Stalingrad: Inferno on the Volga is a block wargame that recreates one of the most brutal battles of World War II being that of the siege of the City of Stalingrad located on the Volga River by elements of the 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army. The game is designed as a solitaire game where the player controls the attacking Germans and the game’s AI controls the defending Soviets.
In Action Point 1 we looked at the basics of the two types of Movement and the two types of Attack. In Action Point 2, we examined the Combat Sequence and its various steps, including the dreaded Rubble Roll, and showed a few examples. In this Action Point, we will take a look at the map, and the process by which it was created, and take a look at some of the other chrome including the great card play system.
During the Kickstarter campaign a great deal of time was spent on the details of the map and the background behind how it was made. Now most people probably didn’t really care about the detail, and I am not sure that I did either at the time, until I read about how they accomplished the research and then the creation process of the map.
Inferno’s map is generated from highly detailed air recon photographs and depicts both the city and outskirts in extreme detail, as it existed on August 23, 1942, when the battle began. The map scope includes the main city and the its suburbs from Lateschanka to Kuspornoe, along 30 km of the Volga River, and extends to the west as far as Gumrak Airfield, Orlovka and Alexandrovka. The map scale is 1:33000, with hexes that represent 1.1 kilometer along each side.
The artists started with actual Luftwaffe recon photos, taken of the city and surrounding area, just before the battle began. With this type of detail and a tie to a picture of the time, I can’t imagine a more realistic map than the one that comes with this game.
Knowing that black and white photos from 1942 could only show so much the maps needed to be enhanced and highlighted with color. During World War II, staff officers used magnifying glasses and their experience to interpret what the photos could tell them about the battlefield. VentoNuovo used artists, computers, and meticulous attention to detail to connect, colorize, and enhance the maps, so that they would tell a detailed story of the battle. The designer Emmanuele Santandrea has said about the map “It’s the most authentic, precise map of Stalingrad ever presented. Some even say that ‘It’s beautiful.'”
Once the map received its deluxe treatment it has transformed into a very beautiful and detailed canvas upon which to play out the battle. As you can see below, over the enhanced photos of the city have been placed hexes, with different highlights showing the different types of terrain and identifying spawn hexes from which the Soviet troops appear to attack the Germans. Also appearing on the map are the boxes, charts and other administrative aids used to play the game.
The final map in its full glory shows the breadth of the conflict along the banks of the Volga River. I actually appreciated the detail provided on the map as it truly added to my enjoyment of the play experience.
The Kickstarter campaign offered three different versions of the map; Game Map, Naked Map and Collector’s Edition Map. The game map is used to play the game, the Naked Map shows the same area as the Game Map but all the hexes, boxes and charts have been removed. The Collector’s Edition Map depicts a smaller part of the area including the City of Stalingrad and its suburbs but not the surrounding countryside and outskirts.
As you saw in my previous posts, there are a set of Support Cards that are used for various purposes in the game. These cards are very well done, I love the pictures used and the graphical layout, and they are quite useful as well. There are two types of cards including Leader Cards and Support Cards. I will go over the uses of each of the types in this section.
The Soviet and German decks have both Leader and Support Cards. When resolving a Soviet Card, keep in mind to resolve the entire effect before proceeding to the German Card. When a Card requires dice to be rolled, each hit is immediately applied and the effected blocks are reduced so the number of dice they roll will be immediately applied. There is no maximum hand size. Played Leader Cards are placed face-up on their player’s side of the board and have an ongoing effect on the game. I have found that I have to keep the cards in front of my face in easy view at all times or I tend to forget their effect.
German Leader Cards
Once drawn, a German Leader Card is immediately put in play, and the effect is permanent. Multiple Leader Cards may be in play at once.
Paulus: The Germans now double the number of German Cards drawn, both when calling for Reinforcements and when conquering a Spawn Hex. This card is so very good as cards are fairly scarce in the game. You only obtain cards at the start of the game and when a Soviet spawn hex is conquered. The more cards you can draw the more different opportunities you have.
Hoth: The Germans gain the ability to use the Combined Force Bonus and Blitz Movement. The Combined Force Bonus and Blitz Movement were discussed at length in Action Point 1 so I won’t go into further detail here other than to say they are very important to advance up the board as quickly as possible before the Soviet AI can develop a formidable defense.
