#Wargame Wednesday / History to #Wargame – Bias discovered in Konigsberg: The Soviet Attack on East Prussia, 1945 (Revolutiongames.us, 2018)

In a previous post I talked about the lack of historical background provided in Konigsberg, The Soviet Attack on East Prussia, 1945 (Revolution Games, 2018). A comment on Twitter from Scott Mansfield (@scotts_table) on that post asked:

Interesting post. With what you know of the operation and with limited designer notes do you feel Stefan portrays the decisions of Konigsberg accurately or does it feel like his well developed mechanic (chit pull) is what comes through with the narrative taking backseat?

Hey Scott, thanks for the lead-in to this post!

Photo by RockyMountainNavy Gamer

After playing the game I still can’t tell if Konigsberg is an ‘accurate’ depiction of the battle portrayed. What I can tell you is that the game is very engaging. The engagement comes from the interaction of two game mechanics, the ‘well-developed’ chit-pull and 4.0 Command, as well as a challenge to my own biases. Let me explain.

Konigsberg uses that ‘well-developed’ chit-pull mechanic in the best possible way. This comes from how the chit-pull and the rules for Command interact. The interaction creates several factors that make play engaging:

  • Random: Every turn the Command Chits are drawn randomly from the cup (4.1.1 Command Chit Draws)
  • Limited: The Turn Track tells how many Command Chits can be drawn for each force (German, 2nd Belorussian (2BF) or 3rd BF); once this limit is reached NO MORE can be activated for that force (4.1.1)
  • Higher HQ: During the game, extra commands chits (2BR & 3BR for the Soviets or HGM for the Germans) enter the game awarding ‘bonus’ activations (4.1.2 & 4.1.3)
  • Independent Units: When a Command Chit is drawn, the player can activate all units under that command as well as independent combat units (2 for Soviets, three for Germans) that are within the Command Range of the HQ (4.2.1, 4.2.2, 4.2.3, & 4.2.4)

Accurate, but Game

Konigsberg is in effect a race game. One side (the Soviets) are trying to grab as many victory hexes as possible in a given amount of time. The other side (Germans) are trying to delay the Soviets as much as possible. The chit-pull mechanic and Command rules ensure that the players must be flexible in their planning, taking opportunities as they come. The Soviets must maneuver their HQs to keep the front moving. The Germans have to position their HQs to build a flexible defense in depth that not only slows down the Soviets but also maintains integrity as it inevitably collapses.

Is this accurate? From what (little) I have read yes. More importantly, it is engaging.

Revealing My Biases

For me, the lack of historical background in Konigberg forces me to look not only at the game mechanics more closely to divine what I am supposed to do, but the lack of historical ‘prejudice’ means I approach the game in a much more open-minded manner than I usually do. As I played Konigsberg I found myself paying much more attention to command, unit capabilities, and terrain. I came to realize that so often I use my historical knowledge as a form of bias in my decision making during play. I mean, we all ‘know’ it is folly to mount an airborne operation to seize key bridges across the Rhine, right? So why would we ever do it? In Konigsberg, my lack of historical understanding meant I didn’t know ‘what works’ (or didn’t) which forced me to fall back on my understanding of the strategy and doctrine of the time. It made me think about what I was doing.

Conclusion -or- Why to Play?

In my first play of Konigsberg the end Victory Conditions saw the Germans holding seven Victory Point Hexes. This is a Soviet Historical Victory. In a way this tells me that the game is ‘accurate’ in that it can recreate the historical condition. More important, however, I discovered through this play of Konigsberg that ‘knowing’ too much can actually be detrimental to my play experience. This play of Konigsberg taught me that the combination of game mechanics and the absence of my own bias still can deliver a very engaging game; engaging in that I thought my way thru this game more deeply than most games I recently played. In this case, the lack of historical background I lamented before actually delivered a better game.

Feature image “Knock out German tank, 1945″ courtesy WWII in Color (yes, I know it’s B&W).

