all for a very simple thing this is the most complex to cross reference and get right.

This new turn ran really quickly.  Several chit pulls later and the turn was done.

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A much different result from my first play, if you compare the two.

Each chit pulled in this game makes you think hard about movement, combat, and supply. How far can I get, when will that logistic chit turn up and who can I hurt now, and who will hurt me later?

Right there is the guts of the game. At first play it is very simple, but interesting enough because of unknowns to engage your mind fruitfully and build some excellent two player tension and fog of war feelings.

I felt myself rooting for each side as chits came up. For example seeing in my mind’s eye 2nd Pzr HQ arguing with OKW to let go the reins, while Logistics commanders screamed slow down and wise eyes looked at exposed lines of communication! While the Soviets cringe at the Counter Attack mandate begging to be released to retreat and not attack fruitlessly. Narrative abounds.

 

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With the Panzer HQ chits you may move all units in your range, then fight with Mech only, or fight with every one and then move. Kill the guys in front of you? Move past and let non-mech clean up? Encircle deeply ?  Or be careful and preserve tight supply lines? Other chit types provide blanket move, or combat or a choice of either for all of your units. Soviet unique chits lean on history with mandatory counter attacks, the STAVKA chit releasing reserves to attack and of course both sides have a vanity General chit.

Every game will present itself with a lot of fresh choices as variance in who moves and when impacts supply and enemy reactions. TDV plays well solo for all of the above reasons also.

9 mandated counter attacks later the first turn ended!

2014-01-27 13.00.13By turn end the Soviets have lost 71 Combat Factors. The Germans in AGN had modest gains. AGC is powering to and around Minsk. AGS is tearing a new asshole from one end of the front to the other.

2014-01-27 13.20.21Attrition caused about 25% of Soviet casualties, but the Germans I think got overly aggressive attacking to clear rail lines SW of Kiev, causing some nasty step losses to Panzer units and Infantry Divisions.

Command

One of the things that impacts Eastern front games is the nature of the command structure of both sides. Typically Soviet command issues and tactics are not always modelled of are managed by rules to enforce the inherent flaws of command and strategy.

In this title we see the use of chits applied to help reflect some of those changes. This is handled really well, you do not choose the chits for the cup, the time of year, and the progress of the war does. Slowly over time the Soviets go from 2, to 3, to 5 and so on chits in the cup as they adjust their program. So my first negative reaction of ‘oh another chit pull game, how cute’ was assuaged from reading the designers notes, and playing the first few turns. This is a possible maturation from HtE where command points were rolled for  and ‘chits purchased’ for subsequent turns.

The other aspect of Eastern Front WWII combat is armour, it’s effectiveness and ability to be replaced for each side changes over time. The natural style here is to reduce replacements as the war progresses for the Axis and increase the Soviets. This is done here but also in this title is the T-34 counter and the Stug counter. Which provides a little extra armour punch where the side needs it for defense or offense respectively. A nice touch in an abstract manner.

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Summation

I took the time to write this now while my thoughts are fresh on the game. I hope to play at least the Barbarossa scenario once and hit the campaign later this year as I progress thru the BigBoard Chronological WWII play, where 1939, and 1940 are now complete . Some of you know I have other East Front games currently set up so writing about this now I think provides some nice fresh comparison. With an Operational level game in play, HtE under my belt and a recent play of classic old The Russian Campaign, I think I can safely say this title will end up being successful for Ted for a few key reasons.

First the game is simple to get started with rules wise, second it has an attractive package of map, counters and box art and finally the game play itself lends it self to a ‘afternoon’ gaming style of play, or at most a full day for the campaign. I can see this being big in the VASSAL play by email collective and for solo players.

I am looking forward to posting the rest of the AAR as things progress!

 

 

21 thoughts on “The Dark Valley Early Comments

  1. Very well done Kevin. I agree with your thoughts completely. I am not a big East Front guy. This game kinda grabs me though because it’s detailed but not complex. Looking forward to our Vassal game.