Von Richthofen: The Germans now always roll double dice for airstrike Cards which include the Heinkel 111 and Stuka. The Rubble Modifier of these Cards (+2 and +3) must be doubled as well (to +4 and +6). These are very powerful cards as you will now be rolling 10 dice for the Stuka (normally only 5) and 12 dice for the Heinkel (normally 6 dice). But with this great power comes an equally bad negative as Rubble Rolls will be more successful when these cards are used. It really is a two edged sward though as when you enter the late game and the Soviets have built up 3-4 units per hex it can be very important to have these airstrike Cards to soften up the defenders so you can finish them off.
Linden: The German player is now allowed to play more than one Pioneer Card during a German Deliberate Attack, cumulatively adding each Card’s Rubble Modifier; no other
German Cards can be played with the Pioneer Cards. The other bonus is that the German player is also now able to play the 672nd Pioneer Card which cannot be played unless Linden is in play.
OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres): Replace German Victory Conditions with the following. To achieve Victory, the German player must complete at least one of the following by at the end of a turn:
A. All Soviet Units destroyed from the map OR;
B. All 19 hexes from #1 to #19 are German
This change is victory conditions is really harsh as it really doubles your work while normally you win when the 6 spawn points are controlled now high command wants blood and total destruction of the city and the Red Army.
The game can mercifully also last longer though as you will need more time to do the total removed of all units or capture of all the hexes mentioned. Normally, when the Soviet deck is empty the game is over. But when the OKH Card has been drawn and played, the German player can play an additional turn for each of the five “R” marked Units he has removed from the board and placed on the German Reinforcements Track. Each “R” Unit Removed after the Soviet deck is empty allows an additional turn.
I always hold my breath when I draw cards as I don’t want to see this one come out but when it does it just makes the game that much more challenging. Come to think of it, I have drawn the OKH Card twice and failed miserably both times….but I am sure it can be done!
German Support Cards
German Support Cards represent various special units on the battlefield, including artillery support, airstrikes, snipers and pioneer units. These cards have very good abilities and should be used wisely to provide opportunity to defeat the Soviets in a tough hex who are protected by rubble or fortifications.
The Germans may play one Support Card during a German Deliberate Attack (not a Hasty Attack or while defending). All effects are resolved immediately as mentioned above including hits and Strength Reduction) and the Card is discarded. Each type of card is limited in the deck and I have put the number of cards contained in the deck in parentheses after the card title.
Heinkel 111 (x4): The most powerful airstrike card in the game as it gives you 6 dice which hit on a 4, 5 or 6 but add a +3 modifier to the Rubble Roll.
Stuka (x4): A very nice airstrike card that gives you 5 dice which hit on a 4, 5 or 6 and only adds a +2 modifier to the Rubble Roll. Depending on the situation, I actually prefer the Stukas when used in an Urban Hex.
Also included in the game are two very cool metal miniatures, representing a Heinkel 111 and a Stuka, than can be deployed in the hex under airstrike for no other purposes than to add cool factor.
Howitzer (x4): Artillery support that gives 6 dice which hit on a roll of 4, 5 or 6 but add a +2 modifier to the Rubble Roll.
Pioneer (x4): 5 dice which hit on a roll of 4, 5 or 6 but add only a +1 modifier to the Rubble Roll.
Sniper (x3): No dice needed as you simply reduce the strongest Soviet Infantry Unit by one Step, ignoring Rubble which normally takes two hits to reduce one step, with ties about what Unit is the strongest chosen by the German player.
Pak (x2): No Dice needed as you will simply reduce the strongest Soviet Tank Unit by one step, ignoring Rubble, with ties about what Unit is the strongest chosen by the German player.
As you can see, having these cards makes combat much more manageable and provides some really nice benefits with only slight disadvantages (those Rubble Roll modifiers make me sweat!).
Soviet Leader Cards
There are some slight differences with Soviet Leader Cards and how they are played. Once drawn, a Soviet Leader Card is simply added to the stack of cards until they are randomly chosen and played during a Combat. When a Soviet Leader Card is
played (this happens only during a combat), the Leader Card is immediately put in play, and its effect is immediate and permanent. Multiple Leader Cards may be in play at once and all of their benefits are active.
Chuikov: The Soviets now always perform Opportunity Fire when defending and Soviet Hasty Attacks are now always Deliberate Attacks.
Zaytsev: When a Soviet Sniper Card is played, count that card as being played twice this round but they can effect two different targets and are resolved separately. This can be very bad for the Germans as they will lose at least two steps worth of units, possibly losing two dice. Similar to German Snipers, there is no roll required.
