Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Fight at Ulianovo: ENOUGH ALREADY!

 At what time does a blog post/topic become Spam?  I'll quietly let you be the judge of that and continue on with the latest developments at Ulianovo in 1943 during Operation Kutuzov!  

Start here if you're just tuning in.  The rest of you must suffer along with this topic as I develop the "perfect" scenario, originally based on the Skirmish Campaigns "Red Recon" scenario from the "Red Guards at Kursk" book.  I'm happy to report after game #7 (!) that we're getting close.

Saturday morning I was up with the chickens to try the whole thing out with Battlegroup: Kursk.  Surprisingly, a company-sized infantry-only force with heavy weapons (mortars and MGs) was still only about 350 points with a morale rating of 28/29.  I would play the game on and off throughout the day and it delivered all the flying-lead, mortar exploding action that Battlegroup offers.  

Did you ever wonder what a full Soviet Rifle Company looks like in Battlegroup: Kursk?  Now you know!

I did not thoroughly document the Battlegroup game because I was only playing to see how it would go and if the outcome would be any different than the 6 Flames of War games I had played previously. 

 Bottom Line - it wasn't - *however* the game was an intense nail biter that went all the way to the end.  The Soviets and the Germans were both 1 point away from their breakpoints and the Soviets drew a "4" ending the game in the Germans' favor.  The casualties were horrendous - at least 5 to 1 for every Soviet to German knocked out.  Sov's started with  a 3 x platoon company and the Germans a 2 x platoon company.  Both sides had mortars and heavy weapons.

Defense Line scenario - Germans in the first trench - pinned from the preliminary barrage!

Many turns later - the Soviets have gained the first trenchline and the Germans are reinforcing the second!

The defining characteristic of the Battlegroup game that makes it significantly different from FoW?  TIME!  Roughly the same number of infantry stands on the table equated to about 2 x more hours of game time.  You'll have that when you're shooting with individual figures and rolling for 1. observation, 2. to-hit, 3. save, and 4. morale!  Nothing against Battlegroup - it was a ton of fun, but it wasn't the convention game experience I was looking for yet.

Anyways later in the day I reset (Again!) and tried out ANOTHER formula for the Soviets.  I was using "expensive" troops IE Scouts and the Storm Group, which are the best quality units the Soviets have for the 1942-43 time period.  This time I tried a FULL Battalion of "Hero Rifle Companies" and a "Hero SMG" Company.  4 total companies of troops, with battalion command and mortars.  

Changing tactics again - STAVKA demanded a coordinated attack.  Note there are 3 companies abreast across the front line trace.

I made the mission a bit closer to the "No Retreat" mission in the FOW Rulebook (more on that later) and pushed the German positions back a bit further.  Once again, German platoons are quite large - 9 teams each, with 2 x HMG sections each.  THey also have mortars on the table.  A load of firepower.  

No no no, Comrade.  This time the assault will go differently!

THe Soviet plan is to overwhelm the German trenches from each side and flank the position.  The second German platoon is in reserve per the mission rules.  I like that as it gives the Russians a fighting chance before those trenches get filled in with people.

View from the German side.  Note the second trench line is not filled in.  German CP is in the far building on the right

Soviet attack down the middle is a sacrifice to soak up the Germans' fire.

Cool picture


The Soviet attack is making good progress.  The Germans are firing furiously into them, with the HMGs on the flanks, the riflemen are taking care of the Soviets in the center.  With 4 total companies on the table, there is no shortage of targets!

Soviet wave attacks moving out

Far left Soviet company - Commissar blown up my a mortar strike!

They're pinned now

The Germans did not receive their reinforcements until turn 3, which means they wouldn't engage until turn 4 or 5.  This helped the Soviets get as far as they did.  Flooding both flanks, along with a frontal attack was the turn call, as it turns out.  Both sides have an even 35 points, by the way.

Note the Soviets on the left swinging around to capture the white house.  The objectives are capture every house, or destroy the German command post.

Note the Soviet company in the middle of the field being slowly whittled down.  The horde advancing on the right, and left are still going strong.  Also the German second platoon is advancing in the lower left

Soviet right most company makes it as far as the white house.  Their luck is going to run out soon.

