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  Donnerschlag Escape From Stalingrad by Vuca Simulations  One of the biggest questions that comes out of World War II is whether the German...

Donnerschlag Escape From Stalingrad by Vuca Simulations Donnerschlag Escape From Stalingrad by Vuca Simulations

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Donnerschlag Escape From Stalingrad


Escape From Stalingrad


Vuca Simulations

 One of the biggest questions that comes out of World War II is whether the German troops surrounded in Stalingrad could have escaped or not. There are many games about the entire Fall Blau Campaign and most of them have scenarios about the attempt that was made to break though the Soviet units and reestablish contact with the 6th Army. This is one of the few games that are just about the break into Stalingrad or break out from there. The overwhelming consensus of historians is that even if the troops in Stalingrad did break out, they would have done so only with the clothes on their backs and what they could carry. The other issue is that all of the Soviet divisions around Stalingrad would then be able to hunt this moving mass of men across the frozen steppe. Many historians have theorized that the only reason the German Southern front in Russia did not collapse completely is because so many Soviet divisions were tied up around Stalingrad. 

Notice the A, B, and C zones

 This is what Vuca Simulations has to say about the game:

"'Donnerschlag' is a two player game which is playable in one sitting. It is more of a game than a simulation and intended to bring a high player interactivity and replayability to the player's table.

 From December 12 to December 23 in 1942, "Unternehmen Wintergewitter" was in progress. This was the code name for a relief attack by Heeresgruppe Don to free the trapped 6th Army in Stalingrad.

 The Axis formations entered with 50,000 men and 250 tanks, while the strength of the Soviet formations was reported to be about three times that. For the enterprise to have any chance of success, the troops in the encirclement had to break out and meet the advancing Axis troops. The breakout had to be precisely coordinated with the advance of the relief troops and was to commence on the cue “Donnerschlag”. The breakout was never ordered and the troops in Stalingrad were never able to be relieved. This sealed their fate.

 Players will be recreating this episode, with the Axis side attempting to secretly establish and reach a meeting point, thus effectively freeing the 6th Army, while the Soviet will try to impede such outcome."

 This is what comes with the game:

One rulebook.

One mounted map.

184 counters.

Two player aid charts.

Two Setup Displays.

126 Cards.

Two 6-sided dice.

The Scale

A hex represents 4 kms (2.5 miles) of terrain from side to side.

Each turn represents a period of 1-2 days.

Combat units are mostly Brigades & Regiments for the Soviets and Romanians, Battalions & Abteilungen for the Germans.

  As usual, Vuca Simulations has hit another long ball with their components. The map is a mounted one. It is roughly 21 3/4" X 34" in size. The color is of a winter landscape, which fits the campaign fine. The Turn Record Track and a place for both sides' cards are also on the map. It is a very fine-looking piece of work. The counters are what we have come to expect from Vuca Simulations. They are pre-rounded and come off the sprues easily. They are color coded with a band across the top for their different formations. Nato symbols are used for everything except the various armor units. You actually get a choice with the armor unit counters. There are two different styles to choose from. One style is the normal profile of the tank. The other is a little more artsy, with the tank looking like it is charging at you. They also included a good number of 'Breached Minefield' counters for use in their 'Theseus' game. All of the information is pretty easy to see on them. The Rulebook is glossy and in full color. The rules are really only ten pages long. Then come four and a half pages of 'Historical Notes'(these are very well written). Next up is one page of 'Designers Notes'. This is followed by a setup page and last by the Index. Even though they are only ten pages long, there are a good number of play examples in the rules. The game comes with four Players' Aids. The first thing to say about them is that they are of hard cardboard. These are not as thick as the map, but I was still pretty amazed that they were not just paper. Two of them are one-sided and have the German and Soviet setup and reinforcement information on them. Then there are two identical Player Aids for each Player. On one side, there is an extended Sequence of Play. The other side has The CRT and Terrain Effects Chart etc. Having them be on a hard piece of material is just another way that VS shows how much effort they put into the manufacture of their games. 

 Next, we have three decks of Cards. There is an Activation Deck for both the Soviets and the Germans. There is also a Combat Deck. The cards have all of the information and die rolls needed for the activation of the different formations. They are not artsy, just plain large instructions in English. Even the boxes you get with VS games are better than normal. They are very heavy duty and have an interesting matte finish on them. 

 This is the Sequence of Play Summary:

1. Admin Phase
a. ‘Schwerpunkt’ marker is placed 
  (after becoming available).
b. Reinforcements placement. 
c. Deal Formation Cards and Combat Cards 
  & place Cards in the STAVKA/OKH box 
d. In Turn 4 (and possibly in Turn 8): Reshuffle 
  and add Formation Cards & Combat Cards.
e. Calling out ‘Donnerschlag’.
f. ‘Schlachtenglück’-Marker goes back to the Axis.
2. Action Phase
  Resolve Activations alternatingly 
  with the German player always going first. 
  An Activation consists of the following four steps:
a. Play one Activation Card and activate Units
b. Check Supply of activated units only
c. Movement
d. Combat 
  If there are Activation Cards left in 
  the hand, return to step a.
  If there are none, advance to segment e.
3. Advance ‘Donnerschlag marker’
4. Adjust Turn Track Marker

You can see the profile compared to the art for the tank units

 Before we start into playing the game itself, we need to take a small course in German first.

