Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Victory Denied

Me and Timo played a 6 hour game of Multi-Man Publishing's A Victory Denied last night. It's a hex&counter game for the Smolensk area of the eastern front in the early stages of Barbarossa. The Germans have to push through the hasty line of Soviet defenders, Moscow in sight. The Soviets have to stall the German advance the best they can while reinforcements trickle in. It's the classic contest of whether the Germans can exploit their early success in the war or become bogged down.

The Germans have better troop quality, air superiority, better maneuverability and stellar panzers. The Soviets have the benefit of defence and a fast reinforcement speed, but their troops are no good at offence at all. Victory points are awarded from captured/liberated towns and cities for both sides and for each destroyed panzer division for the Soviets. The endgame can vary depending on Hitler's mood: Whether he decides to push for Moscow or get distracted send the German panzer elite to the Kiev encirclement is decided by a die roll. This varies the amount of points awarded and the length of the game.

In our game, the Germans got off to a good start aided by the first turn benefits they get. The very fast, very powerful panzers slammed into the soviets, punching through the line of defence. The soviets scampered to form something resembling a defensive line at the eastern side of the Dnepr river, and succeeded surprisingly well, thanks to the busy Soviet reinforcement schedule (Soviet reinforcements spawn near HQ units instead of having to literally march from the map edges) and lucky rolls of 10, which allow the Soviet player to spawn additional elite units directly into the fight.

It looked like the German player, even though being able to punch through the Soviet defenders with panzers and motorized infantry, was in danger of having said units cut off from the rest of the army because the regular army units were stuck with the defenders at the Dnepr. The Soviet reinforcements started swamping the isolated motorized groups at select places.The Germans proved hard to defeat through, due to the big gap in troop quality. A motorized infantry group could be surrounded by all sides, but still the Soviets found it hard to mount an effective attack against them. The panzers were easier to defeat as their defence value is very low (oddly so.Would a panzer division with an attack value of 10 strength points really be worth just 2 points in defence, historically?).

In the end, it was the isolation of the panzer forces which lost the game for the Germans. Even though the Soviets were really bad at attacking them, failing over and over again, each time a german unit was forced to retreat, it seemed it would have to retreat through enemy ZOC's and to take damage. Also, the Soviet artillery (abstracted to dice rolls once every turn) proved useful, as it doesn't factor in the strength of the target. The one-shot rocket barrage proved exceptional as it wiped out two whole motorized units unable to rout because of being encircled. In the main line of battle, things were going bad for the Soviets but the late arriving 9th Army was not able to capitalize on the success of the panzers. At one point it looked like the motorized forces could threaten Moscow (a single German unit there regardless of the situation and it's game over) but the Soviet reinforcements materialized to block the way at the last minute. The game ended with 66 vs. 20 victory points in favor of the Soviets, 34 of which the Soviets gained from destroyed German motorized forces. Hitler got distracted, ending the game early (luckily, it was already past 11). The Germans never took Smolensk.

This was the first session either of us played with this system, and it was a learning process. The core mechanics of A Victory Denied are really easy to learn for someone who has played some wargames before. Core concepts like Zone of Control, CRT column shifts and chit activations are kept with a minimum of special rules and gameplay mechanics are very fast once you practice them for a couple of turns. No lengthy die roll modifier tables or obscure rule wordings. The HQ activation system rewards careful placement. It is a well done game. The map is really good looking, too, and the counter density is low.

The simple mechanics give the battles a "gamey" feel at some points. A unit surrounded at all sides can break out by simply knocking back one of the defenders and without suffering from all the other units around it, unless it has been declared as isolated earlier in a supply chit phase. Supply itself works funnily as you can trace supply through vast swathes of enemy controlled territory. The German supply trucks can drive to the gates of Moscow if need be, to then trace back to Minsk via the forests and swamps at the extreme edge of the map. All you have to do is trace a route with no enemy ZOC's to the friendly map edge without crossing major rivers without bridges. This made it really had to make units out of supply. These are both sacrifices made to keep the game flowing smoothly so I suppose it's worth it.

Even though the game mechanics are easy to learn, I think it takes a couple of plays to learn how to play it "properly", especially with the Germans. The Soviets recover losses quickly and can spawn forces out of nowhere, making them easy to handle for a beginner, but each mechanized unit lost by the Germans is worth a captured town alone in VP. I think it takes some real strategic cunning for the Germans to be able to use their Blitzkrieg forces fully while still keeping them safe from being surrounded.

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