Bruce Geryk loves him some Korsun Pocket

His review in the latest CGW of Korsun Pocket: 5/5, saying “The best hex-based computer wargame ever.”

I realize that’s not necessarily big news for the average gamer, but for someone who really wants to see the old wargaming genre stay vibrant, this game is great. It’s been a while since we last saw a really solid hex-based wargame, although Combat Mission has done wonders for moving the wargaming genre into more modern realms. And I’m all for 3D and modernized computer wargaming, but hell, if someone can still do simple hex-based wargaming well, bravo.

My copy is in the mail and it hits stores this week - has anyone outside of Bruce gotten their hands on it?

Korsun Pocket linkage:

I haven’t read Bruce’s review,but my copy is on the way,I hope.I have little doubt it will be one of the better computer wargames ever-TAO,after all,was nearly perfect itself.

One question,Bruce,if you’re reading this:I understand they are including TAO campaign game on the KP disk–can you play the old campaign in the same higher resolutions with which KP is played?

Just ordered mine.

I would take umbrage though with the idea that this is the first good hex-based game in ages. I’m a big fan of John Tiller’s Panzer Campaigns/Modern Campaigns games, which while individually not as customized as a game like KP built over many years to simulate one particular battle, are nevertheless well researched, attractive, and fill a very nice niche in the battalion/company level wargaming landscape. Yes,k I do some work for Tiller on these games, so I’m not completely unbiased, but I’m no mindless fanboi either; I know the limitations of the series. But the strengths–variety of topics, ease of use, customizability, superb support and update history–vastly outweigh the negatives in my book.

What I’m really looking forward to in KP is the return of the custom build single-battle simulation. Though it’s the same essential system as TAO, in effect it’s been in development so long and is the only wargame SSG is working on, so it might as well be a unique one off. I don’t think we’ll see many single-battle games sans series due to economic matters but I’m hoping to relish the ones we do get. Getting a full update of TAO in the box ain’t bad either.

What sort of learning curve is the bar for entry of this type of game? Would there be a decent tutorial in the game, or is it an issue of slogging through endless manuals and stat tables? I’ve never played a hex based wargame before.

I can’t speak for Korsun Pocket, but TAO was pretty hardcore and not really suited to a novice wargamer. You might be better off cutting your teeth on something like one of the old Talonsoft Battleground games, if you can find them anywhere or downloading Steel Panthers World at War from Matrix games - a huge download but at least it’s free.

Good question, DrCrypt. Those of us geeks/grogs who have been playing these things since we were 12 tend to forget that wargames generally seem to be a huge PITA to the uninitiated. It’s an acquired taste to be sure.

As for getting into it, it’s not so much a matter of knowing hex-based wargames as having an interest in military history. If you’re the type who is interested in the history of a campaign or battle, knows something about the hardware and organization of the armies involved, and wants a game to reflect history at least roughly, hex-based wargames are fairly easy to get into if you pick something like Korsun Pocket (judging from The Ardennes Offensive, SSG’s first (and great) game on the Bulge that uses an earlier version of the current game system) or the HPS games I think. If however you are coming purely from a “I’m a gamer and willing to try just about anything once” school of strategy games in general fandom, it could be a bit rougher, if only because of the assumptions that most wargames seem to make about your level of knowledge and interest.

The mechanics are relatively simple in most cases. You often can, but don’t have to, pour over the stats and tables and charts. Some games have more of these than others. Me, I play impressionistically (and of course tend to lose in competition with humans) but I’m not interested in min/maxing the rules or in memorizing tables–did that as a kid, have no interest in that now. So any reasonably interested and intelligent person would have little trouble getting into a game like Korsun Pocket. Staying interested, that’s the question.

If you like military history, I think it’d be interesting. If you really don’t care about the difference between a battalion of T-34Cs and a company of PzKw Vs, or have no interest in seeing whether the SS Wiking can hold off an entire Russian corps during a winter assault, well, wargames like this may be interesting structurally buy you’ll lose a lot of the value, which is subject-matter intensive.

I’ve rambled, horribly. In short, I don’t think you need to be a complete hex grog nerd to enjoy these games, but it does help.

I hope they get the guy who did the Chu Chu Rocket commercial to do a Korsun Pocket commercial. That would really be swell.

Neko wa kowai!

Quite true, Tiller is definitely the wargaming genre’s leading man with his prolific production. But my own personal tastes have meant that the last Tiller game I’ve played was Bulge '44. They strike me as being too formulaic, and I don’t have enough interest in World War II to recreate all those battles. Our site recently interviewed him, and he made some interesting comments regarding the most challenging aspect of wargaming today:

One thing that I think is a misconception about my publishing rate is that since there are so many games being published, it might be concluded that each game only gets a small amount of development time. What is actually happening is that I have a large number of independent development teams, each working on a separate title in parallel. Right now, I have over 10 teams each working on a different game. Each team will spend a variable amount of time in development on that game, sometimes lasting over a year. As each team completes their development, the game is mastered and published. So although there is a high publication rate as a result, each game gets the full attention of a design team over a significant period of time. But what happens is that my personal time and involvement in each game is very limited. I am forced to spend only a small amount of time with each game and thus depend very heavily on my scenario designers to ensure that the game is done right. We call each game “A John Tiller Game” as a trademark, but that does not reflect my personal involvement in each game. To solve this issue of my time limitations would require that I hire a production coordinator who would have the time to spend on each game ensuring that the details of the game were all cleaned up prior to mastering. But the brutal truth of the situation is that I can’t afford to hire a production coordinator. Or to put it another way, having to pay another person would force me out of business. I’ve found that the current state of the wargame industry doesn’t support anything above a handful of people. So to stay economically viable, I am forced to publish a high number of games. While I believe the quality of the games has been extremely high, there are usually details that aren’t optimal in the game as released. With updates, we try to rectify any problems encountered post-release.

