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6Aug/200

Bolt Action – Campaign Stalingrad

The last Bolt Action supplement I've reviewed here was Korea and that was a spin-off, which covered for the first time a conflict outside of world war 2. So considering world war 2 books for Bolt Action, the latest one before that was Operation Overlord released in summer 2019, one more reason to see how Warlord Games covers one of the biggest battles of the second World War - Stalingrad.

Bolt Action - Campaign Stalingrad Bolt Action - Campaign Stalingrad

So far, the only campaign book covering Stalingrad, yet in a brief way, as Ostfront from the first edition of Bolt Action. Campaign Road to Berlin covers the epoch two years after the Battle of Stalingrad. But this battle and the fighting around it, had such an impact on the war in the east that they absolutely deserve a supplement of its own and Warlord Games spreads that on a very solid 176 pages. This is upper region for the length of Bolt Action supplement, and it stays with the regular price band of 20 GBP or 30 USD. And as often with the Bolt Action / Osprey books, we had an early cover (right) and a changed final cover of the supplement (left), moving from a Soviet soldier in winter gear to a sailor.

The supplement Campaign Stalingrad was written by Alexander Smith, and it is his first work for Bolt Action as a main author. Once again I was a bit surprised that they didn't involve Andy Chambers in this book, with him being the author of Ostfront and Armies of Soviet Union. Anyhow, you can find an interview with Alexander Smith on the Warlord Games podcast, where he talks about the development of this book.

And of course Warlord Games treats the direct customers of this book with an exclusive miniature. After the Russian traffic director for Road to Berlin, we now have the chance to get our hands on Vasily Zaitsev, who's covered as a legend of Bolt Action as well. If that name sounds familiar to you, his "story" was recreated in Enemy at the Gates, where Zaitsev was portrayed by Jude Law.

Bolt Action - Campaign Stalingrad

With Stalingrad being such an important turning point of the war, Warlord Games offered a large themed battle set, with terrain and miniatures, to recreate the conflict.  We had these for example for the Battle of Berlin or D-Day, and as often these have a "regular" (already quite generously packed) boxed set for 200 GBP and a collector's edition with even more content and some special add-ons for 300 GBP.

Bolt Action - Campaign Stalingrad Bolt Action - Campaign Stalingrad Bolt Action - Campaign Stalingrad

What is it about?
This book covers the time frame between August 12th 1942 and February 2nd 1943. Even after the failure of Operation Barbarossa, the Wehrmacht pushed further into the east, capturing vast territories in the Ukraine, Belarus and Baltics. With the front line stabilising in a line from Leningrad to Rostov, the high command decided that the summer campaign of 1942 would be directed at the southern parts of the Soviet Union, to destroy the industrial capacities of the greater Stalingrad area and to block the Volga river, to cut the supply lines from the Caucasus and Caspian Sea to Central Russia.

With the German army begin overconfident and underestimating the Soviet reserves, and the Soviets realising the importance of the region and the battle for it, ordered anyone who was capable to fight, to be sent there. Thus beginning the Battle of Stalingrad in early autumn of 1942 that should last for half a year, including fierce close-quarter combat within the city and brutal air raids. In November the Red Army launched Operation Uranus and overrun the flank that was held by Romanian and Hungarian armies, surrounding the 6th Army and cutting it off from direct supply lines. In February of 1943 the 6th Army surrendered, after attempts to supply it by air and break the encirclement from outside failed and after two long months of fighting, the troops were exhausted, without ammunition and food.

It was one of the bloodiest battles of history, with an estimated 2 million casualties. This defeat on the Eastern Front forced the German High Command to withdraw a considerable amount of forces from the western theatres of war, to replace their losses.

First Impression
22 Scenarios is probably one of the highest numbers I have come across so far in a supplement for Bolt Action. The huge amount of scenario pictures and maps, gives you a pretty good impression of what was going on and where it was. For me for example, I didn't realise how far east Stalingrad was. To be honest, I expected it to be around halfway between the Russian border and Moscow, not being that close to Kazakhstan. Overall well made, but the unfortunately typical errors, for example with German designations (I can only speak for those as a native speaker and can't check for any of these in Cyrillic / Russian) and a rather odd one with wrong dates on page 6 on the time table (it reads 1942 instead of 1943).

