Not Conflicted – Why Conflict of Heroes (@Academy_Games) a great #wargame series

MY CORONATINE TIME IS QUICKLY CLOSING DOWN. Starting next week, my job will be going back to about 50% time in-office. So what better reason to get some wargames played? This weekend, I put Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 3rd Edition (Academy Games, 2019) and Conflict of Heroes: Price of Honor, Poland 1939 Expansion (Academy Games, 2010) on the gaming table.

For Storms of Steel the scenario was “Mission 9 – July 10, 1943: Black Knights of the Steppe.” This is part of the Battle of Prokhorovka and features elements of the German Panzer Division LAH confronting armored elements of the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Corps. Germans forces include one Tiger Ie heavy tank with Veteran Cards “Iron Will” (Ignore 1x Hit marker for 1x Command Action Point-CAP) and “Combat Hardened” (reroll 1d6 for 1x CAP). The Soviets set up 2x KV1 tanks hidden at the start of the scenario. The Soviets have Veteran Cards “Motivated Leader” (reduce Rally number by 2 for 1x CAP) and “Concealed” (remain hidden when attacking for 1x CAP as long as a 1 is not rolled).

xN0h8McXQv6jHDfoYemERQ

This Storms of Steel scenario was played using the Third Edition rules. For those unfamiliar with the legacy of Conflict of Heroes series, the Third Edition created some controversy with the introduction of the Spent Die. In previous editions, units were allocated Action Points (AP) which – once used – resulted in a unit flipping from Fresh to Spent. A turn usually ends when both player’s units are Spent or both take consecutive Pass Actions. In Third Edition, rather than tracking each units AP, players execute an Action and then roll a special Spent Die. If the number rolled is greater than the AP cost, the unit remains Fresh; otherwise it becomes Spent.

A major criticism of the Spent Die is that it is too much luck and can lead to some incredibly unrealistic situations. In my game it looked like this was happening when two German SdKfz 251 halftracks loaded with Panzer Grenadiers raced across the board seemingly at will. Indeed, it really looked bad as even the Tiger I was able to move up quickly bypassing the hidden Soviet KV1s without the opportunity for the Soviets to shoot.

But then the battle took a very different turn.

1ABB8989-394A-4FE4-AF82-A49C0DC199EC
Dead Tiger

Those Panzer Grenadier units that raced forward raced right into the jaws of four Soviet T-34 tanks arriving as reinforcements. Now unable to exit the board (1x VP per unit) they instead tried to seize the two Control Markers in the village (each worth 1x VP). Of course, they had raced so far ahead of their tanks they needed to fall back and await support. But as the Germans tanks moved up, they were caught in a deadly crossfire from hidden KV1s and Churchill Mk III’s. Even so, the veteran Tiger I was able to remain undamaged using it’s “Iron Will.” As it moved forward to confront the four T-34’s and support the Grenadiers, the last KV1 broke cover and positioned for a rear shot. To hit required a roll of 10 or greater on 2d6 – the roll was 10. The Hit Marker drawn was DESTROYED. No problem for the Tiger, right? After all, it has that “Iron Will.” But to use that Veteran Card requires 1x CAP and this was the end of the turn and the Germans had no CAP left. No CAP, no “Iron Will.” One dead Tiger and no chance for a German victory in the scenario.

Price of Honor is actually the oldest Conflict of Heroes title in my collection. Technically an expansion to Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear 1st Edition (Academy Games, 2008) it is compatible with the Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear 2nd Edition (2012). Here I decided to try the game using the Third Edition rules. The scenario chosen was “Firefight 2: Cavalry Charge! Polish Cavalry Attack at Krojanty – Sept 1, 1939.” Here elements of the Polish 18th Uhlans Regiment ambush a column of the German 76th Motorized Infantry Regiment. The Poles must inflict maximum damage and try to seize and hold critical junctions before the German armored car detachment arrives which will easily overwhelm the cavalry.

PriceOfHonour-v2
Courtesy Academy Games

The special rule in this Price of Honor scenario is Horse (Cavalry) Units. Not only do horses receive a movement bonus in certain terrain, but they also possess advantages in Close Combat (CC) when mounted. Much like history, the Uhlans emerged from the forest and charged the dismounted German Rifle units. In the first two turns the Germans were routed. The Uhlans then struck out for the other two crossroads. The first one was guarded by a German Light Machine Gun (LMG) in a building that proved unbeatable and would hold until the end. Both sides raced towards the final crossroads with the German foot soldiers just barely arriving before the mounted Polish cavalry. The Uhlans dismounted and attacked through the woods, eventually ejecting the Germans. By now the German SdKfz 231 armored car detachment arrived and was moving towards the last Control Marker. A Soviet Anti-Tank Rifle (AT Rifle) worked its way to the flank of the German armored cars and took a shot, pinning it down. Through the use of Battle Cards and CAP, the AT Rifle was able to quickly take another shot and scored another hit, brewing up the armored cars. Polish victory!

