The Russian company Zvezda is well known in the model community for their extensive line of plastic military models. However, many readers may be unfamiliar with the fact that they also produce a line of war games. Let’s take a look at their latest offering, World War II: Stalingrad 1942-1943, a starter set for their popular World War II series that features their proprietary Art of Tactic system.
The game can be divided into two areas of interest: the models and the game play. Let’s first take a look at Zvezda’s area of expertise, the models. Simply put, the models are nothing short of outstanding! The highly detailed figures come in four separate bags and need to be removed from the plastic sprues and assembled. As a bonus, the vast majority of models can be snapped together without the need for glue and that was what we did to see how they would hold up in gameplay. The tolerances varied amongst the models, some of them were near seamless in their attachment, while others had a more visible gap. I believe that may have had more to do with me, than the models themselves, as some of the pieces need to be inserted at specific angles in order to have a proper fit. Which brings us to the size of the pieces. There are some incredibly small pieces included and they proved to be quite challenging to grip and put together. Experienced modelers will no doubt have an easier time assembling these, but I needed to glue some small detailed pieces just because I wouldn’t be able to assemble them otherwise. There is an assembly booklet included for the models, however, care must be taken in reading the instructions, as there are a couple of errors in the placement and mounting of pieces, which proved to be a bit frustrating until this was discovered. The assembled models look great, though if you are going to paint them, you will want to putty any of the visible gaps. Although I didn’t have the time to paint the models, I would look forward to attempting it, as they are quite detailed and look quite impressive.
For some reason the game comes with the Third Edition rules for the World War II series. Although interesting, the included examples picture units not included in this game. Not only that, but there are sections for Aircraft, which are also not included, as well as a long list of excellent features, however, once again many of them are not relevant to the game at hand. Why would you include the main rulebook for a system when this is supposed to be a starter set to introduce players to the game? Seeing as there was a great deal of information inside the rulebook it made it much harder than necessary to get up and playing the game ASAP. This problem seemed to echo throughout the package, excellent ideas, yet poor documentation. Maybe it is because of the Russian to English translation, but I find it hard to believe that someone would think that it was a good idea to include this rulebook instead of one geared towards instructing new players on how to play the game using the models that were included. That said, the overall system does look to be one that a dedicated wargamer would be interested in and would have certainly welcomed its inclusion, had there also been a separate guide for the relevant game itself.
As with most wargames, it includes a Campaign book. This was nicely laid out, as each scenario was shown as a two page spread and displayed the boards and photographs of the figures that were to be used and where they were to be placed on the map. Also included were the Objectives, set up rules and Scenario Special rules. One of the nice features is that the scenarios can be played in order and at the end of each scenario, the surviving units “gain experience”, and may have their Accuracy or Defense increased by one for the following scenario.
At the heart of the game is the brilliant Art of Tactic system. Essentially, each player has a dry-wipe card for each of their units and will use one of the included markers to keep track of stats and such, but more importantly, to give orders. This is where the game really shines. The writing down of the orders for each individual unit is what separates this game from others and makes it into a more realistic representation of an actual battle. Games such as Heroes of Normandie use a set of blocks with different numbers on them for initiative and resolve them in the designated order. While this is a somewhat adequate system, it doesn’t deliver a realistic approach to combat, since each revealed block carries out its turn and the following blocks can now base their turn on the current situation on the board. However, with the Art of Tactic, each player writes down on the unit card the orders that the player wants the unit to take, right down to what square to move to. Players then reveal all the orders on the cards and they are resolved simultaneously. There is no adjusting your strategy when you see where an opponent moved, like in other games. This is a great system and reminds me of my youth when I would draw out bombing missions for the Avalon Hill game Luftwaffe, where planes would have to follow the bombing routes, regardless of the situation. Zvezda uses the Art of Tactic system for other games that they publish, such as The Ships, Battle for Oil and Samurai Battles.
Even with the shaky documentation, this is a game that wargamers should take a look at. If you are looking for something more substantial than Memoir ‘44, than this would be a good choice, as the models are excellent, as well as is the Art of Tactic game system. Zvezda should seriously consider a separate rulebook for future editions that are relevant to the game purchased. The Third Edition rulebook was nice to have as an overview of the system, but beginners are going to want something more along the lines of a Quick Start guide. The game play is what you would normally expect from a game of this nature, the main difference being the use of the Art of Tactic system. There is a great deal of depth for those who are looking to explore and dig deeper into the system, as the rulebook gives many examples of the possible options available to the players. This is an interesting system that deserves more exposure within the marketplace. I would have loved to have had this game when I was a kid!