Battle for Stalingrad: Getting Started

Despite the phalanx of new wargame titles marching around, some of the old classics still capture my imagination from time to time. Flashbacks of great gaming moments can cause me to drag out a game produced in times long past. I’m also prone to dig into the game closet when a particular subject gets stuck in my head — and that subject is served to one degree or another by a game published in decades past.

Such is the case with John Hill’s “Battle for Stalingrad” (BfS). I first purchased the game soon after its publication in the early 1980s. I passed on a contemporary game release, “Streets of Stalingrad” from Phoenix Games, mainly because I’ve never been much of a monster gamer. As a one-mapper, BfS suited me perfectly. The game system itself was out of the ordinary for the time. Coupled with the concept of treating one of the Eastern Front’s pivotal battles at the battalion level, the innovative approach made the game irresistibly attractive for me.

I played it quite a bit back then, and remember enjoying it. Somehow, that copy of the game ended up getting shot out of the Ebay cannon a number of years ago. So now I’ve got a shiny new BfS box with the reprint version from Excalibre Games.

Battle for Stalingrad underway on the Big Table

The early going in Battle for Stalingrad sees stiff fighting.

Graphically, I think the game is closer to the version produced by Japanese publisher Six Angles than it is to the original. But I’m taking a shot in the dark here. It’s been ages since I had the original on my table, and I only know the Six Angles version from photos I can find on teh Intrarwebs. While its absolute accuracy can be questioned, the game map is graphically pleasing. The on-map Terrain Effects Chart is missing a column of labels (ugh), and the on-map boxes for the German player’s management of the replacement procedure is completely devoid of any type at all. Aggravating, but nothing too horrible.

The counters are “wargame regular.” Nothing fancy. Light blue for Germans, red for Soviets, readable typography and NATO symbology — some of which is color-coded to indicate Soviet units that have zones of control. Two play aids are included, one with a setup chart, the other with the reinforcement chart. A couple of glossy finish booklets round out the package. One is the rule book, which has a short historical piece and some notes tucked in the back. The other is a supplement that features some articles specially written for the new version, along with some tips and articles written throughout the game’s lifespan since first publication.

Set up requires preparation of nearly 600 counters. The Soviets have three designated setup zones, plus a number of required setup hexes in each zone. Germans setup freely within the boundaries of various divisional areas.

The game scale is one week per turn, and 600 meters per hex. Units are generally battalion-sized for infantry types and companies for armor. Each artillery unit is probably equivalent to a firing battalion. German formations are fairly regular — armor companies all uniformly rated the same, plus several different types of infantry (leg, motorized, mechanized). Soviet forces are more of a mish-mash: militia, conscript infantry, Guards infantry, “machinegun” infantry, motorized infantry and some Marines. Soviet tank companies are rather weak, but they’re also expendable because replacements are manufactured at a couple of factories located right in the middle of the fight. Both sides are liberally equipped with combat engineers.

It’s an interesting game just to set up and look at. While the OOB might not be the most accurate ever produced for a wargame, I think it works at the scale given and probably provides some sort of balance. With everybody setup, you certainly get the impression that a big, nasty urban battle is about to commence.

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