After playing both these games I am much more comfortable with the Third Edition rules and really like them. I believe the criticism of the Spent Die is unwarranted. If you want a more “realistic” ruleset then maybe those Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kits should be your thing. But if you are like me and enjoy a good “believable” battle with incredible narrative moments, then Conflict of Heroes is perfectly suitable – and satisfying!

Simple September – or – I’ve lost a bit of my #wargame #boardgame mojo

September was a very slow gaming month. As a matter of fact, my 11 plays is the least amount of gaming since April this year and a four-way tie for the second-fewest monthly plays since I started seriously recording my plays in August 2017. I can’t really complain though; the few plays I got were very special.

The hit of the month was Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2018). I played this with my Middle Boy several times and really enjoyed it. A great game to bond with him. This may become our Monday night ritual for a while as his younger brother is out of the house those evenings and Hold the Line is perfect for a quick-play wargame.

I also played the new Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 3rd Edition (Academy Games, 2019). I really need to get this one back to the table again, and again.

Of course, Storms of Steel has to now compete with the three new air games delivered by GMT this month

The most interesting game is that “Unpublished Prototype” listed above. This is a game by a fellow gamer that I met at CONNECTIONS 2019. The game is in a very rough state but I have a copy for the next few weeks and will be working my way through it. Don’t know if the game will ever see publication but still I feel I am doing something for the greater hobby community.

Looking at my Preorder and Kickstarter line up, I have significantly trimmed down the collection. At the beginning of the month this list was up to 26 games. Between canceling orders and deliveries I am down to 13, of which eight (8!) may deliver by year’s end. I admit it; I had a touch of FoMO* and it took Mrs. RockyMountainNavy to cure me of it. I have an antidote on hand – my 2019 Challenges still await completion!

With the summer doldrums almost ended and the seasons turning, the RockyMountainNavy family will move indoors a bit more. Later this fall, Mrs. RMN will be on travel for a few weeks meaning I will just have to get games to the table to keep me from going crazy. 

So, so long Summer, hello Fall, and bring on the dice!


* FoMO – Fear of Missing Out; an uncontrollable urge to buy as many new games as possible (or even not possible) for fear of “missing out” on the gameplay.

#Wargame Wednesday – Aide-de-camp needed in Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 Third Edition (@Academy_Games, 2019)

The RockyMountainNavy Boys and often play wargames together for Family Game Night. This means we need to play games with three players. This makes playing wargames very hard since most are (by design) two-player affairs. However, we are able to play Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 Third Edition (Academy Games, 2019) with three players with just a little bit of work.

Several scenarios in Storms of Steel support four players. Each side (Soviet or German) is divided into two forces. We can just as easily play these scenarios 3-player by giving both forces to one player.

Thus, it was last week that I found myself partnered with my Youngest as we split the Soviet forces. Middle RMN Boy took the Germans. The scenario generally worked. One reason we like the Conflict of Heroes system is the little down time. Take an Action – next player!

Next time though, we are going to need a player aide. Since initiative can change, it would be helpful for us to have some sort of track that shows the present order, where we are in that order, and if a force has Passed. Easy to make – will have to work on a prototype and get it ready for next time. that’s because there will be a next time to play Storms of Steel!

An August-less #boardgame #wargame month

SUMMER IS NOT THE BEST TIME for boardgames or wargames in the RockyMountainNavy house. There are so many outdoor activities to be had and family events on the weekend that games get pushed to the back burner. So it was for August in the RockyMountainNavy home. I recorded a measly 13 plays of 9 different games…my worst month in almost two years of recording plays.

The month did blast off with Tranquility Base (Worthington Publishing, 2019) being the definite winner with four plays in the month. This included one play with the Soviet Moon Expansion.

Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest (Mighty Boards, 2019) is a new game that found its way to my table. This “militarized Eurogame,” as co-designer Brian Train puts it, is most enjoyable.

The best family night game was a long overdue session of 1812: Invasion of Canada (Academy Games, 2012). With the beginning of the school year and a return to a somewhat normal cycle of weekend family games I am sure that the many Birth of America / Birth of Europe-series titles will land on the table regularly.

It finally released! Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel – Kursk 1943 3rd Edition (Academy Games, 2019) arrived. This is supposed to be our next weekend family night game. Spoiler Alert: I really like the Spent Die Mechanic and encourage all the naysayers to actually try it before they knock it.

I found myself at home on some days that Mrs. RMN’s summer daycare girl was here so we got a few children’s games in. Unicorn Glitterluck: Cloud Stacking (HABA, 2019) is a real winner!

On a recommendation at CONNECTIONS 2019 I picked up Cowboy Bebop: Boardgame Boogie (Jasco Games, 2019). I haven’t written up my thought yet but (spoiler alert…again) this tune is a bit flat to me.

I attended CONNECTIONS 2019, the professional wargaming conference in mid-August. I have yet to compose all my thoughts but I did get to see a bit of wargame history with Upton’s US Infantry Tactical Apparatus.

