The Proving Grounds

Decisive Campaigns III design blog #11

There has been a dearth of posts from me lately but rest assured I’ve been busy. While the game isn’t finished it’s now in a fully playable state.

Vic and I have been PBEM’ing several test games recently. Which is akin to taking a prototype, new model, car out of the garage for the first time and fanging it as hard as you can down the local highway. The good news is that the engine didn’t blow up, nor did the wheels fall off. It all hung together pretty well although the steering was, in a local colloquial phrase, ‘wonky‘.

Our first game came to an early halt when it became apparent that the Blitzkreig was more of a ‘Fizzer’ kreig. The Germans had enough punch to knock holes in the Soviet lines but there wasn’t enough to fully exploit them with the consequence that their advance was like a strong man trying to run through waist deep mud in order to get to the river.

After a rebalancing, and introducing an initial ‘shock penalty’ to the Soviets, we started up a second game with Vic as the Germans. This time nobody had any doubts about the effectiveness of the opening Blitzkreig. In fact I was worried that I might have gone too far with the balancing as there were massive pockets of encircled Soviets in all directions.

Vic ran the numbers on the casualties and they, to my surprise, turned out to align closely with the historical reality. It certainly didn’t feel right, sitting watching entire Soviet Armies get swallowed up willy nilly. Not a happy time to be playing the Red corner. No wonder there was confusion in the Kremlin in those early days.

The encirclements created their own problems. It only took a round or two and the trapped Divisions became virtual ghost units as they were bereft of supply and fuel.

In AGS, Vic swung the 1st PG well north of Lvov and managed to trap large numbers of Soviet Divisions in a huge pocket but, having done so, came to a grinding halt as his Truck Columns, one by one, broke down after having to traverse extreme distances cross country.


It took him another 3 turns (12 days) for his Infantry to reduce the pocket enough for him to clear the rail line. He then had to wait 3 more turns for his Forward Supply Base to relocate to Lvov. Aerial Resupply of Fuel didn’t work way down south as the 1st PG had out run the effective reach of Luftflotte Four and was forced to remain idle until their Logistics were untangled.

Overall this all worked as intended and highlighted the dangers of spearing your Panzers off into the wilds, away from the main transport routes. It did, however, cause a fair amount of discussion about how the game treats encirclements.

On one hand was the German point of view that, once having encircled a pocket, it should begin to dissolve of it’s own accord. On the other was the Soviet player’s opinion that by simply being there the trapped Divisions are serving a useful purpose in denying access to crucial rail infrastructure.

We both found it frustrating that the trapped units were so passive – the Germans because it was a grind having to neutralise them and the Soviets because they couldn’t play any useful role other than that of static blockers.

As a result I’ve added a couple of Action Cards to the Soviets. The first allows the Soviet Player to deliberately ‘Dissolve‘ a trapped Division and have it reform into irregular bands and conduct guerrilla warfare. This allows the Soviet’s to remove a single Division, per turn, and have it add to the Partisan level of the Front.

The game system that handles Partisans hasn’t been mentioned in a blog post yet but there’s a net figure for each of the three Fronts (or Theatres, depending on what side you’re playing). This is dynamically calculated based on the number of captured cities, the policies followed by the German Civil Governors and the effect of any ‘Incidents‘. Offsetting these are the number and type of Divisions you’ve assigned to Security duties. Over time they’ll get better at their job.

If the overall Partisan level for AGC is 11% , for example, then that’s the probability of a Partisan event each round. These can temporarily interrupt your Trains, permanently destroy your Truck Columns or cause casualties to your Rail Construction Battalions.

So from the Soviet Player’s perspective having the ability to deliberately remove a Division in order to influence the effect of Partisans is an interesting cost/benefit decision that makes encirclements less of a passive occurrence. It also provides a short term boost to the German’s situation at the cost of a long term hindrance.


Knocking on the Gates of Leningrad. Note the Finnish units held back by Politics

Knocking on the Gates of Leningrad. Note the Finnish units held back by Politics

Encirclements have been given an even bigger profile with the addition of the second Action Card – Breakout! Vic made the astute observation that there were many instances of Soviet forces conducting violent breakouts after being encircled for several weeks or more. This isn’t something that could happen at present, in the game, due to the deleterious effect of no supplies.

