Review – Battlestar Galactica

BSG.pngGot the game as a present during holidays and I have to admit that I’m quite fond of the series (both original and remake). However, after certain games, I am less and less fond of FFG designs. All too often rules turn out to be very poorly written, have conflicts that are patched up with separate rulings in various cards and in errata longer than original rulebook. On top of everything else, most games are cluttered with immense amount of unnecessary rubbish that one could easily live without. That combined with some sort of obsession to institute same basic system to every game regardless is just beyond my understanding. But anyways. Some of the games are entertaining.

What is in the box? (besides of rather poor quality miniatures (flashed bendyplastic) representing raiders, vipers etc)? Basestars are cardboard which is rather good choice (that said, cardboard counters would work much better for everything, and also look much nicer). The box has usual amount of cards but not quite as many as in some others and that is definitely good. There is also unusually modest amount of other counters and such. That part is then promising. Board has places for various cards counters etc, including some resource dials bolted on the board (definitely better than stack of counters or cards that I expected). So, overall it all looked fine.

After scanning through the rulebook I came into two conclusions. First, it is written by Corey/FFG standard, which is nice way of saying that competent rewrite and indexing would be in order. There are 32 pages of rather illogically organized rules and as usual without index or proper examples. In reality there is content for about 3 pages. The rest is just fluff to hide the rules (for sake of comparison, moderately complex Wilderness War can get along with 16 pages of well written rules, and Successors with 20 pages, including index and examples).

Second observation was that because of the clutter, and equally cluttered rules, game would play rather slow. Initial guess was between 5 and 8 hours. Setup speed would not however be measured in eons like for 1st Ed Mansions of Madness and that is a good thing, but it does take quite long anyway. Unfortunately after reading the rules it was quite evident that the mechanics really required exactly five players and would not actually work with any other number. Later confirmed from other sources that it is indeed the case.

All in all, the first impression of BSG was mixed.

Game flow

Game flow is very odd at best. Essentially the system is build around anonymous voting system combined with reheated Arkham Horror/Mansions of Madness move-action scheme (Wings of War, Sails of Glory, X-wing and others share same ideological origin and it’s functionality can be argued in those as well. At best is just awkward. Many would appreciate if the system would finally be buried somewhere nobody can find it ever again).

Update: Mansions of Madness 2nd Ed, with different designer has apparently seen the light and build system that actually works for the purpose.

There is no defined turns that would give any indication of time-scale so it is assumed to be flexible. At the same token, there are weird details and no-abstractions that would be better if abstracted entirely (a simple example that repeats in various ways over and over again: when person can walk from one end of the ship to other, viper or raider cannot fly same distance in same “time” in space – may be funny first time around, but then… well, really? Could not come up with anything better? Seriously?).

A Skill check – or rather, a voting system allows players to make decisions called by crisis cards. Each player draws a crisis card at the end of their turn and it is resolved in a way or other by each player playing color coded cards to either advance the case or work against it. Curiously enough, player in brig does not draw crisis cards, so nothing advances during their turn, but then nothing bad can happen either. Which is funny – for a while. Player in brig may however play and draw new the cards for full effect – which brings in mind interesting considerations. Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of room for meaningful strategy and everything depends on the random card draws.

Game bogs down a lot if there is even a single player that has tendency to play slow leading to significant downtime between players. It may take well over 20-30 minutes of idle time between moving one piece and doing nothing meaningful before it’s your turn again. There are also many, many things that can put players in sick bay and repeated visits there is probably the worst part (one character was sent there again after every action he got out and holding about 1 or two cards in hand at most). Sickbay mechanic  bogs the game down, but also reduces the meaningful decisions even further.

There are also cards that force player to discard cards and failing to do so will dwindle the resources. In two games so far there were no apparent Cylons present, but food was reduced to zero just because president kept on getting event cards of that effect every turn, and could not discard required amount of cards repeatedly because there was not enough even at the start. Quite uninteresting way to spend 4 hours. Change of that, or something similar happening again is remarkably high. Not to take it wrong, there is nothing wrong with that, it is just plain boneheaded if the game system drives there like a train and there is nothing anyone can do about it. It is just not fun.


