Field Marshall Ernst Busch

On 23 June, 1944, eight Soviet Fronts attacked the over-stretched troops of Hitler’s Wehrmacht across a vast 350-mile front that stretched from the Baltic Sea in the north, to the Polish city of Lwow in the south. This Soviet offensive, code-named "Operation Bagration," was intended to drive Field Marshal Ernst Busch’s Army Group Center out of Poland and back towards East Prussia, and to envelop and trap Army Group North in the Baltic States. It succeeded beyond its planners’ wildest expectations. The offensive tore a 250-mile gap in the German front through which Red Army forces poured. In the space of six weeks, the bulk of Army Group Center’s combat forces (approximately 300,000 men) had either been killed, wounded, or captured, Army Group North had been pinned with its back against the Baltic Sea by the advance of Bagramyan’s First Baltic Front, and Soviet troops from the Second and Third White Russian Fronts — after a stunning 450-mile advance — had entered German territory in East Prussia for the first time in the war.

Game Description

General Ivan Bagramyan with his Chief of Staff

DESTRUCTION OF ARMY GROUP CENTER (DAGC) is an operational-level (division/corps) simulation of the Soviet offensive that virtually annihilated an entire German Army Group and that threw the Wehrmacht back to the borders of East Prussia. The game uses a modified version of the familiar Kursk Game System to model the fluid nature of mechanized warfare during this period on the Eastern Front. The accordion-fold game rules are well-organized and clearly written; in addition, rules errata and corrections are minimal. Probably because DAGC was originally a 'magazine' insert game, there are no separate play aides: map, rules booklet, and 200 counters are all that there are. Besides the “German Nightmare” Historical Scenario which covers the original Soviet offensive, the game also offers a set of three optional scenarios which present several historically plausible alternatives to the original German front line positions. These (what if?) game variations permit the German player to defend using one of three shorter, stronger fortified defensive lines.

Supply, given the distances involved, and the highly mobile nature of the campaign, is a central factor in DAGC. A unit can only be in one of two supply states: supplied (full attack strength, full defense strength, and full movement); unsupplied (half attack strength, half defense strength, and half movement); when halving values due to supply effects, fractions are retained for combat strength, but dropped for movement. Unlike some games, supply lines may be traced through enemy zones of control (ZOCs), if these hexes are occupied by friendly units. Despite these similarities, the supply rules for the two opposing armies do vary somewhat. All units are supplied if they can trace a supply line of ten hexes or less to any operational supply source; supply sources for the two armies, however, are different. The Soviet commander may ONLY draw supply from one of three Russian mobile railhead units. To act as an active supply source, these units, in turn, must occupy an unobstructed rail line that leads to the East edge of the game map. The German player’s supply situation is somewhat simpler: Axis units are supplied if they can trace a ten hex path unobstructed by enemy units or their ZOCs to an unblocked rail line that leads to the western map edge.

Because it encompasses the bulk of Army Group Center’s defensive zone, as well as part of the Baltic States, the 22” x 28” two-color game map covers a playing area that extends approximately 510 miles from east to west and 340 miles from north to south. Terrain effects on movement are negligible. Neither army, as might be expected, may enter all-sea hexes. River hex-sides do not impede movement but do halve the attack strength of any units assaulting across a river. All fortified hexes double the defense strength of occupying friendly units, and require an enemy unit to expend two additional movement points to enter. Forest and swamp hexes cost armor two movement points to enter, but only one movement point for all other units; these hexes also require the attacker to subtract one from the die roll when attacking. Unlike some other games, in DAGC, all terrain effects on combat are cumulative: a defending unit could be doubled for being in a fortified hex, while the attacker could be halved once for attacking across a river hex-side, and halved again for being out of supply. All combat units except Russian Railhead units and German kampfgruppen exert a zone of control. All ZOCs affect the movement of enemy units: to enter an enemy ZOC costs two additional movement points; to exit costs one; and to move directly from one enemy ZOC to another costs three movement points. One final note on movement: German reinforcements, on the game turn of entry only, may move up to thirty hexes along a friendly rail line, but may not, at any point in their movement, enter an enemy ZOC.

