The second game in my 2020 RockyMountainNavy Solo Boardgame Challenge is Pavlov’s House (Dan Verssen Games, 2018, Second Edition 2019). While playing the game for my challenge I was struck by elements of play that actually teach the operational art of war. While it is easy to look at Pavlov’s House as simply a tactical battle to defend a building, the operational aspects of the game teach the lesson that defending even a single house takes an entire army.
The Game Board in Pavlov’s House consists of three zones, each one depicting a different view of the battlefield. You have the super-tactical Pavlov’s House view of the building interior, the tactical depiction of 9 January Square around the house, and The Volga giving you the operational area picture. Each map has unit symbology on it showing the location of different organizations and echelons of command. More importantly, the actions of these different units are reflected in the Soviet Cards.
The Soviet Cards are the heart of the Soviet Card Phase which are, as the rule book puts it, “the operational-level actions taken by elements of the Soviet 62nd Army during the Battle of Stalingrad that contributed to the successful defense of Pavlov’s House.” In my latest play it finally struck me just how much detail is abstracted into the Soviet Cards and what they really represent:
- 62nd Army Command Post – Can stage Resupply of materials or order a Storm Group to gain extra VP (representing battlefield success beyond just defending Pavlov’s House)
- 13th Guards Rifle Division Command Post – This is your supply source for additional troops and weapons (Send Reinforcements)
- 8th Guards Sapper Battalion – Used to Buttress or add Field Defenses beyond the walls of Pavlov’s House
- 139th Signal Battalion – Can add to your command options by using Tactical Decision to rid your hand of a Fog of War Card or give you an extra action through Improved Communications
- 32nd Guards Artillery Regiment – Your artillery support (Ready Artillery)
- 267th Separate Anti-Aircraft Battalion / 1083rd Anti-Aircraft Regiment – Both these units can Ready Anti-aircraft to defend all the units supporting Pavlov’s House defenders from the Luftwaffe Bomb Stalingrad
- Volga Military Flotilla – Arguably the most important supporting unit as this organization literally has to Load and Deliver Supplies to Pavlov’s House; without the Flotilla absolutely no defense is possible.
Once players are familiar with the play of Pavlov’s House I strongly recommend the introduction of variant 7.1 Operational Support Cards. This adds the Operational Support action for the 62nd Army Command Post. The Operational Support actions represent other key battleground activities around Stalingrad that, if successfully accomplished, gain Soviet VP but at the cost of leaving the defenders of Pavlov’s House more vulnerable as limited resources are spent elsewhere. This simple, abstracted game mechanic very clearly illustrates that Pavlov’s House was part of a larger battle and sometimes higher HQ has different priorities. For the player, it boils down to what can be an agonizing risk versus gain decision.
The operational-level elements of Pavlov’s House, implemented using simple, abstracted game mechanics in the Soviet Cards, form a major part of the game and arguably are the decisions of most importance. Although it is easy to focus on the tactical battle by the defenders, the Soviet Cards and their associated actions remind you that before you can fight you need not only soldiers but beans and bullets too. The defenders of Pavlov’s House, the 7th Rifle Company and 3rd Machine Gun Company of the 3rd Rifle Battalion, 42nd Guards Rifle Regiment, 13th Guards Division, 62nd Army were but the tip of the spear supported by numerous other 62nd Army elements. Victory in Pavlov’s House only comes when all that support is coordinated in the most efficient manner.
In the course of doing some reading for this post I picked up a book on my shelf, Looking Down on War: Intelligence Images From the Eastern Front by Colonel Roy M. Stanley II, USAF (Ret.) (Pen & Sword Aviation, 2016). Colonel Stanley worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and came across a stash of images the Allies seized at the end of World War II from the Luftwaffe. These aerial images of the war are fascinating. In his book, Chapter VII is devoted to Stalingrad. When I compared several images to the map, I was struck by how the maps accurately portray the location yet fail to capture the utter destruction of the battle.
The tactical map in Pavlov’s House is a fairly accurate portrayal of the location. However, I think it captures the house near the beginning of the battle because, as you can see, by the end of August the entire area was actually quite desolate with few structures intact.
The Operational Map in Pavlov’s House is fairly accurate, except again for some infrastructure. For instance, the railway clearly depicted on the map is actually in much worse shape by August.
Feature image courtesy Dan Verssen Games