The highlighted portion points to the inherit problem with the wargame niche (an obvious point to many of you, I’m sure): it is too small and niche-oriented to support long development times and unique advances in the genre. Therefore, Tiller must produce a gazillion wargames every year in order to stay afloat, but the unfortunate offshoot of this is that his wargames rarely appeal to those who aren’t completely hardcore about the franchises.

I guess the point I wanted to emphasize originally was this - it’s been a while since any hex-based wargame has received such a stellar recommendation as KP has. And while the game may still not bring in throngs of new players, at least this positive review and its appearance on retail store shelves may bring some new interest in the genre.

Describes my problem exactly. You see, I would like to play a good, deep, turn based hex strategy, but I don’t have that much interest in historical battles, especially of the (semi-)modern variety.

Anyone know any good hex strategy games that have, for example, a medieval or fantasy setting? :)

Fantasy General used the Panzer General system in a fantasy setting and wasn’t too bad. There was a shareware game called Medieval 2 that covered quite a few medieval batlles, I don’t know if it’s still available though.

Fantasy General is my favorite fantasy wargame ever. Good luck getting it to run on Windows XP, though (if you figure out a way to do it, let me know).

Yeah, I actually played quite a bit of Fantasy General back in the DOS days. It would be great to have a modernized (win32) version of it.

Preferably with one less continent.

Eh? How so?

The General games (Fantasy and Panzer, mainly–I never cared for Allied or Pacific General, and I though Star General was awful) are still my all-time favorite play-by-email games. The relatively short turn limits on scenarios means that you could complete a game in a reasonable amount of time, and there is a lot to do in the course of a single turn (making the play-time to waiting-time ratio much more palatable).

Before selling my house and moving swallowed my game playing time, I got to test a bit of Korsun PBEM with Bruce. It was a fairly early build of the game, but enough to confirm my impression, which Bruce shared (and maybe he elaborates on in his review, I’ll have to see) is that the game system is great if you love hex-based wargames like we do, but that the subject battle of the game really sucks from a gaming standpoint. The difference in forces in the Korsun scenario is so overwhelming that “victory” in playing the German side basically means seeing how long you can stave off being obliterated. The best reason for buying this game is to get the full update of TAO, which finally contains a fully functional PBEM module that the original sorely lacked.

Jason brings up a good point that is central to debates among wargamers, and that is the tension between history and game. The Cherkassy battles (Korsun Pocket being one name for the central struggle in that series of fights) are a bitter defensive stand by German forces that ultimately cannot “win” in the sense of defeating the Soviets. There’s really no way the correlation of forces allows the Soviets to lose, unless they simply march in the other direction.

Making a game of this then means you have to set victory at something other than battlefield success. You have to reward the German player for doing better than his historical counterpart, and penalize the Soviet player for doing worse. This works in a game sense, but it can’t get rid of the nagging feeling you have in any of these situations that no matter what you do, it just won’t really matter.

It is not a fatal flaw IMO. Bulge games have it–no competent Allied player is going to “lose” in the sense of letting the Germans get to Antwerp, or even Liege probably. And Germany is still going to lose the war. Normandy too. The Allies are getting ashore. No question about it. All the defenders can do is kill more of the invaders than they did historically. And Germany still loses the war. Truth is there are very very few naturally balanced battles in history because generals don’t fight them. They fight unbalanced battles, Moving higher up the scale, or lower, improves game-ability. A game on the invasion of the USSR in 1941 gives you the options to change history by making all sorts of decisions that could conceivably changed how things went. A game on a firefight around a farmhouse can be completely balanced in 1939 or 1945, depending. But battalion/regiment level “operational” games are damn hard to balance in both a game and a history sense, because historically most of them simply were not balanced.

I’ve played a few games, board games like Korsun Pocket and computer games like HPS’ Korsun '44, covering the Cherkassy battles. They’ve all been fun, because the forces arrayed there are inherently interesting. You get Soviet Guards, all sorts of T-34s and other Red tanks, ooodles of artillery and mortars, snow and clear weather, SS units, Panthers and Tigers, a plethora of Axis units and types, mobile delaying actions and trench warfare, lightning armored strikes and massive infantry battles, desperate defenses and blood-curdling assaults. Yeah, you know how it’s going to end, but as the player, it doesn’t generally matter that much.

The only real difference between a situation like this and say the Bulge is that in the Bulge the Germans can at least fail while launching a large-scale offensive, which is more fun than failing while conducting the losing side of an encirclement battle, I admit. But in the end, Adolf gets his crying towel and the Landser get shallow graves.

Has the game actually shipped to retail? I want to order it onlne, but I want to know that it is actually available.

I haven’t played a good wargame in a while and this one looks good.

Yep, it’s shipped out. I don’t know if it’s readily available on retail shelves, but it is done and out of the warehouses.

TheWombat makes a very good point about historical games. It’s very hard to find an operational level game that’s well-balanced, because few actual battles were. Given that, if my side doesn’t have a real chance of “winning” in the historical sense, I at least like to have some “fun” (that damned word again) before my side caves in. From that standpoint, Bulge games offer some fun for the German side, because you at least get to see how effective an offensive you can mount before the walls start to crumble. I find that a lot more interesting than trying to stave off an encirclement right from the start.