Looking ahead, designer John Gorkowski was kind enough to send me an e-kit to playtest with for the next game in South China Sea-series from Compass Games. Indian Ocean Region is already available for preorder and this is my chance to try and influence the game and make it better for everyone.

As mentioned before, the return to school means a return to a more regular schedule of gaming. I also still have several games in my 2019 CSR, Origins, and GameGeek Challenges to complete before the end of the year.

So..back to gaming!

#Wargame Unboxing – Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 3rd Edition (@Academy_Games, 2019)

I was fortunate enough to see Academy Games owner and designer Uwe Eickert in person this past week and pick up my pre-ordered copy of Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 (3rd Edition). From top to bottom it is a beautiful game.

Contents unpacked

I can’t show you the heft to the box but suffice it to say it is more substantial than I expected. This is due to the many good boards and plentiful counter-stock used throughout the game.

CoH: SoS 3e Mapboards

The mapboards took a long time to produce. Uwe posted a video a while back detailing lots of their production challenges. I am glad to see them overcoming these issues.

Wie Gehts, Uwe on Component Quality

Beyond the long production time, the game rules are not without controversy. the major change to the rules in 3rd Edition is the Spent Die Check.

Rule 2.5 Making a Spent Check

The refrain I hear most often is something to the effect that players “hate the die” and they much prefer the expenditure of Action Points found in the 2nd Edition rules. All I will say is try the 3rd Edition rules; it doesn’t play any slower and statistically the results are not really any different. Sure, with a streak of good luck a unit can maybe go on for a bit. However, a unit is not very likely to go on too long given rules 2.5 Making Spent Check and 2.6 Stress where units add a +1 Stress Penalty to its Action Cost if took any Action in a previous player’s turn (and passed its Spent Check).

Box back

The RockyMountainNavy Boys are looking forward to getting Storms of Steel to the game table soon. We have Awakening the Bear (2nd Edition) and can download the new 3rd Edition Rule Book, Mission Books, and Summary Sheets online for any play we want.

Marco on @academygames #Wargames & #Boardgames- A Gen Con Video Journey

MARCOWARGAMER on Youtube was fortunate enough to attend Gen Con 2019. Along the way he visited the Academy Games booth and uploaded several preview videos of games I have on preorder. Now I can’t wait!

First is Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! Kursk, 1943 3rd Edition. According to Academy Games this could ship by end of August.

“After waiting four years…”

The second game is one I have on Kickstarter. Agents of Mayhem Pride of Babylon. Although it doesn’t look like a wargame, I hear it is based on a Battle of Fallujah game that Academy did for the USMC. Out in about a month?

3D street fighting….

The last game is the newest one and another Kickstarter I supported. One Small Step is all about the Space Race. Although worker placement games is not my usual thing, the fact that this is from Academy Games give me enough hope I pledged my support. The Kickstarter has already funded and closes 06 August!

Worker placement plus engine building…oh my!

Really looking forward to these titles and many more hours of gaming fun!


Feature image courtesy Academy Games.

#Wargame Wednesday – Don’t count it unless you can see it: Studying then gaming The Battle of Prokhorovka using @academygames & @gmtgames

I HAVE BEEN WARGAMING SINCE 1979 but I have to admit that the Eastern Front of World War II is not really my thing. I have a few Eastern Front wargames, but most of my historical games are actually naval or air combat. If I have a World War II land combat game it probably is the Western Desert or the Western Front. This is a bit surprising since my very first wargame ever was Jim Day’s Panzer (First Edition) from Yaquinto publishing in 1979.

Today in 2019 I still like Panzer, and especially love the GMT Games Second Edition even more. A few years back I picked up another Eastern Front game, Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear, Operation Barbarossa 1941 (Academy Games, 2012) and fell in love with that game. So much so that I ordered the new Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel – Kursk 1943 3rd Edition (forthcoming in 2019).

To better prepare myself for the game I turned to my in-house library to do a bit of some research. My library was almost as bare as my game shelf! I had the 1978 printing of the 1956 Panzer Battles by Maj. Gen F.W.Von Mellenthin (1). I also had The Battle of the Tanks: Kursk, 1943 by Lloyd Clark (2). As luck would have it, I saw an advertisement for a brand new book by Christopher A . Lawrence of The Dupuy Institute titled The Battle of Prokhorovka: The Tank Battle at Kursk, the Largest Clash of Armor in History (3).

Best of all, Ben Wheatley, former of the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London, published his new research in the the April 2019 Volume 18, Issue 2 of the Journal of Intelligence History. His study, “A visual examination of the battle of Prokhorovka,” looks at the battle using Luftwaffe reconnaissance photos. Mr. Wheatley describe Prokhorovka as:

The battle of Prokhorovka was not the largest tank battle on a single day in history. It did not mark the death ride of Germany’s panzer forces, nor was it (as is also the case for Operation Citadel in general) a battle that potentially decided the fate of the entire war on the Eastern Front. Undoubtedly, though, it was a very significant engagement and, for the Soviet 5thGuards Tank Army, a disaster. The myths surrounding the battle largely stem from General Rotmistrov’s need to justify to Stalin his 5thGuards Tank Army’s heavy losses. Soviet armoured losses were indeed very severe while German armoured losses were negligible in the extreme. Thanks to excellent post-soviet era research by Niklas Zetterling & Anders Frankson, Karl-Heinz Frieser, Roman Töppeland, and Valeriy Zamulin amongst others (which are based on official reports, losses and testimonies) this is now beyond dispute.