Hence the Breakout! Card which allows the Soviet player to choose a single Army HQ (once a turn) and have it resupplied (along with any subordinate Divisions) and given a moderate action point (movement) bonus.

The catch is that the Army HQ must be located in a city or town. Aerial resupply was a non starter for the Soviets in the early stages of the campaign so the only other potential source of supply and ammunition would be from magazines located in urban centres.

While this might not be historically accurate (I couldn’t find any information to prove or disprove it) it’s a good game outcome. The Soviet Player, if he’s careful, now has a limited capacity to make a surprise counterattack from within an encircled pocket. This is no small thing as, in our game, Vic ran his Panzergruppes way forward of his infantry, exposing more flanks that a Saturday night hooker, confident that any encircled Soviets would be glued to the spot.

Any breakout would be a do or die attempt given the one time supply and movement boosts but it’s enough to provide the Soviets with some counter play and to keep the Germans on their toes.

Both Action Cards will be free to play which is a direct result of another balancing issue that arose from the encirclements.

A key plank of the game design was the German Player taking the role of the Operational Commander of the Eastern front. Lots of decisions to be made with the currency of decisions being Political Points (PP’s). To make this work there needs to be an element of resource scarcity. Lots of decisions that need to be made but not enough PP’s to go around.

The scarcity forces you into compromises. You’d like to do this but you can’t afford to because you also want to do that. There are times where you’ll have to go with a worse option because that’s going to be better than doing nothing or delegating the decision to your Chief of Staff.

It’s having to make the tough calls that give you the sense of being in Command. It’s where the real juice of the game is.

Or should be. I stuffed up. Hitler’s first Directive (no. 21) gave destroying the Soviet Armed Forces as his top priority. For each Division Vic wiped out he received 4 PP’s. Guess how many Divisions went down in the first five turns?

Enough to make Vic the German equivalent of the kid in the candy store with his pockets full of money. He could afford to choose any option for any decision at any time.

It was like putting Warren Buffet in charge of my personal stock portfolio. As there are hardly any zeroes involved Warren wouldn’t care what happens to my favourite shares. I’d be asking him to give me an update on my financial position and he’d be staring straight back at me wondering who the h*ll I was and what the heck was was a kangaroo doing hopping past the window when he thought he woke up in Omaha?

I’d reassure Warren that he’s having a Senior’s moment and to concentrate on making me rich but I doubt that it would do any good as he wouldn’t be suffering from any sense of ‘scarcity’.

Yep, there was a great big chunk of the game design totally negated by a simple oversight. Scary how the little things can trip you up.

I’ve changed it such that you now only get PP’s from destroying Army HQ’s, not Divisions. There are still a lot of HQ’s out there but not that many that you can get rich quick off them.

A canny Soviet Player could deliberately choose to pull his HQ’s back out of reach and abandon his Divisions but that would likely prove to be self-defeating (Command and Control wasn’t a strong feature of the Soviet Armed Forces in ’41) and difficult to do anyway – I may have mentioned the ‘Activation’ system for the Soviets in a previous blog.

Smolensk is captured but there is still a distance to go before Moscow is reached

Smolensk is captured but there is still a distance to go before Moscow is reached

The Soviet side of the game also needed a fair bit of love which is to be expected as it was put together shortly before our games and received only limited testing.

The design gave the Soviet Player a wide range of Strategic and Tactical choices expressed through various types of Action Cards. Stalin (the role you take if you play the Soviets) is only given a small ration of Political Points per turn and, while he has plenty of options, he has limited resources with which to exercise them.

All good. His country is being invaded. He’s been caught with his pants down and chaos abounds. He should be suffering from acute scarcity.

A further aspect of the design was that most Cards, once played, doubled in cost. The idea being that Stalin needs to choose very carefully where and when he deploys his limited Command Resources.

In practise this turned out to be overly proscriptive. Stalin rapidly priced himself out of the market early on and, at the time when he needed certain Command Options the most, couldn’t afford them.