The Combat Results Table (CRT) is the 'bloodless' type characteristic of virtually all of the SPI games that utilize the KURSK Game System. Even relatively high-odds combat results are weighted in favor of attacker and defender retreats (Ar and Dr), and exchanges (Ex). For example, odds of 6 to1 or above are required before the attacker has any prospect of rolling a defender eliminated (De) result. Even at 9 to 1 odds, the attacker still risks a one-third chance of a ½ exchange (½ Ex). Because of this distribution of combat results, 'toe-to-toe' slugging matches between the opposing armies tend to produce lots of retreats and exchanges; the real key, if a player wants to establish offensive momentum and favorable attrition, is the creation of fluid combat situations in which 'surrounded' attacks against unsupplied enemy units become possible. This is particularly true in this game because the presence of a friendly unit does not negate the effects of an enemy ZOC in retreats!

The 200 game counters, although a little drab, are clearly printed and easy to read. Russian units are printed on a dull, rust-colored backing; all German counters are colored field-grey. Axis counters typically represent divisions, brigades, and kampfgrüppen; individual Soviet units are corps.

To determine who wins, players compare their respective tallies of victory points after the conclusion of the final (tenth turn) of the game. Interestingly, despite the enormous territorial gains made by the Red Army during this offensive, geographical objectives are of little, if any, importance to either player. Victory points are awarded only for the destruction of enemy units, or for any gaps that might appear, for whatever reason, in the rules-mandated Soviet Continuous Line.

Sitting Down to Play

DESTRUCTION OF ARMY GROUP CENTER offers four different scenarios, and although it is tempting to go straight to the more evenly-balanced, hypothetical battlefield situations, I strongly recommend that players looking at the game for the first time resist the urge to skip the June 23rd Historical Scenario. While the German situation, at the start of the game is, to say the least, challenging, it none-the-less presents an interesting portrait of the historical battle. It is also a perfect opportunity for the German player to hone his defensive skills. If he can hold the Russians to a marginal victory in this scenario, he should do very well in the other scenarios in which the Germans are stronger and better positioned. In terms of the game itself, the Historical Scenario begins with the opening attacks of the Soviet Summer Offensive and covers the first, most decisive, twenty days of the Russian summer campaign. This scenario, like all the others, is ten game turns long. It may not be the easiest position for the German player to start from, but beginning with this scenario is probably the best way for players to quickly develop an understanding of the mechanics of the game system, and of the probable flow and tempo of play.

The Soviets are the first to move and attack in all of the scenarios. However, because of the supply rules — especially when playing the Historical Scenario — the most important decision that the Russian player will probably make in the entire game will be his selection of starting hexes for his three Railhead counters. With careful placement, these units can supply virtually all of the Soviet fortified line on the first turn. However, the Red Army’s total dependence on these units for its combat supply means that, no matter where the Russian player initially positions the three Railheads, some sector of the front — either the far North, or the far South, or both — will quickly slip outside of Soviet supply range, once these units begin their one hex per turn advance.

Marshall Konstantin Rokossovski

Another early-game problem confronting the Russians is that of terrain. The best ground for a rapid advance is in the center, where the broad expanse of the Polish Plain offers the retreating Germans few defensive advantages, particularly once the Dvina and Berezina Rivers have been forced. Unfortunately for the Soviet player, the most obvious route for a Russian flanking drive to cut off any Germans falling back from their eastern-most fortified positions is through, or to the east of, the town of Pinsk. This promising line of advance for (historically, at least) the First White Russian Front, however, forces Rokossovski’s troops to fight their way through a belt of marshland fifty to seventy miles deep before they can, at last, gain open ground.

The German role during the first game turn is pretty much that of a "punching bag." No matter how clever the German player’s defensive arrangements might be, Army Group Center is going to take a pounding during the opening Russian attacks. This also means that there is not a single 'optimal' defense. Instead, a lot will depend on the German commander’s overall strategic plan: does he plan to engage and defeat some part of the Red Army (my usual approach); or does he plan a rapid withdrawal west, away from the advancing Russian tanks and infantry? The only thing the Axis commander can really do at this point in the game is hope that the Soviet player rolls lots of exchanges and retreats and few, if any, defender eliminateds. There is one thing, however, that the German Army’s opening set-up can control: the depth of the initial Soviet breakthrough. By positioning his panzer and panzer grenadier divisions in his fortified line, the German player can free up fourteen infantry units to use as backstops for the most vulnerable sectors of his front. These infantry reserves will be the only units available to contain the enemy mechanized units through the Russian part of turn two, because all of the German formations in the fortified line will be immobilized by the “Slow Response” rule and unable to move until the second turn.