In Pursuit of Prokhorovka, defenceindepth.co, accessed 08 June 2019

For wargamers, the Battle of Prokharovka took place in such a small area it should also be easily gamable:

The chief protagonists of the Battle of Prokhorovka, the 5th Guards Tank Army’s 29th Tank Corps and 18th Tank Corps and the German SS Panzergrenadier Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, fought over a battlefront of no more than 3km between the river Psel and the Storozhevoye Woods. 

In Pursuit of Prokhorovka, defenceindepth.co, accessed 08 June 2019

Three kilometers in Panzer is only 30 hexes (100m/hex). A play area 30 hexes wide by maybe 60-90 hexes long could cover the entire battle!

Putting all this together, I figured I had a collection of good source material to study and get in the right mindset for playing games of Panzer or Storms of Steel. That is, until I really dug into the readings and discovered “the myth of Prokhorovka.” Getting to the “truth” is challenging and makes recreating the battle in wargames even more difficult.

The Myth of Prokhorovka

The World Almanac Book of World War II describes the Battle of Prokhorovka on 12 July 1943 this way:

In the Battle of Kursk the Fourth Panzer Army, led by the II SS Panzer Corps, makes one final effort in the direction of Prokhorovka but cannot break through the fresh Soviet forces. Army group South is now being threatened near Taganrog and Stalino, and in the north of the salient a Soviet counter-offensive begins toward Orel even as Kluge orders Model to withdraw some of his panzers to meet such a threat. At the end of the day Hitler orders that the battle be discontinued. The new Soviet attack involves troops of the West and Bryansk Fronts in two thrusts west from Novosil and the south between Kozelsk and Sukhinichi.

In this battle the Germans have conceded the strategic initiative to the Soviets for good. The shortage of manpower has compelled them to attack on a limited front and to commit almost all of their tank force to one effort. The Soviet losses in the battle so far have probably been greater than the German’s but they can afford it. The Luftwaffe losses have been severe and its dominance is now over. The Germans must also send troops to Italy but Hitler still forbids his Generals to make necessary withdrawals.

The World Almanac Book of World War II (New York: World Almanac Publications, 1981), 218.

You see, even today, 75 years after the battle, we actually don’t know that much. Von Mellenthin doesn’t even mention Prokhorovka; indeed, reading Panzer Battles one might even think there was little fighting at all on July 12, 1943. Overall, he definitely doesn’t see Kursk as any sort of glorious event:

By the evening of 14 July it was obvious that the time table of the German attack had been completely upset. At the very beginning of the offensive, the piercing of the forward Russian lines, deeply and heavily mined as they were, had proven much more difficult than we anticipated. The terrific Russian counterattacks, with masses of men and material ruthlessly thrown in, were also an unpleasant surprise. German casualties had not been light, while our tanks losses were staggering. The Panthers did not come up to expectations; they were easily set ablaze, the oil and gasoline feeding systems were inadequately protected, and the crews were insufficiently trained. Of the eighty Panthers available when the battle was joined only a few were left on 14 July. The S.S. Panzer Corps was no better off, while on the southern flank the Ninth Army had never penetrated more than seven miles and was now at a complete standstill. Fourth Panzer Army had indeed reached a depth of twelve miles, but there were another sixty miles to cover before we could join hands with Model.

Panzer Battles, 276-277.

Maybe more recent scholarship, like Lloyd Clark, would shed more light on the battle. The Battle of the Tanks is written at a much more tactical, even personal, level. It certainly portrays the huge scale of the battle:

In front of him were 294 fighting machines of the II SS Panzer Corps and 616 of his own tanks. On that day, just over half of Rotmistrov’s tanks were T-34s and most of the remainder were T-70s.

The Battle of the Tanks, 344.

Clark goes on to show how Soviet perceptions of German armor superiority drove their tactics:

Soviet tactics continued to emphasize the need to close with the enemy’s armor as quickly as possible for fear of the Germans’ powerful 88mm guns smashing them at long range. Rotmistrov was adamant that ‘successful struggle with [Tigers and Ferdinands] is possible only in circumstances of close-in combat”, and by exploiting the T-34’s greater maneuverability and by flanking fire against the [weaker] side armor of the Germans’ machines. Tigers were capable of disabling a T-34 at a range of over 4000 yards, but the Soviets seem to have massively overestimated the number that were available to Hausser. The reality was that II SS Panzer Corps had 15 – Totenkopf had 10, LAH had four and Das Reich just one. There were no Ferdinands or Panthers on the Prokhorovka battlefield.

