Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ukraine '44 game wrapped up


Over the last couple of months, Kevin over at the Zhodani Commando blog and I have had a game of MMP's Ukraine '44 on the go. We played using the VASSAL engine and the Ukraine '44 module (which Kevin performed a bit of magic on to make more user-friendly), taking turns recording our respective moves in a VASSAL logfile and then sending them to the other fellow to roll dice, take casualties, etc. It's a brilliant way to play over distance, and the way the turns are broken up means that you don't need too large a chunk of time to do your moves. The most time-consuming thing is working out how you want to approach the board situation.

The game is based on Hube's pocket, in which the surrounded German 1st Panzer Army managed to break out of the encirclement and rejoin their comrades. I deliberately didn't read up on the historical action because I wanted to work out things for myself, so apologies for going light on that aspect!

One interesting thing about the game is that all unit strengths are hidden and strength is only revealed during combat. Consequently, there is a fair bit of guesswork going on early in the game as one gets a feel for where the enemy has concentrated his strength.

The objective for the German player is to break out of the pocket or, failing that, to prevent the Soviets from taking three victory cities while also destroying more Soviet strength points than he loses himself.

The Germans have a number of advantages, including that they get better movement rates than the Soviets, and that their mechanised units get to move again after combat, allowing these to attack from an exposed position and then retreat back to the relative safety of the main lines. They also have force multipliers in the form of two units of tiger tanks which can be attached to any armoured unit and give a very useful 1-3 modifier to the combat die roll on both attack and defence. The Germans also have 'combat superiority', meaning that should they convincingly destroy an enemy formation in any attack, the German force involved is able to ignore the combat attrition that it would normally have suffered.

The Soviets can win by preventing a breakout and by killing off German strength points, with any German strength points out of supply at the end of the game also counting as eliminated. The Russian player can also claim an auto victory if at any time he controls three of the game's four victory cities.

In their favour the Soviets have three things: the number of units, the strength of their tank divisions, and the +2 artillery combat modifier that applies if they elect to do their attacks before they do any movement. But most of the Soviet infantry units are relatively weak in defence, and are therefore susceptible to being monstered by determined German attacks, provided that the German attacks the right units (which, given hidden unit strengths, is not always certain!).

Each side must therefore play quite differently.

Anyway, I took the Germans, Kevin took the Soviets, and we were at it.

The action

This is how things started off after Kevin's first move.

Opening moves
(note that my units' strengths can be seen because the module is showing the game from my perspective)

You can see that Soviet armour (red units) has already seized the key road junctions between the German forces and safety to the west.

Over the next few turns Kevin attempted to complete the encirclement, squeeze the Germans back towards the river, and reduce the German garrison in the victory city of Ternopol in the North.

Turn 3

The Germans tried to kill as many front-line Soviet units as possible, first by giving the armoured units a bloody nose and then, once they were cautious and wary, by directing attacks against the weaker infantry units. Meanwhile, the Soviets attacked a second victory city in the north and threatened a third in the south.

Turn 5

It was only now that I saw Kevin's plan - suck up losses elsewhere, and aim to take the victory cities for the auto win. I did not have enough troops to do much about this; I had not seriously considered this strategy on his part. The cunning blighter had me!

Turn 6

By now the troops in the pocket were relying on supply from the air and were operating at reduced effectiveness. When combined with the advance against my victory cities, the situation looked hopeless. I was ready to call the game at this point, but Kevin encouraged me to continue, and he was right - I had misread the reinforcement entry hexes, and with a bit of luck a counterattack was launched using said reinforcements, keeping the Soviet advance units isolated and out of supply and enabling the recapture of the second of the northern victory cities

Turn 7
With Berezheny recaptured but Chernovtzy in the south about to fall, all depended on whether we could hold Berezheny long enough for the next round of German reinforcements to arrive. In the centre, 1st Panzer Army was on the verge of breaking out, but we needed to hold in the north for two more turns to save the day.


But it was not to be. Although almost at the limits of their strength in the north the Soviets retook Berezheny, and with Chernovtzy in the south falling in the same turn, Kevin had the three victory cities he needed to triumph. A mighty success - well done sir!


The game was, for me, a lot of fun, even though I badly misread Soviet intentions. From the German player's perspective, the actions needed to try to weaken the encircling cordon were great fun to play out, but I don't think Kevin enjoyed the Soviet infantry units being so weak! Nevertheless, despite the desperate efforts of 1st Panzer Army, clever planning and nerves of Red Steel saw Kevin through to his thoroughly deserved win.

I would certainly play this again, but my German strategy needs a bit more work, I think!

Aside from being a strong player, Kevin was an excellent sport and a lot of fun to play against. VASSAL is a great tool, and if any readers like boardgames but lack for local players, I would encourage you to look into it.


  1. A well written AAR and spot on. I enjoyed the read and even though I played it, was hanging on the edge of my seat to see what would happen next!

    My Soviet approach was chosen as I analyzed how the Armies compared to each other before I started. Most of the Soviet stuff I felt too fragile and not able to stand toe to toe with the Germans. Though I had a small elite force that had some punch I felt they needed preserved until the right moment and I almost blew it right off the start line. I used the Russian weak units as a screen to keep the Germans away from my elite units and tried to use speed to manevuer around the Germans and not actually engage them until I had at least three of the four major cities in striking distance. The biggest problem was doing this and still staying in supply which is what I refer to when I state I almost blew it. Also every time a key city fell it moves up the timeline for those dreaded German Panzers on the turn track. As Aaron says he finally realized I wasn't out for a boxing match with him, but in a race for time. If I hadn't taken that city back when I did Aaron would have had me as some very big units would have been added and I had no strength left to oppose him. It was a tense game and it came down to the wire. At the end Aaron realized it was a lot closer than he thought, the reason why I pushed him on to finish when he thought I had already won.

    In the end it was great fun to game this U go I go game with Aaron. It's been years since we played in a tournament setting online playing Command & Colors Ancients.


    1. Thanks, Kevin. Always enjoy getting the perspective from the other side of the table!

      Look forward to gaming again when the chance arises!


  2. Fab read. I have been meaning to shove this one onto the table!


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