The solution was to tone down the doubling mechanism (there’s a 50% chance of a card doubling in cost, when played vs. a 100% chance as previously) and to make a lot of the lower cost cards free. Stalin now has half a dozen options that he can play at any time, regardless of his Political Point tally. He still needs to be mindful of exercising his big ticket Command Options but they will, on average, increase in cost at half the previous rate.

One new card suggested by Vic, is ‘Fortifications’. Once a turn the Soviet Player can construct a sizable Fortification anywhere on the map (provided it’s Plains or Forest, not cut-off and not knee deep in mud). It’s one of the free to play cards and provides a neat little mini-game for the Soviets.

At one Fortification per turn you can decided to ring Moscow and Leningrad with moats and anti-tank hedgehogs or take a more forward approach and recreate the Stalin line. As mud shuts down this option you’ve only got so many turns of use.

At present I’ve allowed it to be played in Snow conditions to reflect the desperate efforts that Soviets took to mobilise their civilian population, regardless of the conditions.

In keeping with the games streamlined approach to ancillary units there are no engineers or artillery units on the map for the Germans. What’s in place, instead, is an automatic reduction in Fortification structural points whenever there is a German unit adjacent to it that is receiving Theatre Artillery support.

It’s assumed that the Pioneer Battalions will swing into action against any fixed Fortifications only if they have sufficient artillery cover (which is my understanding of what happened historically). Hence, as the German Player, you’ve got an incentive to concentrate your Theatre Artillery Direct Fire support in order to deal with Fortifications.

You’re also going to find it difficult to over run Fortifications with Armour alone as Panzergruppes can’t receive Theatre Artillery Support as they were to fast moving for the tractor and horse drawn Artillery to keep up with.

An argument could be made that the Panzergruppes could apply their Tactical Air Support against the Fortifications in the same manner as Artillery. It was the Pioneers that did the damage here, not the brute force of dropped explosives and they could only safely do their job when protected by carefully targeted Artillery support.

You could also, quite reasonably, point out that the Soviets should have an existing number of fortifications already in existence, at the start of the campaign. Which, apparently, they did. Lots of them. Very few of them, however, were in good shape (they lacked steel doors on the bunkers, fire lanes were overgrown, tank traps were in disarray, moats silted up, etc.).

Allowing the Soviet Player the ability to construct his own Fortifications, one at a time, isn’t that far from reality, and provides scope for a range of different strategies.


Praying for Rain. Rostov is currently Hitler's no.1 priority. As Vic has chosen to support Hitler's goal, taking Rostov would be a win provided the Führer doesn't change his mind beforehand.

Praying for Rain. Rostov is currently Hitler’s no.1 priority. As Vic has chosen to support Hitler’s goal, taking Rostov would be a win provided the Führer doesn’t change his mind beforehand.

Another major hiccup with the Soviets, once more a balancing issue, was Stalin losing control and going into a Paranoid Death Spiral around turn five. As the Soviet Player I had immediately given the Central Front priority (gives a big boost to activation chances for all armies) and ordered Marshal Zhukov to proceed to Central Front HQ and kick things into order, pronto.

This gave me almost full activation of all Armies in this Front each turn at the expense of a lot of inactivity on the other two. I was able to pull back enough Armies to form a rough front at the river gate at Smolensk and managed to give the Germans a minor bloody nose (I surrounded and wiped out a couple of over ambitious Panzer Divisions). This brought me enough time for reinforcements to arrive and construct a reasonable barrier in front of the Gates to Moscow.

Unfortunately, once this was done (Zhukov, by now, had instilled sufficient backbone into Marshal Timoshenko and was confident he had the matter in hand), I had a crisis brewing down South.

Vic had taken advantage of his good relations with the Führer and ordered Gudierian’s 2nd Panzergruppe down into AGS where it was running rampant. Between it and von Kleit’s 1st Panzergruppe they were effectively pincering their way east, chewing up everything in their path.

I was desperate to get Zhukov down to the Southern Front HQ to help sort out the mess but Stalin nose dived into his Paraniod frenzy and stayed there for the next ten turns.

You can refer back to a previous post on how the Paranoid Episodes work but one side effect is that the Soviet Player loses the ability to play any Action Cards that turn (except Reinforcements). Zhukov was stuck in the Central Front and I had no ability to make any meaningful decisions.

Stalin, ranting and raving, began executing Army Commanders. Every turn he decided to shoot an additional one. Like a maniacal serial killer, high on speed, he kept going until it seemed like the entire Red Army Command Structure was brand new, inexperienced and very frightened.

All due to the level of Stalin’s paranoia going in the same direction as his blood pressure. Which interestingly enough was a direct result of another subtle deficiency in the design.

When Vic rolled his Panzergruppes eastward he was able to either punch through or bypass most of the Soviet Forces. Once clear he proceeded to capture many empty cities and towns. A number of these were classed as ‘Politically Important’ and their loss contributed to Stalin’s paranoid meltdown.

Vic made the good point that there should be, at the least, low level militia forces in all urban locations to prevent the Germans advancing at will.

The Soviets have the ability to play a ‘No Retreat’ Action Card which raises a large, well-equipped garrison in a Politically Important city that drew supplies from the city itself (eg. being cut-off wasn’t an issue for them).

I did this in Kiev and Odessa before the cost of doing so (the doubling…) put the option out of my reach. Odessa is still holding, surrounded by Romanians, but Kiev fell after a determined attack. This worked well (apart from the escalating cost) but it was too limited.

I’ve added a ‘Garrison’ card which, like a lot of other cards, can be played at no cost but only once a turn. It’ll add a low level Garrison unit to any city or town which, like the Fortification card, creates another mini-game. You can choose to put multiple garrisons in a single location or spread them thin to impede the Germans advance.

At one a turn you won’t be able to cover all threatened locations so the Germans will still be able to over run certain locations unopposed. Vic’s of the opinion that I need to auto generate them in all locations once the Germans approach within a certain distance but I’ve opted to give the Soviet Player control over the process at the cost of a smaller effect.

Yet another balancing item that awaits Beta testing – which will be in the New Year if you’re interested (email me at or place a comment below).

One other item worth mentioning before I bring this post to a long winded close, is feedback. Up until we started the test games the only person who had any prolonged exposure to the game was myself, the developer. This can lead, as you’d imagine, to tunnel vision.

The main manifestation of this was in the games ability to provide adequate feedback. This isn’t to say that it was absent, only that the game throws a lot of information at you and some of it wasn’t as obvious as it could be.

Vic struggled to get to grips with a few key mechanics and complained that the feedback wasn’t prominent enough. This is a fair comment and a lot of remedial work has since been put into improving this area.

Courtesy of some additional functionality provided by Vic there are now more visual clues as to what’s going on and the whole game is (or soon will be) sprinkled with detailed mouse-over tool tips. This has enabled a lot of streamlining and simplification of how information is displayed.


The yellow areas indicate mouse-over areas which bring up detailed tool tips such as this one.

The yellow areas indicate mouse-over areas which bring up detailed tool tips such as this one.

It’s an ongoing process with further improvements in the pipeline but it’s definitely heading in the right direction.

As is the rest.

Cheers and Festive wishes,



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13 Responses to The Proving Grounds

  1. morvael says:

    Really great dev diary (or rather an AAR)! I love the info about the partisan system (just as it should be in a game of this scope) and new cards. I love card-driven (or -assisted) games, because they can model unique events, make them dynamical and restrict their numbers. A no-card games are either forced to prevent some rare events from happening at all, or to allow them to happen all the time, which leads to many problems with balancing (usually one side suffers from not being able to pull some specific maneuver).

    If I have to pick something that I don’t like so far, it’s the flag on Axis counters. It looks like it’s Belgium that is invading USSR. There should be a proper German flag (I know you can’t use the real one, but the WW1 era one) with horizontal stripes. And Finland should get its own flag as well.

  2. Stonestriker says:

    Regarding the Breakout card – As I understand the mechanic, a player can use this card to supply an entire army in a pocket turn after turn? Is there any disadvantage to the units being affected by this card? Perhaps they should suffer attrition, reduced defensive capability, etc. to avoid a player forming a 10 division roadblock which it is impossible to starve.