The Battle of the Tanks, 346.

Clark points out that nobody can agree on the numbers of tanks destroyed:

The Soviets had suffered heavy losses in the successful attempt to defend Prokhorovka, and he [Vatutuin] still had to achieve his aim of forcing Hoth back and regaining lost territory. Stalin was particularly concerned at reports, subsequently proved erroneous, of the 5th Guards Tank Army losing around 650 tanks on that day for the total loss of a mere 17 German armored fighting vehicles.

The Clash of Tanks, 370-371.

Having started down this rabbit-hole of history, I asked myself, “So just how many tanks were destroyed? For that answer I turned first to Christopher Lawrence.

The Dupuy Institute approach

Christopher Lawrence is the President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute is best known for their Tactical, Numerical, Deterministic Model (TNDM):

The Tactical Numerical Deterministic Model (TNDM) is an empirically based combat model with a database derived from historical research. It was developed by Colonel Trevor N. Dupuy, (USA, Ret.), from his concept, the Quantified Judgement Method of Analysis (QJMA), as presented in his two books, Numbers, Predictions and War (1979) and Understanding War: History and Theory of Combat (1987). The QJMA has two elements:

1. Determination of quantified combat outcome trends based upon modern historical combat experience in more than 200 examples of 20th Century combat, mostly World War II and the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars, and

2. Extrapolation of historical trends to contemporary and future combat on the basis of developments and changes in firepower and mobility technology.

In developing the TNDM as a refinement of an earlier model based upon the QJMA, Col. Dupuy had the collaborative assistance of Dr. James G. Taylor (noted author of works concerning modern Lanchester-type models) in developing a new differential equation attrition methodology based on historical data. By a mathematical process akin to that of the Lanchester Equations, the TNDM attrition methodology provides results consistent with those which occurred in historical engagements. By being historically based, the methodology is more scientifically justified than any methodology not consistent with historical experience.

http://www.dupuyinstitute.org/tndm.htm, accessed 08 Jun 2019

What this means is that Christopher Lawrence’s The Battle of Prokharovka is data-heavy. The main battle is covered in “Chapter Nine: The Tank Fields at Prokhorovka, 12 July 1943.” Even then, Lawrence warns us that the data can be suspect:

The XLVIII Panzer Corps with its chief of Staff, Colonel von Mellenthin, having been an officer of the general staff, had good detailed records throughout its operations, including useful daily summaries of the action. The record-keeping of the SS Panzer Corps, on the other hand, suffered when the fighting got intense. While they kept good status reports, their daily reports of activity almost seemed to disappear when the fighting got toughest. As a result, on the day of greatest drama, the record keeping for one of the major players almost disappeared.

The Battle of Prokhorovka, 306.

What we can see is that the battle of 12 July 1943 near Prokhorovka was maybe the most interesting of the war, and ripe for wargaming. Lawrence describes (and editorializes about) the engagement this way:

Perhaps the strangest attack the Soviets conducted this day was done by the XVIII Tank Corps. This attack required the two leading Soviet tank brigades [each with about 40 tanks – half T-34 and half T-70] to move along the Psel River to the southwest. The 170th Tank Brigade ended up attacking the Oktyabrskii Sovkhoz, which constricted its attack area, effectively attacking uphill towards height 252.2. Meanwhile, the 181st Tank Brigade continued to push southwest down the Psel into the area between the two SS divisions. These attacks could also be fired upon by Totenkopf’s forces on the other side of the Psel. The attack was essentially through a shallow valley flanked by enemy forces. It was a scenario reminiscent of the famous British charge of the light brigade from the Crimean War, and with similar results.

The Battle of Prokhorovka, 315-316.

So what were the losses? According to Lawrence, the Soviet XVIII Tank Corps lost 45 T-34s, 25 T-70s, and 11 Churchills on 12 July. The XXIX Tank Corps, thrown into the fray in the same area later in the day lost 105 T-34s, 42 T-70s, 9 SU-122s, and 3 SU-76s (4). The defending Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Division lost maybe 19 tanks (5).

Seeing is Believing

Ben Wheatley thinks he has the answer, and it’s the Luftwaffe:

However, by using previously neglected archival sources it has still been possible to make a significant research breakthrough and provide the first visual confirmation of the fate of the 5thGuards Tank Army’s 29th Tank Corps and 18th Tank Corps. Significantly the article includes the first published photographs of the notorious anti-tank ditch (in which the 29th Tank Corps’ 31st & 32nd Tank Brigades were largely destroyed) whilst still in German hands – masses of Soviet tank wrecks being clearly visible. For a battle which was wrapped in myth for so many years this is particularly important. Without this final visual evidence the above mentioned authors’ battle narratives, if not their statistical findings, was still open to debate. This is no longer the case.