BSG idea is good. The hide and seek to discover the enemy within before they destroy you – or to destroy the enemy before being discovered. However, the design is really very poorly executed, repetitive all too similar to Arkham Horror and after a while, becomes  boring. Because of the rule ambiguities, the clutter, poorly designed game flow, cards for everything and constant requirement to reshuffle cards cause the game to be easily 6-8h ordeal. (For sake of comparison, this is a time scale one can squeeze about 2 small ASL scenarios, or one very long Fire in the Sky, 2-3 Wilderness Wars, or 2 Hannibal games, not to mention six games of Basic Impetus with a good long lunch break in between).

Is BSG worth it then? Hard to say. Assuming one can collect five players to play game for 6-8 hours (or more), the fun part is number of laughs about the random cylon hunting process. The Cylon side being far more fun of the two. Question is though, how many times that will be fun though before well runs dry? I’m afraid that the number is very limited indeed.

Sadly, would anyone else have designed the game, it would probably not feel like Flux, and it would have good rules and reasonably fast gameplay. I would certainly not add any expansions to the game but will probably play it again – if getting five players. With any other number – no thanks.

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ASL – The Agony of Doom

The Agony of Doom is a great scenario which features interesting set of vehicles. Russians have fielded the big guns, ISU-152, pair of ISU-122, supported by a pair of T34/85’s. Against this set of massive tracked firepower comes solitary Tiger and two fearsome Jagdpanthers and their 88LL guns – a force to be reckoned with.asl the agony of doom - 1

My opponent opted for the Germans, and I was left with the Russians. Now, I faced an situation where Russians were set against rag-tag late war Germans with low ELR – and hence good change of being disrupted once broken. Goal was to capture 4/5 multi-hex buildings in town on map 3.  Firepower was not a problem – on paper. Deploying it in meaningful way was a bigger issue, considering that Russian guns wouldn’t hit a barn door from any distance, and getting close risked Panzerfausts that about every German squad possessed.asl the agony of doom - 2

That said, there is pretty good squads in play for Russians, and even some mobility, which would enable them to be ferried around. Trucks and unprotected road leading straight to the backs of the Germans was attractive avenue., especially considering that the German forced were quite up front, expecting the all frontal attack. asl the agony of doom - 3

Meanwhile in the Russian headquarters, plan was formed to push straight into the German position frontally, and make little flanking move around through the forest. However, because of some odd miscommunication between my right and left brain lobes, the Russians disembarked early and I failed completely to put force against the German rear. Was too afraid of the incoming reinforcements I guess. It was even more odd, considering that I did indeed take the T-34/85’s for a long tour, to achieve precisely nothing.asl the agony of doom - 4

So, First victim was the Tiger overseeing the Russian entry in the hill near town. ISU, after taking two ineffective shots from the 88L, put one 122mm round through the gunshield of the Tiger making sure that it was going to stand as a monument to deployment error. Shortly after accompanying infantry started retreating towards the town, Russians on their heels. However, advance was not as quick, not as casualty free as it should have been – given the distance between the troops to their objectives and the amount of Germans standing between. Two leaders were lost, one 9-1 and one 8-0. One in close combat, and another to a sniper – lesson again not to leave leaders alone in open. Mind that I only had three leaders to start with, my entire left flank and middle were now without a rally point. Any casualties there, and the whole progress would stall. Losing ISU-152 to permanent gun malfunction did not help matters.asl the agony of doom - 5

That was however not going to happen, mostly because of single berserk that killed one rather nasty unit along the way. It was the right flank, bounded by 75mm AT gun and one Jagdpanther that was stalling and having literally nowhere to go. Dwindling in men and material and not being any closer to the objective, I conceded the game. Russians bagged 3/4 buildings but the two remaining ones were being strongly occupied.

Few things were evident. Disruption is fatal for low quality troops with low ELR. Exploiting that with encirclement is excellent idea. However, big guns on tracks do not help if one is not able/talented to utilize them in best possible way. T34/85 is no match to Jagdpanther frontally and ISU-122 that is, is not going to hit it buttoned up from the preferred engagement distance of the former, nor is it a machine suitable for fighting in narrow streets with limited aim. Additionally, trying to position Russian CT AFV to HD on a hill is, well… parking exercise like no other.asl the agony of doom - 6

Once I found good position to threat the Jagdpanthers rear, I missed and in next round up, second one maneuvered to point blank range and did not miss. 88LL just improved the T34/85 air conditioning a lot. Hitting the darn thing didn’t make a dent.

