Rattenkrieg: Assault on the Tracktor Factory is a solitaire wargame on the German attempts to clear the Dzerzhinsky Tracktor Factory of Soviet defenders during the 1942 attack on Stalingrad. Much of the city had fallen to the Germans but the Soviets continued to resist due to their ability to hold the eastern bank of the river along the edge of the city. The Soviets turned many key areas into fortress blocks and one of these was the tractor factory. The ruins of the city restricted German movement and aided the Soviet defenders…many of whom maneuvered through sewers and other underground passages, hence the name “Rattenkrieg” (The Rat’s War). Ironically, in January 1943, the Germans, who had become trapped inside Stalingrad, formed a northern pocket of resistance centered on the selfsame tracktor factory.
The game is a part of Turning Point Simulations’ Pocket Battle Games Series that utilize a postcard as a map with counters used in the game typically being printed along the outside edge of the card and that requires a little “arts and craft” time for players to cut them out. I was lucky enough to get a copy from TPS that had mounted counters that I could punch and clip to look neat and tidy and to keep me from destroying them and the board. The graphic presentation is actually very well done, as the game is both functional as well as aesthetically pleasing, with great colorful symbols being used for both sides, fantastic silhouettes for the different units and clearly legible numbers.
How Does the Game Play?
First off, this game is a simplified solitaire wargame that allows the player to experience one part of the famous Battle of Stalingrad….in under 7 minutes! You will not be blown away by the depth and realism of the design but that doesn’t mean it is not without merit. The game is very well done and feels satisfying to play, even though it is a dice fest with only a few counters.
First lets look at the setup for the game. The below picture shows the map and you will notice that there are arrows along the left edge of the map as well as various shield symbols colored both red and gray with numbers and stars on the shields. The map is an area movement map and units can move their printed movement rate, which is either 1 space for Infantry or 2 spaces for Armor, a Half-Track (who can carry a single Infantry with them) and the German Generals.
The Soviet units will be randomized and placed face down near the board. The player will then, without revealing the Soviet counter, place one counter in each red colored shield at the start of the game. These units are hidden amongst the rubble and ruins of the tracktor factory and the Germans must eliminate them in order to win. There will be 4 Soviet counters remaining which will be left on the side of the board until they are placed during the Soviet Infiltration Phase later.
The 10 German units will be placed between the four areas marked with a gray arrow on the left side of the board. These spaces can only contain up to 2 German counters along with a German General counter. This stacking limit is strictly enforced throughout the game. If a German General ever finds itself left alone in a Soviet occupied area, due to unit eliminations, it must immediately be relocated to an adjacent German controlled or vacant area.
In looking at the units below, you must pay attention to the printed stars on the Soviet counters and the Iron Crosses on the German counters. The number of these symbols represent their power and will be compared at the start of a battle to see which side will roll the most dice. As you can see, there are no Soviet counters that have multiple stars printed on them. But, there are several German units that have 2 Iron Crosses, including Armor and Heavy Infantry (with the “potato masher” grenades printed on them). German Generals will gain an Iron Cross symbol as they are promoted as a result of a victory in battle. The Soviets also gain power from the areas where they are located as you can see on the above map. On the shields in each area are printed stars that will be added to the stars on the units to determine the strength for the Dice Determination step of the Combat Phase. There are two areas with 3 stars, five areas with 2 stars and three areas with only 1 star. As you can see, it gets tougher for the Germans as they advance into the midst of the tracktor factory as the Soviets are using their surroundings as defenses against the greater German power.
As was mentioned above, you randomly assign Soviet counters to the red shield areas and setup the 10 German units on the left edge of the map. The remaining 4 Soviet counters form a pool from which units will be drawn during the Soviet Infiltration Phase that starts each round off. The Air Strike marker will also be placed in the 4 position which will provide the German player with an additional die for each step of this track to be used when they feel it is necessary.
Each round starts with the Soviet Infiltration Phase. The player will roll 2d6 and add those numbers together then finding that numbered shield on the board and randomly placing one of the remaining Soviet counters in that area. If they area is currently occupied by German units or another Soviet counter, there will be no additional units added to the board this round. This is key as it behooves the German player to move quickly to take over as many areas as possible each round to eliminate the possibility of a Soviet reinforcement unit appearing. As the game advances, Soviet units can appear in the rear of the German push, which will be annoying, as in order to win the game, all Soviet units must be eliminated from the board.
The next step in the game is the German Movement Phase. Each unit has a printed movement value and can move those number of spaces. It is important to note though that the Half-Track unit has a “2+” value which means it can carry 1 Infantry unit with it up to 2 spaces. When any German unit moves into an area with a Soviet counter, it must stop and the area becomes a “Contested Area”. German units that start their movement phase in a Contested Area can move from that area. This will be important to remember as the Germans lose units to lost battles or other unfortunate events, such as Ambush, as they will want to try and win the Dice Determination step of the Combat Phase each time so they can to assure they roll as many dice as possible in order to win their battles. This becomes one of the few consequential decisions in the design and must be well managed to ensure the Germans have the power to ultimately win the game by destroying all of the Soviet counters.