Donnerschlag - Thunder Clap (Donner being the German equivalent to the Norse God Thor)

Schwerpunkt - Main Effort

Schlachtengluck - Fortune of War

Alarmgruppe-Einheiten - Alarm Group

Kraftfahrzeug-Haftpflichtversicherung - Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance

 Okay, you really do not need the last one. It is officially the longest word in German. Mark Twain wrote an essay called "The Awful German Language". He also wrote this "In German, a young lady [das Mädchen] has no sex, but a turnip [die Rübe] has." Enough said.

  So, the first thing that happens after setup will be the placement of the Schwerpunkt counter (when it becomes available by one of the Combat Cards). This game is very much about command and control of your units by their HQs. The Schwerpunkt counter allows all friendly units within four hexes to be activated. Other than that counter, all units need to be activated by the owning player's Activation Cards. These work muck like a Chit Pull System for activation. 

 The Schlachtengluck counter allows the owning player (it physically goes to the opposing player after use) to reroll a die or to discard a card and draw a new one. The counter returns to the Axis player at the beginning of every turn. 

 The Donnerschlag marker and use is a bit convoluted so I will use the designers' words from the Rulebook:

"With the code word “Donnerschlag”, the breakout of the 6th Army
begins. On any turn, the Axis player may call out “Operation
Donnerschlag!” in the corresponding segment of the turn and
secretly determine a Meeting Zone. Place the Donnerschlag
Marker on the “0” box of the Donnerschlag Advance Track.
In each corresponding segment, the Donnerschlag Marker is
moved forward one box.

There are five boxes on the Donnerschlag Advance Track. When
the Donnerschlag Marker reaches Box 4 on the track, the game
ends and Victory Conditions are checked. If currently on the "6.
Army Survival" side, the game ends when the marker reaches
Box 5 instead.

If the Axis cannot meet the victory conditions in the Victory
Check Segment, that means the 6th Army could not be reached.
The 6th Army then disintegrates and the Soviet player wins.
This usually means, from the moment “Donnerschlag!”' is
called out, that the Axis player must reach the chosen Meeting
Zone exactly four turns later in order to win the game (and
must be in Supply and in Command).

Special Case
The Axis player can extend the survival of the 6th Army by one
turn (and only one turn). To do so, he must successfully play
the “Air Fleet 4” event. (If “Donnerschlag!” is called in Turn 4
and the “Air Fleet 4” event is played in Turn 7, then —and only
then — does a Turn 8 occur. Conversely, if the Axis units are
progressing well and “Donnerschlag” is called before Turn 4,
there can be no Turn 8.)
 Assuming the German plays 'Luftflotte 4' and thus unlocks
Donnerschlag box 5 for turn 8, but then fulfills the Victory
Conditions already at the end of turn 7, the game would end
with a German victory.
 If ‘Donnerschlag’ is called out after turn 4, we did not explain
this rule well enough.
There are special rules for Turn 8:
The last great effort
There are special rules for Turn 8—No Activation Cards are dealt.
There are only five Activations for each side. These Activations
take place as follows:
Axis Player
 At each Activation, the player decides whether to activate an
HQ or the Schwerpunkt Marker.
Soviet Player
 At each Activation, the player decides whether to activate an
HQ, or a formation, or the color of an army.

Axis Victory
The Donnerschlag Marker must be in Box 4 of the Donnerschlag
Advance Track (either side) and at least one Axis unit must be
in Supply and in Command in the chosen Meeting Zone at the
end of the turn. (Note that if on its “6. Army Survival” side, the
marker can be in Box 5.)
Soviet Victory
If the Axis does not meet its victory conditions, the Soviet player

 To me the game hits the sweet spot in between a simulation and a game. It has more 'meat' to it than Vuca Simulations suggests in their writeup about the game. The game is based solely on if Operation Thunderclap would succeed in linking up with the German pocket at Stalingrad. The player does not have to worry about what to do when you get there (thankfully). So, you can try as hard as you like to meet the victory conditions without having to worry about trying to get back. The little extras that have been added to the game make it much more than a game. Only quick thinking, and not just luck, will help you playing either the defender or attacker.  

 One little twist to the game happens after the German player announces Donnerschlag. At that time, he must also choose which zone he is to meet up with the besieged in Stalingrad 6th Army. If you noticed, there were three zones at the top of the map marked A, B and C. On the map, there is also a track for these three different areas. The German player chooses which zone to strive for and then puts the three markers down (two are dummy counters). This rule helps to make the Soviet player not really sure where to place his units and which one to defend against.

 Once again Vuca Simulations has come through. The components are top notch and the rules and gameplay easy to follow. In their summary about the game, they said they strove to make it fun to play and were not going for a hardcore simulation. As far as the former, they hit the nail right on the head. As far as it not being a simulation that is a bit hard to judge. It is certainly not Axis and Allies, that is for sure. The game has only one map and a small number of counters. It is also playable in an evening or shorter. So, they have met all of the parameters they set out in the beginning. I can easily recommend this to anyone who is looking for a smaller game that can give the players a lot of enjoyment. Thank you Vuca Simulations for letting me review this fine game. Hopefully, it gets more press than it has gotten.

 If you get the chance, have a look at 'Nach Paris' from Vuca Simulations. It is about the 1914 campaign on the Western Front. Any gamer with even a passing interest in World War I will want this game. They have also released 'The Chase of the Bismarck: Operation Rheinubung - 1941' with Jack Greene as a co-designer.


Vuca Simulations:

Donnerschlag Escape From Stalingard: