On 4 June, 1944, Allied forces, having finally broken out of the Anzio beachhead in late May, entered Rome to the cheers of war-weary throngs of the Eternal City’s residents. Two days later, the amphibious phase of Operation Overlord began with Allied landings on the beaches of France in Normandy. For Hitler, however, the worst news of the new Spring was still to come.
On 23 June, 1944, the Red Army — reportedly supported by an incredible 400 cannon or heavy mortars per mile of front — smashed into and quickly broke through the thinly-manned positions of Army Group Center in northern Poland. The Soviet 1944 Summer offensive, code-named "Operation Bagration," had begun with Russian troops surging forward along a 350-mile front. In the weeks that followed, the Russian Army overran twenty-five German divisions while, in the process, tearing a 250-mile gap in Army Group Center’s front line. By the time Soviet offensive had lost momentum in August after outrunning its logistical support, the Red Army had driven across Poland and into East Prussia, and Army Group North had been cut off by a Russian advance to the Baltic.
DESTRUCTION OF ARMY GROUP CENTER (DAGC) is a corps/division level simulation of the Russian Summer Offensive of 1944. The horrific losses suffered by the Wehrmacht during this Soviet offensive guaranteed that the Germans would not be able to achieve even a temporary stalemate on the Eastern Front in the months to come. The game focuses on the crucial first twenty days of the Soviet offensive during which more than half of the divisions in Army Group Center were either destroyed or encircled.
DAGC is played in game turns, and each game turn is further divided into a Russian and a German player turn. The Russian player is always the first to act. Each player turn follows the standard KURSK Game System sequence: initial movement phase; combat phase; and mechanized movement phase. Terrain effects are relatively simple: forest, enemy fortified hexes, and swamp hexes all impede movement. Terrain affects combat by doubling the combat strength of a defending unit (a fortification hex, for example), reducing the attacker's die roll by one (a forest or swamp hex), or by halving the attacker (river hex-sides). Zones of control (ZOCs) are semi-active, but not sticky: combat units may move directly from one enemy ZOC to another, so long as they have sufficient movement points to do so, and combat is voluntary. Stacking, like most of the titles in this series of SPI World War II games, is limited to three units per hex.
Combat is resolved using the comparatively "bloodless" combat results table (CRT) that is typical of KURSK-based games. Defender Elims do not appear until relatively high odds are attained; instead, most combat die rolls, except at very high odds, will tend to produce either retreat or exchange results. For this reason, attackers will usually maneuver to surround defending units in order to achieve favorable attrition. In addition, German mechanized divisions, when eliminated, are replaced by kampfgruppen (battle groups). Also, unlike many of the other SPI East Front games, DAGC does not make use of air units.
The supply rules for the two sides differ significantly. The Germans need only trace an unobstructed supply line overland to a rail line that can, itself, trace an unobstructed path to the west edge of the map. The Soviets, on the other hand, must trace a supply line overland to one of three mobile Russian Supply Terminals that are, themselves, on a rail line that extends, unobstructed by either enemy units or their ZOCs, off of the east edge of the map. Supply effects on combat and movement for both armies are the same: supplied units move and fight at full strength; unsupplied units are halved in movement (fractions rounded down), and also in combat (fractions retained).
The winner of DAGC is determined on the basis of victory points. Not surprisingly, each player accrues victory points by destroying enemy combat units, and mechanized, kampfgruppen, and Soviet mobile Rail Heads all count more for victory determination than do infantry units. Interestingly, geographical objectives are not counted for victory points in DAGC.
Besides the Historical “German Nightmare” Scenario, DESTRUCTION OF ARMY GROUP CENTER also offers three optional scenarios each based on shorter and increasingly more powerful German defensive lines. Included with these hypothetical defense lines is a rough version of the line actually recommended to Hitler by the OKH: the Riga-Lwow-Dniester defense line.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
DESTRUCTION OF ARMY GROUP CENTER presents a very interesting and, for the German player, a very challenging situation, particularly in the Historical Scenario. The Wehrmacht begins the historical game outnumbered in every combat arm, and dispersed along a wide front that pushes deep into Russian territory. In fact the Germans occupy an exposed salient that seems to beg to be encircled and destroyed. But the German Army is not necessarily doomed to defeat even when forced to deal with this nightmare situation. If the Wehrmacht can prevent Soviet breakthroughs on the flanks of the salient during the first few game turns, the German player may be able to salvage the situation and a portion of his army. And if the Russian player is overconfident or careless, the Wehrmacht may even be able to inflict an astonishing defeat on its powerful tormentor. Still, the German player, unless playing one of the optional scenarios, would do well to prepare for a nerve- racking couple of turns at the start of the game. No matter how carefully he deploys his troops along the line, that aspect of the early game is always going to be present.