The first two turns of the Historical Scenario really set the stage for the coming battles, and Axis chances will usually hinge on how well the Germans can conduct an aggressive mobile defense while, at the same time, blocking any Soviet drive through the Pripet marshes. Most units assigned to garrison the various fortified cities will probably have to be written off. Besides, the German player has more important problems to deal with; such as, for example, orchestrating his army's safe withdrawal. The Axis retreat can begin as soon as the Germans regain mobility on turn two, or it may start later, or it may never take place at all if the Wehrmacht can manage to contain and defeat the Soviet armored breakthroughs (unlikely, but it can happen). Once the retreat starts, the German Army should attempt a staged withdrawal to positions behind the Dvina in the far north, and back first to the Dnieper and then the Berezina in the center. As soon as the Russian infantry gets across the fortified line in strength, however, a gradual but steady retreat to the west and into the forests and swamps that cover the northern and southern flanks of the expanse of open ground in the center is probably in order. One critical factor in the later stages of the game will be whether the Axis have been able to delay the advance of one or more of the Russian Railhead units. The longer these Soviet supply heads can be held back, the easier the German’s task will be in the later game turns. During the early stages of the Russian offensive, the Wehrmacht should look for an opportunity to counterattack the advancing Soviet armor. Once the Red Army's infantry draws close, however, it is usually time to fall back. Executed properly, the Soviet offensive will often, in the later game turns, take on the form of the dreaded Russian “steamroller,” with the Red Army advancing shoulder-to-shoulder towards the west: a lethal combination of infantry and armor that is both ready and able to smash anything that gets in its path.

The middle game will usually prove to be decisive when it comes to resolving the eventual outcome of the match. As the Germans fall back, their front will gradually contract and straighten; hopefully freeing up a few units to form a small reserve counterattacking force. Of course, the first target for German counterattacks will always be the Soviet Railhead units, but unless the Russian player is either very unlucky or very careless, the opportunity to attack these important units will almost never arise. And while the opportunity to attack Railhead counters may occur very infrequently, because of the more relaxed ZOC rules, it may be possible for the panzers to dash forward and surround some of the advancing Soviet armor before supporting Russian infantry can come up to their aid. However, it is important for the Axis commander to not get overly aggressive. The last thing the German player needs is for his panzers to get trapped with their backs to a forest or swamp. In the later stages of the game, the two most important things for the German to watch for are the maximum reach of Soviet supply, and the position of any supplied enemy infantry units. If the Russian infantry can make contact with the Wehrmacht in the open, it will probably, as was the case historically, spell the end for Army Group Center.

Notes on Tactics

The KURSK Game System is clean, intuitively logical, and easy to learn. However, every one of the titles that SPI published using this system possessed a few idiosyncrasies that subtly affected each game’s play. DAGC, like its cousins, is no exception. So what follows are a few tips, based on many hours spent playing this title, on using the nuances of this particular game system to help new players become more comfortable with a few of the tactical niceties of DESTRUCTION OF ARMY GROUP CENTER.

Supply Status

First, in spite of the fact that units may never be isolated in DAGC, supply status is still significant. Attention to supply lines is important for both players, but it is particularly so for the Russian. After his initial placement of the three Russian Railhead units, the Soviet player will have to plot his future moves very carefully so as to maintain pressure on the Germans across as broad a front as possible. An 'unsupplied' unit is halved in attack, defense, and movement. Because of the cumulative nature of the combat effects rules, even the most powerful units, when attacking unsupplied and across a river, can seem utterly inconsequential. So if the Red Army is to push forward and inflict serious damage to Army Group Center, it must be kept in supply. Axis units, because of their unrestricted choice of supply paths, have a much easier time of it than their Soviet counterparts. All in all, it is probably safe to say that coping with supply problems is the single biggest challenge that the Soviet player faces in this game.

