Review of Into The Pocket! from Yaah! magazine

Mark Stille designed a really nice game about Von Manstein's attempt to relieve Friedrich Paulus' 6th Army trapped near Stalingrad from 12 - 23 December of 1942.  The game is included in Yaah! issue number 3 and I really enjoyed it.

"Stalingrad. This city bears the name of the Boss!"


The unit scale is division/brigade/battalion/regiment with each hex on the map representing about 5 kilometers.  The German player controls the key German divisions attempting to open a corridor to Paulus' 6th Army.  If he can open a corridor to the hexes on the bottom right area of the map (northeast) and get a relief convoy adjacent to these hexes, he will probably gain enough VPs to win the game. Of course, it is the Soviet player's job to prevent this from happening.
Cover of Yaah! magazine Issue 3



The game rules are very simple and straightforward, which is a very good thing for a magazine game. The German player performs a movement, attack, and exploitation phase and then the Soviet player gets to go. The interesting thing here is that the order of the Soviet phase is reversed, with the exploitation phase coming first then the attack phase and ending off with movement. I thought this worked really well because the game seemed to flow really nicely for me. It really does feel like both sides are moving and reacting to each other as best as they can simultaneously.

The Germans advance as Soviet reinforcements rush on to the right edge of the map. 



Combat is decided by a six sided die roll with results from an odds-based CRTs. Players can shift the column by giving artillery support to their troops. There is also a favorable column shift for players who use an entire division for a single attack. There are also die roll modifiers given for air support and armor bonuses.

The Germans get lots of artillery and air support while the Soviets only have a small amount of each, which really influences how each player fights. The Germans can usually try low odds attacks and enhance them with column shifts and DRMs while the Soviet player is left to try and overwhelm the Germans with troop strength alone.  Each turn, however, has a weather condition that may prevent both sides from using their air support.

Terrain can provide defensive modifiers. The villages that dot the map provide a favorable defensive benefit, which can be vital for the Soviets. There are also several major rivers running the length of the map. Crossing these is tough for motorized units and quickly saps movement points. Of course, these rivers provide defensive column shifts for the defenders. There are lots of little places on the map to "make a stand" to try and halt the advancing Germans.

Movement is handled very cleanly with motorized units given the special ability to move during the movement phase and an exploitation phase if they start off free of an enemy ZOC. Units can also conduct attacks while on the move by declaring an overrun. This gives the Germans a big advantage at the start of the game since most of their units are motorized while the Soviets depend quite a bit on foot soldiers.  Road movement allows units to move through a hex for 1/2 MP on turns where the roads are marked passable. Otherwise, the icy roads offer no movement bonus.

Into the Pocket! plays nicely and looks good too.


The map is beautifully drawn and illustrated. Ania B. Ziolkowska did the art for this game and it is really nice. Clear hexes have a sort of "dirty snow" look that shows off the bleak and expansive Russian landscape. Names of villages and setup areas are very clearly marked off and easy to read. The counters are simple and functional but they look nice on the map and the colors chosen are appropriate, and help with gameplay information. I am red-green colorblind so I always appreciate it when artists use map and counter colors that are easy to distinguish from each other.

I have played the game several times now and I can say that it really is a race for the Germans. The Germans player is constantly forced to decide between speed and security. In my first game, I pushed too far too fast and had my supplies easily cut off by flanking from the Soviet mechanized divisions. In my most recent game, I slowed down too much and tried to fight every Soviet unit on the way north. Although my early attacks wiped out the Soviet opposition, the Germans faced overwhelming numbers of enemy reinforcements by Turn 7.

The German advance runs out of steam as Soviet reinforcements prove too much to push through on Turn 7.


The Soviets have their own problems. Not all of the Soviet units on the map can be moved right away. Several divisions are set up and kept in a reserve until they are released on a certain turn or when specific conditions in the game happen. The Soviet player can expect to feel frustration during the early turns as the Germans make quick headway north while several Russian divisions sit there and do nothing. It is also hard to cope with all the nice toys (artillery and air support) that the Germans possess while you are forced to think hard about where to commit your meager rocket artillery and +1 air support DRM.

My impression from these plays is that the game is well-balanced and quite fun.  Into the Pocket! Operation Winter Storm really hits that sweet spot for magazine games in that it is engaging, interesting, and easy to pick up and play after a quick read of the rules. One thing I should mention is that there are Fog of War rules that limit what each player can see in the other's stack. Although I played this game solitaire, I can see this adding quite a bit to the game as the Soviet player might never be sure where exactly the German Relief Convoy is located, resulting in a cool little shell game inside the larger wargame.


If you're interested in more information about the game, check out the design notes here.


Comments

  1. Retreat after some combats can be a forced result on CRT? a player option? maybe a player choice (retreat vs more loss) ?
    I'm fascinated on how different operational WW2 systems, from vintage to current, handle this differently. Some have only unit death, but then replacements (lots of) form a new line behind. In others, some units are nearly indestructible, only pushed around.

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    1. Good to hear from you, Mircea! Retreat is indeed forced by the CRT. It is very much like an old school WW2 game in that regard. So you can get a result of D2R1, which means the defender takes 2 step losses and retreats 1 hex towards supply. I have to say that I love how GS handles retreat as an option to taking losses. It really makes you think hard about trapping units and forcing them to fight rather than just pushing them back.

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  2. Also: if you're green/red colorblind you still can tell Romanians from Russians? Good to know for graphics designers, what differences really matter. Esp. as there are many more partially-colorblind men. Í'm not.

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    Replies
    1. You know, I have to admit that I did have a little bit of trouble distinguishing Romanians from Russians but after I set them down together and examined them closely, I never had a problem again with them after that. Lucky you for not being colorblind! So many games become frustrating to play when you're colorblind. Even in Aegean Strike, it took lots of effort to distinguish between Bulgarians and Turks. Once I realized that Bulgarians didn't have F-16s, it got much easier!

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  3. Interesting article. Thanks for the share. I did not know about the new wargaming magazine so this one will be in my play list for the winter.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! I wrote an article on The Korean War for issue 3 and I'll have a scenario for Firepower in issue 4 so please check it out and let me know what you think!

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