Battle for Stalingrad: Being Offensive

One of the key dynamics that the German player in Battle for Stalingrad needs to master is the relationship between the game’s turn structure and his offensive operations. Because the Germans have complete initiative throughout the game, it’s tempting — especially in the early going when the Russians are weakly spread around the map — to send attacking battlegroups into the city in serial, using each one in turn to drill deeper into the defenses.

Looks good, at first blush. “Battlegroups” in this definition typically comprise one unit each of infantry, armor and engineers. The infantry packs a good punch, and allows the armor to use its higher (“6″) fire strength. The engineers let the attackers ignore any die roll modifiers for terrain when they fire. The armor carries the bonus of halving the strength of any Soviet artillery fire directed into the hex.

A German attack runs out of gas.

Bad time for an attack to run out of gas.

The problem is that a single battlegroup is very fragile, especially considering that the very bloody CRT can quickly cause one of the three units in the stack to disappear. Sited in a light structure hex, of which there are many, a lowly 2-strength Russian battalion has a 50 percent chance to kill off a German unit with defensive fire. Throw in even a single supporting artillery fire, and the odds of at least one defensive “kill” go way up. Unless the German player elects to eliminate the hard-to-replace engineers (which usually have a fire strength of “1″), the battlegroup’s firepower will be cut in half by a single loss.

Single-stack attacks also aren’t very likely to generate “Breakthrough” results of any magnitude. Breakthrough results occur when a fire attack generates over-kill. For example, say the Germans fire on a hex with a single Russian unit and get a result of “3″ on the CRT. The two “steps” of loss above the “1″ required to kill off the target unit convert to Breakthrough Points. Each breakthrough point allows a single attacking stack to move one hex, or initiate another attack.

Generating and using Breakthrough Points is how the German player can chain together a series of attacks to make significant gains into the Russian defenses. If a single-stack attack results in only a “1″ on the CRT, the Germans don’t even get to advance into the hex they just cleared. On the flipside, an attack with two battlegroups and some artillery can easily generate a “4″ result. With 3 Breakthrough Points, the Germans can move into the vacated hex, then attack again with both battlegroups. Using two battlegroups (at a minimum) also ensures the Germans can sustain at least one loss, and usually two, without the whole attack coming apart.

Thinking in terms of only “move and attack” is a good way for the Germans to run out of time. There are a lot of Soviet units on the map, and only 7 turns to knock them out of the way and march to the Volga. Setting up big operations that can generate and use Breakthrough Points is the only way the Germans can succeed.

Even then, those pesky Soviet reaction phases can really mess things up. In fact, that’s part of the game’s “cool” factor. It’s got great built-in tension and frustration. The Germans can work really hard to set up the “perfect” operation — clearing flanks, beating down defending artillery, then working three battlegroups into an attack that racks up 4 Breakthrough Points — only to have the whole thing go to hell when a Soviet reaction chit is drawn after the very first attack. So much for perfection; all of those German units are instantly done for the turn.

Great stuff.

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