#WargameWednesday – A bright game in THE DARK SUMMER: NORMANDY, 1944 by @tdraicer fm @gmtgames (2021)

Coming off my “Shelf of Shame” this week was The Dark Summer: Normandy, 1944 by designer Ted Raicer and published by GMT Games (2021). The Dark Summer is the latest in Ted’s Dark Series from GMT Games following The Dark Valley: The East Front Campaign, 1941-45 (2013) and The Dark Sands: War in North Africa: 1940-42 (2018). The signature feature of the Dark Series is the use of the chit-pull mechanism for activation which not only introduces a manageable “fog of war” element into play but also makes this series of games very solo-friendly. In The Dark Summer, Mr. Raicer and GMT Games gives us a refined version of the Dark Series that delivers a very playable version of the Normandy Campaign focusing not on the “Battle of the Beaches” but instead on the breakout.

The Longest Day Reduced to a Round

When I see a game about World War II in Normandy, my mind first goes to the movie The Longest Day (1962). Indeed, I think for many wargamers the invasion of Normandy is almost always the first thing that comes to mind when talking about a wargame set around D-Day.

The Dark Summer covers D-Day…and a whole lot more. In hindsight, given a game scale of 2.25 miles per hex and weekly (uh, sorry, “one quarter of a month”) turns it should be no surprise the critical invasion days are reduced to just a part of a turn. At first I felt a bit cheated; in The Dark Summer the landings on the beach are often reduced to a single die roll and then an advance inland. It felt so much different from the popular depiction of D-Day that at first I wondered if the landings were being trivialized. However, after playing the entire game (not only the first turn) I discovered that The Dark Summer doesn’t minimize the sacrifices of those who came ashore on D-Day; on the contrary, after play I see how game puts those invasion day efforts into context with the entire campaign. It took me a bit to see the obvious; The Dark Summer is not a game about the invasion of the Normandy beaches, but about the breakout.

Edgy Breakout

Whatever drama The Dark Summer lacks in regards to the invasion of the Normandy beaches, it makes up for in the race that follows. Players have 10 turns to either take back invaded beaches (Germans) or if the Allies to push out and “take the edges” of Cherbourg or Brittany or points to the east on the map. Cherbourg, which is not even on the map, is really the “make or break” victory condition. The Allies can virtually guarantee a win by seizing Cherbourg early but if they wait too long and don’t take the city by the end of turn 7 then it turns into a German Sudden-Death Victory. A close examination of the Victory Point Tables reveals a fundamental conflict—the Allies gain VP for capture of cities or exiting units whereas the Germans earn VP by eliminating certain Allied units and exiting others. The danger each side faces is that an all-out attempt to maximize VP could hand an automatic victory to the opponent. This make The Dark Summer a “race to the edges” of the map, but it must be a managed run that keeps (leaves?) some units behind to prevent automatically awarding victory to your opponent.

Good Chit-Pull

I have sung praises to the chit-pull mechanism before and The Dark Summer only reinforces my beliefs. I really enjoy the chit-pull mechanism for how it introduces a pleasant form of randomness into unit movement and combat as well as how it enables solo play. Even the special rules that basically “pre-scripts” the initial invasion round looks far more restrictive on the page than it actually plays out. Of the three Dark Series games I own, I feel The Dark Summer is the most thematically appropriate implementation of the chit-pull mechanism amongst the group.

Brightest of the Dark?

While the three games of the Dark Series share that common chit-pull mechanism, each is a very different game. I have described The Dark Valley as a “playable monster” game and the scope (the entire war in the Soviet Union) takes up far more table space and time than The Dark Summer. Likewise, The Dark Sands, which is more similar to The Dark Summer in that it covers a campaign (North Africa), also has some rules that mechanically make the game more challenging to play (I’m looking at the two-scales of maps here). In The Dark Summer I feel designer Ted Raicer has found a “sweet spot” for the application of his system.

What I enjoy most about The Dark Summer is the extreme playability of the game. Physically the game is relatively small with play on a single 22″x34″ map using less than 400 counters. The 24-page, double-column Rule Book really is only ~17 pages of rules, none of which are overly complex or illogical. Play time is listed as four hours and I found this estimate about right; indeed, my solo games actually played a bit faster. The Dark Summer naturally paces itself as “a bit rushed” in that both players feel the need to work quickly to try to get to their victory objectives before time expires. The combination of a smaller game, easy to digest rules, and a natural thematic “hurry up” makes The Dark Summer a complete—and highly enjoyable—game experience playable in an afternoon.