Tank-to-tank battles are one thing, trying to utilize assault guns efficiently in a face of potent enemy firepower is another. Back to the drawing board then. Meanwhile, there would have been a much better chance winning, would I have driven the trucks all the way to the back of the Germans and occupy one or the other of the two buildings there.

The Agony of Doom is a scenario worth playing again.

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Review: Mansions of Madness, retake

Long story short, Mansions of Madness 1st edition was a rubbish, including most of the expansions. In fact, some enterprising spirits have rewritten the whole in attempt to make it work. The key reason for it was that Wings of Glory system does not really turn into exploration game, regardless of how much cards you add. Fundamentals were flawed. Foundations stood on what could be described as intellectually dishonest logic and there were no easy way to fix it.

Another problem was the rules which were scattered to most unlikely places without any indexing in a page count that exceeded some modestly complex, genuine wargames. All this when in reality there was real content for about 4 pages worth. A Third problem was the setup time that allowed filler game of modestly sized ASL scenario to be played, with a coffee break in between. Final problem that broke the whole product was the complete lack of play testing, and many scenarios that were irreparably broken (what is more fun than spending three hours to set up a game that breaks down completely after hour or two of playtime? Or game where the main goal is to avoid all the system traps that cause the scenario to fail completely?). That said, our group could certainly put the game system to test, but with MoM first edition, one had to tread carefully like amidst venomous snakes.

I did file a complaint about the defects long ago, because I think that it is not the customer’s responsibility to playtest and debug a system that comes with such a hefty price tag. FFG ignored the complaint.

… Then, time went on… About five years passed.

Apparently Asimodee took over FFG in some level, and Mansions of Madness was redeveloped by new designer that had genuine ideas of how to make the game work, and not to make it just another Wings of Glory, or X-wing on a ground level. Asimodee also had completely reverse attitude towards the defects of original.

… and then some additional time passed, and I received a parcel.

Yes, it was a copy of the 2nd Edition.

Now, 2nd Edition of Mansions of Madness appears more of the product that first edition should have been (except the figures, which are, unfortunately, still rubbish. However, luckily the monsters have counters to represent them and they work wonderfully). Instead of being clutter ridden cardboard hell, 2nd edition has stripped out all but essentials – and replaced keeper with application. Downside is that one needs a computer, phone, or pad to play but the upside… well, it completely remodels what original failed to achieve. Exploration.

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Scenario 1, final moments 😉 Spoilers, if you looked!

So far, there has been only one game of 3 players, but at first time, most striking bugs are some of the algorithms that declare how events affect, or how monsters move. For example statement of: “monster moves towards the investigator with least damage” is hard to judge when there are three investigators without any damage in equal distance. Instead it would have been better to say: “…towards investigator with most health remaining” if that was implied (for example, least damage is not equal to most health and there appeared to be no tie breaker rule). Similar imprecise wordings are probably the worst bugs discovered at least so far. Compared to the first edition, that is a massive improvement and they can be worked out even if one would appreciate more accurate “algorithms”.  Rulebook does state that in conflict situations players decide but it would be worthwhile to have some of the texts altered for less room for players to maneuver.

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Made it, just barely. Relatively easy, but pretty solid scenario.

Of course, in the original, the 1st scenario was really the only one playtested, and factually playable, hence waiting to see what happens after we’ve done all of 2nd ed scenarios. At this time, I am willing to say that Asimodee has done the right thing and I consider the matter settled.

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Wilderness War – A Victory

There was an opportunity to play Wilderness War again. What appears to be some sort of custom by now, I tend to play British in attempt to learn how to win with them. For French, the interior lines work wonders and it is rather easy to disrupt, or in best of cases, entirely stall the British advance. I never quite figured out how to avoid the French attacks. British just simply cannot afford to push on from many directions, especially if majority of the generals activate with 3.Wilderness War Victory - 1

So, I had devised a daring plan – instead of customary preparations and reinforcements I decided that it is necessary to make immediate push with the resources I had at hand. Two prong strike against the Ohio Forks and Niagara victory conditions was the dish of the day. I did not know it at the time but best I ever got was going to be two batches of reinforcements, and light infantry. Wolfe decided to have beach vacation in Scotland.

