Community Interview: Decisive Campaigns: Case Blue
The Wargamer community gets up-close and personal with Decisive Campaigns: Case Blue developer Victor Reijkersz.
Interviewee: Victor Reijkersz, developer of Decisive Campaigns: Case Blue and founder of Victor Reijkersz Designs
Jarhead0331: Why was Fall Blau chosen as the next edition of the Decisive Campaigns series? With so many choices of what battle to choose next, what is it about the 1942 summer offensive in Russia that appealed to you?
Victor Reijkersz (Vic): I wanted to choose a theater and a time where players of a historical simulation of the military operations of both sides would be able to attain victory. This quickly led me to consider North Africa and the Eastern Front. North Africa is interesting but to be honest, also very unique… and the Eastern Front was the place where the bulk of the Axis forces fought and the war was ultimately decided. I am more attracted to the huge scale of the latter and feel that a good North Africa game is of a more tactical nature than what the Decisive Campaigns operational engine can comfortably handle. Because I have always had a secret desire to see an Eastern Front game with my name on the box, the choice was for me, in the end, not hard to make.
They don’t call it the mother of all fronts for nothing. The battles of 1942 (and early 1943) are the epitome (in a smaller scale) of the whole 1941 – 1945 campaign on the Eastern Front, and of the whole European 1939 – 1945 theater as well. The German forces start more powerful. But due to their over ambition, manage to split up their forces and overextend themselves. The Wehrmacht and their Axis allies manage to stall from exhaustion and losses, just in sight of their strategic objectives. With time, the much larger manpower pools and resources of the enemy make themselves felt, and the tide of war gradually turns in favor of the Soviets; who take to the offensive and leave the weakened German forces to fight retrograde and defensive actions in a fight for survival. The Germans desperately try to hold on to at least a part of what they conquered.
Case Blue is an “all or nothing” proposition for both sides. Breakthrough, cripple the Red Army and hold your conquests, and the Germans will probably win the whole war. For the Soviets it’s similar. They can fallback a little, but they cannot break. They must hold on to the Wolga and the Caucasus, or they will lose 80% of their oil production and thus the war.
Jarhead0331: What improvements or changes, if any, have been made to the game system?
Vic: There is a long list of changes concerning rules, but also interface and graphics improvements that can be found on the product page HERE. It’s well worth mentioning that the AI has had a complete overhaul, which has resulted in a faster and smarter AI than that in the first Decisive Campaigns. I’m sure this improvement will be popular with many gamers.
But the ones that I think alter gameplay the most are the new features that support the campaign scenarios and a longer timescale: the ability to re-organize your forces, raise new formations, appoint new generals and receive replacement forces give me the feeling of really being present at Stavka or OKH. For some players, having to do some organizational tasks is a nightmare. For me, it’s an essential experience in operational gaming. You have to look ahead and know where—in say 5 rounds—you’ll need an army to form to hold the line. You will have to decide to hold back reinforcements from the front to build up reserves and formations for such an army. You will also have to decide when to pull back a battered unit to refit and rebuild before it panics and breaks. But I digress…
Jarhead0331: Will Fall Blau be broken down into a number of different scenarios? If so, what will the scenarios be?
Vic: Case Blue is simulated with big campaign scenarios. These scenarios span in space all the way from Kiev to Baku, and in time from May 1942 to early April 1943. I created 3 start points: during the beginning of Operation Trappenjagd and the 2nd battle for Kharkov in May 1942, at the historical launch of Case Blue in late June 1942, and the start of the Soviet counteroffensive (Operation Uranus) in November 1942.
Furthermore, I created short campaign scenarios for Case Blue and Operation Uranus that only last about 2 months (30 rounds). There are small scenarios included as well that just handle a specific place, like: the 2nd Battle for Kharkov May 1942, the drive on Voronezh in June 1942, as well as Operation Trappenjagd.