The reinforcing Germans are moving towards the imminent Soviet breakthrough at the white house.  It's important to mention that This is the furthest advance a Soviet company has been able to make from any of the 7 games I've played so far.

The shooting goes the Germans' way at the white house, and a brutal counter attack eventually wipes out the advancing Russians.  The white house is secure again.

On the Soviet left however the joint Rifle and SMG companies are continuing to advance even amidst being pinned then unpinning.  The fight is now heating up on the left!

Defensive Fire will force the rifles back and the German first platoon will eventually maneuver to knock out this Soviet company

The rifle company reaches the German CP with enough stands to launch an assault, which is beaten back by defensive fire twice!  The Germans annihilate the company over 2 more turns however it's been just enough time for the submachine gun company to slip past them and assault the house!  The flame throwers here have been very handy.  THe presence of the mortar platoon and battalion headquarters are enough to keep the battalion "in good spirits" and the assault goes in again!  Flamers knock out one of the German HQs stands!

Success!  The Soviets capture the HQs and destroy the Radio!  They're 2-5 for this series of games!


Well we're getting closer.  The 4 x company option of troops was much better for the Soviets than the expensive "Storm Group" which cant afford to take casualties.  The mortars were great, too, because they enabled the pinning of the first German platoon in the trenches, which had multiple mortar strikes against it go off because of the "REPEAT" rule.  This allowed the Soviet center company in the open to advance as far as it did.  Following the NO RETREAT mission in the rules, the Soviets also got a single minefield which was fun positioning the Red ARmy troopers around it so as not to blow themselves up. 

The German reinforcing platoon coming up later also was a nice touch and I think, rather than roll for it, just have it come in automatically on turn 3 giving the Russians a bit more of a fighting chance (not much, mind you, ALOT had to come together for those SMG'ers to destroy the HQs)

Adding an additional SMG company might throw the game off a bit too much.  The other option is to *actually* handicap the Germans at 7 x stand platoons with only a single HMG, or limit the entire force to 2 x HMGs and have them both start on the table.  This gives the Soviets a 4 x point advantage.

THis has been an incredibly fun and satisfying exercise, and I think I'm getting alot closer to a playable game where both sides could, reasonably win, even with the trenches.  I will also likely move the German defenses up a bit further where they were for the last 6 games.

We're looking at one or 2 more games of Ulianovo before I'm willing to call it done, but it's been a blast so far. 

A few more tweaks and I should be ready to publish this and playtest it with my group if they're willing to play. 

Also I'm much looking forward to trying the new Perry Bro's rules "Valour & Fortitude" (it kills me to write "valor" like that :) but after Norm's outstanding review, I'm not sure how I can afford NOT to play them.



  1. Very interesting Steve and importantly, it sounds you have come out the other side of your ‘game flunk’ that you previously commented upon.

    Comparing the Battlegroup to the FoW, the playing time difference is very noticeable and on that basis alone, a choice of preferred rules might be made, but did you feel there were other differences between the rules that might offer a preference. I wondered whether the line fell between a richer game from Battlegroup, but with the tedium of more process (dice) or whether that additional process was of itself a benefit to enjoyment.

    The playing of the scenario to destruction has probably brought you an intimacy to the subject that through normal ‘short term’ play would not be appreciated.

    Hope your early contact with Valour, Valour, Valour & Fortitude :-) is positive enough to get the 1809 juices flowing. I am going to give them another spin, but this time have an extra brigade and extra terrain such as a village to take, just to create more moving parts for what is essentially a convention system.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Norm. There is nothing like a challenge to get me out of my funk and back gaming again. My wrists are sore from rolling so many dice :)

      You bring up a great point - that is - the vast number differences between Battlegroup and Flames of War. Your comment on the "richer" game from BG is very close to what I'm thinking - which is namely that BG produces a much different narrative than FoW - essentially one that is more granular and detailed.
      FoW probably caters more to those with a level of megalomania with sweeping movements of large units (full platoons and/or companies) and BG caters more to a person who reads and very much enjoys battle accounts of men, machines, and small unit actions.

      With BG, there is a delightful element of friction, the whole game thinking that things aren't completely in your control. Whereas in FoW, much of that is built into the experience of the turn, abstracting much of what is going on in the squads and fireteams to single rolls of (sometimes many) dice.