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First, Amherst appeared, and displaced Abercromby – relief to anyone serving him. Loudoun then headed north towards Albany and then turning towards Montreal. Amherst took the hard way over the Allegheny Mountains and towards Ohio Forks.Wilderness War Victory - 4

First promising battle occurred when Montclam decided to kick some British butt near Albany – and failed in epic scale. DR:1 vs DR:6 of Loudoun. Both survived barely, but Montclam took worse of the encounter and retreated to lick his wounds, only to revenge by sending in some blankets infected with smallpox – a thing that eradicated six steps from the Loudoun’s army! And then, after this little preparatory revenge, he attacked again. Loudoun was in no state to fight and attempted to run before the battle but in no avail and was caught. Resulting battle practically destroyed the army and only one flipped Royal American survived. Tough Luck.Wilderness War Victory - 4

Well. British could have conceded after losing vast majority of the forces on the map, but Montclam was content to push forward only to capture and burn the Fort William Henry. Instead of pushing down to Albany for death strike. He then retreated back and British got the critical respite. Meanwhile it was in the Ohio Forks and Oneida corridor where action was becoming hot.

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Dumas was preparing to evacuate the Ohio Fort when Amherst appeared into horizon, and he managed to do that without losing a man. French attempt to build blocking fort in Oswego resulted only in meager Stokade and British managed to gain the upper hand in the control of the vital waterways – and support among Oneida Indians. One Marine detachment and one CdeB was not going to stop that. At the moment of greatest need, the Indians of Oneida decided indeed to Ally with British cause and necessary manpower boost became available – and with it, option to utilize Ambush…Wilderness War Victory - 7

French seeing that Oneida corridor was becoming a major problem promptly despatched Levis from the Montclam’s main army to deal with the problem. My opponent was still worried that I would come down from Albany with considerable force. A mistake Levis would soon pay with his life for. His entire army, save one CdeB was dispatched as a result of ambush, and now French too were worn down. However, unfortunately for the British, French did get all the reinforcements in play – and because of the dire need of manpower, Halifax garrison was evacuated prompting the French to do likewise from Louisbourg. So, Both sides were more or less even, except in the command department but then Light Infantry balanced that out a bit along with Bradstreet.Wilderness War Victory - 8

After some of the successes Colonial Policies bore fruit resulting enthusiastic support – act which prompted additional colonial troops to bolster the British war effort. Clearly a sign for the British government not to send any more troops to the Northern Frontiers. So, it was that we had to do then. War raged on. Amherst marched to the lakeshore, Johnson and Bradstreed progressed towards Niagara while the rest of the British commanders decided to pause for a tea – for entire early season of 1759! Not only did untimely tea hurt the British cause, but French managed to remove the extremely vital card of troop replacements that I would need direly later.Wilderness War Victory - 9

While Amherst, Bradstreet and Johnson paved the way for the attack, and while Vardeuil, now due to clever British political maneuvering was in charge of the defenses, made all in his power to cause attrition, late season 1759 saw a miracle. Coehorns, in my hand. I might just have the tools that I needed to win the game. French poured in to Niagara, indians, hunters and every able man was flooding in through the northern shore – except of Montclam and his very few forces that guarded the now very  unprotected corridor to Montreal. Over and over again the French defenders attacked the British, and losses mounted – more often than not, British were only saved by even results that defender would win.Wilderness War Victory - 10

Then Amherst got ready and attacked in turn to reduce the defenders. Then it was time to make the last attack. Winning the battle against the combined French army the garrison split in two – better part of good troops went into the fort, while auxiliaries  retreated to Mississauga wilderness. Vadreuil then made last attempt to relieve the Niagara by his auxiliaries. He failed. Niagara was not relieved, but only by narrowest of margins. On a very last possible card, British started siege under Amherst. +1 from him, +2 from the Coehorns -1 for Dumas defending, it was +2 to the die roll. I rolled “1”… a pause, then oh… no…

