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Posted on Mar 9, 2020 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Stalingrad ‘42: Classic Mark Simonitch Board Game Review

Stalingrad ‘42: Classic Mark Simonitch Board Game Review

Tyler Freese

Mark Simonitch’s Stalingrad 42. Publisher: GMT Games. Designer: Mark Simonitch. Producers: Tony Curtis, Rodger MacGowan, Andy Lewis, Gene Billingsley, Mark Simonitch. Price: $75.00

Passed Boot: smoothest iteration of the “battle 4x” system so far, some nice chrome

Failed Basic: somewhat bland map, nuts and bolts we’ve seen many times, offensive and defensive

            Finishing the first game of Stalingrad 42 with a friend of mine, who also happens to be a big Mark Simonitch fan, he commented to me that the game was “classic Mark Simonitch.” I spent a lot of time thinking about this, and really, if I had to sum it up in only three words, “classic Mark Simonitch” are the best three for it.

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The two second review of the game is this- if you have played this not-quite-a-series before, and liked them, you’ll like this one! If you have played them before and thought they weren’t good, this won’t be the one that changes your opinion.

Before we get into the details, let’s review what the game is.

Stalingrad 42 is an operational level war game representing the 1942 German Summer offensive and the winter counter attacks of the Soviet forces. It contains 2 full size paper maps, and another half size paper sheet that together represents the German start lines in 1942 and extend a little beyond Stalingrad in the East and into the Caucus in the south. One nice bonus of the three maps is a limited re-implementation of the Caucasus campaign via the southern map and a special scenario. You should be aware that playing the full campaign scenario with all three maps is absolutely massive and will take every inch of table space you have.

There are 3 counter sheets with a total of 576 counters representing units from the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht and SS, and a few allies, along with myriad status counters.

For a game with Stalingrad in the title, it’s not really about that battle. Stalingrad is on the map, and fighting for and capturing the city is certainly one way to achieve victory, but the German player can also achieve victory by pushing into the Caucus and capturing the oil fields. However, one imagines that “German Summer Offensive and Soviet Winter Counter Attack 42” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue quite as well as “Stalingrad 42,” so no judgments there.

This game continues the great ZOC bond system that has become a hallmark of Mark Simonitch. Units generate a Zone of Control around them that forces enemy units to stop when they enter, but they can also generate an impassible ZOC bond between units with only one hex between them, baring certain terrain features. These bonds not only stop movement, but also prevent retreats and supply from reaching units on the other side of an enemy bond. This is a great way to model large conflicts while also cutting down some on counter density, and, in my mind at least, represents well the often fuzzy nature of lines.

Being another iteration of a very long running series, the rules have been ironed out to probably the smoothest point they ever have been. The rule book is concise, easy to understand, well illustrated and organized, and contains a well developed index. Other designers would do well to look at how these rules are put together when designing their own rule books.

Long time players of the ZOC bond system will be familiar with all the basic components of the rules, and will also be well aware of how every game differs just a bit in the details to represent the specific battle represented in the game. Normandy ‘44 had beach invasions and some paratroopers, Market Garden focused more on paratroopers and bridges, and so on. Stalingrad 42 continues this tradition of adding just enough chrome to the game to make it interesting and throw a few twists into tried and true strategies from other games.

First, artillery support, offensive preparation and fortifications. Every turn generates a number of supply points which must be moved to HQs and then readied to provide crucial artillery support or to prepare an offensive over 2 turns. These prepared offensives are particularly strong. On the first turn, you use a supply point to begin preparing an offensive from a certain HQ, who then has its movement highly restricted. However, on the second turn, this prepared offensive can be used on any combat in range to add a second dice to the roll, allowing the player to select his result. Alternatively, you could use a supply point to construct fortifications on the defense, allowing one to prepare a powerful defense in depth. All of these things work together to greatly reward a player who plans ahead and thinks carefully about where he will be in two or more turns.