#Wargame Wednesday – #FirstImpressions of Poland Defiant: The German Invasion, September 1940 (revolutiongames.us, 2019)

I HAVE FALLEN IN LOVE WITH THE CHIT-PULL MECHANIC as well as early World War II games. Poland Defiant (Revolution Games, 2019) hits both of these wants of mine and delivers an interesting, tense battle of the start of World War II in Europe.

When I first saw the advertisement for this game, I jumped right in because of the chit-pull mechanic. Although mechanically based on an earlier Konigsberg game, I never owned or played that title. In Poland Defiant, major formations are activated when their Command Chit is drawn from the pool. In addition to the Command Chits, there are also Special Command Chits representing higher headquarters as well as Action Chits for Random Events and Replacements. The chit-pull mechanic means the turn order is randomized – i.e. friction in warfare. Inevitably, your perfect plan to sequence attacks all along the front are disrupted because one group jumps off too early (their chit comes out first) or the enemy disrupts the offensive (their chits are drawn instead of yours).

Poland Defiant adds another layer of friction given that, depending on the turn (one day of the campaign) each side doesn’t necessarily get all their Command Chits. For instance, on Day 3 (Sept 3) when the Germans have six major formations in the field (6x Command Chits) they only get five activations. This means somebody is not going to get an activation that day. But who? For the Polish player the problem is worse. With seven formations fielded (7x Command Chits) the day starts out with the arrival of another formation (+1 Command Chit) and the Replacement Action Chit (+1 chit) for a total of nine chits in the pool (assuming no headquarters have been lost to date). However, on Sept 3 the Poles were really reeling from the invasion and their command and control (C2) was at their worst, which translates in the game to only four activations FOR THE ENTIRE DAY. At least half the army is not going to move (maybe more if the Replacements Action Chit is amongst the drawn). Edit: Per 2.5 Action Chits, “Action Chits do not count against the number of activated Command Chits drawn per turn.”

I admit that after I quickly jumped and ordered Poland Defiant because of the chit-pull mechanic, I was doubting myself over the topic. I mean, it’s the invasion of Poland! We all “know” this was a cake-walk for the Germans, right? How can a steamroller possibly be interesting, especially for the Polish player getting steamrolled? Well, designer Stefan Ekstrom and developer Roger Miller solved this problem with three simple rules; German Operational Pace, Command Range, and Supply:

  • German Operational Pace – Found in rule 4.2.1, German Operational Pace requires the German player to compare their current VP to the number associated with the turn. If the VP count is equal to or better than no problem (everything is developing according to plan). But…if the VP is “behind the pace” the German player suffers a negative consequence until they can “catch up” to the plan.
  • Command Range – Formations have headquarters and headquarters can only command so far. Get too far ahead of your commander and suffer. This creates opportunities to disrupt your enemy’s plan by attacking their HQ. Very importantly, if you destroy a HQ all those commanded units become “independent” which in the game means other HQs can activate them, but individually and not as a mass formation. They still fight, but far less efficiently!
  • Supply – Nothing special here but a supply line is needed to keep fighting. Striking out cross-country is certainly fun (charge!) but if you don’t protect your supply line one will find themselves going nowhere very quickly (or not).

In Poland Defiant the German player can win an Automatic Victory if they have a unit in supply in any Warsaw hex at the end of a turn. More reasonably, the German player will have to accumulate VP. Up to 14 VP are possible, with 10 VP being equal to the historic result at the end of ten days (Turn 10). Can the Polish player hold the German to less and “beat history?” Play Poland Defiant yourself and find out!

Overall, Poland Defiant has a very small footprint – a 3’x3′ or 1m x 1m table can work. The rule book is an entire 12 pages (one for cover) and the back of the title card acts as a player aid. Poland Defiant is not complex but it delivers a very playable game about a tragic campaign – and makes it interesting and challenging. It’s well worth our investment in time and money.

As dawn breaks on September 1, 1939, Poland stands defiant against the Third Reich (ok…poor lighting for the only picture I took before starting play)