    Another implementation, rather more complicate, could mimic the effect of a reverse airdrop. When the card is activated, the player selects a hex (or an HQ, unit stack, etc.). All the remaining supplies from all units 2-3 hexes away are transferred to the affected units to use for a breakout. This way, no supplies would have to magically appear, and the card could not be exploited for multiple turns.

    Regarding beta testing – Would you expect players to play against each other, or would it be sufficient if I were to play both sides myself? I guess this early in the process, the latter would be most efficient.

  3. Cameron Harris says:

    Hi Morvael,

    Artwork, including flags and unit colours is yet to be finalised and probably won’t be until late in the process. Your views have been noted.

    Hi Stonestriker,

    Good point about the Breakout card. One aspect I didn’t mention is that there’s a limit to the number of times you can play the card on a particular Army HQ in order to prevent the very situation you mention.

    At present that’s set to two but, like a lot of things, subject to change. It’s also unlikely that a Soviet Army could dig in early in the campaign due to their heavy emphasis on an Offensive doctrine (which comes with defensive penalties).

    With regards to Beta testing the focus would be on playing other people for the simple reason that the AI is yet to be optimised. If you’re somebody who prefers to play vs. the AI you’d still be very welcome as you’d be bringing a different perspective which is what we’re aiming for.


  4. Rasputitsa says:

    ‘At one a turn you won’t be able to cover all threatened locations so the Germans will still be able to over run certain locations unopposed. Vic’s of the opinion that I need to auto generate them in all locations once the Germans approach within a certain distance but I’ve opted to give the Soviet Player control over the process at the cost of a smaller effect.’

    I agree that it should not be possible to generate defence in all locations, as many towns were captured with little resistance, by the fast moving Panzer units. A report was written for the Red Army after ‘Barbarossa’ and pointed out that many opportunities had been lost to use towns as defensive features, as the Red Army doctrine had been so concentrated on offensive strategy and tactics, that there was little thought, or preparation, given to the defence of towns and cities in the interior, during the initial stages of the campaign.

    Looking for the publication so that I can give a direct quote.

    Regards BJ

  5. Rasputitsa says:

    The comment on auto-generating defence of towns and cities :

    The Bloody Triangle – Victor J. Kamenir : Page 255 – Conclusion – extract of report by Major General Morgunov (Chief of Armoured Forces – South-Western Front, August 5th 1941)

    quote :
    10. Large population centres were not utilized to destroy the enemy and inability to operate in them was discovered.

    This is not the reference I was looking for, as there is another Soviet report which highlights the failure to defend urban areas, as there was little doctrine of defence, but the above extract makes the same point.

    From the same report it can be seen that the Germans had an easier ride, logistically, than should have been the case :

    quote :
    6. Inability to organize combat operations along routes which would interfere with enemy movements, who advanced mainly along roads.

    7. Obstacles were not utilized; cooperation with combat engineer troops was nonexistent.

    8. There was not attempt to deny the enemy the opportunity to bring fuel and ammunition. Ambushes along the main enemy routes of advance were not employed.

    There is much more in an extensive report extract, on lack of reconnaissance, poor co-ordination of units, little training, attacking head-on, but most telling :

    quote :
    15. Large percentage of command personnel did not know their missions, did not have maps, which led to instances when not just individual tanks, but whole units would wander around aimlessly.

    The fact that Soviet units dissolved and were ineffective in encirclement was caused because command and control was weak before encirclement and tended to collapse completely when fixed communications links were lost (lack of radios). A few units held together and emerged from encirclement days and weeks later, also the Germans acknowledged that they could not completely close encirclement. However, organised units, as represented by game unit icons, ceased to exist within days of encirclement, either taken as POWs, or becoming irregular forces (partisans) continuing to resist, or working their way East.

    The German considered the Kiev pocket liquidated 10 days after the pincers closed, that does not mean that all Soviet troops had been captured, or eliminated, but that in game terms, all organised forces/unit icons have gone and action can only continue by abstracted partisan operations.

    So I’m with Chris on this one.

    Best regards BJ.

  6. Cameron Harris says:

    Hi BJ,

    That’s excellent information! Thanks.

    There’s a need to balance historical reality with enjoyable gameplay. At the same time you don’t want to be too far out of the ball park.

    I’ll give it some thought.