The scenarios are heavy on the city fights, so if you're already began with that kind of terrain for Fortress Budapest and/or Road of Berlin, you can just keep going and add a bit of more industrial ruins like manufacturing plants to your collection. As for new units, those are rather scarce in this book. That doesn't mean that you don't get any, they are just quite specialised, as the battle of Stalingrad is so characteristic for the World War two battles that a lot of the units and gear is already included in the main lists or armies book. Therefore the new units for the Soviets are for example sniper detachments and close quarter storm groups (Shturmovye Gruppy) and hastily assembled T-34 directly from the tractor factory. The Germans have a couple of lighter landing boats that you might have seen in Campaign Sea Lion and a few new infantry units, like the Alarm Unit or specially equipped Panzergrenadiere. Then there are the 369th Croatian Regiment Squad as part of the German list and the R-1 Tankette for the Romanians.

Then there are a couple of theatre selectors to fit the special scenarios. This means we have ill-equipped, battle-worn platoons that may have access to some wanted equipment, but the lack of gas, ammunition and food is taking its toll. I was quite happy when they kept the legends in a chapter of their own, but the Legends of Stalingrad are once again spread all over the book. But to be fair, with just three legends, which is not that bad. There are Olga Kovalyova, Vasily Zaitsev (the special miniature) and a German Master Sniper (the arguably fictional Major Erwin Königs).

Stalingrad comes with a lot of special rules and new options. Of course, you have the fuel and ammunition shortages covered, as are the dug-in and snow rules we know from other supplements. But beyond that, there are rules for supply drops (as the 6th army was supported via airlift) and extended rules for city fights, including its own fubar chart, rubble in the ruins, buildings with multiple floors and even sewers. And on top of that even the option for battlefield damage, where you can destroy terrain and create ruins and craters doing so. But the most interesting part is the Stalingrad campaign. It's not about the whole journey, but really focused on the battle for the city. Map based, with the city parted into 8 territories. Very flexible rules with variants for different sized groups, even featuring changing players. To break it down very easily, the Germans basically have to conquer Stalingrad, while the Russians have to survive as long as it takes to mobilize the counter offensive / start Operation Uranus.

Bolt Action - Campaign Stalingrad Bolt Action - Campaign Stalingrad Bolt Action - Campaign Stalingrad Bolt Action - Campaign Stalingrad

The 22 scenarios are set in chronological order from the approach of the 6th Army over the River Don onwards to the city of Stalingrad, the three scenarios 17 to 19 covering Operation Uranus and the final battle of the Kessel.

  • Scenario 1: The Approach to Stalingrad - Last Bridge over the River Don
  • Scenario 2: Crossing the Don - Dawn Crossing
  • Scenario 3: Dash to the Volga - Spartanovka
  • Scenario 4: Dash to the Volga - Do not retreat
  • Scenario 5: Fourth Army's Southern Thrust - Hill 154.2
  • Scenario 6: The Initial Assault - Rail Station No. 1
  • Scenario 7: The Initial Assault - Verdun Revisited
  • Scenario 8: Southern Stalingrad - Concrete Monolith
  • Scenario 9: Southern Stalingrad - Dragan's Las Stand
  • Scenario 10: Charnel House - Workers' Village
  • Scenario 11: Charnel House - Sniper Duel
  • Scenario 12: Stalemate in Southern Stalingrad - Pavlov's House
  • Scenario 13: The Factory District - Factory Assault
  • Scenario 14: The Factory District - Martenovskii Shop
  • Scenario 15: The Factory District -  Operation Hubertus
  • Scenario 16: The Factory District - Lyudnikov's Island
  • Scenario 17: Beginning of the End - God of War
  • Scenario 18: Beginning of the End - Collision Course
  • Scenario 19: Beginning of the End - Full Speed Ahead
  • Scenario 20: Der Kessel - Operation Wintergewitter
  • Scenario 21: Der Kessel - Operation Thunderclap
  • Scenario 22: Der Kessel - Operation Ring