      To me it has to do with what I'm in the mood for. Sometimes I want the intense experience of the drama that BG provides - with those observation rolls, chit pulls, and "Beyond the Call of Duty" rolls at the most inopportune time (that was the entire reason the Soviets pulled the final chit in Game 6 - the Germans rolled a BTCOD on their morale test, activated, then returned fire at the Soviets who fired at them. The resulting Soviet chit pull lost them the game!).

      OTOH, FOW provides that sweeping sense of battle with large formations that enables me to get all my toys on the table. I like that, and I like being able to finish a game that big within 2 hours or 3 hours. Can you do that with BG too?

      Absolutely, but it's a 6 to 7 hour investment in time that I just don't have anymore, so I'm content to play smaller games of BG from time to time.

      Stay tuned on the "Valour & Fortitude" game :)

    2. Also @Norm and @Darren - wasn't it Bernard Shaw that said that we are two peoples separated by a common language? :)

    3. I will add that I enlisted some extra help with my English :)

    4. Bernard Shaw - Yes, my favourite is “Youth is wasted on the young”. :-) as good a game as BG gives, I think I would find 6 - 7 hours tedious and would run out of player steam, that being the case FoW seems perfect for the big game and BG for the smaller, more intimate affair, so perhaps they complement each other rather than compete.

    5. That's the conclusion I've come to, Norm. They both have their place on my shelf! Different tools for different jobs.

  2. Superb work sir. Great looking battle and commentary. Interesting how BG takes that bit longer than FoW - I managed to get a copy of FoW so am having a look. Now, I reckon I can get away without bunches of cards and such - but i now see the content behind your comments.
    Great game again - looks suitably epic (and 'valour' is of course correct ;) )

    1. Thanks Darren - this whole exercise has been a blast. FOW is a well thought out game that delivers on its promises. While I'm not big on the tournament scene, I'm absolutely convinced it can work for historical games and it allows me to get all my toys on the table. TBH you can get alot of the stats from google searches for the vehicles.
      I feel when you sit back and analyze the entire system, it's a very well thought out and slick game. I'll confess (because I know you'll appreciate) that the Tank to Tank engagement system in FOW feels like a close cousin to Charles Grant's system in BATTLE (just no range protractor!) and that's one of the reasons I enjoy playing it.

  3. I once played a game with 28mm WWII figures using rules that sound very similar to Battlegroup...each individual figure had to spot his target, aim, fire, see if he hit then work out what damage as inflicted on the target, etc....then you moved on to the second figure! With units of ten or twelve figures, and four or six of us playing, this took FOREVER! We never played it again! That level of detail is fine for a skirmish between two players on a small playing area, but I can't imagine the tedium of having to go through that laborious process for thirty or fifty figures per side! For a convention demo/participation game with the scenario you have chosen, you need fast and furious to keep people interested. I think you are on the right track with numbers army with any sense attacks with equal numbers...I think I heard the Ukranians outnumbered the Russians eight to one in their recent advances in the North East.....

    1. 3:1 is what the textbooks say and we are seeing that play out here on my table! Another interesting observation is, in both games where the Sov's won, the Germans still had a completely intact fighting force (ie not broken -not even close to being broken). They won by destroying the German CP.

    2. Yes, 3:1 is definitely the recommended recipe for success! Perhaps, when using points to create a balanced game, trenches should be worth the same as a platoon of tanks...??

    3. A great point and I wonder what they'd be worth. Theyre certainly a powerful addition to the game. Units inside trenches keep their "gone to ground" status and "concealed" status so are always at a plus 2 to hit. That means our hit on 4+ Landsers are hit on 6's while in the trench! Mortars or artillery are a must as they ignore those to hit mods. Maybe I should not be counting the artillery support for Soviet points calculations.

  4. Seven trials of a scenario is above and beyond! Glad you got your gaming mojo back.

    1. Those are just the solo trials! The scenario has to go survive contact with my gaming buddies!

  5. This has been to watch coming together, and who doesn't like a big game of Battlegroup! Nice to see you learning to spell properly with all the vowels too :-)

    1. Cheers Paul! Was hoping you'd come up on the net sometime - This whole idea to use Skirmish Campaigns as scenario fodder came from you!

    2. Also I'm working on my vowel usage ;)