Friday, September 26, 2008

Storm in a teacup

Back to my choice, and with the arrival of Storm Over Stalingrad (BGG entry) from MMP in the prior week or two and having just played another area movement game, (Iwo Jima), in the previous session, it seemed an appropriate choice. So, where does it differ from IJ and other area movement games?

SOS is a lot closer to the benchmark for area movement games (Avalon Hill's Storm Over Arnhem, Breakout: Normandy, Thunder at Cassino, and Turning Point: Stalingrad) than IJ was. Turns are taken as alternating impulses, allowing the activation of a number of units in a single area who then all perform the same action, whether firing at a single target, or moving to another area. As units are activated they are flipped over to their reverse side, which features a lower strength. Fire attacks are either within the same area or to an adjacent area, and only feature the attacking player rolling dice, to which the fire strength is added, and compared to the strongest defense rating of the target units, modified for terrain. Any positive difference is damage to the defenders, which is taken in terms of flipping units, retreats and losses. Unlike the AH games, the game turn continues until both players pass or have no more units left to activate.

The major difference to the AH games, however, is that each player has a 27 card deck which allows various capabilities. These may represent artillery or air barrage capability (rather than having counters on the map), defense modifier increase/negation, card negation, and other effects that change the standard rules/flow, and allow for extended replayability. The decks are also asymmetrical, giving a little flavor of the two different armies.

I had the game all set up as we made an early start to the evening, expecting the game to run 4+ hours on our first play. We both bid 2 points for the Soviets, and in the toss I got the Germans. My initial plan was to focus on the right, with the SS troops, trying to make maximum use of them before they are withdrawn at the end of turn 3, driving along the river.

With this in mind I dumped my '10' strength Heavy Artillery card into Rail Road Station 2, following up with fire from Sadovaya Station, both scoring excellent rolls for damage. This was followed up with moving the SS into RR Station 2, and Dive Bombers into Grain Elevator. Around this time I realized that the plan wasn't going to work, and that I would have to press all along the line if I hoped to reduce Eric down to a single VP area for the win, so started on other areas, with some degree of success, although our die rolling swapped as my early success changed to failures and vice versa for Eric. I had hoped to take notes of each impulse, but the game moves forward too quickly, so gave that up as I didn't want to hold things up.

We hadn't gone far into turn 2 (if at all) when Eric spotted that '0' strength units can't fire, which he had been doing all turn, forcing retreats. That had a pretty major effect on the game so far, so we agreed to reset and start again.

This time I started with a good hand of artillery cards, and made good use of them, battering my way through RR Station 2, and advancing the SS into Grain elevator. I made some progress through Central Gully and into Red October Factory Workers' Settlement, even managing to clear it out and opening a path to the river, but Eric was able to reinforce it and close the door. On the left side I advanced into Dzerzhinsky Tractor Factory, and with a box cars roll even took out the defenders.

Some time during turn 4:

By turn 4 I was in Barrikady Gun Factory and Rail Road Station 1, but then stalled from there, as I couldn't get the die rolls to match up with the big attacks (rolling low on the strong attacks, high on the weak attacks), resulting in minor results each time. With this, Eric didn't really need to do much other than replace the odd unit that did retreat. In the end, Eric controlled 4 VP areas for an easy win.

End position:

Whilst the dice gave me a good start but were weak at the end, I don't think I played this one particularly well. I spent too much time firing from adjacent areas, and not enough moving forward to contest areas. Any time I did clear an area, which would have allowed good forward movement, Eric was able to plug the gap in his turn. What I would have given for one of those Motherland cards the Soviet player has! (It allows the Soviet player to pre-empt the German turn and take a second impulse.) I also didn't take enough care to protect my strong units from attacks, losing several armored/mech units. It's important to have enough cannon fodder to soak up those hits. Ah well, next time, next time.... :)

All in all, the game is a very streamlined version of the AH area movement standard. Obvious comparisons will be made to the AH game on this subject, Turning Point: Stalingrad. I haven't played TPS, although I have scanned through the rule book, but suffice to say that the AH offering is a far more complex, detailed and involved game. Then again, you could say that SOS is a simplistic, 'dumbed down' version of the former, it depends on your perspective and preferences.

I liked SOS and I'd certainly like to get it onto the table again. Our evening was just over 4 hours, including a brief initial discussion of the game, the abortive first effort, resetting up, and a chat afterwards. So the 3 hour length on the box seems about right, which makes it a great evening game.

We still managed to miss a crucial rule -that defenders don't get terrain benefit when fire originates in the same area. This didn't impact any of Eric's fires, as only the player controlling area ever gets terrain benefit and he never moved/attacked into a German controlled area. It would have impacted a lot of my fires, however, especially those in the '+3' terrain areas, although I'm unsure to what degree. We also played the retreat/stacking rules slightly wrong, which meant a few of my units got deaded for not having a retreat path when they could have retreated through a fully stacked area to another adjacent area. However, these were our errors, as both rules are very clearly explained in the correct locations, so maybe we just can't read.

Anyway, that certainly didn't impact my enjoyment of the game. Engrossing and thoroughly entertaining, it's another winner from MMP. They've been on a tear recently, producing some excellent games, and their P500 list contains just as many games that I can hardly wait to get my hands on. And there's several that are supposed to go on P500 soon that I'll also immediately pre-order. In fact the whole wargaming industry is coming up with a whole bunch of great games recently, and my shelves are groaning with the weight of so many games that I'm itching to play. I just need more hours in the day to spend time with friends to play them all.

Eric's choice again next time. I wonder what he'll come up with? I know that my next choice will be Conflict of Heroes, another new one, and one that's getting a great deal of positive buzz across on BGG.


Jackson said...

We messed up all kinds of rules as well.
The biggie for us was that Russians that fired were marked w/a fire marker (even if they fired in their Own area)--which helped the German Artillery a lot.
It made sense to me, as I always heard that the German arty would punish any Russian daylight attack.
Oh well, so many simple yet subtle rules....

Jackson said...

Also, I love CoH, and hope you do a review of it.
If you do, try to play at least 1 scenario w/tanks in addition to the basic simple infantry scenarios.