How plays Stalingrad?
Stalingrad is obviously heavily focused on city fight scenarios. But these range from rat-fights to close-quarters / house to house combat, for example Pavlov's House. You could set those up, just with a lot of buildings and ruins, but that would be boring. Due to the industrial importance of the area, this is a great chance to get out a train set and some manufacturing plants to put on the table, to create some more variation on the table instead of simple ruins. As for trains, I highly recommend the Fleischmann Magic Train, if you can get them second hand.

Yet, not the whole book is about city fights, there are a few exceptions in the pre-lude of the overall campaign and the Kessel, with the scenarios 17 to 19 covering Operation Uranus and bringing the Romanians (Armies of Italy and the Axis) into the fight as well. The final battles of the Kessel aren't city fights anymore, but on the outskirts and more open areas. Due to the battles being Mid-war, they are quite interesting, as you already have improved gear but not yet the expensive tanks of late war. But as we're talking Stalingrad, the Germans being thousands of miles from the fatherland and the Russian industry on an edge, you get a lot of special rules for resupply and unreliable gear. This surely makes your battle plans less reliable.

What's next?
Two supplements that are already known to be released in 2020 (maybe postponed to early 2021 due to the current events) will be Campaign Mariana & Palau Islands (or Operation Forager), covering the US forces fighting against the Imperial Japanese in the Pacific theatre during late 1944. A topic that was only briefly covered with Empire in Flames in the first edition. And with D-Day: Anglo-Canadian Sector the in Operation Overlord promised expansion on the landing in the Normandy (at the beaches Sword, Juno and Gold) by Commonwealth forces will be covered in more detail. Yet, a third Operation Overlord book is listed for the US Sectors, to be released, which is a bit irritating as we had Utah and partially Omaha in the Overlord book and the others covered with the second volume.

Bolt Action - D-Day: Anglo-Canadian Sector Bolt Action - Campaign Mariana & Palau Islands Bolt Action - Campaign Mariana & Palau Islands

Conclusion
Some people were disappointed that this book didn't provide a vast amount of new units. But Stalingrad shaped the image of the eastern front and World War 2 so strongly that many of these impressions are so present, they naturally are already covered in the main rule book and the armies of books. You have regular troops and units from the early to mid-war era fighting, and "only" applying special conditions. And these special conditions are covered in this book in a very fulfilling way, not only describing the close quarter fighting of the city, but a lot that came with it.

The idea of the campaign is great, it really fits this supplement, along with taking out a major problem of league or campaign play that it tilts at some point and is either just going on for too long or removing the fun for the others. It's asymetric and open for players to join and leave, according to the time on their hand. Great addition to the rules. I can really see this being adapted into other conflicts as well, or even different rule sets. Especially in the what-if scenarios that would be interesting, as you could play that campaign over Berlin or as part of a prolonged Operation Sea Lion over London (waiting for American or Commonwealth troops for support).

Stalingrad is quite flexible in game sizes, as you can play your small rat-fight 500 pts or larger battles that aren't open field clashes. The projects that you can start around this are flexible as well, because Germans or Russians with rubble on their bases can be used from anywhere between Stalingrad and Berlin. Especially if you for a weathered, worn down look on the units, carrying captured equipment and gear into battle.

To the get into the mood for Stalingrad, there are several books and movies. As those battles didn't have American participation (beside Lend & Lease), they're not that covered by Hollywood. Yet I would recommend the 1993 movie Stalingrad, compared to a rather glorified Enemy at the Gates or some of the more recent Russian movies (2013's Stalingrad), which are a bit too heavy on the propaganda for my taste. Besides that, you'll find a list of books that were resources while writing the campaign supplement and will be interesting for those who want to know more about the conflict.

Bolt Action is a brand of Warlord Games.

The reviewed product item was provided by the manufacturer.

Posted by Dennis B.

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