Khrushchev: This is the best Soviet Leader Card by far and really makes things difficult for the Germans when played. Each Soviet Unit now receives a hit bonus (+1 to hit) in Combat, including Opportunity Fire. This effect is not applied to Soviet Support Cards. Additionally, each 1 rolled by a Soviet Unit – including Opportunity Fire – but not by Soviet Cards, counts as a hit against the revealed Soviet Units, and is resolved immediately. I do like that there is a negative for this Leader though and I can tell you that it is very satisfying when Soviet units snuggled up in Rubble hit themselves as the Rubble rule of requiring two hits to reduce one step doesn’t apply for friendly fire!
Soviet Support Cards
A Soviet Support Card randomly drawn from the Soviet hand must be played in every combat (both attacking and defending), unless the Soviet hand is empty. All effects are resolved immediately (including hits and Strength Reduction) and the Card is discarded. Soviet Support Cards do not require a die roll, except Tommy Gunner and Volga River Flotilla.
As was the case with the German Support Cards, each type of card is limited in the deck and I have put the number of cards contained in the deck in parentheses after the card title.
Tommy Gunner (x2): This cards provides two dice to be rolled which will hit on a 5 or 6.
Volga River Flotilla (x5): When this card is played, you will roll three dice. If the Soviet hex being attacked is a coastal hex (hex #3 to #19), those three dice represent Gunboat support fire which will hit German Units on a 5 or 6. If the Soviet hex being attacked is not one of the above mentioned hexes, then deploy a Marine Unit at random Strength in the hex number indicated by the sum of the three dice which is referred to as that Unit’s Landing Hex, but only if the hex is not occupied by a German Unit (it may be German controlled and empty though).
If the Landing Hex is Soviet controlled and fully stacked, or if no Marine Unit is available at the time, you will then draw another Card and add it to the Soviet hand. If the
Landing Hex has enemy Units, then the Card has no effect. This is not a good thing as remember that the game ends when the Soviet deck runs dry.
AA (x4): Cancel the effect of a German airstrike Card (including the Rubble Modifier), if played, and immediately place a Rubble Marker in the Hex indicated on the Card. This can be very frustrating but feels very thematic.
Sniper (x5): Reduce the strongest German Infantry Unit by one Step (Motorized and Panzer Grenadiers included), ignoring Rubble, with ties chosen about what Unit is the strongest by the German player.
Anti-Tank (x2): Reduce the strongest German Panzer/Panzer Grenadier Unit by one Step, ignoring Rubble, with ties chosen by the German player.
Infiltration (x4): Deploy a random Infantry Unit into the hex where the battle is occurring. If the hex is already fully stacked, or no Infantry Unit is available, then draw another Card and add it to the Soviet hand. Remember my commentary above about a Unit not being available. That Soviet deck is your timer!
T – 34 Dug in (x3): Deploy a random Tank Unit into the hex where the battle is occurring.
If the hex is already fully stacked, or no Tank Unit is available, then draw another Card, and add it to the Soviet hand.
Overall, I really enjoy the way the cards are used in the design and actually feel that the Soviet Deck being used as the timer is genius. The only real problem I have with the cards is that they are very hard for the German player to acquire as they are only obtained when calling for Reinforcements or when conquering a Spawn Hex. The Cards do a wonderful job of integrating and creating the thematic feel of the game and aid in creating an immersive experience which is very important for me when playing a solitaire wargame.
One final element of chrome in the design are some pieces used to assist in identifying certain hexes. These are the docks and the famous tracktor factory. Below you can see that there are flat wooden pieces that are to be located in the spawn hexes where Infantry Units spawn. These represent docks where troops were ferried across the Volga River to land on the besieged city side. One dock is placed in each hex where an Infantry NATO symbol appears to signify the spawn point. In the picture below, you will notice two such pieces shown in hex 13 where there are two NATO symbols for Infantry.
Below you can see the famous tracktor factory piece that is located in hex 7 where Tank Units spawn. This little plastic piece has no real game effect other than reminding you of the hexes purposes. It also hearkens back to an old classic wargame Axis & Allies with the Industrial Complexes. I like its addition and love putting in hex 7.
In Action Point 4, we will explain how the Germans call for reinforcements and show you the very simple yet interesting table for determining what units are available.
We also published an interview with the designer Emanuele Santandrea and it gives a lot of great insight into the design: https://theplayersaid.com/2017/12/14/interview-with-emanuele-santandrea-designer-of-stalingrad-inferno-on-the-volga-from-ventonuovo-games/