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However, 1 is all you need with the Coehorn bonus to make that single siege point, and assault went in with DR of 6. Defenders defeated, Niagara finally fell and so ended the French domination in The Wild. Cost to British was momentous. After the assault there were only few men standing in the ruins of Niagara to fly the British flag.Wilderness War Victory - 12

Given that Wolfe failed to appear, it was incredibly tough for British and I cannot recall a game with such a narrow margin ever occurring. There were so many points, especially in late game that single modifier of +1 from right leader, or -1 because of regulars fighting in woods without auxiliaries would have turned the tables. Would Montcalm have moved into Niagara, he would have defeated the Oneida Corridor with ease, but then there would not have been anything to stand between Albany and Montreal. A real concrete threat and by all means, Oneida Corridor and Oswego gateway could have been tougher to crack than what it first appeared.Wilderness War Victory - 13

That said, French were constantly pressed from multiple sides only realistic option would have been attempt against the stockades and forts necessary for the supply. Of course Army of Marine Detachment joined with irregulars under command of Viliers or Dumas could have caused a lot of trouble in the Ohio Forks wilderness region. Guerrilla army ready to strike against the unguarded stockades.

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Amherst in charge of the situation. Victory!

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It sails

Some half a year ago I embarked on to build a small Schooner. Now there was an opportunity to set sail on a local lakeside. Wind condition was a bit gusty coast wind, and as a result, “rough seas” affected the sailing somewhat.

Sloop sails - 1

Although I trust my ship building skills, I have to admit that the shallow draft, relatively high sides and limited ballast (there is no separate ballast keel) combined with gusty wind had me worried for a bit, but for no reason. Afterwards I thought that it could probably handle the topsails as well, or at least the foremast spars.

I never (not even as a kid) really liked the idea of having additional ballast keel albeit I fully understand the benefits for sailing. I like the challenge of building and rigging vessel in a way it is not needed. Strangely satisfying to see it work 🙂

Little Sloop performed admirably and not a once did it even sip water to the deck. Heavy gusts pushed it off course for a brief moment before it corrected itself back to by the wind. Because there is no RC capability, there are only three ways to retrieve the sloop from middle of the lake. Rescue boat, opposing shore or little retraction line that is attached to the back.

Sloop sails - 2

Sloop sailed in quite straight course after rudder was counter adjusted to compensate the push of the wind but naturally lacked any mid-sailing course corrections. Sails were set for sailing by the wind, mostly because it is the safe way in heavier “seas”. I am thinking about certain automated course corrector, but perhaps current one is more fun. At least one gets to turn the wheel to set the correction. 🙂

Anyway, Schooner turned out to be a great little thing that hopefully provides hours of fun for my daughter in future. Especially when she learns to control the sail settings. She was quite happy with the trials. 🙂

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ASL – Slamming of the Door

We had another ASL Sunday, and an opportunity to play out another fine scenario, Slamming of the Door (#129). There, ill equipped Germans meet vast Russian horde with armored support. Given the early war situation, neither side has tanks that result one shot – one kill situations so there ought to be some nice armor activity as well.

As usual, game had twists and turns where for a moment both sides thought to have upper hand, and the bitter fighting raged on till the very end. I played this one long, long ago with SL and it still is a blast.

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Germans retreated to the delay positions on the far edge.

German setup was a wide and not very deep one. My opponent elected to set up Close to the only realistically defensive position as close to his perimeter in the row 8. He then, immediately pulled back towards to the board edge to buy time, and seemingly avoid being surrounded by the Russian T-26 tanks.

Slamming the door - 2

Preparing for the Human Ware on the right, just under the SR… There were no other way to avoid being pounded by 80mm mortars, and to cross the opening.

My plan on the other hand was to make sure two things, firstly that I’d have a commissar (one just has to love the way commissars work in ASL). Secondly that the Germans could not just walk away and reverse the positions because of one sided attack. Thirdly, to make sure that commissar had sufficient forces under his disposal to make human wave over the open area on the right. Yes, I figured no other way to cross the opening but human wave, and some tank support. Later I figured out that there is indeed another way as well.

