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Posted on Nov 15, 2018 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Battling Shot for Shot to turn the tide of the war at Pavlov’s House. Dan Verssen Games ‘Pavlov’s House’ Board Game Review.

Battling Shot for Shot to turn the tide of the war at Pavlov’s House. Dan Verssen Games ‘Pavlov’s House’ Board Game Review.

By Ray Garbee

Pavlov’s House: The Battle of Stalingrad. Publisher: Dan Verssen Games Designer: David Thompson Price $ 59.99

 

Passed inspection: Clean presentation of the rules and components. Nice graphic depiction of how one building is the critical focus of the entire battle. Concise examples of play included for each section of rules.

Failed basic: Counters representing the Kickstarter backers are not required for play of the game and the images don’t match those of the standard counters. Couple of minor typos snuck through editing process.

 

Disclaimer:  Your reviewer backed the Kickstarter to fund Pavlov’s House. So clearly, it’s a game he wanted to see brought to market. Beyond that, it means that in return for his financial funding, this reviewer (along with other backers) received a copy of the game and is represented ‘in the game’ in the form of a set of alternate counters. Aside from the Kickstarter rewards for participating in the funding of the campaign, the reviewer has no other connection to Dan Verssen Games.

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Crouched behind the battered walls of the apartment building, Corporal Pavlov peered out through the jagged hole in the concrete wall at the German tank and infantry massing across the square. Things looked grim…but this was Russia, things usually looked that way. ‘Is why army has artillery’, thought Pavlov as he turned to find Comrade Potanski, the forward observer for the guns…

 

Stalingrad. The name conjures images of bitter hand to hand fighting in a blasted ruined cityscape.  This was the epic battle where Hitler’s Reich broke its teeth against the iron defenders of the Motherland standing on the west bank of the Volga River. Back in the 1980’s I cut my wargaming teeth playing the Squad Leader scenario “The Tractor Factory” and Avalon Hill’s ‘The Russian Campaign’. You’ll find many games covering aspects of the Stalingrad campaign that range from the summer of ‘42 operational level battles down to the tactical skirmish.  But rarely will you find a game that rolls the two together into such a seamless package as in David Thompson’s new boardgame ‘Pavlov’s House: The Battle for Stalingrad’ from Dan Verrsen Games (DVG).

 

Pavlov’s House is a solitaire game that highlights the legendary defense of an apartment building in the heart of Stalingrad. This building became the focal point of the Soviet defense. The name derives from the corporal who first wrestled control of the building back from the Germans and stayed with the defense for the following two months. The successful defense was showcased by the Soviet Union media and quickly transformed into a heroic legend, both to boost morale and as a propaganda symbol of the strength and determination of the Red Army.  This board game places you into the position of defending the landmark or risk having the Germans capture the city and possibly win the war. But no pressure, right?

 

My copy of Pavlov’s House arrived with the Kickstarter rewards fulfillment. In addition to the game, I had purchased the neoprene mat version of the game board. I’m a fan of the neoprene game mat. I like how they really lay flat, but aside from that feature, the standard mounted map board is just as good.

 

So, let’s get this party started! Pavlov’s House ships in a heavyweight 2” deep cardboard box. David Thompson’s cover art is evocative of both the modern urban battlefield and Soviet brutalist architecture. The imagery on the box suggests a cold, brutal conflict lies within.

 

Cracking open the box, we find the following components: A map board, a rule book, 140 cards, 100 wooden tokens, 5 counter sheets, 3 reference sheets, 5 six-sided dice and a companion booklet given a brief history of the campaign.

 

The game board measures 33” by 17”. Mounted on heavy duty cardboard, the four-color map is represented as three panels that are a clever depiction of telescoping scale. Literally, on the one hand, you have an operational level map depicts the activities of the 62nd Army, while on the other hand, the game board details the specific deployment of the Red Army troops within Pavlov’s House. In between is a depiction of the tactical battle space surrounding Pavlov’s House.