These new large scenarios function like a campaign in and of themselves with all the new features I described above, without the need to switch from one scenario to the next. It is a seamless experience, but you have to deal with the shifting goals of the High Command as well as many strategic and operational choices, including even avoiding Stalingrad or other major objectives—if you have enough leverage to convince your superiors.
In addition to all of this, there is a linked campaign that covers the 1st Panzer Army.
Jarhead0331: Can you explain to us what the order of battle for the German and Soviet forces consist of? Will Hungarian, Romanian and Italian forces be represented?
Vic: Yes, Axis minor forces will be present in all scenarios. It’s at about the time of Operation Uranus, in November 1942, that you will be able to see them in their full glory; with some of the additional rules on Axis Minor morale (influenced by casualties) and command structure.
All core formations are modeled on both sides usually on a regimental level. This will be the same scale as was in Decisive Campaigns: The Blitzkrieg from Warsaw to Paris: meaning that a German infantry division will be made-up of 4 separate units. This gives quite a high unit count in the big campaign scenarios. For example, at about the time of Case Blue the German order of battle included about 450 units. Of course, we provide many tools to the player to make movement and management of all those units quite reasonable.
The organization of smaller units like engineers, artillery, air, and naval assets has been abstracted a bit (partly to keep unit count down). But as I said before, all core units are present. You should be able to find your favorite tank brigade, panzer division or assault gun battalion. Furthermore, all corps and army commanders are represented with their personal statistics, action cards, biography and portrait picture. Over 150 historical commanders are modeled.
Joram: What has Matrix/Slitherine done to increase the replayability of the game, expanding the variety of possibilities the AI may react?
Vic: A new AI has been written for Case Blue; so it will definitely feel different compared to the Warsaw to Paris AI. Furthermore, I think the biggest thing I have done in the push of increasing replayability is opening up the editor (which was not included with DC: Warsaw to Paris). It’s a bit of a beast, but I am writing an editor walkthrough and hope that some players will be able to create their own games or mods using it.
Second to that are the massive new campaign scenarios like Case Blue, which include far more decision points and genuine strategic options than we were able to put in the smaller linked scenarios in the first Decisive Campaigns. You will have the option as a player to explore the full range of strategic and operational options in the Case Blue theatre. For example: avoiding Stalingrad or not sending significant forces south to drive on Grozny and Baku, etc… Playing through each will tell you how successful you might have been if you took the place of the historical commander.
Sandman2575: In Decisive Campaigns: The Blitzkrieg from Warsaw to Paris only Germany could be played in the campaign (although you could play Allies in the individual scenarios). Will Case Blue make a Soviet campaign available as well?
Vic: It’s good to make this clear. Case Blue in its entirety is not modeled like the early blitz campaigns in Warsaw to Paris. The Case Blue campaign scenarios are single huge scenarios that span—in their largest incarnations—almost a year and an area far over a 1,000,000 square kilometers. However, I did also add a linked scenario campaign. It’s on a smaller scale than the big campaign scenarios and handles the exploits of the 1st Panzer Army in its crossing of the Don, drive down to the Caucasus, taking of Krasnodar, Maikop, Mozdok, Grozny, Ordzhonikidze and possibly Baku. The scale may be smaller, but I think campaign coherence has much increased as your exact OOB transfers from one scenario to the next linked scenario. I think the linked scenario campaign provided in Case Blue is a lot of fun, and quite a hard nut to crack.
Now, as for the question… The big campaign scenarios are fully playable by both sides and offer great historical challenges to both. Only the 1st Panzer Army linked scenario campaign is limited to the German side.
Sandman2575: Can the German player expect the Soviet AI to be more dynamic and aggressive, or just as conservative as the AI seen in its predecessor?
Vic: I am not sure if the AI in DC: Warsaw to Paris can be called conservative. The Allied AI often just seems like it is since it is fighting a war it cannot win. The German AI is much more aggressive, I think. However, the new, completely rewritten AI for Case Blue can be quite the fighter. To me, it feels more aggressive and does have a tendency to pick schwerpunkten.