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Human wave concluded, and German tank suffered from MOL equipped infantry. Russians lost two of their own to the enemy fire. Commissar leading from the front.

Initial moves were to get into position and then to pull off the wave. Plan was somewhat compromised by timely appearance of the German AFV and impending FFE looming above. Wave did caught the German defenders by surprise, and while my wave received much more fire than I thought it would (most with dreaded FFNAM/FFMO), I got quite few troops through with the commissar. They then made short work of the target enemy, and gained a solid footing in the back row. Remaining Germans retreated back.

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Russian momentum stalled…

While traditional Russian tactics were employed, the tank battle was evolving. Germans found in a hard way that tank with no MG is not a best weapon against dedicated Russian squad with molotov cocktail. Keeping their front armors towards the Russian 45L guns, there was slim chance of destroying Stug IIIB:s – until one Russian tank got a critical hit through. Remaining German AFV placed itself to excellent defensive position and for a moment it seemed that the Russians would indeed lose – casualties continued to mount, and on the left, there was well protected opening that needed to be crossed.

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And started to mount casualties…

Tension grew…

Right there and then, at the very eve of the disaster – when most Russians were broken, happened something extraordinary. Single Russian squad on the left had had enough. They went berserk and charged over the fields in suicidal frenzy. Every conceivable unit fired at the berserk but they dodged every single bullet and entered into close combat. Winning that, they then went for the stationary German Stug IIIB, but failed to destroy it. While the immediate gain was limited, the longer term one was not.

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Until the finest moment… and the berserk!

Because everyone in sight fired the berserk squad, an opening was created for everyone else to follow. That single heroic berserk on the last turn changed the whole game, and from the jaws of defeat, victory was drawn. Another excellent game.

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Battle raged on in close quarters. Some prisoners were taken but before that, both Russian T26’s were shot to pieces.

Germans made one big mistake and one smaller one – OBA was not used in it’s full effect, and it would have changed the outcome significantly. It is absolutely necessary  to have close infantry support for tanks that have no MG’s given the close proximity of the enemy infantry.

Russians made so many tactical mistakes, that I won’t even count them… However, the commissar is happy about the outcome. 🙂

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ASL – Comissar’s House

Recently there was an opportunity to enter Comissar’s House. A legendary Stalingrad scenario of bloody street fighting in terms of ASL. All things needed for both sides feeling the pain are there: German assault engineers, DC’s, flamethrowers and one strong fortified building for Russians. Every hex has a cost – every building has a price tag in it. Playing Russians I had a plan to retreat slowly but steadily back to my fortress, forcing Germans to bleed for every single hex they entered.Comissars House - 1

To that end, my final reserve was set up in the fortified building, consisting of last resort – commissar and 6-2-8 squads that were pretty good at keeping the nearby streets empty of enemy presence. Instead of deploying machine guns in the fortified location, I decided to have some nasty fire lanes for Germans to pass – it did mean that I would of course lose the MG’s deployed in that purpose eventually, but this way they would buy time. Additionally, and here’s the surprise, I would make the Chemist shop a trap that surely attracted attention, and behind that I would mass up considerable force that could take it from the German hands at the end of game when majority of the German heavy FP forces were engaged with he Comissar’s house. Assault force totaling 10 squads were slowly withdrawn from the Chemist house perimeter to safe location waiting to strike the decisive blow against the German flank.Comissars House - 3

Germans came in guns blazing, thinking that the superior firepower and good leadership was everything that was needed to make Russians collapse. Indeed, on paper it shows that it could. They were severely mistaken. True that the initial advances went in relatively fast and it seemed for the Germans that Russians were forced away from their positions. However, every encounter that ended up with eliminated Russian squad, German Assault Engineers paid for. Chemist shop fell relatively easily, but it delayed the advance quite a bit and not everyone defending it was eliminated.  Significant force departed from the Chemist’s House in good order. The garden between the Chemist shop and Comissar’s house became German burial ground and only few Germans ever walked away from it.Comissars House - 2

Eventually the heavy casualties started to tell and after suicidal and failed attempt to breach the Comissar’s house by heroic 10-2 leader, Germany conceded defeat. There were simply not enough time to breach and clean the defense.


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