 

The operational map is as much as status board as a map. In this space, you’ll track the status of the various army level units involved in the defense of Pavlov’s House. These include the 62nd Army Headquarters efforts at getting supplies into the battle, assorted anti-aircraft units, artillery batteries, signals units, the 13th Guards efforts to push troops into the front lines, the efforts of the sappers to build up the defenses, and the all-important Volga Military Flotilla tasked with delivery those supplies across the river.

 

At the other end of the spectrum is the schematic of Pavlov’s House. Here we get into the skirmish level details the Red Army defenders. Which face of the building is each man assigned, the integrity of the defensive works, down to the level of food, ammunition and medical supplies available for the wounded.

 

Sitting between the two extremes is the battle space map. This is where the German advance is tracked along with the 13th Guards division’s headquarters and any prepared sapper defenses the Soviet player has deployed to staunch the German infiltration. This battle space conveys a sense of isolation showing how the apartment building sits surrounded by the open space of 9 January Square with the Germans controlling much of the surrounding landscape.

 

The neoprene mat I purchased with the Kickstarter campaign is an exact duplicate of the cardboard map. Instead of cardboard, it’s just printed on the mouse pad-like material of the mat. It’s the same media that DVG has used for other neoprene mats, like the ones for Hornet Leader or Sherman Leader.

 

The large counters are well executed, and cut from thick sheets of cardboard. The print quality of the counters is good with no noticeable offsets. The quality of the die cut is good. The counters won’t fall out of their sheets but some of the corners had to be coaxed free. You’ll want to keep a sharp blade handy as you remove the counters to prevent tearing or damaging the corners. (I got impatient and now I have a couple of counters with bent corners.)

 

The counters break down into large 1” square counters that depict the soldiers and weapons of the Red Army as well as the soldiers and panzers of the German Wehrmacht. Additional 1” round counters are used to depict the status of the various units and supplies across the game board. Some will indicate assets as ready or available, while some indicate a damaged, inoperative unit. Part of the Kickstarter campaign funded the inclusion of a set of small wooden cubes that can be used to replace the cardboard counters. You can use either set. I ended up using the cubes to depict tokens within the Pavlov’s House tactical space while using the large round counters on the other two map spaces. I just liked the tactile – and tactical – representation of food and ammo that the cubes provide. Two of the food cubes in my game were stuck fast together. The paint on these two was apparently not fully dry when the touched. I was able to successfully separate the two cubes with two pairs of needle-nose pliers.

 

The rule book clocks in at 32 pages, with that last page being blank. The rules are laid out in the order you would use them within a game turn. Each section is clearly written and comes with a nicely detailed and illustrated example of play that demonstrates the mechanic in action. Easy to digest, the rules should be easily accessible to a large audience and are suitable for a young teen reader.

 

In addition to the rule book, Pavlov’s House comes with a companion booklet which serves as a good overview and summary of the Battle of Stalingrad and the struggle to capture Pavlov’s House. You’ll find a timeline of the battle and a summary of the objectives and strategies each side employed during the battle. If the game had been published within a magazine, this booklet would be the companion articles providing background on the battle. It fills the same role with the boxed game and will give the East Front noob a solid general background of the battle, as well as point you towards sources for additional information, both in books and other games.

 

Game play is straight-forward yet surprisingly dynamic. Each game turn consists of three phases. First the Soviet player draws strategy cards from the deck and selects three from the deck to implement. The cards define what actions the Soviet player can take in this phase. Typically, these represent high-level and and rear area action such as bringing supplies into play, committing additional troops to the defense of Pavlov’s House and readying the artillery and anti-aircraft batteries supporting the battle.

 

Once the Soviet strategy cards (and their strategy) have been implemented, it’s time to stack those choices up against the German attack. In the Wehrmacht card phase, you’ll play three cards off the Wehrmacht deck, one at a time. These cards range from German infantry and Panzers attempting to advance towards Pavlov’s House, but include numerous artillery barrages, a handful of assault and sniper cards against the defenders and a large quantity of Ju-87 Stuka airstrike cards!  The Stuka attacks are carried out with random Soviet targets attacked. There’s method in the madness, as the ‘random’ attacks are anything but, given the distribution achieved with the 3d6 targeting dice. The Soviets have the ability to conduct ‘defensive fire’ with the defenders of Pavlov’s House or with available anti-aircraft guns against the hordes of murderous Stukas.