Reich36: Fall Blau (Case Blue) was a gigantic campaign in terms of scale. How will Decisive Campaigns: Case Blue handle that in terms of micromanagement?
Vic: To be blunt, if you play the campaign scenarios you will be faced with quite a lot to do and manage. I’m not going to play that down. But I found it to be quite manageable and engrossing. We have given the player many tools to manage both the information and unit actions each turn. While playing PBEM++, it takes me about 30 minutes a turn for the large scenarios. This means you can complete the Case Blue short campaign in about 15-20 hours.
The interface has also been much improved allowing you to quickly glance over a wealth of statistical information. You can also see HQ power ranges on the map and highlighted subordinate units when you click a HQ, while having access to several places where you can quickly jump to specific units. Group orders are available for move and strategic transfer, to quicken up your turn speed. Also, you can group-set the retreat percentages, replacement rates and supply request percentages.
Zonso: Please expand on what the "High Command Rules" are. Are they restrictive and/or relative to certain circumstances?
Vic: Yes. First of all, the high command rules are optional. But I do recommend playing with them because the German historical experience is not the same if you don’t. The key to the German failure with the Case Blue offensive was that the high command gave orders that were too ambitious for the troops available. All of this is modeled in the game. If you are successful, you will get more and more orders to push on… and on… towards the ends of the earth, and beyond.
High Command will order you to go to places you do not actually need to go, to satisfy the final victory point conditions of the campaign scenarios. This is especially true for the German player. And it leaves the German player with basically two choices: be the good Prussian officer and roll your panzers towards Stalingrad, Astrakhan and to Baku ( probably die trying); or somehow use the prestige you earned with your early victories to change the mind of the German High Command.
Apart from the historical reasons to include high command, which is mainly featured through “major orders”, there are also “minor orders” which are more random and short term (4-6 rounds into the future) and give the player something to fight for in the present (especially if the end of a campaign scenario is several rounds away).
For the hardcore gamer, there is also the option to allow dismissal. If High Command is unhappy with your performance and attitude, they give you an early retirement and find someone else!
Dale H: Will armored trains appear in Case Blue?
Vic: Nope, sorry. But I like the question. In Warsaw to Paris they functioned as what I call “ambiance units”. They had a negligible influence on the overall outcome of the campaigns, but they are the chrome that somehow creates that sense of immersion. In Case Blue they are absent, but you’ll find other units that are just as immersive like: big artillery pieces, Cossack collaborators, worker militia’s, partisans, and Italian mini submarines.
Dale H: Has the manual been expanded and improved upon, including more depth as compared to its predecessor?
Vic: I think the manual is better. It is also now available as a full color printed manual! A number of additional points have been explained that were thought to have been lacking by players in the previous manual. The overall size of the manual has also increased.
Additionally, separate PDF-only booklets will be made available containing more statistical material like the order of battles of all the division types, the reinforcement unit schedule and the troop replacement booklet. We hope that these will be useful references for players as they play through the campaign. We really tried to give players everything they would expect from what we believe is the best computer wargame of Fall Blau to-date.
It was a pleasure to answer all these questions. If there are any more, I’d be happy to answer them as well.
Interviewer: The Wargamer Community (Jarhead0331, Joram, Sandman2575, Reich36, Zonso, Dale H)
About Victor Reijkersz
Victor Reijkersz, also known as 'Vic', majored in history at the Erasmus University in the Netherlands. He held public office for 2 consecutive terms in the city council of Rotterdam and developed a number of wargames including: People's Tactics, Advanced Tactics (Gold), Decisive Campaigns: Warsaw to Paris and Decisive Campaigns: Case Blue. In 2008 he founded Victor Reijkersz Designs. You can find more info on VRDesigns at www.vrdesigns.nl.