In Pursuit of Prokhorovka, defenceindepth.co, accessed 08 June 2019

He goes on to claim:

Therefore the location of one of the most famous battles of the Second World War was able to be photographed by the Luftwaffe in a single shot. Specifically and importantly photographs are available from 14 and 16 July when the battlefield was still in German hands (the Germans chose to withdraw from the area on 17 July). The battlefield remained largely unaltered from 12 July. As a result these photographs depict the Soviet armoured disaster (the entire 5th Guards Tank Army lost around 235 fighting vehicles written off) with absolute clarity. The large number of destroyed Soviet tanks of the 29th Tank Corps visible in and around the anti-tank ditch is astonishing. There are also important photographs from 7 August, which although three weeks later, further highlight the scale of the Soviet disaster. Comparisons made between the July and the August photographs are highly revealing. Destroyed tanks visible in both July and August indicate that they were in all probability lost on 12 July. We know this as in the main attack sectors from 13 July, the Soviets went onto the defensive as a result of the extremely heavy losses they sustained the previous day. Equally the Germans, having recaptured their forward positions on 12 July, were content to await developments on their flanks before resuming the advance. These factors are of real importance. As a result the front lines of 16 July were virtually identical to those of 12 July. German tank losses were minuscule by comparison, with just five battle tanks ultimately being written off (including the four Pz IVs close to Hill 252.2). All other damaged tanks were located in secure firing positions (i.e. behind the line of the anti-tank ditch) and were recovered before 16 July and later repaired.

In Pursuit of Prokhorovka, defenceindepth.co, accessed 08 June 2019

Based on photographic analysis, Wheatley believes the German losses were very slight:

As a direct consequence of the fighting on 12 July the Leibstandarte division lost just five tanks. No German tanks were reported as ‘write-off’s on the 12 July. However, five tanks that were left immobilized on the battlefield could not subsequently be recovered because of enemy fire; so the write-off figures had to be adjusted later. Four of the five tanks in question were Pz IVs belonging to Ribbentrop’s 6th Company, 1st SS Panzer Regiment, the other was the Tiger belonging to the panzer regiment’s heavy panzer company. No StuG assault guns or Marder tank destroyers were reported as being lost on 12 July.

Ben Wheatley (2019) A visual examination of the battle of Prokhorovka, Journal of Intelligence History, 18:2, 115-163, DOI: 10.1080/16161262.2019.1606545 (6)
Wheatley Figure 25. GX-3942-SD-124 7 August – Close up image of the knocked out Pz IV – L48 barrel can be seen facing enemy to its left.

Wheatley admits that Soviet losses are so numerous that he can’t rely on the photos alone and must rely on other research:

The Soviet losses are slightly harder to detail precisely but all reliable accounts of the battle indicate that well in excess of 200 Soviet tanks were written-off. Frieser using Russian archival material reaches the figure of around 235 vehicles as write-offs for 12 July….The Russian historian Valeriy Zamulin comes to the conclusion, that at least 207 of Rotmistrov’s fighting vehicles were ‘burned’ on that day. As the Germans had succeeded in pushing back the Soviet attacking forces to their starting positions, the battlefield was in the Germans hands. On the evening of 12 July, damaged Soviet tanks were totally destroyed by special squads. It was only on 17 July, when the II SS Panzer Korps was withdrawn from the front, that the approaching Soviet troops were able to see the extent of the debacle that had taken place. Thus, the first reliable report of losses also bears that date. It is a statement of fighting vehicles lost from 12 to 16 July, signed by the chief of staff of 5th Guards Tank Army, according to which the army had written off 222 T-34s. 89 T-70s, 12 Churchill Tanks and 11 assault guns for a total of 334 tanks and assault guns. However, almost all those losses must have occurred on 12 July, since immediately afterwards the hard-hit 5th Guards Tank Army was largely withdrawn and, as is also evident from the German reports, took hardly any further part in the fighting.

Ben Wheatley (2019) 

Mr. Wheatley rightly gives himself praise for his work:

In conclusion, given our knowledge of the relative losses incurred by both sides and the locations of the tanks on the battlefield, it is clear that the photographic evidence contained in this article support Frieser’s description of the battle – i.e. that the Soviets suffered a major defeat and incurred vast numbers of written off tanks in the process. The location of the mass destruction of the 29th Tank Corps armour is clear to see with 32nd & 31st Tank Brigades demise in (or near to) the anti-tank ditch and 25th Tank Brigade’s defeat between the railway embankment, Stalinsk state farm and the Storozhevoye Woods also being clearly visible in the photographs provided. Regarding the halting of 18th Tank Corps – we can see from the photographs available to us that the Soviet attempt to outflank the Leibstandarte was also met with a major defeat. The demise of the 170th & 181st Tank Brigades is clearly highlighted behind the left flank of the anti-tank ditch and the 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment’s position. The defeat of 181st Tank Brigade’s subsequent effort to advance up from the ribbon village of Andreyevka is also depicted. The fact that only four Tiger tanks repelled both of these armoured advances is testament to the tanks’ prowess at that stage of the war.