 

After the German offensive cards are resolved, the final phase allows the Soviet player to manage the actions of the individual soldiers within Pavlov’s House. You’ll help them recover from shock and fatigue, or use them to increase your suppressive fire capabilities or directly attack the encroaching Wehrmacht attackers.

 

While it feels IGOUGO, the uncertainty regarding the German attacks and the ability of the defenders of Pavlov’s House to react to the attack give it a good back and forth feel. It’s a smart decision cycle with the Soviets defining a strategy for the turn, the Wehrmacht offensive testing the strategy and the garrison of Pavlov’s House reacting to what hit them while preparing for the next round.

 

It’s a straight forward game engine, but the units you command provide unique features and abilities. It’s the synergies derived from how they interact that will help propel you to victory. You can pile reinforcements into Pavlov’s House, but without food and ammo it won’t do much good. You can push supplies across the river, but without anti-aircraft protection, the Stuka’s will smash your units and supplies. Figuring out which actions to take and when to take them is maze you must successfully navigate if you are to win.

 

Once you’ve mastered the basic game you can ‘tune’ the difficulty of the game by adding in the tactics and operational card decks. These will increase the effectiveness of aspects of the German attack while also offering additional demands on the resources available to the 62nd Army and 13th Guards division. With the ability to add these decks independently of each other you can dial in the degree of difficulty you wish to add to the game.

 

Pavlov’s House engages you and pulls you into the setting. As with many games that use individual named characters, you’ll find yourself becoming attached to or frustrated with the performance of these individuals or saddened when a German sniper seemingly at random strikes them down. Beyond this attachment to the characters, the game builds tension by utilizing the mounting friction arising from having too many things that need doing and the ability to only tackle some of those tasks.

 

You’ll gain insight into the frustration and fear that the Soviet soldiers must have felt as the artillery continued to hammer their position while the Stuka deploy a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around the Soviet positions. Your decisions will get more and more difficult as the mounting casualties combine with the accumulating damage that have you chasing your tail. The game is one long OODA loop cycle as you constantly Observe, Orient, Decide and Act to the ever-changing threats and challenges.

 

Initially, I had thought the representation of the Soviet AT rifles as being capable of knocking out a Panzer IV was overly ambitious, but doing a little reading suggests that the ability was real and likely well represented by the game’s ratings of the Panzer IV defense factor. It’s not likely, but it’s possible.

 

While Pavlov’s House was expressly designed as a solitaire game, it also includes rules to allow 2 or even three players. The additional players create either a two-person cooperative game, or a two to three-person competitive game.  This will change the game slightly, especially with regard to how the German attacks play out. The ability to better plan the order of card play will make German attacks more efficient, though they are still constrained by the random nature of the card draw.

 

Pavlov’s House will definitely appeal to the solitaire gamer with an interest in the Eastern Front. As a gamer who’s not played a World War II East front game in years, I found Pavlov’s House engaging and exciting. The random nature of the card decks coupled with the randomizing effect of the targeting dice mean that replay value of the game is excellent. You’ll find it an excellent addition to the solo gamer’s library.

 

 

Armchair General Rating: 96%

Solitaire Rating:  5 (1 to 5 with 1 being Poor and 5 being Perfect for Solo)

About the Author

Ray Garbee has been a gamer for the past four decades, Ray’s interests include the Anglo-Sikh Wars through the conflicts of the 20th Century and beyond but his passion remains ACW naval gaming. Currently, Ray works as a Product Manager in the IT field while continuing to design tabletop games. His past works include Iron Thunder, Anaconda, Anaconda: Capital Navies and articles in a number of defunct hobby magazines. When not busy gaming, Ray enjoys working on his model railroad, hiking and sport shooting at the local range

 

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