  7. Rasputitsa says:

    Apologies – edit ‘ So I’m with Cameron on this one’. Freudian slip, writing to a friend in the same session.


  8. Rasputitsa says:

    There will always be a game balance problem with the Eastern Front, if a human player is given a full Soviet OOB (20,000 tanks – huge manpower) and not forced to have the historic minimal command and control, which most players would find wholly unacceptable.

    Moscow didn’t get the first report from Soviet forces opposite AGC until 10 days into the campaign began, full realism for the Soviet player means a practically blank map for the first few turns and little opportunity to do anything.

    So it’s going to be a difficult task, but it looks like you are getting closer than has ever been achieved before.

    Best regards BJ.

  9. Stonestriker says:


    Sounds really good regarding the Breakout card. Regarding the testing I did not expect that there was ANY AI at all, so I meant that I would like to participate in the beta test, but I would take control of both sides myself, instead of PBEM. I have a pretty irregular schedule at the moment, so I would be hard-pressed to keep up with a PBEM game (unless the opponent was very patient)

  10. Rasputitsa says:

    Correction -Soviet reporting delays at the beginning of ‘Barbarossa’ – now found reference (memory always doubtful)

    quote :
    ‘It took 18 days for Stavka to receive a situation report from North-West Front.’ : Operation Barbarossa-The German Invasion of Soviet Russia – Robert Kirchubel.

  11. MaxG says:

    What do you guys think about recon abilities of the units? I think they were too generous in DC2 and, judging by the screenshots, its not gonna change in DC3. I don’t think its realistic when unit can detect enemy unit 4 hexes away. It largely devaluates Recon HQ action which I never used in DC2. I think more reasonable setting would be allowing units to see only 2 hexes away and using Recon HQ action should extend it by another 2 hexes. On a separate note, the game scale of 4 days per turn looks too big to me. Don’t you think that reducing it to 2 days (with proportional reduction of action points) would make game more dynamic and engaging?

  12. Jeff says:

    Avoiding the various abstractions which might explain away some of the more problematic geometric limitations, a 6′ tall man can see roughly 3 miles to the horizon. So, two men standing on the surface of the Earth can see each other until their distance apart is about 6 miles before the curvature effects on the horizon obsucre them.

    With 10 mile hexes, (roughly 5 miles “across”) that means somewhere between 2 and 3 hexes LOS not taking into account terrain elevation differences, weather, you name it other potential problems.

    4 10 mile hexes is roughly 30 miles, on average, center to center. That’s far beyond the horizon due to curvature of the Earth for direct LOS.

  13. Rasputitsa says:

    Forget line-of-sight and curvature of the Earth, just reading about the 5th Royal Tank Regiment, which became part of the British 7th Armoured Division, the Desert Rats. The experiences of an officer leading a recon detachment, equipped with Dingo armoured cars and Stuart light tanks. Both vehicles had armour thick enough to keep out a rifle bullet and that’s all. Finding the enemy required advancing until you got shot at, sometimes as close as 200m, from a hidden self-propelled gun, that you didn’t see. In the desert they were often being hit from 2000m by 88m guns they never saw and these were the early AAA gun mountings with a high profile. Same thing happened to the Germans when the British learned the game, Rommel’s attempt to break the British El Alemein line ran straight into a hidden tank/gun line that they didn’t know was there.

    The recon unit drew lots to see who would take the lead vehicle, if you were lucky the armour was so thin that the shot would go right through, if not, it would ricochet around inside the vehicle with obvious results, These men had been in action for three years, by the time they got to France in 1944, so it’s not surprising these units were very cautious when advancing. They knew their luck couldn’t last forever.

    So it’s not a natter of distance, its a matter of time, how long has a unit been in contact with the enemy. How many shells are coming your way and how big are they, time for patrol activity, capture some prisoners find out what units are in front of you, are there any tanks, etc..

    Unless the lines had been stable, the Soviets often advanced with little idea of enemy dispositions, or even the positions of friendly units, throw in one tank brigade and see what happens, then throw in another, etc.. This is recon WW2 style, before drones and satellite imagery, the only way to find the enemy was to go out and look for him, the longer you were in contact the more you found out.

    Regards BJ.

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