This article has therefore verified the demise of the majority of the attacking components of the 5th Guards Tank Army during the battle of Prokhorovka on 12 July 1943. As has been shown above, the level of detailed information now available to us means it is entirely possible that individual lost German tanks can be located on the battlefield photographs amongst the mass of Soviet tank losses. It is remarkable that the historiography of the battle has evolved so radically over the last 20–30 years from an era when it was believed the Germans had suffered a major war-defining defeat with the loss of as many as 400 tanks (including 70 Tigers), to one that recognizes (with respect) that a Soviet catastrophe took place and that this catastrophe can be visually verified. If the myth of Prokhorovka is still given any credence around the world then the photographs contained in this article will surely bring this myth to an end.

Ben Wheatley (2019) 

On to Gaming Prokhorovka

As a wargamer, I can see few battles as interesting as Prokhorovka. The fact that four Tiger tanks held off two entire Soviet tank brigades is incredibly dramatic and certainly deserves a scenario. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the wealth of available scenarios is lacking.

Interestingly, there is only one published scenario in Panzer (2nd Edition) for the Battle of Prokhorovka. Appearing in Panzer Expansion #1: The Shape of Battle on the Eastern Front is “Scenario 16 – The Southern Exposure – Kursk, 12 July 1943.” I cannot rectify the units listed in the scenario to reality so I think the scenario is “representative” of the history vice being strictly historical. In the first edition Firefight Book of Storms of Steel is “Firefight 12 – Rotmistrov’s Red Dawn” which is the right day but wrong area of the battle. I anxiously await the new edition to see if there is a better scenario included.

Why are there so few scenarios? Is it that the “myth of Prokhorovka” scares designers away? Since everyone “knows” the battle was at first a crushing German defeat, then a Soviet disaster, does it get passed over because it “lacks excitement?” That’s too bad. Rarely do wargamers get a chance to portray a single battlefield and array a large set of forces. Nor do many games contain the high drama of four heavy tanks holding off two entire tank brigades. That’s a game!


Endnotes

(1) Von Mellenthin, Maj. Gen. F.W. Panzer Battles (New York: Ballantine, 1956), First Ballantine Books Edition, Fourth Printing, 1978.

(2) Clark, Lloyd. The Battle of the Tanks: Kursk, 1943 (New York: Grove Press, 2011).

(3) Lawrence, Christopher A. The Battle of Prokhorovka: The Tank Battle at Kursk, the Largest Clash of Armor in History (Guilford: Stackpole Books abridged edition 2019).

(4) ibid, 342.

(5) ibid, 346.

(6) Ben Wheatley (2019) A visual examination of the battle of Prokhorovka, Journal of Intelligence History, 18:2, 115-163, DOI: 10.1080/16161262.2019.1606545

Feature image from Wheatley, Figure 2. GX-3734-SK-61 16 July – Battlefield of 29th Tank Corps

April #Wargame #Boardgame Drought?

What do they say? “April showers bring spring May flowers?” Well, my gaming April was a drought.

IMG_0237April was also a very busy month outside of gaming. For the first time in a few years we took a family Spring Break vacation. Sorry friends, spending a week at DisneyWorld, even when not playing games, is quite the mental health break the family needed.

Not that the month was a total loss. I got three very exciting plays of Harold Buchanan’s excellent Campaigns of 1777 (Decision Games/Strategy & Tactics 316). After playing the full campaign first I went back and played the shorter scenarios. I strongly recommend that one play the shorter scenarios first and then jump into the campaign; the locations and strategy decisions come easier and make more sense leading to a deeper game experience.

I was also very pleasantly surprised by WW2 Deluxe: The European Theater (Canvas Temple Publishing, 2018). What looks to be a too-simple game is actually a very neat classical hex & counter wargame with enough fresh innovation to keep it from appearing stale. WW2 Deluxe exceeded my expectations!

The RockyMountainNavy Boys continue their fascination with Quarriors! (WizKids, 2012). This month they dug into their own pockets and bought two expansions for the game.

I have been a bad Kickstarter boy this month. First it was Terraforming Mars: Turmoil that ended a very abbreviated campaign with over $13 MILLION(!!) raised with over 26,000 backers. Here’s hoping the game delivers on the hype. I also caved and pledged for the Traveller 5.10 roleplaying game campaign. Hey Marc! Don’t fail me, please!

After two years of waiting (at least for me) it appears that the new edition of Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943 (Academy Games) is getting real close (finally).  According to a May 01 production update:

Production for ‘Conflict of Heroes – Storms of Steel 3rd Ed’ and ‘Conflict of Heroes – Awakening the Bear 3rd Ed’ is nearing completion! The Map Boards printed by Ludofact in Germany have arrived on the coast in Norfolk, VA and are working their way through customs. Once cleared, they will be shipped on to Ludofact USA to await the arrival of the rest of ‘Conflict of Heroes’ components being produced in China for final assembly.

The Chinese printer has completed production on the three (3!) individual Game Trayz that will be included in each game, dice, and cards. We just received final proofs for the unit counters, rule books, track sheets, etc. and have given approval for final production. We are implementing final tweaks to the SoS3 Mission book.