Zones of Control

The rules for zones of control in DAGC can be a little tricky. Care must be exercised by both players when it comes to advances and retreats. Although the presence of a friendly unit in a hex will permit a supply line to pass through an enemy ZOC, retreats are still not permitted into enemy ZOCs, whether a friendly unit occupies the flight hex or not. In addition, zone of control entry costs are lower in this game than in some others in the KURSK series. This means that both German and Soviet infantry can slip through enemy ZOCs in most terrain; it also means that German armor and mechanized units can stand off two hexes from an advancing Russian line and still dash forward to surround individual units even if the enemy unit's flanks are covered by friendly ZOCs. Most important from the standpoint of the German player, however, is the fact that Soviet mechanized units with a movement factor of six can slip into the gaps between the Axis units manning the German fortified line. Only two factors limit the potential damage to the German defense from this Soviet capability: the limited number of Russian mechanized units (only seven tank and two mechanized corps have this capability), and the fact that much of the German fortified line is backed by forest or swamp hexes which negate all mechanized ZOCs.

Soviet Continuous Line

The requirement for the Red Army to maintain a continuous line from the north to south edge of the game map can occasionally create real scoring opportunities for the Axis player, if the Soviet player is not very careful with the extreme ends of his line. A chance to counterpunch the Red Army may arise for the Germans, for example, if the Russian Railhead unit in the far south continues on a path to Vilna, rather than turning west and moving through Pinsk. If the Vilna route is followed, the southwestern end of the Russian line will soon slip out of supply; when that happens, Field Marshal Busch, who should have been surreptitiously gathering reserves in this general area, can suddenly take the offensive. If one or two panzer units can also be railed into the battle area when they enter the game as reinforcements, the Soviets will have a very difficult time restoring their line as long as they remain unsupplied. One alternative for the Russian player, at least in the Historical Scenario, is for the Red Army to abandon the southern portion of the Soviet fortified line altogether. Instead, the Soviets can form a shorter, straighter line from the Russian fortified zone to the southern map edge, anchoring on one of the several eastern branches of the Pripet river that runs north-south through the Marshes. This frees up additional Soviet combat power, but it also releases additional Axis units, as well, by shortening the German line in the south. My biggest problem with this strategy, however, is that it is ahistorical: Marshal Stalin was no more disposed to voluntarily surrender territory than was Hitler, so such an approach really smacks of pure "gamesmanship."

Optional German Reinforcements

In all of the scenarios including the Historical Scenario, I always take the optional German reinforcements. The risk of doubled point losses for their elimination is counterbalanced by their usefulness for a variety of different tasks. First, they can be used to cover a quiet section of the front where Soviet attacks are unlikely, thereby freeing up other units to move into more dangerous parts of the battle area. Second, they can be railed into a hitherto quiet Russian sector to join with other local German units in a surprise offensive against a weak and unsupplied section of the Soviet front. This 'surprise attack' capability is probably my favorite use for these units. The shock value, alone, of this Axis move is often enough to unbalance the Russian player's plans, and a real German breakthrough can produce incredible results.

German POWs, Russia, 1944


DESTRUCTION OF ARMY GROUP CENTER, despite its age and dreary graphics, offers an excellent, manageable, and intuitively satisfying simulation of one of the most fascinating, if one-sided, military contests in history. The game suggests, however, that it need not have been so. For some reason, DAGC has never enjoyed the popularity of most of its other East Front brethren; and for the life of me, I don’t know why. Maybe it's just me, but as a challenging game and as an interesting historical simulation, I personally think that the game succeeds admirably. Moreover, DESTRUCTION OF ARMY GROUP CENTER demonstrates, at least in simulation terms, that the annihilation of Busch’s Army Group was not foreordained, and that the Russians might well have had a much tougher time in June of 1944 had Hitler authorized even a limited German retrograde movement to a more sensible defensive line. No game is perfect, but in so far as a simple simulation is able, this title helps bring to life the built-in drama of one of the most decisive campaigns in World War II, and the innumerable “what if’s?” that surround it. Moreover, the inclusion of several additional scenarios means that a player can experiment for many, many hours with this simulation and never exhaust the possibilities offered by the game. Finally, it is detailed enough to be interesting to the amateur historian who is interested in the war on the Eastern Front, and exciting enough — with its contrast between the strength of a prepared defense versus the sheer power of the legendary Russian "steamroller" — to be enjoyable to the casual gamer who is just looking for an interesting and exciting challenge.


  • I cannot get over the level of detail and the number of insights you are pouring into these articles! Thank you - and keep it coming!!!!

  • I agree Russ

    And for some reason DAGC got the bum rap by so many of not the best in the Kursk system which I found I like it better then Kursk. You really have to be on your toes playing the German's

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