    1. I dont know about that. If you want the mechanistic lock step recreation of the EAST FRONT, there is not a game that does it. This does however place the choices in your hand that both sides had . The OOB is updated which is nice. Their is uncertainty, unlike the all seeing eye mentality of most games. So ASL players probably wont like this game. too much chaos. But to say what you are saying with out a supporting statement is not much. ToS, TRC etc are all the same as this from that perspective. Even my sweet OCS does not give you history ‘exactly’. So what the beef with the title Bill?

  2. I want a game that in the Case Blue scenario it will be about a German offensive . Not a Russian offensive towards Kiev or Smolensk. Unfortunately that is how TDV plays. If you want fantasy you’ll love it. The chit pulls and PZ activations give you the “illusion” of some history but the game is broken.

  3. So your group made up all the playtesters? It’s pretty amusing to me when people make such definitive statements about things like games. The point isn’t to recreate history but to give gamers opportunity to face historical situations and explore the possibilities. This game succeeds at that. I have yet to play a wargame in my 30+ years of wargaming that is an exact simulation of history. Its probably impossible to do. When I read such blanket statements it comes across as having something personal against the designer. I’m not saying you aren’t entitled to your opinion. I just have doubts regarding your motivation for having the opinion you have.

    Also it seems you and your group are in the minority.

  4. “Also it seems you and your group are in the minority.”

    Time will tell Tom. We have more combined plays than all of you put together art this point.

  5. After looking at the setup for CB the first thing appears to be excessive flexibility in a. choosing which units do not make it to the board and b. where they are placed. So the scenario design does not factor in the STAVKA thinking around the perceived push to Moscow versus a Southern Campaign. Historically the Soviet offensive around Kharkov in May June was not a success depending on your view point ;). That said I dont see that you can say that the Soviets could NEVER have had an an offensive ‘somewhere’. The setup is wierd given the exact divisional placement for Barbarossa, CB is more – slap your crap on the board? Why no effort here?

    Reply to: “I was surprised at the reaction to negative comments about a game that is very new and the no one could have played enough to really form strong opinions about. I posted a rating on BGG (5) which in my opinion was extremely kind (in reality I think it deserves a 3 maybe a 4 for nice graphics) and immediately got a geekmail from a fanboy wanting to know why I didn’t love this game. I wasn’t really surprised at this reaction and did not trust the identity or the motives of this “person”.
    I removed my rating so as not to incur backlash and a flame war.

    I’m really tired of comments that imply you want to see an exact recreation of history when ever you complain about the lack of history in a game. This is utter nonsense. Has anyone ever met someone who wanted to only be able to exactly recreate history in a game ? In my well over 40 years of wargaming I’ve never met or heard of this mythical person. I want my history (or what ifs) to be plausible in the context of the actual history. Unbelievable results are simply that.

    The Dark Valley is full of unbelievable history. During our many, many plays of the Case Blue scenario the Germans were never able to take Rostov, were never able to move into a single hex of the Caucasus and never got anywhere near Stalingrad! That is not plausible history. In fact the Russians were able to counterattack and drive the Germans back much like they historically did in 1943 in virtually every play test.
    The reaction of the developer was quite amusing. First he asked to play one of us. He would show us how the Germans could do it. After he was clobbered badly in 3 consecutive games he gave up and came up with new rules. The first was “we won’t allow the Russians to attack in 1942 from June to September!” That was ridiculous and was quickly changed to “if the Russians move they can only move in there retreat directions (backwards!)”. The Russians were still able to beat the Germans by the way. Ted than made the comment to us “don’t worry about the history its just a game!” We were not impressed to say the least.
    We could discuss the Bagration scenario that we also played extensively. Suffice it to say this also had numerous problems. In the case of both Case Blue and Bagration these problems were never resolved before publication. I admit Barbarossa (which all of you are playing currently) does work better but with proper (experienced ) Russian play they can win it every time. Any way thats enough for now.”

    1. The flexibility in the set up was I think the cause of a lot of issues. I understand that was something that Ted was pretty adamant about and that is the designers perogative. One of the things though is that I felt that it really made play balancing extremely difficult as it made establishing a baseline for repeated plays virtually impossible.