Our printer knows how important it is that we receive these games for early June release, so they are working diligently to get everything shipped soon. We are estimating they will be finished printing within the next two weeks for shipment to Ludofact USA for final assembly with the map boards. We are currently estimating we will receive the games for fulfillment by mid-June.

We had a lot of fun showing off the new maps and game system at Little Wars last weekend. Thanks for all of your great comments and those of you who kept coming back to play even more of the 3rd Ed Missions!

We want to thank everyone for their support, great suggestions, and feedback on the 3rd Ed Conflict of Heroes system.

If all goes well, it looks like May/June/July could be a busy month for the postman it’s possible to see delivery of not only Storms of Steel but (maybe) Agents of Mayhem (Academy Games), Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington), Tranquility Base/Soviet Moon (History in Action Games), Castle Itter (with Pavlov’s House) (DVG), Nights of Fire: Battle for Budapest (Might Boards), and Memoir ’44: New Flight Plan (Days of Wonder). Hopefully it makes my summer gaming interesting!

 

RockyMountainNavy’s 2019 most anticipated #wargames & #boardgames featuring @Academy_Games @danverssengames @GMTGames @Hollandspiele @mighty_boards

THIS IS THE TIME of the year that many folks look back on on the past year and forward into the next. This is a forward look at my most anticipated games in 2019. Note the use of the plural. There are so many games out there that it is impossible for me to declare a single one as my most anticipated! Instead, I compiled a list of games scheduled to be published in 2019 that highly interest me. It will surprise nobody that as a wargamer most all of the games on this list are, well, wargames or waros.

Amongst the many interesting games to be published in 2019, the ones of most interest to me are:

nof_packshotNights of Fire: Battle of Budapest (Mighty Board Games): This title, co-designed by Brian Train, almost snuck under my radar. I totally missed the Kickstarter and it was not until Mr. Train pointed it out to me that I took notice. I am very glad I did. I am very intrigued by the mix of game mechanics (Revolutionaries using hidden blocks, Soviets using a hand-building mechanism). The different player counts also intrigues me (Coop vs AI, 2v1, Solo). The topic may be obscure but the game takes that obscurity and shines a light on it with a very innovative approach.

pic439690_mdConflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! Kursk – 1943 (3rd Edition) (Academy Games): The Conflict of Heroes series is my favorite World War II tactical combat game (right up there with Panzer from GMT Games for armored combat). I participated in the ProofHQ for the new rules. Some folks complain about the new rules (especially the Spent Die); personally I like them and look forward to fighting on the steppes of Russia.

pic4431242Wings of the Motherland (Clash of Arms): This will be Volume 4 in J.D. Webster’s Fighting Wings system. It covers World War II on the Russian front from Operation BARBAROSSA thru the fall of Berlin. It looks to be a huge game (with a huge price tag too) but will have over 250 scenarios using 48 new aircraft not found in previous series games. The Fighting Wings system is definitely at the higher end of the complexity curve of wargaming, but once you grasp the basic flow of the game and key concepts it plays quick and delivers an incredible narrative for the dogfight. For me, the love affair with JD Webster’s air games goes all the way back to 1987 and his Air Superiority (GDW) title.

castle20itter20box20top20MOCKUP_largeCastle Itter: The Strangest Battle of WW II (Dan Verssen Games): I missed Pavlov’s House, the first in the now-called Valiant Defender’s series. This is a solitaire game and I usually don’t go for solitaire systems but once again the combination of interesting topic and innovative game design draws my attention. Like Nights of Fire above, these different games taking an unusual approach to the topic are popping tall on my radar this year.

dc_medium-1District Commander: Maracas (Hollandspiele): More Brian Train designs. I am happy to see my favorite little game publisher, Hollandspiele, bringing this games to print in 2019. For a while, Mr. Train is offering a free PnP version of the first game here. These are diceless games covering counter-insurgency in the 20th and 21st centuries. Yet again, a different game design approach to the topic.

img_0154Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs (GMT Games): This is a card-based game for 1-8 players that is supposed to be fast-paced. I hope this will be a great pick-up game for the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself. If nothing else the artwork in the game looks to be incredible and immersive.

I could keep going but I will stop here and end with this comment. I notice a lack of hobby boardgames in this list. Although I turned hard into hobby gaming in 2017 and early 2018 my interest in that segment of the hobby has dropped off. Other than Root (my Game of the Year in 2018) my more recent hobby boardgame acquisitions have been a bit flat. This past week, a new Kickstarter came to my attention: War of the Worlds: The New Wave Game (Grey Fox Games). I was very tempted to pull the trigger and pledge but I hesitated. Although the price is great ($39 basic pledge) I am not sold on deck-building games in general. It is also only a 2-player game; these days I prefer boardgames that support 3- or 4-players so it can be a family event. I think I’ll pass on this one, but am trying to stay hopeful and see what else pops up in the coming year.