HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDAs the Russian winter snows began to give way to the rains and mud of spring, Hitler and the OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres) made their final preparations for the 1942 campaign season. Despite the tenacious Ninth Army defense around Rzhev, the German High Command was disinclined to renew the drive against the now heavily-fortified Russian Capital. Nor was an assault against the formidable defenses of Leningrad considered a worthwhile option. Instead, Hitler had decided that once the ground was suitable for mechanized operations, the Wehrmacht would make its major offensive effort against the Soviet armies deployed between the Dnepr and the Don. By attacking in the South, the Führer was confident that not only would the German offensive achieve strategic surprise, but it would also, if successful, deal a crippling, if not fatal blow to the Soviet Union’s ability to continue the war.
The Axis plan was an ambitious one. As soon as the weather permitted, Hitler’s goal was to launch his refitted and reinforced southern armies deep into Russian territory to seize the Caucasus oil fields and to cut the southern Russian lifeline that was the Persian Lend-Lease Route. Both Hitler and the German High Command were convinced that this southern strategy would avoid the most powerful Soviet forces massed in front of Army Group Center, and would force the Russians to fight instead for the Don Basin and for Rostov.
Thus, in the Spring of 1942, the Wehrmacht, along with its Axis Allies, advanced confidently in search of the decisive mobile battles with the Red Army that might finally clinch an Axis victory in this, the second year of the war. However, despite numerous battlefield successes, the great encirclements and massive pockets of Russian prisoners and materiel that had characterized the first summer’s campaign eluded the Germans. The Soviet forces in the South fought tenaciously, but skillfully withdrew before they could be enveloped and destroyed. Gradually, it became apparent that the Red Army of 1942 was a very different and much improved force from that which the Wehrmacht had smashed in 1941. As the year ended, the Germans and their Axis Allies would learn, in the bombed-out rubble of a city on the banks of the Volga, just how different.
DRIVE ON STALINGRAD is an operational simulation, at the regiment/division level, of the decisive battles between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army that occurred in southern Russia from spring through winter of 1942. This campaign, despite its early German successes, would be the turning point in the War in the East.
DRIVE ON STALINGRAD uses the popular PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN player turn sequence with some interesting innovations. The typical game turn begins with the Axis player rolling on the Hitler Directive Table to see what, if any restrictions will be placed on his actions by Berlin in the coming turn. The German player is always the first player, and the player turn sequence proceeds as follows: initial movement phase; combat phase; mechanized/cavalry movement phase; disruption removal phase; and air interdiction phase. The Soviet player then repeats the same set of operations and the game turn marker is advanced one space on the turn record track.
Experienced players who have tried PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN will recognize most of the game mechanics present in DRIVE ON STALINGRAD: untried Soviet units, German step reduction, the German divisional integrity combat bonus, overruns, and headquarters-based supply (for the Russians) are all familiar. However, because of the scope and duration of the Stalingrad campaign, a number of additional features have been added to the original game system. Among other things, the game now contains additional rules on rail movement, Soviet strategic movement, Axis (truck) supply chains, air supply, tactical air units (points) for both the Germans and the Russians, and operational restrictions on both armies in the region of the Don River. Both players (not just the Soviet commander) in DRIVE ON STALINGRAD also have to contend with untried units. The German player must cope with the untried infantry of his Axis Allies; the Russian, as in PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN, will still find a major part of his force to be untried rifle divisions. Therefore, the nagging possibility of weak or zero strength units appearing unexpectedly in awkward locations will be a factor in the planning of both the Russian and the German player.
DRIVE ON STALINGRAD offers only the 25 turn Historical Scenario. Nonetheless, players will find quite a bit of variation from one game to the next, if for no other reason than because of the unpredictability of combat outcomes due to the large number of untried units on the map at any given time. In addition, the Hitler Directive Rule insures that each game is different and challenging. This rule injects a realistic element into DRIVE ON STALINGRAD that players don’t have to contend with in most simulations: the operational interference of political leaders far removed from the realities of the front. Unless the Axis player does extremely well in the early going, Hitler will begin to meddle more and more (to ill effect) in Army Group South’s operations.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
When DRIVE ON STALINGRAD was first published, those gamers who flocked to buy the new title quickly realized that the game suffered from severe play balance problems. Dramatic advances by the Wehrmacht into southern Russia simply failed to materialize. The uncooperative Russians didn’t retreat; it turned out that they didn’t have to. Needless-to-say, SPI and Brad Hessel caught a lot of flak from a disappointed and indignant gaming public, and SPI quickly began the effort to fix the design. After several tries at post-publication errata, the introduction of some balancing modifiers and a number of other adjustments (changes in German stacking and supply rules, to name but a few), DRIVE ON STALINGRAD was finally transformed into the simulation everyone had hoped for from the beginning. While still not perfect, the final game gives players a real contest, with abundant opportunities for both sides to attack and defend. The German Offensive against Southern Russia in 1942, was a pivotal moment in the War in the East; so it is good that the game that was designed to model that historical situation finally became both interesting and enjoyable to play.
- Time Scale: 1 week per game turn
- Map Scale: unstated
- Unit Size: regiment/division
- Unit Types: army headquarters, infantry/rifle/guards rifle/NKVD rifle, Jaeger, mountain infantry, cavalry/guards cavalry, panzer/tank, panzer grenadier/mechanized/guards mechanized/NKVD mechanized, truck, air corps/air army, and information markers
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: above average
- Solitaire Suitability: average
- Average Playing Time: 4–6 + hours
- Two 22” x 32” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Terrain Key incorporated)
- 600 back-printed ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Set of Rules (with Historical Orders of Battle incorporated)
- One 11” x 23” Game Turn Record/Reinforcement Track
- One 11” x 12” back-printed, combined Combat Results Table, Terrain Effects Chart, Hitler Directive Table, Directive Contents Index, City Victory Point Values Chart, and Designer’s Notes
- One 8½” x 11” Errata Sheet (19 May 1978)
- One small six-sided Die
- One 3¾” x 8½” SPI Customer Complaint Card
- One SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic game cover with Title Sheet