KISS. Keep it simple, stupid. For pewter pushers think Paul Koch’s 1983 On to Richmond and for counter critters, think SPI’s 1971 classic Napoleon at Waterloo. The mantra behind these games is the raison d’etre for YoboWargames, a spare time only, one-man labor of love bringing back simple, introductory boardgaming translated into electrons for not only the PC, but also MAC, iOS and Android.
Lance Craner is the maestro for this effort and over the weekend I got to take his latest effort for a spin. It’s called Battle for Korsun and here are my thoughts.
This is Sparta!
Well maybe not Sparta, but pretty Spartan as computer wargames go. Battle for Korsun looks at the January thru February 1944 World War II debacle where the Soviet 1st and 2nd Ukrainian Fronts surrounded and destroyed two German corps. The game is solid enough, light on resources but also short on options. Seriously, running this game requires only hardware a notch above an abacus. This means a PC running Win 7 or later, a 1.5 GH processor, two GB of RAM, 250 BG of hard drive space as well as “anything within the last five years” for a video card. Looking at this and the fact that it’s made to run on Android, whatever you have, it will run this game.
Game options, or the lack thereof, really hammer home the type of game Battle for Korsun is. There is no adjustable difficulty level. You can play by Email, one on one via hotseat or as a human against the AI, but as the Germans only. You can’t play as the Soviets against the Germans and there is only one scenario to boot. This is the entire battle, and while one might think this kills replay value, such is not the case. Like the old S&T game Destruction of Army Group Center, this game puts the German player in a near hopeless situation, having to retreat like Hell in order to form a shorter, more cohesive defensive line, all the while praying reinforcements arrive prior to all the T-34’s on the planet trampling you. You’ll probably have to play more than a few games to win, as the AI does seem aggressive and very smart.
Software tweaks are also very few and cosmetic. The hex map has animated snowflakes and semi-transparent clouds drifting hither and yon during appropriate turns. You can turn those off and you can do likewise with the background music. The map itself will not zoom, but simply has two views, close up and the entire map which is slightly pixelated. Scrolling is smooth, however, and I do like the map art an awful lot. Instead of standard hex graphics, the Battle for Korsun map resembles a Google Maps-like bird’s eye view, a 45-degree angle looking down. What you see are lifelike evergreen forests with branches covered in snow, cities have apartment complexes and factories while smaller villages have a very rustic look with snow covered thatch roofs. Roads, swamps and rivers are similar, and all of this is slapped on a very white-sky blue map resembling powdered snow. For me, at least, it really conveys the bleakness and desperation of not only the landscape, but also the military situation. On the other hand, Battle for Korsun does allow you to save games. Thus, if you want to pack it up and then continue another day, you can load the game you previously played from where ever you left off.
Bottom line is that the game runs without nary a hitch on my PC, smooth as silk and very fast. My guess is that MAC, iOS and Android adherents will see similar results.
Panzerblitz, Holy Mother Russia Style
In the human vs AI game, the Soviets always move first, the 2d Ukrainian Front in the East launching on Turn 1 and the 1st Ukrainian Front in the West likewise on Turn 2. Each turn represents one day of conflict and the units engaged generally represent battalions and regiments for the Wehrmacht and SS, or brigades and divisions for the Red Army. The units are displayed as boardgame counters with rounded corners in Feldgrau for the Germans and medium brown for the Russians. The counters contain tank silhouettes for mechanized units, standard NATO symbology for other formations, with numbers representing traditional attack strength, defense strength and movement. There are no artillery, transport or air units in the game.
Play is alternating with one side finishing all his map operations before relinquishing the turn to his opponent. A player simply clicks on a unit or stack of units he wants to use. When he does so, the map will display all the hexes the forces can move to by edging them in gold. The player clicks on a destination hex, and digital Sturmgeschutze counters begin to rumble forward. If, at the end of movement this same unit or stack finds itself adjacent to an enemy unit or stack, it may attack it. Said player clicks on the enemy defender and red markings appear to indicate it is under assault. Click on the preferred attacking unit/stack and the computer does the rest. It calculates victory or defeat and reduces the numbers on the counters to account for casualties. If losers retreat, the computer moves them. If a player-controlled force gains an Advance after Combat result, the AI will once again highlight in gold those hexes winning units may advance to and allow them to do so. The human player now executes this same procedure with any or all of his formations, and when finished, the turn advances. Typical terrain modifications apply for combat and movement, while the computer controls which turns make issues even worse due to snow or mud.
That’s really all there is to playing this game, which continues to the end when victory is assessed in terms of Victory Points, one per each 10 enemy strength points eliminated. Game over, more than likely with Joe Stalin grinning broadly. The Soviet AI is really hyper-aggressive, and this impressed me. It certainly does a good job of displaying the “breakthrough, exploit, flanks be damned” tactical mentality of the Red Army, which admittedly was ultimately the overall winner.
Now some of you might be thinking that there must be something missing here. There is, and that’s the point. Its likely this game will invariably be compared to another hex based PC game on the subject, the 2003 Matrix-SSG award winning game Korsun Pocket. Just looking at the map screen of the two offerings further amplifies the “less is better” approach taken by Battle for Korsun. The Korsun Pocket map screen looks cluttered because of all the information boxes surrounding it. These boxes display a variety of data about individual units while many icons allow the player to check up on things like supply routes or allocate air strikes or pick up and transport units.
In Battle for Korsun you have the map, period. That’s it. Yes, you have the units (and these can be hidden), but almost nothing else. There are no air strikes to allocate because there are no air units in the game. There are no supply routes to trace because there is no supply or any other logistics in the game. Korsun Pocket’s 42-page user manual devotes three plus pages to supply and reinforcements, to include topics such as Supply Sources, the use of Trucks, Combat Efficiency and how using overlays for both Hex Supply and Truck Supply via the game’s control panel. Battle for Korsun completely excludes such frivolities, a good thing since its user manual is barely 10 pages long, each far less than full.
Purists will likely cringe, but something to consider is that the developer of Battle for Korsun indicates you can finish a game in an evening. Well, he is wrong as I managed to knock out two games instead, admittedly hauled off to Moscow as a POW in both, but hey. When your other choice is to “enjoy” yet another (shudder) romantic comedy with the spouse or indulge in one turn an hour with Korsun Pocket, this game looks pretty damn good.
Victory, Defeat, Pontification
Yet from a purely personal perspective, this game is too basic for me, so I would likely not buy it. And that is the very thing that makes Battle for Korsun such a top-notch product. Sometimes I think that the Matrix’s and John Tiller’s of the world assume that since they make serious, historically legitimate wargames, all of their buyers are at a similar level of gameplay sophistication. But even the doughtiest of computer Grognards had to start somewhere and introductory games for that phase of the hobby do seem to be few and far between.
There really isn’t a computer equivalent of SPIs Napoleon at Waterloo for the most part, and this is where YoboWargames comes in. It is on the way to creating another, needed niche in what is already a niche hobby, recognizing the need for a game that can introduce new recruits into the ranks without forcing them to play the army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel and supply from the outset. It’s a type of game that’s easy to learn, simple to play and provides good competitive entertainment for an evening, and at $15.99 US on Steam, it won’t break the bank.
I think Herr Craner may be on to something here, so I eagerly await his next effort.