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