Second, Maskirovka and railroads.  The Soviets have special rules in the mid- to late-game allowing them to use special Maskirovka markers to move large stacks of units around while introducing some uncertainty to the mix. The Soviet player gets to put units into a special reserve and can obfuscate which marker represents which units, introducing a limited amount of hidden information to the game. Meanwhile, the Germans are focused on rail lines and repairing them as they advance, which allows incoming reinforcements and supplies to reach the front lines more quickly. These are nice special rules for both sides that accurately represent the reality of the war on this front and at this time, and they work together to add interesting dynamics of attack and counter in the later stages of the game.

All in all, these bits of chrome add just a bit of needed difference to the game to make it stand out from the others in this series.

There were a few areas of the game I was a bit disappointed in, however. While the map is serviceable, and there isn’t really anything wrong with it, it’s pretty bland. After previous maps from this series being so beautiful, it was a bit of a let down. I find it hard to find particular fault with the designer, though, considering how much of the terrain represented is flat steppe in the real world. It must be difficult to make this area look great on a map.

While this system is good, and it deserves every praise I’ve ever given it, it has become a bit standard. We’ve seen most of this before. Yes, the chrome is nice and gives it some important variation, but it’s beginning to feel a little “been there, done that.” Again, it’s hard to criticize a designer for sticking with something that works, and works well, but we have seen it before.

Now, I’ve played a lot of Mark’s games in this series. Most of them, and I don’t really think this is a problem with the design, have a specific part where the Germans are attacking, and then being counter attacked, with a pretty clear line of “Now we do this.” This game continues that. The Soviets have to retreat in the first half of the game, striking a careful balance between slowing the Germans down and not taking too many losses to make a winter counter offensive impossible. Then, when the Germans have overextended, the Soviets go on the offensive.

Realistic, I know. But it’s a particular drag for the Russian player at the beginning, who doesn’t do anything other than retreat. I don’t fault the design for this, but it is something to consider when you purchase it. Holland ‘44 was so fun because both sides had to do some attacking and defending at the same time, and a skilled player could mess with this dynamic to hurt the other.

Like I said above, this game doesn’t reinvent the wheel for Mark Simonitch. It’s very good, even great, but if you have played this system before it won’t change any opinions you have. I have extensive enough playtime with 5 of the games in this system to rank them against each other now, and this would be my number three, behind Holland ‘44 and Ardennes ‘44. Holland ‘44 because of the more interesting attack and defense mechanics and Ardennes ‘44 because of the beautiful art work and perfectly hitting the amount of complexity that I want from a game.

Armchair General Rating:  90% (1% is bad, 100% is perfect)

Solitaire Rating: 3 (1 is not suitable, 5 is excellent solo play)

About the Author  Tyler Freese is an English teacher in Taiwan, with a huge interest in military and naval history, and war gaming. His first war game was Axis and Allies when he was 10 and he has never stopped moving cardboard squares.

Box Art
tons of counters
map and charts
battle
backs to the river

1 Comment

  1. Overall, a fair review with my nits following:
    The conclusions are largely criticisms of the excellent system being used in ‘still another game” and that of the situation being gamed and its attendant factors/”realities”.
    The fact that this is rules set is used once again (with modifications) and very successfully so, gives a convenient entry point to players of those other games actually wanting to play this situation/historical campaign.
    The criticism of the “bland map” is a bit harsh and undervalues the point that a map’s primary function is to serve the play of the game. Mr Simonitch’s style is very much of the evolved ‘Redmond Simonson’ school and in my experience helps to minimize visual fatigue over the long hours of play. Given its clear, unambiguous character I would rather spend time playing on that map than any other Case Blue map in existence.
    Ranking your favorite Simonitch games is certainly valid but somewhat useless as it is entirely dependent on what your personal tolerances for subject matter, time and space constraints.
    My own preferences make the Simonitch system, combined with the clean graphical presentation, a favorite exemplar of the evolution of classic operational hex wargames.

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