Michael Eckenfels, 16 September 2021 ~ #UnboxingDay
I’ve been on something of a Stalingrad game kick lately. Funny, as I traded away my copy of Turning Point: Stalingrad several months ago (good game, I just wasn’t a huge fan), but recently acquired this as well as Excalibur Games’ version of Battle of Stalingrad. This conflict remains, to me, one of the more fascinating and brutal battles of World War II.
A video series by a YouTuber named TIK currently has an animated video series that’s ongoing on the entire Stalingrad campaign (as of this writing, it’s at 27 episodes) and still going. I highly recommend it if you have any interest in this campaign.
click images to enlarge
I’ve been wanting to get a copy of this game for some time, as the system is fascinating to me and the subject matter is, of course, of particular interest. I’d recently also gotten a copy of Shadows Over Normandie, but hadn’t had a chance to play it yet so I am not familiar with the system other than seeing Let’s Play videos and reading various reviews. The box art is really strong, if a bit cartoony.
The text on the back – this is how you do game writing copy, folks. The first paragraph at the top (if you can read it, hopefully) is a fantastic piece of prose. The funny thing is, this really puts the game into a serious mindset for me, but the content may come across as anything but, as you’ll see momentarily.
The most interesting thing about the front cover is this guy, here:
Because, it immediately reminded me of James Coburn from the movie, Cross of Iron:
Not sure if that was intentional on the part of the artist, but even if not, it’s appreciated.
Once you take the shrink wrap off, the back is actually an insert, which is a little odd and disappointing. I’d prefer it to be a permanent part of the box so this was a little strange to see. I’ll have to keep this insert inside the box, which I suppose after thinking about it, is not that big of a deal.
Once the box is open, your sight is assaulted (in a good way) by some pretty stunning art.
The rule book looks, at first glance, well designed – lots of color, two-column format that’s easy to read, several examples…
And it just gives off a good feel for the game, highlighting the ruinous conditions in the city of Stalingrad, the rubble, the destruction…it translates all of this well.
And then a caricature German appears, which isn’t a bad thing. The art is pretty good but the presence of this just kind of reinforces the cartoony look of the game. Again – not a big deal given I knew this going in after having reviewed the game several times – just a little strange seeing this here. “Hey, I’m here, schweinhund! Look at me!”
No problem, I see you…but then I saw this guy with the goat (cough). This particular image looks like he’s trying to hold it hostage. Lover’s quarrel, perhaps? In any case it underlines the tongue-in-cheek impression I’m getting from some of the art.
And then there’s this, which takes the tongue-in-cheek impression a bit further down the field. This is not to be taken seriously, obviously, and it’s somewhat amusing.
The manual, by the way, is 28 pages long. That’s quite a bit of material, but as I said, there’s a lot of examples and illustrations, so it sounds like it’s a lot more content than it actually is.
The Scenarios book continues the artwork theme. If you look closely you could recognize the building in the background as the Univermag department store, where Paulus had his headquarters in the final days of the Stalingrad siege.
Hmm. So, the caricature humor is one thing, but this is a little weird. And coming from me, that’s something to comment upon. It’s still amusing, if somewhat graphic and over-the-top.
The scenarios at least look interesting. “Not One Step Back” is of course reminiscent of the Soviet Order 227 of the same name, ordering soldiers to not retreat without specifically being told to do so. This went a long way to making Soviet units stand and fight, imparting the idea that the Volga was the ‘end of the world’ and there was nowhere left to retreat to. Other than, you know, the 16,000 miles of landscape behind the Volga, but that’s beside the point.
Ah, the humor continues. It’s appreciated here, though a makeover implies it’ll actually be torn down with the purpose of rebuilding it. I guess that would have been the point of either side, no matter who won, but interestingly enough if you go look up Volgograd in Google Maps (renamed in 1961 from Stalingrad), you can find plenty of buildings that still carry the marks and scars of battle, especially around the old Red Barricades factory.
Here’s a player aid, covering what looks like some movement rules. Perhaps these are often overlooked?
And some stickers, but I didn’t see ‘storage crates’ in the box, so this might be some extra offering by the publisher.
And we get to the counters, finally. It looks like the Soviet 138th Rifle Division is represented, which indeed took part in the battle.
On the German side, it looks like the 24th Panzer Division – the “Leaping Horsemen” – so nicknamed because it started as the 1st Cavalry Division. I also know this because there’s a book I’ve been wanting, Death of the Leaping Horsemen, by Jason Mark. This particular division also fought at Stalingrad and was destroyed there. The book is very hard to come by and apparently has a lot of good information within it about the division’s participation in the battle.
And good old goatfury is here, too.
I do like the counters. Like I said, the feeling of rubble and claustrophobia is reflected well in the terrain painted in the background of many of these counters.
I think there’s quite a bit of info on these counters, but they’re also designed well enough that the information can easily be seen and separated from the rest of the counter.
Some blocks, though thankfully none require stickers (I don’t think, anyway!).
Some d6 dice – two Soviet themed, two German themed.
And lots of cards – some for the Soviet side, some for the German side.
The art on these is good, too. I do love the theme, here.
And that’s it. A game that, I think, is more of a fast and fun free for all rather than a serious ASL-type of tactical combat simulator.
Thanks for joining this month’s #UnboxingDay with the Armchair Dragoons and we hope you enjoyed our recon of our recent acquisitions.
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