After all German movement is done, but prior to the Combat Phase, we will move to the Deadly Surprise Phase. In this phase, the player will reveal the Soviet counters in each Contested Area and carry out any surprise actions, which will include Ambush and Sniper. The Ambush Symbol, or the large capital “A”, means that the Soviets will get to reduce one German Armor or Infantry unit by flipping it over to its less powerful greenish side (the player chooses). If there are no units that have not been flipped over, this action will cause a German unit to be eliminated. This Ambush only happens once and will be ignored for that revealed counter for the rest of the game. Ambush only occurs when an A symbol unit is turned over for the first time in a Contested Area.
When the Sniper counter is turned over, the player must eliminate a German General counter in the area. The Sniper counter is then removed from the game. Losing that General means you will possibly lose one Iron Cross symbol if the General had been promoted and now will not win ties with the Soviets during the Combat Phase. Not a huge loss but the Generals are definitely nice for the Germans.
After the Deadly Surprise Phase concludes for each Contested Area, the player will enter the Combat Phase. The first step of the Combat Phase is the Dice Determination step. The player will simply count up the number of Iron Crosses and compare them to the number of stars in the Contested Area. If there are more Iron Crosses than stars, the player will roll 2d6 versus only 1d6 for the Soviets. If the stars outnumber the Iron Crosses, the Soviets will get to roll 2d6 versus only 1d6 for the Germans. If there is a tie for the number of Iron Crosses and stars, each side will roll 2d6.
Then comes the Air Strike Phase, where the German player can lower the marker on the Air Strike track in exchange for 1d6 additional to be rolled in the battle. This marker can only provide a maximum 1d6 in any single battle.
Hellish Combat then ensues as each side will roll their dice. The single highest die roll in the battle will be named as the winner or the most number of high dice. So, if the Germans are rolling 2d6 and get two 5s and the Soviets are rolling 3d6 and obtain one 5 a 4 and a 2, the German will win because he has one more highest die result than the Soviets. If the same number of highest dice are tied, the Soviets will win those ties, unless their is a German General present, then the Germans will win. Pretty simple and easy. The real choice for the player in this phase is how to use their limited Air Strikes. Using an Air Strike doesn’t guarantee a victory but will give you more dice to roll thereby increasing your chances of rolling higher than the Soviets.
While the Combat Phase is pretty simple and really has limited decision points for the player, the Bloody Aftermath part of the Combat Phase is where there are lots of choices. During a German victory in a battle, the player will eliminate the Soviet counter from play and if the Soviet wins the battle, their counter will stay, living on to fight for the rubble the next turn. In the case of a German victory where a General counter was present, that General counter will be promoted by flipping it over to its promoted side.
Either way, in the case of a German or Soviet victory, the German player will have to choose to reduce or flip one Infantry or Armor counter to it reduced side. If a unit has to be then flipped again, it will be eliminated. This is a difficult choice for the player as Infantry don’t lose power as they are reduced but Armor does lose one Iron Cross. So, it is important to try and keep Infantry with your Armor when you are going into battle. When all combat is resolved, the player moves then again to the next round starting with the Soviet Infiltration Phase.
Victory is achieved for the German player by eliminating all Soviet counters from the board. There can still be Soviet counters available in the pool but if there are ever none on the board at the end of the turn, the German player has secured victory. If there are ever more Soviet counters on the board than German, the game ends immediately in defeat for the German player.
Summary and Conclusion
The game is really very simple but it is quite fun and most importantly plays very quickly. I played the game 4 times the other day in about 30 minutes and won 3 of the 4 games. The game I lost went very poorly on dice rolls for the Germans. They lost each of their first 3 battles and quickly had fewer counters on the board than the Soviets after a few poorly timed Sniper reveals. I really enjoy the way combat resolves in this one. I also enjoy the variable elements that the Germans get access to in order to increase their odds of winning, including the Air Strikes and Generals. I also really enjoy the thematic element of the Soviet Infiltration rolls allowing Soviet units to pop up in already cleared areas causing trouble for the Germans.
There are problems with the game. Mainly it seems that it is too easy for the Germans to win. In my opinion, a good solitaire game has a 50/50 win chance. With Rattenkrieg, I feel the win chance is more like 75/25. I also noticed that with the Soviet Infiltration rolls, the most commonly rolled numbers of 6, 7 and 8, are located at the center of the board and typically by the 2nd round, the German presence there has eliminated the option of additional Soviet troops from coming onto the board. In the end, the game is a post card game that is simply meant to scratch an itch for a quick solitaire game.
How do you get your hands on this game? Well, you will have to buy a game from Turning Point Simulations and then at check out, will have the option of choosing a free game from one of four Pocket Battle Series games at the following link: https://www.turningpointsimulations.com/pbg.cfm
The choices are Rattenkrieg, Nothing So Well Lost (2-players, 1522 Ottoman siege of the fortress of Rhodes), Fateful Days (1-2 players, the Marne Campaign of 1914) and Operation Pedestal (2-players, 1942 convoy from Gibraltar to Malta during 1942).