#RockyReads for #Wargame – Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor (Viking Press, 1998)

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Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor is two books in one – the first is a political and military treatment of the events leading up to the Operation Uranus and the second is the story of the very human tragedy of the encirclement of the German Sixth Army.

A Real Wargamer’s Book

Why do you play wargames? Personally, I play wargames to engage with the history and gain a better understanding and appreciation of a topic. For me, the first part of Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor is very much a book that I use to play a wargame. The first part of Stalingrad is a military-oriented treatment of the political, and especially military, situation and events from the end of 1941 through the German offensive that reached Stalingrad in September 1942 and continuing through the Soviet counteroffensive that cut off Paulus’ Sixth Army in November 1942. I can use this part of Stalingrad to better understand the historical flow of events and see what I might of done different when playing a wargame like The Dark Valley: The East Front Campaign, 1941-45 by designer Ted Raicer from GMT Games. I can even use it to better understand the situation as presented in David Thompson’s Pavlov’s House: The Battle of Stalingrad from Dan Verssen Games.

The second half of Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 inevitably follows the military activity, but that is not the main focus. Antony Beevor pivots from a story of the military action into the immense human tragedy that befell the German defenders of Stalingrad and, to not so much a lesser extent, the surrounding Soviets.

Arguably, the second half of Stalingrad is more important to wargamers than the first. It is very easy for wargamers to push counters or tokens or little minis around a map and forget that those are humans. It’s exhilarating to roll a natural 12 on a Combat Results Table and get that “DE – Defender Eliminated” result. It means nothing more than removing that little piece of cardboard from the map and casually throwing it into the “dead” pile, all while pumping your fist and smirking at your opponent.

Reality is not so fun. In Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 author Antony Beevor reminds us, no, shouts at us that we must face the terrible human cost of war.

Yes, we play war GAMES for fun, but at the same time we need to remember that our “fun” is a depiction of war far removed from the brutal reality. Sometimes we need to learn that lesson and a wargame is not always the right vehicle. Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1941-1943 is the right vehicle to remind us of the brutality and horror of war.

Wargame Application

Read it. Read it so you better understand what the CRT really means.

Citation

Beevor, Antony, Stalingrad – The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943, New York: Viking, 1998.

Using The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin’s War with Germany, Vol. 1 by John Erickson to enlighten The Dark Valley: The East Front Campaign, 1941-45, Deluxe Ed. (@GMTGames, 2018)

HAVING RECENTLY PLAYED Pavlov’s House: The Battle of Stalingrad (Dan Verssen Games, 2018) I pledged to learn more about the Eastern Front in World War II. Although I have long studied and played wargames about WWII, I previously focused on various naval campaigns, tactical armored combat, air warfare, and the Western and African fronts. Before playing Pavlov’s House, the closest I really got to getting ‘into’ the Eastern Front was playing Panzer 1st Ed (Yaquinto Publishing, 1979), Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear, 1941 – Operation Barbarossa 2nd Ed. (Academy Games, 2012), Panzer 2nd Ed. (GMT Games, 2012), and Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel – Kursk 1943 3rd Ed. (Academy Games, 2019). I had dabbled in the naval conflict using the Baltic Arena scenario book for Command at Sea (Admiralty Trilogy Games, 20XX) and in the air war using the campaign game found in Wing Leader: Blitz, 1939-1942 (Wing Leader Expansion Nr 1) (GMT Games, 2018). What I have not done in the past is look at the Eastern Front at a theater or campaign perspective.

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Courtesy goodreads.com

The first step in my ‘education’ was to look at my bookshelf. I discovered that, like my wargame collection, my book selection was also lacking in a similar manner. Looking to rectify the situation, I payed a visit to McKay’s Used Books (Manassas, VA). I was very fortunate to find a classic of military history, The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin’s War with Germany, Vol. 1 by John Erickson in paperback for less than $3. The book is a bit dated (original copyright 1975) but my version was printed in 1999 and includes an updated preface dated 1993. I see many comments that this telling of history, from the Soviet perspective, has not changed much even in the past 20 years. For myself, it is a good first ‘deep read’ into the Eastern Front. However, it is not without some issues. The foremost issue that I have with the book is a lack of maps. Maybe it’s the wargamer in me but I really need to see the battlefield. In the case of The Road to Stalingrad I have only a minimal familiarity with the geography meaning if I am to make any real sense out of narrative I must have a map!

 

Now, I could easily go online and find a map, but I am a wargamer and in 2019 I acquired Ted Raicer’s The Dark Valley: The East Front Campaign, 1941-45 Deluxe Ed. (GMT Games, 2018). The game uses two 22″x34″ maps to depict the Eastern Front. So, I laid out the map to ‘follow along’ with my reading. As is usual, one thing led to another.

Book I in The Road to Stalingrad is “On Preparedness: Military and Political Developments, Spring 1941.” This ‘book’ covers the Soviet preparations from 1940 to the start of Operation Barbarossa. As I read the book and was locating place names on the map I also found different units referenced. At this point it made sense to grab the unit counter and place it on the board just ‘to get an idea’ of what was where. When I reached the end of Book I the mapboard looked much like the set-up for Scenario 17.1 – Operation Barbarossa. Not exactly, but close.

Close enough that I can play. Hmm….

Book II of the Road to Stalingrad is “Halting the Blitzkrieg, 22 June 1941 – 19 November 1942.” This corresponds nicely to the Operation Barbarossa and Fall Blau scenarios of The Dark Valley, covering Game Turns 1-17. My intention at this point is to read a chapter in the book then play the corresponding turns of the wargame. Roughly speaking, each chapter is one or two (usually 2) game turns. At least, I’ll start out this way because I know that my game will diverge from history. I think it will be an interesting experiment and I wonder how much I am ‘contaminating’ the experiment by ‘reading ahead.’ Will reading ahead help to avoid the mistakes of history, or will the same situations happen because they were inevitable?

I aim to find out.


Feature image courtesy GMT Games

 

 

After #SpringBreak Di$ney it’s time to get back to #wargames

I have not played a wargame or boardgame in over a week now. Not because I have stopped playing; instead I have been off playing with the RockyMountainNavy Family at DisneyWorld. Now fully recharged I am ready to get back to the gaming table!

ZQXOtLiRS4yH9j7lKgkrigBefore Spring Break, I had several opportunities to play @HBuchanan2‘s Campaigns of 1777. These days I am becoming a sucker for the chit-pull mechanic in games as they make the game very solo-friendly even without a dedicated solitaire version. I am also a sucker for wargames the American Revolution era. After driving from Virginia to Florida and passing by several Revolutionary War sites, I really hope he goes ahead with southern campaign version too!

sru0+D2iRSaTaHyp5osoWwAround the same time Campaigns of 1777 arrived I also too delivery of my GMT Games P500 order of @tdraicer‘s The Dark Valley Deluxe Edition. This is in many ways a modern monster game covering the complete Eastern Front campaign in World War II. I bought into the game based (once again) on the chit-pull mechanism that I enjoyed in the previous Ted Racier/GMT Games title, The Dark Sands. I have to admit that I want to get this one to the table soon; as I was inspecting the game and had the board laid out Youngest RMN and I started looking at the geography and talking in general terms about Operation Barbarossa and Eastern Front. Historically I have avoided anything above tactical-level games about the Eastern Front; looking to change that with The Dark Valley!

Y0BIfKqBQvWvDsPxZeosHgFinally, on the day before we travelled, a relatively new publisher, Canvas Temple Publishing, delivered their Kickstarter for WW2 Deluxe. This is supposed to be a game where one can play the European Theater (or Western Front) in World War II in an evening. First pass through the rulebook and components looks promising!

We actually took a few boardgames with us on vacation but were lucky and had not bad weather days so the games remained unplayed. The RMN Boys did play a few games of Ticket to Ride or Battlelore or 1775: Rebellion on the iPad but I didn’t get to play (something about driving and playing at the same time just doesn’t work!). We had considered taking Villainous with us but thought that would be too much Disney. So, with vacation behind me and now emotionally recharged, it’s time to get back to wargaming and boardgaming.