      Now that’s not to say that in not happy that people are playing and enjoying the game – good for them. I just feel that with some tweaks it could have been better.

  6. I appreciate the detailed explanation. Comes across much different than a blanket statement. I never play anything other than campaign scenarios so CB and Bag doesn’t really matter to me personally, but I can see where it can matter to others. I also don’t profess to come anywhere close to being an East Front expert, so I’ll just take you at your word regarding those operations. So far I have enjoyed the game and it appears to have enough historicity, for me anyway. I guess my “reaction” is to what I feel that I see way too much of these days; and that is a rush by some folks to tear a game down before we have a chance to play it and experience it ourselves. It seems we live in an era of hyper-criticism. I enjoy the challenge of not just playing a game, but learning the game and experiencing it’s nuances. Right now I am also taking on Nations in Arms by Compass Games. Another game that was a dud on release because the rules were supposedly so horrid. What I have found underneath the horrid rules is a really cool game that a ton of people have too easily dismissed and are missing out on. So that is the context from which I read your initial posts. For an East Front expert TDV may not be the right game. For me it might be just what I’m looking for. I want the chance to find that out without the negative criticism.

  7. Just a quick comment on this statement ” a rush by some folks to tear a game down before we have a chance to play it ”

    Quite the opposite has occurred with The Dark Valley as you yourself stated “it seems you and your group are in the minority”
    One voice speaks out with a different opinion and well………………..nevermind

    1. Well as I said, it wasn’t your opinion that was so much at issue as the blanket way it was expressed. I mean I just said that your explanation made a difference. You can choose to focus on the positive or the ……nevermind.

  8. I thought it only right that I post this here. I stand by all (or most) of my previous comments on the game. However after the exchange here I had with Tom I thought a bit more on the topic.
    The fellows who are enjoying the game are all playing the Barbarossa/Campaign scenario (not really surprising). My comments were from repeated plays of the scenarios (CB 42, Bag 44). I had only soloed Barbarossa once. My buddy and fellow play tester ( whos general opinion on the game closely mirrors mine) was playing the Barbarossa scenario with all takers. He plays the Russians and all the German players hes faced have called it quits after 4 turns.
    I have been following the comments on the game on both CSW and BGG. Most of the comments are highly favorable. So?
    I asked John if he’d play me a game of Barbarossa. I took the Germans of course. We played the first turn today on vassal. I thoroughly enjoyed it! We will continue till we have a winner. I’m pretty sure that will be John but who knows?
    I remember now that I kind of enjoyed the mechanics of the game it was the results that turned me off. We shall see how Barbarossa turns out? John still thinks its broken in favor of the Russians.
    If you can’t beat’m join’m I say!
    I will report back with my thoughts after we’ve played some more.

    1. Great to hear Bill !!! LOL. As I sit here pondering the Case Blue scenario, and looking at the amazing # of units the Soviets have, but according to Carl Pradis the # of combat factors is about right…so maybe its those pesky zoc locking unit capabilities or something! In any case setting it up to play.

    2. Thanks for following up Bill. I didn’t know who I was communicating with until a couple of replies in. Hope your game goes more than 4 turns. I agree it is a slippery slope for the Germans as the game progresses. Good luck!

  9. I’ll just point out that “Kev” is apparently unaware of the actual published rules (specifically the Combat:Zhukov chit) that severely limits Soviet offensive possibilities in Summer 42.

    >As for this: Ted than made the comment to us “don’t worry about the history its just a game!”

    And that is either an unintentional misrepresentation-or a lie.

    Ted

    1. Hey Ted, I carved the commentary from a previous comment here. That person did not want to have their name and the comments associated. I’m well aware of the Zukhov chit rules. That said my play of Case Blue ended with a tight game and the Soviets in control but not on the offensive. Thanks for designing a very interesting and rewarding experience. I’m still in two minds about lots of little things but I would for sure recommend it to friends.

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